The sun was hiding between the horizon and the tops of the buildings when I arrived at the gate to the park. It was a five minute, hair-raising (1) walk up the six-lane boulevard where green-and-yellow autorickshaws, motorbikes, trucks, and cars beeped and zoomed at, then past me. Women wearing long, flowing robes, headscarves, and face masks in various muted colors swept the narrow sidewalks with long fans of sticks that kicked up billows of dust. I joined the other people walking on the pavement when I realized I was the only one using the sidewalk. It is the winter season in Hyderabad. The air is comfortably dry and warm — the temperature was ~65 F/~20 C at that time — and the skies are reliably sunny, like a nice day in Southern California.
“This is not allowed.” The man at the ticket counter gestured at my camera and then the park sign. Hidden behind the police van was painted “no photography”.
“May I keep it in my pocket?”, I asked.
<Lateral head bobble>. 25 rupees please.
I stuffed my camera into my left pocket. The heavy, camera-shaped lump on the outside of my left thigh was conspicuously hidden in my thin, grey adventure pants.
Inside the turnstile, a green oasis awaited. Kasu Brahmananda Reddy National Park is a patch of woods and tall grass in the middle of Hyderabad’s sprawl. Inside were men and women of all ages in comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes stretching, strolling, jogging, doing breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation, or enjoying quiet solitude and time with one or two other people. In a way, I felt like I had found my tribe. (2) I immediately understood why cameras aren’t allowed. We’re in a public, open place where people are enjoying tranquility. Cameras would disrupt that. Also children were around.
I took the path to the left. Pockets of putting green grass in various shapes and sizes opened along it. Hand painted signs along the path offered various messages (some also included a drawing of an animal.)
“IT IS EASIER TO BE WISE FOR OTHER (sic) THAN FOR OUR SELVES” (INDIAN COBRA)
“I WOULD RATHER HAVE ROSES ON MY TABLE THAN DIAMONDS ON MY NECK. -FMMA GOLD MAN” (Black Naped Hare)
“HE WHO PLANTS A TREE PLANTS A FUTURE.”
“NATURE IS: GENERATOR ORGANIZER DESTROYER”, a nod to Brahma, Vishnu, and Śiva and also Muslim, Christian, and Jewish views of God. It’s a subtle and clever expression of the relationships between various different spiritual traditions and cultures.
“PLANT A TREE. PROTECT A TREE. GET OXYGEN FREE.”
“A REAL GAIN IS ONE WHO DOES NOT HURT ANY CREATURE. LORD MAHAVEER.”
“THE WIND AND RAIN ARE ALWAYS ON THE SIDE OF THE ABLEST NAVIGATORS.”
“PEOPLE ARE LONELY WHEN THEY BUILD WALLS INSTEAD OF BRIDGES.”
“ONE TREE CAN PRODUCE A LAKH OF MATCHES, BUT ONE MATCH CAN DESTROY A LAKH OF TREES.” (3)
I chose a spot under a leafless plumeria tree in the middle of a lawn about 20 yards deep and 10 yards wide, bordered by tall grasses and trees. A few stone benches were spaced out along the edges. On one end, a man about my age with a neatly trimmed beard wearing a black track suit and purple turban stretched side to side. On a bench on the opposite side, a man a bit older than me sat in meditation facing the sunrise, his back perfectly straight, his arms long, wrists resting on his knees, index fingers and thumbs touching, palms up and other fingers extended. The man to my left is wearing a white t-shirt and white pajama pants and flapping his arms while facing the sun. He reminds me of a version of myself. A woman wearing a black burqa has been briskly walking laps. A woman is doing tree pose 10 yards behind me. We are all together in this space, connected without the need for small talk.
I sat on the root ball under a leafless tree. The root ball was a natural cushion that lifted my seat and dropped my knees. I faced the direction of the rising sun and meditated with my eyes open.
I felt craving. I don’t remember what I was craving exactly. It could have been an urge to look at my phone or explore other parts of the park. What I do remember is the little bit of uncomfortable tension my brain made me experience to entice me to do something other than sit there. I breathed through it, counteracting the tension with deep, full breathing, and the tension melted. When the tension melted, so did the craving. The more I watch my mind work, the more skilled I get at being free from the tyranny of discomfort. I get better at seeing and feeling the discomfort without complying with it. Each time I practice, I get a little bit more free.
The sun rose above the trees and bathed me in its light. I relaxed my eyelids so that they were open just a sliver and gazed towards the ground. I now understand why this is classical guidance for placing eyes in meditation! It was much more comfortable as the sunlight intensified.
The man in white was doing voice exercises and hacking up phlegm in between expressions while I meditated.
<AGH! AGH! <hock a loogie>>
“HAaaaaaaaaaauuuuummmmmmm”, etc. Repeat.
I felt the swirl of air and a light thud on the ground just to my right. My head and eyes spun and witnessed a white and tan feline blur running by. She looked a bit scrawny, yet athletic. She sniffed around a tree at the corner in front of me and disappeared into the bushes. I felt excited from the close encounter. I love cats. Sometimes I feel like one.
A peacock calls from the bushes. I can’t see it, but I think it’s looking for company. I felt even more excited at the opportunity to meet the exotic bird in its home. Later, I would see several while walking with my friend Bill. The cover photo for this post is one of the first we encountered. They don’t seem to mind people.
The beautiful sound of the singing chant from a nearby mosque or temple perfumes the air. A man in a blue polo shirt and jogging pants is doing pranayama, his exhales hard through his nose. Different birds squeak, trill, and hoot. People converse softly in different languages I don’t recognize. The sounds blend into a sort of tranquil music.
It was a beautiful morning in the park.
(1) This was actually tame compared to walking at night, when the river of vehicles, motorbikes, auto rickshaws, and people becomes a raging rapid overflowing the banks.
(2) My mother’s family is from the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam, a cultural and historical mixture of Viet and Khmer people. There existed in Central and Southern Vietnam a Hindu kingdom called Champa, which existed from the second century AD until the mid 1800’s (although it was effectively destroyed by the Viet invading from the north in 1471). I often wonder if my affinity for Indian culture and food has anything to do with an echo from Champa, or some unknown Cham ancestry.
(3) One lakh is 100,000.