Saturday, July 12, 2008

Swan Song

Like “The Rainy Day” of poet Longfellow, the last few days (as I write this) have been very wet and “dark and dreary”. The heavy downpour seems to resonate with the heavy heart that I carry as it is time to leave this beauteous place. I am aware that my “Gulistan” (the name of our abode, incidentally) does not belong to me, but I have belonged to this place like nowhere else. Funny how, after years of living in an urban climate, you come to a strange unknown place and feel you have come home. What is it about this place, Wellington, or more generically, Nilgiris, that has this impact on some? For me, after the cacophony and entropy of city life the stillness of this place cleared the cobwebs of the mind flushing it with fresh energy. As I look back on the two plus years I can visualize countless things that have made this stay rejuvenating and special.

The panoramic sweep of the Wellington Gymkhana Club Golf Course which one crossed everyday on evening walks enlivened by – no, not by the golfers – but the mellifluous call of the Blackbird, the “bird of the forest shadows” as Ruskin Bond calls it or the fluty trill of the Malabar Whistling Thrush will perhaps symbolize this place, for me. One of my secret hideouts (now it can be told!) has been the Tiger Hill Cemetery in Coonoor (next to Tan Tea estate) which until a few years ago had the graves of WW II soldiers (recently exhumed and shifted to Chennai). I got to know of this haunt thanks to a local photographer friend who took me there. With not a soul around, the place is dead, and yet, with plenty of birds flitting about, so alive, that it is surreal. Built in 1905, the cemetery itself is beautiful with its classic stone-and-red-tiled-roof gate and is hidden in a kind of a cove; but walk ten paces ahead, round a bend and lo, and behold! At the Tiger Hill you hit upon an expansive vista of hills and dales and on a clear day you can see the plains of Mettupalayam. It simply takes your breath away.

Nilgiris, as the word suggests, is about the blue haze, which it is, but it is the colour green that dominates – in myriad tones. This green is certainly not a homogenous blur; trees stand out in their individual glories. One of my favourites, which I have seen here for the first time, is the Fagraea obovata. Oddly, this Australian native does not have a popular name, at least not that I know of. This tree with picture perfect glossy leaves puts forth creamy flowers that suffuse the senses as you walk by. It had become some sort of a ritual for me to pick up a few fallen flowers and put them in the lobby or bedroom. Their subtle heavenly scent wafts through the corridors and rooms and I know no better aromatherapy than this. The Eucalyptus is ubiquitous here and is seen in mind-boggling variety of foliage, but the most fascinating of it all is the flowering one. The Eucalyptus ficifolia dots the College landscape and stands out only now as it is currently in bloom. The wispy flowers like cotton fluff crown the trees in bewildering hues of scarlet, peach, pink, white and orange.   

You can call me a bird-brain, but I love birds to distraction and have to sing an ode to them at every available opportunity.  Trees and birds are intimately connected and in Wellington, we are lucky that we do not have a “silent spring”. On the contrary, the music of the bird songs here seems to signify that all is well with our immediate world. There is much to learn from the purple or crimson-backed sunbird which dangles from the delicate stems of hibiscus or flowers of canna or agapanthus sucking nectar and going about its work. It does not believe in damaging the host as it serves its own purpose. Everywhere in India, there is talk of how the sparrow population is dwindling, but in my garden I have witnessed how the lure of rice grains or millet seeds seems to draw a flock giving me immense hope that the trend can be reversed. A mindboggling variety of bird species  - from the rosefinch and shikra to flycatchers and bulbuls - have visited my garden in the past two plus years enriching my days from dawn to dusk.

All this I am going to miss as we pack our bags and prepare to move. But deep down I feel that this bond is not fragile, not fleeting… Behind the dark clouds, the “sun is still shining”… I will come back. But for the moment, yet another world beckons… a new life awaits with open arms… I have to go. After all, we are all birds of passage! Adieu, my friends.

Also read: Haiku Moments in Wellington