Mid-March in Delhi. A year into the pandemic. The day inched closer to dusk. The brightest star, resembling a perfect round orange ball, moved fast towards the western horizon.
I stood on the terrace and looked up at the sky. An ocean of vast blue, a rare sight in Mumbai where I now live. The pandemic had made me wait fourteen long months to visit Delhi, once my home.
I took a deep breath and exhaled, and there I spotted it, standing majestically tall. Dry and almost naked except for the hundreds of red ornaments that made it seem like it was on fire. Birds of different species pecked its red flowers. A pair of grey hornbills hopped around the branches, and there were too many parakeets to be counted.
As my eyes shifted between clear March sky above me and the flaming red Semal tree (Bombax ceiba, also known as silk-cotton) in front of me, my meditation was pleasantly broken by flocks of birds dancing in the sky as they returned home.
Since I had returned home after such a long gap, I could perceive the sense of joy and hurry the birds felt as they journeyed back home. Thankfully, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t brought their world to a standstill, like it has done ours. Human beings desperately need to slow down. To let the natural world heal. To heal ourselves.
I sipped coffee with sugar, prepared by my friend on whose terrace we both stood with our mugs as he recited carefully chosen Urdu couplets.
‘in dinoñ garche dakan meñ hai baḌī qadr-e-suḳhan
kaun jaa.e ‘zauq’ par dillī kī galiyāñ chhoḌ kar’
Indeed, a year away from Delhi was making me fall in love with Dilli and its many sights and sounds — the chirping of birds, the strain of devotional songs and bells in a nearby temple, and the comforting chug of a locomotive lazily moving along a predefined track of the railway station across the road. A cycle rickshaw-wallah talking loudly on the street below. A car honked.
Predictably, I had lost track of the pandemonium of the parakeets on the Semal with their pointed tails flying across the grey-orange sky. Just then, my friend patted my back and told me to look up — were they Rosy Starlings? My heart brimmed over even as the last few sips of coffee remained in the mug in my hand .
‘umr to saarī kaTī ishq-e-butāñ meñ ‘momin’
āḳhirī vaqt meñ kyā ḳhaak musalmāñ hoñge’
The sky was slowly turning dark. The birds continued to feed off the leafless Semal tree. The grey hornbills were still around. Another locomotive chugged in.
That evening on the terrace made up for the loss of fourteen months away from Delhi. And, made me realise, once again, that the most beautiful and calming experiences in life come for free. Only if we care to stop and notice them.
Don’t believe me? Spend a quiet evening on your terrace. Or, that of your friend’s.
Read more Nidhiness here: