The Lock Smith

The locksmith’s passion started with Legos
Their mother saw the spark in their eyes as a toddler
Proudly did they show me the first key they made

I listened with fascination and stood watching quietly
The intense focus slowly figuring the nooks and crannies
The frustrated shake of the head, the repeated tries

Rewarded with a slow smile (or lopsided grin? )
Who can say behind the mask?
As they made a new key that fit an old lock.

Inspired by April’s calling for Poetry

Reading: Falling Up – By Shel Silverstein & A Sky Full of Bucket Lists – By Shobhana Kumar

The Music of Rose-Scented Winds

Roses are blooming everywhere. The white, saffron, yellow, pink, corals and red roses are a real treat to behold. Watching the breeze gently take the rose essences and waft off into the neighborhood reminded me of an old Tamil song. “Rojavai thalaattum thendral…” a few weeks ago, and I hummed it as I went about my day. Loosely translated, it means a breeze that caressed the roses. 

“Dei! One more time, you sing that song……” said the husband. 

His tone of voice reminded me of my elementary school friend all those decades ago, when I sang something continuously, wrongly and unknowingly at times. 

Particularly prone to these brain-itches or ear-worms, I am not particularly fond of them either. I thought life was full of them, till I noticed my friends seemed to be able to enjoy a song, hum it a bit and then move on with their lives, without the annoying thing being stuck in their heads for weeks at a time. 

The curious case of not being very good at picking the lyrics out in a song also means that I am singing garbled nonsense, and often just snippets of them as I go about the house. 

I don’t know how folks live with me, for I want to box my ears every time  ‘rojavai thaalattum thendral ‘loops on in the old brain. Apparently, the song itself has a good enough lyrical quality, but I would not know anything about it for I have never been great at catching the words in a song. I sing

Rojavai thalaatum thendral, poon thendral, yen mandral (No meaning). 

Un nenjil porattangal hohoho (Santa Claus>!), rojavai thalaatum thendral…”

I am sick of the song, but luckily not of the roses. 

For one prone to brain-itches such as these, the modern world can be quite the problem. There are catchy songs on television, in cars, radio stations, not to mention gas stations, almost everywhere. It is only recently that I found listening to instrumental music helps since it allows me to listen to music without having garbled phrases stuck in my head on an endless loop.

“Many people are set off by the theme music of a film or television show or an advertisement, This is not unusual for they are catchy tunes” says Dr Oliver Sacks, in his book, Musicophilia (Read the essay titled “Brainworms, Sticky Music and Catchy Tunes”)

He writes of his friend,Nick, who had fixated on the song, “Love and Marriage”and was ‘trapped inside the tempo of the song’. 

I nodded along fervently as he wrote of his affliction:

“With incessant repetition, it soon lost its charm, its lilt, its musicality and its meaning. It interfered with his schoolwork, his thinking, his peace of mind, his sleep.”

Originating from the literal translation of the German term Ohrwurm, an earworm can go on for weeks, or in some cases months.

When I read about this phenomenon in Oliver Sacks’, Musicophilia, I hummed the broken piece. I wish I could’ve written to the wise doctor and asked him whether he had come across any cases where the patient was stuck in a song with lousy garbled words in the correct tune, and how their marriage with a man who could not hold a tune but could ace the words would function. (Read: The Noetic Touch to the Poetic Muse

Alas! Dr Oliver Sacks is no longer alive to share his insights with us.

The Covid Vaccine

We rolled into the expansive grounds to receive the Covid vaccine. Everything shone with efficiency starting from the way our appointments were scheduled. It always astounds me when I see undertakings as large as this. Any public health initiatives are amazing in their scope and ability, and I was in awe. Like a child at the fairgrounds, I soaked in the sign boards, the appointment process, the courteous health workers all working on Saturday mornings to ensure the world can be a safer place. 

There were no questions unrelated to one’s health. No checks other than ensuring one was eligible age-wise and health-wise and had no known allergic reactions. 

As we waited for our turn and watched the registered nurses, volunteers and traffic attendants go about their duties, I thought once again of all the great things human beings are capable of as a species. Within a year of the coronavirus bringing the world to a stand-still, a vaccine was not just found, but mass produced and administered to millions of people. That is nothing short of a miracle. Even as the virus continues to spread its tentacles in waves, the vaccine outreach program was offering hope.

Extensive testing, mass production, and a dizzying level of community outreach and logistics had gone into place for this to work. But how did the mRNA vaccines work?

We live in the Information Age, and know first-hand how it can quickly be turned on its head to a Misinformation Age. A Quote from the Demon Haunted World came to mind.

“We’ve 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. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The nurse came up to the car with a thin needle and I closed my eyes instinctively. She smiled and said, “It’s done. You feeling okay?”

Just like that, the tiny ant-like pinch of the needle that delivered a tiny dose of messenger RNA gave rise to something else.

I felt a surge for love for America

A touch of pride in its efficacy and its courtesy

A ripple of gratitude for Science

A shiver while thinking how it might have been had the 46th President not been elected.

And finally a sense of gratitude that we did have a President who valued these things.

 

Sleeping Angel

The son’s room got a new lick of paint. It is a calming, soothing color called Sleeping Angel. Paint color namers have to be the most creative bunch. I have never actually met a person who held that particular job, but I would be thrilled to do so. The names they come up with have to be from fertile imaginations. If ever one is stuck for ideas, heading out to the paint alley in your local hardware store is inspiration enough. 

Here is a random sampling of the paint colors:

Polar sky, Sleeping Angel, Balboa Mist, Gray Owl, Soft Fern, Saybrook Sage, Lavender Mist, Sunlit Coral

I mean, look at this combination of words and tell me that it does not want you to sit up and think of beautiful polar bears looking down at their little cubs and telling them stories of a time when their habitats extended so far out, they could venture to the edge where they were able to get glimpses of sunlit corals, sometimes see the patches of soft fern and hear the gray owls hooting into the night. The misty skies used to bring them whiffs of smells quite different from what their cubs were getting now. Their grandmothers spoke of the mists of lavender, redwood and balboa. Visiting whales told them of giant redwoods and seafoam over corals.

owls_polar_bears

Painting is meditative work. The pain before and after the walls are painted notwithstanding, the art of painting itself is therapeutic. Imagining a small space transform into a warm inviting haven is a gift enough, but actually doing it, is even better. 

I had written about the mute painter who came to regularly paint our childhood home every couple of years. I had no idea of the virtues, or lack thereof,  of the distemper paint. I only knew it was superior to what was routinely done, since the father went through some extra effort for that type of paint. All I knew was that small stains washed off this type of paint. Given he lived in a school and had 3 children of his own, who were very happy to have their friends over, I suppose this was a brand of realism. 

The father would spend extra to go for a lick of distemper paint, and that pleased the passionate painter. The artist in him gave an approving nod, and he set about setting up his ladders and transforming the space with a twinkle in his eye. The love for this job shone through in the results. Every room seemed to have a dollop of his spirit after the painting was done. The rooms sparkled and twinkled with peace and joy. I would then spruce up the place with vases containing bunches of fresh pine, ferns, and wildflowers to settle the slightly overbearing smell of fresh distemper, while the mother would sneeze her way through the house (allergies). 

Decades later, the circle of life seemed to repeat itself. Sleeping Angel had transformed the room, while the paint smell kick started my allergies (made worse by smelling flowers I admit), and the drops of sunshine came in the form of fresh yellow tulips in a vase with pine and fern. I took a dose of antihistamines and drifted off to sleep in the little room. The paint was aptly named. 

I slept like an angel.

Read also:

Within our 4 walls

The Flying Zoos of Babylon

Antheia’s Gifts

April has the whiff of spring about it. Fresh green leaves, and flowers bursting forth everywhere. 

I could not help thinking of William Blake’s ‘heaven in a wild flower’ as we made our way through the trails. Really! I am in awe of poets – how do they think up these things? 

“Who was the Greek god of flowers? Persephone?”

“Nope! Persephone was agriculture, you know when she comes out of the underworld, she brings Spring with her and the world blooms again. She was the one who was abducted by Hades.”

“Ah yes. There should be one for flowers though. Or is it just nymphs?”

She shrugged – “There is a minor goddess. I forget.”

I looked it up as I sat down this morning after sniffing a couple of roses in the garden. Antheia is the greek goddess of flowers.

I was out walking with the daughter on a trail. She was telling me about a fascinating piece of fan fiction she read about the lives of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. Told from the perspective of Remus Lupin, it was truly amazing. A deer grazed in the river bed now overgrown with shrubbery, while the stream-like river played host to herons and geese. It was fitting setting for the story of The Marauders who first made their appearance in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

I stooped to sneeze. “You know? I think you deserve this!” she said, looking severe. That child has the heart of Minerva McGonagall. Her lips looked thin and her eyes had just a hint of a smile that could not be displayed for wanting to look stern.

“Do you really have to sniff every flower when you know you have allergies?”

“But I do! Just see this my dear. A spider has patiently woven its web within the petals of a narcissi bloom. What is that story of the Ariadne challenging that Greek goddess?”

“You mean Arachne challenging Athena.”

“Yes…really how perfect these spider webs are! As an engineer, I admire the tensile strength, as a artist, I love the clean nature of their work, as a minor creepy crawlie phobe, I want to squeal, and as a clean freak,  I know I clean out cobwebs, but it makes me wonder every time about the nature of work. The constant doing and undoing of it all. It all seems so haphazard, but nature is so intensely productive in its being, no.” I said and then told her about the book I was reading just then.

Titled The Tree, it is part meditation on nature, part autobiographical detailing the relationship with the author and his father, and their differing views of nature. His father was quite the productive fruit producer in his narrow strip of land in the city, while the author’s love for trees bloomed away from the structured fruit producing expectations – in the wilder countryside.

On the walk, in the meanwhile, I pointed out the resourcefulness of the vine that can jump fences and leap between trees, the flowers that think nothing of scenting the world as they go about blooming, the humming bees, and the humming birds darting about all of this with a purpose of their own. “I suppose one could spend all day thinking about these things without any sort of cogency huh?”

“Yep! Like you are doing now? You know this is where some folks really surprise me. I mean, they regularly write and put out a chapter of fan fiction every week, to this brilliant story of Lupin and Sirius I was telling you about. ”

“Yes and look at humankind’s imagination through the ages. All those myths and stories of nymphs turning into rivers, and running through worlds and sprouting off into geysers. ” We walked back in admiration of writers and poets. Oscar Wilde, the daughter’s favorite poet and his life, William Blake, Greek myths, her re-reading of The Song of Achilles, Harry Potter characters all contributed to a magical spring-time saunter.

Imagination and Creativity are always enthralling themes to engage in. How do you cultivate it – are we born with a natural gift that we then need to prune and cultivate like the trees the author’s father looked after or does it thrive and bloom like Antheia’s flowers in the wild?

No fruit for those who do not prune; no fruit for those who question knowledge; no fruit for those who hide in trees untouched by man; no fruit for traitors to the human cause. – John Fowles, The Tree

A Sky Full of Bucket Lists

April is Poetry Month apparently. It is also the month that hosts Earth Day, the one day we dedicate to saving the only home we know, Earth. As far as I am concerned, they are all excellent themes for the month bursting with the prospects of Spring. It has been an unusually hot spring, but that does not detract from the beauty of the season.

This is the season for life’s stirring: Poetry and Earth are both what lend credence to our human experience, and possibly dolphin experience. (As regular readers of the blog know, the dolphins have poetry whose tonal vocal content is equal in size to the Illiad or the Odyssey.) 

Read also:

Carl Sagan’s Essay on his interactions with Elvar The Dolphin
Epic of Whalayana – Carl Sagan

What better time than to write about a book that has been in my thoughts so often since the first reading? A small book of Haibun poetry steeped in the experience of living on Earth.

My review on Amazon:

A Sky Full of Bucket Lists is one of those books that has found a place on my bedside table. Every time, I need a glimpse of life, the slim volume is there to allow me a peek into the life of a fellow human-being in a very different situation. Written by a poet whose empathetic life experiences with social work shape the words on the page, this book is worth reading and re-reading. Shobhana Kumar reminds us that being humane is what makes us human. Charming, heart-rending, profound and simple.

A Sky Full of Bucket Lists seeps into your day as you go about the busyness of living. 

The incorrect font, the cross dresser, the neighbor in hospital, , the alcoholic, the abusive or the the true friends who give more than one deserves. It seems Shobhana Kumar has a haibun for a wide range of human living. The poignant note to her father is an especially special one. (Dear Mr Raaga) 

Sometimes, at night when I am too bushed to read anything long or heavy, I instinctively reach out to A Sky Full of Bucket Lists. The humanity manages to seep through the pages and into your consciousness. They say reading makes one more empathetic. Reading the experiences of someone who has seen so much, suffered through so much, and yet, has the time to not just care for a fellow being, but care deeply and share it with the world, is a gift indeed.

Whether the first cave painters realized the art form could encompass human living, I don’t know. Every time I look into the book, something attracts: why this picture for this Haibun? How did she know my yearning for a library and how I sniff the books to get the children to love them as well? How did she detect the ‘poetry that settles into corners’ and give it words? Is there a thread that runs between every different piece, or is it just the shared experience of being human on a planet that hosts millions of lifeforms?

The Great Indian Kitchen

The movie, The Great Indian Kitchen currently streaming on Amazon Prime, has set off some sparks in the old household as it should. The movie is required watching for every man and woman especially of Indian origin. Indian cooking has been hailed as amazing, tasty, and a host of other adjectives that are all throughly deserving no doubt, but the adj I use are: pesky, demanding, grueling and painful. 

Read: The Art & Science of Idli Making

On several occasions, I have been heard to make the passionate plea for communal cooking wherein a household is only in charge of cooking for a few meals a week in a communal kitchen, and all meals are served there for the whole community. If ever you want to build a community, there is your chance, and it takes the burden away from the shoulders away from the women of the house, and every person learns the value of shared work, whether they like to do so or not.

The Great Indian Kitchen does an amazing job of capturing the loneliness of the housewife as she goes about her duties. The family unit can be an isolating one for the housewife. Even when men are present, there is an inherent assumption that the men have their own lives separate from those of their counterparts, and the interactions when they do occur, rarely have that intellectual spark that one wants to see in people in love. 

The story is of a typical patriarchal household where the men are polite enough in conversation, but do not care to know about the lives of people they live with. The new bride arrives into the home with a wish to fit in, and gets along well enough with her mother-in-law. When her mother-in-law leaves to tend to her daughters pregnancy, the situation rapidly unravels. The increasing workload, the callous expectations of the men, and the regressive customs drive the bride to take life in her own hands.

If anything, the movie looks at a best-case scenario where things unravel pretty quickly – possibly within 6 months. The husband in question makes no attempt to endear himself to his new wife, and communication between them is hardly there. So, she is at liberty to take stock of her life. Unfortunately that is not how it happens for the most part Is it? There is usually just enough Chemistry between the couple for the thing to sustain and before we know it, a few children are in the mix, by which time the girl has lost all marketable skills if any, and life is a drudge from one day to the next. 

The movie sparkles with some scenes such as the husband teaching a Sociology class. The class in which he actually has the ability to self-reflect and assess the impact of lives in society, he instead devotes to blindly parroting useless things from the textbook. “The family is a universal unit. ” 

We all know those uncles who love a certain type of dish paired with a certain other type of dish, without pausing to think about the effort that is behind the scenes. In Indian households, the kitchens are tucked away from the main scene unlike the kitchens in the US. Even when the kitchen and family room are joined, and the center of the family life, there is a certain disconnect between the food prep, and consumption. Now imagine, tucking away the factory and presenting hot piping meals at every meal. It is hardly surprising that the men are kept well away from the work spaces.

Read also:

Go Women Ninjas!

Which brings me back to the question of communal kitchens. There are many places in which we pay a fee to belong. In the same way, you pay a fee to belong to a kitchen, and help out with that kitchen’s duties. Procurement, reorder, stock taking, inventory, cleaning all need to be shared by all members of the kitchen. You can pick the slots in which you would like to contribute, with the caveat only being that every eating member over the age of 5 and under the age of 70 has to help for at least 3 meals a week – and you cannot pick and choose the tasks you like. For before you know it, the men would have snagged the budgetary aspects, and give the cleaning, cutting part bunk. No Sir! 

It would do the old enablers some good, to actually see what goes into making a good meal instead of sitting around and making jokes about the quality of the food in front of them. 

Studies show the disparity in time spent on average household chores by gender.

  • Indian women are high on that list spending a good 5 hr & 51 m Vs Men who only spend 1 hr 19 minutes of unpaid work.

Quote:

In every country, men have more leisure time each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework. 

I am not sure whether Robert Frost was thinking of social iniquities when he wrote the poem , Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

We do have miles to go before we sleep. We have the universe to traverse in the simple act of knowing the lives of one another.