This shuffling madness

What surrounds us? Where do we go when we break out of one thing? Thinking about it while looking at my old photos, I saw a few themes. We are constantly surrounded by machinery. If we stop to look at it, most of it is beautiful. It is painful to stop to look at the beauty of a jackhammer as it pulverizes a pavement near us, but that’s a part environment that me, you, and the toddler down the road are immersed in. Why would I not take pleasure in it? A few generations ago people did routinely, as you can tell by the decorative curlicues of cast iron that 19th century machines were made of. But today’s sleek minimal lines, or the organization of bundles of wires are equally deeply thought out.

But looking at a record of my life over a period of a year, almost twenty years ago, what surprised me most was that it was a hodge podge, not at all like my memories. In my mind I had divided it into work and pleasure, travel and home, domestic or foreign travel, nature or artificial. But in the photos they run together: a bit of this, and later in the day something else. Somewhere one day in the week, elsewhere far away for another few days. I’m constantly shuffling between contexts. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. So all this talk of themes is just one way to make the story easier to tell.

But let’s continue with that. Another constant in our life is the commute that we do. No matter where we live, there are hubs where people gather to wait for trains, buses or airplanes. There are clusters of taxis, autos, or rickshaws waiting to be hired. There is the rattle and roar of traffic passing over bridges or down roads somewhere near us. When I have the time I like to take photos of this kind of social environment that we create around us, no matter where we live: Mumbai, Paris, Kolkata, or the village where I spent a month.

But maybe that’s not what we first think of when we think of the world that we are immersed in. Perhaps we think first of all of the life around us: creatures that enter our homes and our neighbourhoods, or those that we have to travel far to see. They are always a pleasure to photograph. But I didn’t remember then that a gecko hiding behind a curtain is as wild as a doe with her calf in a jungle.

Or perhaps we think of something even bigger when we hear the word environment. The world is large enough to contain everything that we do. It will endure even if (when?) we change it so that we, and our familiar environment, can no longer exist. That is something that I hold in my mind as we enter the week that ends with the World Environment Day.

Flowers of May

Through the hottest part of May the treetops outside our window were a sea of bright red. The Flame of the Forest (Delonix regia, aka Gul mohar) was in flower. It is the one pleasure of this burning season. Between the peaks of the seasons for two major varieties of mangos, the best way to engage your senses is to stare out of the window in the morning or late afternoon, to see a golden light play on the flowers.

June is when the blooms are shed. True flowers of May, these, short lived, dropping into a red carpet on the ground at the beginning of June. It is more truly a Mayflower than that native of the Americas, the Epigaea repens, now commonly known as the Mayflower in the US, or even the original, Crataegus monogyna, after which the pilgrims’ ship, the Mayflower, was named. On World Environment Day, as I went to plant a neem tree (Azadirachta indica) in a clearing where a giant neem had stood before last year’s storm, I took these photos. That tiny green leaflet is one of the components of the multipart feathery (pinnate) leaves of the tree.

It is much easier to photograph these fallen flowers than to sight on a flower still on the branch. And a shot like this is enough to show you the five-petaled (pentameric) flowers, with one white petal streaked in red. What you don’t see is that when it is on the branch, the white petal sticks up, signalling to insects. These trees are not too far from its native Madagascar, and may well have been carried here in the natural course of migration. But since the 17th century the tree has been carried across the warmer parts of the world to serve be grown in gardens and along roads. Can’t think of a better way of preserving a species which is dying in Madagascar.