Soonish

“How do you think the water on Titan is? “

I must’ve responded with a quizzical look, for the son responded with a “Saturn’s moon!” 

http://Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=610237

“Oh!” 

His interest in all things Space-Cosmos has me unnerved sometimes. He catches me when I am zap in the middle of the myriad things that keep me busy and unproductive, and like a zing of fresh air, sends a question like this to remind me that life does not always have to be stern.

As I thought up a response to another ping at work, I found myself wondering what ammonia-esque water must be like. The temperatures must be more frigid – sure, but beyond that the imagination sort of teeters. Would there be  fish in the seas on Titan? Would their eyesight have evolved so differently because of the low amounts of sunlight, and all this, only if we assume life has evolved on Titan. 

We did not evolve into cyclops like one-eyed creatures. Two eyes lends perspective to our vision and construct the world around us differently than a person with only 1 eye would. What if we had evolved with one eye on top of our head – always upward looking? And another set under our feet? I wonder how we would have shaped our world if we had managed to evolve like octopii with neurons everywhere not just in our brains. 

Over lunch today, discussion moved to contact lenses. With changes in contact lens technology, the disposable ones are in use now. Calculations were being made as to how many days of lenses were left, and I picked up the thread of the third eye and the octopus-like eyes-and -brains-in-limbs theory.

The son immediately calculated the number of the contact lenses we would have required for 3, 4 & 5 eye scenarios, while the daughter moved to the more practical problems

“Yes – imagine – looking upwards all the time, and see bird poop flying towards your upper eye and not having time to close it. Aaah!” That child can take the magic of star dust and turn it into duck-poop!

Another time, there I was thinking along simple lines such as ‘These flowers have faded so much in the summer heat”, or “These poor little squirrels in the heat wave – should we leave some water outside for them?” when the son in his attempt to make conversation pulled me straight out of this solar system altogether with “Did you know Proxima Centauri can pull comets towards it from the original Kuiper belt?”

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/792/10-things-to-know-about-the-kuiper-belt/

Keeping up with a child’s curiosity is difficult enough as an adult. Yet, I look forward to these little chats with the budding futurologist, for they make me think outside of the what-needs-to-be-done to the more creatively beckoning what-can-be-done mode of thinking.

One evening, on a little stroll by the waters, the fellow asked me what I thought would be the 5 most interesting things in the future. I love it when I have to think through his questions like this. I had him go first so I could get my thoughts into some sort of order.

He started off with the space elevator, and then a sky hook, moved on to some solid asteroid mining, and then conservation of energy. He is increasingly fond of the channel Kurzgesagt 

Their you-tube channel has a number of philosophical, scientific concepts. The videos are only a few minutes long and are done in a highly simplistic style, yet enough to give one the overall picture. 

Luckily, for me, I had picked up this book, Soonish by Kelly & Zach Weinersmith

Thanks to the book, I could hold up my end of the conversation. The book is written in a funny and engaging manner. Starting with space technologies and asteroid mining; the book moves on to robotics, augmented realities; and the future of personalized medicine and synthetic biology.

People who have the joy of gaining fresh perspectives from the forward looking spirit of youth are lucky indeed.

May we always retain the inner child in us – The wonder of Shoshin.

Love, Acceptance & Gumption

Rarely do the skies reflect our inner turmoils so accurately. The past few days have been a strange time in that respect. The wildfires in California have been giving us days of poor air & light quality.

The first day dawned with the daughter waking us up looking excited. “Oh look how beautiful the light is outside. Everything is so pretty!” I peered outside and indeed it was. The world was bathed in a mellow yellow light, radiating a divine light. “It looks like a day when you feel you must count your blessings!” I said and rolled out of bed looking for the colors of the sunrise.

It turned out be a day to be doing exactly that – counting your blessings. A day to be celebrating a truly marvelous life, and thankful for the opportunity of having his presence in our lives. 

When I checked my phone, I saw that our dear Maama (Mother’s brother) – the younger one, had passed away. My mother confirmed that he passed away while on a video call with his daughter in the USA. Till the end, he was not in pain, and in these times of Covid troubles, he passed away peacefully at home. In death he had been blessed. Though if you had asked him, he would have said he had been blessed in birth as well.

For the past few months, he had been re-living his early years with his siblings at times. His conversations flitted to the village of his youth often, and he spoke of his life as a little boy, and he asked after his little siblings. In moments of clarity, he gave his caregivers careful instructions on how to reach the village where his dear siblings were: “Turn right from the road, and go straight for 6 miles, and you will see a small temple on the side of the road. “

His caregivers, like everyone who had the privilege of loving and being loved by him, indulged him. He truly was a man of many gifts – loving pragmatism was just one of them. 

Dear maama’s life was full of verve, energy, fun, love, and was tragic at the same time.

Yet, he never dwelled on the tragic. He was always a man of action. His nimble mind moved quickly with any tragic event to acceptance, and then looked for the actionable. He never considered any other course that a lesser human being might have resorted to. He was going to be helpful however he could, and he would do whatever was in his power to do. That was his responsibility. 

Talking to some of the lives he had touched after the dear man passed away, I found myself crying at times, laughing at some loving and funny thing that was so characteristic of him at others. The skies went from a count-your-blessings light to a gloomy ash-spewing state as the fires continued to spread through acres of land. 

Gloomy skies spewing ash

I have often wondered how the young children moved past self-pity. After all, the universe had played a low trick on them. He must have been a 11 or 12 year old boy when his father died, and his mother went into a decline from which she never recovered. The youngest sibling of his was my mother, all of 2 and a half years old, and he took her under his protective wing from when she could remember. 

Every time I think of the mammoth responsibilities the brothers shouldered, I shuddered. In an unforgiving world, the 7 siblings formed a bond like none others. 

No story about my mother is ever complete without Jayaram Maama and Pattumani Maama. Corporate environments would have made one write the vision statement and the other the mission statement. The younger of the two brothers, Ambi, as he was affectionately known, was the visionary one. He was also the effervescent one. The brothers made it their mission to educate their sisters at a time when most girls were married off at a tender age with an elementary school education – #HeForShe before it became a thing. They were curious combinations of the ritualistic and progressive. (My mother and her sister were the first women graduates from their village and went on to teach High School Maths, Physics and Chemistry)

Always forward looking, always willing to take action for what needs to happen next; his life is a lesson in acceptance, gumption, and constant self improvement. 

Today the skies have cleared up sufficiently for the sun to shine through again. It doesn’t feel apocalyptic anymore. 

Maybe the grand man is ready for the next great adventure. After all, he joined Pattumani on his second death anniversary.

To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter 

Bestiary Tales in Covid Times

“Summer will be done in just two weeks!” trilled the children. The son was excited, as expected, by the fact that it was time for the autumnal solstice. (Earth’s tilt, cosmos, time are all fair game for him)

I stopped bustling about and nodded. It was true! That’s two whole seasons of Covid living.

Summer has been a blur. Sometimes, it was a happy blur of forests, rivers, beaches, craters, lakes, browning meadows, bundles of hay, wildflowers, towering trees, stars at night, comets zipping in the Earth’s vicinity, angry and mellow sunsets, pelicans and 🎼 “wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” 🎶, hummingbirds flittering in the pale light of the rising moon, asters and star lilies in the shade of their massive neighborly trees. All of this with the sweet companionship of the family, and close friends – zooming in at times.

Other times, it was exhausting – heat waves, massive wildfires, poor air quality indexes, Covid numbers continuing to rise and showing no signs of abetting, protest marches, racism, bomb blasts, all on top of a news cycle that seems to think it has to deliver the heaviest punch into every day. It is like watching the world’s worst wrestling match. 🤼‍♂️ Really, someone should coach the world that not everything needs to be shocking and bigger and worse than ever before. It might be okay to watch a match in which the players seldom land a punch and are merely playing the game warily sizing each other up once in a while. 

Yet, life must go on, and it often goes along much better when we stop and look for promising moments in the gloom. There are moments that stand out clearly in this pandemic, when I felt a wave of gratitude overwhelm me, and I am also grateful for the sheer timing of these moments.

The time I stood on a windy, lonely strip of beach wrapping a towel about me for warmth and watching the sandpipers fly against the wind without wavering one bit, while I had a tough time just standing erect was one such. It was but a fleeting instant in which the little nippy sandpipers taught me about keeping one’s spirits up when the world is attempting to veer us off course every which way.

Or the moment, when on a road trip to a solitary house by the Umpqua river, the road wove on, the heat rose in waves around us, and the shimmering waters of the Lake Shasta looked like a green beast taking it easy in the summer, and laying low for what lay ahead. A few weeks later, the Sierra Nevada mountains were to be threatened by wildfires on a magnitude that sent the state of California reeling. Looking at the dry lands about us for a couple of hours, I felt a moment of dread, when the road turned, and a beautiful gushing river accompanied the road, and there on a rock in the middle of the river was a great big bear, looking contented and trying to fish or just cool off. 

As we took our summer walks in the evenings, I stopped so many times to admire the geese splashing into the waters after their great squawking, while the pelicans achieved this feat with none of the noise, but all of the grace.

I remember the time we looked up on a stroll to come eye to eye with a great turkey vulture. The elementary school going son was with me, and he thrilled at it. “Amma – I know you take pictures of the flowers  everyday because they only last for sometime, but this…oh…this is so special. It is so .. umm.. “ He struggled for the right word, but I think I knew what he was going for. I felt it too. There was a majesty about the bird that was hard to describe. There was a divinity and a razor sharp quality to its gaze that falconers love. I have tried to experience this when I read the book H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. But all I needed was that encounter lasting all of two minutes. 

“The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life.”

― Helen Macdonald, H Is for Hawk

Really! How much our fellow creatures have to teach us?! 

I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing — not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of.” H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Just like that, Autumn comes in all its glory to teach us what it does best. Preparing for Winter.

Soothe The Dragon and Make a Cat

“How come this year has so many festivals? It wasn’t like this last year! Or any of the other years!”, said the daughter looking painfully at the feast laid out on her plate. “This is like those stories of feasts thaatha used to tell us about!”

I thought I had written about those feasts before, but it looks like I have not yet published them on the blog. Will do so soon.

“Well..the festivals were there. I just wasn’t bothered to celebrate them all. Too much work you know. Plus when your grandmothers were here, they took care of most of these things on the day the festival actually fell, so you probably did not see them huffin and puffin in the kitchen. Some of these things you would only see the special things to eat in the evenings.”

With Covid days here, life seems to have slowed down enough for me to take the pains to cook a decent feast every now and then. Though my cooking is not facebook-worthy, by my standards, it is much more than usual, and it has the daughter worried. 

Not cooking for the daughter is truly rewarding. Tell her to make do with a slice of bread that day, and she beams happily, saying she loves special days like this. Every time the husband was out on his travels, we would plan these special days and revel in clean kitchens and munch through biscuits and buttered toasts to our hearts’ content. The husband belongs to the unfortunate clan that thinks bread-and-butter dinners are meals for those convalescing in bed. Thanks to this attitude towards bread, simple buttered toasts have come to acquire an altogether special place in our hearts over the years.

Anyway, our stomachs are not accustomed to platefuls and after this meal, I set out on a small walk. The heat waves had subsided somewhat that day before they angrily rose again this week-end. Several of the areas cats were resting I noticed. I passed a fat cat napping on the roof, and it deigned to open half an eyelid to see if I was worth its notice. Considering I was not, it stretched a little and rolled over looking happy and content. I could not blame it. In fact, if actions could inspire, that cat certainly was inspiring.  No speeches like Martin LutherKing for yours truly, a cat napping was enough, I thought wryly to myself. Maybe all we need to spread world peace is to have peaceful looking folks meditating happily under trees.

Buddha's disciples
Buddha’s disciples

I walked on and noticed scurrying everywhere. The squirrels seemed to be extra active at this time of day. Seeing the cats all enjoying a nap and resting, this seemed like a highly prudent approach, and I sat on a tree stump admiring the activity around me. A gentle breeze stirred and my own platefuls nudged me into aspiring for greater things like the napping cat had shown me.

I came home, and headed up for what my father’s side of the family called , “Shhrama Pariharam” (translated loosely to mean a rest after tough experiences with a touch of a sacrificial air to it) . They would tuck into their feasts that our aunts had whipped up, and retire to snooze it off in the cool thinnai (a breezy verandah) outside.

When last we cousins met up, we doubled up laughing about this, but I found that this was the only thing to do after a meal of ½ * (Onam Sadya ) standards.

I must say the nap proved to be every bit as satisfying as I had imagined. The cool breeze of the fan was there in the room, and the carbohydrates were sedating like nobody’s business. The cells tried to wake up, and then gave it up as a bad job. I had a marvelous nap, followed by a crisp cup of tea and was reminded once more of the simple pleasures of life as it should be.

I think feastly meals are ghastly beasts and after every meal like that a nap makes us sharper and better human beings. It soothes the dragon inside and makes a cat out of you.

“It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon it says, “Work!” After beefsteak and porter, it says, “Sleep!” After a cup of tea (two spoonfuls for each cup, and don’t let it stand for more than three minutes), it says to the brain, “Now rise, and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature, and into life: spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!” 
― Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

A Reading Life

I sat around the house one week-end afternoon looking tired. It was a strange day in many ways. Forest fires were blazing forth razing acres of land in its wake. Nothing stood a chance, and the fire departments’ work was made all the more difficult with the Covid stipulations. How could people be evaluated if evacuation centers were this crowded? The air outside was stifling – smoke belching out by the fires a few miles away hung thick in the air, making an already hot day a sweltering one.

All the previous night, I had risen – once an hour to check if there was going to be another lightning storm. That first one that had sent 10,000 bolts of lightning and started over 350 forest fires that resulted in 60,000 acres of land being burnt was not predicted. The weather forecasts had predicted another one the previous night, and our local alerts had us all get an emergency evacuation bag ready. One bag – with some documents, a little cash, a change of clothes. When it comes down to that, is there anything else?

Luckily, the lightning strikes did not come that night. Somewhere around 6 a.m. I fell into an uneasy slumber knowing the husband and children will rise soon. Consequently, the next day, I felt tired: The oppressive heat, the lack of sleep, the worry about the fires, incessant news alerts, and I knew not what else was on my mind. 

Usually, nature is a pretty good soother, but nature seemed to be fed up with us! So, I sat myself in front of the bookshelf looking at the piles of books there, and tried to get a sense of calm from them. In a few minutes, I was sitting cross legged on the floor, looking through and reading books on yetis, baseball heroes, a book that just had the word – ‘Dude!’ on every page, stars, constellations, superheroes and much more. 

There is nothing half as meditative as a task like this. Before I knew where I was, I had traveled to Tibet, New York, the Arctic circle, a village in Central America, and fantastic lands where dragons held races. Of all the things that being human is, the worlds of imagination and inviting one another into the worlds created thus, has got to be the finest. Though, dolphins are pretty good at storytelling too.

Margarita Engle’s poem:

No giant or dragon

Is bigger or stronger

Than the human imagination

I was also reading a book compiled by Maria PopovaA Velocity of Being. The book is intended to encourage young readers to read as much as possible. I am not sure whether the book will actually convince a non-reader to start reading, since it is a book of letters compiled from people in various fields on how reading helped them get where they are, but it makes for fascinating reading for adults, and I loved the illustrations beside each letter.

A Velocity of Being – Compiled by Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick

Some letters were incredibly sad like the one where a holocaust survivor writes about how story-telling helped them hold onto hope when everything else was lost. Some were hopeful, some others whimsical, some directive-based, others curiously inviting. 

After a couple of hours, I stood up and my joints creaked from the wooden floor. The heat outside was still oppressive, the smoke still lingered in the air, but strangely my spirits felt uplifted. If that wasn’t the power of reading, I don’t know what is.

What other activities are equally absorbing and uplifting to you?

School in Covid Times

The week has been a blur. The son bounced into lunch the other day, and said, “Do you have a meeting at 12:30?”

Seeing us shake our heads, he said, “Yes! Finally I have a zoom meeting at 12:30! Gosh – it is so good to have something to do again, right? I mean, I was always the vetti one.” (vetti in this context means jobless one)

I love it when Tamil words and phrases creep into their conversations like this, and I said so. The children scoffed. “Oh stop already with this know-more-than-English thing. Indian people are so annoying!” 

“Well, I know my Chinese friends speak Mandarin at home, and go to Mandarin classes. My friends and colleagues from Russia have their kids learn a smattering of Russian. So …” I said shrugging my shoulders. 

The children exchanged glances that said “Parents will be parents! Let it go!”, and I smiled.

School has reopened in completely virtual mode, and the children have been thrilled. I feel bad that the usual back-to-school euphoria is muted with zoom calls, and not the raucous meeting of friends after a long summer ritual. The children felt it too. 

“I would have liked to meet my friends and the classroom amma. I mean, now, it is like looking at our pictures instead of us – you know the people?”

I laughed at the description, for it was true. The e-world has managed to make two dimensional beings out of us. Entire personalities squashed into a grid on the screen. 

On the second day of school, he spent the minutes prior to the zoom call getting things ready for the day: A Dr Seuss book, one of his comic book creations (with illustrations of superheroes fighting valiant battles with super magnetic force-fields against a turbulent tornado crusher etc), an Avengers action figure, his microscope and binoculars.

I looked amused at this collection of objects laid out by his computer. He saw me looking at these and said, “Oh! The teacher said she wants us to know each other better. So, I am looking for things that best describe what I like to do.”

I gave him a huge smile and thumbs up and awaited the news at lunch time. Say what you will about the Covid-situation, I am grateful to be home when school is done. It is a luxury I have seldom had, and the outpouring of chatter when they let out has been marvelous for me. My own batteries are not drained by a meaningless commute eating into my day, and I am more receptive to what they have to say.

“You know how we were supposed to get to know each other and bring stuff that represents us?! One fellow brings a football, because he likes football, and then he brings a basketball because he likes basketball, and then points to his shirt – a baseball shirt since he likes baseball. Really – you like Sports, we get it!” he said and looking at the smile on his face as he said it, I could see he already liked this fellow.

“I heard what you told your teacher! Really kid?! Sour patch candies and Pirates Booty?!” said the teenage older and supposedly-wiser daughter.

There was a train of giggles at this and the fellow gurgled on about how his teacher asked him if he knew more than 1 language and told him to practice speaking Tamil at home, so he doesn’t forget it. The words of wisdom coming from a teacher’s mouth meant that he took it to heart, and I could see him sprinkling in a couple of words here and there. 

I spoke to my school teacher-parents later that day and told them how their teacher had tried different things to get to know them, and my father said, “Poor  teachers and students ma! Most dedicated teachers come to the profession because of the joy of being surrounded by young people: their energy and personalities are truly a joy to be with. To have that replaced by a series of zoom meetings seems so sad! It will be okay soon. Don’t worry da kanna – you will get to see your school mates soon okay?” the grandfather’s voice boomed over the oceans like a foghorn of wisdom to his grandson, and he smiled and said, “Thanks Thaatha! So, when are you coming here?”

Well, in the words of Miss Read:

“Life went on. No matter what happened, life went on … But somehow, in this continuity, there were the seeds of comfort.” 
― Miss Read, Emily Davis

While I sincerely hope the children’s social aspects are not unduly affected by social distancing, I am grateful for what interactions they do get. While I have my gripes about technology, I am also grateful for it.

Life is full of paradoxes and that is as it should be.

Weather Monsters

“Have you gotten your bags ready?” my friends’ voices piped over the phone. 

“Uh – not yet. Got a bag down from the loft – will get to it.” I said shuffling my feet as I said so.

“Well..what are you doing now?”

“Writing about the weather over the past week.” I said somewhat sheepishly, and a loud laughter emanated from the other side. 

We toodled off with the sentiment of “Well Nero fiddled, I write!” but I am not going to lie. I was rattled, and went off to pack the emergency kit. The wildfires were too close for comfort – the air has been thick with smoke.

Exactly a week ago:

The days had been stifling in the heat wave that gripped the land. Oppressive waves rose from the shimmering hills nearby, and the eyes squinted for respite after the briefest strays outside. Some evenings had a splattering of clouds giving rise to splendid sunsets, and while I swooned my way through the evening walk, I yearned for a bit of rain, if nothing but to smell the parched sizzling earth cooling off a little bit. 

img_9485

I may have wished too soon.

For the very next day, I was looking at the most improbable of sights. I had set a whimsical alarm to rouse me at 5:30 a.m on that Sunday rearing for a hike before the sun started beating down on us. 

While I am always crooning about Nature and talking about it being the greatest soother of all time and all that, I often forget nature’s fury. I live in California where we pay a weather-tax. For the most part, the weather conditions are soothing, flowers bloom the year around, and though I yearn for more rains, it is a mellow nature that greets me most days. But that morning, I listened astounded as thunder rumbled overhead and the noise penetrated the double-paned windows, and then in the darkness the whole house stood illumined for a few seconds. I glanced unwittingly towards the sleeping children, and I stood awed.

We have easily gone more than two decades without thunder and lightning storms of this magnitude in this area. What was going on? 

I whispered to the husband – “Wow! Rain was not even in the weather forecast huh?” and stood mesmerized by the window wondering whether a walk was still on the cards if not a hike.

The husband looked at me and said, “Are you nuts?! Who goes out in this weather? Hiking at that. Nothing doing – if this is you wanting to watch the rain, pull up a chair and sit by the window!”, and he went right back to bed.

So, I did just that – I woke the son and showed him the lightning and the rain pelting down. It made for a magical morning, but I hadn’t completely realized the harm a storm of this magnitude can unleash on an already dry and parched Earth. In under 6 hours, there were more than 10,000 flashes of lightning starting over 300 fires that continue to rage across the Bay Area.

Time Lapse based off Satellite images of the Lightning strikes and subsequent fires in the area.

In just a few days we had experienced everything from heat waves to lightning and thunder storms – all in the midst of a pandemic no less. The air quality deteriorated significantly as the fires raged and fire fighters poured in from everywhere to contain the fires. 🔥 The sheer magnitude of the fires 🔥 they were dealing with had simple folk like me blanching, but these teams had strategy and they were working tirelessly. The tenacity for a job like that! 

In our skies, an angry sun shone through when it could through the smog.

img_9484

One week later:

Wildfires continue to rage over thousands of acres of land. Beloved forests and mountains ranges that have provided solace and comfort to millions of people over the years have been lost to the fires. My heart caught at the news that Big Basin Redwoods were damaged badly. Though redwood trees are supposed to be extraordinarily resilient to fires  and would probably make it past these fires, I grieved. Every time I visited these forests, I have come back not just refreshed, but spiritually in a better place as have thousands of tree huggers over the years. A true space for forest bathing or shinrin yoku as the Japanese call it.

trees_komerabi

It has been a week since the lightning strikes. 1 week in which more than 60,000 acres of land have been burnt, with ominous statistics of 5% fire contained, fire alerts etc.

California Redwoods 

2020 seems to be determined to make its mark.




 

Turmeric Magic

I felt a surge of amusement when I made cauliflower last time. The grocery lists needed love, and the results were showing.

“Yay Cauliflower!” yipped the young son, beaming like the early rising golden moon at this wonderful treat. Moments later, the moon face drifted under the clouds and his face looked disappointed as he looked at the pale muck of a curry that had been ladled onto this plate. “This isn’t Cauliflower curry! Isn’t it usually golden?” he said.

“Yeah ma – this one looks so pale. Like it needs some Vit D or something – should I take it for a walk in the sun?” said the daughter.  

I laughed at their reaction. Running a home can be tricky business in the best of times. My grocery lists are not things one writes home about even then (newspaper articles maybe but not to one’s mothers). In Covid times, I beam when we get by with everyone fed at reasonable times. Of course, this means I had to throw 2 tantrums since nicely asking did not seem to work. (I know!)

  1. Tantrum#1: 
    1. Venue:  work
    2. Subject: No meetings between 12:30 & 1:15! 
    3. Result: Sheesh kebabs reactions but people finding ways to accommodate this unreasonable ask
  2. Tantrum #2:
    1. Venue: home
    2. Subject: All people requiring daily sustenance will come to eat between 12:30 & 1:15!
    3. Result: Jeez-whats-with-her flavored eye rolls, followed by expressions as if indulging the local idiot 

Anyway, what happened was that we had run out of turmeric powder. As any decent south-indian cook will tell you, this simplest of spices is a must in almost everything that makes its way to a stove-top. It was only when one does not have the little sprinkling does one realize the joy and gaiety in the dishes thanks to it. It is like a drop of sunshine in the blobs of goo, and the children picked up on that. 

For the next few days, I quietly turned up more discolored dishes. The jokes became more raucous. Even the taste seemed altered. It is curious how tuned our sensory systems worked: taste seemed better if we liked how they looked, they even smelled more appetizing when they looked that scintillating yellow. Seeing that the world seemed a less vibrant place sans turmeric, the husband quietly made a special grocery run after the third day of discolored dishes. 

That day, I felt like a particularly gifted potion maker working her magic with the spices:

“…The beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses…” – Professor Severus Snape – Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone.

I am glad to say that the folks seated around the table glowed from the rays of the yellow mellow sun at this meal.

“Wow! Everything is golden and sunny again!”

“Yep! Appa got turmeric at the grocery store!” I said, and the children cackled.

“Who’d have thought we would miss turmeric?” said the daughter. 

“Well Marco Polo certainly did!” I said. “The world was altered thanks to turmeric, pepper and ginger! So, I suppose it is okay to miss it.” I could see the little titbit had their interests piqued, and they listened in spite of themselves. 

The Travels of Marco Polo

“Many explorers started out in the medieval ages trying to find newer and better routes to the Indian subcontinent for spices. Marco Polo attempted an exploration that lasted almost 24 years . He made his way from Venice in Italy through the Mediterranean seas, past the harsh climates of the deserts in the middle east and the Himalayas in the north and north-east, as he went on past modern-day Tibet all the way to the Gobi Desert in China. His travels along the silk road were published in 1298 and are still sought after – The Travels of Marco Polo! “

“I did not write half of what I saw, for I knew I would not be believed”
― Marco Polo, on his deathbed

“So, you see – It is probable that this brave explorer in search of turmeric, pepper and other spices, altered world history and our grocery lists forever!” I said. 

The discussion then turned to European explorers setting out to find new routes to the Indian subcontinent, silk roads and trade routes. The history of the world, and how we have always been more interconnected on this planet than we realize, is fascinating.

The golden dishes took on an extra flavor with the story of the spices, and I sat back contented and grateful for a good meal in these times of the pandemic.

The Grapes of Wrath

We were driving through the countrysides of rural America. Vast landscapes stretched on all sides reminding us once again of the beautiful and vast nature of this country. The countryside baked in the hot Californian sun as we made our northward. We drove past fields and small towns that reminded me of the areas featured in the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in more ways than one.

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The Grapes of Wrath evoked a sense of economic ruin, human struggles, and the helplessness of it all. I walked around for weeks pulled down by the plight of the millions of Joad families who had to survive post the Great Depression. 

You see, I was prepared to see a certain level of isolation. Covid-19 has changed the landscape unimaginably with the service sector and the retailing industry in hiatus. What I was not prepared for, was the eerie and pervasive shadow of desolation and ruin. The divide between the haves and have-nots a deep chasm yawning wide and deep. 

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The husband and I were in a somber mood as we made our way back, and fell to discussing the nature of work and how it is has changed so drastically in the past century. Just under a century ago, there was a good percentage of the population working farming jobs, then factory jobs. So, there still was a dream for a middle-class life – a life that promised reasonably good education for the children, relatively good health care, a decent home, and food on the table. It seemed the only jobs left for people to work in these small towns were in the service sector or the retail industry. With both these sectors impacted so heavily with Covid-19, it was a terrifying sight. 

“There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.”

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

If the elections bring the current president to power again, he will find a way to make things much worse – maybe even go to the extent of inciting riots and civil unrest. If another president takes the reins, I do not envy the poor president-elect – what a mess to unravel and what a huge responsibility to the citizens. 

How would the world get back on its feet? 

“But how on earth is the stock market holding up?” I asked, for wasn’t that supposed to be an indicator of the economic conditions on the ground?

There – right there, is what is called a mystery. Anthropologically, mankind has been through worse survived more, but there is no doubt about it  – we have rough times ahead of us post-corona. As children, when we sang the hymns in our school, we liked some, loved the lyrics of others, and some stayed on with us through the ages. The first song that came to me that day was this one:

“We shall overcome .. We shall overcome…We shall overcome…Some day….”

After all:

“Muscles aching to work, minds aching to create – this is man.”

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

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The Boat of Life

Driving through the Pacific North Western coast can be lovely. Even though the vast areas around us shimmered in the heat, we were upbeat inside the car- the Umpqua river was keeping us company on the drive. Umpqua river – What a river! What a name! It was beautiful as the roads snaked and curved and we never once knew on which side the river would emerge. 

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Looking at people trying to get their canoe afloat on the river that afternoon reminded me of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome again, and I resolved to read it again soon. With Covid rampant everywhere, the world around us seemed more muted, but the river seemed to assure with its little gurgles, eddies, swirls, and bubbles that life will go on. This too shall pass and any number of things we tell ourselves when in need of lifting our spirits. 

The truth is that Californian summers in the Bay Area can mean slim pickings with vibrant rivers. The Oregon coast was different – the Umpqua river was full, mature with the strength of the waters from the melting snows of the Cascades and we were driving right alongside its path as it made its way into the Pacific Ocean. 

As the road rose over the ridge carrying us over the valley of the Umpqua, the mists gradually rolled in signaling one thing –  we were nearing the oceanfront!  The trees were towering over us, and my spirits rose on that mist-filled afternoon.

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“The hills are alive with the sound of music! “

I bleated along as we drove through the hills, and the children exchanged a look that confirmed their worst suspicions. Their Mother Nature was with them. And with this Mother Nature in attendance, there would be no dawdling and letting things be. This would mean hiking and looking at things, and singing along. Sure enough, I ended my bleat on a howling note with great pride and turned around to see the cubs splitting with laughter. I coaxed and under the threat of more of my own singing, they relented.

Pretty soon, there we were, playing a weird version of Antakshari – we took a word or theme of the last few words we sang and started off the next one. Sometimes, the sentiment was enough. We were off trying to coax musical notes from made-up lyrics, singing with mesmerizingly accurate actions to our imaginary orchestra, and completely off-tune. 

“The wind never bothered me anyway….Let it go! Let it go! “  I said drawing in a wisp of the wind by lowering the window,

The daughter piped up from behind:

“The cold never bothered me anyway…”

“What?”

“It’s not the ‘wind’, it’s the ‘cold’.” Said the daughter and I said, “Yes dear – that’s what I meant. “

“MA! You can’t just change up words when you are singing them and say that is what I meant! ”

The husband and daughter are wizards at memorizing the lyrics. Yours truly, on the other note, is only magical when it comes to making up nonsense to fill in the tunes. 

“Yes you can! I sang nonsense to you kids all the time when you were babies!” I said

“Yep! Yay! And see how well that worked out!” said the daughter – sarcasm dripping from her voice, and we all burst into laughter. Say what you might, it seemed a perfect philosophy for a lovely life given all our little imperfections.

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

I feel like I must say something witty about boats of life, and how it is the very thing that could turn into your life-boat, etc, but the lyrics elude me at the moment. Stay tuned – for you never know when inspiration will strike.