Yet, the gingko trees went on as before. They grew leaves, they displayed them in their glorious green, and their resplendent golden yellows, till they went back to being stark stumps again.
Another year of the unexpected?
Another year of surprises?
Another <Please-fill-in-the-blanks> year.
As I pulled the husband along on a cold, rainy walk, I told him that the same time last year when we stopped to consider the bare branches of the gingko tree, we had no idea what the year would bring. The same way that we don’t know what the year ahead would bring. I shuddered a little (I’d like to think it was the freezing winds of the storm). The young gingko nearby withstood the winds without a tremor.
“Well…”, I said, donning my philosophical face. “Whatever the new year brings, there is comfort in the fact that there is a constancy in nature. The gingko tree’s seasons.”
“Pesu (talk!)!” Said the husband and laughed looking at my sincere face. I joined him. It is so easy to say these things. Why is it then so hard to practice?
Maybe we need the tree’s lessons to be more than philosophical. A little more neurological: Belonging with Trees.
I had the opportunity of visiting Jaipur and while there, a friend was kind enough to take me to the Ajmer Fort. It was a beautiful day for the fort and after the initial haggling and nuisance of guide badgering, we managed to find a guide who could explain things in English to us.
The visit was a welcome one. For all of us are mired in our daily lives, our problems looming large over the horizon, sometimes enveloping us. However, a short sojourn into the lives of those who lived a couple of centuries ago is revelatory. A spot of time travel is all it takes: Our problems do not go away but something shifts in our perspective to handle them.
Standing there, atop a hillside and looking down at the Queen’s palaces, the guide told us about the political rivalry between the queens themselves. The king, he was telling us about, had 12 queens. Each queen had her own staff (each had at least 38 maids according to the maids quarters), and obviously had diplomatic relations with her fellow queens. A delicate balance of power, respect, and information exchange ought to have existed in these very spaces. The queens were leaders in their domains: their aristocratic birth and training only able to account for their fate till they got to become queens of the raja. After that, they had to keep up their image, fight their own battles, live with the fact that they could lose their sons & husbands to war anytime, and figure out a method of survival or not if they found themselves at the mercy of the invading army.
I suddenly felt overwhelmed at the problems of their day. I am sure they received the best guidance available to them at the time, but nevertheless, they lived hard, admirable lives. To ensure that one received the right amount of attention from their king was part of the puzzle. How could you be just enticing enough for the king, and continue to be liked by the other queens? Budgets, staff management, administrative duties, leadership training for the young princes’ and princess’s .
As we stood there taking in the stories of the guide, I felt a shift in perspective with respect to my own career. It is life after all. Every one had trials and tribulations to carry on. I understood vaguely what people meant when they said that each life is an illusion (not that we suffer any less because people tell us this).
As our guide marched on through the palace quarters, he told us about various aspects of royal life. The scented waters, the mechanisms used to keep cool in a desert, the entertainment choices, the staff who protected them and finally the baths where they could relax and rejuvenate. As I peered into the bath-tub of centuries ago, I could imagine them being waited on by their female attendants, and getting dressed with 42 different pieces of jewellery, before they could present themselves in public.
That evening, when I stepped into the shower for a quick rinse off, I felt a wave of gratitude. The water was hot, and the plumbing perfect. The clothing I had ensured I made it for dinner downstairs in the hotel in 10 minutes. What’s more? There were no diplomatic connotations to the color of the jeans I wore.
I felt an enormous sense of how far we’d come! Royalty may have been all well, but I think we have it better. My Royal Tea awaited downstairs and I bounded downstairs with no queenly dignity.
It was a day on which the North West monsoons were in zest. The riversides and little lakes the brother drove us through were swollen with the recent rains. He nosed the car towards lesser known off-roading trails. They seemed to beckon him through slippery slush and muddy muck. His staunch car wheeled and plunged into the side roads with gusto.
The old pater, not usually invited along to adventures in off-roading, had consented to come, and he ticked the brother off for needless adrenaline.
“It is all your fault!”, said the brother chuckling at the far away memory of 3 decades ago when the pater would pile the three of us on his scooter and take to the steep roads of the Nilgiri Hills.
The little brother,( then knee-high) would stand in front between his father’s arms peering out at the road ahead over the handlebars, myself (waist-high) between the sister and the father in the back seat looking sideways, and off we’d go on our school holidays. (The pater was a school teacher and enjoyed the same vacation schedule as we did.) As we reminisced about the good old days, the nephew pointed to a little girl clutching on to her father on a scooter nearby and asked if I was that girl. We all laughed. Yes I was. She even had her hair tightly plaited the same way, and had a maroon sweater on. More than that, she had joy writ large on her face as she felt the wind on her face. I felt like a little girl on an adventurous ride with her father again. (With the tens of pictures I clicked during that off-roading trip, the image that I retain the most vividly is this one and I did not click a picture. So much for visual diaries!)
The number of waterfalls, steep hillsides and hamlets we’ve passed are too many to count. We’d stop in small villages for a cup of tea amidst hospitable villagers in the tiny tea shops and learn of the local life. Grandmothers and mothers were present during the days, the men worked locally, and somehow every seemingly tiny village bustled with life.
“So much has changed, hasn’t it?”, I said. We were out on a weekday too, but the work spots nearer the city were bustling. “I wonder whether the villages would look deserted. That would be so sad!” I said ever the nostalgic.
The brother gave me an amused grin and said we’d soon find out as he had not gone out driving through these villages on a weekday either. The trail he was taking us on, apparently weaved through an extremely small village street – right through the main artery of the village – “almost like you’re driving through someone’s house” – as he put it.
I took pictures of bright little temples nestled under large banyan trees, cows, goats, and birds as they flitted in and out of the fields and wet trees. A little way off, we arrived at the village he was speaking of.
As we inched our way past the narrow village street, we stopped. His car was not made for these streets. There was a bike parked on one side and it proved to be too narrow for the car to pass through. While the issue was being sorted out, I waved out of the car at the ladies sitting on their verandahs nearby. They smiled back even though they seemed to be sharing an internal joke as to why people needed such fat cars. My heart warmed to the gentle laughter and kind smiles flashed back at us. This village was not deserted at all. The mothers, grandmothers were all in attendance. The men too seemed to be at work in the local fields and the scene heart-warming. I asked them in my broken Kannada if I could take pictures, and they smiled and said ‘yes’.
It was then a girl asked us in Kannada whether we’d like to stop and have some coffee. We thanked her and said we should be getting on our way, but such hospitality is the charm of rural India.
We fell to discussing similar stories of hospitality extended in various parts of India. The brother spoke of a time when he landed up haggard and dust-beaten at a restaurant on a bike trip of hundreds of miles in Northern India hoping for some food, but found out that the venue was closed off for external visitors as it was hosting a wedding that day. As he sheepishly apologized and tried to leave, the hosts would hear nothing of it. How could a guest leave hungry? Not only did they take in their dusty wedding guest heartily, but also gave him the full wedding meal planned for the family and friends in the village.
The sister told us similar stories in Africa when she’d traveled on business years ago.
I am not sure how this charm can be held as we swell in population and crowd together more closely. For I found myself wondering that the cities do seem to have lost this particular sense on more than one occasion. But if we do, then I am sure we shall bumble along with that undefinable quality of humaneness and humanity in spite of all our avarice and problems.
“For though we may come from different places, our hearts beat as one.”
Albus Dumbledore – in the movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
I hadn’t met my siblings and siblings-in-law in 3 years and this unexpected trip to see them was rejuvenating. I found myself in a bit of a jitter as I boarded the airplane. My stellar siblings, nieces, nephews, parents and parents-in-law had all come to Bangalore to spend a few days with me, and I felt my heart bursting with gratitude and anticipation.
Covid travel made for strange times, and though I was enormously grateful for video calls, phone calls, and all the different modes of communication, the ability to see and be with those you love was going to be special. Accordingly, it was an excited chronicler of lives who stepped out into Bangalore airport.
The next few days were a blur of activity.
I felt myself talking so much my jaws hurt. One particular night when the chats went late into the night, I felt my voice crack. It just sort of gurgled and went hoarse. It had to – there is such a thing as too much talking. It was a malady that struck us all this week. I suppose it happens to those who talk or sing for a living. It was a curious phenomenon for me.
a·pho·ni·a (Pronunciation: /āˈfōnēə,əˈfōnēə/)
loss of ability to speak
I was told by Dr Google about the causes for Aphonia, and I nodded along – that last part was the cause:
What causes aphonia? The main causes of voice loss are: Diseases of the respiratory system: a cold, laryngitis, cough, tonsillitis, nodules, allergies, throat cancer.Misuse of the voice: straining the voice too much or shouting.
The next day as I coughed my way into the morning, my voice refused to wake up – the teas, ginger-lemon hot waters, nothing seemed to work. I was told (with some glee if I might add) that it might be a good idea to keep quiet. I nodded wondering how I was going to do that when in a few hours, I was going to see my sister after 3.5 years.
I was correct in my apprehensions, for the next night went into the same mode. The sister and I had sore throats the next day. We croaked and moaned our way through the day, and still kept talking. It was as if a dam had broken loose and the word torrents wouldn’t stop. Finally, it had reached a point of hopeless whispering and we were still going strong.
I had a strange feeling wash over me the following day -maybe this is what a hangover feels like. Fits of good girl-i-ness overcame me and I said to the sister that, “I want to be serene and above mere emotions! You know? One of those strong and silent types who are able to convey emotions with a mere grunt and a nod. The populace listens, the masses oblige, and the powers that be execute.”
She gave me one of her looks, and chuckled, “No you won’t! To say you want to speak less, you used 3 sentences. You’re not going to be the strong and silent type. Besides, we want this one – not a buddha who nods and sshhh-es!”
With that I had to be content.
The author can be found sipping hot water and lemon teas with her heart full and throat sore for the next couple of days.
It was a mild day in Jaipur. This time of year means one can walk among the structures of the Jantar Mantar without being fried to a crisp. The guide was explaining the scientific relevance of the structures in front of us. He explained how the latitude and longitudes were determined by the astronomers of centuries ago. As we stood there calculating the angle of the sun and subtracting it from the Indian Standard Time and so on, I missed the son. This is a place that would have interested him enormously – his unswerving curiosity and awe about the cosmos and the nature of time notwithstanding, it was also a propitious time for such musings.
Earlier that day, I had cheered along with him as we sat on opposite sides of the world and watching the Artemis 1 launch and take off to the moon. Every time the launch had been delayed, he had had a small pang of disappointment. But this time, his eyes shone: “Amma, even if you have a meeting, please just make sure that you watch it. It will be at …”, and he went ahead and calculated the local time for me. Accordingly, I sat in my room watching the launch and cheering with the fellow.
His eyes shone, triumphant as he caught the excitement of the launch with periodic updates from NASA. I told him that I was going to a place that he would really like later that day and he asked me to enjoy it on his behalf. An astronomical marvel from centuries ago. A place where astronomers had mapped the skies with accuracy and skill.
As I stood there watching the different structures and listening to our guide as he explained how each worked, I also derived small pleasures in seeing that his own narratives often confused astrology and astronomy. (Humans have always been wracked by problems: If, along the way, they tried to understand the sources of their trials and tribulations as something beyond them, who could blame them? ) Nevertheless, it was humbling to see how the astronomers of centuries ago had managed to get their recordings and data accurate to such a high degree.
That rocket launch of a few hours ago was a cumulative building of dreams and imagining worlds beyond what is known to us. Dreams that started with the ancient homosapiens wondrously mapping the skies, and millennia of human evolutionary interest in the heavens.
Carl Sagan quote :
“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”
– Carl Sagan
How many such dreams are being hatched as we speak? I read a children’s book: Ara, The Dream Innovator – By Komal Singh, that tried to capture the importance of Dreams. It was business-oriented even for a children’s book. The startup language of funding and patents and all the rest of it somehow did not quite capture the magic of dreams, but it was a good book nevertheless.
We do not know how many dreams are being hatched today that have the potential of being realized in the near or far future. So, I am all for going to places that nurture these fantastical sojourns into our dream consciousness.
I took my book, Writing For Your Life by Anna Quindlen to a cafe to read. The essay I happened to be on at the time was about Narrative Medicine, and the benefits of writing the stresses and reflections of life from our often stressed and there-when-folks-are-most-vulnerable medical professionals.
Dr Rita Charon started a program titled Parallel Charts wherein medical students wrote their own experiences and charted their days out with information that would not appear on a medical chart. For example there was one instance of a young resident who felt a stab of personal pain every time he walked into the room where the patient was suffering from pancreatic cancer. The patient reminded him too much of his deceased grandfather who had died from the same disease a few months earlier; or the nurse who wrote about her mind wandering at the delivery of a first-time mother: ‘it’s her first baby, it isn’t going to be a slip-and-slide’.
This kind of narrative writing is crucial not just because we may lose such lucid moments to the passage of time, but also because we do get to cement our learnings and experience while writing it out. Our learnings for the future if you will. Unfortunately writing is not easy. It requires patience, steadfastness and an active determination to set your thoughts into words.
In the words of Anais Nin :
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
I have often written about what a lifesaver writing has been. I got to treasure the truly hilarious moments of life multiple times over and I am sure I would not have remembered half of it had I not written it all down. To think that I have only recorded a small measure of life continues to be a yearning. I can blame time, resource and ability and many more limitations. However, it is equally required to experience life in its fullest forms to be able to jot at least some of it down. And thus life goes on. Not writing half as much as I’d like, but writing enough to give me a hearty glimpse on times gone by and the many joys, triumphs, trials and tribulations that it bought along its wake.
Note: I was humbled to read that many authors have a daily output of nearly 10000 words. Truly astounding.
It is a pity that this exercise of Narrative Medicine is not more widely practiced in other areas of life. Any body who is in the position of guiding or caring for another human being – teachers, coaches, mentors, leaders, managers, nurses, doctors, therapists, counselors, lawyers, tax accountants, parents should all have this in their toolkit to cope, better ourselves and enjoy the passage of time.
I am an engineering leader, and having had the benefit of being shaped as a leader by companies that had a human interest, means that I do take an active interest in the people on my teams – the ones I directly manage and the ones I interact with.
This was often a refrain in my team meetings and I still think it is true: We may forget the actual work we did or how it was done, but we will never forget who we accomplished these things with!
This is the human experience and to have leaders who are able to see us for who we are: human beings with potential to do good, is the best thing that can happen to us. I know many who would scoff at this and write this off as corporate humdrum, but I can vouch that when you know a team-mate’s visa is up, or their child is undergoing surgery, or their insurance running out means tumultuous times for their dependents, it only makes us grow as humans to see these situations and help manage through them.
If, at the end of the day, we do not remember the humans who helped shape our thoughts and feelings, we may as well be replaced by AI bots.
After all, we are all broken in different places and as I glanced up at the board in the cafe that day, the clairvoyance of it in the context of narrative writing was unmistakable.
“Let my troubles be the cause of someone’s laugh, but let not my laugh be the source of someone’s troubles.” – there truly was a wise restaurateur at the helm.
November is usually a month of gratitude and it is one of my favorite months for this particular reason. We do have a lot to be grateful towards even when many things seem to be out of shape and awry.
The world seemed to be losing its marbles all at once. The world of work, economics and egos were all swirling in one large vat of turmoil. I suppose it isn’t too much to confess that all one wanted to do at the end of it all was to curl up in a neat nourish-n-cherish sized hole. But. Life goes on. The sun does set, the moon does rise, and in that safety of time lies our path forward. If ever the seasons have taught us anything, it is that life goes on and life brings changes. (visualize the tunes from the Cars movie for that line!)
I found that my friends, stellar and wonderful as I have always known them to be, were often my buoys during this time. Their generous natures, optimistic outlook on life, pragmatic suggestions, were all reminders that the world is made of wonderful people though we often are at the mercy of the not-so-wonderful at times. With every text message, phone call, or the gift of their time, I found my gratitude for them growing. When I was too upset to talk about the events of the day, they gave the whole topic a wide berth, and worked their magic through their comforting presence instead.
I was grateful also for those who I know would have thought of me, and refrained from asking me about events and giving me the space.
“Close friends are truly life’s treasures. Their presence reminds us that we are never really alone.”
Vincent van Gogh
We just finished watching a Harry Potter movie and fell to discussing the beautiful nature of friendships and how our worlds are much richer because of this simple human bond. I can wish for nothing more than genuine friendships for every body as we pass through this life. The ones we grow old with, the ones who saw each other win and fail and stood staunchly by one other, the ones you lose touch with and pick up right where you left off knowing we thought of each other way more than we spoke, and all the ones in between.
Over time, I grow fonder and fonder of our motley group of friends – they are the ones who put up with our quirks, and help us belong.
So, this post is just that: A note of gratitude to our friends. Like Abou Ben Adhem: May their tribe increase!
Novembers in Bay Area are magical. There is a promise of rain in the air, the fall colors are out and the dry sordid months of summer finally seem to be behind us. The trees burst forth in a sudden splash of color. Octobers are to Prince Edward Island in Canada as Novembers are to California. So, I have absolutely no problem in gushing like Anne of Green Gables : “I love a world with Novembers in them.”
The son and I had were taking a short break after a bike ride. We stood there admiring the way the leaves seemed to be flipping as the wind went through them when an ornithologist found us. We politely made space for him on the park bench. After a few minutes, we went on to having conversation on nature based hobbies and such.
He had with him one of those cameras and lenses that can zoom upto 714 times. The son & I exchanged glances. Could that pelican sitting on that small island in the lake be seen well with that lens then? Jack (the ornithologist cum photographer), told us indeed he could and he went on to take a few photographs to show us. We were more than suitably impressed, and he was gracious and generous in showing us how his lens worked.
I have always been in awe of those who were able to get fantastic photographs of the birds. I have several friends whose photographs have me yearning for their gift of composition. With landscapes, while I still admire the artistic compositions, with moving targets such as birds, I find the whole process fascinating. My attempts at hummingbird photography have proved to me that (a) hummingbirds are very fast – research says they can flap upto 50 times a minute and (b) my phone is usually unable to capture them flying.
But my new phone and Jack’s attempts at the photographs were inspiration enough for me to go back to mooning about the lakesides and riverfronts looking for birds. I suppose these birding photographers do this all the time, but when I did, I felt like I had developed wings myself and fluttered away – whether as an angel or a devil did not matter.
I got my first picture of an Anna hummingbird (albeit one resting on a tree), but I got a picture nevertheless. I also captured on my phone, a mockingbird, a siege of herons, a pod of pelicans and an assortment of wood ducks, grebes and coots.
The skies, in the meanwhile, look like nothing I’ve seen before( although my phone best to differ based on the number of pictures it classifies as ‘Similar pictures’). I would love to be a crepuscular artist knowing fully well that I could never aspire to the true artistry that is on display every day for us – especially during the rainy season.
I suggest everyone take some time to enjoy the rains and the clean skies and earth afterward.
I sat in the car watching the rain pouring down and feeling the sense of life’s stresses washing away. Californian rains are whimsical: one minute they beat down, maybe even give in to a thumping hailstorm, but in the next few minutes, the clouds scud away as quickly as they gathered leaving a jaw-dropping sort of blue and white clouds behind them. It is magical.
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
One such morning, the husband saw her dawdle with her cereal and bowl of milk. His own sharp eye was on the clock, and he was trying to move her along without flustering her. He asked her if he can help her with the milk, but the already-too-big-to-ask-for-help daughter said no in a saucy voice and then proceeded to take the bowl and drink the milk from it with her lips on the upper side of the bowl.
Even without the grand influences of gravity that would have had an interesting outcome. With gravity, it meant that the milk poured like a beautiful white waterfall onto her light pink pants (her favorite at the time).
Now, this set off an interesting train of events in the household. The husband saw that one word or raised voice would lead to a bigger drama and they would probably not make it to school on time. So, he pursed his lips and tut-tutted emitting a sound that sounded like (Pssskkk). He then charged upstairs, found another pair of pants, while I got her out of her dripping milky ones, and gave her a quick wash/wipedown. He threw the pants, I caught it, dressed her, and bundled her off to the car. The background music was now at a high octave and reaching a crescendo. If the signal is green they’d make it. If not, well….
A few minutes later, the husband enters looking like a warrior who’d won the latest war and beamed that they made it on time. We high-fived each other and on that high note of victory went about our day.
However, in the evening when the daughter saw us, her eyes brimmed with tears as she sat on her grandfathers lap. “You almost looked like you were going to yell at me. You said “PPSSSK” – waaah! “
The poor husband looked on helplessly as tears filled her eyes, and he almost looked like he was sorry for saying “PPSSKK!”
It has since become a joke in the house. You said “Pppssskkk! ” or “You looked like you were almost going to yell!”
Where am I going with all this you ask. Bear with me.
I have a reasonable tsundoku pile as any book-lover would. The physical pile gives me a deploring look every now and then, and when particularly powerful, I yield. But there is another pile that is online, and that never gives me dirty looks. This pile, of course, is relegated to the let’s-see-when-we-travel lot. Post-Covid – this pile has been particularly neglected.
He almost looked like he was going to say “PPPssskkkkk!” Waah waah! This poor friend had gifted me a copy of the book last year in the Kindle, and I had downloaded it dutifully.
So, you ask what I have been doing. Remembering the almost-going-to-say-pppsssskkk look and reading the book.
I must say – it all seems simple enough in theory. Do your duty and leave the rest to the Universe. #Bhagwad Gita
It seems a good lesson in the current times of economic turmoil and companies announcing layoffs etc.
You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 47
I am glad my friend almost looked like he was going to say “PPSSKK” for thinking of one’s duty and not its results seems like good advice for a week like this.
The world of news was being rocked once again. The company I worked for had already endured hard times in the news and the general feeling was one of anxiety and exhaustion.
Over the week-end, I had come for a walk by a water body that the son & I lovingly christened Reflection Pond – for you could see the skies reflected in the waters, the world from a different perspective.
There were 2 deer peeping out from within the mist and a rustling nearby indicated the hares were getting ready for some morning exercise as well.
There were a pair of pelicans who took insouciance to a different level. Yet, as they gracefully paddled on that lake, I thought of that little piece in the Fox, Mole, Horse and Boy.
“How do they look so perfect together?” Asked the boy.
‘There is a lot of frantic paddling going on beneath’ said the horse.
The Fox, Mole, Horse and Boy
As I walked back, my attention went again to the digital town square that is the sign of the times we live in. I had one of those moments that Henry David Thoreau chastised us against, for it was obvious that I brought the village (or in this case, the town square) with me.
When I realized what I was doing though, I shook myself out of this and firmly pushed these thoughts aside telling myself that shall attend to them when the time was right. I looked up from the previous posture of a head bent with woe, and that is when I saw the pelicans take flight.
There is something majestic about large birds taking flight. The little ones flit and twit with ease, while the larger ones seem to be much like our cargo aircraft. Huge, but still not half as unwieldy as our man-made designs during takeoff or landing.
By the time I fumbled for the phone for the pictures, the pelicans had flown leaving me with a sense of awe.
The clouds that paint a different picture for us every day had painted a lovely dragon or an enormous swan taking flight that day. The crescent moon in its waxing phase was shining amidst all this glory.
The pink hues against the light blue skies were enough to make the heart rejoice. As the pinks turned to orange and then grey, my spirits lifted slowly.
I had an idea for a lovely children’s book that has since morphed and evaporated like the clouds that day.
A few deep breaths made me realize that fresh air, beautiful clouds, a time of transformation are all things we take for granted, but when we do stop to think about them, they fill us with a sense of contentment.
Nature had worked its magic yet again: There is no better place to learn the lesson of Just Being.
I realize that I cannot quite capture the serenity of a walk such as this one. But I can jot down the gratitude for this magnificence so I may be able to dip into it at will.