Practice Diary 4 – I wrote this on New Year’s Eve 2022, to Varsha, who had messaged me with a watercolor painting of her Tamarind tree in Baroda.

Art by Varsha Nair

It was low tide, and the small bit of shore in front of the tree was revealed. I went down there – it was like standing on the front porch of my home. A porch the sea was coming for, the tree being the house. I turned back to look at her, and from that point of view I finally understood the mystery of those exposed roots. Coastal erosion – allow me to translate the term: all of the intricate architecture of roots had once been covered by mud and sand, perhaps half a vertical meter or more lost to the sea. How long had she been like that, holding on to bare rock, with nothing under her feet? And how much longer would she be able to withstand the waves? I thought of things that I might do, like build stilts for support. It would be a good art project to propose, something about ecology and conservation, something about our dire straits. And even that would have been a gift from her – I once saw a branch washed up so that it was lodged just so under the one root that reached out towards the sea. The branch was so solidly placed that I couldn’t nudge it at all, as if an expert carpenter had put it there. It lasted a good 4 weeks, but one afternoon I visited and it had been washed away. Did I think I could do better? Yeah, I suppose so! A series of images of what I could try flashed through me rapidly; ideas are so pleasurable. But it faded quick. I couldn’t bear the thought of her propped up like a cripple, perhaps with screws or rebar – a picture to tell myself a story of human ingenuity and artful invention. Whatever I did I could not return the mud and sand, in this lifetime. My love could not return the land that had been taken. Here she was still standing on her own; she felt solid as a mountain under my weight – home, at last, for a lost child of immigrants – I was just another little snail nestling in a gnarled root. How did this place on the edge of the water become the center of my world.

September 2021

November 2021

April 2022

March 2023