“Sit silently for a few moments and look all around you. Remember that everyone and everything that you see have all come from the same mass of hot gaseous material that was once a part of the Sun. See all as one dynamic whole. How does this perspective alter your feelings?”
– One Wholesome World
“Wipe your shoes before you come in, there is mud all over,” Mom would shout out as I darted in and out of the house in mud laden sandals, with my little pail and spade. Since I was a little child, most of my time was spent in the garden that is tended to with much love and care by my grandmother and father. One of the favourite pastime being, digging worms out from the moist mud under the garden pots and examining all types of bugs and ants I found. I would run up to Dad, ask their names, and then forget all about it. Till as recently as couple of days ago, I would show/email him pictures of plants, flowers, insects, butterflies – all of these, request for their names and then forget again, following the same pattern set in childhood.”I could always ask Dad, who would care to remember all these names,” the soft chatter persisted. However, the birds, I learnt how to identify on my own.
There was something special about getting hands muddy and taking deep breaths into the fragrant soil post the hose pipe had been all over, particularly on balmy summer evenings. My brother, Satyen, and I caught grasshoppers – watched them closely and left them in the park in front of our home or on friends who were scared of them – getting thrilled at their screams and jumps.The annuals, particularly, sweet-peas had several ladybirds on them – this was during early spring. My grandmother would “train” them with ropes so they grew straight on the wall, while the “dwarf dog flowers” we played with, were left to grow freely. They “spoke” with each other as we pressed the corners of their mouths into random conversations and barks that often ended in fights.
The 5am wake up was fairly frequent on weekends. Mom and Dad would take us for amazing birdwatching and nature walks in the green belts and big parks of Delhi or drive to greener areas right outside the city. These were times when waking up early was a sheer joy. I would promptly get ready and hang the binoculars that were given to me. From rat snakes, golden orioles, crow pheasants, red velvety insects to the huge varieties of butterflies on the blooming lantana bushes – we observed the riot of life. Quietly and mindfully watching every step on little rough tracks to each and every tree and shrub that would be either laced with birds or moving and rustling with scrambling mongooses, fighting or mating flared up garden lizards or flocks of dumpy gray babblers. Damdama lake, in Haryana was a much visited destination. It was all wild at that time with shrubs, a splendid acacia cover, tall grasses and more. The pheasant tailed jacana on the lily pads, the call of the indian pitta and the muddy cliff adorned with nesting blue throated bee-eaters were the highlights there. Mom would make delicious egg and cheese sandwiches that I particularly associated with such trips. Mine were without the mustard but with a generous dollop of mayonnaise instead. Amidst the scrubs, the snack box would open and our silence would break into chatter and chomping, till we got back on the nature trail.
Our short holidays were spent in the “tals” (lakes) – Bhimtal and Sattal, in particular, and wildlife sanctuaries like Jim Cobbert National Park and Bharatpur (a hub of migratory water birds in winters). While co-travellers were always waiting for the tiger, we saw several bird species and smaller life forms that were just as exciting to view. Despite many raised eyebrows amongst our family, my brother and I were made to miss school as my parents thought that travel and connecting with nature provided a kind of education you could never get from attending classes. I remember how I cried once as I would miss many days of school and Dad said, “Would you like to see a real starfish?”, pointing out to the picture in my science book. I was shocked. The thought thrilled me to bits – it almost felt like a dream. I was not worried about ‘making up for the missed school days’ or remarks made by teachers anymore. I returned from Goa with a dead dried starfish I found on the beach and a whole box of sea shells which I could show to the entire class. The spiral shells were my favourite. Then, I understood why Mom and Dad were so cool about us missing school and am extremely grateful for the rich experiences they provided us with. They said it “widened our horizons” and this I can really appreciate now.
We often stepped into little creeks and puddles to identify the local fish and water beings as well. That was a lot of fun, though I have always been a bit nervous on slippery rocks. Mom would notice the most beautifully patterned stones and shells. We loved watching the ‘faces’ and designs on them. The other day, I picked up a pretty leaf to dry and press in my diary. I hope to find out the name of the tree this leaf belongs to. My mother has a huge collection of Chinar leaves she has been pressing, over the years, in her books. She makes beautiful greeting cards with them. There is something very charming and pleasing about handmade cards and she is one person who hasn’t lost touch with this hearty practice.
As I entered my mid 20’s, the travels reduced and my attention shifted to my friends and lovers. The evenings were spent hanging out at restaurants, watching movies and drinking beer. I was never really up and about to see the fresh lively mornings in the garden which was really being taken for granted. The late night movies, telephone conversations and pubbing ensured lazy low energy mornings where messages from friends were far more engaging than the beautiful blooming water lilies in our garden . The fragrant grass, the call of the barbets, the blooming bromeliads, the puppy- like grey hornbills and rare visitors like the paradise flycatchers and the golden backed woodpecker – were ruthlessly pushed away. It was as if the spell of nature, under which I grew up, was fading away as I drifted into a distant hollow lifestyle where my heart was missing and I was lost.
My short solo travels to the mountains and the extended stay in Himachal unwrapped the layers of lifelessness that had become “me”. With this, the gifts of nature – ever present and alive, started bursting forth, yet again. Eyes started following the passing butterfly, feet started stepping carefully to let the ants cross by. The air of now, of aliveness, invaded my system and woke up the sleepy lifeless lungs with watching the breath. I started breathing with all the beings around me like when I was a child – being available and enjoying their presence and our togetherness. The adventure of being present opened up this magical life that is bustling with beings of all types. It occurred to me that how absorbed we humans can be in our selfish shells, that we totally forget to acknowledge that besides just being a dot, we are just one of the living beings on earth and there are millions of other fellow beings we live with (even if it is in the cities – I would count in the cockroaches, the house lizards, the crows and all rest).
Soon, I started taking several pictures of little wild flowers – had no idea that doing the nature trails with my parents would train the eyes to look through the foliage and around the rocks all along the sides of the walking paths/trails. The blooms and buds seem to shout out to me from behind rocks, roadsides, little wild shrubs and branches of trees. The collection of flower pictures, I often email my father. Deepak Badhwar, my father, is a naturalist and botanical consultant. He creates the most beautiful gardens some of which you can see on his website http://deepakbadhwar.com/gardens-and-landscaping/ and my grandmother, Sukanya Badhwar, has in-depth knowledge of plants. To know more about her and the passion for gardening click –http://www.muditationmoments.com/2016/10/tea-with-dadiji/. It is so heart warming to watch both of them sit together with their books and almost in a ceremonial fashion, identify the plants over tea. Dad would tell me their names, and I would promptly forget or just note them down on a page that I would never look at again.
The bird book and the binoculars are mostly packed into my travel bag, first. This time I did not have Dad’s extra pair. Arun, very lovingly bought me my first pair of binoculars, knowing that this is something I love and would use. I reacted like a little girl who got her first barbie doll. I would not say in strict terms, as it maybe understood commonly, that I am an expert “birdwatcher” – I just love watching birds. No, I cant rattle off all the names of all the birds around me ad neither do I feel sorry if I saw just two new birds in a wildlife sanctuary. I just enjoy watching their flight, listening to their calls as they do their daily thing. Whether they are “common” or “uncommon” – it makes no difference. Slowly, I start getting to know more about them when I open the bird book at the end of the day and recall their behavior, habitat and colours, to find their names in the book. The times when Arun and I do this together, it is even more enjoyable and rather romantic. Like I watched Mom and Dad to it – each person remembers a different thing. Arun, for instance would recall where the bird was and sometimes its call and I would remember its colours and flight.
Interestingly, as I went through the activities of One Wholesome World, one of the ‘Joyful Action Now’ was about knowing your Ecological Neighbors – Human, Plant, Animal and Assemblies. It is something really interesting to engage with. For more, click here http://www.onewholesomeworld.com/. Thanks to the learning and observation during childhood, I was surprised how I knew the names of so many animals, insects, birds and couple of plants too. For the rest, I took the help of Dad and my grandmother as we elaborated upon what I already noted down. This is what was written in my journal as I sat with this little activity last year – “The above exercise was great fun. I took inputs from my father and grandmother now and then. As my brother crossed by, he sparked up with this exciting list creation and started giving his inputs. We were going through all – from people to mosquitoes, the world seemed to open up and a connection formed with each. How much is there around us and how so many of these birds, butterflies and trees were so close to my heart.”
Right now, Arun and I are here in USA. His passion for road travel and nature has taken us to the most beautiful and pristine places. We have been camping, hiking, swimming in springs, visiting friends and going for long walks. We noticed that how, every other life form says “hello” to us very warmly. This is happening in the “backyard” of Starbucks in busy little towns as well as in the deep of State Parks. The thought that crossed my mind time and again,”Hey flower, hey insect, hey tree – and all the varied ones who whisper to us – What is your name? Yes, it is us humans who named you, but still, I would like to know you more…. What do you eat? What is that special thing about you? What season do you bloom in? Where all can I find you, etc….Like the birds, I want to get to know you a bit better and thank you for the magnificence you bring to this world – making it truly, a wonderland.”
From this feeling, a ‘Joyful Action Now’ has sprung up. Let us start discovering and learning more about this beautiful world that is rolling open before us. I wish to get to know the flowers, the birds, animals, trees and insects that we met.
In this section of the blog I would be gradually listing and adding pictures of the life forms that we are meeting in different places. The idea is to get to know them better. From names to anything special that clicks, to slowly learn and relish the process. It is particularly exciting as Arun and I would be doing a lot of this together and he would also be teaching me how to re organize the blog posts and add to photo galleries. As I connect more with mother nature, am learning to use technology for the sharing and expression too. There is so much to learn, life is constantly creating more life!