June 24, 2011

A new road, yet again

Eighteen years ago, a new road opened before me, when I became a mother. Having always been free-spirited, I felt grounded. Of course, I was overjoyed--every new baby is a wonder of nature; and the ultimate in creativity. And this was my baby, and I was going to do my best for her and cherish the experience of bringing her up.

Ah, but it was not easy being a mother. Contrary to all the romantic notions of motherhood, I found that one (at least me) had to learn to be a mother. It was hard work, and didn’t come naturally to me.

As I saw my baby next to me, many thoughts ran inside my head, and I wondered how this little person was going to change my life. Being a sportsperson, I exclaimed that I would play table tennis with her! Someone said, the baby is tall…she might play basketball. Hearing her cry melodiously, I declared that she would sing “like Parveen Sultana”! And looking at her long fingers, I said, “She will be an artist”. And as time went by, I realized that a baby could be fun after all.

So, did I play table tennis with her?

Was she part of her school’s basket ball team?

Did she sing?

Is she an artist?

I was most disappointed that Ragini showed very little interest in sports. However, I did get a chance to play a little table tennis with her. She isn’t too interested, but has learnt the basics. She did play basket ball in school, but not too much.

But she does sing and is passionate about the kind of music Parveen Sultana et al. sing, and yes, she is an artist, and is now going to study design. So I was not too wrong there!

As my daughter prepares to leave home to join college in a a neighbouring State, many thoughts once again run through my head. As in movies, images from the last 18 years flash in my mind…suddenly there is great happiness, and suddenly anxiety. Then a sense of disbelief that I had held her hand through pre-school to primary, middle to high school and beyond; there I was, rushing through packing her school lunch, dropping her off in music class, teaching her to cross the road, shedding quiet tears at her first concert. And here I am now, teaching her to drive the scooter and car, and all set to drop her off at a hostel to begin a new journey.

Life moves in slow motion when you are changing nappies, but once children are past 10, life zips past, and suddenly there is another road…only this time, it is before the child.

Along with the zillion thoughts in my overcrowded head, are these words from a Hindi song:

Abhi na jaayo chhodh kar / ke dil abhi bhara nahi

abhi abhi to aayi ho / bahaar ban ke chaayi ho

It is a beautiful, romantic number that Ragini sings melodiously, but in this context it is sad, and I am pushing the song away from my head. For I do know that just as I have never really ‘left’ my parents, my children will always be with me.

When Ragini was born, I remember telling my boss, Sue Hainsworth, about how relieved I was that my baby was physically ‘out of my system’. And then she had said, “Oh, don’t you worry…she will not go out of your system for the next 50 years!”

At that time I did not realize how right Sue was!



Painting by Angu Walters, Cameroon (http://www.artcameroon.com/).

June 15, 2011

"Just look up..." launched!

We had a launch for "Just look up...to see the magic in the trees around you" on Sunday 12 June 2011, at Saptaparni, Road no. 8, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad. Environmentalist / artist Vijayaram spoke about his work in and around Hyderabad, my friend Kobita (freelance artist; she does the gardening class with me) spoke about the importance of being sensitive to nature, and I spoke about the making of this book and about how one can live in the city and still enjoy nature. The book was launched by my nephews Anand (9) and Raghav (7).

It was an informal event, and I was fortunate that about 60 people came, family and friends included. The event was followed by a small snack and chai party, and included samosas from Marredpalli (courtesy Tara); Osmania biscuits from Nimrah Cafe, Charminar; and chai (courtesy Saptaparni).

Here are a few scenes from the event, courtesy, Anand Vishwanatha, whose photos were the only record of this event. He deliberately did not use a flash so as to capture Saptaparni's dim-lit ambience.

Kobita speaking about why one should look up. Before beginning, she warned people to be cautious when they did, in case they had tripped and fell.
Vijayaram spoke before Kobita about the various projects he was working on in the city and around, from his anti-plastic campaigns to efforts at tree-translocation.

The charming ambience at Saptaparni

Sadhana speaking about the book and its making

The audience

Launched! Anand holding up the book, while Raghav and Ragini look on

Shekhar (at right) was the compere

A light moment after the launch of the book

A section of the audience

Friends Giridhar and Rekha with Priti Aisola (author of See Paris for me)
and Padmini Patell of Young World

The grand ladies from the family--Mrs Seshu Vithal (left)
and my mother-in-law, Mrs Savitri Raghavendar Rao (right)

Snacking and chatting...

Anand wanted me to sign a copy for someone

I prepared the following speech, but in the last minute, decided not to read it out. I missed some points, and added some others. I am not used to the stage, but tried my best to say something meaningful.
_______________
Saptaparni, 12 June 2011

Thank you all for coming here this evening, to celebrate a little book called “Just look up…to see the magic in the trees around you”. Thank you, Vijayaram garu and Kobita for being here today, and for what you have said.

Background: Let me tell you briefly about how this book happened. Since the last 9 years, along with my friend Kobita, I have been doing a gardening class for children in Vidyaranya High School. As part of this gardening class, we take children on a tree walk around the school, and show them the 25-odd varieties of trees that are there. Every time I did this, I felt a need for photos or illustrations to show children a particular tree in the season when it blooms. So I began taking pictures on my many walks amidst nature. Over some years, I had a fairly good collection of photos. Being an editor and designer of books, I began giving it a structure between other assignments, and slowly the idea of this book began to excite me, and I began putting it together with interest and a sense of purpose.

Another important thing of course, is the feeling that I should share with people the joy I derive from nature.

Cause: More important than the book or its making, is the cause it represents. This book is a reminder to people, especially in urban areas, that they should not lose the ability to wonder at the simple joys that nature offers. My own happiest childhood memories are associated with plants, trees, insects and animals. Helping my mother plant zinnias and hollyhocks, playing with little red velvet mites or birba buddies (insects that made their appearance soon after the rains began); and catching dragon flies and frogs---just for fun! These are my fondest memories. I also have a favourite memory of the amazement I felt when I was told on every trip to Bangalore, that it was my maternal grandfather K. Bhima Rao, who had planted the neem trees on Margosa road. He had worked as Deputy Director of Agriculture long long ago.

Important to be in touch with nature: I believe it is very important for human beings to be in touch with nature…sadly, many people do not even realize this. They do not realize this perhaps because their mother or father or a grandmother or grandfather never pointed out to them, the shapes of clouds or the colours of a sunset. It is so important for parents to tell children to look at nature. This is what Kobita and I try hard to pass on to children in our gardening class. We tell them to look at the sky, to observe plants and trees, to notice the delicateness of petals, the patterns on shells and insects!

Nature in the city: Following the life cycle of a butterfly is fantastic education; discovering eggs in a nest and observing them till they hatch, teaches a child something no book can teach. To do all this, one doesn’t have to spend thousands of rupees to go on a holiday to the Sahyadris or to Sunderbans or to Madagascar or Manaus. Magic happens around us even in the city…in the tree outside one’s apartment complex or in one’s school or workplace. Hyderabad is fortunate to have many beautiful parks.

Rock walks: I discovered several interesting things on rock walks with Hyderabad’s Society to Save the Rocks. It was on one such walk that I saw the abrus creeper with its pretty red and black seeds. I had never seen it before. It was also on one rock walk that I spotted the birba buddis we used to play with as children. I quickly showed them to my children, and felt that I had fulfilled an important duty towards them! I was also overjoyed that these little insects had not become extinct in these parts.

The book: Coming back to the book, I would like to tell you all that this book is not just a collection of photos…there is a story that continues through the book. So, I request my readers to read it from cover to cover…it won’t take more than 20 minutes. The other aspect I wish to point out is the spread on the last two pages. It is a calendar of events, and gives a month-by-month indicator of which trees to watch out for each month. I really hope those who read this book will use this calendar and watch out for the magical events that happen year after year after year. As Hugh Johnson says, “No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden.”

What is my dream for this book? Ideally, I would like it to be like the Olympic torch…and pass on the spirit of friendship with nature from one generation to the other. More realistically, I would like it to make people take more walks in parks, listen to the song of the koel, and simply acknowledge the presence of the several fascinating varieties of trees around us. On an ambitious note is the hope that once people become sensitive to trees and nature, when an axe hits a roadside tree, there will be many voices that will shout, “Stop…don’t cut down this tree”.

Acknowledgements: Before I end, I would like acknowledge the role of a few people who made a difference.

- I thank Mrs Anuradha for graciously letting me have this get-together in the creative space that is Saptaparni. I also thank Sunita and Ramu and others here, for their help

- My sincere thanks to Vijayaram, Usha and Kobita for sharing their thoughts this evening. To me they are people who, with their beliefs and work, represent hope and sanity in this crazy world. Thank you, Shekhar, for adding the special touch.

- My interest in plants and trees is thanks to my mother, who treasures her lovely garden, which is home to birds, squirrels and a snake or two; and to my father, for making that beautiful home for us to grow up in.

- My knowledge of trees is entirely due to inspiration from Kobita, and from my students—whose curiosity fuels my enthusiasm to learn more....

- My gratitude to Mrs Shanta Rameshwar Rao, Principal, Vidyaranya High School, for believing in me and for giving me the opportunity to discover nature with children.

- ...to my friends Kamakshi, Usha and Jananie for their help with the text

- To Anand Vishwanadha and S Karthikeyan for motivation, before and after this book was published. It is because of their enthusiastic insistence that this book launch is happening here today.

- ...to Mr Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, for writing the foreword to my book. I am touched, indeed.

- To Team Pragati for their care and attention during the printing of this book

- ... to my children, Ragini and Malini, for giving me a chance to be a child with them...and to Vijay, for providing stability to my world.

- To all of you,—thank you for being here. I hope this book will make you look up and revel in the visual delights that nature offers.

- Finally, to Mother Nature herself, who I look up to as the only god.

***

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