What a delicious phrase Robert Frost had created, “hushed October”. Think of a poem about autumn as a person. Don’t be so ambitious as to capture it in all its essence at first sight. Imagine it strolling towards you through fog. You see a silhouette. Your imagination explodes. That is what this one line of Frost’s poem does.
“O hushed October morning mild.”
Think about history. And autumn. Autumn and history.
Yellowed pages, crackling fire, mist settling over a dense fir jungle, read-yellow-brown-green leaves, and stories off history books – ones which dart like impatient swallows over abandoned nests in your memory, familiar stories, but with a tinge of solidity and relevance in them.
The ‘charbagh’ type of garden was Babur’s favourite. It is a garden built in quadrilateral style with walkways or flowing water separating them.
Born from Persian design, the Mughal gardens are scattered, sixteen in India, eight in Pakistan and one in Afghanistan.
We took a day tour of Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar. The watery arteries of said garden percolate into the Dal Lake, and said garden was built by Jahangir for Nur Jahan.
I don’t recall how many of us racing about the gardens stopped to think about that.
I was perfectly sure of how many stopped to ravish their feet on the grass sprinkled with fallen leaves of myriad colours, because there was but one present on the grass, and I hope I have left as large a part of myself there as the weight I deem my words to carry.
Historical places are synthetic. It is a feasting place for tourists, not travellers. This is why I did not possess a large amount of intrigue towards the Mughal gardens. Yet, even there, I found myself a place where I could be alone. In the pockets which were clear from tourists, history had a chance to breathe.
Places like these are called heritage sites; they are supposed to pay heed to memories, and that, they do, with the immaculate manner in which they have maintained the buildings and the frequency at which they clean and plant flowers.
This is why watching Kashmiri men in action was one of the genuine delights of the place. In a clearing, beneath tall and heavy chinar and walnut trees, four red-faced men in phirans, with blooming smiles, and boyish truant vigour, threw sticks up at the walnut trees, and either running away or ducking, allowed walnuts to fall. They were voraciously happy and jovial.
When I told of this to one of the tourists there, their first reaction was: “Are they selling the walnuts cheap?”
Feel free to throw walnuts at me for being too arrogant, but I believe one undefined trait of a traveller is to find poetry amidst the crowd.
The Mughal gardens are popular. One cannot be stuck-up about the actual beauty they possess. Yet, to find a niche away from the people is to find yourself a place in foreign country – for, it is the essence of a true traveller to feel at home in foreign country.
I couldn’t wait too long in one place on the grassy expanses. Sooner or later, a salesman selling elaborate Kashmiri landscapes or selling his trade of photographing tourists in Kashmiri attire would slip in and whisper, “Madam, madam.”
There were families having their pictures taken in Kashmiri costumes, posing over-dramatically as per the filmy photographers’ instructions.
They were making personal memories. All that is very important, but the place demands to be remembered for the memories it held, back when it emulated a private arena for royal fancies.
We might scoff at those who find muses in old Indian history, because of how then women were commodities and how war settled personal conflicts. War, conflict and discrimination are meant for sculpting one’s opinion about the times – but the swish of royal silk, the walking shadows of two figures melding in affection, the shayaris erupting in the whisper of the leaves – that is the stuff of poetry.
And that is what I choose to think about when I visit heritage sites.
Coming back to autumn and its infinite wings of muses, with the fall colours I roamed among, I believe the essence of the past was making itself apparent to me through them. The alluring whisper of history seemed to call me away from the crowd, with every runaway leaf hanging on the chained fence, floating in the waterway, gliding towards my feet.
It was a different kind of morning, served on a platter of pastoral sweetness, which made me think on the bus ride back. It made me think of one thing from another, relevant and irrelevant alike. Nothing was concrete. I did not write poetry on it. Yet, it did make me sway in the fragrant winds of a primordial October, one that teases reality, one that blows into the ear of the present, one that, without much effort, ensures itself remembered.