Another World

We are back from what can only be termed an exotic vacation by the seaside, and the old brain nudged me to look for something written on marine life a while ago, and I did. I had written this post a few months ago, and forgot to publish it.

puertov

So, here is the old post while I marshal my thoughts from the vacation.

One evening over dinner, the husband asked in what he thought was a nonchalant tone whether we should go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium that week-end.

“Hmm…Did they send you the renewal plea for the annual pass?” I asked shrewdly.

He laughed and said that they had indeed.

We are as gullible as galloping oysters in fish sauce when it comes to the annual pass gab. We look and analyze the thing from all angles and figure that if we go just once more in the next year, it all makes sense and buy the annual passes. The year ahead seems to be sprawling with empty week-ends. Week-after-week, month-after-month: having nothing to do, we say why not set aside one week-end a month for the Science museum, one for the zoo, one for the natural history museum and another for ecological preservation?

Then, of course life unfolds, which in the nourish-n-cherish household has been established to be somewhat erratic, and hectic, and we are left wondering whether the weekdays with all its attendant worries is calmer than week-ends with all its hectic activity. Before we know it, the renewal plea arrives and we try our best to scramble in another visit before the annual pass expires.

“If we go straight to the Diwali party from the museum, we can work in that week-end.”, we say and scramble in a trip to the Aquarium.

Anyway, what I meant is that we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few months ago. The salty, tangy, eucalyptus-scented air ruffles your hair as you make your way towards the museum. The cawing of the seagulls and the faint smells of seals and seaweed greet you long before the wonders inside.

Observing marine life is as mesmerizing as it is mystical. Standing there in front of the large glass tanks and looking at sharks, turtles, fish of every color and variety, is magical.

There is one section where we can see jellyfish boink around. Jellyfish that are colored brilliantly, transparent jellyfish, and jellyfish that contain bioluminescent bacteria. As I was standing there marveling at the brilliance of nature, I noticed that there were patterns in the glowing bacteria. Some had patterns that if one squinted one’s eyes resembled constellations in the night sky. I don’t know whether the patterns in the jellyfish are unique to each one much like the Zebra’s stripes are, but it would definitely not surprise me if that were the case. Nature’s patterns are as varied as they are diverse.

We came home that night, reluctantly pulling ourselves away from the enthralling environs of teeming marine life, and sat around for a hastily thrown together dinner. The conversation drifted towards marine life, a topic that is dear to the daughter’s heart. The love started young as we know to our chagrin – we might have watched Finding Nemo five hundred times when she was growing up. Every little fish and piece of coral was much loved in the home. The conversation flitted dangerously close to the ‘I wish I could live in the sea’ theme. The husband watched us for a moment and said in a strangely ruminative tone: “It is a scary world out there isn’t it? A-fish-eats-fish world.”

I was reminded of a quote that floats up in my mind every so often when I am observing the world around us. A quote that is prominently placed in the Monterey Bay Aquarium too:

The sea is as near as we come to another world: Anne Stevenson

Yes, it is a fish-eats-fish world, but it is also the world of beauty, survival, co-existence, and a symbiosis of life.

From Dostoevsky to Dr Seuss

uOne evening, I arrived a tad grumpier than I’d like on a spring evening. That day on the train, there was some commotion ahead of me, and I heard a person rudely shout and say, ‘What are you all doing here? Go back.’ His pugnacious intent scared people. He stared at me and shouted. I was unnerved, Then he looked at another one and shouted at her too. In the peak hour rush, he lay there sprawled across two seats and shouted down at everybody. Another one of those people who was spewing hatred post-election. It was a sad sight, and my senses were more alert than usual.

Hate is a virulent organism that thrives on people’s inclination to adopt it. In fact, if you do not put up an active resistance towards it, it will consume you.

A few weeks ago I read, Dr Seuss and Mr Geisel, the biography of the beloved author, Theodore Seuss Geisel or more famously Dr Seuss.

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In the early chapters, one realizes how bigotry and hatred are vicious poisons that can affect people more deeply than we realize. Ted was a school going child in Springtown, Massachusetts, when the first world war started. The Geisel’s were first generation German Americans and though they were citizens at the time of war, it turns out the world around them did not treat them kindly. It is disheartening to read that young Ted Geisel was persecuted for his lineage. He never really got over the nickname he was given as a child, The Hun.

Outings grew rare as Germany became the common enemy and nativist prejudices arose; German Americans sought whatever anonymity they could. Ted and his sister, Marnie, grew even closer, sharing advice on how to cope with taunts on playgrounds and sidewalks.

This boy went on to write books that are loved and adored by children of all races, religions, nationalities and backgrounds. His books only asked for an open mind whether it was imagining an elephant gingerly climbing up a tree to hatch an egg, or a rajah taking a walk down Mulberry Street.

To think that a century later, we are still labeling entire swaths of humanity with these broad labels is deeply concerning. To parrot a divisive slogan is easy, but true growth comes when we question what is being parroted to us.

Our narratives matter, for they become history, and history then forms the basis of our myths. In this beautiful essay by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Dostoyevsky on Good Fellows – Brain Pickings), he says :
It is our responsibility as human beings, to peer past the surface insecurities that drive people to lash out and look for the deeper longings, holding up a mirror to one another’s highest ideals rather than pointing the self-righteous finger at each other’s lowest faults.

Why was that poor man shouting at people on the train? And how can we resist succumbing to this fate?

Dostoevsky:

Judge [the people] not by those villainies which they frequently perpetrate, but by those great and holy things for which they long amidst the very villainy.

Coming up next: We cannot and must not hate in the plural. A lesson taught by one of my favorite authors, P.G.Wodehouse.

P.S: Also listen to this commentary on German-Americans on the centenary of American entering the First World War: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=523044253

Drones on Kaapi Conspiracy?

The news, is and has been somewhat of a Debbie-Downer and I have kept clear of it. We have instead been listening to heartening material such as Horton Hatches The Egg. This morning, I switched to NPR, and as usual, the news was ready with a bucket of cold water to pour on my head.

The correspondent droned on about how companies in the USA are rethinking employees’ travel plans given that people are made to give up their phones, laptops and even social media usernames and passwords. This was an idea that was floating around in late January:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/white-house-foreign-visitors-social-media-accounts-article-1.2958851

This idea of asking for social media profiles is abhorrent to me, given that we are further enabling algorithms to slice and dice the populace based on one’s likes and dislikes. But I burst out laughing while listening to it, and probably had folks wonder why.

Lexicon: Maama: Uncle; Maami: Aunty; Kaapi: Coffee

Let us assume Kittu Maama is planning to visit his daughter in the Golden Land of the USA to celebrate his 70th birthday with his grandchildren. Kittu Maama has been flagged as having strong opinions on Sasikala, Filter Coffee pronounced Kaapi and Dasavatharam (still baffled whether his views are on the movie or mythology).

In any case, they being the Esteemed and Respected Parents of Silicon Valley Engineers of Indian origin, the administration rubs their hands in glee to data science the heck out of this one.

That’s when the Mannar & Mannar Coffee Conspiracy comes to light.

Kittu Maama and Maami’s social media posts are intriguing.

Day 1: Shared: Good morning – filter coffee is good.

Day 2: Shared: Good morning – filter coffee is the best.

Day 3: Shared: Good morning – filter coffee.

Day 4: Shared: Good morning – filter coffee is very good.

Filter_coffee_South_Indian_style

Riveting as these posts were, investigators are unable to fathom the train of thought here.

(a) The posts are being shared from someone’s feed, and this person does not seem to rank high on Kittu Maama’s or his wife’s list of adored folks. Baffling. Why would they go and share it everyday?

(b) The original photograph on closer examination (after using sufficient zooming techniques), had inscriptions on the coffee cup that translated to, ‘This cup was stolen from Muruga Vilas.

Could Kittu Maama be tipping off gangs on stolen silverware?

A few days later, Kittu Maama’s daughter calls from the USA, and asks how they are doing. “What is with your coffee posts everyday?, “ she asks.

The investigators on the nose of this Mannar & Mannar Coffee conspiracy case pick up the dials on the board: Phone calls being made and substance being discussed. Tap and apply algorithm. Quick.

“You only said that we should share if we like something? I don’t know why he puts coffee out everyday, I know Ambujam Maami does not make filter kaapi like that.”, said Mrs Kittu Maama alias Kittu Maami.

To which Kittu Maama chimed in, “Yes, in fact when I go there, I hastily say no to coffee. I stop at Saravana Bhavan on the way back and have good filter coffee there before heading back. “

The FBI is stumped. There must be something here. Could there really be no conspiracy here? Just daughter-discussing-ditchwater-kaapi? But everyday on Facebook, and on International Phone Calls?

A dial spins in the other room. WhatsApp shared: Helpfully labelled ‘Coffee joke’

Is it worth putting a drone on them?

Not just yet.

Note: While the scenario above was light-hearted and frivolous, it is useful for us to know exactly how our social media profiles have been used, and can be used in the future.

Excerpt from Nextdraft (http://nextdraft.com/archives/n20161123/turkey-shoot/)

Cambridge Analytica worked on the Trump campaign. They also worked for those in favor or Brexit. Now they’re in talks to score a couple new big contracts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Analytica

A Fairy Tale Ending

When the daylight savings time change happens, regardless of how tiring the day and the commute has been, I will pep up in the evenings. Just listening to the twittering birds on the trees outside, the sight of young trees in bloom, and the new leaves are like a soothing balm to the soul.  The children who come out to play have all invariably shot up during the winter months and it is heartening to see them revel in the evenings on their bicycles or tricycles. The hues the setting sun throws against the sky never fails to lift my heart.

It is as the poets say, only I cannot say it half as well or correctly as they do. Isn’t it something like: February goeth like a lamb and March springs in like a lion or is it March goeth like a lamb? Or something about March springing like lions or going like lions. Anyway, the point is that March goeth just like February goeth and January goeth.

I stepped into the home one evening to find the evening chaos was worse than usual. Everywhere I looked, it seemed to me a bit of spring cleaning was in order. Piles of paper were on tables, coats and backpacks were strewn on sofas and floors, shoes with socks spilling out of them lay everywhere. My heart sank. I cradled my head in agony at the sight.

“There is so much junk in this house!” I said and started clearing up frenetically. The do-er is the worst, for it makes the non-doers squirm with guilt. The daughter squirmed, and the son looked discomfited.

“Oh you are cleaning up. Why, is anyone coming?”, quipped the teenaged daughter, and I moaned. I like to dispel this notion that we must clean up only when someone is visiting the old home, and I said so, loudly.

“Okay…okay…no need to get all learn-a-life-lesson-y, just asking.” The look she gave me suggested I was one screw short.

I donned my efficient look and got on with my cleaning spree keeping a running commentary up on the junk collection.

I picked up some plasticine (why do we spoil the environment with this trash?), a rubber ball (anyone plays with this still?), a torn glove(how did this beautiful glove tear and where is the other one?), a fruit bowl with what looked suspiciously like glue caked and dried(what is this? ), and a book of fairy tales that had come apart at its bindings. The pages were not held together by glue anymore, but they were still there inside the cover. (I had nothing to say but I smiled).

Heavens – how dearly I remembered the old book! The torn and tattered pages that I held gingerly in my hands seemed to take me back to those lovely spring evenings years ago when the daughter, then a toddler, would come to me clutching the large book in her hands asking to be read a story from it. The book was as large as her torso, and she tottered under the weight, but she loved the book. I knew she liked those stories so much. She listened intently, and sometimes, she would re-tell her grandfather the stories much to his delight.

fairytale

We had learnt morals, taken leaps of faith, and realized that external appearances do not matter all that much.

I looked at the torn book in my hands, and smiled again. Now more than ever, we must obsessively read our fairy tales and children’s books. Beautiful princesses can control their destiny, frogs can be princes, beasts can be gentlemen, elephants can hatch eggs and good always triumphs over evil.

Albert Einstein on Fairy Tales:

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/03/14/einstein-fairy-tales/

If Mimosa Pudica Met Humpty Dumpty

The children ask me interesting stories about my childhood every now and then. They seem to think I lived in a fairy tale and maybe I did. I find my reminiscences are often seen through the endearing lens of time ignoring the trials and strife of living in a wet, rainy, cold place. My stories often feature panthers, wild boars, and tigers. Occasionally, just to spice things up, I tell them about the different berries, clovers and exotic plants that were native to the Nilgiri Hills and they marvel at the wonders in this world and how on earth I am alive and kicking today when I seem to have used such loose food control mechanisms as picking berries to plop into my mouth. Today, when I attempt to pluck a wild berry and put it in my mouth, I am met with aghast looks and stopped with pleas appealing to my remaining sanity.

I remember being enamored over touch-me-nots too. Have you played with touch-me-not plants? If not, I suggest taking the term and tucking it firmly in the back of your brain and keep looking out for the curious species. The scientific name is Mimosa Pudica.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimosa_pudica

The fascinating little plants react to external threats by closing up their leaves as if in tune to a rhythmic heartbeat. There is something deeply soothing about watching them close their leaves to one’s touch and then open them again. To the immense delight of the children, we found clusters of touch-me-nots on our last trip to the Nilgiris and they spent an entire morning playing with them.

In the Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben cites a piece of research showing that plants learn and indeed have memories. What the researchers did was take the shy mimosa plant into the laboratory. The mimosa plant closes itself up on external stimuli. So, to see whether the plant can learn, researchers set up the plant under a steady trickle of water.

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Dr Monica Gagliano designed an experiment where individual drops of water fell on the plants’ foliage at regular intervals. At first, the anxious leaves closed immediately but after a while, the little plants learned there was no danger of damage from the water droplets. After that, the leaves remained open despite the drops. Even more surprising was the fact that the mimosas could remember and apply their lesson weeks later.

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It is a good lesson for us to learn in these times of constant interruptions, distractions, news and fake news. These are steady drips and we the mimosas can learn and adapt.

Like the mimosa plant, it may be a worthwhile skill to find methods to rise and react when required rather than when Mr Donald Trump wants to divert attention onto something other than what he wants us looking at.

http://nextdraft.com/archives/n20170320/tweet-grinder/

The last time President Trump faced an uncomfortable moment, he tweeted the Obama-phone-hack claim, and all the kings horses and all kings men went chasing after the latest tweet leaving the egg he wanted to crash to do so unattended.

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If Mimosa plants met Humpty Dumpty regularly, what would they do? It is a great philosophical question to ask oneself.

Can Llamas Use Zebra’s Mascara?

‘What can I do to help you for your play? Can I help you rehearse or give you some tips on how to render your lines?’, I asked the daughter one night. She is starring in ‘The Lion King’ musical in her school and I wanted to show my support. An act she was quite keen to avoid. We were fiddling about when I offered help, and she bucked alarmingly at this train of thought. She can diagnose an enthusiastic helper when she sees one, and she did not like it one bit.

‘No! Thanks.’, she said. Frosty and a tad too vehement perhaps, but I let it go.

‘How about ..?’

‘Amma – no! How about this? Apparently, we need to put on some make-up for the play… ’

I tchah-ed her and said, ‘We already have stuff from past years – I am sure the powder and the lipstick can be used – so what if it is a year or two or three old?’

‘Amma – there is an expiry date!’

‘Fine – we’ll check it. What else?’

‘Apparently, we need mascara – I am a hyena this time remember, so why don’t you go to the store and get me mascara? That’s help right?’, she said, and I agreed. She will make a good robotic manager one day.

Please stop me if you have heard me babble about my demented fashion sense or crocodile-crocodile before. One of the things I would have said, had I been a cosmetologist going about designing these moistening creams and so on,  was that there were so many different shades of people in the world. I mean, how do you come up with a cream that suits every complexion type? That is why the great cosmetic industry has given me a miss thus far and has prospered without my help.

Drop me in a cosmetic store and I bumble famously. Mascara, unlike facial creams, is easy. One color – black. I strode into the store with confidence. I surveyed the area and located the cosmetics section. Once in there, I balked at the lipsticks and sneered at the nail polishes and went straight to the section that has eye-stuff. Golly beans!

I mean, I had no idea, which just goes to prove that confident strides mean nothing if you don’t know the different types of eye make-up available in the eye cosmetic department. I stared limply at the multi-colored eyebrow pencils, eye pencils (they are different apparently, and I had no idea green eye liner was a thing), liquid eye liners, eye shadows, and I had not even touched the eyelid section. By the time I crawled to the eyelash section, my eyes looked like it could do with a dash of all the above to make it look peppy.

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Finally, I saw what I was looking for: extra voluminous mascara, the label screamed and one confident that mascara and eye lashes go together, picked up one number. Back in the confines of the home, I gave it to the daughter proudly, and we opened it.

‘Gee – thanks Amma – Good job!’, she said and patted me in a puppy-dog-good-doggie manner. We tore open the packaging like lions tearing their prey apart.

Something was amiss. The product we had in hand may have suited a zebra, but they certainly did not seem to be for the human eye. It was white. Do you know of any person whose eye lashes are white? So, why was this white?  Curious. Very Curious.

We pieced together the ripped apart packaging like piecing a puzzle together and it seemed that this white colored voluminizer was meant to fluff up your eyelashes till they look like a chihuahua’s tail, and then you put the actual mascara on top to get the real effect.

This of course led to an interesting discussion in which the daughter insisted that zebras have black eyelashes, while I said they could be white in one eye and black in the other. The zebra, wherever it was, decided it was better to meditate than listen to this hypothesis.

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It turns out that zebras have black eyelashes. Humble pie tastes marvelous.

Llamas, on the other hand, have beautiful white eye lashes. But the last time, a meditating zebra checked with a llama, it did not want our mascara. Plus, the Lion King play has no place for llamas, and it is too late to change the script.

I am heading back to the store. Let me know if you’d like anything.

An Elephant is Faithful 100%

“Ughhh! Amma, why is this boy so bright in the morning?” moaned the daughter. The daughter and I are slow to rise and shine. The eye first creeps open, the bath helps a little but not much. By the time, we muster the energy to throw our weight around, it is mid-morning. We are like sunbeams trying to break through a misty, foggy, cold morning. The husband and son, on the other hand, are like light bulbs. When they are up, the switch is on and they beam brightly with all the wattage available. The duo look indecently chirpy in the morning and bustle around with breakfast, cracking jokes and what-not. The daughter and I exchange dark looks and shudder a bit at this exuberance.

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One morning, the son looked at me, shook his head with pity and said, “I know what will wake you up! Let’s listen to Horton Hatches An Egg”, and we did. The toddler son was cracking up with hilarious laughter in the car and I don’t care what you say about speed of light being a constant and all that, I must confess that the sun beams broke through the misty morning fog a little faster. It is a marvelous book, and takes one through the most hilarious plot of an elephant hatching an egg.

I recently read Dr Seuss and Mr Geisel, by Judith & Neil Morgan, a biography of the beloved author, Dr Seuss. Ted Geisel confessed that he saw the world through the ‘wrong end of the telescope’ and  he seemed to have stayed in touch with his childlike curiosity and joy through life.

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Ted’s family was well-off. His father, after running the successful family business for several years, later worked for the public parks system with access to a zoo. He puts many of his influences down to the natural loafing around in the countryside with access to animals as a child. His mother, had a knack of reading things in verse to him in a way that stuck in his brain. Over his brilliant career, he would combine both these influences in a charming manner to enable an entire generation to love reading.

Reading about his foibles and his educational escapades gives a glimpse into the kind of endearing personality he must have been. Especially in the early part of the book, you see the boy and young man Geisel was not exactly a Grade-A student. From an early age, he exhibited a wonderful personality with humor, zest and curiosity.

His college sweetheart, and later, wife, Helen Palmer, was the first person to suggest to Ted that he may be better off drawing and writing than pursuing an academic career at Cambridge. He says this was around the time he realized that writing and drawing were like the Yin and Yang to his work.

One day she watched Ted undertake to illustrate Milton’s Paradise Lost; he drew the angel Uriel sliding down a sunbeam, oiling the beam as he went from a can that resembled a tuba.

“You’re crazy to be a professor. What you really want to do is draw.” she blurted out. She glanced at a cow he had drawn and said, “That is a beautiful cow!

Praise from one you love is truly lovely, and it set him on the course of his career.

Ted was used to taking brisk walks during frequent breaks from his studio in La Jolla, California. One time, he accidentally left a window near his desk open. When he came back, he saw that one transparent sketch had flown over the other, resulting in a strange juxtaposition of an elephant sitting on a tree. This set off a magnificent thought process in his head. What was the elephant doing on the tree, why, hatching an egg of course. Why is he there – what happened to the mother bird and so on. What resulted after months of mulling this train of thought and multiple revisions is the brilliant book, Horton Hatches The Egg.

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”

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Image Source: Wikipedia 

If you haven’t read it, please do so. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient to living: Dr Seuss.

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Coming up next:

Ted was a school going child when the First World War started. The Geisels were first generation German-Americans and though they were naturalized citizens at the time of war, it turns out the world around them did not treat them kindly.