Tea!

“There is some Tea in school, and everyone is acting really weird!” said the daughter announcing her entry into the house a couple of years ago, dumping her school bag where it must not be dumped.

“Oh – did you have some? Did you like it?” I said a trifle too eagerly. I am a tea-lover myself, and have been trying to get some company in the house whenever I brew the marvelous beverage. All efforts have fallen flat thus far. The husband likes coffee, and the children swear by chocolate flavored drinks (the teenager also has her tongue out for Boba – a heady mix of tapioca pearls and sugar that suddenly coasted into popularity like the record albums of these young artists you had never heard of before.)

If I could exalt any beverage to Divinity, I would pump for the humble Tea.

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I have been teased multiple times about High Tea and every now and then pick up a Miss Read book for she properly exalts Tea and the ritual of Tea drinking:

“The very ritual of tea-making, warming the pot, making sure that the water is just boiling, inhaling the fragrant steam, arranging the tea-cosy to fit snugly around the precious container, all the preliminaries lead up to the exquisite pleasure of sipping the brew from thin porcelain, and helping yourself to hot buttered scones and strawberry jam, a slice of feather-light sponge cake or home-made shortbread.”

“Isn’t Tea just marvelous?” I said again, for the scholar had lapsed into a silence.

“Generally, I am like not opposed to like Tea as long as like it doesn’t like you know like hurt anyone, but this time they are all like acting so weird! I mean like come on! Like nobody is going to remember it like next week!” she said liberally sprinkling the ‘likes’ in the sentence.

I was fogged. When had Tea hurt anyone?

“Please! Please! How many likes will you put into a sentence that doesn’t need ‘Like’ A.n.y.!” I said carefully quoting the ‘like’ in my sentence with air quotes. “If I were to write out that sentence, no one would give you any Tea!” I said, looking proud of myself for bringing the topic of disc back to the marvelous beverage of my dreams and likes.

The daughter looked at me with the tender look one reserves for the dim-witted, and tousled my hair. “Oh! you don’t know what Tea is right?”

I drew myself up. I may not have any accomplishments of note in other areas, but in the area of Tea, you could not say that. “ I am not just boasting about the fact that I can be counted upon to have Tea with Friends any time, I also take pride in knowing some friends who know all about Tea! The Nilgirisis a major producer of the divine drink – the beautiful hills does not only use its marvelous climes to produce this drink of the gods, but also nourishes the people who have the luck of calling the hills their home, you know?” I said looking proud of myself. “And – and I am not done yet! Though I may not be able to tell you the process and the differences in tastes of the different types of Tea, there are plenty of good friends of mine who can. “

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“You’re just salty that your posts on Tea don’t even like get half as many ‘Likes’ as the number of likes in my sentence!” she said.

Ouch!

“OOOOHHHH!” said the cheering squad witnessing the exchange in the kitchen.

“Okay – Like I told you before: you really need to listen to what I say more closely! Anyway, like I was saying: Tea is mildly annoying stuff that isn’t great. It isn’t as bad as Gossip …” she said, knowing how I will frown upon gossip. “but sometimes can start bordering on that line.”

The English Language is ever evolving and fluid language is marvelous to behold. Really Tea is essentially a social activity, even though we have taken to gulping it down to and from meetings in the most unceremonious manner these days. What I would do to have a proper Tea Time marked in the calendar to catch up with friends instead of this frenzied gulping? So, I suppose using Tea as a word for this essential yet inessential banter is amusing and I must appreciate the folks who thought of using it for this purpose.

I remember enlightening my parents on my trip from College about adding Pongal & Kadalai to our jargons.

In college, I found to my amusement that Kadalai and Pongal did not mean groundnuts and boiled rice with lentils & pepper. It refers to Tea with the Gender specifications added in (You ground-nut-ted when with the opposite sex, and Pongal-ed er rice-lentil-with-pepper-ed with those of the same sex)

Essentially, these refer to non-essential communications that are essential. They are the stuff that link us humans together – one groundnut, lentil piece, or cup of tea at a time.

Language and stylistic constructs will continue to evolve, and that is as it should be. Our languages will continue to merge, diminish, and ebb and flow with our populace and time.

“I’d like to sip some Tea while listening to your Tea dear!” I said finally looking proud of myself.
“Good one Amma! Waiting to say that haven’t you?”
“Yep! “I said. Triumph comes in tea-sized bites.

tea_with_friends

The Lover of Dusks

The sun was setting in the West as the train pulled up from a tunnel. That day, the clouds were weaving patterns of sand dunes in the skies – wispy ones strewn across the skies in no particular concentration. Definitely not corporeal in shape. Do clouds blush? These ones certainly were – they were blushing in the rosy hues of the sun, in the admiring glances given by every living being that took a moment to notice. A truly astounding sunset was in the making. The kind of sunset I would have liked to watch sitting atop a mountain, or by the seaside, watching the waters join the evening show with its myriad possibilities for reflection.

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But, like I said earlier, I was on a crowded train standing, and glad, really very glad, I was standing facing the window showcasing the sunset instead of having to face the other way. One does not always get the choice. My old heart swelled – I was never one to turn its back on Nature’s beauty. That evening, it burst forth in song. The red planet, Venus, peeped out from behind the rose-tinted clouds. However conditions are on Venus, from here on Earth, she looks marvelous in the early evening skies.

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I turned smiling to my fellow passengers to be greeted with: Nothing. If I wasn’t that euphoric, I might have despaired. Nobody looked up from their cellphones not even a glimpse into the beauties outside. I now realize how Artists feel when their best work is ignored. There the star was, shoring up extra hydrogen and fusion-ing the stores like no planet has before, to helium. The clouds, as already established, were blushing and putting on their best show, and no one looked up from their scrolling! T’was enough to make the poet in me curl up and wail. Instead, I hitched myself up and pointed the sunset out helpfully to the ones standing near me. Every one of them, when they saw the sunset, had a moment in which their pupils dilated, and they stood awestruck.

It felt like a fitting tribute to one who was reading The Little Prince by Antoine Saint Exupery at that very moment. Translated by Richard Howard, himself a poet, this rendition of The Little Prince matched the spirits of the sunset outside. The Little Prince enjoyed seeing sunsets so much – one time he actually shifted his chair multiple times around his little planet to catch the sunset 44 times.

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Excerpt from The Little Prince:

“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”

And a little later you added:
“You know– one loves the sunset, when one is so sad…”

“Were you so sad, then?” I asked, “on the day of the forty-four sunsets?”

But the little prince made no reply.”

I understood The Little Prince’s yearning for the sunset. I can be seen drooling over the sunset when the world is watching Super Bowl matches, or busy accomplishing something. I tell myself that watching the sunset is an accomplishment.

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Sunrise and sunset are times of transformations, and probably the reason we enjoy them so much. They are beautiful, do not last forever, and set the pace for the next few hours of one’s life. The beautiful transformations are always the gradual, fluid ones – the ones that can assure us of our capabilities to adjust to the coming states – good or bad. A lesson in life’s rhythms.

I came home that evening and gabbled on about the folks on the train who missed the sunset. “Just imagine! What they could have enjoyed, and instead they all looked into their devices!” I said incensed.

The daughter gave me a look of exasperation as if to say  “Did you make a pest of  yourself and point it out to others?”, and went on to enact a scene with her little brother.

Child: “Do you really want to go out today? It is so so cold! And windy!”  

Mother: “Yes! I want to catch the sunset – why don’t you come with me?” 

Child: “Nope! You are nuts – I will look at the sunset from here, are you at least going to wear a jacket or no?” says she.

Mother (shrugs): “Jackets – phsih tosh bigosh! Jackets are for weak people!””

Child: “Amma!  No. You know what, that’s it. Either layer up properly – cap, jacket, shoes etc and then head out, or you are not going to see the sunset!” she says, her lips firm, and a smile twitching at this nature-kook of a mother of hers. 

“You know? You really do become a child with sunsets and fiddle-dee-dumps!”

I laughed heartily at this compliment. Like the author says in The Little Prince: the more he sees of adults, the less he thinks of them.

“I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

I was doubling up and cackling with the children after their marvelous performance, and said smartly “Yes my dear children! Sunsets, like life, do not last forever! You want a sense of purpose? Catch the  Sunset!”

They rolled their eyes.

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Annus Confusionis

His voice  quivered with excitement as he read the page out to us. 

Never mind that it was early in the morning, and he did not yet know that the  morning tea was working its way slowly through the cells waking them up. The cells were hitting snooze like the body they reside in usually does with the alarm clock. Yes, things  were getting off to a slow start in the old body. The son, in sharp contradistinction, woke up like a light bulb switched on to full power with the opening of the eyelids. He shone brightly, and his vocal chords took on the  timbre of the morning bugle as he trumpeted the queer finding on Time. 

“Can you imagine a year with 445 days?”

“uhhhhnnnhhhuuujn” 

To this legible response, he prattled on reading aloud to us from his Encyclopedia of Queer Facts.

“Yeah! It was in the year 46 B C, King  Julius Ceaser corrected the lunar  calendar.  This year became known as the annus confusionis or the year of confusion, since the year  had 445 days! Imagine how our  school must have felt!” he said looking up from the thrilling page. 

Time has always excited him – what  it is, how do we measure it, why does it always flow forward and never backwards? 

Time

I poked my cells up into waking up – it seemed the decent things to do in the presence of such excitement.  

“Exciting huh?! Would they have increased the number of school holidays  (a 5 month summer vacation) or the number of school days?”

It must have been enthralling.  Only, school as we know it today was not in session then – schooling as we know it today only came into existence about   200 years ago to equip people with the ability to sit in one place and learn to get used to it.

So they probably continued with their statue making and war-ring even though the seasons were completely out of whack with what was happening around them. What did they name the months? It must  have been an exciting time to be on the committee determining such things! I wish I could go back in time and be a fly on the  wall for those meetings, instead of the ones I  usually go to. 

“Isn’t it amazing the  kinds of things human beings  have figured out?” I said, “And, then we used this knowledge to build on it, and build some more. I suppose it will only truly get boring when we  have nothing to keep us curious. Thinker & Tinkers!”

This was probably the conversation that inspired me to read about Nicholas Copernicus.

I have often marveled at how Thinking Mankind figured out our place in the Cosmos, the fact that Earth  is round, rotates on its axis, and so much more. After all, there were no spacecraft beaming pictures back to us then. The irony was not lost on me, that had we not figured out these things, the spacecraft could not have been built at  all. How  would we  know escape velocities and  thermodynamic thrusts and gravitational pulls in the first place?

This year is a leap year, and a reminder that we can figure out when we need years  of confusion, and when we need to just  look upon  the years of confusion benignly  to  stir ourselves towards better things. Like Jane Goodall said:

“Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony can we achieve our true potential.”  – Jane Goodall

Posts referenced in this post:

Books:

Candles in the Dark

I remember talking to a man who was our van driver in the Yucatan peninsula. His theories were astounding, and he seemed to have scoured the internet for the plausible and marvelous, completely ruling out the possibilities of evolution and what science proved to us. He was obviously a man whose love for the marvelous made him an interesting story-teller, and was probably well-received  at parties.

Here is a clip from his conversation:
’Ah! Evolution. I don’t believe in evolution as a theory. I have a theory’, said the van driver. ‘My theory is that aliens are responsible for life on earth. I think that the aliens had tried to see if life can flourish on Earth with dinosaurs.’
Four second pause.
‘And then they found them too big. The dinosaurs were too big, you know? I think that the asteroid that hit the Earth was nothing but a nuclear bomb sent by aliens. You see it all the time, don’t you?’

‘Eh… What do I see all the time?’ I asked. I have to come clean and admit that I don’t see dinosaurs all the time. Or aliens if you come to think of it, and definitely hope not to see nuclear bombs sent by the unseen aliens to hit the now extinct dinosaurs. I like a quiet life.

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I felt sorry for the man. His mind was after all curious, and he was obviously in awe of the marvelous. He wanted to know what happened to the dinosaurs, he wanted to know how we came to be. A Science education, half-heartedly imparted in the faraway days of his youth were hardly enough for him to find and keep the wonder in Science. Moreover, Science was a demanding master. Every hypothesis required proofs, validation by peers. It all proved too much for the man. He was happy enough believing that an alien race came and bombarded Earth with their nuclear missiles when they felt dinosaurs were of no use to them. We could do the same to another planet, couldn’t we?

I am currently reading Science as a Candle in the Dark – In a Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan.

In his usual manner Carl Sagan had hit the problem on its head:
We have 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.  ”

I found myself nodding along as I read: One the one hand, while we know about Machine Learning and how it is used to change our ways  of life, we do not always understand all the variables involved and how each value affects the outcomes. We do not really know the chemistry behind the medicines we take and why they work  on our biological systems, and so much more.

On the other hand, somebody had shared yet another spurious discourse given by a religious figure. This time, the man spoke glibly – his half baked theories about the nature of the Universe had his audience enthralled. The man spluttered forth a jumble of high-sounding words, and the audience cheered and applauded.

Again, the audience was looking for nothing more than understanding a complex world. A world made more complex everyday with our technologies and applications.

The truth is the world is a complicated place. Grants determine research, enabling rich businesses and corporations to drive and set the tone for research (Remember the studies where the Sugar industry completely misguided the population by funding research related to Fats instead? ) Big money corporations also have the ability to have their own research facilities, and they are not always going to watch out for the common man. (Privacy concerns by Ethicist Tristan Harris – the  former employee at Google)

More than ever, we need to find a way to incorporate Science as a way of life, and equip ourselves with Baloney Detection Kits as Carl Sagan named them. We need to enlighten ourselves – maybe light ourselves a candle in the dark.

Books: Science  as a Candle in the Dark – Demon Haunted  World – By  Carl Sagan

 

The Man Who Deciphered the Heavens

I wonder often how humanity figured out things like the Earth revolving around the sun while rotating on its tilted axis every 24 hours. Questions such as our place in the Cosmos, and our understanding of it have wracked humanity for centuries. Religions sought to answer some of these questions through myths and erroneous theories. One man though, was instrumental in moving us from a geo-centric to a helio-centric model.

How one man figured out the vastness of the Universe by contemplating the night skies with his naked eye and working diligently to find the accompanying Mathematical proof is a story well worth reminding ourselves of again.

Nicholas Copernicus was born on Feb 19th 1473, and he died in May, 1543. He was born during the times when the pseudoscience of Astrology and the science of Astronomy were regarded as one and the same. Even then, in his letters, he seems to have warned humanity against believing the astrological predictions based on appearance of comets, and planets, since there was no proof linking our own futures and the astrological happenings in the heavens.

Little is known about the man who revolutionized our understanding of the Cosmos. Copernicus was the Healing Physician for the Bishop, and the Canon (an administrator) for the Catholic Church. His private passion, though, was understanding the Cosmos and our place in it. It is poetic to imagine the man standing and observing the night skies for decades almost every night in Torun somewhere in modern day Poland, figuring out what the Ptolemic system got right, understanding Pythagorean Mathematics, scouring books of scientific interest when he had little access to them. Where they were gaps in the current understanding he fearlessly questioned never resting till he came up with a satisfactory explanation and the Mathematics required to support his own hypothesis. Copernicus expanded his initial calculations through rigorous observations all done with the naked eye. (Galileo’s ’spyglass’ as he called his early telescopes would not be available till 1610.)

Copernicus-Boissard
By Theodor de Bry – Uni Mannheim Mateo (Mannheimer Texte Online); Source [1]; Image:[2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2976063
Though he confided his findings to a few close friends, he was worried about the backlash from the Catholic Church. After all, religion put Earth at the center of the universe, and mythology made the sun ride his chariot to give us life everyday. It would have been dangerous to go all out and refute all theories at once. Man’s place in the Universe would suddenly not just become less grandiose, but downright humbling. We are small specks who happened to evolve into intelligent life on a tiny planet revolving around the sun? The very idea was scary.

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Figure of the heavenly bodies — An illustration of the Ptolemaic geocentric system by Portuguese cosmographer and cartographer Bartolomeu Velho, 1568 (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)

Finally, his friends, most persistent among them, mathematician, Georg Joachim Rheticus, convinced him to publish his volumes after checking and double checking the validity of the Mathematics accompanying his proofs. Slowly leading up to the theory of Earth being one of the planets revolving around the Sun, De revolutionizes orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) was published by a house in Nuremberg in modern day Germany.

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By Nicolaus Copernicus – Commons file De_Revolutionibus_manuscript_p9b.jpg, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58001466

Copernicus died almost as soon as his book was printed, and the book would have languished in the corners never to be read, had Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei not taken it up again. In many ways, what Copernicus feared would happen to him happened to Kepler and Galileo. They bore the brunt of the Christian Church for overturning their understanding of the world and our importance in it. But the book paved the way for further scientific research.

From Newton’s Theory of Relativity to our current forays into Space with telescopes sending us newer images of galaxies far far away, to the detection of gravitational waves, we are now in a constant state of wonder and on the cusp to more wondrous advances, all thanks to one man. One man, who believed that he could unearth the truth if he stuck with the problem, one man whose friends kept him honest and took the time to support and understand his work.

Books:

  • A More Perfect Heaven – How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos – By Dava Sobel
  • The Book that Nobody Read – Chasing the Revolutions of Nicholas Copernicus – By Owen Gingrich
  • De revolutionizes orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) _ by Nicholas Copernicus