My father loved nature. He had a keen appreciation for the outdoors, despite (or perhaps because of) living in city where green spaces were slowly being consumed by commercial and residential construction to accommodate a fast-growing and ambition-filled population. Yet, Papa would find ways to help us enjoy nature, especially during the time when he was in good health.
I remember going to Bonta, officially Kamla Nehru Ridge, with my father and the family early in the morning on weekends and holidays to enjoy some fresh morning air and green spaces. I also remember, as a child, going with my parents in the evenings to Delhi University's spacious lawns, open to public. Ma and Papa would sit there, and talk about their day, while I would run around barefoot on the green grass happily playing by myself.
Papa was one of the most active people I knew in the early years of my life. While Papa was still able to drive long distances, he and Ma would bundle the whole family into our white Fiat, and take us on long memorable trips to the hill stations, in the foothills of the Himalayas. My parents had a knack for finding non-touristy spots, and my mother would take her kitchen equipment along, buying local produce and making most of the meals herself, something that I now find myself doing when I go on vacations :)
Later, as Papa's medical problems grew, he was put on strong medicines--medicines that made him very drowsy and lethargic during the day. Many of my memories of Papa, during my teens, are of him lying on the sofa or the settee in the living room, sleeping through the day. We all accepted Papa's condition, knowing that there was no alternative medical treatment available at that time that would allow him to have a more 'normal' life. Yet, it must have been so hard for Papa--going from a physically active and athletic outdoor life to one that was dependent on medication and required being at home most of the time.
There were also lucid days and moments, when the medical condition and medication would momentarily retreat. One such afternoon in late summer, I went up to the terrace and found Papa there. He was just standing there, leaning against the chimney shaft that rose from our kitchen on the ground floor, looking up at the sky. A storm was brewing and the hot day was becoming cooler by the minute. When I saw Papa, I went and stood next to him, leaning against the shaft as well.
After a few moments, I asked, "पापा, आप क्या देख रहे हो?" (Papa, what are you looking at?)
Papa replied, "बादल देख रहा हूँ, बेटा, बारिश के बादल हैं." (I'm looking at the clouds, beta (child). These are rain clouds.)
It was indeed a beautiful sight. Huge, dark, water-laden clouds were moving across the horizon, bringing with them the promise of cool, drenching rain. A fresh, strong breeze had sprung up, a very welcome feeling after a hot summer day. I just leaned by Papa's side and enjoyed the moment.
After a few minutes, Papa said, "पुरवइया है." (It's Purvaiya.)
I was not familiar with the term, and so I asked, "पापा, पुरवइया क्यों कहते हैं." (Why is it called Purvaiya.)
Papa replied gently, in that glorious voice of his, "पूरब से चलती है ना, बेटा, इसलिए पुरवइया कहते हैं." (Because it comes from Purab (east), beta, that's why it's called Purvaiya.)
I don't know how long Papa and I stood there, leaning against the shaft, looking at the storm clouds, enjoying each other's company quietly. After some time, Papa went back downstairs, but in that shared experience, and many more similar ones, Papa showed me how to be in the moment, to enjoy natural beauty, to look up at the clouds now and then, and quietly marvel at the grand expanse that the sky is.
Even today, here in the U.S., when storm clouds gather, I stop and look at them. There have been times, when I have sat outside till the last moment possible in a storm, just to enjoy the sheer beauty and magnificence of a stormy day, eventually coming back to the shelter and safety of the apartment somewhat reluctantly. And when it rains, like the monsoons, I feel joyful inside. I go on long, long walks that feel like meditation--just being in the moment, and enjoying the tall green-laden trees that border the walking trail, and the sound of water nearby.
Life goes by so quickly, one day at a time. I'm glad that in the rushed, fast-paced life of the city, Papa showed me how to stop and appreciate the little big things in life--nature, music, animals, and much more :)