The Time is Out of Joint…

Light of truth

Prema Jayakumar

Vishukkalamalle kanikkonnayalle pookkathirikkan enikkavathundo… (Being the Konna tree, and time being that of Vishu, I can’t help but flower.)

That was the poet Ayyappa Panikar talking about this season some time back. But looking out through the window I see the Konna tree in the yard denuded of the bounty of yellow flowers, standing there forlorn. It had started flowering in the month of December, been joyously covered with golden flowers all through these four months. Now that it is the time of Vishu when we need the flowers to decorate our kani, they’ve all gone. The tree has not heard of climate change but has seen the increasing heat and the lack of water in the ground which signals its flowering and flowered out of time. It bore the flowers bravely in what it thought was summer and couldn’t hold out much longer! As for the manchadi tree with its ‘ruby extravagance’ (that was the poet N.V. Krishna Warrier, he had been prescient enough to write decades back on ‘the useless trees in the compound’ and mourn their passing), it has already scattered its jewels in anticipation of the rainy season. And when the rain comes there will be no seeds to sprout and keep alive their future. In the words of Gwendolyn Brooks ‘The time cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face/ All unashamed. And sways with wicked grace.’ That is what the trees have done this year.

Thumba and Mukkutti, the flowers associated with Onam, which used to decorate our floral designs before we started buying flowers, before floral designs started migrating from the front yards of houses to that of corporate offices and the like, have already started peeping from various corners of the compound. A few yellow and white butterflies, again called ‘Onathumbis,’ are flying around. All of them, out of their time, to vanish when they are supposed to hail their special festival season. They must be wondering what has happened to their world.

Isn’t it frightening, and even more saddening, the way nature has forgotten its time and period for everything, like an Alzheimer’s patient who demands food in the middle of the night because he does not recognize night nor does he remember he ate a few hours back. In my mind’s eye, I see an old woman, confused by the noise around her, asking plaintively whether it is night or day, the summer or the rainy season. In the patient, it is a reminder, a scary one, that it could be you or me. In nature it seems a warning, a reminder that the mild and gentle side you normally see is not the only one nature has. We did get a warning a few months back how blocked waterways and unchecked exploitation could cause tragedy. We seem to have forgotten all that already. Yet, we go on heedless, concreting every bit of soil so that there is no way water can seep through, building urban jungles that do no know what to do with their waste, poisoning our soil and our waters with plastic and even more toxic stuff.

Isn’t it time we became aware of how each unthinking act of ours can damage our surroundings, make us breathe, drink and eat poison? How, even a small thing like drinking something through a straw, if multiplied manyfold, can cause a huge impact. To be aware of the world, of the marks we make on our surroundings by our smallest actions, was a gift in earlier times. But, now it has become a necessity for our survival, for the survival of civilization, for the survival of the earth which hosts us.

Vishu should be a time for optimism, for good thoughts about the future and I cry Cassandra-like about imminent tragedy. But, when to look out of the window is to be made afraid, what can one do? There was an author called Sanjayan in Malayalm whose satire held up the mirror to society and the foolishness of humankind. I remember an article about the predictions for one year arrived at from the imaginary figure of that year’s Sankramapurusha or the human form associated with the change of the year at Vishu. The year Sanjayan spoke about, the Sankramapurusha ate starvation and wore dried leaves. The predictions were famine and general misery. I wonder what the Sankramapurusha is wearing and eating this year. It can’t be anything very cheering.

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