Citrus leaves drenched in the rain.
Rain cascades down the chute off the tiled roof over my house.
The monsoon in India sets in over Trivandrum which lies at the southern tip of the sub-continent around the first week of June. This has something to do with the complex weather engine that works over Africa. There is much that is not yet known about how it all works. But the rain comes every year at round the same time. If the rain were to arrive early farmers will lose their crops. If it comes late they will lose too.
This is how the rain came last year from the eastern horizon around three in the afternoon.
The air is still warm from the long summer days. These will come to a watery end as these grey clouds break over the hot earth. For three months it goes on. All the farmers in this country know they can do nothing but pray for the rains. Even the meteorologists know little except the approximate dates. When I wrote “complex weather engine that works over Africa” I really meant something like the butterfly effect. A billion different things all add up to produce the Indian monsoon. And nobody knows all the math. Yet.
Everything natural and man-made receives the fluid bounty.
I was in Kochi a week ago, getting there by a train that reached in less than half the time it took fifteen years ago. As we entered Kochi my friend called on the mobile phone and said he could see a train coming in. He was wondering if it was the train I was in since he wanted to send his car to fetch me from the station. I wasn’t sure. He asked me to look out the left window and see if I could spot his apartment in the middle of the lagoon. I said, Oh my god, yes! Far away it stood like a stocky, pink and squarish stork on water, one of a large flock of tall high rises. If I had a boat I would be in his apartment in minutes. As it turned out the car took nearly an hour through the choked roads to reach his place. Kochiites have learned to live with dwindling infrastructure and mushrooming urban growth.
Later I stood on the twelfth floor balcony letting my eyes get used to the humungously wide seaside panorama that lay spread below me. A golden brown brahminy kite (Haliastur indus) circled slowly over the water searching for fish. Something seemed strange about the sight. Then with a shock it came to me. For the first time in my life I was looking down instead of up, at a flying brahminy kite. I felt like some petty little god in his new-found empyrean. I was an intruder into the perfect world of bird and fish. I was a rank upstart in this age-old scheme. Surely time will tell on everything and all the high rise buildings and other things we have created shall go and then the brahminy kite shall fly high over all again. There shall not be a me or others like me to look down upon his majestic tawny back.
For now, Kochi lay stretched out silently below me and away to the distant haze of the east where stood the Western ghats. In the pale, green lagoon a few boats of varying sizes were plying on some unknown errands. Only a largish inland barge that lay low on the water, heavy with some load, made some noise as it chugged into a lazy turn, bound for the harbour to the west. Here and there I could see small country boats, hardly seven feet in length, lying still. Local fishermen at work with a hook and a rod or a small net. I was surprised to see them here amidst all this urban growth. From this height (about 150 feet) the water looked quite clean to me. Perhaps the lagoon yielded enough fish for the fishermen to feed their families.
Kochi has been home to many waves of foreign visitors over its long history. Most of them made their fortunes in spices from the rain-drenched mountains to the east. They shipped the precious pepper, cardamom, nutmeg and what-have-you through these very waters. From the port the spices were loaded on to sailing ships that then sped silently over the seas to Portugal, Spain, England and Venice.
The synagogue in Kochi is one of the oldest in India where services are still held. Most of the Jewish population has migrated, mainly to Israel. Only some die-hard families remain.
Most of these paintings and drawings are quite new. The oldest is from 2006. I have experimented with various mixed media here. My favourite medium is pen and ink. Along with that I try to mix gouache, some colour pencil, rotring tech pen and any other thing that makes an expressive mark. Supports are also equally varied. Some of my best results have been on brown corrugated board, the sort in which television sets are shipped. Excellent midtone for starting me off. It also makes a wonderful thick sound when worked with a pen or a pencil. I’ve even used sandpaper. I also use the glossy, white backs of old calendars. Good surface, plus I feel good since I’m recycling. A lot of half-finished work lurks around in various corners of my studio. Usually I stumble upon one quite accidentally and then the work gets completed. Recently I finished something I had begun twelve years ago!
The wrought iron fountain stands to the western side of the Napier Museum in Trivandrum. It’s a handsome Victorian piece from when the Industrial revolution and its effects of unbridled enthusiasm in invented things and technology were peaking. This fountain, though, shows no impudent flourishes.
This fountain stands within one of the few public spaces left in a growing city with shrinking land spaces.
I spent hours of stolen time here during my college days. The sedately laid out spaces and the somewhat formal gardens surrounding this fountain made me feel comfortable, like some cherished visitor, not some fugitive intruder from the rigors of academic regimen.
About the Napier Museum itself there is much to tell but that’ll have to wait.
Easily the smartest of the free-flying birds. Dumbest being the pigeons. After cats crows (House Crow – Corvus splendens) are the most independent creatures that share our space and food. They are very choosy about what they eat. No scattered grain and a few leftovers. Crows are, I think, brighter than dogs. They don’t exhibit their brightness and get chained up and made slaves to us humans, like the dog did!
Another strange thing about crows. A friend once pointed it out to me. Considering the number of crows around our cities and villages, how many times have you seen a dead crow? That got me. I don’t remember too many in all my years. Where do they go to die? Is this like that fabled elephant graveyard thing!
People change and as they change so they change their living spaces. So cities change. Spaces inside cities become large and hence more anonymous. A city changes shape like a person changing clothes. Every once in a while the city sits up and sees how worn out and ill-fitting its streets, buildings and things have become. The city then shrugs off the old clothes and puts on new ones. Sometimes the change is for the better. Sometimes not. Trivandrum is right now going through a change of clothes. She is unrecognisable in certain ways because of her new adornments.
Like this apartment belonging to my friend’s sister. In the photograph we are looking down into the atrium from the 13th floor. That’s Tony there across the cavernous shaft. He looks so tiny and forlorn. This place could easily pass for a hotel or a hospital or a prison. So much for the warmth of a human dwelling. This is not the scale that a human should be subjected to. Looks like something from the third reich.
Of course there is pressure on land. Everyone wants something like this.
The old key in the header photograph unlocks many memories. It opened an old style lock which is no longer in use. Houses in Trivandrum nowadays are apartments in high rise buildings. The swankiest of them boast biometric idents, god knows what else.
This blog is driven by nostalgia, art and many other things.
I have just started this blog, so please excuse all lapses,
errors of commission, omission and all other kinds!
This blue bird is of no particular genus or species. It’s a denizen of the crossword page in my daily newspaper where I scrawl and doodle between the solvings. Sometimes in frustration, sometimes as an aide memoire.
This bird seemed to have a peculiar animation to it. Enough for me to shoot it with my digicam. Later I added color. Some newspaper text I have deliberately taken out using the cloning tool.