Notes from a terrace

Instead, it’s the snippets of life I see on the peepal tree that ease my days indoors

In the past two weeks, the world has shrunk exponentially. We may know the goings on in New York and London, Hong Kong and Singapore, but travel to any of these places is a distant dream. Closer home, even a walk to the neighbourhood bar or meeting friends is out of the question.

But in this climate of uncertainty, the natural world will not be reined in. On the terrace outside my fifth-floor apartment, a peepal tree is kept at bay by flimsy netting but the ecosystem it supports gives me a sense of hope, calm and a reminder that life does go on. The lockdown has helped me see something that has literally been right in front of me all along.

Tree of life

Morning to night, the tree has visitors: birds and bats come every day to pick at the lime-sized fruits that signal that Mumbai’s seasonal drop in temperature is behind us, and we have only humidity, heat and now, social distancing, to look forward to.

As I sit at the table on the terrace, pretending to work but in fact reading more about the coronavirus, the music I am playing is interrupted by the chirps and calls of sparrows, coppersmith barbets, red-vented bulbuls, rose-ringed parakeets, common mynas, koels, crows and kites. Each has its own distinct personality: coppersmith barbets, for instance, are skittish when I get too close to take a photograph; but the crows just fix you with a stare, part imperious and part mischievous, daring you to come closer.

This natural community reminds me that although we struggle to create a semblance of order under the lockdown, the rhythms of nature are unchanged by it all.

And now, with humanity trapped in a holding pattern, the symbiotic relationship between tree and bird is a source of joy and hope. Yes, we have television and books and laptops but experiencing life through a screen is mediated and can sometimes feel even more isolating.

Instead, it’s the snippets of life I see on the peepal tree that ease my days indoors. I track the coppersmith barbet and I am dazzled by its colour — crimson and yellow and grass green — and its movements unencumbered and free.

Watching it peck on a fruit almost as big as its head is a vibrant interlude to the monotony. It’s a dash of colour that finds its way through the branches whose leaves dance in the breeze and glisten as they catch the light in an array of yellows and greens.

It’s only when the bats fly in at night to feast and roost upside down on the branches that I am reminded of why we’re trapped indoors in the first place. Then my attention moves back to my many screens, to the news from faraway places, and to the other people who are also finding solace in the little things.

The Mumbai-based food and travel writer is rediscovering the world around him as he works from home.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 11:54:48 PM |

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