One adult lizard lives outside my window peaceably. I have a veritable garden in my window that I lavish with love & care. And when the lizard first showed up, I was apprehensive as I am around anyone new. But we seemed to understand each other. That lizard is rarely visible. It must realise that my species does not consider lizards very attractive. I throw open my curtains first thing in the morning and soon after, I water my plants. Lizard seems to have learnt my schedule and offers me the supreme consideration of not showing itself but hiding under the ledge or perhaps in one of the cracks. Most of the time I forget it’s there. Occasionally when I look out of the window, out of schedule or on a whim, decide to clean the plant trays, it runs out in a ‘whoops, you caught me when I was changing’ way. And I’m always sorry for my rudeness. But we live in peace. It never enters my room, even when I have the windows wide open. And I’ve come to feel a certain comfort in this little bodyguard against insects, right outside my window. This has been the case for a couple of years at least – the lockdowns made me hyper focus on the tiny details of daily life. It’s possible Window Lizard has been my window neighbor longer than that. I don’t know how long lizards live. I have not needed to know.
For a few years now, I’ve been growing flowers in my window pots, along with the sturdy herbs. Flowers attract more insects so I’ve been face to face with wasps and other such things that startled me. Then one day, I found worms wriggling in and out of the soil of my rose plant. I recoiled in disgust. But my father who was standing nearby said, “How can you be a gardener and be disgusted by worms? They’re good for the soil.” He turned out to be right. A search of my gardening sites revealed that worms eat parasites in the mud and excrete nutrients that help plant growth. In their frequent burrowing, they also air out the soil. Why then did I have that instant nauseated reaction? Because biologically I’ve learn to recoil from seeing worms next to food. I’m not supposed to eat worms and that’s my body’s way of reminding me. Isn’t nature wonderful?
Earlier this year, I began going to a green area in my neighborhood. I’ve lived close to it for nearly two decades but never really, really noticed it. I’ve always liked plants. But out in the open, plants aren’t pretty decorations for your home. They’re citizens of a vaster, more complex living world. I found a tree that I really liked. It reminded me of an ancient tree that grew near my school. That tree, I’d often sit under alone, when I was 6 or 7, too young to articulate the traumas of being bullied & abused. Sitting with School Tree felt peaceful. I might say I told it my secrets but it felt like I didn’t need to. Trees already know. If you’re sitting under one, know that you have been invited and welcomed. Neighborhood Tree gave me that reception as well. And I learnt to fit my body over the rough stone under it, my feet over the pebbles, my limbs over the exposed roots. I found that spot a good starting point for a new meditation. Just a couple of minutes (and eventually more) of silence, closed eyes. Do you know how unusual it is for a Mumbaiker to close their eyes by choice, for a prolonged period, in a public space? Especially a woman? Under Neighborhood Tree felt like a safe and then the right place to do so. To be this person who could close eyes in a busy city, meditate in a noisy space.
One of those times, it got dark sooner than I had anticipated. Maybe I was late that day. Or maybe it was the turn of season when daylight shifts. I sensed it before I saw it. I felt tiny hair-fine prickles on my skin. Not even as tangible as mosquito bites. And I realised it was time for me to leave. I was one with the sudden realisation that I shared this space, this time, this very planet with so many other lives. They made space for me. This spot under the tree that I had decided was my meditation spot, that was mere vanity. Compare that to the thousands of life forms, birds, insects, worms, bacteria, weeds, fungi, grass and the tree itself for whom that was home. And yet, they let me take what I wanted as I wanted it. I felt not just accommodated but held in my need. And in that moment I realised, I needed to value them too. “It’s time to leave” came the message clear in my mind. Time for others to take over that space. I still visit that green area as often as I can. Some days, in the monsoon, it’s impossible for me to get to the place beneath the tree. Other days, there are already people there, often couples. I usually move away when I see that. Couples get so few moments in Mumbai. The many lives that I share that space with, taught me the joy of empathy, accommodation, generosity and sharing.
A few weeks ago, a baby lizard came into our flat. This has to have been the offspring of Window Lizard. It irritated me as any change in my most intimate space, throws off my balance. And the other members of my family do not react well to reptiles or insects. There was a lot of hullabaloo over it. I tried explaining that lizards are harmless creatures. They don’t bite, claw or sting. They also eat insects that could hurt human beings so they’re actually really good to have around. But I guess the reptile brain (ironically enough) takes over and yells destroy. There was an attempt to smack it with chappals, another to lure it to the windows and a third attempt to kill it with bug spray. Each of those felt disturbing. I could only wonder how terrified it must be. Reptile or not, it was just a baby. All living creatures, especially those that move know the fear instinct. It’s crucial to our survival. I wondered what it must eat and I realised what a valuable insight that we clearly had lots of insects inside our home, even after multiple pest control measures.
Baby lizard was rarely seen, except around night time. Clearly it was trying to get out, having lost its way and blundered in, among the brutish humans. During the day, I tried keeping all windows open to draw it out. I remembered a vital lesson that I too often forget. Rushing to a fast, quick, dramatic solution is not the only answer. Sometimes the answer is to wait and let things resolve themselves. Maybe that is the only real answer. Isn’t that what happened with Window Lizard and Tree Lives? Shortly after, I caught COVID and was confined to my room. Baby Lizard was forgotten and we assumed it had escaped. Even in my most delirious fever, I was able to cling to the lessons of nature I’ve imbibed this year. And awkwardly, tiredly I waited out the COVID week and then another as a family member tested positive too. And finally I started moving out into the world. I even went by the green space this week. But I didn’t feel called to sit under the tree. Maybe my lessons with the Tree school are over and it’s time for other students to take over and for me to move on.
Tonight I was eating dinner. And midway I got up to get a second helping. As I walked into the corridor I felt something soft squash under my foot. It was Baby Lizard spattered flat. I am so saddened by what has happened. I feel burdened by the thought that it died under the foot of the one person in the house that actually cared that it lived. Maybe I have been too egoistic about my nature affinity. Maybe this is yet another lesson in the eternal cycle of life and death. Maybe it is a reminder of the preciousness of all life. Maybe it’s telling me I can never be too respectful of life or too smug about my own holiness. All the maybes in the world won’t hide the pain I feel for this Baby Lizard dying.
I wish I had a tidier way to end this post. It is a eulogy for a dead baby lizard. And eulogies are never nice. I remember the guilt and grief I felt more than a decade ago when a plant in my window languished. I had forgotten to water it for three days when my mother was in the hospital and I had no one to help me. That never feels like justification enough for letting a life die. Since then many other plants have taken seed and root, flourished, flowered and withered. I mourn them all but I never forget any of them. Especially that first because it taught me the sharp lesson of life & death. The knowledge that there are hundreds of human beings born every day doesn’t ease the pain of losing one. So also, being in life in the midst of death doesn’t reduce its pain. It makes it sharper and purer. And maybe life deserves that – the dignity of death.
Fare well, baby lizard. I am so sorry, little one. Your life ended much sooner than it could have gone on and I feel the pain of that. Thank you for sharing the world with me for a few weeks. I am sorry I could not be a better host. If rebirth is a thing, I hope you return in a form that is stronger, to this complex universe we are in. Go in peace, neighbor.