This article was published in The Hindu
Some of my articles, especially ones that involve the night sky have me pondering on the nature of our existence and how minuscule we are in the scheme of things. The precise sequence of things that led to this particular form of life on this planet and so on. Generally, the night sky is simply a becalming experience that inspires humility, and some vague musings.
The scale of the universe is one that is awe inspiring. We are minuscule compared to the universe, but we also contain millions of minuscule particles compared to our own size. As far as the microbes are concerned, we, each of us: deer, goose, humans are a universe unto ourselves. There is something deeply spiritual in that : we contain multitudes and we enable multitudes. The diversity and beauty of the microbial world is immense, and one that is still emerging in our understanding of it. With the sound of rain pattering outside, I was sitting snugly inside reading I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong, stopping every now and then to read out an interesting piece to the children.
Ayar padi maligaiyil thaai madiyalil kanrinnai pol ஆயர்பாடி மாளிகையில் தாய் மடியில் கன்றினைப்போல் maya kana thoongugindran thaalaelo மாயக்கண்ணன் தூங்குகின்றான் தாலேலோ Avan vaai niraiya mannai undu mandalathai kaatiya pin அவன் வாய் நிறைய மண்ணை உண்டு மண்டலத்தை காட்டிய பின்
Roughly translates to: Here is little Krishna, sleeping like a little calf after eating a handful of mud and showing us the universe within it.
The son played the video for the nth time on the television, and the daughter said, “Oh no – not that again. How many times will you see that video?”
“See…see here – when baby Krishna opens his mouth, his mom can see the whole universe inside it. The whole universe!” he says his eyes widening, quite unable to comprehend why this fact is not as astounding to his elder sister.
“Yes – but you said that already.”
“I always watch what you are seeing!” said the fellow stung at this accusation of hogging the television. His sister scowled, the toddler tensed and I sensed it was time for dinner before the situation escalated, and rivers of tears joined the gurgling rivers of rainwater outside.
Inside the house, we sat down around the dinner table with hot food and slurped at it. We kept getting interrupted by alerts giving us flash flood warnings, and it increased the gratitude for being inside, relishing warm food and enjoying one another’s company. Minutes into the meal, the situation had considerably lightened and the children were rolling off their chair giggling at something inane. I watched them bemused.
Countless writers have written about the effects of good food. Jerome K Jerome from Three Men in a Boat goes on to describe the effects in great detail:
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 3 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!”
What is it with food and mood? Is there a direct connection between the gut and the brain?
It turns out that there is. In ‘I Contain Multitudes’, Ed Yong goes on to write that there are now studies directly linking gut bacteria with mental well-being. We have a long way to go in understanding the role of gut bacteria. Some studies indicate reduced symptoms of depression in people with irritable bowel syndromes after consuming certain types of probiotics.
If research advances enough to diagnose certain types of borderline psychiatric patients and is able to treat them with specific types of probiotics to enable well-being, would that not be great?
An excellent article on the topic by Maria Popova here: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/08/10/i-contain-multitudes-ed-yong/
The future could hold in store for us enough advances in microbiology & genetics, to enable personalized treatment options that aims at holistic healing. That is a promising, if distant, future to strive towards.
It is estimated that every human contains 100 trillion microbes, most of which live in our guts. By comparison the Milky Way contains between 100 million and 400 million stars.
Maybe the mud that baby Krishna swallowed contained bio luminescent bacteria that made the universe inside of him light up when he opened his mouth.
Whatever it is, like Jerome K Jerome says: “We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach, Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach and diet it with care and judgement. Then virtue and contentment will come and reign within your heart.”