Magical Garbage Collection

I plonked myself in bed one night and stretched the tired frame. The feeling of the muscles relaxing against the mattress is a welcome one. The thighs and calf muscles let out a small moan of gratitude at being allowed to rest. How lovely it would be if I could just sleep for another 12-14 hours? I knew the alarm had different plans for me though.

It had been another long day in a series of long days. The relentless nature of the days, and the things that were occupying them had me feeling somewhat jaded. 

Annie Dillard whispered her wisdom “How we occupy our days in how we occupy our lives.”

I really need something to rekindle the magic of life, I said to myself, and then remembered that a task lay ahead of me that had little to no magical appeal. I had forgotten that it was the night to put out the garbage cans for collection the next day. My muscles screamed in protest as I got up to take care of the unsavory task. 

I tried to silence the sound track of the amount of garbage we generate and push out just for this moment the heart -rending images of the garbage floating in our oceans that I had seen in the National Geographic magazine. I tramped from garbage can to garbage can in the various rooms in the house stumping listlessly and loudly. The sounds of my footsteps loudly registering my exhaustion and irritation at the same time. 

I dragged the cans out to the curb. A cool breeze gently caressed my tired frame. I stopped at the end of the curb, and lifted my eyes. I stood there caught in the moment of transformation. There was Jupiter shining down brightly near the Scorpio constellation in the summer sky. I veered my eyesight to the right and there was Little Dipper. It had been a long time since I glanced up at the night sky. The advent of summer meant that by the time the stars twinkled down gently at us at night, I was too tuckered out to exert myself to gaze longingly at the planets and the stars. ✨ 

I stood there for sometime. A few neighbors had stepped out on similar errands looking equally spent, and we had a curbside-garbage-can chat. I showed them Jupiter and the constellations I recognized. Really! How such a simple thing can invigorate us all is amazing. Soon, we were whipping out the Skyview app and looking for constellations and stars, familiar and unfamiliar. 

It was then I saw the artificial satellite orbit the Earth – shooting much faster than the remaining stars, steadily moving across the night sky, like a little star out for a run. In a matter of minutes, we were talking about the kind of data the orbiting satellites send us. No surer reminder of the Pale Blue Dot than an orbiting satellite is there?

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I traipsed back to bed after this welcome interlude of the magic of the skies. Who knew? Garbage collection could turn magical after all.

To quote Herman Hesse, “My advice to the person suffering from lack of time and from apathy is this: Seek out each day as many as possible of the small joys.” 

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The Moment of Lift – By Melinda Gates

About a decade ago, a couple of colleagues and I were having a lunch time conversation that veered towards those you will like to emulate and meet in your lifetime. As expected the list was full of celebrities, billionaires, eminent scientists and some folks, I had not heard of before. Some of them wanted to meet someone already dead if possible, and others chose people whose fields I found interesting.

When it came to my turn, I said, “Melinda Gates!” without hesitation as if the answer had been there all along just waiting to be asked. I was somewhat taken aback at how sure I was of the answer. After all, I had not given much thought to the question before, and I admired many people from different walks of life. The work of Bill & Melinda Gates through their foundation – understanding societal issues with an empathy and energy that shot them to the top of their fields in Business, is a real-life fairy tale that we are blessed to see unfold in our lifetimes. But there was more: I was inspired by her. It must not be easy being the wife of a world renowned personality and still hold her own, working to invest their considerable time and energy to making the world a better place. This, along with raising 3 children of their own.

Over the following years, my admiration for the couple has only increased. Like many others, I look forward to their annual newsletter, I watch amazed as other billionaires follow their path of philanthropy, and I certainly look forward to their book suggestions.

When I saw Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, therefore, it was a no-brainer to read the book. I was prepared to be inspired, but the book did more than that. I was humbled, inspired, encouraged, heart-broken, and hopeful – all within the 300 odd pages of her book.

The introductory chapter had me with the simple line, “Sometimes all it takes to lift women up, is to stop pulling them down.” – Melinda Gates

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The book is peppered with the story of brave women across the world; heart-breaking tales of poverty and misogyny; and inspirational NGO’s that have helped make their lot better.

Whether it was the story of Malala that we have all heard of, or the stories of people like Ruchi, Sister Sudha Varghese, Kakenya, Mama Rosa or Hans Rosling, every one’s journey that has been included, I am sure, speaks for hundreds of others with similar backgrounds.

The empathetic and analytical nature of the Author shines through in the words, and I must say, I could not help feeling a Moment of Lift as I saw hope pierce through the pages, as she makes the effort to include marginalized people.

Albert Einstein wrote, No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Melinda Gates’ book increases our level of awareness on several fronts. How her journey morphed from decreasing infant mortality rates to one of women empowerment; enabling family planning, access to health care and education is a powerful one, and I am very glad she decided to pen her growth and journey as a Philanthropist.

Beavers & Skunk Weeds

We were out in the mountains, and had stopped for a little walk into the wilderness. Stellar jays popped in and out of the bushes. The marshes ahead had water logging the path, and in the beauty of the day, that too became an adventure. We plopped into the water, squealing as the snow melt felt its way through our shoes, past the socks and then our toes. 

It was the perfect spot for The Wind in the Willows. There was a swift flowing river, the marshes nearby looked supple and full of life. “Look! There is a water-mole!” I said pointing to swift movements in the river. We peered to the movements in the opposite bank looking excited. I was quite prepared to find the water rat and the mole enjoying a cup of tea together after sailing down the river on a wooden boat. 

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“How do you know it is a Mole Amma?” said the young son looking at me with awe.

“Why – by looking at it of course!”, I said confidently, forgetting for a moment how nature always finds a way for me to eat my words, and in this case was quite eager to do so within a mile.

It was a marvelous day – with a touch of Spring still about. The nippiness in the air did not smell Summer just yet. It seemed to be just the sort of day to abandon Spring cleaning for a glorious day outside with one’s friends. I know that was what I was doing and not a bit guilty too. This is what days like these were sent for.

“To walk on Earth and fall in love with it. “, as Mary Olivers would say.

We had the most pleasurable hour discussing The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Some books are blessed with gloriously sunny spirits. I thought of Kenneth Graham’s words that it was a book meant for those who want a whiff of childhood. He said, it was

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

 

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I looked around me rapturously taking in my surroundings. What better place to imagine looking for Toad, Mole, Badger, and Rat? This was a beautiful setting with a fast flowing river, probably making its way into the larger lake below, and the fertile river marshes were thick with forest cover – the area of transitions as it were.

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Where the marshes meet the river, 

Where the river meets the lake, 

Where the brush meets the forest,

Where the distant clouds meet the snow capped mountains,

Where Spring meets Summer

In short, a place

Where the spirits meet the soul

Walking along this setting, I was thinking of the beautiful concept of Biomimicry and all the wonderful things such a place can teach us. 

The Magic of Biomimicry

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As if nature heard my thoughts, within moments we heard a family talking about
Skunk Weeds. This was the first we had heard of Skunk weeds. The grandmother behind us on the trail was telling her grandchildren that if ever there were stuck in the mountains and in dire need, they should consider skunk weed instead of toilet paper. I looked at the weeds they were pointing at, and they did not look soft. The leaves looked like they had a scratchy texture, and we giggled at the unsaid thought of the effect it would have on already sore bottoms. Dangle a piece like that in front of school going children who like reading Captain Underpants, and it is easier to keep a kettle of boiling water from singing and bubbling.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!” I said deftly trying to keep the conversation clean. I cannot say I had much success though. 

Skunk weed, contrary to the smells it evokes, is quite neutral smelling. It is also exceedingly soft, and surprisingly strong. 

“Ha! That should teach us not to judge something by its looks.” I said as I stooped to touch skunk weed for the 15th time. I had never encountered anything this soft, and completely biodegradable. Wet as it was with the recent rains and snow, it had an alluring freshness to it that I can imagine even now just by closing my eyes. 

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 A few minutes later, the son pointed excitedly at a sign. “Look amma! That was not a mole, it was a beaver!”

I drew up next to him to read a note pinned by the wildlife ranger that said something to the effect of: Be Quiet and nice – all of you please! We are now hosting a family of beavers!

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Luckily, I did not become a veterinarian was my private thought. But there was something so special about finding ourselves in the midst of a beaver family surrounded by skunk weeds, that the aspiring naturalist in me accepted the humorous mocking and relished the humble pie willingly.

If I were to immerse myself in this version of The Wind in the Willows, I should be ready to have my moles replaced by beavers.

 

The Moments of Weather

We had been to the mountains for a short reprieve from the demands of routine. There was no agenda. No plans or schedules. This was us taking Serendipity, that wild temptress of adventure, on a ride with us. Music was chosen by different occupants in the car and went from Carnatic music to ear-splitting yelps to Disney songs (Behind the clouds, the sun is shining!)

The weather app was equally co-operative. You are in for some rains, snow, cloudy days and possibly some sunshine was the gist. For a moment I relished that weather app. This was how our weather reports were while we were growing up, and it all added to the fun. We indulged the weather-man as he came on Television showing whisky clouds over large swaths of land, making possible probabilities with a doubt that ensured us if we rained we could thank him, but so what if it didn’t? Carrying an umbrella never hurt anyone, did it? This certainty of the weather takes the snuff out of the thing. 

I.t WILL be a 100 degrees today! *Dire Dire!*

I digress. 

Anyway, a few small-ish hikes during the day had left us with a satisfying feeling and a benevolence towards nature. The rains had materialized into little hailstones hurling themselves like joyous confetti. Then, just like that the hail stopped and the clouds scudded away revealing a smiling sun.

 

 

 

 

The next morning, I lay in bed, my plans for a walk at dawn forgotten. I snuggled in bed looking at the soft snow falling outside. The rains overnight had given way to snow in the wee hours. The grass outside was covered in a white sheet before long. I could not say how long I lay like that.

A lovely idea of all things being out in nature in all sorts of weather teaches us came to me – maybe it was a children’s book I should write, I thought. It is often the case, I get ideas, and then they go, or someone else writes them because I let it simmer too long. Oh well!

The hail taught me to wonder and squeal with joy

The mild rains made me stick my tongue out and get a few slurps in

The snow made me content for the simple pleasure of being in a warm bed as the flakes swirled around outside.

The clouds taught me to lift myself up and float

The sunny skies showed me that behind the clouds, the sun is shining (Cars movie song)

Weeks later, I sometimes found myself thinking of that morning just lying there watching the snowflakes flutter down; my heart fluttering lightly with the pleasure of thinking up another Children’s book to write. A moment in time when all of life’s little worries and tensions were pushed aside. A few golden (or silver) moments when there was nothing but the feeling of warmth in bed, beautiful thoughts, and the snow falling outside.

Then one sunny afternoon while the Sun scorched the Earth outside, I read the children’s book, Make the EARTH your companion by  J.Patrick Lewis illustrated by Anna & Elena Balbusso

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A truly marvelous book with engaging illustrations. A book of simpler times and more lasting moments to relish. Maybe I should get cracking on that book of mine soon.

The Power of Belief

“Göbekli Tepe!”, I said swirling the name around my tongue for the n-th time. Göbekli Tepe had a nice ring to it. A satisfying crunch right in the middle.
The daughter tutted impatiently.
“What is this Göbekli Tepe?! Going on and on about Göbekli Tepe! ”

“Glad you asked!”, I said and started on an explanation to her loud eye-rolls and dramatic groans.

I was reading a book on the origins of God through Anthropological history: God by Reza Aslan. His theological musings date back to the first homo sapiens. He sets forth theories and tries to piece together the origins of the concept of a soul separate from the body. A consciousness higher than one’s own that probably gave rise to the concept of Gods.

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Reading about the ancient humans trekking to Göbekli Tepe is fascinating. Built over 10,000 years ago, it is the oldest known temple. Shaped to match the shape of the old hunter in the skies, the pillar of Sirius is especially tall. I can imagine not only the lure of the night skies for the hunter gatherers of yore, but also the seemingly curious rhythms of day and night. The location of the constellations themselves shift by season with the movement of the Earth around the Sun, and therefore, deriving any sense of regularity in itself must have felt divine.

 

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The Temple of Göbekli Tepe: Oldest Temple Built to Worship The Dog Star

I said as much to the children as we were hanging about the kitchen doing this and that. “Isn’t the concept of God a leap of faith? Huh! Get it? Leap of Faith! Get it?”

A low moan revealed that she got it, and then she tried to pivot the conversation to areas of interest to her.

“Which of the Greek Gods is your favorite amma?”
The children are ardent fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and they often come up with questions like this. I read some of his books in order to keep up.
I looked at their faces, and said quite truthfully, “I don’t know whether I have any favorites. They all seem to be such jerks, at least in these stories!”
“Amma!”
“Well it is true. Aren’t Gods supposed to let go of their own Egos and all that? I mean they spar so easily. Oh! Oh! Did you say that? Okay! Okay, I am the God of Thunder. Here is a Thunder Bolt to strike down the mountain on whence you stand! – I mean, Come on! What is that even supposed to mean?” I said theatrically throwing hammers Thor-style.

The son laughed raucously. His eyes widened a little at the conversation. I know the little fellow took to the concept of a God without being led to it in any form – a trait we found highly amusing. We are not a religious household by any means, so it was clearly not a case of nurture. The daughter has a more lackadaisical view somewhat akin to my own.

The concept of a God – one or many Gods has always intrigued me. I am an amused, and sometimes annoyed, spectator when it comes to seeing how the religious peg themselves on a pedestal higher than others by virtue of their beliefs.

I am curious how different people take to the concept of a God more easily than others.

I am also humble enough to accept the Power of Belief.

I told them about how the concept is so intertwined into our collective consciousness from so long ago, that one can’t really try to imagine all the ways the concept finds its ways into our thoughts.

“It is everywhere!”, I said, and told them about how I remember the mother telling me as she looked on lovingly at the then newborn baby of mine smiling in her sleep. She said the story is that God came and gave the child a lotus in her dreams. Hence the newborn smile.

“If that were true, how would we know? You certainly weren’t saying it. In fact, you probably contorted your face into a spasm that we thought was a smile.” I said.

I have often wondered what the first thoughts of consciousness are for human-beings. Is it being self-aware, or is it in the feeling that we are one among the great biosphere? Do mosquitoes think that way? Do trees and bees?

What, Why and Where is God to you?

Read also: The Beauty of Questioning

To Fall In Love With Earth

 “Good going amma! You are doing well. Just try riding a little faster, okay?”, said the daughter, and then the children gave me a thumbs up, and smiled encouragingly. We were out cycling on a relatively flat trail in the mountains nearby.  I was amused at the encouragement. It was true that I was in worse shape than I expected. 

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It had been decades since the days of pointless cycling up and down the hills, and the old spirit was reviving with every pedal stroke. I looked up yearningly at the tree-tops, and the pinecones hanging from them. All Earth looked and smelled inviting, reminding me of the gratitude for having such a beautiful planet on which to live. Today was not the day to rue the state of our laws, or how fast climate change is creeping up on us. Today was a day to feel grateful for what we have, so we may learn better to conserve what we have for future generations better. It was in this moment of great gratitude that I was admiring the tree-tops against the clear blue skies when I promptly veered off the bicycle path and crashed into some brambles nearby. 

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I tottered back to the path to chuckles from the daughter.  The husband in the meanwhile, was acting as though as he was in his teens again and cycling with both hands off the handle bar. The elementary school going son, gave me a shrug and said, “Show off!”. But I caught him trying to take his hands off the bar one at a time, and smiled to myself. 

The son had graduated to a bigger cycle for the first time and his face registered joy, and a little trepidation, as he stopped pedaling and went whizzing downhill. The adrenaline was pumping, and his cautious nature was kicking in at the same time. When we stopped for a break a few minutes later, he looked happy, and ready to start pedaling again. 

Out amidst nature that day was a wonderful balm for the soul. The air still felt nippy – there had been a light snow and rain at night, but the clouds had scattered nicely and the trail had some wet patches through which we went zipping with joy. The skies were blue, and the glistening snow and raindrops on the trees in the path brought about a pristine joy. 

The fresh, moist, clear air reminded me of Kate Harris when she wrote in the book, Lands of Lost Borders:

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“I’m not sure where I go when I spin wheels for hours on end like that, except into the rapture of doing nothing deeply—although ‘nothing,’ in this case, involves a tantrum of pedal strokes on a burdened bicycle along a euphemism for a highway through the Himalaya.” 

― Kate Harris, Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road

We were not in the Himalayas. We were on safe biking paths with brilliant nature folding us lovingly in its embrace on all sides, and yet the feeling was the same. There was harmony there between human souls and the Earth, and I could only hope that we never truly lose touch with that feeling. This is our only home after all.

We stopped for a while to take in a small hike around a place that has the wonderful combination of meadows, marshes, forests and river. A more Wind in the Willows kind of setting I could not have imagined, but there it was, and like the rest of the surreal day, I found myself feeling increasingly happy at being there. As we walked listening to the surging snow melt in the fast flowing stream nearby, I felt a sense of clarity, and I thought of Mary Oliver’s words:

I walk in this Earth to fall in love with it. – Mary Oliver

How Much is Too Much?

The husband gave me a significant look, and shook his head disapprovingly. I understood his sentiment. He was reading Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.

I spent the whole time shaking my head disapprovingly, and wondering how one could have started out so nobly and have gone astray so quickly when caught in the web of her own lies, myths, and ambitions.

While being driven is often seen as a good thing in our Society, it generally needs a heathy helping of morals and ethics and all the rest of it. Take the visible case of Elizabeth Holmes.

I had heard of the story of Theranos, the medical blood-testing company that promised to revolutionize the medical industry by doing all blood tests on a single drop of blood instead of the vials and vials that were currently drawn. “That.Is.Amazing!” I thought to myself. Like millions of others, I don’t particularly like having vials of blood drawn, and this was a development waiting to happen.

No wonder the company was valued at billions and more importantly had the potential to save thousands of people. Elizabeth Holmes seemed to be the visionary that everyone yearned for – dropped out of Stanford, after inventing ground-breaking technology in her sophomore year, and it was nice that she was a Woman. The press likes that.

Then, a few years later, a friend sent me an article on the company after an investigative reporter found the whole premise a fabricated one. I was a little dubious at first. How can one be touted as a visionary for this long by this many people have fabricated a premise like that? I mean she was on the cover of Time, Fortune magazine and Business Insider’s darling. Could she have done all that on what we in the software industry refer to as a ‘manual workaround’.

“By positioning Theranos as a tech company in the heart of the Valley, Holmes channeled this fake-it-until-you-make-it culture, and she went to extreme lengths to hide the fakery.” 
― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

How one manages to fool this many people for so long astounds me, but it also explains our fervent, if pathetic need, for super-heroes. We need someone to adulate, someone to fawn over, someone whose story can inspire the young, and we latch on greedily to anyone the media deems worthy.

“Like her idol Steve Jobs, she emitted a reality distortion field that forced people to momentarily suspend disbelief.” 
― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

I recommend reading Bad Blood: Lies and Deception in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.

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It is a chilling tale cautioning us about the importance of grounding oneself in reality, the importance of listening, and the underlying question of morals and ethics. Essentially, Elizabeth Holmes seemed to have used her considerable charisma and influence to get top names on her Board, while running a tight ship. Not having any real breakthroughs in terms of technology was a minor problem. Instead, they seem to have come up with less than efficient techniques to dilute blood samples, and test them on standard Seimens equipment.

Why none of her Professors, Board of Governors, Journalists ever stopped to understand the true technology claims of Theranos is beyond me. Or is it that she played into the sweet spot of attention spans to give people what seemed like important information, while not revealing anything?

Whatever, it was. it begs the question of ethics and ambition.
“Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference. If there was collateral damage on her way to riches and fame, so be it.” 

― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Ultimately, how much is too much?

“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principals which direct them.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

P.S: In that gloomy account of ambition gone awry, there are two rays of sunshine. The young interns, Tyler Schultz & Erica Cheung.  In their early twenties, their inner light never wavered. Not when they knew it was time to resign, nor when it was time to reveal the real goings-on in the company. This was not some website that did not deliver a feature after all, it was blood test results that affected people in real ways.

Aren’t those the type of heroes we need to look for in our Society? When we talk about drive and  ambition for ourselves or our children, these are the people we should be referring to.