Everything moves too quickly, and my worries pulse through me continuously, undercurrents to my every action. I gift myself inaction every day through a practice of stillness: watching the light seeping out of the sky, spilling on leaves. That was where the message from my friend Arjun Chaudhuri found me. Our conversation ended with him sending me an emoji of a peach hibiscus. I was sitting on a damaru-shaped stool of rope and rattan, a real peach hibiscus in bloom before me. I’d been watching it when he’d texted. I held my phone up to take a picture of it for him, pixel to petal. In return, a sound note – him in a voice he called broken (it was not) – singing a Bengali poem from hundreds of years ago. Translate it for me, I demanded. And he did: “Ever blissful Kali, charmer of Mahakala, you dance on your own, and sing on your own, and clap at the end of your lonely performance.”
If I call myself unbroken – do I mean as yet, or do I mean that the shattering has been reversed? He called his voice broken, while my hearing could only sense repair.
You don’t know how much I resist them, these pithy ways of understanding life through idleness. But still they come to me, every day, soothing me in this practice of stillness and watching. Do you know that you can only smell petrichor – the scent of water mingling with dry earth, often called the scent of rain – in your potted plants if you don’t water them well? You can’t have both, you see: the pretty word and the lush garden. Not in our sun-scorched climate, our stormless lives. Some days you get to be the poet wearing flowers from her own garden in her long, loose hair. Most days, though, you only get to wait, to water and wish them into bloom.
I probably will not be here much longer, in this particular home with its particular view. I cannot untwine my creepers and take them with me, unless I cut them down to a carry-able size. And can I bear to take a few, and not others? To watch plants thrive is also to sometimes watch them wilt, and die, and because of this I see no reason to not simply start over somewhere else.
This week I’ve been reading about Pawnee White Eagle Corn, a crop that was revived from near extinction. When the Pawnee Nation were exiled within the United States in the 1870s, 50 kernels of their sacred corn – white, with a purple smudge that looks like plumage – were safeguarded and passed down through generations. It has now been carefully, successfully, recultivated.
Why meditate today on the flower that blooms but a day and not the seed that carries its quintessence through centuries? This is why I love my practice of watching and stillness so much. It allows me to take whatever I need at any time: mixed metaphors, mixed blessings, prosperity and decay. Radiance, or resilience, or both. My heart whispers clearly to itself, looking at my plants. And sometimes, across distances, someone sings to me.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on May 24th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.