Who Am I When I’m Not Me?

I walk around the block several times a day. In the mornings, I enjoy it. I usually have my daughter with me for the first round. I push her toddler bicycle while she holds the handlebars in front of her and pretends to control it. She looks for Bow Bow (dogs), Kitta (cats) and Ka Ka (birds). I look at the leaves rustling in the wind. They are attached to plants that are neatly ordered behind straight lines made with bricks, but the leaves sway in the wind like they know a freedom that is unknown to the roots, although they remain bound to them. 

A few hours later, I come back down on my own. I still enjoy it, but only if my mind allows it. Early in the morning, nature forgets that it is bounded by the walls of a city which hasn’t woken up yet and so do I. A few hours later, the world intrudes. I use the noise cancellation feature on my AirPods to block the honking and the angry engines, but then I can no longer hear the murmur of leaves in the wind. 

Every day, it’s the same choice. The blunt instruments we use to be ‘productive’ take a meat cleaver to things we love too. The borders we draw in our minds to make sense of the world also kill that stray daydream that was beautiful. 

But daydreams need a place to be born, kept safe from the world, ironically by the labour of people who live in that world. Those bushes I love are tended to every day by gardeners working in the sun, breathing the polluted air. Do they like their jobs, I wonder, or do they not have the luxury of wondering? Do I?

I went to a much more beautiful place than this a few weeks ago. Where trees didn’t have to fight for space with concrete. Where you didn’t need noise-cancelling headphones to play birdsong. But to get there, you need to pay with the hard cash you earn in this noisy world. The irony struck me when I called them up to book a room and they talked me through all that is on offer at the resort. The nature walk I can join if I arrive on time. About the fish feeding opportunity at the pond at 5 PM, and the price for it. I almost laughed. It’s like someone bottled up the real world and offered to sell it back to you.

It’s not their fault. At least they keep a bit of it.

I wondered if the workers running the place think of how they live in a place hundreds will dream of when they are sad, the happy place they try to keep in their minds while they look at fluorescent screens with their backs to the windows. I suspect they don’t.

There was a time when I did not need to pay someone for a walk in nature. A time when I slept on beaches, or passed out in a pine forest. A time when we saw a nice little stream rushing to meet the ocean and just jumped in, fully clothed. No one checked if it was time to feed the fish. I assume the fish fed themselves fine without a watch. So did the fishermen who asked for our help to push their huge boat in.

But that time was as ephemeral as the mornings in Bangalore before the traffic wakes up. It did not last, as it could not last, because they bottled up our world, and now we have to look away from the window till we have enough cash to beg for a bit back.

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