What would life be without Liberal Arts?

Many years ago, in a conversation with academic oriented acquaintances, someone said “what would life be without Liberal Arts”? I, an eternal student of humanities, inclined always towards Arts, wondered, do people really care? Is it the Brick, or the Wall or the Mural or the Graffiti or the Terrain or the Crafts or the Communities? Is Eiffel Tower the Lattice or the Height? Do people marvel at what’s buried under the serenity of a reservoir or at the dam? What is the footfall in a Mall as against a Museum on any given day?

The Berlin Wall

I know. It is not necessarily either or. It could be both. But if one were to pick? Where would the numbers be?

I re-visited this and many of my other notions in 2020. Pandemic induced reality check on Life’s goals, travel plans, bucket lists, assumptions.

And I concurred. “What would life be without Liberal Arts?”

George Town, Penang

Most of us have been grappling with the last ten months. No matter how often we travelled before the pandemic, where all we went, on work, on leisure or to run errands, that has changed for everyone. So, what filled that extra Time, besides the household chores?

Let’s begin with the memes. One a day, keeps the blues away. Plenty and you are forwarding the whole day! Have you noticed how creative they are? One image, few lines, two words and there, you cannot stop laughing!  Some spoons and plates, some poetry, quotes and jokes and I have to admit the air darkened with worries clears up to let some sunlight inside our heads. Not to forget the lifesaving OTT platform. Regional films, Hollywood, Bollywood, old forgotten films and serials. Films made during the world on pause. We were not just randomly flipping channels but searching, finding, watching and sending out recommendations. The complete process of savoring the investment in watching a film.

The books, unputdownable stories of history and romance and struggles. Between the lines are our current realities with the deep sighs.

To really wait for the newspaper. Not like a quick glance over breakfast or to kill time at the airport, but to really relish G Sampath and Santosh Desai, to chew every word, every idea and every conclusion slowly for its taste and aftertaste.

Did you get to read the poem by Kitty O’ Meara, “And the people stayed home…”, in the roots of a tree laden with stars, a human and animals living in peaceful coexistence? Won’t that be one of the best images to hold on to?

And the People Stayed Home

Music, the soul soothing nostalgic faraway land. When a song reminded you of a friend in college and you actually picked up the phone and called her to say “you recall that guy who went up on the stage in our college festival and dedicated this song to you?” You both rediscovered and dusted the friendship which you thought had gone redundant over the years. The old albums, or the pictures folder in your laptop, flashback to a family wedding, black and white images.  

Karaoke singing Heal the World or closing your eyelids to Andrea Bocelli’s Amazing Grace, listening to T.M Krishna or humming along Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi, while we waited for Science to deliver the vaccine, what has kept us going are these tiny little sparks of creativity that lifts the soul from despair, inch by inch.

Remember when the Titanic was sinking, and the band continued to play? (from a meme)

Remembering the Lal Bagh Flower Show

Not surprised but disappointed. August 2020 would not host the Lal Bagh Flower show. Twice every year 15th August and 26th January, large sections of Bangalore waits for this event lasting for ten wonderful days,  to witness its flowers, trees, moss, lichen…Nature in its full glory.

I certainly attend one of the two if not both. Gradually, over a decade of living in Bangalore, finding my way around the city, I have come to form a pattern. I often take public transport to reach The Lal Bagh. The last trip was a pleasant ride in the new Namma Metro with a change from purple to green line at the Majestic station. I then walk to Lal Bagh and buy my entry ticket. I particularly like the bougainvillea canopied path and reach the entry area near the rock.  Having visited many times, I first use the facility of the buggies and take one round of the entire garden, filling my eyes with the resplendent sights. The tree’s eye view of the world beneath.

The oldest tree at Lal Bagh

I listen to the commentary of the bogey driver who double-up as guides, passing on oral history of the garden as they have heard, same every time, pointing out rare and old trees, the lawn clock, the bandstand, the lake and finally stopping at the glass house. I get down near the ancient rock formation and climb till the Kempegowda tower, pausing to get a view of the city from the top.

The rock formation and the Kempegowda tower

Descending I enter the bonsai garden wondering at this concept of dwarfing the magnificent trees! I then walk as I feel like, choosing paths that are empty.

Commissioned by Hyder Ali in 1850, completed by his son Tipu Sultan, The Lal Bagh passed through many hands, and each added to the garden what they thought would make it more beautiful or useful. From rare plants and trees, horticulture species, even vegetables have adorned the soil of Lal Bagh. This two hundred and forty acre garden has over a thousand species of trees some being more than hundred years old. Thankfully, despite efforts at commercialising this space, the changing leaderships influencing its character, it has managed to remain conservation inclined.

These shows also became an occasion to meet friends. We would sit on one of the benches or the grass and talk under the trees. Then eat at the stalls, or someone would have packed a snack and tea in a thermos or we would walk to MTR for a coffee or a meal. Both my parents and in-laws, sharing either an interest in walking or gardening would love the visit and talk about the flower shows years later.

The central glasshouse where the flower decoration is held was constructed in 1889-90 with cast iron from Glasgow, and was later extended in 1935 with steel from Mysore. Many schoolchildren from all age groups are brought in droves by their teachers. They obediently fall into a line, hands extended on the shoulder, walking in the midst of giant flower arrangements and sculptures.  Supposed to be an exposure to nature, plants, ecology, history, you name it, but most children walk by quickly as soon as the teacher clicks few photos and head to the food stalls. Such a wasted opportunity, I feel. The stalls are of all kinds giving fillip to local produce, I head to check out plants, planters, seeds and garden care.

Bangalore despite everything still has relatively kind weather, gentle to the trees and pleasant to its people. I have always come back with a feeling of gratitude for this amazing visual extravagance of nature and the simple but rare joys in an urban city.  Confined to home for over five months, unable to access most community spaces, theatres, musical evenings, malls, physical fitness centres, travel, I cannot wait to go for a walk and stand in queue to buy tickets for The Lal Bagh Flower Show 2021.

Hoping Nature has healed a little bit during this time.