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Mastering The Art Of Sitting

There’s more than one type of sitting, of course…

03/01/2017 7:20 PM IST | Updated 06/01/2017 3:03 PM IST

I've mastered the art of sitting; winter allows for plenty of practice. It's not as easy as it sounds, not like the effortless sitting that ergonomic chairs and leather sofas allow. No, this kind of sitting, the kind that takes skill and builds vitamin D, is the kind that requires practice, perseverance, fresh air and a cloudless sky.

The art of sitting is heightened by what's done when one is not sitting.

I wait for the sun in the morning, because it is cold, a cold that begs me to bask in the warmth of cotton-stuffed blankets. After the fog lifts up from the valley and the mountains are glazed with snow, the sun filters through treeless branches and lights up the whitewashed wall by the front door. It then crawls along the balcony, grazing the yellow grill, and pools onto the wide, stone terrace. This is where I have my breakfast, sitting so as to cloak my feet in warmth. The light travels up my shins, my knees, and settles gently on my lap; this is when I begin the day's writing, building sentences one word at a time, shaving the unnecessary, moulding opportunities, polishing possibilities until something stands on its own. It still wavers, but it is there, a paragraph or two, mostly crap, but it's something.

This is the type of sitting that distracts—birds chirp, fluttering their plumage unabashedly. Women gossip, and I catch pieces of their laughing words without wanting to. The worst distraction of all is the tall, disapproving, immobile silence of the trinity; Trishul, Nanda Devi and Panchachuli glitter and gloat, staring at me in the way only mountains can, in a shade of blue and white for which crayons don't exist (periwinkle comes the closest). They mock me with their magnificence, as if asking: what have you accomplished today that comes remotely close to our timeless existence? I bow my head, reminded of my insignificance, and continue to sit, consoling myself by moving with the orbit of sunlight. This type of sitting humbles.

Around noon, the light leaves the terrace and finds a new ground to flood with heat. I follow its path to the water tank, a cemented container of stone that provides water to the rest of the village. The tank is over a hundred years old. The water echoing in its dark hollow reminds me of a strumming guitar.

Now, my seat is not the concave bend of a plastic chair but flat, dusty rock. Legs bend, legs straighten, legs fold, legs cross. I pass hours here, joined by others drying their hair, drying their clothes, or simply searching for warmth in a merciless winter. Soon, the light will be gone, and whatever remains is poured, slathered and absorbed by browning skin. This type of sitting evokes gratitude. I am reminded of an earlier time, when life consisted of moving from one walled bubble to another. My new relationship with sunlight ensures I spend most of my time outdoors, unbubbled, unwalled.

I can feel the light's disappearance before I see it. The temperature drops ever so slightly, like a hot bath that isn't so hot anymore. This is when, for the first time since waking up I crawl back into bed, finding heaven in the guise of hot water bottles. We cuddle together, the bottles and I, under cotton-stuffed blankets, while the air I breathe exits foggily in the tiny sunless room. The light fully disappears, the mountains say goodbye, and the glitter of constellations takes their place.

Sitting is, just like everything else, an integral part of this life, one where a delicate balance teeters between what is free and what is harnessed...

The art of sitting is heightened by what's done when one is not sitting. There are vegetables to buy, food to prepare, dishes to wash, clothes to clean, wood to collect, people to talk to, and of course, things to write about. Sitting is, just like everything else, an integral part of this life, one where a delicate balance teeters between what is free and what is harnessed, like land and fire.

I sit outside by the saggad filled with pine cones and pinewood and thick branches of oak. Fire, I recently read in Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens, once separated my kind of human from other, similarly insignificant kinds of human. It gave my ancestors unprecedented power over forests and other difficult habitats, a power that led to the extinction of all the other types of human. It is this same power that I harness as the temperature drops further, my hands cupped over the crackling flames. It is a luxury, this power, but it is also hard work. The one time I collected firewood, my shoes and woollen socks dripped with dark muck, my clothes tore from thorned vines, and my scratched skin burned each time I poured water on it. The memory of this adventure adds relish to my warmth as I add another branch to the saggad. This type of sitting, I've earned.

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