Broken homes

I love Satyajit Ray’s movie Charulata for its pacing, slow and deliberate, changing with the seasons. It was a translation of a story called Broken Nest by Tagore. I see the hornbill couple in the trees around my apartment now and realize that this metaphor can have a real and devastating meaning. Indian grey hornbills mate for life, and the pair that I see now have been coming back to the same tree after every monsoon to nest and raise two or three chicks. This year, the fierce monsoon storm five weeks ago blew down their nesting tree. They spent days scouting and seem to have found a nesting spot.

Hornbills nest in hollows of trees. The female seals herself into the hollow with pellets of mud and her own droppings, leaving a slit through which the male feeds her. She moults as she incubates her eggs, and the two processes end at around the same time. In the last few years I had a good view of the fledgelings learning to fly. I’ll miss that view in the morning now. I guess I’ll have to spend some time this year figuring out where the nest was, but it doesn’t seem to be someplace which I can see so easily.

Morning on Malabar Hills

I nursed my morning’s cup of chai and looked out across Backbay at the high-rises on Malabar hills, just when the rising sun caught them. A kite soared across the bay, and nearer at hand there was a fog of high-flying dragonflies. The monsoon winds have stilled, and the light breeze created a tiny bit of surf at the governor’s beach. Right now mosquitoes are breeding across that posh area. I hope they learn to breed more dragonflies there, to eat the larvae of mosquitos and control them. The ones around our buildings are the mostly the yellow and blue variety known as the ground skimmer (Diplacodes trivialis). Another morning in Mumbai in late monsoon, pleasant, but with the promise of heat and humidity later in the day. Again at this time you welcome a heavy shower.

Bon weekend: a way through the maze

It is a good week that ends in a happy decision. After lots of discussion, through many calls-to-attention and dissents, and much going back to basics and consulting lawyers, we could take a decision that a dozen of us could each be happy with. We will have to go back to full functioning, because we can’t wait for five years to reopen. But we can’t force people to act against their fears, or to utilize city services which are working at less than capacity. So, for the moment, we decided to open fully, but with minimal staff, so no one has to share an office. People who do not come in to work on a given day will be working a normal day and week out of home. Almost every person will still be coming in to work at least once in two weeks, but older people and people who have morbidities which make them more susceptible to COVID-19 will be able to work entirely out of home.

I think this was a foregone conclusion. There is no alternative to leading our lives, but we will have to feel our way through new dangers, and adapt to take that into account. We have learnt a huge amount about this disease in the last months, and we can bring that new understanding into play, as best as now-strained finances can. As we start to work, perhaps we can bootstrap ourselves into a better situation in all respects. I am happy that we can curb the madness of meetings and video calls at all hours of the day and night and every day of the week. I love my work, and can do it constantly, but when I am doing a lot more chores and repairs around the house (because help that would be available at other times isn’t), I need to take predictable times off. I hope our co-workers agree with the decisions we took for them, but I think we have enough flexibility delegated through the organization to take care of most reasonable caveats.

Now I have time to enjoy my tea in the morning as I look at what is nesting or hiding in the banyan tree outside; a rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri) this morning. Or to wonder when the municipality will be back to work trucking away the neatly stacked remnants of the trees that fell down in the storm a month ago.

Back to earth

Normal life seems set to start. I spent a day in meetings from ten to six, with a fifteen minute break for lunch at three. Five hours in one chair, and then almost three hours in another, gives your back long enough to seize up. Making decisions which had been postponed for months is going to take long. Sights like gardeners mowing lawns, and crows descending to feed on the slaughter, were so uncommon in the past months that I took a photo when I saw it. Such things will become routine once more. I’m afraid the sky will get smoky and polluted again, adding another edge of danger to the epidemic which has not yet receded. What a wonderfully positive thought to begin the day with! I think I should stop now.

But I can’t resist remarking how plastic the behaviour of animals is; crows here have learnt to follow lawn mowers. Learning and passing it on others is culture. I don’t know whether crows satisfy the second part of the definition of being cultured.

They’re back!

The moths I used to see on walls since last winter had disappeared around the time we went into lockdown. They are back again. I don’t know whether this was due to the anthropause, or whether this is a normal annual cycles. I must watch next March and April.

I can still only identify less than half of the most common ones. Here the two I know are the spotted Crotolina podborer (Argina astrea) and the yellow-tailed tussock moth (Somena scintillans). You can roll your mouse over the photos to get the captions.

I really must invest in a field guide to Indian moths. Any other enthusiasts out there? Anyone who can make suggestions about which book to buy for Indian or Asian moths?

A new beginning

I have been in to work twice in the last week; mostly to assess how mold has spread, and what to do about it. So I welcomed the weekend morning that dawned bright and sunny on my balcony, with a hot cup of chai in my hands. Something landed on the far tip of a tree, and it bent with the weight of the bird. I looked through the zoom, and (surprise! surprise!) it was an Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria).

They are not uncommon around Mumbai, but I’d not heard one in the last few months. It is one of the largest of parakeets, and has quite a different call; easy to tell both by voice and sight. The distinguishing feature is the touch of red on the wings. The Wikipedia article told me something I hadn’t known: that they were transported to the Mediterranean by Alexander’s army when it retreated from Punjab.

The grey hornbill couple are also back; a definite signal that monsoon is tapering off. They had a bad day or two, since their old nesting tree was blown down in last month’s storm, but they seem to have found a new place to nest it. The sun is out. Monday is a full day of in-office work: truly a new beginning in the middle of a rapidly worsening epidemic.

Sunset, ananta chaturdashi

Yesterday was the big day for Ganapati immersions, the day before the full moon. As if on schedule, the clouds thinned and the sun came through. The rest of the festival season can now be counted out in cycles of the moon. In some traditional luni-solar calendars, the month of Bhadon would be half over now, and the rains will begin to peter out. In the corrected official calendar the month will end six days later than traditionally. It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future (as a Dutch parliamentarian is reported to have said). No one really knows how much longer the monsoon rains will last, but I guess I will be able to walk more often.

August saw fierce rainfall and monsoon storms. On my first walk by the sea after a month I saw several things that have not been cleaned out yet. I wonder where this now-rusted barrel fell into the sea. What a wonderful happenstance that it washed up where I could use it to take a photo of the sunset. Plastic waste is never so useful.

A walk in the rain

I couldn’t let the unending rain dictate my life any longer. On Friday I slipped my phone into my pockets, put on my walking shoes and a poncho, and went out for a walk.

The world was full of life and death, decay and growth. Lush vegetation, scrubbed clean with rain, fallen leaves on green leaves, termites scurrying along walls. In this dreadful light, the camera can’t keep up with the insects.

Nyctanthes arbor-tristis, a mouthful for such a lovely flower: the night blooming jasmine. They are flowering already, but the rain washes away their scent. A month from now, the fallen flowers will wilt slowly through the day, releasing their lovely perfume all day.

A strangler fig is slowly killing its host; terrible for the host, but possibly a wonderful sight in future when the fig spreads out its branches and aerial roots. The flooded earth has sent the invading giant African land snails up the wall. Welcome to the club.

Bracket fungi have reappeared predictably on the trunk of a tree where I’ve seen it in the last two years. This tree is sick. The invisible filaments of the fungus have found its bed of secret joy, and its dark secret love is killing the tree. A William Bleak morning indeed!