Dreamland

Pandemic changes are still rearranging my life. The Family asked “Why do you need so many small holidays?” Every few months a hale and hearty colleague or friend dies suddenly. Most are male, between the ages of 50 and 70. They include diverse people like Himalayan trekkers and yoga enthusiasts. What they share is the manner of their sudden death, a matter of seconds when their heart stops beating in the middle of a mundane day. One sitting at a beach with his family, one in the middle of a presentation, one at dinner with wife and two young daughters. Such incidents, all in the last two years, can change your perspective on what is important. Watching the sunlight filter through sal and pine into a grassland, in the coolness of autumn, two kilometers above sea level, seems as important as the work that I continue to love. In my travels now I meet a lot of people, often in their 30s and 40s, who have become more nomadic than me. I don’t doubt that people with other interests are also following them more passionately now. Pandemic and death, perhaps even the expectation of an imminent climate disaster, have changed our lives more deeply than we see yet.

Near these foothills the landscape changes within an hour’s drive. In the plains below I stood near a village where some partition refugees from Punjab settled a lifetime ago. Their children and grandchildren now till the land. Tractors and harvesters have set the bullocks and horses free, but they are still loved and tended. Another dream, of escaping the madness of the partition, of settling into a quiet slow life, of being untouched by history, is coming true.

Across the bund on which the horse stood was a huge reservoir created by the Haripura dam. We stood on the bund looking at water birds through our binoculars. This is the season when the winter visitors begin to arrive. We were not surprised by the water birds and small warblers which have come down from Tibet and central Asia. But I was happily surprised when a resident pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) dived into the water and came up with a catch.

Halcyon smyrnensis, white-breasted kingfishers, can be found everywhere in this landscape. They don’t require water, being able to catch lizards and frogs from the ripe rice fields they are poised over. The farmers watched us curiously: Who are these people with binoculars and cameras? I explained to one that we were watching birds. The young Sikh farmer took a look, then told me how one of the birds which used to nest under roofs here is disappearing. Everywhere you go, there are stories of slow extinctions. He invited us for a cup of tea. Very reluctantly, we refused. We had to be in the hills in a short time. He understood.

The berms are overgrown with Lantana. But among them are other plants which can beat them at the wild game of growth. There are vines of morning glory, pumpkin vines topping out the Lantana to spread their edible yellow flowers to the light. And there are these small white flowers with their incredible petals, like the wild dream of a botanist who tastes every leaf she sees. But for all its wild fantasy look, it is a real flower. I’ve seen it before, but haven’t identified it. Can anyone help? (It turns out to be parval, परवल, Trichosanthes dioicha. Now I’ll remember this flower every time I eat parval. Thanks for pointing to Cucurbitaceaea, Profundareflexion.)

Another dream is slowly emerging into reality. For years I would see the work of those wonderful wildlife photographers who post fantastic photos of predators with prey. In my own small way, I’m getting a chance to do the same thing. I saw a blue-bearded bee-eater (Nyctyornis athertoni) on a wire. If you stand and watch for a while you see it sallying to catch an insect on the wing. I was lucky to get a shot of it with a wasp in its mouth. I remembered Lotte Eisner’s voice narrating the Popol Vuh, a Mayan creation myth, in Werner Herzog’s movie called Fata Morgana. The paradise of the myth is a place where food flies into your mouth. That’s what the photo of the bee-eater with its prey looks like. So that’s my answer to The Family, it’s a way to change a nightmare into a halcyon dreamland.

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By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

46 comments

  1. It’s a good answer! I’ve always enjoyed small excursions but sometimes I get trapped in the business of life. Nothing I like better than to spread my wings and fly a little. Wishing you many such happy days!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great pictures! The Kingfisher is very nice. I’d love to take the pictures of birds too but then the thoughts of carrying a big lens dampens my thoughts 😂. The flower is from the cucumber family. I have an app called Seek, which is good for identifying plants because I also get curious to learn what am I seeing when I am out in nature! So may be you can install it for your next excursion 😀.

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      1. Trichosanthes cucumerina is found in the wild across much of South and Southeast Asia, including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar(Burma) and southern China (Guangxi and Yunnan).[5] It is also regarded as native in northern Australia.[6][7] and naturalized in Florida,[8] parts of Africa and on various islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.[9]
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichosanthes_cucumerina

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I used lens for a while, but it is North America biased. As a result it tends to suggest species which are close, but not exactly correct. That’s a common problem with AI based identification.

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  3. Your post is very moving, IJ. I absolutely loved it. Your sentiments reflect what many of us are feeling now. Seize the day because who knows what tomorrow will bring. The ancients understood priorities. We are learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I so totally enjoyed your photography and narrative in this post I. J. This world we’ve created is troubled. We do have to take time when we can to enjoy what we can. If we can’t find the time, we have to create the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fabulous images this week I.J. and a wonderfully dreamy perspective on the changes around us. So sad to hear of such young men dying suddenly – I’m wondering if they had covid and they were somehow negatively affected without their knowledge. Who know about the mysteries of life but you have developed a very healthy perspective to live it to the fullest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I wonder about that. We know about long covid now, but I don’t think that any one has yet followed up on the long-term health of those who have “recovered” from short covid.

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  6. This post is really good, enjoyed reading it. Many of these sentiments are common place now. In my case, there’s been so many changes in my personal life that sometimes I feel the pre-pandemic me and post-pandemic me are two different people. Sometimes, I feel I’ve left my youth and exuberance in the former. Hope that didn’t sound quite. Thankfully travel has remained a constant though but it’s not like how I used to before. I struggle to manage time now.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve been working remotely much before pandemic. I would go to office at my discretion. So the pandemic WFH isn’t new to me. The hybrid model certainly is, in the sense that there are fixed days to be in office. But, in reality I don’t know what sucks up my time. I think things add up and then the struggle happens. In a new office set up now and it’s a minimum 2 hr. commute from my home. Some days worse depending on the traffic. I go twice a week, so minimum 8hrs. gone. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  7. The bird, Halcyon, what a name as it denotes a time when life was idyllic. And the white flower, Trichosanthes, looks like the flower of an edible gourd called cucuzzi that I once grew. I will have to look it up and check my seed packets. I cannot remember its botanical name. Maybe I can grow it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful. And sad. I try to stay active in order not to worry too much about life on Earth. Your perspective is interesting, but I often get stressed by so much I would love to do – and so little time left. Maybe no time at all, we don’t know.
    Love your photos, but most of all your stories and philosofical thoughts. I too have lost many friends and relatives these last years – some because of age and others because of heart failure or cancer. Covid was mostly in the bigger cities.

    Liked by 1 person

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