Musings

Your idea of beauty is not mine

In the month of September, I returned to Sevagram and it was raining. I rode my scooter to work in the morning. Both sides of the road were lined by overgrown bougainvillea. In all possible shades of magenta, pink, yellow, white and orange. The colourful bracts swung with the breeze and that five-minute drive from the gate to my department in the drizzle simply left me upbeat. There was a song in my head. I felt blessed to be back from a polluted metropolis to the rustic environs of home, where nature kept your headspace clean with the green. The next morning I flew into a rage. Some administrative incharge in all their wisdom had decided that the campus needed to look ‘cleaner’. The bougainvillea had been brutally chopped without any sense of aesthetics. They look stunted and vandalized. Gone was the peace in my head. That beautiful moment has not been recreated and it has been three months. I don’t enjoy going to work as each morning reminds me of what the drive was earlier.

Two months later, I was in Amritsar. Along with the mandatory visit to “mattha teko” at the Golden Temple, I visited Jallianwala Bagh. I had been there in 2007. I remember walking down the narrow entrance to the ground. It gave shivers down my spine thinking of how that cruel merciless butcher of Amritsar, General Reginald Dyer must have walked in with his army to give shoot orders to innocent men, women and children on that fateful day. I remember walking into that sparse ground, seeing the bullet marks and the well, all the while feeling a lump in my throat.

This time, as I walked in there were glossy murals on either side with beautiful lighting. A version of Aao bachchon tumhein dikhayen jhaanki Hindustan ki was blaring on the loudspeakers. It was like walking through a sanitized version of a museum. Inside, the sparse ground which had been soaked with blood on the Baisakhi of 1919 was replaced by colourful lighting and beautifully landscaped gardens. Quotations of martyrdom lit up on bright sidewalks. I spent around 90 minutes there, but could not feel anything like I felt before. They had killed the soul of Jallianwala Bagh in the name of beautification. I imagined if I would have felt the bile of disgust at the Johannesburg prison where Gandhi was imprisoned and burst into tears if they had beautified it similarly.

I am just back from a reunion of my college friends. There were several threads of conversation simultaneously happening as the seventeen of us met. I could be there only for a few hours but it gave me ample time to observe and listen. We are all on the verge of fifty. Aging and beauty seemed to worry some of us. As I listened into exchanges of weight loss, make-up, and fashion tips, I realized that the most discontent seemed to be the girls who were the fittest. Not even realizing that they looked the best. There were others who seemed content with their families and children, exuding warmth in being their exuberant themselves. It was so clear that people’s priorities and perspectives are so different. Everybody’s idea of beauty was different. Some, I could identify with. Others I could not.

On my drive back from Nagpur, I looked at the perfectly designed flyovers with the stately lights lining the dividers on the highway. Beautiful, yes. Functional, yes. But I cannot but miss the majestic trees that used to line the roads on the hottest of summers. Lakhs of trees chopped off in the name of modernization. I think of the new roads invading the tiger sanctuaries, And then remember the frequent calls from my brother in Bhadrawati sending me videos of leopard sightings in the vicinity of our house. Where are we heading to?

Each morning I look forward to walking up to my terrace. There is an expanse of green on three sides. If you were a purist, you would call them brambles and bushes. But each morning, there is something infinitely healing in the sight of that verdant space created by nature. A spectacular array of different species of birds come visiting everyday. I know of nests that the white-breasted waterhens and the yellow-footed green pigeons have created between those prickly plants and trees. It is time for the winter migrants to arrive and I haven’t yet sighted the first Verditer’s flycatcher of the season. And now I am told that that wilderness is a health hazard and needs to be chopped off. It kills me. I spent an hour just looking at the green, knowing it will go away soon. Each morning used to start with calls of the peacock. I spotted four of them one morning. Now since the grass has been cleared, they have disappeared.

I know, how patiently I have waited for that Palash to grow its blossoms and welcome the Jerdon’s leaf birds. The Oriental white-eyes and ioras which come in hordes are my most delightful part of each morning. I even sighted the Asian paradise flycatchers nesting this year. The golden orioles which prefer to peck the berries of the Lantana bushes will be missed this summer. Clearly, my idea of beauty is completely different from someone else’s.

Everything that is artificial and landscaped isn’t beauty. In our endeavour to cut, chop and maim, we have lost the ability to see what is beautiful in nature’s system of things. But I guess we need to co-exist with everyone’s perspectives of beauty. Not everyone can embrace nature’s idea of perfection. You need to be able to see it first.

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