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During these covid times, what has brough you unexpected joy? What have you nourished in these times, and in what activities or pastimes have you sought refuge? Have you ever eaten a longan?

2020-21 seems to be this giant year of surreal events and changes. If i were told in January 2019 that the world as we know it would shut down, that travel for pleasure would become a strangely impossible, inaccessible thing–I’d have laughed. I’ve spent most of this time eating butter, writing many short stories, and alternating between online bingeing and hiding in an offline cave.

Blogging has been sporadic, often because I’ve been too full of things to say, and unsure of saying them. Most have been unhappy thoughts, despite all the privilege I’ve been surrounded with. I’ve gone on long walks to stay sane, read books following suggestions from many of you, and tried to count the small blessings.

One of them has been a longan tree.

The longan is a tropical fruit, one of my favorites, the less intense/glamorous cousin of the lychee. Longans are sweet, but not overly so; fleshy, but not too well-endowed. You could devour a few as a breakfast snack, say, spitting out their black seeds. I’ve been gorging on them, well, because gorging on fruits has got to be better than gorging on butter, right? Many of the seeds made their way into the compost, and a few days later out came these tiny saplings. Internet searches revealed their identity, and I decided to plant one of them in a pot in order to ‘see what happens.’

It grew as tall as my knee, and started throwing out all kinds of branches. At that point, I decided to replant it in the condominium kitchen garden–and now it is at hip-height. My intention is to water it till it is taller than I am, and each morning, watering my longan tree has become a source of joy. Something about watching this bright green thing thrive, and bathing it with a huge pail has turned therapeutic. On gloomy mornings, I drag myself out of bed because, strangely, this watering ritual is something to look forward to, a reason to get out there, and before I know it, I’m hitting the stride on my walks, and then on my writing once I’m back home.

I’ve been reading Zadie Smith recently, and her essay on Joy.

“The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?

Sometimes joy multiplies itself dangerously. Children are the infamous example. Isn’t it bad enough that the beloved, with whom you have experienced genuine joy, will eventually be lost to you?

Why add to this nightmare the child, whose loss, if it ever happened, would mean nothing less than your total annihilation? It should be noted that an equally dangerous joy, for many people, is the dog or the cat, relationships with animals being in some sense intensified by guaranteed finitude. You hope to leave this world before your child. You are quite certain your dog will leave before you do. Joy is such a human madness.”

Maybe my joy comes from the fact that this longan almost didn’t make it. That it is only by a whim that it came to be. Perhaps my joy stems from the hope that this longan would outlive me–that no one would think of chopping it down, its big, shady branches. In the collage above, my sapling is to the right, and the one on the left is a 5 year-old tree. They grow about ten times that size.

When I move out of Singapore, my longan tree is perhaps one of things I’d hate leaving behind. Who knows whether someone in the condominium would think of taking it down if it grew too large , and its roots too insistent?

It is early days yet, and the longan sapling is free to flourish at the moment. In its sunlit leaves, I can hope and dream just as much as I want.

During these covid times, what has brought you unexpected joy? What have you nourished in this past year, and in what activities or pastimes have you sought refuge? Have you ever eaten a longan?

Are you part of nay online or offline book groups? Founded any? What is the experience like? Do you think online book groups are similar to those offline?My debut literary crime novel,”You Beneath Your Skin,” published by the fab team at Simon and Schuster IN is optioned to be a TV series by Endemol Shine.

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Ananda says:

    What has brought me joy is noticing that when we are still and silent – the life that pulsates within us is joy

    It is not found in the outside but allowed from the inside

  • For me it has been that 2-3 minute meditation sessions during work from home. Watching birds play around tree, not in a hurry to fly. Trekking through jungle trails. Looking at changing colours of seasons. Sunsets

  • ChrysFey says:

    That’s a beautiful longan tree. πŸ™‚

    I have been finding joy in small things as well.

    P.S. I mentioned you in my IWSG blog post today about Writers on the Moon. πŸ™‚

  • shilpagupte says:

    Such a lovely post! It left me feeling so warm inside πŸ™‚
    This past year, I sought refuge in my art, and the book illustration project that I undertook earlier this year was, I think, a result of all the passion with which I worked on my artworks. Sometime back, I shared some of last year’s ink artworks on twitter. Someone commented how there was too much of detail in one of those drawings. I told her it was when my anxiety was at its peak last year that I made that drawing. It rescued me from those stressful moments and gave me something to look forward to, something to feel good about.
    So, art has been my saviour, and today, I feel like I have missed out on something if I don’t draw something every day.
    My pets have been my guardian angels too, and after last year’s frightful episode of Chikki flying away and then returning home, I am certain we four are soul mates, and will be together always. πŸ™‚
    (Those lines you shared above on joy, by Zadie Smith…those are so true…Joy is such a human madness!)

  • DutchIl says:

    Thank you for sharing!!.. wonderful news about your tree, congratulations!!… expect the little tree is a example of a part of you, “refuses to give up”:… πŸ™‚ what brings me joy is able to wake up every morning and able to enjoy life while following my dreams being led by my heart!!… πŸ™‚

    Until we meet again..

    May the love that you give
    Always return to you,
    That family and friends are many
    And always remain true,
    May your mind only know peace
    No suffering or strife,
    May your spirit only know love and happiness
    On your journey through life.
    (Larry β€œDutch” Woller)

  • bikerchick57 says:

    Damyanti, there is much to be said about the joy of watching something you planted grow and thrive in the ground. It’s why I love having flowers on the patio, watching their transformation from spring to fall, seeing how long I can keep the alive before the weather freezes. I hope you keep finding joy in your longan tree for as long as you can, along with all the other reasons to claim joy or a bit of happiness.

  • Congrats on your tree! That is wonderful and rejuvenating, it sounds like, your relationship with it. My husband is the green thumb around here and he’s already putting up intricate stakes and strings in the garden for beans–soon enough! I have never eaten a longan. I have, however, read that essay by Smith. And I highly recommend a short essay Ross Gay (my favorite poet and essayist) wrote in response to Smith’s essay. It’s called “Joy is such a human madness” and it’s great! I’m glad you’re reading and walking and writing up a short story storm. I need to work on finding a lull in my work-writing to churn out some short stories. I miss writing them!

  • literarylad says:

    For me too it’s plants. In my living room, in this pathetic, cold island at the wrong end of Europe, I have a little grove of peppermint trees, all grown from seeds brought back from Western Australia. Now and then a leaf falls, I crush it between my fingers, close my eyes, and the fragrance takes me back to the coastal paradise that is their natural home.

  • mitchteemley says:

    Sounds like a nice pastoral life, Damyanti–which is surprising given how urban Singapore is. Btw, I get emails when you visit one of my posts (thank you), but they don’t contain links to your blog anymore, so I only visit when I happen to spot your face in one of the Likes boxes at my blog site. Sorry to be so inconsistent. Blessings, my friend.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – amazing how much fruit the little 5 year old tree appears to give you … your daily ritual seems to be just right for you. We’re all struggling and thriving in our own ways … not having a garden is something that frustrates me – but the rest is fine … and I get out to see other gardens – small and large. Books and Memories are sustaining me … though must get on with a few other things – life … take care of your tree! Enjoy its growth – cheers Hilary

  • In answer I quickly thought of my grandkids and then flowers (wild ones are my hobby and it is the time of year for those hikes)…oh and my dog. We needed our pets to get through covid.
    Longons look like mamoncillos, which I love but only found when in Colombia. Do Longons have a large seed?

  • The Arts – in all its beautiful forms. (And my children, of course.)

  • hafong says:

    I love longans. A longan tree would bring me joy. But I live in Canada so I content myself with dried longans. I put them in with goji berries to make a tea.

  • Yes we used to enjoy them frequently in Singapore along with red papaya and pineapples. The Indonesian bananas are special too. India is best for their alphonso mangos. πŸ™‚

  • Pam Lazos says:

    Writing a great sentence; dinner with friends and family; my cats and dog; riding my bike; a walk in the woods; listening to Mozart; raising environmental awareness; so much more!

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Lovely things that bring you joy! I hear you on writing that perfect sentence!!

  • As others have said, it’s the garden–watching plants go through their annual cycle unaware of the pandemic. Birds too, living their lives. And books, both mine and others’. Music too can bring moments of intense joy.

  • Sonia Dogra says:

    During the pandemic I picked up something only as a matter of chance. I started teaching two girls from a govt aided school who are in class 12 since they had no access to classes. It was meant to be once a week and only for a month or two. Somehow it just got extended and we still meet virtually twice a week even though school started for them and for some reason I look forward to these meetings. I can’t say whether the classes made any sense to them but they quite helped me to cope with a lot of things.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      That’s such a lovely project and a testament to your generous spirit! Kudos to you, Sonia, and I think you’ll find that the girls got a ton out of it.

  • I wondered what that fruit was in the photo. I haven’t ever eaten one. I grew some small plants in our backyard this year. It is rewarding to see them grow and bear fruit or vegetables. The local rodents got a lot of them. I bought a net for the eggplant. It was a very pretty plant but the eggplants were not so great. Fun to watch them grow anyway. Nature brings me joy. Even the local birds or plants, and insects too. The fragrance of our grapefruit tree blossoms and the honey bees who visit it everyday.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Nature definitely brings me joy, too, for the reasons you mention. Yes, eggplant plants are very pretty–love the color!

  • I do like longans (and don’t see them often enough).
    The garden brings me joy. Sunrise, sunset. Books. Beating challenges into submission. Birds. Beauty…

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      All of the things you mention bring me joy, too. I can’t help but think that we might get on famously if we meet!

  • There is something satisfying about watching something you planted grow. I’d never heard of it before. Hope you get fruit in a couple years.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      It is a fruit quite similar to the lychee. I hope it gives fruits–I’d like for everyone in my condominium to enjoy them.

  • tidalscribe says:

    I have never heard of that fruit, but I am.sure I would enjoy it. I have always loved gardening and never more so than in lockdown. I try and pack in as much colour as possible, especially in the front garden so everyone can enjoy it when they walk by.

  • For me, it’s usually small things that bring me joy. Tending plants and watching them flourish is definitely one of them. Creating something that makes others happy, watching the birds at the feeder, the change of seasons, cooking a new recipe that turns out great, to name a few. πŸ™‚