#2 Things to do on the Weekend: Take A Walk Through Time

A historian with mild manners and a loud voice organizes heritage walks in Delhi all year round. He attracts a small but loyal crowd who follow him week after week along the corridors of yesteryears as he regales them with stories of times long gone. This week I join that eclectic group of people who woke up bright and early on Sunday morning to walk around a famous historical garden in Delhi. 

There is a lady with fiery silver hair. A tall gentleman whose wife helps refugees in Tunisia. Two architecture students whose pens always hover in anticipation over their notebooks. Two sisters wearing similar jackets who studied in a school very close to the garden. A mother with her child. A man with his mother. 

We start in 1936.  The origin story. Imagine a vicereine driving around land that has been newly designated the capital of the colony her husband has been sent to rule. She spots a beautiful, if dilapidated, mausoleum and then yet another, and then one more, all within a five-mile radius. She proclaims, “let there be a park” and so there is. 

It is now the 14th century. A young king, the third of his line, abdicates his throne to pursue a lifelong interest in Sufism. Before he does, he orders the building of a tomb on behalf of his father, the second of his line. The architect believes the top of the dome to be where his god resides, and the mason believes the lotus to be the seat of his god. So together they build a lotus atop a dome. 

Soon we find ourselves in pre-historic times. People are coming together to cultivate land and are in need of storing grains. So, they begin building pots. Massive, red-baked, earthen pots that store grain and seeds for the community. Because these pots hold the ‘seeds of life’, they come to signify fertility and fecundity and centuries later, young brides begin gently kicking the pot filled with seeds as they enter their marital homes. 

Suddenly it’s the 20th century again. 1960’s to be exact. A quiet stuffy afternoon in India’s second decade of independence. Two boys bunk school to roam the halls of a tomb that is surrounded by its own private garden. They climb through the dilapidated stairways and stuff themselves in the nooks and corners of the silent tomb, lazing and languishing. 

Just like this, what started out as a heritage walk on art and architecture becomes a trip through time, where in patterns that sometimes resemble zigzags and crisscrosses and other times the unending circles of the Tibetan infinity knot, the historians spins stories after stories that leave me dizzy. Until I filled with a deep sense of unease. It’s eating away at me, taking out all of the goodness of what I have learnt. 

I recognize it to be fear that stems from the knowledge that our future does not stretch out as far ahead of us as our past does behind us. That somehow after centuries of slow and steady progress, we have decided to make a clean break and are charting into terrifying territories that we may never return from. Will heritage walks exist in 23rd century? What stories will future historians share if we never build anything to last?

The walk ends. I chase after a young boy selling tea. With a cup of steaming hot tea, I sit on the steps of the last tomb, surrounded by endlessly green gardens as far as the eyes can see. 


#1 Things to Do on The Weekend: Bird Watching

A reminder for self when your brain convinces you that spending the weekend alternatively drunk and hungover is imperative to experiencing your 20s to the fullest.

Today you went birdwatching and came back feeling more fertile and generative than you have in a long time. It is an excellent endeavor, a long meandering walk, bathed in the right mix of aimlessness and wonder. It allows you to leave that dark recess of your mind and train your senses to your external environment. You followed sounds and patiently stared at thickets until the birds made themselves known to you. You saw birds, in stillness and in motion, sometimes only catching a speck of colour before they disappeared. You observed these birds closely and identified their specialty, a pin tail, a curved neck, a colored feather, a ruffled crown only to misidentify the bird completely. Sometimes you walked on the road, and sometimes balanced yourself on the edge of the raised footpath. You chased butterflies and ran away from dragon flies. You touched plants that reminded you of the touch-me-nots of your childhood, holding your breath in anticipation and when you were disappointed, you let it out into the world, without fear. You squealed in delight when you saw a long-bodied mongoose titter across the road and savored your wonder when you saw you bird gracefully stretch its wings into a yawn. 

It’s important who you go bird watching with. You want someone with a rich inner world and a low threshold for wonder. You want someone who will tell you facts about the animal kingdom and evolutionary science and other interesting things that you never think about. You want someone who will patiently and tenderly show you exactly where to look, above which branch and below which leaf to spot the bird they’ve spotted. And you want someone you can do the same for. You want someone who will laugh at the couples who sit there, as they teeter on the edge of socially acceptable behavior before making a hasty retreat when they hear your footsteps. You want someone who will share a cold drink with you at the end of your visit and make promises to do it all again someday, soon. 

The bird sanctuary isn’t an Instagram approved place. When you have the option between well-manicured parks with pretty ponds and even prettier fountains and government protected bird sanctuaries, unruly and unkempt; choose the latter. Reject the encroaching dominance of totalitarian Instagram aesthetics. Instead laugh at painted signs that tell you to smile because you are in the lap of nature and forbid you from feeding the birds and setting the place on fire, because apparently that happens. Read the names of the birds that someone has so methodically and bureaucratically put up around the park. Then read their names in Latin and in Hindi, because why not. Don’t mind the benches with large and sticky spider webs and even larger spiders. Don’t mind the fact that you can see the grey and dusty buildings hovering above the edge of the greenery and also across the pond. A bird sanctuary can’t fight the capitalist imperative. But you can. 

As a refugee lawyer, a bird sanctuary holds an important message for you. It is one about enduring connections and ancient routes of travel that predate modern nation states and our ideas of which places are cool. (Why else would birds travel to Noida?) It is a place that exists outside the marked territoriality of everything else around you. Away from peculiar human afflictions like passports and visa. Where a migrant or resident status doesn’t have an impact on your belonging. There is a beautiful thought about our shared commonality in all of it, find it. 

And when you come back, make yourself a cup of tea, play some music and pour down all your thoughts on paper so you can revisit it, again and again.