The Laughing Life

The son tumbled out of his room with yet another joke. His teachers apparently tell them a joke every now and then, and he repeats them to me if he finds them really funny, or remembers to. One of the many gifts of the Covid lifestyle are little snippets like this.

I stood there waiting and wondering what today’s j would be about.

“Why did the skeleton not go to the party?”

“I don’t know – because it had too many bones to pick?”

“Ha! Good one. But no.”

“Umm…don’t know. Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party?” I said a little impatience in the tone. I had to get to that next meeting.

“Because it had nobody to go with. Get it? Get it? No Body to go with?!”

I moaned and laughed at the same time. A lovely feeling of warmth spread through the being as I headed off. 

Later that day, I sat musing about humor and how marvelous a gift it is to humankind.

My Family and Other Animals is a marvelous book by Gerald Durrell. This book has the distinction of being the first book that I read belonging to the Humor genre. I remember it as though it was yesterday. Sitting in class 8-B, the sun was shining outside, there was a butterfly in the lawns outside, but our English teacher seemed to prefer the miracle of the written word to the fluttering butterflies outside. She put on her glasses and whipped the book out of her handbag in one elegant motion and said we were going to read the book.

My Family And Other Animals: See how the author makes you laugh when you read the title itself? she said. We must have looked like Canadian geese being tickled for the first time, for she proceeded to explain the humor in the title. I don’t know whether you have tried tickling a Canadian Goose. I haven’t, but I think they would react the same way. Stern looking creatures Canadian Geese.

IMG_2223

Anyway, I hope for my teacher’s sake that we loosened up as the reading progressed. But, now that I look back, it was one of the first books that made me look for humor in daily situations. Mark Twain – especially the little story of Tom Sawyer painting the wicket gate was another. Swami and Friends by R K Narayan was equally memorable. I remember reading somewhere that R K Narayan when asked about his inspiration for Malgudi – that eternally inviting town that beckons you every now and then, said, he just watched life pass him by and that was all there was to Malgudi.

Pickwick Papers was slow going initially, but the humor in the book was unmistakable. These are the times I am thankful for growing up in a pre-Internet, pre-on-demand television era. I might not have stuck with Pickwick Papers otherwise. 

The ultimate guide was of course P G Wodehouse. When in high school, I changed upon P G Wodehouse, I did not immediately appreciate it. It took a few readings, but oh! What a gift?! What a gift! 

The father, of course, was and remains a constant reminder to find joy in every day life. His jokes were not always appreciated by the mater, but he could take a the rough with the smooth. Life was funny, curious, interesting and not always serious if only we stopped to admire the humor in them. The husband, the daughter and the son all joined the bandwagon too. My Family and Other Animals was taking shape in the Nourish-N-Cherish household.

Where am I going with all of this?! Oh yes! The blog itself. Nourish & Cherish started as an act of whimsy 16 years ago. It is a place that I regularly choose to don the sunny side up mentality in life.  As I started to write down this little skeleton joke, I mused on the thousands of little jokes that did not make it to the blog. For of course, I am guilty of thinking about writing and reading about writing far more than writing itself. But I am glad for the ones that did make it.

In over 900 posts over the past 16 years, life has taught me time and again, that you can choose the sunny side up.

To infinity and beyond!

I Think You’ll Like This Ma!

Mother’s Day was upon us and before we knew it, the children were wishing me a marvelous day. We sat there, refusing to get up from bed, and just enjoying the mother’s day stories of past years. 

“Remember the year you made me that crown?! “

The now-teenaged daughter shuddered, and said, “It was horrible – why did you wear it and take a photo too?! I would not have done that.”

I gave her a smile and thought to myself how satisfying it would be to see her eat those words willingly and happily when her time comes. 

The most touching gift I received this year was the pair of them thrusting their favorite books into my hands with shining, expectant eyes. 

“Read this one – we loved the book in our class. I really think you will like this one, even though we don’t have a dog.” said the son.

The daughter’s request was firmer. “No…no…don’t touch it like that. See – this spine? It must not be creased. A few rules with this book. I don’t want you falling asleep with the book in your hands. That causes the book to become lopsided.”

“Just give me the book! I know how to take care of books. I love them.” I said, and the son and I exchanged amused glances. He is often at the receiving end of this lecture from his sister and seemed happy to see his mother’s version was just as firm.

“Yeah yeah. But some books just have to be cared for you know? Your love can sometimes cause creases.”

She looked at me skeptically, then went to her bookshelf and picked out a book as an example. “See this one? I had to give this little guy here a lecture because I caught him bending it.”

“Love lines and laugh lines are the essence of life. Books like to have them.” I said weakly.

Really! This child.

I pulled out a favorite poem from A Sky Full of Bucket Lists by Shobhana Kumar and read out Spaces. Her haibun  in between the prose was just right. It was the prose I chose to help me this time.

She shows the children how to inhale the pleasure of unsullied pages. Savour subtleties from a dog-eared favorite.

“What do you think?”

“I love the poem Amma, but just…please? Unsullied pages, see?”

I nodded and did my finest teenage imitation. “Fine!”, and muttered how I preferred ‘subtleties from a dog-eared favorite’.

“Love you MA!”

So, it was arranged that I could fall asleep reading Shiloh, but must sit upright without coffee or tea nearby, or a tendency to fall asleep with Perks of being a wallflower in my hand.

To misquote P G Wodehouse, the surest way to find love is to have a shared taste in Literature. 

I must say both the books filled my heart with their poignancy. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day in the Jungle

It’s Friday! It’s It’s It’s Friday!

I heard the son singing his Friday song. An infernal song with lyrics that are straight out of an album I know, but the rendition usually has joy in it, and that salvages it somewhat. I am partial to Friday mornings myself, but last week, I was simply unable to get out of bed even though I had something marvelous to look forward to. I know some folks who get up like an LED light: Zap to glory as soon as the switch is on.  How I envy these marvelous folks?! They light up at the crack of dawn and seem to bustle on. 

Self? I need a dragging to the watering hole, and steady nourishment to get to functioning state in a span of 2 hours. The husband gave me an amused look, and tried reviving the drooping shoulder with some coffee, but it wasn’t enough.

An hour later, I buzzed into the kitchen dancing and flitting like a hummingbird in spring. You see, I was invited to read my story, Mother’s Day in the Jungle, to the son’s elementary school classroom. 

Mother’s Day in the JungleScreen Shot 2021-05-09 at 12.19.16 AM

I love this one – It is a heartwarming story about the little animals in the forest getting together to prepare a mother’s day feast for their mothers. But one of them gets caught trying to pilfer sweet potatoes from Farmer Hasalot’s farm. 

At the end of the story, the children asked me questions, and I am always blown away by how much thought they put into these questions. I told them about how some parts of the story at least are inspired by elephants in the South Indian plains. They were curious to learn about elephant mothers and calves. They wanted to know about animal practices and whether the elephants or farmers were right, taking us beautifully into discussions on animal rights. 

As I read the story out to the children, it got me thinking of the many beautiful lessons of parenting that the animal kingdom shows us. So, that evening, I took off on a walk by the creekside. Watching the ducklings, and goslings take to the waters with their parents on either side is beautiful in spring. The birds flying home to their nests with the little ones waiting in nests is charming.

It is time to read Robert McCloskey’s adorable book. Make Way for the Ducklings

make_way_ducklings

What would we do without Mothers? 

Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful mothers out there. There are days when getting up is a chore, but days like this one with unexpected gifts make up for it, don’t they?

The Young Wizard

The son finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in a marathon reading of 5 school days. I found him reading in dim corners, under the quilt after lights-out, by the moonlight streaming into his window at night, and with the class streaming on over zoom – it seemed I bumped into the fellow looking happy and reading wherever I went for a few days. Then, just like that, he was done with the book, and the series itself. 

The house has been abuzz with magic ever since. The wand from Ollivander’s gift shop has been found, batteries replaced, and the lumos spell is very helpful while looking for one’s shoes in the closet with no lights. 

As anyone who has gone through the arc with the young wizards will attest, there isn’t enough magic to go around after an event like that. The epilogue is described variously described as ‘a let-down’, ‘sappy’, ‘unnecessary’ and all of that. But in my mind, it was required closure for the author who spent every waking moment with these characters.

We had an unwritten rule in the house, viz: we’d watch the movies after the books have been read wherever possible. So, we waited patiently. As he finished one book after the other, there was a mini celebration and the week-end movie nights would invariably be Harry Potter & The Completed Book.

As we were getting ready for the movie watching session, the children came clamoring for an instant 2 minute Maggi noodles dinner. They love the tangy soupy instant nature of it. I gave them a stern look and a familiar lecture on healthy eating. Seeing the drooping faces, I said, “Look on the bright side, we can have 2 minute popcorn for movie night tonight!” 

Image from Amazon.com site

Comparisons between the movie script and a fresh reading of Harry Potter is always a thrilling exercise. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an even more wonderful experience since it rewards you with 2 movies. And so it was, last week-end that we got to dissociate from the myriad problems of the world and immerse ourselves in those of the wizarding world. 

The last 2 movies are especially great watching, since there are so many scenes of note: Dear Dobby, Voldy screaming Aaavvvaaddaa Kedaavvrraaa, McGonagall calling on the locomotor to defend the school. 

The next evening, the son lumos-ed his way into the kitchen as I stood helplessly wondering what to make for dinner that night. Have I mentioned that it is one of my least favorite things to do: Standing and wondering what to make. I must’ve. It is a pet peeve. So, there I stood looking as mutinous as Voldemort’s clouds of doom, when the youngest wizard pranced in, and said, “Do you know there are at least 7 ways in which you can kill somebody without screaming Avada Kedavra like Voldemort does in the last scene?”

“Really?” I asked and he proceeded to rattle them all off. 

I stood there, and asked if he knew a spell for making dinner. 

“Yes! It only takes 2 minutes!” He said and grinned. I gave in to the little tyke’s demands and slurped Maggi 2 Minute Noodles discussing all the possible spells with disastrous effects.

The Lock Smith

The locksmith’s passion started with Legos
Their mother saw the spark in their eyes as a toddler
Proudly did they show me the first key they made

I listened with fascination and stood watching quietly
The intense focus slowly figuring the nooks and crannies
The frustrated shake of the head, the repeated tries

Rewarded with a slow smile (or lopsided grin? )
Who can say behind the mask?
As they made a new key that fit an old lock.

Inspired by April’s calling for Poetry

Reading: Falling Up – By Shel Silverstein & A Sky Full of Bucket Lists – By Shobhana Kumar

The Music of Rose-Scented Winds

Roses are blooming everywhere. The white, saffron, yellow, pink, corals and red roses are a real treat to behold. Watching the breeze gently take the rose essences and waft off into the neighborhood reminded me of an old Tamil song. “Rojavai thalaattum thendral…” a few weeks ago, and I hummed it as I went about my day. Loosely translated, it means a breeze that caressed the roses. 

“Dei! One more time, you sing that song……” said the husband. 

His tone of voice reminded me of my elementary school friend all those decades ago, when I sang something continuously, wrongly and unknowingly at times. 

Particularly prone to these brain-itches or ear-worms, I am not particularly fond of them either. I thought life was full of them, till I noticed my friends seemed to be able to enjoy a song, hum it a bit and then move on with their lives, without the annoying thing being stuck in their heads for weeks at a time. 

The curious case of not being very good at picking the lyrics out in a song also means that I am singing garbled nonsense, and often just snippets of them as I go about the house. 

I don’t know how folks live with me, for I want to box my ears every time  ‘rojavai thaalattum thendral ‘loops on in the old brain. Apparently, the song itself has a good enough lyrical quality, but I would not know anything about it for I have never been great at catching the words in a song. I sing

Rojavai thalaatum thendral, poon thendral, yen mandral (No meaning). 

Un nenjil porattangal hohoho (Santa Claus>!), rojavai thalaatum thendral…”

I am sick of the song, but luckily not of the roses. 

For one prone to brain-itches such as these, the modern world can be quite the problem. There are catchy songs on television, in cars, radio stations, not to mention gas stations, almost everywhere. It is only recently that I found listening to instrumental music helps since it allows me to listen to music without having garbled phrases stuck in my head on an endless loop.

“Many people are set off by the theme music of a film or television show or an advertisement, This is not unusual for they are catchy tunes” says Dr Oliver Sacks, in his book, Musicophilia (Read the essay titled “Brainworms, Sticky Music and Catchy Tunes”)

He writes of his friend,Nick, who had fixated on the song, “Love and Marriage”and was ‘trapped inside the tempo of the song’. 

I nodded along fervently as he wrote of his affliction:

“With incessant repetition, it soon lost its charm, its lilt, its musicality and its meaning. It interfered with his schoolwork, his thinking, his peace of mind, his sleep.”

Originating from the literal translation of the German term Ohrwurm, an earworm can go on for weeks, or in some cases months.

When I read about this phenomenon in Oliver Sacks’, Musicophilia, I hummed the broken piece. I wish I could’ve written to the wise doctor and asked him whether he had come across any cases where the patient was stuck in a song with lousy garbled words in the correct tune, and how their marriage with a man who could not hold a tune but could ace the words would function. (Read: The Noetic Touch to the Poetic Muse

Alas! Dr Oliver Sacks is no longer alive to share his insights with us.

The Covid Vaccine

We rolled into the expansive grounds to receive the Covid vaccine. Everything shone with efficiency starting from the way our appointments were scheduled. It always astounds me when I see undertakings as large as this. Any public health initiatives are amazing in their scope and ability, and I was in awe. Like a child at the fairgrounds, I soaked in the sign boards, the appointment process, the courteous health workers all working on Saturday mornings to ensure the world can be a safer place. 

There were no questions unrelated to one’s health. No checks other than ensuring one was eligible age-wise and health-wise and had no known allergic reactions. 

As we waited for our turn and watched the registered nurses, volunteers and traffic attendants go about their duties, I thought once again of all the great things human beings are capable of as a species. Within a year of the coronavirus bringing the world to a stand-still, a vaccine was not just found, but mass produced and administered to millions of people. That is nothing short of a miracle. Even as the virus continues to spread its tentacles in waves, the vaccine outreach program was offering hope.

Extensive testing, mass production, and a dizzying level of community outreach and logistics had gone into place for this to work. But how did the mRNA vaccines work?

We live in the Information Age, and know first-hand how it can quickly be turned on its head to a Misinformation Age. A Quote from the Demon Haunted World came to mind.

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements—transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting—profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The nurse came up to the car with a thin needle and I closed my eyes instinctively. She smiled and said, “It’s done. You feeling okay?”

Just like that, the tiny ant-like pinch of the needle that delivered a tiny dose of messenger RNA gave rise to something else.

I felt a surge for love for America

A touch of pride in its efficacy and its courtesy

A ripple of gratitude for Science

A shiver while thinking how it might have been had the 46th President not been elected.

And finally a sense of gratitude that we did have a President who valued these things.

 

Sleeping Angel

The son’s room got a new lick of paint. It is a calming, soothing color called Sleeping Angel. Paint color namers have to be the most creative bunch. I have never actually met a person who held that particular job, but I would be thrilled to do so. The names they come up with have to be from fertile imaginations. If ever one is stuck for ideas, heading out to the paint alley in your local hardware store is inspiration enough. 

Here is a random sampling of the paint colors:

Polar sky, Sleeping Angel, Balboa Mist, Gray Owl, Soft Fern, Saybrook Sage, Lavender Mist, Sunlit Coral

I mean, look at this combination of words and tell me that it does not want you to sit up and think of beautiful polar bears looking down at their little cubs and telling them stories of a time when their habitats extended so far out, they could venture to the edge where they were able to get glimpses of sunlit corals, sometimes see the patches of soft fern and hear the gray owls hooting into the night. The misty skies used to bring them whiffs of smells quite different from what their cubs were getting now. Their grandmothers spoke of the mists of lavender, redwood and balboa. Visiting whales told them of giant redwoods and seafoam over corals.

owls_polar_bears

Painting is meditative work. The pain before and after the walls are painted notwithstanding, the art of painting itself is therapeutic. Imagining a small space transform into a warm inviting haven is a gift enough, but actually doing it, is even better. 

I had written about the mute painter who came to regularly paint our childhood home every couple of years. I had no idea of the virtues, or lack thereof,  of the distemper paint. I only knew it was superior to what was routinely done, since the father went through some extra effort for that type of paint. All I knew was that small stains washed off this type of paint. Given he lived in a school and had 3 children of his own, who were very happy to have their friends over, I suppose this was a brand of realism. 

The father would spend extra to go for a lick of distemper paint, and that pleased the passionate painter. The artist in him gave an approving nod, and he set about setting up his ladders and transforming the space with a twinkle in his eye. The love for this job shone through in the results. Every room seemed to have a dollop of his spirit after the painting was done. The rooms sparkled and twinkled with peace and joy. I would then spruce up the place with vases containing bunches of fresh pine, ferns, and wildflowers to settle the slightly overbearing smell of fresh distemper, while the mother would sneeze her way through the house (allergies). 

Decades later, the circle of life seemed to repeat itself. Sleeping Angel had transformed the room, while the paint smell kick started my allergies (made worse by smelling flowers I admit), and the drops of sunshine came in the form of fresh yellow tulips in a vase with pine and fern. I took a dose of antihistamines and drifted off to sleep in the little room. The paint was aptly named. 

I slept like an angel.

Read also:

Within our 4 walls

The Flying Zoos of Babylon

Antheia’s Gifts

April has the whiff of spring about it. Fresh green leaves, and flowers bursting forth everywhere. 

I could not help thinking of William Blake’s ‘heaven in a wild flower’ as we made our way through the trails. Really! I am in awe of poets – how do they think up these things? 

“Who was the Greek god of flowers? Persephone?”

“Nope! Persephone was agriculture, you know when she comes out of the underworld, she brings Spring with her and the world blooms again. She was the one who was abducted by Hades.”

“Ah yes. There should be one for flowers though. Or is it just nymphs?”

She shrugged – “There is a minor goddess. I forget.”

I looked it up as I sat down this morning after sniffing a couple of roses in the garden. Antheia is the greek goddess of flowers.

I was out walking with the daughter on a trail. She was telling me about a fascinating piece of fan fiction she read about the lives of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. Told from the perspective of Remus Lupin, it was truly amazing. A deer grazed in the river bed now overgrown with shrubbery, while the stream-like river played host to herons and geese. It was fitting setting for the story of The Marauders who first made their appearance in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

I stooped to sneeze. “You know? I think you deserve this!” she said, looking severe. That child has the heart of Minerva McGonagall. Her lips looked thin and her eyes had just a hint of a smile that could not be displayed for wanting to look stern.

“Do you really have to sniff every flower when you know you have allergies?”

“But I do! Just see this my dear. A spider has patiently woven its web within the petals of a narcissi bloom. What is that story of the Ariadne challenging that Greek goddess?”

“You mean Arachne challenging Athena.”

“Yes…really how perfect these spider webs are! As an engineer, I admire the tensile strength, as a artist, I love the clean nature of their work, as a minor creepy crawlie phobe, I want to squeal, and as a clean freak,  I know I clean out cobwebs, but it makes me wonder every time about the nature of work. The constant doing and undoing of it all. It all seems so haphazard, but nature is so intensely productive in its being, no.” I said and then told her about the book I was reading just then.

Titled The Tree, it is part meditation on nature, part autobiographical detailing the relationship with the author and his father, and their differing views of nature. His father was quite the productive fruit producer in his narrow strip of land in the city, while the author’s love for trees bloomed away from the structured fruit producing expectations – in the wilder countryside.

On the walk, in the meanwhile, I pointed out the resourcefulness of the vine that can jump fences and leap between trees, the flowers that think nothing of scenting the world as they go about blooming, the humming bees, and the humming birds darting about all of this with a purpose of their own. “I suppose one could spend all day thinking about these things without any sort of cogency huh?”

“Yep! Like you are doing now? You know this is where some folks really surprise me. I mean, they regularly write and put out a chapter of fan fiction every week, to this brilliant story of Lupin and Sirius I was telling you about. ”

“Yes and look at humankind’s imagination through the ages. All those myths and stories of nymphs turning into rivers, and running through worlds and sprouting off into geysers. ” We walked back in admiration of writers and poets. Oscar Wilde, the daughter’s favorite poet and his life, William Blake, Greek myths, her re-reading of The Song of Achilles, Harry Potter characters all contributed to a magical spring-time saunter.

Imagination and Creativity are always enthralling themes to engage in. How do you cultivate it – are we born with a natural gift that we then need to prune and cultivate like the trees the author’s father looked after or does it thrive and bloom like Antheia’s flowers in the wild?

No fruit for those who do not prune; no fruit for those who question knowledge; no fruit for those who hide in trees untouched by man; no fruit for traitors to the human cause. – John Fowles, The Tree

A Sky Full of Bucket Lists

April is Poetry Month apparently. It is also the month that hosts Earth Day, the one day we dedicate to saving the only home we know, Earth. As far as I am concerned, they are all excellent themes for the month bursting with the prospects of Spring. It has been an unusually hot spring, but that does not detract from the beauty of the season.

This is the season for life’s stirring: Poetry and Earth are both what lend credence to our human experience, and possibly dolphin experience. (As regular readers of the blog know, the dolphins have poetry whose tonal vocal content is equal in size to the Illiad or the Odyssey.) 

Read also:

Carl Sagan’s Essay on his interactions with Elvar The Dolphin
Epic of Whalayana – Carl Sagan

What better time than to write about a book that has been in my thoughts so often since the first reading? A small book of Haibun poetry steeped in the experience of living on Earth.

My review on Amazon:

A Sky Full of Bucket Lists is one of those books that has found a place on my bedside table. Every time, I need a glimpse of life, the slim volume is there to allow me a peek into the life of a fellow human-being in a very different situation. Written by a poet whose empathetic life experiences with social work shape the words on the page, this book is worth reading and re-reading. Shobhana Kumar reminds us that being humane is what makes us human. Charming, heart-rending, profound and simple.

A Sky Full of Bucket Lists seeps into your day as you go about the busyness of living. 

The incorrect font, the cross dresser, the neighbor in hospital, , the alcoholic, the abusive or the the true friends who give more than one deserves. It seems Shobhana Kumar has a haibun for a wide range of human living. The poignant note to her father is an especially special one. (Dear Mr Raaga) 

Sometimes, at night when I am too bushed to read anything long or heavy, I instinctively reach out to A Sky Full of Bucket Lists. The humanity manages to seep through the pages and into your consciousness. They say reading makes one more empathetic. Reading the experiences of someone who has seen so much, suffered through so much, and yet, has the time to not just care for a fellow being, but care deeply and share it with the world, is a gift indeed.

Whether the first cave painters realized the art form could encompass human living, I don’t know. Every time I look into the book, something attracts: why this picture for this Haibun? How did she know my yearning for a library and how I sniff the books to get the children to love them as well? How did she detect the ‘poetry that settles into corners’ and give it words? Is there a thread that runs between every different piece, or is it just the shared experience of being human on a planet that hosts millions of lifeforms?