World Photograph-Tree Day

Trying to capture an image of you on my flatscreen phone,

I feel like a fish trying to take a selfie with the sea.

My life, body’s cells, thoughts, words have been enriched by taking photographs of trees. Much to celebrate, for the trees teach so well!!

Happy World Photography Day to all treevellers!!

Or rather – Happy World Photograph-Tree Day!

Interactions with an unknown tree

 

The exercise was simple. Walk in the park and choose to spend time with a tree that speaks to you. Listen. Does it say anything? Watch it closely. Come back to the studio and embody the tree or bring alive a snatch of your conversation with it.

We entered the park. I heard the whisper soon enough. It was the second tree in my path.

I didn’t even know its name. I had never stopped and gazed upon it, a routine I keep up with favourite familiars. I had walked past this tree and turned to look at it again, couple of days ago. I had wanted to find out its name.

I stood by the trunk – a uniformly circular trunk, a tall and too shy to branch out all around or ripple and curve seductively trunk. The trunk shot out of the earth for a long stretch before a branch happened. The branch was starkly perpendicular to the main trunk and then turned and was starkly parallel to the main trunk.

It was a dramatic branching out, even if a bit stiff and formal; an off-beat move outward, not one of your panning all around the main trunk, whirling and swirling like a dancer kind of branching out. This was no rain tree, flowing around its centre and throwing patterns of light and shade in a wide circle. This was a linear model, rooted in the earth but going straight for the sky – this tree is not chatty or distracted. The way it branched out, complicated arrangements of smaller branches were created in nooks. They looked like clusters of green light.

The leaves were long and bright. There were clumps of dry, grass-like projections hanging off the tree. On closer viewing they seemed like dried roots. They didn’t seem to be flowers.

I touched the trunk of the tree and listened. I wanted to rule out any awkwardness – the tree already looked the shy sort – so I hugged it. Hugging a tree is one of the best ways to open a conversation, I’ve found. I walked all around it. I gazed up at it. I felt the leaves. I felt the bunches of dry, straw-like projections. Many just came off in my hand. They had fallen from higher branches. Some held on stubbornly. The tree bore itself with grace and elegance though its trunk was split open in small patches. It clearly saw itself as more whole than broken, more beautiful than scarred.

Like all trees this one too spoke of owning its body. It affirmed that trees don’t dwell on the parts of them that fade or change, even as they ride the continuum of change-shed-grow-change-shed-grow.

I ran my hands over the rough, broken open parts of the trunk, felt the hollows on its surface with my hands and feet. They seemed like doorways to other creatures, to other selves, to other ways of being beautiful.

I imagined the seed of this tree inside the soft darkness of the earth. How it must have yearned for light, while knowing that it must drink fully, all that the darkness offered! Did it know when it sprouted that its body would always be a dance between light and darkness? That it would suck more deeply of darkness in order to grow more fully into light?

I imagined light tapping gently on the surface of the soil and the green shoot leaping out into its arms like a baby coming home to its mother.

The tree followed its inner code map and spilled out of itself, split itself open, so it could journey towards wholly inhabiting its being, being its own purpose. Does the top of the tree that brushes the sky sing of the seed’s infinite presence in its body?

Was there pain to transcend in the natural move to transform and be? Or is that a human thing – feeling pain, feeling attachment to the broken, dwelling on the blemishes and marks of transformation, hankering after a misguided image of perfection and symmetry, resisting growth and wholeness with all your might?

When we went back into the studio, my body spoke differently as it carried the impressions of my interactions with an unknown tree, now not so unknown.

I am participating in a movement performance ‘How to be a fig?’ to be presented at a Science Conference in Bangalore, end September 2017. Read more about the project here: https://artecologyinitiative.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/how-to-be-a-fig/

‘How to be a fig?’ will be themed around Fig/Ficus trees. If you’d like to apply to participate (non-dancers are also welcome), please contact veenabasavarajaiah@gmail.com (deadline August 10th, 2017).

The Magic of Mangar

It was on a beautiful winter morning that we visited the Mangar Bani. Dark clouds that had gathered in the sky, waited patiently till we walked right through the forest to the top of the hill and came down the other side. And then, they poured down for better part of the day.

The Mangar Bani is a ‘sacred grove’, sandwiched between Faridabad and Gurgaon. It is the last existing stretch of the indigenous forests of the Aravallis, on the outskirts of Delhi. It is the exclusive repository of the natural Ridge vegetation of Delhi – an ecological treasure. This is the only portion of the Ridge that has the Dhak trees growing, we were told. Yet, there has been much struggle on the part of conservationists to prove to the Government that this patch of forest actually exists, to have it demarcated as an endangered forest reserve and protect it from the mining and real estate mafia, rapidly chomping their way through it.

A hermit called Gudariya Baba is the one to be thanked for the Mangar Bani. Many years ago, he used his influence over the villagers living around the grove to prevent them from grazing cattle or collecting kindle from the forest. Legend has it that he promised the villagers that curses would rain upon those who cut trees or grazed cattle in the Bani. While other forests in the region got depleted, the Mangar Bani survived. Gudariya Baba, to whom a temple is dedicated within the forest, has had to adapt over the years of forest erasure, however. Our guide told us that there is now a practice of coming up with a “chadhava” or offering of some amount of money to the Baba, in return for permission to graze one’s cattle. This and the presence of much garbage, including styrofoam, around the temple don’t bode too well for the precious forest reserve. Yet, there is much hope in the efforts of activists and local conservationists like Sunil Harsana, our guide.

As we walked, Sunil Ji told us more Latin names of trees than could fit into my mind. The local names were easier to digest – Paapri Chudel, Khees, Vishtendu, Dhak and Dhau. The roots of most of these trees are fascinatingly cunning in the ways in which they twist, dance, lift themselves off the earth to keep the little water they find.

Going by the number of times Sunil Ji crouched over the ground with his GPS trappings on finding porcupine droppings, I learnt that porcupines must have great digestion and nimble legs (we didn’t see a single porcupine though we did see the scratches they’d left on tree trunks). As he takes visitors around the Bani, he uses the opportunity to document the flora and fauna of the dry, deciduous forest. Peacocks were all over the Bani, blissfully unaware of how a court judgement would generate an inordinate interest in their sexual habits, in just a few months.

The delicious hospitality we were accorded by the Lumbas at Laksh Farms, in Mangar, made this forest visit possible. The Farm is about an hour’s drive from Delhi. Captain Shakti Lumba and Ila Lumba bought a few acres of barren, dry land and converted it into a green haven over twenty one years. They started Laksh Foundation in 2007. The Foundation runs Tuition Centres for the local children and a Women’s Co-operative that makes aesthetic garments and bags. The women from the nearby villages work on these pieces from their homes and the products are supplied to retail outlets in many parts of the world or sold at exhibitions and sales in Delhi. Pesticide free vegetables and fruits grown at Laksh Farms are supplied at select places in Delhi, at regular intervals.

The highlight of our stay at the Farm was the warmth and love with which food was cooked and served by the matriarch of Laksh Farms – Rajjo Ji and her team. The melt-in-your-mouth gur-ki-rotis, methi parathas, missi roties, bajra roties and other delicacies were made in open chulhas under the sharp supervision of Rajjo Ji. The Lumbas are keenly involved in making visitors feel comfortable and in telling them about the heritage of the local forests and the lands they are working.

There are wonderful opportunities to volunteer at Laksh Foundation and to visit the farm. Read more about their work at – https://foundation.lakshfarms.com/

Ila Lumba can be contacted for more details: shaktila@gmail.com

Feast on these images from Mangar Bani and Laksh Farms (Photos and photo art below by Anannya Dasgupta)

 

 

 

Be for Body

IMG_20170314_172041_HDRThe therapy that was supposed to save her life almost took it. Almost.

She survived the encounter with death but wasn’t sure if she could survive baldness and a punctured chest.

She couldn’t bear to look at herself. The earth of her body was bare, except for scars. Bones jutted out where once there had been happy meadows, valleys of flowers, skin glowing like the morning sky.

She felt cheated out of her femininity. If only she had worried less about her body being too much, about her body being.

The papaya and pomegranate she ate stuck in her throat. Bleak thoughts struck her brain like hiccups, when she closed her eyes to meditate. She was ready to give up. Would death have been the better outcome, she wondered.

Until a tree – naked of leaves, trunk patchy, hollow in unseemly places, branches twisted – kissed her ear and whispered:

“I’m not tree enough without my leaves, said no tree ever.

Run your hands over your body, Love.

Rub all the places that hurt. Soothe your aching heart with kisses. Turn its ear inward to its own rhythm. When your heart hears its song, it will know it’s alive.

In the new body, there is new life. This Life has shaken hands with Death and then parted saying – till we meet again.

Let it flow, Love.  Let your life feel its spring.

It is spring even when leaves grow differently from the seasons before.”

Slowly, she got on her feet, the tree holding both her hands.

All her hair that had fallen off in clumps suddenly swirled around them, like a magic cloud lined with gold.

The tree gently let her hands go.

She turned her hips in circles that grew larger with her smile.

She threw her arms out, now slanting up, now curving down.

Whirling madly, she let her head fall back as the sky gathered her dance in its arms and kissed her fully on her mouth.

Be for Body.

(‘Be for Body’ is an ongoing conversation between and about trees and women’s bodies.)

 

So, what’s special? Today.

“So, what’s special today?”

“Today.”

“Haha..I know today is special..I meant what’s special for the special day..”

“Every day I don’t remember that every day is special. Today I do.”

A whatsapp exchange I had with a friend who sent me wishes for my birthday, yesterday.

I turned 40, two years ago. That was a summer of climbing mountains, literally and metaphorically. Mountains of magnificent beauty, terrifying challenges; mountains of pain and panic; mountains of uncertainty; mountains of baggage and clutter rising out of valleys of shallow, broken breath; mountains of snow and silence dancing on plateaus of emptiness and questions.

It was not a point I could come out of without dating transformation. It shook my relationship with the earth and my body, melded them into each other. Inner and outer walls turned transparent. As light slanted in from newer angles, nothing looked the same anymore. More light in the room is not always comforting.

To climb the mountains, I had to tune in – look at the earth and walk. Standing or sitting by would mean solidifying into my deepest fears. Luckily, I found that the mountains, however beautiful, are breath-giving, not breath-taking. The mountains are about movement masked in stillness. A fallen tree covered with creepers and moss is hardly still, if you just look.

As I let trees wash over me, my scattered pieces arrange themselves in new ways. Trees shed skin and leaves, let storm-scars show – all the time. For trees, falling apart is not an aberration, it’s an important station on the journey to becoming whole. Maybe trees are able to make such a song and dance of falling apart and renewing themselves, because they stand rooted in the earth?

As humans we make much of growth, when it comes to babies and profits. Adult humans are supposed to hide and fight growth “after a certain age”.

The last two years of tuning into trees have confirmed the suspicion that there is much to celebrate about “growing older” and owning your body. It is a delicious privilege denied to many. Being locked in eternal youth sounds to me like being cut, covered in cling wrap, refrigerated. Crows-feet at the edges of eyes highlight better, the glow of a smile. Wrinkles seem reassuringly real, definitely on the side of warmth, maybe even wisdom.

These days, I’m finding much to gaze upon in flowers “declining” – fading from the edges; a branch broken and hanging from a tree, a piece of bark shed without a second thought, a perfectly imperfect leaf, a seemingly lost seed pod, a mango bitten by a thinking squirrel.

I’m falling deeply in love with how the earth makes poetry of impermanence; how she chews and changes stink to fragrance, rotten leaves and vegetable peels to fresh vegetables and greens, flat seeds to tall trees.

To fix myself a “special” drink for a “special” day, I treevelled in a little, urban forest – yesterday morning. Tell for yourself – what’s not to get high here?

Oh, and I wish you a special day. Today.

Trees talking in a step-well

 

This Peepal on the wall has been my go to image when I wonder why I am where I am, who I am, whether I should be this or try to be that.

To me, this Peepal signifies the courage to own your being, find resources within and grow, even if the odds look bleak and the world has much to say about your choice.

This time when I went to pay homage to my Peepal, I was shocked to find a Banyan winding itself in. And, when I looked closer, I found there was new life teeming on the wall of the well. There is a silk cotton growing nearby, and there are other ambitious looking shrubs too.

Being attached to the Peepal for longer than I had known the Banyan, my first instinct was to want the Banyan out. I felt a pang of fear for “my” Peepal. It took some deep breaths and gazing upon the leaves and lives in the well to realize that these are not my equations to resolve.

I was only to gaze upon the colours and twirling branches, the steps leading down, the circle at the bottom of the well. Time will show what comes of these lively conversations happening in the step-well.

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Be at the Bhoomi Habba, Visthar on June 10th, 2017 to meet the trees in this step-well. You could also make up stories about what these trees might be saying to each other at the Treevellers’ Katte between 11 am and 2.30, under the Jackfruit tree, very near this well.

Soaking in stillness

A Monday morning gone mad. All that had been planned has fizzled out. I find myself in a quiet pool of timelessness – inside a park at the heart of one of the busiest parts of the city. It is a park where people come to sit and stare, lie down, sweep and sing, listen to Chinna Chinna Aasais of other people – playing sometimes on the phone, sometimes in the silence hanging like a sari drying in the breeze.

I’ve hung out here before with Pongam trees and friends who love Pongam trees. Today, as I wait for time to start existing again, I am delighted by the spoils of a storm from the evening before. The earth is scattered with seeds, pods and sticks. Much activity abounds in the world of the trees, ants and birds. I soak in the magic of trees that absorb sound, dirt and smoke but still gloriously recycle it for pure, cool air. I feel the pulse of stillness smiling to itself right in the middle of Formula One Rat-Racing.

I sit and stare like some others. I walk. I pick seeds. I write.

“Flawed, cracked, free-falling, furthest from perfection, wet and muddy on one side but sleek and flirting outrageously with the sun on the other, far from busy but conducting much business – isn’t this what drew me to you? And yet, when I pick up seeds, I choose those that are whole, perfect, neater than the others, not chewed, half-eaten or almost sprouted. I forget that a seed can’t grow into a tree without breaking its body open. I forget that for a tree to kiss the sky, it has to bite dirt more fully, bury itself deeper in the earth.”

Treevellers’ Katte at Bhoomi Habba, Vistar

Treevellers’ Katte at Bhoomi Habba

Mark the date: June 10, 2017

Time: 11.30 am to 2.00 pm

Where: Under the Jackfruit tree near the iconic step well on Vistar’s campus

(https://www.facebook.com/events/285529325202614/ check out this page for more details on the Bhoomi Habba and Vistar)

What to expect:

  • A photography exhibition with poetree, seeds, stories, treevellers and other madness thrown in
  • A magical space that holds trees and stories sacred.
  • Share and listen to tree stories here, look at photographs, read poetree, tree-stories and maybe write or tell some of your own in your voice or with clay or crayons

 

What’s with the Poetree and Tree-stories?

The sap of tree-stories runs deep inside us.

We all have a tree in our lives. A ‘childhood’ tree. A ‘first-kiss’ tree. A ‘traffic-jam’ tree. A ‘grandmother’s pickle’ tree. ‘An-image-from-my-meditation’ tree. A ‘how-I-wish-I-could’ve-saved-that-tree’ tree. ‘An-everyday-I-woke-up-to-its-beauty’ tree.

Come and see the stories of trees as told by their photographs and then leave your own tree stories behind or carry them home and let them grow on you.

Check out a report and some images from the previous Treevellers’ Katte:

https://treevellingtogether.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/what-happened-at-the-treevellers-katte/

Who’s doing this?

A ‘treeveller’ is one who travels to meet trees and revel in them. Celebrating trees and loving them with gusto is what we treevellers do. We also facilitate treeveller-kattes/treeveller hangouts, tree-tale-times, poetree sessions and workshops, treevents, photo exhibitions and all sorts of other tree-ish fun!

About us:

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Charumathi Supraja worked as a journalist, lecturer, NGO consultant, actor and writer before veering towards treevelling. She feels ‘home’ closest to trees. She grew up in the original “garden city” of the late 70s and 80s when Sampige, Maavu, Bevu and many other maraas held sway over Bangalore. As the city morphed from green to grey, she’s been happily caught in the cross-talk between Neems and Peepals. When she’s not hugging trees, photographing them or listening to their stories, she writes poetry about them and makes a song and dance of them with other ‘treevellers.’ These interactive sessions of tree-stories and tree-theatre are conducted in schools, colleges, workplaces, homes or for any groups of treevellers.

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Anannya Dasgupta has been a treeveller without knowing she was one. For many years she keenly followed the oaks, elms and maples that turned colour in fall, shed leaves and grew back green from their winter snow starkness to embrace summer. Now she eagerly awaits the flowering trees of different seasons – jacarandas, gulmohars, laburnums, dhak, indian coral and silk cottons – to paint her city in different colors all through the year. She brings poetry and art photography to treevelling. She lives and works in Delhi.

Follow us here:

https://treevellingtogether.wordpress.com/

And write to us here:

treevellingtogether@gmail.com

See you at the Treevellers’ Katte at Bhoomi Habba 2017!

A hug to change your life

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It was just before dawn. I could barely see myself, half-kneeling under a Neem tree. Tears of gratitude were dropping onto my right fist that seemed to be wrapped around red earth.

It’s been more than five years since I woke up to this image of me. I haven’t yet planted the Neem trees I have been called to but I know I will, soon – you can’t get chosen to plant trees and not plant them.

Are you one of those who actively resists the earth’s seduction, as if you are afraid of loving fully and openly? Looking back, I think I used to be one such.

Things changed since I hugged a Silk Cotton tree last year. I was walking down a path when a large Silk Cotton tree made its presence felt. I felt a little shy to respond and walked by. The next time I walked by that path, I didn’t wait for any signal from the tree. I just went right up to it and hugged it.

That was not my first tree hug but it changed my life. I was home.