The Art of Breathing

A colleague caught me mid breath one day. It was one of those days that butterflies would have looked on me with mixed emotions.

On the one hand with pride: When did this caterpillar learn to flit like this?

On the other hand with amused tolerance: The half-wit seems to be forgetting the sweet joy of collecting nectar amidst pretty bright flowers, with all the fast paced flitting. Forfeiting the sweet thing about flitting – tut tut!  Flutter tutter utter nutter! (I am not high up on the poems caterpillars learn to sing about when still creepy crawlies; and the butterfly metaphor only goes so far!)

Anyway, it was one of the many days in which I flitted about the old work spot tasking, multi-tasking, sub-tasking, reminding others about their tasking, setting reminders for my own tasks and so on. Thoroughly immersed in my second self that Mary Oliver so succinctly calls the Social Self…yes, it was one of those days.

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream, is a book of many marvelous essays.  The essay, Of Power and Time, talks about the three selves in many of us:

•The Child Self

•The Social Self &

•The Eternal Self.

 

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Though in the essay, Mary Oliver, refers to the Eternal Self as the artistic self, I like to interpret it as the Creative self.

• The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us.

• The second self is the social self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer.

• Then, there is the third self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer.

T’was during one of these trying days that I remembered the deep breath technique my Yoga teachers had tried to teach me about. Take deep breaths, and concentrate on it filling your stomach, feel it coming in and out of your nostrils and so on. So, I started my deep breaths as I was walking from one meeting to another. Deep breath, exhale, deep breath, exhale and so on. I had thought no one watched, but one colleague caught me, and grinned. “That should be your GIF you know?” he said.

I nodded sheepishly, and went back to my brand of breath-less flitting within minutes.

Later that week-end I ran into this beautiful children’s book in the library. A book that was just waiting to be written. A beautiful capture of all the different types of breath, Alphabreaths 

Written by : Christopher Willard (a clinical psychologist) & Rechtschaffen MA, Daniel (a counselor)

Illustrated by:  Clifton-Brown

 

 

The book is a lovely read urging us to Breathe like a Dolphin taking a dive, or our favorite one, The Ninja Breath – silently and slowly. The illustrations too make for a marvelously relaxing read. Please check out their Youtube clip : here

 

 

Mindful breathing and Yoga are excellent concepts to teach the children, and I am always in awe of those who can take complex concepts and make them palatable for the consumption of young and old alike.

If you happen to come home and find the son and I swimming like dolphins or getting ready for a Star Trek mission on the floor while Yoga-ing along with the Cosmic Kids Yoga series by Jaime Amor , do not be alarmed. Her yoga videos are appealing and fun. If, along the way, we do something to calm ourselves down – then great, else, we have had a great time.

There are so many aspects to the Philosophy of Being (I am amused it has such a strictly medical sounding name: Ontology)

Ontology is the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being, and reading the Wikipedia page itself boggles my simple mind (A post on the Study of Philosophy is sitting up on its hind legs and begging to be written). Maybe, what is required is a Ninja Training on Ontology. Excerpt from the wiki page:

Such an understanding of ontological categories, however, is merely taxonomic, classificatory. Aristotle’s categories are the ways in which a being may be addressed simply as a being, such as:[9]

  • what it is (its ‘whatness’, quiddity, haecceity or essence)
  • how it is (its ‘howness’ or qualitativeness)
  • how much it is (quantitativeness)
  • where it is (its relatedness to other beings)

*** Taking a Y for Yawning Breath before a Z for zzzz breath about now ****

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Keeping ontological explanations aside, if The Nature of Being comes down to simple techniques of breath, fluidity and movement, it makes the simplicity behind it all brilliant.

It was one of those ‘Simple is brilliant’ types of  quotes that I went looking for. I know many brilliant blokes and blokees have said marvelous things about simplicity -I know old Leonardo Da Vinci said something about it, so did old man, Einstein. In any case, looking for one of those made me fumble on this one by Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl

From Wikipedia: Thor Heyerdahl became notable for his Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, in which he sailed 8,000 km (5,000 mi) across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands. The expedition was designed to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between separate cultures.

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Continue reading “The Art of Breathing”

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Music & Gardens

It is always a delight to pick up a set of essays written by prolific writers  who are also curious intellectuals. These authors make me feel like I am reading the perspective of polymaths, and that in itself makes for a wondrous experience. The latest book that had me thinking and reading about things I had not thought about for a long time was the book, Everything In Its Place by Oliver Sacks.

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Excerpt from Wikipedia:

Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE FRCP (9 July 1933 – 30 August 2015) was a British neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and author. He believed that the brain is the “most incredible thing in the universe.”[1] 

He reminds us in broad strokes of his pen, the number of areas in which we can be curious. He reminds us about the vast capabilities of the human brain, even while reflecting on this particular author’s exceptional one. Reading about the brains many failings and flaws is both fascinating and eye-opening. (Oliver Sacks was a Neurologist who specialized in many neurological disorders, and writes from a place of curiosity and compassion for his patients).

His description of Tourette’s syndrome, for instance, certainly makes me think less critically of people I encounter on the public transit who have the need to shock the whole compartment with their absurd, rude and obnoxious statements, every few minutes. Sufferers of Tourette’s syndrome often find themselves cursing and shouting loudly, without being to help themselves. The shocked attention they gather seems to be the reward for their impulses.

He writes about a certain individual who exhibited severe symptoms in Vietnam and would make shocking exclamations in Vietnamese every now and then. But when he moved to the United States, his Tourette’s calmed down because people did not react as much as he thought they would in a country where his language was not understood.

I can now learn to see the person different from their symptoms, and for that I am grateful.

How can I not be fascinated as I read his sure voice confess that as a neurologist the only therapies he knows to work surely are Music & Gardens? I read his meditations on Why We Need Gardens and the words Biophilia and Hortophilia leap out and grab my attention. Nature is my soother, has always been my favorite soother, and it is refreshing to hear his perspective on the effect of nature.

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Clearly, nature calls to something very deep in us. Biophilia, the love of nature and living things, is an essential part of the human condition. Hortophilia, the desire to interact with, manage, and tend nature is also deeply instilled in us. The role that nature plays in health and healing becomes even more critical for people working long days in windowless offices, for those living in city neighborhoods without access to green spaces, for children in city schools…..

The effects if nature’s qualities on health are only spiritual and emotional but physical and neurological, I have no doubt that they reflect deep changes in the brains physiology, and perhaps even its structure.

As he says in one essay, his patients even in advanced states of dementia always look forward to an hour outside amidst nature, and not one of them has ever planted a sapling upside down when given a sapling. It is almost as if we intuitively know what to do and our learnings from time may fall away from us, but our affinity to nature will not. 

In fact, he writes of one of his close friends, Lowell, who suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, that while hiking in the deserts of Arizona, his ticks and urges almost completely disappeared.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/05/27/oliver-sacks-gardens/ : Oliver Sacks

In forty years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens

Children of Stories

Fresh smells of laundry detergent wafted up from the warm pile surrounding me on the bed. Despite the many piles that needed folding, I felt a strange sense of gratitude for a chore that allowed me to sit on the bed for a few minutes while folding them. (My commute doesn’t always accord me the ability to sit, my days are hectic, and my meals erratic –  Yes! I was feeling benign and contented with this.) 

Every time I sit with the laundry, my mind climbs the Faraway Tree. How often I think of Dame Wash-a-lot of the Magic Faraway Tree? I don’t have the satisfaction of pouring bucketfuls of water from my perch high above in the trees on certain heads, of course, but one cannot ask for everything in this world. 

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Attribute author: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3693995

The son frisked onto the bed smelling like the fragrant soap in the bathroom after his long shower in which a number of valiant battles were fought.

Today’s battle was a long and strenuous one, but Iron Man had emerged victorious after throwing Thanos into the Deep Trench of Despair (I shudder to think of where I will actually find the action figure).

 

My own little Iron Man was full of the milk of human kindness that Tony Stark said was required in this world, and said “Shall I help?”

I thought for a moment, smiled at him, and  said, “Sure, but I wish I could read with you though!” 

“Okay, I’ll read to you,” said he and bounded out. He came back with a few picture books clutched in his hands. 

His choice of books for the day were just what was required for a spot of laundry folding.

Pen – By Christopher Myer

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My Pen, brings out what we wish we could do with our own imaginations. His pen fights battles, tucks elephants in tea cups, sails over imaginary oceans, captures gory wars while appealing to our humanity. The book is beautifully illustrated in black & white, and every now and then, the son stopped to show me a particularly appealing one, and we both admired the pictures. 

His second book, A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers, was an equally worthy choice. A child goes to to say how she likes to think of herself in terms of the books she has read. 

This book reminded me of a book, B-O-O-K by David Miles and Illustrated by Natalie Hoops,  that we look at every now and then. A beautiful meditation on the word, B-O-O-K. Every illustration takes us deeper and deeper into the different worlds books open up for us. The worlds that never really leave us, worlds that teach us something every time we enter it, worlds that refresh us just with the memory of it, worlds where we wish we can live in.

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Dame Wash-a-lot smiled down at me from her treetop, and I giggled. The son looked quizzical and I told him about her character and how certain characters stay with you long after you stopped reading books about them. Dame Wash-a-lot who lives in the Magic Faraway Tree in the Enchanted Wood is there when I take care of the laundry; the silly Saucepan Man with his Pots and Pans  is there when I am tumbling around with my own set of pots and pans in the kitchen; Moon Face is there when I see the benign face of the moon on the evenings I do myself the favor of raising my eyes heavenwards and admiring the moon muttering to myself about Ceraunophilia (love of the moon).

“Like my Avengers and super-heroes are there with me!” said the son. 

“Dame Wash-a-lot would have socked Thanos with her soapy water with half the noise you made in there!” I said, and we dissolved into a fresh set of giggles again discussing the strange noises during the heat of the shower battles.

Maybe we are Children of Stories.

The laundry took double the time it usually takes, but how enjoyable the whole task became?!

The Animals Within

 

The evening was a beautiful one. The children played looking like little angels in the glowing sun, and I threw affectionate glances at the noise in the playground.

I was mooning about the streets admiring the shabby looks of late summer. The same hills that looked brown and uninviting in the distance during the day, now looked ravishing bathed in sunset’s golden glow. Little specks of clouds in the sky were blushing to different degrees. The purple, red, orange and pinks poufs flicked about looking snippy and sharp. The oleander trees and the crepe hyacinths lining the streets looked prettier than ever before.

The approaching week-end seemed inviting, promising in its possibilities: my outlook was cheerful; my spirits soaring with the multi-colored clouds up there; and no must-dos competed for attention in the old brain.

T’was after a little growl came from within that I stopped to wonder what was amiss. I had completely missed the making-dinner task at hand, and the growl was reminding me, that I had not just 1 growl from my stomach to contend with, but the whole family’s as well. The husband trundled in, the children trooped in to say hi, and I whisked them all off for a dinner outside.

‘Forgot to cook?!’ cackled the teenaged daughter, looking indulgent and proud that I was not being the conscientious cook, and filling her plate with healthy muck. “Didn’t the sunset fill you up?”

“It filled me spiritually my dear. I could not be fuller!”, said I patting my heart, “but the stomach still asks for its due, Alas! “ I said remembering a poem my mother-in-law often references about what an irascible taskmaster the stomach is. I always smile at the wisdom of the poem. Loosely translated, it means
“Oh stomach!
What an irascible creature you are!
I ask you to eat a lot at one meal, and you rebel, and push back saying you are full.
So, then I ask you to skip a meal, but that too wouldn’t do for you.
What a slave to your demands have I become?
It is very difficult to live with you!”

So, off we went to a Chinese restaurant in various states of hunger.

This is one of those places that believes in keeping you engaged while they prepare the food for you. In front of each was a sheet of paper containing the Chinese Zodiac Animals and their characteristics. We started off in typical fashion:
You are a monkey!
Really? A snake – ha!
How could you be a tiger?
I don’t want to be a pig!

For those who moon about on Friday evenings without considering the demands of the stomach, here is a tip: Don’t! Friday evenings beckon all mooners-about, and restaurants find themselves busier than usual that day. As we sat around with hunger gnawing at the insides, the sheet of paper telling us about our characters based on the year we were born in looked inviting. Soon, we started tabulating and cross-referencing the listed characteristics against the personalities in the family.

It is an interesting exercise, and really makes everyone stop and pause and think about oneself. There are characteristics that the whole family gave a miss to. There were some that we hoped we did not have, but found we did. There were others we hoped to have in a higher degree. The tabulations were derailed every now and then with questions such as “Why are hippos not there in the Chinese calendar?”, After going into habitats and biomes with glaring holes of knowledge, seeing as none of us had ever to China, we got the animals back on track.

The resulting diagnoses has us giggling uncontrollably:
“You are most like a rabbit, but also have the tongue of a dragon, and the heart of a pig!”
“Snake hissing and pouting maybe, while galloping like a horse, and snoring like an ox.”

It turned out that we churned out more fantastical creatures in that half hour than a whole mythological genre could in a book. “Imagine if these creatures were sitting in us, wouldn’t that be something?” I said.

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Humanity’s capacity to imagine strange and wonderful creatures has always been remarkable, though there are precious few creatures left for us to imagine. No one is bringing another Clara to our midst any time soon.

Clara the rhinoceros, was brought to Europe on a tour in the 18th century. No one had yet seen any of the creatures of the East, and had not even heard of such an animal. Clara became an instant darling of the masses – her gentle demeanor, her love of oranges and her sheer size endeared her to all those who had the privilege of seeing her. I can well imagine the wonder and curiosity such a creature brought to human society, and the number of children in whom the wonders of the natural world was rekindled. How many Gerald Durrells, who imagined the beautiful world of their family and other animals?

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Image title
Rhinoceros Clara
Author
Jean-Baptiste Oudry
Copyright holder
PD

Today, we silently add more and more creatures to the endangered species list, watch in alarm as forest cover disappears and wait for magic to happen in our lives. Anthropologically, will we hear the news of a Middle Earth tucked away somewhere with hundreds of majestic creatures again?

Maybe one day, our space explorations will yield something. Till that day, we shall have to content ourselves with imagining the various creatures and creature traits within us.

Books:

Clara the Hippopotamus – By Emily Arnold McCully

My Family & Other Animals – By Gerald Durrell

Sketching Freedom

It fell to the teenaged daughter to keep her little brother and nephew in line during our forays into the forest. While they generally listened to her, they also enjoyed pulling her leg. Smarty pants that she is with me, it is sweet indeed to see her stumped by her little brothers. One such time when she was speechless, she said something wise and insightful. I looked at her with awe – “So, you finally got around to reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations I see!” I said beaming. Pride shone through my pores though I tried my best not to show it.

“Nope – still boring! Siri told me.” said she and laughed at my expression.

“Confucius, Buddha,  Marcus Aurelius, and a thousand other philosophers in your Kindle, and you go for Siri?”

I shook my head and went off to do some philosophizing of my own. The walking philosopher if ever there was one. I walked into the sunset philosophizing, as I said.

Sunsets are beautiful things anywhere – enjoy them with a rustic feel, and they can be few things more poetic or romantic. That evening’s sunset had been particularly fruitful – it isn’t everyday that one gets to see a dozen peacocks take flight into the horizon, witness the chirp-filled fooling around of parrots, cuckoos and at least a dozen different kinds of birds, and encounter the folly of frogs skipping and narrowly avoiding one’s feet.

I traipsed indoors, happy with life, still rattling on about the beautiful image of the peacocks and parrots taking flight together in the evening light. “I wish I could be a bird sometimes! So Free!” I said, and walked straight into the trap.

“What is Freedom for you Amma?” said the daughter. She was sitting on the bed, looking happy and sketching.

“Well…errmm, eh?” After this coherent response, I decided something more was warranted and fumbled a bit more. ” Well…umm…it is the ability to be able to live without fear I suppose. ”

“So, is a free country a place where people aren’t scared?”

I paused – my answers were shaky. Why did I think birds were free? Because they could take to the skies when they wished? But they also take flight when startled or scared. Hmm. I have never been one of those lawyer types who could cover all angles, and espouse something that if examined from all angles will hold water. This needed thought.

So, I did the next best thing, and reached into the recesses of my teenage brain. I remember a song we used to sing at morning assembly in school, and a particular set of phrases that I liked at the time without fully realizing the impact of it all. It went something like this:
Blah Blah Blah-dee-blah
Blah Blah Blah-dee-blah
Freedom from Want & Fear
Freedom of Worship
Freedom of Speech & Thought
Blah-Blah-Blah

That was it. The husband said – “Hmm – good answer!” with the tone of one who wished he had thought of the answer himself.

Pretty soon, the discussion on Freedom took on multiple angles, and the whole family was there weighing in with their take on the concept of Freedom.

Is Freedom of Choice a thing?
What of the rules and laws required for a free society?
What about Freedom to Live? Is Immortality a worthy goal then? If so, is the opposite a freedom as well?
Freedom to Dream? Is there a limit on one’s dreams?

I remembered Trevor Noah’s narrative in Born a Crime on dreams,

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”

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The concept of our Imaginations being limited by our circumstances is an interesting and clairvoyant one. It got us discussing the dreams of women in far flung places like the toothless old lady we had met earlier that evening – what were her dreams for her life? In her book, Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates gives us a sneak peek into the lives of hard working women struggling in remote places. What were their dreams and ambitions? Do our dreams all follow Maslow’s triangle and what then for those who have reached the zenith – is there more at the end of it.

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The daughter continued sketching looking strangely amused by the heated and fast pace at which Freedoms were galloping in the laid back villages of South India. It seemed to be the only thing galloping at the moment.

“So why do you ask about Freedoms my dear?” I asked.

“Oh, I was thinking of drawing a girl who was free, and I kept imagining a happy one. But free is not always happy, is it?!” said she.

I looked around at the serious faces of the gathered folks and burst out laughing. “Really! Gotten us arguing on freedom to dream and imaginations and the Lord knows what else. You sketched us all having a good go I suppose – Well, my dear, what did Wise Siri tell you that Freedom was?” I said

She laughed raucously, and swished her long hair freely.

“Show us what you’ve got and we’ll see which face looks Free!” I picked two random ones from the 5 or 6 she showed us.

Which one looks free?

 

 

 

Galactic Plumes

I had been mooning about the fields outside in the village where we stayed near Topslip National Forest. People told me to be careful about venturing out far – “There are Elephants nearby, and they love the fields. “, they said emphasizing the word, Elephants. My eyes lit up. The villagers exchanged looks that doubted my sanity and hurried on, “It isn’t Good seeing Elephants in the fields – you never know what they will do. If you hear fire crackers in the distance, come straight back here!” said one toothless fairy godmother, and her husband (I think) nodded in agreement vigorously.

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Off we went then, sauntering through the fields, listening to the loud orchestra of birds, crickets and frogs, accompanying the beautiful colors that nature was setting forth for us to see. It is magical indeed to see a half dozen peacocks take flight into the sunset. By the time, we fumbled for the phones they were gone, and I was glad I did not waste those precious moments of seeing them start off awkwardly and then gain elegance in flight by trying to get a picture. I have it in my mind’s eye, along with the indescribable moment of feeling your heart soar with the peacocks’ trajectory.

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Peacocks have long feathers, and while they know how to fan them out and preen in front of peahens looking splendid in the process; when they fly, it looks like it can feel like long hair feels to women.

Gather your tresses,
Of plume and multi-colored beauty
Tuck them in,
Letting it stream behind you elegantly while
Trying not to let it look messy
And all the rest of that.

It was then in the distance that we heard firecrackers go off in the distance. I don’t know about you, but this is the sort of thing that holds mystique. It is what inspired my Mother’s Day in the Jungle tale. Trumpy elephant going off to Farmer Hasalot’s farm – there is such an element of thrill and romantic mysticism to this kind of thing, though I think the elephants and farmers in question disagree.

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I spent dusk in a similar fashion enjoying the fading sunlight, the rising moon, the fields, the clouds, the village, the children, the adults and creatures of beautiful Earth. Every now and then, crackers went off in the distance – elephants in the distance we whispered. Though, why we were whispering we had no idea. Dusk seems to call for these things. A laid back village in South India tucked away in the recesses of the Western Ghats with all the fascination of the bucolic. An occasional rumble of a vehicle is all there was to remind us of civilization, corporates, power tussles, wars, micro/ macro economics, nuclear heavy-lifts, and motives of profit.

Post dinner, I traipsed indoors, happy with life, still rattling on about the beautiful image of the peacocks taking flight together in the evening light. We stayed chatting happily into the night (Part 2)

It was well past midnight when the electricity went out, and the husband said, “Outside now! Completely dark – yes!”

Off we went, self carrying the son piggy-back to see the stars in all its glory outside. With the electricity gone, it was pitch black outside.
Oh!
My foot!
Not there.
Ouch!

We bumped into one another spectacularly and I tripped on a chair outside in the verandah, carrying the little fellow on my back. Both of us went crashing down, self trying to save the poor fellow from being dropped from my back. One splendid moment later, I truly saw what ‘seeing stars’ meant.

The pair of us dragged ourselves off our feet and took our eyes skyward. The light pollution we have unleashed on our planet means that there are very few places in the world that humanity can stand and gaze at the sheer immensity of the universe in which we live. On an average dark-ish day, we can see about 3000 stars, on a day like this surrounded by mountains, forests and fields for miles around us, we could see tens of thousands of them lighting up entire bands of the sky with their luminance. The stars and galaxies are always there, and maybe because of this very permanence, it is seldom appreciated.

Standing there in the surrounding darkness with people I love, I felt light-headed. There we were, standing on an Earth that was spinning incredibly fast in its journey around the sun; the sun was swirling around the Milky Way galaxy; and the galaxy itself was spinning and whirling away into vaster expanses. Carrying us all: our ethereal thoughts, wishes and desires; and our solid physical selves on a solid planet.

The galaxy tucking its star-studded plumes behind it gracefully, and taking flight with all its organic and inorganic components streaming gracefully along its path. Huge balls of gas and flames hurtling through space, and some spots in this beautiful expanse sanguine enough to cool down for a spot of life to flourish. #The Pale Blue Dot.

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The beautiful image of the peacocks taking flight earlier that evening came to me, and in that moment, the galaxies above looked like peacocks taking flight into horizons unknown.

Do the dreams of galaxies have limits? Do they have purposes?

Thinking back on that beautiful spin through the gathering darkness, I am reminded of this quote by Ursula K Le Guin:
“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

For the Love of Libraries

“We are going to give you something special!” coo-ed the nieces as soon as I landed in India.
“What is it? I don’t really want anything, just time to spend with you lovely girls.” said I, ever the Aunt imparting Valuable Life Lessons.
They smiled it away without batting an eyelid. Life Lessons – pish tosh bigosh! If, as a child, you don’t know how to ignore that stuff, you’ve learnt nothing in life was the philosophical angle the children seemed to take and I appreciated them for it.
“Yes, yes we know. But you will really like what we have planned for you!” they said in unison. “It is an Experience!”

The children obviously knew where to get me, loop me with my own tune – Experiences are worth more than Possessions.

I grinned expecting a trip to the ice-cream store across the street. That was an experience for sure. There were flavors there that made me swoon. Could I have the coconut -lemon and the orange-watermelon and mango and jackfruit flavored ones?

Come evening, we all headed out. The nieces ,with touching sincerity, told me that they would forfeit their quota in my honor, given how much I would like where we are going. All highly puzzling so far.

When we finally made our way through the Gulmohar lined streets, the skies looking beautiful and benign over the towering apartment buildings, I stopped and watched the excitement build in their faces, as we turned the corner. Beaming at me in a small two-roomed store front tucked away near eateries and grocery stores, was a tiny library. I gave them a slow, wide smile. This was amazing. Off we went inside. I was grateful that the children had access to this small lending library.  (Yes – we stopped for ice-cream afterwards.)

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The lack of easy access to public libraries in India has always been a sore point with me. As long as we are in school and college, we have access to libraries in some form or another – the institutions themselves have them. Even if the Engineering college library lacked sorely in the Literature section, one could read IEEE journals to pass the time. I am immensely grateful to the librarians in my schooldays. During our school holidays, the librarian in my mother’s school, Mr Gandhi, would happily supply me with books enough to whet my appetite (Life’s blessings come in many forms – my mother’s school vacations did not coincide with ours, so their library was still open). Years later, when I came home with a broken leg to recuperate, Mr Gandhi, sent books that he thought I would like. That kind of care from anybody is touching. It is no wonder that one of my earliest career aspirations was to be a teacher and a librarian.

When first I moved to the big city, I felt unmoored without a library to frequent. I dedicated a Saturday morning every month for the trip across the city to the used books market, and pile up on books to read, making my way back with a teetering pile of books (I had no idea about the concept of copyright, how payments were made to authors etc). Most were in bad condition, not great authors or titles, but I took what I could. It was my only indulgence.

I read somewhere that people don’t really feel the need for Art if it was never a part of their life. But once exposed to the beauty and depth of any Art, if taken away, the void is there. An emptiness that you didn’t know existed. That resonated with me, for I feel the same way about libraries and access to good books.

I mourned the day the physical books stores went out of business in the United States. In every mall, every shopping street, I kept my eyes open for a place to dip into. There were none.

We bought clothing and fabrics simply because we were there and the clothes lured me through the shop windows.
We drank coffee because the coffee store was there.
We ate ice-cream b – well you get the gist.
But we didn’t read books with differing viewpoints and thoughts that could rejuvenate the brain because they weren’t there.

I chatted with the nieces once we were back here, and I asked them what they had checked out that week from their little sweet library. “Oh…they closed it now in the afternoons because they are using the space for English and Math tuitions.” they said, and I couldn’t help whimpering.

When we place so much importance on clothing that we change out everyday, shouldn’t we place more on thoughts that flit in and out even more constantly?

A quote from one of my favorite books, Fahrenheit 451, By Ray Bradbury:
There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

I wish we all get to the chance to experience Ray’s Bradbury’s nugget of wisdom:

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
Ray Bradbury

Also read :

Brain Pickings: Oliver Sacks on Libraries
Brain Pickings: How Libraries Save Lives