Solitary Morning Walk / Fr. Dr. K. M. George

victory

Solitary Morning Walk. Covid Times – 1
Life’s Victory over Death and Decay

This morning I made a snap of this fragile creeper celebrating the delight of life over the dead and decaying trunk of a once mighty tree. We may not all know the name of this humble plant. What we think for sure is that it is a weed and that it is of no use to human beings.! You may weed it out, but not its glorious testimony to life.

(kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam, 27 April 2020)

rhythhm

Solitary Morning Walk – 2
Rhythm

I casually noticed this ivy plant on the outer wall of a villa’s compound this morning. One may instinctively feel a certain melody and rhythm in the pattern of its natural growth. It seems all nature including our bodies is endowed with that quality, visibly or invisibly. But we seem to prefer jarring notes.This little plant seems to invite the passersby to attune themselves to the rhythm of life.

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam, 29 April 2020)

thottavdy

Solitary Morning Walk – 3
Touch Me Not

For children in tropical regions “Thottavadi” or Touch – me – not (Mimosa Pudica) appears to be an amusingly quizzical plant. As soon as you try to touch it, the plant “locks down”. When you move away it unfolds. One of the most sensitive plants, Thottavadi seems to smell the human touch, more often than not, as an attempt to crush and shred, to pluck and kill. Hence the lock-down! But the shy plant shows up joyfully to light and air, mist and music. All plants and animals have this sensitivity in varying degrees. While we humans are the least sensitive, our microworld cousins like bacteria and viruses seem to be extremely sensitive even to infinitesimally small variations in temperature, and other cosmic forces.May be one reason for the novel corona outbreak. Let us respect their modesty and deep sensitivity to the environment.

(Kmg, Solitary morning walk, Kovidakam, Devalokam, 30 April 2020)

mulbery

Solitary Morning Walk – 4
Memory

When we want to give a gift to someone it would be good to include seeds and saplings. Some recipients would plant them, and later when they take flowers or fruits from them they would remember you in gratitude and love. A little boy from Idukki gifted me some seeds , and two years ago he himself planted a mulberry tree in my courtyard. This morning I gathered the first fruits as you see in the picture, and blessed the boy in silence without his knowing it. When all plants and trees become gifts (indeed, they are ) our human psychological memory of gratitude and the biological memory of the various species of plants weave into each other and go back to millions of years as one single life. Let me dare to coin a new word for this joyful experience – Symbiomnesis, memory of life together.

(Kmg, Kottayam, കോവിദകം, 30 April 2020)

chena

Solitary Morning Walk – 5
The Unfolding Green Umbrella

Sometime back I buried a piece of Chena (elephant yam, ചേന ) in my backyard, and forgot all about it and its location. Suddenly to my surprise two weeks ago a powerful cone-shaped shoot broke the ground and emerged in full vigour. My memory was restored. It seemed plants and animals never forget their original location while we human beings can move out and forget our roots. The architectural beauty of this young plant is remarkable. In fact, every plant and tree has its particular architecture. Let me call it arbitecture (from Latin arbor=tree). Developing a fine sensitivity to the infinite shades of arbi-tectural diversity can be very enriching.

(Solitary walk, Corona times, kmg, കോവിദകം, Devalokam, Kottayam. 2 May 2020)

dancing-girl

Solitary Morning Walk – 6

Can you see in this simple orchid flower a dancing girl offering a gift to you? There is dance in every speck of the universe from quarks to quasars. There is amazing insight in the concept of the cosmic dance as represented, for instance, by Nataraja, the Lord of dance. The more we are able to feel the vibrations of the incessant cosmic dance the better we understand our universe.

(Solitary Walk, Kmg, കോവിദകം, Devalokam, Kottayam, 6 may 2020)

the-fall

Solitary Morning Walk – 7
The Fall and Rise of…

Historians usually describe the “Rise and Fall” (in that order) of Civilisations. We may, however, reverse the order and say the “Fall and Rise”.. This may be more true to nature. In the picture taken early this morning in our pond the fresh young flower rises radiantly while the older one lies flat and exhausted. Without any special care the _ampel_ in the pond brings out a series of flowers in some seasons. Every time a flower falls a new one immediately rises up.The chain of life is never broken. Every morning when you get up with a heavy heart because of the Covid spread and death of people dear to you, the water lily greets you and tells you, holding up hope, that the chain of life will never be broken. In Nature there is rise after every fall.

(Solitary Walk, Kmg, കോവിദകം,, Devalokam, Kottayam, 9 May 2020)

ripples

Solitary Morning Walk – 8
Ripples

One of the childhood delights for many of us was to watch the gentle ripples in ponds and and still waters. Sometimes a little fish leaps or we children throw pebbles to create concentric circles of waves that move out and expand one after the other. My picture shows two such ripple rings at the Kodoor river near Devalokam. The amazing thing is that these waves from two different sources do not clash and cancel each other as we usually expect. Instead they glide through each other and expand in a smooth non-conflictual way. The bigger one doesn’t swallow the smaller one either. We humans are however trained to think in terms of conflict and contrast as “natural”. But nature doesn’t seem to follow that logic. Alternate ways are possible from international politics to inter personal relations (For those inclined to philosophy it may be intetersting to recall the old idea of ‘Coincidence of Opposites’ (Nicolas of Cusa) or the Advaitic principle of _Ekam sat_ viprah bahuda vadanti_ – Truth is one, spoken of differently by the learned, or certain modern notions of quantum entanglement).

(Solitary Walk, kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam, Kottayam, 11 may 2020)

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Solitary Morning Walk – 9
The Grass and the Flute

Just grass! But what a grace and dignity! Born on the margins of a street and beside a gutter it could grow to maturity thanks to the Covid-19 lockdown for humans. Otherwise it would have been long crushed by some vehicle or pedestrians. Zooming the picture we see the wealth of seeds it carries for generations to come. Counted as a useless weed and a nuisance for garden lovers this plant has well known cousins like bamboo and reeds. They provide the material for the celebrated murali, the flute, to shepherds and musicians everywhere, even to Lord Krishna. Jesus always looked at this grass of the field most affectionately, and exclaimed how well God took care of it. Already we can listen to the melody of the flute in the grace and elegance of this fleeting grass.

(Solitary Walk, kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam, Kottayam, 12 May 2020)

net

Solitary Morning Walk – 10
The Net

Again this morning by the river Kodoor.

Under the bridge connecting Devalokam and Kollad village two men seem to be unravelling their fishing net. Set against the blinding light of the rising sun they are seen only as silhouettes.

Their net is almost invisible. Suppose we don’t see any net at all, we would take them as actors in a shadow play, somewhat like in the Cave allegory of Plato. We cannot then make out any sense of their strange gesticulations. They would be mere shadows of which the Archetypes or real original models are in another world in the Platonic sense.

In our case the fishing net helps to provide meaning. . Even if it is only barely visible it actually connects the body- movements of the two men and makes some sense to us. We humans can hardly survive for long without physical proximity and connectivity. Deprived of that the world reality becomes for us an absurd shadow play.

In this time of disconnecting Covidemic we make a huge effort to unravel the connectingnet of meaning, psychologically and spiritually. Mother Nature can be of immense help to us in this regard.

(Kmg, കോവിദകം, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 13 May 2029)

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Solitary Morning Walk – 11
The Hole

It rained heavily last night and refreshed all vegetation languishing in the summer heat. Taking a stroll in the morning freshness I found on my path a fallen _aalila_, leaf of the Indian peepal tree, also called the bodhi tree. (Ficus religiosa). The leaf had a conspicuous hole, a sign of old age and death. After all a hole is nothing but just empty space. An absence! But one could also look through it and see the vast sky and the ages past. See Gautma seated under that legendary bodhi tree receiving the enlightened awareness, to become the Buddha 2500 years ago. The presence!

Just when I held up the leaf with one hand to take this picture with the other, a _thumpi_ (dragon fly) appeared from nowhere and perched on it. A total surprise! Zooming the image one can see the delicately transparent wings of the _thumpi_, our cherished childhood friend, embrace the fallen leaf. Offering its affectionate homage to a an old leafy friend??

(Kovidakam, Devalokam P.O., Kottayam. 15 May 2020)

droplect

Solitary Morning Walk – 12
The Droplet

With the generous rainfall this summer my very young_ambazham_ (Indian Hog Plum) is breaking forth into hilarious blossoms.The savoury ambazhanga pickle already whets my appetite by anticipation! While greeting the plant in the clear early morning after nightlong showers, I noticed a droplet of water suspended in plain air between two bunches of buds. On close scrutiny it became clear that the droplet was attached to a very fine, almost imperceptible thread of a cobweb. Soon the webmaster appeared from behind the bouquets. Obviously he hadn’t caught any insect due to rain.His net got twisted and spoiled . He looked hungry. The only thing trapped on the net was a beautiful droplet of rainwater. Did I say beautiful? He may not agree with my sense of beauty.When I am terribly hungry and craving for food you offer me a rose flower and want me to say it’s beautiful.?…

Despite all, he posed for my picture with “equanimity. He seemed to have the detached air of an ancient wiseman who had learned to survive many a disaster. The rain will go away.
The net will be reconstructed. The food will come by…

(Kmg, കോവിദകം, Devalokam PO, Kottayam. 19 May 2020)

IMG-20200521-WA0013

Solitary Morning Walk – 13
The Question

The Koval creeper plant (Ivy gourd) in my backyard adjacent to the kitchen is given all care and support. A good pandal is erected for it to spread, blossom and bear fruit comfortably Normally most of the tender branches happily comply with this traditional arrangement . But some mavericks among them, like the one in the attached picture I took this morning , just refuse the comfort zone and stretch out beyond the roof level to the unknown, to the vast sky and the far away sun. In plain air they form themselves into question marks (?) in the reverse , and apparently not getting any answer to their question , make a circle, the symbol of eternity, that has neither beginning nor end. The ancient Greeks would have called them eccentric philosophers. This might sound ridiculous to us. Can simple, fragile, and dependent plants ever be philosophers and raise metaphysical questions??

I must confess that the regular branches of the Koval provide very good green fruits for my vegetarian cooking, while these strange guys are very unpredictable and of not much use. However, I continue to be deeply puzzled by their untiring aspiration, against all odds, to reach the Unreachable….l

{Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam. 21 May 2920}

venda

Solitary Morning Walk – 14
The Feast

During the regular morning round I was greeted by the very first flower on my new Venda plant (Lady’s finger) in the backyard. Proud to be the first visitor I stooped down to see her lovely face at close quarters. To my surprise there was already a tiny visitor from Lilliput, my brother of ancient days, as you see in the picture. While I was anticipating the final fruit, the vendakkai, that is to emerge over a week or so to enrich my table, my little ant-ique brother had already his fill of honey and was about to leave.

As a human being I had tagged only one purpose to the Venda I planted and nurtured, namely an abundant yield of vendakka I could consume. All else was just rubbish for me. On the contrary Nature has an enormous range of complex connections and considerations almost totally unknown to me. Long before it brings out the “final“ fruit for my “use”, it prepares a Great Table for millions of microorganisms and insects where they hold mysterious communion and intimate dialogues about the web of Life in all profundity.

They come from East and West, North and South to sit at the Table. May be because of my aggressively large body and voracious consumption I am not privy to that Cosmic Council. If I change my attitude, I may stand a chance, they say. I should also be light and soft enough to be able to sit and move on the petal of a flower like my little friend!

What a challenge for us humans with large and weighty heads ! It seems we will have to rewrite all laws of gravity, cognition and perception in order to be able to join that amazing party…

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 23 May, 2020)

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Solitary Morning Walk – 15
The Hermit

The morning walk took me to the riverbank at the break of the dawn. In twilight’s semi darkness one could see the silhouette of a human figure crouched in a country boat. The water was still. The figure didn’t move, nor did the boat, nor anything else in the surroundings. After watching this mystical scene for a while, I walked on. Returning to the same spot one hour later, I found the same scenario except that there was a little more light to take a picture (attached).

The man seated in the country boat with a fishing net seemed to be meditating like a crane on one leg. Obviously he was not in any action. One can find such brooding, immobile fishing persons, particularly anglers, in many parts of the world. Fishing may be only a pretext for them. They lock themselves down in lonely spots by rivers and lakes and spend hours in isolation and silence. Are they escaping from something? From the noise and bustle of urban life? From the meaningless monotony of daily chores? From the suffocation of an unhappy family life? Or just to be there in deep contemplation in nature’s lap like the hermits of old?

The fish seem to respect such detached anglers with fishing lines attached to their hands. No fish takes a bite. And the angler appears to be least concerned

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 28 May 2020)

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Solitary Morning Walk – 16
The Balm

Children who grew up in tropical Kerala’s countryside might nostalgically remember a very soothing natural eye balm. As you see in the picture, very cool and balmy drops are formed on tips of the tender roots of ordinary grass that creeps on rustic stone walls. The growing edge, slightly oily, of the exposed roots collect dew drops at night and convert them to a balm. In the mornings some of us children would go out to pick the tiny roots in order to anoint our eyes with the cool drops. Some children who are too sensitive to pluck the little roots would bow down, bring their eyes close to the grass and get them anointed . Imagine the starry eyes of the cute little ones being gently stroked by the tender, refreshing grass roots soaked in balmy drops of dew. It was glorious!“This intimate touch with nature brightens up not only our outer eyes, but also the inner ones. These sparkling dew drops are formed in the misty silence of deep and dark nights. The humble grass roots know how to befriend them in equal silence. To be anointed by them is to be initiated into still deeper layers of reality.

Our children in online-schooling , with bleary eyes locked down to digital screens, desperately need this refreshing stroke of nature. Will we ever care to keep the atmosphere free from all pollution so that our kids will still find some balmy drops at the “grass roots level” in all purity and freshness.?.

(Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 1 June2020)

the-fall-01

Solitary Walk-17

To be or not to be

* Yesterday, the Earth Day, when I visited this flower by the river Kodoor (see the picture) she was a bud. Having sensed the dirty and cluttered surroundings she appeared to be wavering whether to unfold or not. Yet this morning I found her in all glory. Yes, she decided to open up, TO BE.

Thank you dear friend. Your decision to rise above the water and spread out your petals cleared the fog in my own mind. It buttressed my inclination TO BE amidst all ugliness and uncertainty floating around in this dark covidosphere .

One is naturally reminded of our beloved poet Ayyappa Panicker’s poem Kanikonna (Golden shower tree): Enikkavathille pookkathirikkan ..(Oh, I cannot but blossom..).

This is the inherent surge of life – To Be rather than not to be. Philosophers (like Heidegger) have always wondered: why there is something rather than nothing . Physicists would say that for every particle there is an antiparticle, but in the sum total of particles in the universe the former exceeds the latter, they say.

PS. Recently together with some young volunteers we hired a country boat and twice cleaned a long stretch of the Kodoor along the beautifully tiled walkway, and collected a huge pile of empty bottles of alcohol, mineral water, Ayurvedic concoctions and what not. Still our dear river continues to receive both holy and unholy offerings from all sides- some float, some sink.. Quiet flows the Kodoor!

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 6 June 2020).

copy

Solitary Walk-18

THE COPY

An early morning view across the river Kodoor. Belying the monsoon forecast the sky is exceptionally clear. Patches of white clouds over the blue sky along with trees on the banks below are faithfully reflected in the water.

Reflections have always been an enigma. The reflected image can sometimes be an exact copy of the original object, and we find it hard to differentiate.Turn the attached picture upside down, and it doesn’t make any difference. We could be puzzled as to which is which.

The best minds in ancient Greece and India pondered over the elusive image and its relationship with the original. For them, the world and all that it represents including us human beings belong to the category of reflected image. It’s an appearance (pratibhasa) -fleeting, illusory, deceptive, a maya vision. They are tantalisingly real, but painfully unreal. Philosophers had come up with sophisticated theories to explain the connection between the copy and the original. Plotinus, the great Neo-Platonist philosopher was asked by an artist to sit for a portrait. But he flatly refused saying that a picture would be the copy of the copy of the original, and so worthless.

But for us lesser mortals the reflections are enchantingly beautiful and worthy. How much we jostle and vie with each other to get into a photo image!!

The reflected image can take countless shapes of varying tones, textures and patterns depending on the play of light over reflecting surfaces like unsteady water. Impressionist artists made good use of such transient phenomena. Our usual sense of beauty and most of our aesthetics are derived from such reflected images and their enchantments. The enigma is that without the reflected shadow the original is much less charming. You may horizontally delete half of the attached picture, ie, the reflected part, and see what happens to your sense of beauty. ..

So let’s keep the original and the shadow together for the time being.. Until we acquire a radically different sense of beauty.

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, 13 June 2020)

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Solitary Walk – 19

Black is Beautiful

In Kerala’s countryside we could once easily spot a delightful wild variety of Mussaenda plant. It’s first leaves are all dark green, then come white leaves, and finally the cute red flowers inside the white (My picture here shows a different variety).
Standing around the plant we children chanted in unison:

Amma karumpi,
Makalu velumpi,
Makalude makaloru
Sundarikkotha.

(അമ്മ കറുമ്പി
മകളു വെളുമ്പി
മകളുടെ മകളൊരു
സുന്ദരിക്കോത)

Roughly translated it reads:

Mother dark, 
daughter fair, 
daughter’s daughter damsel fairest. 😊

We learned it from our mothers and grand mothers. Sometimes we would wield a stick and strike down the wild plant leaf by leaf while singing it rhythmically. This was in imitation of some of our teachers who beat us for some reason or no reason. We were unknowingly projecting our anger onto the poor plant. (I wonder if modern man’s brutality to nature is some kind of infantile Adam’s anger against God who expelled him from paradise. Let’s ask Herr Doktor Freud !)

It was much later, while learning about European colonial empires, slave trade, apartheid and pervasive racial discrimination that I realised how racist and colour-discriminatory our innocently chanted verse was. Some people might say the standard of beauty hidden in the chant was a white British colonial heritage. But it was here with us long before the colonial era. The white European colonial domination of the dark skinned people probably strengthened our own colour-discriminatory aesthetics. Deeply ingrained in our caste system was the grand narrative of the so-called ancient Aryan-Dravidian conflict and the dominant aesthetics of fair skinned “Aryans “ imposed on all the rest of Indians. Acting in school dramas more than half a century ago I remember how heavily they coated your face with white powder, just to be in line with the standards of the prevailing white skin aesthetics.

In our times the rallying cry Black is Beautiful arose from a deeply wounded collective consciousness of people who have been brutally discriminated against for centuries now.
The horrible killing of George Floyd, our dark-skinned African-American brother, once again reminds us how demonic a racist ideology based on skin colour can become.

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 23 June 2020)

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Solitary Walk-20

The Other Side

Many of us probably haven’t seen the underside of an ampel leaf (water lily). This is understandable because the leaves are floating flatly on the water surface, and they always keep the same level with the water, rising or receding. We simply look at the flat leaves from above, unless you are a scuba diver who can see from below. Check the more than 200 celebrated water lily paintings by the well known French Impressionist artist Claude Monet. You hardly come across a leaf turned upside down. So I should be lucky to see this leaf by the river Kodoor display its other side. It seems the poor leaf was jammed and pushed up by some flowing objects moved by heavy monsoon rains.How remarkably beautiful is the network of nerves seen on the backside.!!

Well, the leaf has not only two sides but a third dimension as well. It’s thickness, the third, may be too thin for us to see! Of course, the leaf, like any other matter in the universe, is three-dimensional. Then it has a fourth dimension -Time, if we trust our science gurus. Then a fifth, sixth and so on. Modern String theory in Physics would postulate at least ten dimensions for the material universe. How would the world look like if we humans are able to perceive reality with all those dimensions.?!

Worldly wisdom says: Everything has got two sides, and even if you beat up your mother there will be two sides – for and against ! Spiritual wisdom suggests there are innumerable dimensions to reality-the outer and the inner, the marginal and the mainstream, the saved and the deleted , the opulent and the oppressed….It’s all inclusive, nothing is left out.
Yes, it can be disconcerting. But it would be great if we keep at least the two sides: the inside and the outside, the Akam and the Puram. Even in these two there are possibilities to delve deeper and deeper ad infinitum.

(Kmg, Kovidakvam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 28 June 2020)

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Solitary Walk – 21

The Arachnosophia

If we stretch our imagination a little we can say that the spider in the picture is creating a website. Not one but actually two sites!! Read www…
In fact, s/he is the original creator of the World Wide Web over a hundred million years ago. We modern humans are simply mimicking it.(The “World “is now on a small ficus tree in my front yard!)

During the last few decades the web or the network idea has increasingly been highlighted as the fundamental character of life and the universe. Book titles like physicist Fritjof Capra’s The Web of Life attract popular attention. From the simple fishing net to the intricate synaptic network of neurons in the brain and to the cosmic structures of the material and cyber universes the image of the web reigns supreme. Everybody everywhere now recites the mantra of connectivity. Still the human hands are not dexterous enough to create a simple silky spider’s web with its silvery million-year old tradition.
The spider and its web are celebrated in the Upanishads as providing a striking analogy to explain the relation between the Creator and the creation. The Upanishadic sages ( in Mundaka and Brihadaranyaka) highlighted two things:

First, the spider produces the silk threads from inside its own body, and it can also take them back at will, just as the ultimate Divine Principle can produce the manifest material universe as well as withdraw it at will.
Second, the spider can smoothly glide over its own web while all other insects and objects are caught in the net. Likewise, a detached and liberated person can comfortably move around the world while the unenlightened are constantly caught in the world-net of misery, suffering and death.
What a fantastic analogy!

Take a look at our own situation today. Our technology can produce magnificent things, but once produced it cannot retract them unlike the spider. Thus our small earth and its outer space are being littered with products from simple soft drink straws to circling satellites. Again, we cannot glide smoothly like the spider over our own products; instead we are being trapped by them. Think of all the nuclear and carbon emitting and climate changing devices we have projected forth from our brains. No way to absorb them back to our brains and bodies. We are being increasingly entangled in their fatal web. And we know where it all leads to….

Hats off to the wisdom of our ancient arachnid ancestor. No more arachnophobia but arachnosophia, Spider’s wisdom, please.

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, July 7, 2020)

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Solitary Walk – 22

Sleeping Trees

Do plants and trees sleep? Yes, they do, according to the experts. A large variety of them droop and close their leaves at sunset to take a night’s rest.

Some years ago, I once returned home hungry around 7 pm and wanted to fix a simple supper with rice kanji and some green leaves as usual. I thought of cooking the medicinal Thazhuthama (Red Spiderlings, Boerhavea) that grows abundantly just outside my kitchen. Turning the backyard light on I went out and, to my surprise, found the creeper’s delicate branches all shut down with folded leaves as if they are in prayer. It naturally occurred to me that the plant was profoundly asleep ! Imagination soared wild in my tired mind. If the plant is sleeping would it probably be dreaming too ? If so what kind of dream would a humble plant have?…

Looking beyond the boundary wall I saw the mighty rain tree ( Samanea) in my neighbour’s compound in the same condition. Tens of thousands of its leaves are all closed down as if in a state of deep meditation in the moonlit night. It flashed across my mind that in between the tiny Thazhuthama and the sprawling rain tree all vegetation is sleeping. They might be recollecting and retracing in deep silence the story of their species back to millions of years. Has anyone got the right to disturb their contemplation.? Awed by the sight and silence I simply refrained from picking any leaf, and returned to my rice soup and ready stock of pickles. Ever since that moving experience I stopped picking vegetables for cooking after sunset. Much later I learned from a wise elderly friend that there is a traditional ban on picking legumes at night for understandable reasons.

Plants follow the circadian rhythm of night and day. What the botanists call nyctinastic movement (from Greek nyx= night) is an amazing phenomenon that tells us a lot about the extreme sensitivity of all vegetation to light.Their metabolism changes depending on the bright and dark environment. We human beings seem to be the least sensitive to the environment. We recognise it in some minor degree only when a major catastrophe strikes us, like the present climate change and the global outbreak of a deadly virus.

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 17 July 2020)

Solitary Walk-23

Biodegradable

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On a morning walk one is likely to see sometimes rotting bodies of animals like stray dogs and cats crushed by speeding vehicles. Not a pleasant sight at all. Yet all living things, humans and animals, birds and plants all go through the decaying process as they return to the dust of the earth. The earth is called “womb and tomb” because all life is born of the earth and all life returns to it.

In the triumphant age of plastic, the word ‘biodegradable’ was rather detestable to many. That word refers to all that is susceptible to decomposition following death. Naturally one may not like to be reminded of death and decay. Yet as we began to realise the perils of plastic that never decomposes , ‘biodegradable’ became a cherished word. The new ideal is not the imperishability of plastic but the perishability or biodegradability of consumer products. Along with the word ‘eco-friendly’ the word ‘biodegradability’ has also become the marketing mantra for any industrial products. We should not be surprised even if they scribble these two words on nuclear bombs and missiles as well in the competitive weapon .

Human beings have always been seeking Amrit, the elixir of immortality. Although we humans call ourselves Martya or mortal we like to give names like Amartya or Amrita to our beloved children.! What a longing for immortality!

The legendary Upanishadic sage Yajnavalkya divided his material wealth between his two wives. One of them , Katyayani, was very pleased to get her share. The other one, Maitreyi , asked her husband:

‘Does this wealth give me immortality?’

‘No’, said the sage.

‘Then what use is of it?’, quizzed the learned lady.

Nobel laureate Indian economist Amartya Sen says Maitrey’s question had influenced his reflections in economic theory and practise.

Remember the rich young man who earnestly asked Jesus how he could inherit immortal life, and the radically shocking answer Jesus the homeless gave him: ‘Go, give away all your wealth and then follow me.’ He went away sad, says the
Bible.

Armed with Artificial Intelligence, Genome sequencing and gene editing, biotechnology moves ahead to create super humans and perfect designer babies out of ordinary mortals.

Methuselah the legendary biblical giant who lived 969 years seems to be the target hero for our Enhancement technologies.

However, the Corona pandemic seems to drive home the immediacy of the perennial question of death and decay. It can’t be answered simply at the material realm only, but we need to get glimpses of what lies beyond -in faith, hope and love.

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 24 July 2020)

Solitary Walk -24

Flexibility

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The river Kodoor starts flooding. Water has risen some 8 feet above the summer level. The beautiful walkway along the river is nearly submerged. It is really astonishing to watch how swiftly the water-lily leaves rise to the same level of water and stay afloat. The leaf-stem elongates within a short time to catch up with the changing environment. (The attached picture from the Kodoor shows a newly elongated stem ). This aquatic plant is an epitome of adaptability/flexibility. In future-oriented business circles they speak more and more about the need for human flexibility.

We are all used to concepts like the conventional Intelligence Quotient ( IQ) and the popular Emotional Quotient (EQ). Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory has become appealing to many educators. But with the emerging global circumstances Adaptability/ Flexibility Quotient (AQ)is being given a crucial role in career success . A person with high IQ but with low AQ may not necessarily be a successful person. In our fast changing world of uncertainty, rudely brought home to us by the Covid crisis, millions will lose their comfortable jobs, business empires will collapse and the poor will become poorer and more miserable. People with stiff necks and confined to a mono-vision are more likely to suffer than those who are flexible, open and willing to learn and unlearn in the new environment. In the uncertain future ahead of us most most human beings will be obliged to take on multitasking in a very broad range, from kitchen to cockpit and from agriculture to astrophysics. Reorienting the education and upbringing of our children with this flexibility in mind will be a must.

We have been told by neuroscientists since several decades that our adult brain is capable of new adaptations and new learning. What they call “Neuroplaticity” is the flexibility of the neurons or brain cells to make new connections and realignments as we learn, think and experience in new ways.Many people seem to assume that once they pass childhood and early youth they are incapable of adapting to changes.

Well, children certainly have greater adaptability. We see 3-year old kids sometimes handle digital devices more elegantly than adult specialists. The spirit of the age!
It is likely that children born in Covid times would later wear face masks in a natural and comfortable way while the present adults struggle with it under compulsion and with constant irritation.

But we adults and seniors too can become like children to some extent since our brain network can be flexible enough. No wonder Jesus used to exhort the middle aged and the elderly to “turn and become like children”.

Holding in hand the growing stem of the water lily rooted in the river bed but reaching out to the sun above water , and feeling it’s baby-like suppleness and inner warmth, one cannot but sense the flexible tenderness of rugged mountains, arid deserts and raging oceans.

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam. 1 August 2020)

The Solitary Walk – 25

The Link

25

Happily the flood water is receding in Kerala. For the third consecutive year the Monsoon flood in August has devastated many low lying parts of Kerala bringing along misery and suffering particularly for the poor. Relentless deforestation and massive land slips killing many in the environmentally delicate hill ranges go hand in hand.

The raging Kodoor has returned to sobriety. In the soft evening light over the limpid river one can see a cute dragonfly perch on the tip of an emerging water-lily bud. (Picture attached). It’s reflection in the water below is even clearer.

It is puzzling. Why on earth this little creature chose to sit on a flower bud’s pinnacle surrounded by deep water? It could have found a resting place anywhere else – plants, trees or just tall grass on the river bank. If it were a kingfisher we could easily guess the intention. Since there is no flower around, it wasn’t probably looking for honey either. It’s just water all around, risky for such a flimsy winged creature.

It seems there is some form of communication between the fly and the flower bud. A life to life exchange of vital pulsation?. They are not close relatives. According to our understanding of the evolutionary chain an aquatic plant and an ethereal fly are millions of years apart. Yet they communicate with each other. They must have a shared pool of genetic memory since all life is interconnected.

Looking carefully at the picture we can see the vague image of an umbilical cord, that is, the stem of the emerging flower connecting to the river bed and the womb of mother earth.Between the fly and the bud too there is certainly an unseen cord. It is enigmatic that all the fundamental forces of our universe like gravitational, electromagnetic and nuclear, are not seen by us but only felt in different ways.

We have advanced to the age of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) where even our household devices such as fridges, door locks, window curtains, aircons and security alarms can smartly communicate with each other and with people far away .They say the smart fridge can even do direct shopping when milk, butter and other regular supplies are depleted. Every smart machine will explore its own history and memory to do what is timely and needful. We are told that the mind- machine interface is getting thinner and thinner everyday. Technology for direct brain- computer communication, or even further, brain to brain neural links, will no longer be just science fiction.

Yet we simply ignore the fundamental forces of Life’s connectivity. There is a beautiful biblical narrative of a womb to womb communication when two pregnant women meet and greet each other in the rugged hill country of Judea -the elderly Elizabeth carrying the future John the Baptist and the young Mary bearing the embryonic Jesus.

Finally what was it that conspired between the lily bud and the dragonfly ? Was it anything about flying free in the vast open sky? Or about being rooted on earth in the dark, sticky slime ? Or about both, together, without any human problem of duality?

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam. 14 August 2020)

The Solitary Walk – 26

“Morning after a Forest Fire”

26

Mixed media, 20×30 cms. Desolation of mother nature wrought by human greed. Deforestation is a major cause of ecological imbalance. Most forest fires killing tens of thousands of species of life, big and small, are part of the human design to subdue the earth and exploit its resources meant for generations of all living beings. The crisis of climate change is mostly the direct result of greedy human intervention in the rhythm of nature to sustain our unsustainable consumerist lifestyle. Eventually it is destruction of the biosphere shared by all creatures, and the end of all life on earth.

Still there is some hope if we human beings repent here and now. The picture symbolically alludes to a “morning after” and also shows a stream at the bottom of the burning forest. If we humans wisely exercise our freedom and respect for life there is still some way out. But hardly any time to wait and waste . This painting makes use of acrylic, dry twigs, cotton threads and even scraps of dry left-over paint from my old palette. It is inspired by the repeated warnings against deforestation by Sri Madhav Gadgil in the context of recent flood, land slips and heavy casualties in Kerala. My thanks to the fellow artist members of CARP for their friendship and encouragement.

Kmg, Kottayam, August, 2020.

******

കാട്ടു തീയ്‌ക്കു ശേഷം വന്ന പ്രഭാതം. മിശ്രിത മീഡിയം. 20×30 cms.

വന നശീകരണമാണ് കേരളത്തിലെ പ്രകൃതി ദുരന്തങ്ങൾക്ക് പ്രധാന കാരണം എന്നു മാധവ് ഗാഡ്ഗിൽ തുടങ്ങിയവർ ആവർത്തിക്കുന്നു. എങ്കിലും നാം അത്യാഗ്രഹത്തോടെ പ്രകൃതിയെ കൊള്ളയടിക്കുന്നു. നാം മനം തിരിഞ്ഞാൽ പ്രതീക്ഷക്കു വകയുണ്ട്. ഈ ചിത്രത്തിൽ ഉണങ്ങിയ ചുള്ളിക്കമ്പുകളും വേരുകളും ചരടുകളും മറ്റും ഉപയോഗിക്കുന്നു. പ്രത്യാശയുടെ പ്രതീകമായി പ്രഭാതവും അടിയിൽ ഒരു നീരൊഴുക്കും സൂചിപ്പിയ്ക്കുന്നു.

The Solitary Walk – 27

The Skinbag
 
skinbag

Just imagine that our skin from head to foot is completely transparent. We will then see each other’s inner organs and all internal body processes like metabolism and blood circulation, from the intake of food to the point of excretion. The skeletal movement of each living person might scare us as if we see with X-ray eyes. The interior of the body will be absolutely the same for Blacks and Whites and Browns. What kind of a sense of beauty will we retain then? We would probably recognise that our present aesthetic of the body depends totally on the skin and the way it hides our inner organs.

I first came across the expression “ *skin-bag* ” while going through Buddhist ascetical literature. In order to discourage young monks from being attracted to bodily charms and pleasures , some teachers instruct them to look at the human body as a bag of skin carrying disgusting things like blood and bones, faeces and urine and what not.!
The Genesis story in the Bible narrates how Adam and Eve, feeling guilty and ashamed after breaking the law of the Creator , make clothing out of flimsy fig leaves to cover their nakedness. But God comes down and compassionately gives them permanent clothes of skin. Remember when we are born all wrapped up in silky skin we are actually fully dressed !! See how innocent children gleefully run around In “Adam’s suit” without any sense of shame or inhibition ! They, in fact, resist all clothing that we finally impose on them in the name of civilisation!

It is traditionally said that our beauty is “skin-deep”. But skin is not so shallow and superficial. Being the largest organ of our body it is far deeper than we usually think. It can be a display screen of our deep emotions , our mysterious mind and some of our internal diseases, particularly psychosomatic ones. The connection between the skin condition and some psychological disorders is so close that a whole branch of psychodermatology is being evolved in modern medicine.
While four out of the five sense organs are located on our face the sense of touch is distributed all over the body by means of the skin. Any part of the body is sensitive to touch. All living beings enjoy a caring touch or a soothing stroke or a loving caress.
We call some animals like elephants and hippopotamus pachyderms (in Greek pachus=thick; derma =skin). They are thick-skinned according to us. (Metaphorically we use the same attribute to certain human beings who have no sense of shame or are least sensitive to other people’s feelings). But animals, birds, and trees, however thick-skinned, never lack sensitivity to their environment unlike us human beings. People who take the earth as an extremely sensitive living organism would consider the green cover of forests and other greenery as her skin. Removing the earth’s skin is like stripping us of our own skin.
Being the interface between the environment and our inner self, the skin has the amazing natural ability to maintain simultaneously our individual identity and our constant exchanges with the world outside. While my skin-enclosure protects and marks out my individual Self it also enables my Self to communicate constantly with all other individual Selves and the total environment . If we translate this natural trait of our skin to the religious , political and cultural world that we have created a lot of negative exclusivism, fanaticism, selfishness and violence could be overcome. An all-inclusive sense of identity is certainly possible for us human beings. In fact, my self is shaped only in the close organic network of all other selves, human and non-human. How much we need this awareness in the face of many conflicting identities that make our lives miserable and our world unliveable.

Many people lament that our relationships are only skin-deep. Let us put it the other way round. We need *deep-skin* connections in the sense that we should be able to share and enjoy the intensity of life together, it’s emotions and feelings, reflections and insights, beauty and goodness of all creation as one body clothed in a deeply sensitive skin.

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, September 10, 2020).

Solitary Walk – 28
The Ringing Rings
At middle school what the science teacher told us about the annual growth rings formed inside the trees still rings in my ears. Showing us a picture of the cross section of a big tree she told us that one could determine the age of trees by counting the concentric circles on it. She advised us to visit a timber mill and count for ourselves the rings and the age of trees when they sawed them down. While the class listened to her with rapt attention one boy suddenly asked: ‘Can we see our growth rings if we cut open a human body?’ The teacher was aghast. ‘No, no, no you cannot do that…’,she said with obvious fear on her face .
Unanswered the question still rings. Have we humans got any internal markers of the life we live?
Scientists tell us that tree rings reveal a complex body of information about past climatic conditions -temperature, drought, rainfall, diseases, forest fires, flood, sunlight, and pollution . Disciplines like Dendrochronology (from Greek dendron=tree; chronos=time)and Dendroclimatology claim to be able to study environmental changes occurring even thousands of years ago by examining intact tree fossils.
Trees are thus keepers of a great memory.
We humans have many more modes of memory. Associated with our brain cells or neuronal network we have a neuro-psychological memory that is subjective, personal, patchy, vulnerable and subject to forgetfulness.We may not be able to compare our subjective memory with the comprehensive memory of trees objectively registered in the growth rings. We remember in our conscious mind. But our conscious mind seems to be a screen that hides rather than reveals, something like a tv or computer screen that reveals images, but hides the complex technical processes spanning huge spaces and time behind the screen. The conscious mind constantly sweeps away its experiences to the subconscious zone and finally to the hard disk of the unconscious. We try to retain collective memories of our race in mythology, music, dance, storytelling, folk arts, rites and rituals, language and literature .
We have a social and historical memory. dig up historical memory by means of archaeology and various paleo-sciences.We write volumes of history and erect monuments.
We have a genetic memory of the human race that we now begin to understand scientifically . According to researchers our diverse environmental experiences can make an impact on human sperm and ovum and it can eventually be transmitted to our DNA and our behavioural patterns . So they talk about a “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” that can be transmitted to successive generations.
We can talk about several other domains of memory. For example, what we may call the Eco-cosmic memory, or the memory of our rootedness in planet earth, the solar system, the milky way galaxy and so on.
We have a psycho-spiritual memory arising from our ability for transcendence and abstraction beyond physical material categories.
Through these multiple forms of memory like neuro-psychological, socio-historical, phylo-genetic, eco-cosmic, psycho-spiritual, we try to generate meaning by weaving the connecting threads of our life and its past environment. However, we seem to lack the sensitivity of trees to register the environment in its totality.
We human beings, however, have a qualitatively different concept of memory because we have the unique gifts of self-awareness and capacity for self-transcendence , freedom and creativity, power of speech and intellect, imagination and insight.
So the innocent question of the impulsive little boy returns: Can we see human growth rings if we cut open the body?
No amount of the analytical dissecting of our psyche, no interpretive intervention into our social history, no sequencing of our human genome will exhaust the mystery of human consciousness and memory. We can make useful inroads into it, but never grasp the whole in our present condition.
That is perhaps why great teachers of our human race always pointed to the necessary mutation of our self-seeking awareness itself into enlightened self awareness. We then become leading lights to the world for healing and wholeness, for love, joy and peace.
The growth rings of memory are hidden deep within us. The little boy’s quest was in the right direction.
(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam. 21 September 2020).