Light breaks where no sun shines; Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart Push in their tides; And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads, The things of light File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.
A candle in the thighs Warms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age; Where no seed stirs, The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars, Bright as a fig; Where no wax is, the candle shows its hairs.
Dawn breaks behind the eyes; From poles of skull and toe the windy blood Slides like a sea; Nor fenced, nor staked, the gushers of the sky Spout to the rod Divining in a smile the oil of tears.
Night in the sockets rounds, Like some pitch moon, the limit of the globes; Day lights the bone; Where no cold is, the skinning gales unpin The winter’s robes; The film of spring is hanging from the lids.
Light breaks on secret lots, On tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain; When logics dies, The secret of the soil grows through the eye, And blood jumps in the sun; Above the waste allotments the dawn halts.
Light? What is gentle and beautiful about light? Light is a harsh thing, the kind of thing that sent Dylan Thomas off on long rants. When you have to deal with harsh tropical light all the time, you envy photographers in parts of the world where the sun slants down and filters through a thick layer of air to drip its soft light on things. They can keep their fatuous sunbeams. We know what sunlight is: a killer.
Midwinter’s light in Thailand (the featured photo) is so harsh that it has to be filtered through leaves to yield a photo with shadows. Compare that to the similar photo from the Camargue in the south of France. The contrast is less harsh as you go away from the equator. The mangoes and jasmine buds photographed yesterday in my balcony have to compensate for harsher light than the gentle summer light of Europe.
A single photo brought back a memory of a leisurely summer afternoon in Germany almost exactly a decade ago. This was at the house of a friend since my university days. I spent many pleasant days at his place, a home away from home. There were leisurely Christmas days, hectic weddings, and then long, warm, pleasant afternoons in the garden. Cakes, kuchen, are something special in Germany, and my friend’s mother had a special touch. This is one of the many cakes I remember trying not to eat all of. It was perhaps the only one I took a photo of before I bit into a slice.
There is extreme weather that you follow with satellite images, and then there is extreme weather that you feel round you. Mumbai is now reaching the uncomfortable level of humidity that precedes the monsoon. I can’t believe that it is only 31 Celsius outside. It is so humid that it feels like it is almost 40. Even the small potted palm on the balcony is feeling the heat; one of its fronds has turned yellow, although it has been watered on schedule. Inland there is definitely a heat wave. Nagpur was at 46.5 Celsius a couple of days back! We would have been passing through it now for a tiger watch if we had not been locked down at home.
Summer is the time of mangoes. In the part of the country where I grew up, the decisive beginning of grishma (summer) would be the brief week or two when the house would fill up with seemingly unending baskets of lychee. But they would be over before I could ever anticipate it, and suddenly one day the house would have the first mangoes of the summer. There are almost no lychees in Mumbai, and the summer starts with the delightful apoos (alphonso). The other delightful aspect of this, the most terrible of seasons, are the flowering trees. My favourite is the red of the silk cotton flower (Bombax ceiba), named after the silky feathers which waft through the burning air in May, carrying seeds from the burst fruits. On the other side of the road, peeking out from behind a building I can spot another favourite, the red flowers of the gul mohar (Delonix regia, the flame of the forest). The easiest to photograph from my window are the copperpods (Peltophorum pterocarpum, yellow flame) which line the roads around us. Nearby, and invisible to me now, is a jacaranda tree which must be in flower. None of these popular road-liners are native to Mumbai. The first rains of the next season will knock all these flowers off the trees, and for a few days the roads will be carpeted with vivid patches of colour decaying into mush.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now I can see the morning’s light moving along my kitchen wall. A couple of weeks ago the sun, as it rose, would burn me as I made my morning’s tea. Now that spot in my kitchen is safe, and the sun’s first light falls on the southern wall. The cool land breeze of the morning stops earlier now, and the equally cool sea breeze also sets in earlier. The sound of the birds has changed; perhaps they have moved to different parts of the garden, and someone else in getting the early morning concert that I would a few weeks back. In Mumbai you feel the summer more by an increase in the humidity as the sun warms up the ocean. I can feel it already.