'When the sky looked like molten lava in Bhuj'. (Photo courtesy Priyasha Sharma)
The past year has been a gloomy one, but it has also taught us to seek comfort and joy in unexpected places. You know, in a glass of Dalgona coffee, or over a game of online Ludo.
For Saranya Ravva from Hyderbad, she’s found solace in clouds, watching them drift away, shift shapes or hang in there like a showstopper.
It was in last August that she started going to the terrace of her building to watch the sun set and rise. But the clouds on the horizon stole the show.
“The golden hour is always magical, but I also experienced so much peace watching the clouds change their colour to orange, red and pink. I would gaze at them for five minutes, sometimes 10, thinking about nothing else. Sometimes I’d look for shapes and characters in them and that made me feel ecstatic,” recalls the 22-year-old technical associate, whose latest jam is to click cloud photos and go through them over and over.
Ravva is not alone in thanking clouds for “keeping her sane through the pandemic”. The Cloud Appreciation Society, an online forum of 50,000-plus paid members from 120 countries, has seen a renewed interest in cloud spotting since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. The Irish Cloud Appreciation Society has also reported a spike in page views on its website.
Members of these societies post photographs of clouds every day. Puffy to wispy, white to sanguine, foggy to tumultuous, they adore clouds of all shapes and colours. They also write poems, share quotes, make music, edit videos and put up exhibitions on the subject of clouds. Their philosophy is simple: cloud watching is a stress-buster, which can be done by anybody, anywhere. And since no two clouds or cloud days are the same, it never gets boring to look up at the sky.
Peek-a-boo, draw ’em too
We could not find such cloud societies in India but cloud lovers, they are aplenty. Take the case of Rohini Kejriwal, an artist and photographer living in Bengaluru. Since last year, she has been drawing shapes on clouds, literally. She doodles on the photos of cloudy skies that she clicks from her balcony or had snapped during flights in the pre-Covid era. These go up on her Instagram page.
Done in black or white, her doodles are mostly whimsical, sometimes relatable and always act as a nudge to look at the clouds with childlike wonder. In her world, a cloud could become an elephant wishing ‘Good evening’ to the Earthlings from up above. Sometimes it might turn into flowers and hearts. You also see baby fish partying with mamma fish in the sky and dinos from the Jurassic era, critters of the future, the moon with a pink wig and an angry man.
'Angry dude seen over Bengaluru'.
In the past, foreign artists like Martín Feijoó and Rob Sayegh Jr have also drawn illustrations on clouds and it’s not hard to see why. As the 30-year-old, who gets an unhindered view of the sky from her balcony on the second floor, says, “I have been shaping clouds in my mind since childhood. Everybody does that. It’s a fun way to allow a part of your imagination to open up.”
Her friends have joined in the fun too. “Every time I post a doodle, they try to interpret the shape of the clouds in their own way. People have also sent me photos of the clouds from Himachal Pradesh and Berkeley to doodle on. These are gloomy times and if my doodles are making them happy, I am glad,” says Kejriwal.
Priyasha Sharma and her husband Rutvid Dholakia, too, love cloud watching. The couple moved from Bengaluru to Bhuj in Gujarat in 2017, and Sharma says they could not be happier.
Sharma, who teaches at the same school as her husband, says, “After I moved to India from Wolfsburg in Germany, I thought I would never get to see the kind of skies I saw there. For instance, the sundog (a coloured patch that develops on either side of the sun when it shines through thin clouds)."
(Photo courtesy Priyasha Sharma.)
"That was until we moved to Bhuj," Sharma explains. "The varied ecosystems of deserts, lakes, hills and open skies in and around Bhuj give rise to brilliant cloud formations. Especially, before the monsoons. I remember last year people left whatever they were doing and came out to watch the thick, puffy, white clouds (called cumulus) hanging in the distance. The reflection of the clouds lent a turquoise colour to the lakes,” she adds.
“The pandemic has made me realise that whether it’s Germany, Bengaluru or Bhuj, the clouds don’t discriminate. They are everywhere for everybody to admire, connecting one part of the world to another,” Sharma adds.
R. Darshan Kumar, a 28-year-old entrepreneur from Bengaluru, knows this too well. After he contracted COVID-19 in March 2021, he spent 14 days in home isolation flipping through photos of skies and constellations. “As a child, I used to watch the night sky and wonder about the mysteries it holds. I could not keep the hobby up later in life, but thankfully, I was able to rekindle it during the pandemic. I even bought a telescope.”
Now his pastime has become a stress-buster for his parents and brother too. “Come evening, we go to the terrace to watch the sunset. There's so much to see. Some clouds hang low, some high. Some travel fast, some slow. Or, how they change the colour. It’s even more fun when we start identifying shapes. Duck, dog, tortoise, we've seen it all,” he says.
3Cs: Clouds, calmness, creativity
With fewer things to unwind over and more time on our hands, this uptick in cloud appreciation is understandable. And why it makes us feel better is no rocket science either. Blue and white are calming to the senses while yellow, orange and red evoke feelings of happiness and positivity, it's something we have known all along.
Amar Srividya, who conducts yoga teacher training programmes in Bengaluru, breaks down the science behind this feel-good hobby further: “Every activity kicks in a different hormone inside us and sky-watching releases serotonin. It calms us down by activating our parasympathetic nervous system.”
According to Dr Akila Lakshmi Kanth, an art therapist in Bengaluru, cloud spotting is a springboard for creativity. “Kids in our art class love to draw clouds all the time, with different colours and materials. That’s because clouds have no one shape and that helps them to push the boundaries of their imagination,” she says.
And just the act of staring into nothingness, into the limitless sky, is an absolute therapy. She explains, “It’s like you are meditating without even trying to. And when your mind and body connect to that nothingness, you switch off from what’s happening around you. It comes with practice though.”
With so much gloom on the ground, maybe it’s not a bad idea to look up for some respite, after all.