homework: tales of science

school is in full swing.

these green tea and ginger laden late nights spent reading mundane data documentation come with the occasional surprise that jolt you awake. Science is as much about the story around it:

As your eyes glaze over an otherwise dry report at 1:00 AM, the rare expression of human emotion transports you:

riverside

A creek of shoals, broad sands and languid rapids. In these parts in daytime, you are most surprised by a large German Shorthaired Pointer that barks in confusion, the owner as it nearly pushes you into the waters. The trail is thin, the company, thinner.

We lose ourselves in conversation, the excitement and augury of a new academic year and all it brings with, and soon thereafter, lose ourselves on the trail. The trails weave and wind and loop around themselves. What was to be a short brisk hike becomes an afternoon siesta in unforeseen wild lawns, followed by a surprisingly homely buffet.

Yet another instance where I was reminded I arrived in the country with embarrassingly little thought put into what to expect from life outside of school.

Fall colors will be here soon.

campus

There are three things about campus that you see and experience early on. One, it is massive for a state funded university, sprawling in its presence. Two, the steam whistle that blows regularly each day, a legacy continued from the late 19th century. Lastly, the eastern gray squirrels that abound everywhere, and the robins that whiz right by your hair.

maudlin rain

Rereading these words in today’s context, everything rings true. From the arid lands of the (then) Panjab and Afghanistan to the winters in Germany, finding in him a reflection of the self. As he says, ample opportunity to get to this later.

I thought I was leaving the monsoons behind, but I’ve wandered into tornado country. The rains have been constant, the days ornate with fine drizzles, the nights just a constant heavy pitter, thunder to keep you up.

3 am, awoken
Out front, the morning read

This is fast becoming my favorite part of life here. I hope to enjoy these pleasures for as long as possible, before the stresses of being in school catch up with me.

And the twilight tea

Ruben

breathtaking video! Completely immersed in this last album from Blick Bassy.

finding writing by Ruben Um Nyobè in English is proving to be difficult as a non-academic. Much of it was destroyed upon his killing.

For now, piecing together information from the interwebs, the art and the music. How easy is it to erase a life today?

cookie cutter

There was a time when listening to Azawade as I tied my shoes up primed me for my daily riverside runs. Over the years, it still does, but has also taken a more meditative quality, and I’ve explored more sounds.

This morning, it leads to an English mélange inspired by music of the Baka in Cameroon.

I’m getting used to blinds again. Sunlight that filters onto the wall is dappled from trees in the backyard, but takes on a geometric quality as well: straight, parallel lines. Artificial, built, a reminder of where I am. “cookie cutter life”, a friend used to say.

These two weeks are for dealing with the vagaries of moving continents (and countries, with their own separate idiosyncrasies), setting up a home, and creating new habits. Already, the body is getting comfortable waking before sunrise and gets tired by midnight. How long will this last before old habits kick in?

what is a kite?

Every other day, the drizzles tease a monsoon to follow. The kites fly higher and higher in the evening winds.

I live beside a school, once bustling, now devoid of life. Pre-pandemic, the street was noisy each day. School vans, parents and kids congregated at the gate by prayer time. In the afternoons and evenings, groups formed under the trees for respite from the summer heat. Classroom and staffroom gossip would fill the air for nearly an hour, and then, quiet in the evenings. Shouts from the football and cricket and basketball matches in the distance. The ruckus of a roomful of brash teenagers was as much noise as the whole street could tolerate, it seemed.

These days, there are no regular rickshaws coming in to pick them up. There is almost nobody. The playground makes for a desolate picture, if one has the heart to click one. A year and a half in this mess, devoid of the camaraderie, the play and the pointless mucking around that makes being at school bearable, even worthwhile. Was it ever about the scholarship? It was supposed to be, but who are we kidding?

For now, the school watchman’s kids have free rein across the entire playground. It is their makeshift kites I see up in the sky each day. Today, they surfed far in the distance, a sun-kissed backdrop of purple stratus clouds.

Such a rich history and legacy across millennia, in so simple a design. The first aircrafts. I remember jumping in silent joy when one of my students wondered aloud about flight, during what was turning out to be a tedious exercise in English grammar. Here was a 10 year old thinking for himself, and giving his curiosity a voice. After finishing up, we got to doing some fun little experiments during those months. The tea bag rocket, the handcopter, the balloon propeller, and lots and lots of paper airplanes. We played around, watching footage of the Wright brothers and biplanes and dirigibles and high altitude balloons and solar-powered high altitude platforms. We looked for inspiration in art, flipping through imagery from Arzach and watching Ghibli movie clips. A couple of them made up and drew flying contraptions – one was not unlike Aang’s staff.

Some of them were expert kite handlers already. And so, we made kites, and talked about what constitutes one.

A kite is its body. The wing. A kite can fly well in nimble hands: the anchor. A kite can stay up and ride the wind, as long as it is tethered. The moment it cuts loose, it is bound to fall and touch the earth somewhere, sometime.

What is a kite?

A kite is an aircraft.

A kite is a wing, a tether and an anchor combined.

A kite is wonder.

evenings on the roof

The bee eaters slowly make their way back, it’s been a few months. Herons abound at sunset, flying East.

Coconut fronds hide the temple in the hills, and building roofs have risen a few floors higher through this past year. Weed-ridden lands have been cleared, sending the peacocks onto parapets and roofs.

The golden oriole has been missing since January. The kingfisher is back, and the woodpecker is not alone anymore. There are two, they spend two minutes on the dead tree by the water tank every day, knocking around.

In the absence of rains, I take the music upstairs, the clouds induce words when there is little else. I sweat on the roof. On the terrace, you meet with others in the distance. Everyone comes upstairs when the day cools or a drizzle occurs – the cameras come out, video calls happen, voices above waft across the streets.

Little traffic, and no school crowds in the evening on the street. So folks set up chairs in the middle of the road, the dogs get agitated as horses wander by. Chairs on the street, gossip shouted from one gate to another. The milkman comes by late, he says the cows aren’t doing so well this week.

A ball rolls on, where once bikes revved up. A child chases it, and not far behind, her mother with a plate of her supper.

oxygen

Been chasing O2 vendors (amongst other things one never thought much of before this year) in the city for the better part of this past month, perhaps more. Rental prices for concentrators and pressurized cylinders have gone up now. The man arrives on his motorbike, helps set it up and rattles away with instructions.

Meanwhile, he also fields endless phone calls asking him for cylinders and concentrators, all of whom he has to refuse, for I managed to rent out his last remaining device. He is annoyed at the system, the commercial incentives of hospitals in the region, accepts he is a part of it too.

He leans in, before riding off: “We sell a cylinder at 500 while the hospital charges you 150 for a minute’s usage“.

The math is simple – it is a retail market, B2C for the sick.


More than a year into the pandemic, hospitals remain busy. So fast is the flurry of activity, one wouldn’t think to look into an alleyway in the corner. I myself came across it while idling away for hours in the building, waiting for a doctor who was supposed to meet me “in the next ten minutes, definitely“.

Hidden from all the bustle, right where no routine visitor might stop for a second glance, a Ganesha shrine lords over the oxygen cylinders.

Who amongst these receptionists, attenders, doctors, nurses, handymen and guards are believers? Who are not? Who ensures the garland for a God stay afresh each day?

I never saw a visibly decaying flower in all my visits. Never. They were always freshly plucked.

Death and decay came only upstairs, in the endless wards.