The Moment of Lift – By Melinda Gates

About a decade ago, a couple of colleagues and I were having a lunch time conversation that veered towards those you will like to emulate and meet in your lifetime. As expected the list was full of celebrities, billionaires, eminent scientists and some folks, I had not heard of before. Some of them wanted to meet someone already dead if possible, and others chose people whose fields I found interesting.

When it came to my turn, I said, “Melinda Gates!” without hesitation as if the answer had been there all along just waiting to be asked. I was somewhat taken aback at how sure I was of the answer. After all, I had not given much thought to the question before, and I admired many people from different walks of life. The work of Bill & Melinda Gates through their foundation – understanding societal issues with an empathy and energy that shot them to the top of their fields in Business, is a real-life fairy tale that we are blessed to see unfold in our lifetimes. But there was more: I was inspired by her. It must not be easy being the wife of a world renowned personality and still hold her own, working to invest their considerable time and energy to making the world a better place. This, along with raising 3 children of their own.

Over the following years, my admiration for the couple has only increased. Like many others, I look forward to their annual newsletter, I watch amazed as other billionaires follow their path of philanthropy, and I certainly look forward to their book suggestions.

When I saw Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, therefore, it was a no-brainer to read the book. I was prepared to be inspired, but the book did more than that. I was humbled, inspired, encouraged, heart-broken, and hopeful – all within the 300 odd pages of her book.

The introductory chapter had me with the simple line, “Sometimes all it takes to lift women up, is to stop pulling them down.” – Melinda Gates

moment_of_lift

The book is peppered with the story of brave women across the world; heart-breaking tales of poverty and misogyny; and inspirational NGO’s that have helped make their lot better.

Whether it was the story of Malala that we have all heard of, or the stories of people like Ruchi, Sister Sudha Varghese, Kakenya, Mama Rosa or Hans Rosling, every one’s journey that has been included, I am sure, speaks for hundreds of others with similar backgrounds.

The empathetic and analytical nature of the Author shines through in the words, and I must say, I could not help feeling a Moment of Lift as I saw hope pierce through the pages, as she makes the effort to include marginalized people.

Albert Einstein wrote, No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Melinda Gates’ book increases our level of awareness on several fronts. How her journey morphed from decreasing infant mortality rates to one of women empowerment; enabling family planning, access to health care and education is a powerful one, and I am very glad she decided to pen her growth and journey as a Philanthropist.

Beavers & Skunk Weeds

We were out in the mountains, and had stopped for a little walk into the wilderness. Stellar jays popped in and out of the bushes. The marshes ahead had water logging the path, and in the beauty of the day, that too became an adventure. We plopped into the water, squealing as the snow melt felt its way through our shoes, past the socks and then our toes. 

It was the perfect spot for The Wind in the Willows. There was a swift flowing river, the marshes nearby looked supple and full of life. “Look! There is a water-mole!” I said pointing to swift movements in the river. We peered to the movements in the opposite bank looking excited. I was quite prepared to find the water rat and the mole enjoying a cup of tea together after sailing down the river on a wooden boat. 

IMG_2861

“How do you know it is a Mole Amma?” said the young son looking at me with awe.

“Why – by looking at it of course!”, I said confidently, forgetting for a moment how nature always finds a way for me to eat my words, and in this case was quite eager to do so within a mile.

It was a marvelous day – with a touch of Spring still about. The nippiness in the air did not smell Summer just yet. It seemed to be just the sort of day to abandon Spring cleaning for a glorious day outside with one’s friends. I know that was what I was doing and not a bit guilty too. This is what days like these were sent for.

“To walk on Earth and fall in love with it. “, as Mary Olivers would say.

We had the most pleasurable hour discussing The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Some books are blessed with gloriously sunny spirits. I thought of Kenneth Graham’s words that it was a book meant for those who want a whiff of childhood. He said, it was

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

 

img_2850

I looked around me rapturously taking in my surroundings. What better place to imagine looking for Toad, Mole, Badger, and Rat? This was a beautiful setting with a fast flowing river, probably making its way into the larger lake below, and the fertile river marshes were thick with forest cover – the area of transitions as it were.

wind_in_willows.jpg

Where the marshes meet the river, 

Where the river meets the lake, 

Where the brush meets the forest,

Where the distant clouds meet the snow capped mountains,

Where Spring meets Summer

In short, a place

Where the spirits meet the soul

Walking along this setting, I was thinking of the beautiful concept of Biomimicry and all the wonderful things such a place can teach us. 

The Magic of Biomimicry

screen-shot-2017-06-02-at-9-37-47-am

As if nature heard my thoughts, within moments we heard a family talking about
Skunk Weeds. This was the first we had heard of Skunk weeds. The grandmother behind us on the trail was telling her grandchildren that if ever there were stuck in the mountains and in dire need, they should consider skunk weed instead of toilet paper. I looked at the weeds they were pointing at, and they did not look soft. The leaves looked like they had a scratchy texture, and we giggled at the unsaid thought of the effect it would have on already sore bottoms. Dangle a piece like that in front of school going children who like reading Captain Underpants, and it is easier to keep a kettle of boiling water from singing and bubbling.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!” I said deftly trying to keep the conversation clean. I cannot say I had much success though. 

Skunk weed, contrary to the smells it evokes, is quite neutral smelling. It is also exceedingly soft, and surprisingly strong. 

“Ha! That should teach us not to judge something by its looks.” I said as I stooped to touch skunk weed for the 15th time. I had never encountered anything this soft, and completely biodegradable. Wet as it was with the recent rains and snow, it had an alluring freshness to it that I can imagine even now just by closing my eyes. 

img_2875

 A few minutes later, the son pointed excitedly at a sign. “Look amma! That was not a mole, it was a beaver!”

I drew up next to him to read a note pinned by the wildlife ranger that said something to the effect of: Be Quiet and nice – all of you please! We are now hosting a family of beavers!

img_2871

Luckily, I did not become a veterinarian was my private thought. But there was something so special about finding ourselves in the midst of a beaver family surrounded by skunk weeds, that the aspiring naturalist in me accepted the humorous mocking and relished the humble pie willingly.

If I were to immerse myself in this version of The Wind in the Willows, I should be ready to have my moles replaced by beavers.

 

The Moments of Weather

We had been to the mountains for a short reprieve from the demands of routine. There was no agenda. No plans or schedules. This was us taking Serendipity, that wild temptress of adventure, on a ride with us. Music was chosen by different occupants in the car and went from Carnatic music to ear-splitting yelps to Disney songs (Behind the clouds, the sun is shining!)

The weather app was equally co-operative. You are in for some rains, snow, cloudy days and possibly some sunshine was the gist. For a moment I relished that weather app. This was how our weather reports were while we were growing up, and it all added to the fun. We indulged the weather-man as he came on Television showing whisky clouds over large swaths of land, making possible probabilities with a doubt that ensured us if we rained we could thank him, but so what if it didn’t? Carrying an umbrella never hurt anyone, did it? This certainty of the weather takes the snuff out of the thing. 

I.t WILL be a 100 degrees today! *Dire Dire!*

I digress. 

Anyway, a few small-ish hikes during the day had left us with a satisfying feeling and a benevolence towards nature. The rains had materialized into little hailstones hurling themselves like joyous confetti. Then, just like that the hail stopped and the clouds scudded away revealing a smiling sun.

 

 

 

 

The next morning, I lay in bed, my plans for a walk at dawn forgotten. I snuggled in bed looking at the soft snow falling outside. The rains overnight had given way to snow in the wee hours. The grass outside was covered in a white sheet before long. I could not say how long I lay like that.

A lovely idea of all things being out in nature in all sorts of weather teaches us came to me – maybe it was a children’s book I should write, I thought. It is often the case, I get ideas, and then they go, or someone else writes them because I let it simmer too long. Oh well!

The hail taught me to wonder and squeal with joy

The mild rains made me stick my tongue out and get a few slurps in

The snow made me content for the simple pleasure of being in a warm bed as the flakes swirled around outside.

The clouds taught me to lift myself up and float

The sunny skies showed me that behind the clouds, the sun is shining (Cars movie song)

Weeks later, I sometimes found myself thinking of that morning just lying there watching the snowflakes flutter down; my heart fluttering lightly with the pleasure of thinking up another Children’s book to write. A moment in time when all of life’s little worries and tensions were pushed aside. A few golden (or silver) moments when there was nothing but the feeling of warmth in bed, beautiful thoughts, and the snow falling outside.

Then one sunny afternoon while the Sun scorched the Earth outside, I read the children’s book, Make the EARTH your companion by  J.Patrick Lewis illustrated by Anna & Elena Balbusso

img_3024-1img_3023-1

A truly marvelous book with engaging illustrations. A book of simpler times and more lasting moments to relish. Maybe I should get cracking on that book of mine soon.

The Power of Belief

“Göbekli Tepe!”, I said swirling the name around my tongue for the n-th time. Göbekli Tepe had a nice ring to it. A satisfying crunch right in the middle.
The daughter tutted impatiently.
“What is this Göbekli Tepe?! Going on and on about Göbekli Tepe! ”

“Glad you asked!”, I said and started on an explanation to her loud eye-rolls and dramatic groans.

I was reading a book on the origins of God through Anthropological history: God by Reza Aslan. His theological musings date back to the first homo sapiens. He sets forth theories and tries to piece together the origins of the concept of a soul separate from the body. A consciousness higher than one’s own that probably gave rise to the concept of Gods.

god_reza_aslan

Reading about the ancient humans trekking to Göbekli Tepe is fascinating. Built over 10,000 years ago, it is the oldest known temple. Shaped to match the shape of the old hunter in the skies, the pillar of Sirius is especially tall. I can imagine not only the lure of the night skies for the hunter gatherers of yore, but also the seemingly curious rhythms of day and night. The location of the constellations themselves shift by season with the movement of the Earth around the Sun, and therefore, deriving any sense of regularity in itself must have felt divine.

 

gobekli_tepe

The Temple of Göbekli Tepe: Oldest Temple Built to Worship The Dog Star

I said as much to the children as we were hanging about the kitchen doing this and that. “Isn’t the concept of God a leap of faith? Huh! Get it? Leap of Faith! Get it?”

A low moan revealed that she got it, and then she tried to pivot the conversation to areas of interest to her.

“Which of the Greek Gods is your favorite amma?”
The children are ardent fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and they often come up with questions like this. I read some of his books in order to keep up.
I looked at their faces, and said quite truthfully, “I don’t know whether I have any favorites. They all seem to be such jerks, at least in these stories!”
“Amma!”
“Well it is true. Aren’t Gods supposed to let go of their own Egos and all that? I mean they spar so easily. Oh! Oh! Did you say that? Okay! Okay, I am the God of Thunder. Here is a Thunder Bolt to strike down the mountain on whence you stand! – I mean, Come on! What is that even supposed to mean?” I said theatrically throwing hammers Thor-style.

The son laughed raucously. His eyes widened a little at the conversation. I know the little fellow took to the concept of a God without being led to it in any form – a trait we found highly amusing. We are not a religious household by any means, so it was clearly not a case of nurture. The daughter has a more lackadaisical view somewhat akin to my own.

The concept of a God – one or many Gods has always intrigued me. I am an amused, and sometimes annoyed, spectator when it comes to seeing how the religious peg themselves on a pedestal higher than others by virtue of their beliefs.

I am curious how different people take to the concept of a God more easily than others.

I am also humble enough to accept the Power of Belief.

I told them about how the concept is so intertwined into our collective consciousness from so long ago, that one can’t really try to imagine all the ways the concept finds its ways into our thoughts.

“It is everywhere!”, I said, and told them about how I remember the mother telling me as she looked on lovingly at the then newborn baby of mine smiling in her sleep. She said the story is that God came and gave the child a lotus in her dreams. Hence the newborn smile.

“If that were true, how would we know? You certainly weren’t saying it. In fact, you probably contorted your face into a spasm that we thought was a smile.” I said.

I have often wondered what the first thoughts of consciousness are for human-beings. Is it being self-aware, or is it in the feeling that we are one among the great biosphere? Do mosquitoes think that way? Do trees and bees?

What, Why and Where is God to you?

Read also: The Beauty of Questioning