Clouds & Rain

Rain Rain Go Away

Come Again An-other Day

The son was plucking away at the notes on the keyboard. I recognized the nursery rhyme and said, Let’s sing it as :

“Rain Rain Come Again

We have had none To-day”

He gave me a quizzical look, and started laughing. “Is this your words have meaning thing-y?”

“Well…yes! I mean everyday the forecast starts out as 100% rain, and then by the time the day rolls over, it is down 80% and then 40%, and then a tiny squirt like the clouds are having unitary tract issues. “ I said. 

Once their guffaws subsided, I sang along 

“Rain Rain Come Ag-ain 

We have had none To-day”.

I pondered about the garden-beds knowing that they should be bursting forth with clovers right about now, and the daughter would tell me not go about removing them, as they are so pretty. I mock-sigh, but enjoy this exchange every year all the same. I love the clovers too. The three-headed beauties remind me of the resilience of life, and the sweet and sour nature of life itself. When all the world is waiting for a spring, the snowdrops and clovers are the only ones brave enough to poke their head out and take into that leap of life.

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I am so glad to say that the first proper rains of the season descended on us this week. The sounds of the rain provided a beautiful back-drop as we went about our days. At nights, I relished the sounds of the gentle pattering rain, and the smooth whishing of the trees in the backyard. 

How beautiful gentle-ness is and how different from the gale-force winds that had ripped branches off a few days earlier? 

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I took a proper walk relishing the solitude of the fresh Earth two days after the heavy rains yesterday. Clouds were everywhere and there is nothing at all that nudges the philosopher awake like clouds and the smells of clean Earth. Thousands of seeds seem to have taken the leap of faith with the waters that descended over them in the past week, and the hills were green with possibilities. The poignancy of the writing in the book, Lab Girl, By Hope Jahren, nudged me. I stood there, admiring the fresh shoots, and relishing what she wrote:

“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” – Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

The possibilities of beginning and waiting play out endlessly in our lives. Sometimes, it is with the need for action, the time to spurt forth. At others, it is in the waiting. The time for things to play out so we can gain clarity. For those of us who favor action, the waiting of the seed is an important lesson. At others, the spurting of life itself is the nudge to take the leap of faith.

I came back with that look of contentment that the family recognized: there was no denying it, I had photographs to show them, and though I recognized the medium could hardly capture the magnificence of Being There, I still reveled in showing them pictures of all the wonders I had seen. 

Sometimes, nature astounds me with variety: In one day out with nature I saw hawks, wildcats, squirrels, turkeys, deer, herons, grebes, fresh shoots of all sort of flora and fauna, not to mention the play of the light through the clouds at sunset. A friend of mine feels that animals cross our paths to send us a message. I think the menagerie I encountered was trying to send me the message that life is beautiful, if we take the time to live it fully, creatively and wholly.

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Some of the books in January had already set the message :

  • A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
  • The River Bank and other stories from the Wind in the Willows – Graham Greene
  • Friends at Thrush Green – Miss Read
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon – By Kelly Barnhill
  • The Water Princess – Susan Verde (Childhood experience of Georgie Badiel)
  • Emily Writes – Emily Dickinson and her Poetic Beginnings – Jane Yolen, Christine Davanier

That evening, the son plucked at the notes for Clouds on his keyboard, and the clouds flitted above:

See the Clouds, in the sky

Wonder how they, Fly so high!

The Girl Who Drank The Moon

I was dawdling one evening. Quite uncharacteristically I might add. For the evening walks I go on are brisk and filled with purpose: I focus on getting the day’s stresses out of my head and to appreciate the larger world around us. I arrive after these walks, therefore, a trifle breathless maybe, but mostly refreshed in mind and spirit. 

“Are you tired?”, asked a solicitous neighbor. 

I smiled and said truthfully that I had been very tired when I set out on the walk, and after briskly taking in the sights, was now rejuvenating myself in the magic of the moonlight. “Moon-Bathing!” I called it, and she gave me an indulgent smile knowing my leaning towards nature.

Sometimes, all it takes is a peek of the waxing moon, or the brilliant hues of the setting sun, or the clouds in the skies painting a thousand pictures for us, or a hummingbird flying in the light of dusk, or geese flying overhead with the light of the moon on their wings never failing to remind me of the beautiful song in The Sound of Music : These are a few of my favorite things.

All good things are wild and free. – Thoreau

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Other times, it is inordinately hard. I find it very hard to leave the village behind as Thoreau says. 

“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.”  – Henry David Thoreau

I feel the Earth works doubly hard at these times. Always granting a little something extra by the end of it all to make up for the time lost in thought and worry. The wintry evenings of the past few days have been working hard at setting my mind at ease and helping the stresses of the day take flight into the unknown tendrils of the night. Lost in space, till I can grab newer positive strands from the cosmos and replace them consciously.

That evening that I was dawdling, had been one of these evenings. The light of the full moon shone through the clear dark skies, and I felt the strength of its benign light seep into my very being. The wintry skies have the magic of starlight, but the days when the moon is also at play, the nights feel vibrant with possibilities and magic.

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Maybe I was feeling poetic because of all the beautiful poetry in the book I had just finished reading. For those of you wanting a strong dose of magic, I strongly recommend The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill.  

“The heart is built of starlight 

And time.

A pinprick of longing lost in the dark.

An unbroken chord linking the Infinite to the Infinite.

My heart wishes upon your heart and the wish is granted.

Meanwhile the world spins.

Meanwhile the universe expands.

Meanwhile the mystery of love reveals itself,

again and again, in the mystery of you.

I have gone.

I will return.

Glerk” 

Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon

It maybe because of the waxing and waning of the moon, and the fact that we have only one moon, the sheer delight of catching a glimpse of its benign light in the evening skies is magic enough. The son, as regular readers knows, is a cosmologist and a curious wonderer at heart. One night, when he was a toddler, he asked me, “Imagine how it must be to take a walk on Jupiter, and you look up and see 64 moons in the sky.

Note: Jupiter has 79 known moons, and more are being discovered.

I suppose the magic of that sort of walk must be exemplified, but for now, I am grateful for a peaceful Earthly existence, with the ability to gaze and gain peace with the one moon we do have.

Dear Democracy – 2

The week has been a hard one, and yet a joyous one. A hopeful one. 

It has been a tumultuous time in the United States and the world at large over the past half a decade, Having an unsettling leader in the highest office in one of the most powerful nations in the world does not make for peaceful living. Would we be dealing with nuclear problems tomorrow, or an another unwonted instigation, or a wanton hateful rant? We never knew. All we knew for sure was that it was often not what we could anticipate, and even when it was possible to anticipate, was higher on the seismic index of previous recordings.

As if to show us how high the bar for a leader of the free world was, the 45th President set it as his task to take us tumbling down. 

  • Was America proud of its scientific progress? He took us down to denying Science.
  • Was America proud of its unity in diversity? He divided us in every manner possible: religion, skin color, country of origin, ideology.
  • Was America proud of its humanitarian work? He dehumanized with ease and an unsettling aplomb.
  • Was America proud of justice? He fanned racial injustice.
  • Was it the land of the brave? He fanned our fears till they overtook our innate good senses.
  • Was America proud of its Democracy? He pulled us all the way down to sedition ( a word I did not think I would look up to seeing the correct usage while living in the United States). 

We are but a blip in time’s horizon, and this period may not be remembered. But it should. It should, for a mere 5 years was enough to show us what it takes to slide from a respected, thriving democracy to an autocratic dictatorship. America escaped by the skin of its teeth. 

If I were a cartoonist, I would draw one of those cartoons of the fish escaping the killer sharks in the reef only in the nick of the time when the teeth-bared shark comes biting and cannot its gets it’s nose through the narrow straits the fish got into. Jan 6th was a wake-up call, and I did not realize how much tension I was carrying pent up inside me ever since Hope raised its head the day the election results were announced and it looked like an end to the despair was in sight. That knot tightened and stayed there waiting, wondering. Even though we live far away from the nation’s capital, social media has made it all far too close. All it takes is one flare for things to go too far. 

So, on the day of the inauguration,  hearing speeches containing words such as Soul, Unity, Healing etc was balm enough. I have never been one to pay much attention to policies, and tax reforms and such. But the past few years made everyone sit up and pay attention. My simple mind wants to be involved in the task of living whole-heartedly, happily and peacefully in a community that values compassion, kindness, education and morality. That is my hope and prayer for America.

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I watch with a heart filled with pride as we join the Paris Climate Accord and World Health Organization again (Feeling much as a sheepish child after being allowed into class again after a misbehaving stunt, we join the world in its heavy burden of restoring health and prosperity, while also looking after the only place we can call home.) I am grateful the world has accepted us into its folds once again.  

PS: There are some who say we must move on from Jan 6th. But I disagree. We must not move on. We must remember how close we came to losing the things dearest to us. We must remember how much easier it is to fall for divisive tactics than it is to work towards unity and being there for another. We must remember: for American Democracy may not survive a more efficient and ruthless dictator. 

A Celebration Of … 🌏

The afternoon was a mild, sunny one. Quite unusual for wintry January. The grass has turned green enough, the birds were chirping, and every now and then, the son and I stopped to admire a willow tree. How different each tree looks, and yet how soothing they all are together?  One doesn’t need a leap of the fanciful to liken the willows to beautiful damsels letting their hair down to dip ever so slightly into the waters below. What is remarkable is these damsels don’t seem to mind us watching. 

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I do not remember the first willow tree I saw, although I am sure I would have admired it long before knowing its name.  These are times I feel remiss. 

Why do we not make a celebration

of smelling the first sprig of lavender

and falling in love with the scent of it? 

Why do we not celebrate the perfect clovers,

the first feel of moss against a damp earth 

the taste of the first wild berry, 

the first sniff of eucalyptus after a fresh rain, 

the first time we touched a petal, 

the first time we sat and watched a butterfly, 

the first time we heard the name of someone who would go on to become kindred spirits 

and brighten our lives forever more?

While at this, why not also celebrate 

the times, we can watch a tree upside down,

The moon rise, or the sun set?

The times we spot the shape of a fluffy dog in the clouds,

the times we are mesmerized by a rainbow,

the times we can watch the world flit by with nary a worry?

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Anyway, where was I before I went off on my little celebration-of-life poetic trail? Yes yes. It all comes back now: I cannot quite resist the charm of a willow tree. It’s true. There is a generosity to its form. The tree just seems to give itself. The long tresses weigh down as they reach into the waters below.  When you walk along a river, you can be fairly certain that if there is one willow by the banks, nature would have given us a few more beautiful ones just further downstream. It was while reading Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren that I learnt many of these willow trees are identical genetically. Apparently, all it takes is for a branch to break off by a riverside, float down the banks, a little joyful eddy to push it near the banks, and voila: it can take root. An identical, genetically mapped tree, though it looks different on the outside – the trunks bulge differently, the branches fan out differently, but essentially the same. Hope Jahren’s lyrical writing is as beautiful as the willows themselves. 

“It is easy to become besotted with a willow. The Rapunzel of the plant world, this tree appears as a graceful princess bowed down by her lush tresses, waiting on the riverbank for someone just like you to come along and keep her company.” 

We walked on for some time on this beautiful day, before I plonked myself on the grass. I tugged the little fellow’s arm to sit on the grass next to me. After the initial reluctance of getting his clothes dirty, this suburban child gave in to the pleasures almost completely.  There we were, lying down on the grass, the willow trees drooped into the waters nearby while winter’s afternoon sun gently glowed upon us, and the clouds drifted above.

I told him about the willow trees and how most of the ones we saw may have originated from the same one. He looked awed. 

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more,” 

Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Will he remember the first time he learnt that willow trees reproduce with just a branch flowing downstream? I hope he does, but if not, here it is written down: It was a golden day in early winter on a walk with his loving mother: when all the world was green and filled with possibility.

Rajma on Titan or Mars

“Yeah! Rajma!” The little fellow slurped in mock exaggeration throwing his hands up into the air. I smiled. I wondered yet again how genetics seems to work in odd ways. My brother as a child had the same expression or at least sentiment every time rajma was made. How could my children who are growing up on the opposite side of the earth from my rajma-loving brother have the same expressions of delight and exaggerated lip-smacking responses to this simple dish?

I can hear my brother mimicking Tamil movie comedians and saying,  “அனுபவிக்கனும் ஆராய கூடாது”. Loosely translated, this means, it is better to not analyze these things too much, but just enjoy them.

I turned the little red kidney beans over in my hands, and in a moment of impulse planted a few of them into the soil in a little pot where the winter colds had stripped the plants bare. 

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I started the year reading The Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan. Much of Carl Sagan’s writing celebrates the accident of life on this beautiful planet, and how incredibly lucky we are to be blessed with sentience to try and make sense of it all.

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by [Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan]

A sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. It is one of the reasons I love Thanksgiving and Pongal or Makara Sankranthi. The fact that we actually set aside our myriad problems to take a moment to express gratitude to the cosmos and this planet for nurturing life is special enough, but this year it feels extra special and even necessary. The planet has united human destiny with a virus, reminded us of the pettiness of grandiose ambition, and helped us appreciate the delights of the ordinary. No small feat. 

In the book, Carl Sagan talks at length about what all can revealed about a celestial object by a mere photograph. Our own pale blue dot – the picture of Earth he says can actually reveal existence of life on this planet. The combination of gases in the atmosphere, not to mention the presence of methane in the atmosphere. However, in the very next chapter, he examines the methane in Titan ( one of the moons of Saturn), and quickly debunks existence of life there as yet because of the temperatures and the concentration of the gas. However, he still holds out on its potential :  the moon has the conditions necessary for the accident of life to happen at some point in the future. 

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As he painstakingly examines one world after another, there is so much to marvel at, and also appreciate the only home known to our particular kind of life. There is nothing as yet discovered that can harbor our particular chemical compositions, our requirements for this particular combination of atmosphere, water and foliage. 

For all the marvels we surround ourselves with I still think the joy of seeing things sprout from a seed into a plant has to be the most wondrous of all. Every time I walk in a forest or a meadow, I wonder how many seedlings lie around us, waiting to take that leap into their chance of life. 

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I walk around my little strip of a garden that has been kindly putting up with my well-intentioned, but often laughable, attempts at horticulture. I stand marveling at the tulip bulbs shooting up through the soil. This year’s rains have been woefully low, and I hope it changes for I know what it portends for a fire season later in the year. 

A few days ago, I went to water the potted plants and I cannot tell you the joy of seeing little kidney bean plants sprouting up. To think of all that wondrous work happening quietly in the soil while we spend our days with our concerns of our human imprints on this one tiny planet of ours is truly humbling. This is the real work isn’t it? 

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“So can we really eat the rajma beans now?” Asked the son, his eyes gleaming with excitement. I found, I didn’t know the answer. How does one transform legumes to rajma beans that little fellows in kitchens go on to associate with warmth and love? 

I fumbled and told the little fellow honestly that I didn’t know, but that we’d find out together. We will spend a pleasurable evening looking through the process of legumes to kidney beans. Whether Mars or Titan ever gets to growing rajma beans, we do not know, but I did promise him a dish of rajma from our very own plants. I think my brother would give his approving nod half an earth away. 

Dear Democracy

“Gosh! Must you always be this dramatic?!” said the daughter rolling her eyes up at me, wrenching them away from the screen. 

I suppose ‘nail in the coffin of democracy’ was not exactly the poised and controlled reaction I was going for. 

“Well..”I fumbled for a moment, and then said with a steely determination that took me aback, “You know what? Yes I must! If I am not upset at a moment like this, I don’t have use of the emotion at all! This is democracy – and it is supposed to thrive!” I said taking a handful of emotions from Pandora’s box and letting them course through my system in righteous anger, and disappointment. 

Time and time again, we have been disappointed by politicians and humans seeking power. The one job that requires no specific training or education. #ButterBattleCourse

“Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,

and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth.” 

Hesiod, the 6th-century BC Greek poet Theognis of Megara 

Another eye roll, another laugh stifled, and another poetic exclamation later, I was spent. 

The chaos at the Capitol building as the senate ratified the election results was appalling. It was not being called a coup on television. The sitting 45th President of the United States had incited violence to be unleashed on the Capitol Building, and I felt a sinking feeling. We all know that the greater the power, the higher the fall and all the rest of it. But truly, nothing prepares you for that gloating face defacing the Speaker’s office with not an ounce of remorse. Nothing prepares you for the moment that a mob crashes into the Capitol Building, and gets to the Speaker’s chair in the largest democracy in the world. 

But Pandora had one last emotion that she had in her box. Hope.

The senators filed back in later that night and completed their constitutional duty well past midnight. 

Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;

the others have left and gone to Olympus.

Hesiod, the 6th-century BC Greek poet Theognis of Megara 

The next day, the daughter was showing us posts from her social network. 

“This video, see this one? Cries her heart out – thinks she is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and says she has come all the way from Tennessee for the revolution. ”

“What revolution? Wait a minute! She took a flight from Tennessee to Washington D C for this during a pandemic?! “, I asked, “And she is upset she was pushed back from the Capitol building?”

“I mean, we all know the ones who were creating the ruckus aren’t the smartest tools in the box, but they outdid themselves, Amma. This one guy searched up Georgia, and planted the Georgia flag – I mean the country Georgia’s flag. Then, one Indian dude shows up there with an Indian flag! I don’t know whether they stopped to think about what they were doing.”

https://qz.com/1953366/decoding-the-pro-trump-insurrectionist-flags-and-banners/”

I shook my head and we fell to discussing the sad state of affairs because one narcissistic man could not bear to lose. 

Reference: The history of the peaceful transfer of power: History.com

  1. The year was 1797. The first President George Wshington willingly stepped down after 2 terms in office setting a precedent to the two terms in office, that was later ratified as the 22nd Amendment to the constitution in 1951.
  2. The year 1801 set another important precedent. John Adams after losing to Thomas Jefferson quietly left Washington in the dark hours of March 4th. He did not attend the inauguration, but he did set the hallmark for the peaceful transfer of power. 

History.com: There were several ways in which power was transferred. One of the best is the letter George W Bush left for Bill Clinton, and the tradition followed.

“How did it come down to this? Why is it so hard to lose? You played your game, move on!” I said.

“He must not have played rummy with his mom!” said the son, and we all burst out laughing. It’s true isn’t it? We win some games, we lose some games. Play teaches us so much: the joy of playing, the thrill of winning, the grace of losing, and the friendship that binds it all together.

I used to wonder how Hitler rose to power democratically and was able to commit such horrendous acts of genocide. Recent events have shown us all too clearly how this can happen. By removing bars of decorum and conduct, we have been shown that the country may not survive a younger, more ruthless strain of Trump’s brand of dictatorship. 

I quite agree with how Aristotle describes the nobility required of politicians: he opines that politicians should take an oath, almost as sacred as a Hippocratic oath, to remain fair and mete out justice. From the Nicomachean Ethics – By Aristotle. 

Oh! How dear Democracy is.

Shhrama Pariharam – respite from the strenuous

T’was the day we had whipped up a feast fit for the eyes, and insisted the whole family climb out of pajamas and yoga pants to sit themselves down at the fancy table (this fancy table is usually overrun with the mail, packages from amazon, notes and books). All of this was swept in one great movement to the side room and the room door shut before anything could come tumbling out. The table was found, the food was laid on it, and the chefs beamed. The children had contributed in no small measure with the items on the table and it was remarkable how spacious the table , and the surrounding space was without the debris that usually surrounding this space. 

“Too much food!” said the daughter with a little shudder. 

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“Well! I am going to take my shhrama pariharam after this!” I said, regally rolling towards the feast of the day. 

“What?”

I saw that it was the sweet time to start reminiscing. I told the assembled lot about how their grandfather would talk about food, about his love for appalams and how he would pat his tummy lovingly and reminisce fondly about how in the olden days nobody cared about quantity : Did you know they served ghee in dhonnai-s – little straw cups, cups full of ghee and how they ate rice in those days. These heroes did not flinch when the ladle fulls hit the plate, they took it as a challenge, he said to us in his booming voice, and we used to laugh it at all till I saw it myself.  

I remember those days well enough. Maybe my memories are keener for they were formed in the exuberance of youth. One particularly hot afternoon floated into my memory and I burst out laughing.  “If Pythagorus had a strong foundation like us, who knows what else he might’ve found? “ I said. 

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The children looked at each other with that look of amused tolerance, “Uh-oh! Here comes another story within the story!”

I prattled off, whisking them away in one swift gallop on the chariot of time for a quick visit a few decades ago.

The occasion was something, and guests and priests made their way into the old village home. The gaggle of aunts, had been busy all morning in the kitchen preparing one of those meals that don’t fit on stainless plates and require three large plantain leaves on the floor just to get the servings in. 15 different vegetables, fried snacks that take all morning just so they many occupy a small portion on the plantain leaf, along with the main stay of sambhar, rasam and payasam had all been prepared. The corner leaf was given a special name, nuni elai, and the priests and his friends got busy. I sat with my cousins watching in awe. I had read mythological tales of giant-like people eating mountains of rice with rivers of sambhar and ponds of ghee, but I had always dismissed it as myth. I had read the story of Kumbakarna and that fellow who started the Vaigai river after eating so much, a river was required to quench his thirst thereafter. 

I suppose till that moment I had never really thought about what it takes to feed folks. How much food does one prepare, and how does one estimate? 

Children have an innate sense of wonder in them, a practice we must learn to cultivate just to enjoy our own life. There is a beautiful word, shoshin, that means just that: The practice of looking at things with wonder.

That afternoon, we, the pint sized folks, sat watching the priests fall asleep. Shoshin was shining in our eyes and we went to see how the legendary eaters were doing. We were told the siesta was not called a nap, it was given a name Shhrama pariharam – meaning the respite from the strenuous. It was an apt name, they had gone into the ring of leaves and fought like champions. Every last drop was polished off, every morsel of rice chewed and every fried item belched into the dark recesses of their expanding stomachs. 

That afternoon all those years ago, I remember watching the stomachs rise and fall with their gentle snores, remember seeing how the shadows lengthened with time, and how they rolled over before getting up, how they joked that a cup of coffee would help settle their stomachs, and then made their contented way home. We had discussed measuring the height of the stomachs, the length of the shadows and much more, only to be shoo-ed away by the aunts. 

I told the children all of this as we sat full, satiated, and laughing at the recollection. Thereafter, I showed them pictures of the South Indian meal. Was this a mythological tale? Or did people really have leaves filled with 50 different items on them? Had I not seen them in my childhood, I might never have believed it myself. 

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It has been a long time since I sat at a banana leaf and saw the world float by me with huge ladles of sambhar, rasam, copious amounts of rice and spoonfuls of ghee.

“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.” 

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables