I have a friend who gently, ever so gently, pushes me to explore boundaries I have drawn a border to, decorated, and felt proud of that design. Almost every other day, that friend gives me a ‘challenge.’ No, these are not the “Do 100 Push-Ups” kind. That wouldn’t be a challenge for me, anyway. But funny, intriguing, odd tasks that can only come from a person who knows my soul inside out.
On Sunday, I was given this task. “Go for a walk in the morning, click flower photos, and listen to the birds.” I looked at it in amazement. “Walk? Me?” I don’t do ‘walks.’ I run, usually with the headphones on. Walking bores me. Yes, this was a challenge, indeed. I sighed, I grumbled, but I was ready in the morning for my walk. I didn’t wear my running shoes. I just set off in the moccasins I had. The sun was already up. But the air was still not warm. Bangalore hung lazy. I had no headphones with me either. I felt my feet crunch the gravel underneath. My Mom was sweeping the flowers away from the porch of our house. I stopped and helped her out, but drew the line at sweeping the road outside our gate. “Lazy lazy,” she wagged a finger at me. The neighbor sitting on her balcony in front laughed.
I smiled. This was already turning out to be quite beautiful.
I barely walked a few steps before the first flower said “hi” from a house just down the street. I almost had to venture into their house to take this photo. It left my Mom alarmed, wondering what I was doing creeping into other people’s houses on a Sunday morning.
I reached the end of that road, and I then had to decide where to go. These are the big questions in life. For me, sometimes the biggest question is which brand of shampoo to buy. If I turn right, which is where I wanted to go, I will meet this pack of dogs, who always snap at me when I go running. If I turn left, though, there would be no interesting flower-laden roads. I swallowed my fear and turned right. Sometimes, all it takes to get rid of fear is to meet it. The dogs of my nightmares were all lying peacefully after a hard night of work.
I resisted the urge to walk faster. I tried to walk slowly. I went past the Kannada actor, Darshan’s house, where some loyal fans hovered around, waiting for him. I smiled when I saw the illustrations on a kindergarten’s wall. I smiled even more because it said “Murthy Arts.” There was a phone number next to the dancing flowers, and it ended with 30. That number is special to me because it is also my friend’s birthday.
I was now, after a long time, enjoying this conversation with the Universe. “What would you show me next?” I asked in gleeful anticipation. I came across a gate that led nowhere, where the sun peeped through shy branches. I stood in wonder at that play of light. That gate was just to stop people from ‘trespassing.’ I looked at that gate as if it were the barriers I put around myself. Defenses that we cling to because we just can’t bear anyone getting close to that vulnerability that is our self. And here was the sun, gloriously shining light through its bars. A sign hung upside down on that gate. I thought then, this is quite all right. You may be upside down in your life, you may have a gate to yourself, but you see, there is always the Sun to light all of it up.
I walk some more, past a new hospital that is still under construction. I take a narrow road I had never taken before to reach a quaint road that I had once walked with the same friend. I see an old Maruti van, abandoned.
I stood there, fascinated. The windows were broken. The seats were still intact. The steering wheel still there. You can be broken, you can be abandoned, but you can live with everything that you still have. And what you have is so much more than you would never need. That van made me think of Time, of how the past is just decrepit in its arms. How we take for granted this life!
It was in that somber, reflective mood that I turn the corner. There is a little stone bench here. I don’t know why. Just a stone slab. But I have come to realize that if Life shows you a bench, it would be nice for you to just sit a while on it. So I sat on that bench.
And then I heard it. The tree next to that bench is filled with sunbirds. They are excited about something right at that time, perching here and there with frantic chirping. That’s why this bench is here, I realize! I sit there for 10 minutes, listening to the birds. I don’t try to take a photo. I just sit there. The sun is now covering every part of me. I feel what it is truly when the monks say,”We have to live in the moment.”
Because all too soon it was over. The birds left the tree, and where there had been music till then, there was now the music of silence. I walked down that street, seeing with amusement a house that I just couldn’t describe.
I saw a frangipani on the road, and I wanted to ask the flower if it loved being in the moment.
I reached near my house, and I saw smoke rising from ashes as someone burnt the fallen leaves. Ashes to smoke, that’s all our life. But in between, you have miles to go. Yes, miles to go and places to see, as Dr. Seuss might say. I held these pictures in my head, in my heart, and I told the Universe: Thank you, that was a wonderful class.