Quiet Solace in Our City

The door was closed and I didn’t mind staying behind. At a time when the whole world was in upheaval, I didn’t want to leave. None of us did. However, with the mounting anxiety amplified by media and the resistance to believe our predicaments, my American colleagues among the AIF Clinton Fellowship returned to America until 13 US Fellows became two. Evacuation marked month seven of our fellowship. Within a few days, Fellows packed their bags and left behind the communities they touched, the laughter and joy within the bonds they formed, and their hard-earned rhythms of familiarity.

100 FT Road during lockdown.

Shortly after, the borders closed, airports shut, and streets emptied. An eerie and haunting stillness swept over the once busy streets of Bangalore, a city notorious for its congested traffic. All eight million of us in the city could hear this silence; a silence so loud, we felt a discordant melody signaling the reconstruction of our future lives and global society at large. We knew our fates were glaringly intertwined with the world wide web.

Finding peace in the moments through journal binding.

Some nights, I lay on my bed watching our president in America talk about ingesting disinfectants and how the virus would magically disappear. Thousands die each day, and millions are losing their jobs. Home never felt more foreign, 8729 miles away. My thoughts run around the question of why our societies are increasingly polarized, divided, and nationalist. Will COVID-19 be the inflection point towards which we create a new paradigm for society? What will happen to India?

The rooftop I sit on to watch the distant city fall into quiet submission to night.

Some days, I sit on the rooftop and look at the trees that line the street. Green parakeets fly by. Crows and pigeons are easily spotted. The trees are in full bloom and have begun shedding their flowers. Tara and I found a maggot in a water apple we had just plucked. Moments later, it coiled its body and leapt at us! All around, the mangoes sitting high in the trees are ripening. Yesterday, I found a child pigeon abandoned and unable to fly. To my surprise, the Avian Society came to pick her up at our phone call. Care, love, and seasons continue in these moments of incredible pain, fear, and darkness.

CMH Road in Bangalore during lockdown

As I stay behind in the seeming cacophony of media, news, and sensationalism, my ears have also learned to tune into the choir of birds, trees, and life. Their song reminds me of time’s gentle tug on us, a reminder of the simultaneous smallness and vastness of our human experience.

I came to India with ambitions to address the climate crisis at scale. After speaking with over 60 farmers across Karnataka, I wanted to initiate a mass network of rural millennials to restore their ecosystems and create forests. Our work was stopped short. In a time when change is needed, change came but in an unexpected form. Nothing is spared in nature’s compliance with time.

I came across this spill of joy, yellow, and spark during one of my walks. There is still solace in the city.

It’s week eight of lockdown here in India. I’m uncertain when I’ll be able to resume my work. Meanwhile, I’ll go to the grocery store with my mask and try the different types of mangoes that continue to arrive. I heard the monsoon will come soon.

Donald is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Alaap in Champawat, Uttarakhand. For his Fellowship project, he is designing a business model for a social enterprise combating climate change and poverty through reforestation and sustainable livelihoods generation in the rural Himalayas. Donald recently graduated from a dual degree program in physics and in materials science engineering. As an undergraduate, he participated in three summer research internships, two being in Japan and Austria, in topics ranging from flexible electronics to designing transducers for quantum computing. His interests include appropriate and affordable technology, sustainable urban infrastructure development, and human centered design. He has participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship program in Jaipur for his Hindi. His most recent project is designing and implementing a six kilometer water distribution system for two villages in the Ait Bayoud Commune of Morocco. He will be joining the AIF Clinton Fellowship to work closely with communities in the Himalayas and to define and create impact metrics for an early-phase social enterprise.

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