Randhir Khare is an award winning poet, artist, writer, playwright, folklorist and distinguished educationist who has published thirty-six volumes of poetry, short fiction, essays, novels and educational handbooks and has travelled widely, reading and presenting his work, nationally and internationally. He has presented his work at the Nehru Centre in London, at the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali, the India Festival In Bulgaria, at the Writers Union in the Czech Republic, in Bulgaria, Slovenia, the Pune International Literary Festival and at the Europalia Arts Festival in Belgium. In India, he has performed his poetry with various traditional and contemporary musicians and founded (as well as leads) two poetry-music bands : MYSTIC and AFTER RUMI. Over the last year he has published two path-breaking volumes of poetry and drawings, MOUNTAINS OF MY SILENCE and MEMORY LAND, He is the recipient of The Sanskriti Award for Creative Writing, The Gold Medal for Poetry awarded by the Union of Bulgarian Writers, The Human Rights Award, The Residency Grant 2009 for his lifetime contribution to literature in English awarded by The Sahitya Akademi (The National Akademy Of Letters) and The Palash Award (for his lifetime contribution to education and culture) among others. He has completed four and a half decades of distinguished services to education and special education and founded The RBA Centre For Special Education & The CSE Centre For Children With Special Needs. https://randhirkhare.in/ Photograph of Randhir Khare by Nadia Sen Sharma.
“She is your green mother, she gave you birth.
If you trust her she will carry you on green wings of the living
and you will always have the wisdom of a child.”
– An old Bhilala in praise of the spirit of Nature.
Photograph by Randhir Khare
It was back in the late 1950s when I was 8 years old and our unusually large family was homeless and lived off the charity of a family friend. Even though we were crammed like sardines into one small room in their bungalow, the outdoors offered us a freedom that we hadn’t had before. There was a sprawling yard dotted with shade trees including a beautiful motherly mango tree which offered enormous green fruits which were sweet and sour. And then there were two wild litchi trees with juicy green-red fruit in season… and the river Hooghly flowed past nearby, wafting the fragrance of silt and the breath of the faraway sea.
The litchi trees stood just outside our covered veranda. Being unemployed, my father was visibly restless, despondent and limp with low self-esteem. It was obvious that he felt useless. So, to while away his time, he took to teaching us all about the ways of wild birds. The litchi trees provided him a wide variety of avian creatures to talk about. As small as I was, I could sense life coming back to him as his eyes sparkled. Digging into memories of his own childhood, he started bringing out stories of wild birds he had befriended and the relationships he had shared with them. On one of the litchi trees a pair of parakeets had chosen a deep hollow high up along the trunk and set up a home inside. We watched with rapt attention when the babies arrived and the parents frantically took turns in feeding and taking care of them……
Excitedly, my father went to the local flea market and came back with a small battered pair of binoculars. He mended the damaged parts as best as he could and we spent hours watching the parent parakeets take care of their babies. Our mother joined us after she had finished her household work and after more than two years in helplessly disarray, our family came closer as never before.
One day, the parent birds vanished, probably taken by a bird of prey. The babies called in desperation. We children sobbed as if we had lost our parents and our siblings’ lives were in peril.
Then a flock of crows arrived and dive bombed the babies till they managed to carry away one of the them. We yelled and tried to shoo them away but the birds wouldn’t relent. Suddenly a magical moment happened. Before our eyes, our over-weight and out of breath father stripped down to his half torn shorts, scaled the trunk of the tree with incredible speed till he reached the nest and brought the nestling down to safety.
The same man who I had almost lost faith and trust in had become my hero. My mother was inspired too and together we created a cozy nest in a shoe box which we hung from a wooden beam in the covered balcony. We took it in turns to feed the baby until it grew big and brave enough to come out of the box and sit on the railing. One day, after a midday nap we came out to discover that a pair of adult parakeets were feeding the now growing baby. As the days passed, they even taught it to fly from bush to bush in the open yard till they got it up to the shade of the motherly mango tree.
That experience brought our family so close to one another that it helped us to appreciate our parents and their efforts to feed us and take care of us, even in those desperate times.
Over the years I have learnt that no matter how complex and unfortunate our circumstances may be in life, Nature is always there to help us along the way – that is, if we open ourselves to her. There are inspirational stories everywhere, happening around us. Every moment offers us a unique experience.
Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it beautifully, “To speak truly, few adult persons can see Nature…the lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.” He goes on to say that in Nature there is perpetual youth and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years, “Within these plantations of God, a decorum and a sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed…there I feel that nothing can befall me in life, no disgrace, no calamity which Nature cannot repair.”
We who live in urban habitations may not consciously experience this mysterious and nurturing power of Nature because we aren’t in the company of woods of the sort that Emerson speaks of. Here, the spirit of Nature is in the resident and visiting free creatures, the shrubs and trees.
Last night, before I slipped into sleep I thought of my long-gone mother and how early one winter morning in Delhi, I walked out on to our terrace garden and found her sitting beside a flower pot and praying. Stepping a little closer I discovered that the pot held a scrawny plant, bent and almost leafless.
I stepped away because I was an adult now and understood the need that elders sometimes have for privacy. The next morning at the same time she was singing a hymn to the plant. On the third morning, she was talking to it. I dared not interrupt her.
I asked myself why she had chosen to bestow such sensitive care on that half dead weed when all around her the garden was overflowing with flowers. But I minded my own business and withheld my urge to yank the weed out and prepare the mud in the pot for some seedlings that I and especially bought from a nearby nursery.
In the days that followed she had moved the pot away from its isolated space and placed it somewhere amidst the other flowering pots. “I moved the pot there so that it would have others around it,” she said. I smiled.
Quite some time passed. Then one day, she declared at the breakfast table, with a tender smile, that only mothers are capable of, “our plant is in bloom.”
My wife and I went out to take a look and were surprised to find that the weed didn’t look like a weed any more. It had pushed shoots out in all direction. Every shoot had sprouted leaves and tiny purple flowers. My mother looked at us and there were tears trickling down her cheeks.
“You know,” she whispered to me, almost wistfully, “that’s what I did for you when you were a child and very sickly.”
With those words, the past welled up inside me and filled me with a deep connectedness. I wasn’t sure to “what” but it was a connectedness all the same. For weeks after that I became acutely aware of Nature around me, inside me. I could feel a powerful ‘female presence’, a female energy which nurtured my maleness.
A couple of decades later, found me alone, in the city of Pune where I lived and wrote in a small studio, whilst all around me trees leaned over me, almost protectively. I had a small terrace garden of potted plants and fruiting shrubs where birds of all kinds would drop in to feed from the bowls of fruit and grain and quench their thirst from a large terracotta birdbath. Each species came in small groups or pairs. Just a couple came solo. Among them were a Pariah Kite with a damaged wing, a Racket Tailed Drongo who appeared to be in a constant state of meditation and a one-legged crow. It was the one-legged crow who was the most constant. Actually, she had one and a half leg. The section of the limb below the joint didn’t exist and she hobbled around partly on a stump.
I remember clearly, even now, the day she first arrived. It was seven in the morning and I was sitting at my desk sipping my first mug of tea. She balanced on the green bamboo trellis and cawed raucously.
“Shut up,” I shouted but she ignored me and flew towards the terrace door and sat balancing on the back of a chair outside the door, peering in – tilting and bobbing her head and looking into the studio first with one eye and then with the other. “What do you want?” I asked, in a softer voice.
“Caw, caw,” she responded also in a softer voice. But I continued to sip my tea and watched as she entered the studio, between the netted anti mosquito curtains. She then flew on to the kitchen counter and searched for titbits. Finding nothing, she turned and looked at me as if to ask, “What?
Nothing here? What the hell do you live on? Poetry and fresh air?” After examining the interiors of the studio, she left.
The next morning, she returned again at seven. Perched on the back of the chair and cawed more civilly, as if she was trying to say something. I looked up and realised that she had brought with her the remains of a chipmunk that she had been eating. Leaving the portion out there she entered the studio again, searched for food and finding nothing, flew off. A while later I realised that she had actually brought me something to eat (of course I didn’t get down to eating it). The next day, I kept a bowl of tasty leftovers on the seat of the chair. She arrived, civilly cawed a good morning and proceeded to polished off the contents of the bowl. Hopping off the chair she peered at me from between the netted curtains. Then left.
And so, I decided not to keep any food on the seat of the chair the next day. Ha ha, she was a self- respecting bird and obviously wanted to share her food with me. And guess what she brought? A stinking cluster of fishbones held together by rotten meat!
Morning after morning we made offerings of friendship to each other until the day arrived when she even decided to pop by at various times of the day to bathe in the bird bath, sometimes peer at me from between the curtains and then fly off. Soon I discovered that she roosted in the thorny keekar tree just outside the balcony. Interestingly, some mornings, when it was her turn to present me food, she would skip her visit and turn up the next day ready to accept my gift.
Randhir Khare at the shrine of Vaghdev.
As time moved on, we had become companions and she visited every day for a small meal at seven. Sometimes, she’d even roost in the pomegranate shrub at night or hop across my desk when I was writing. She filled my lonesome times in the studio with companionship. But then as in all meaningful companionships, it ended. One beautiful morning when birds clustered around the feeding and the watering bowl on the terrace, she arrived unannounced and perched on the back of the chair. The other birds ignored her. She cawed excitedly but since I was deep in writing a poem she flew off. A while later I went on to the terrace and discovered her offering lying on the chair. It was a child’s t-shirt – jet black with a beautiful butterfly embossed on it. My companion had obviously nicked it from a nearby clothesline and brought it as a special gift to me. It was a farewell gift, something told me that.
I was right, she never returned. She had even stopped roosting in the keekar tree at night. It took me some time to come to terms with her disappearance. And when I did, I began to realise the meaning and worth of the companionship that she had shared with me. She was Nature’s messenger, sent to teach me how to nurture the spirit of companionship through equal sharing, with no dependency, nurturing familiarity, maintaining one’s self-respect, being one and yet being apart… with no controlling.
As Khalil Gibran says, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”