The Moon Periodically Enchants Us

It was only fitting that the full lunar eclipse of Wednesday was best visible from the little cosmologist’s room window.

I walked into the son’s room to wish him good night. There he was, lying down on his tummy in his pajamas, his face cupped in both his hands staring at the periodic table poster and glancing at the moonlight shining outside. 

He looked up at me, and said, “Isn’t it amazing how many elements there are? I think I can sing the periodic table song till the second row.” And then, of course, he proceeded to sing it. We talked about the elements and how they found each one. 

The periodic table game is an enchanting one. Which letters don’t have an element? Are there many more elements in the universe that we didn’t yet know about. I mean they found Lawrencium etc pretty recently didn’t they? 

Reminded me of the book, Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks in which he talks of his obsession with the periodic table. 

“The periodic table was incredibly beautiful, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I could never adequately analyze what I meant here by beauty – simplicity? coherence? rhythm? inevitability? Or perhaps it was the symmetry, the comprehensiveness of every element firmly locked into its place, with no gaps, no exceptions, everything implying everything else.” 

Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten, Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by [Oliver  Sacks]

We sat there wondering whether our beautiful moon itself has other elements, or essentially those of the Earth. Fascinating questions to engage the mind on a beautiful full moon night. 

I knew he would be equally thrilled about an adventure in space that was to take place early the next morning, and told him about it. A full lunar eclipse my boy! Can you imagine that?

“…We ourselves were made of the very same elements as composed the sun and stars, that some of my atoms might once have been in a distant star. But it frightened me too, made me feel that my atoms were only on loan and might fly apart at any time, fly away like the fine talcum powder I saw in the bathroom.” 

Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten

Almost immediately, he said, “Okay Google! Set an alarm for 4 a.m.”

The next morning, I snoozed my alarm titled ‘Moon Magic’ at 4 a.m., and was wondering whether to pull myself out of bed, when I heard the son bustling about. He tugged us all downstairs and we stood there in the courtyard in front of our home gazing at the beautiful red moon – a giant golden orb that huge low in the sky had morphed into a silver ball of luminescence and was now a red rock suspended in mid-air. If this wasn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

The husband went into the home after a few moments – we were slightly cold, but stood mesmerized by the slow show being put up for us by the cosmos. The husband called in a few seconds, and said to the son, “By the way, the best view is from your room!” We raced up to his room, and gazed outside the window. True enough. It was the best view. Snuggled up in his warm comforter, sipping hot cocoa, I left the fellow to gaze and dream on as the silvery moon emerged from earth’s shadow. 

The eternal magic of light combining with the structural elements of the earth and moon make for a magical night indeed. 

Umm – A Belly Rub?!

The most touching gift I received for Mother’s Day this year was the pair of them thrusting their favorite books into my hands with shining, expectant eyes. The son’s book was Shiloh – by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

“Read this one – we loved the book in our class. I really think you will like this one, even though we don’t have a dog.” said the son.

The book is a poignant read about a dog being possibly abused by its owner, and finding a safe haven with the little boy. The book beautifully addresses the shades of grey in personality, the degrees of right and wrong, poverty, property, and so much more.

I loved the book, and thought about how un-intrusively the dog seemed to be accepted into the family.

I’d seen it first-hand. A friend of mine had no time for dogs. Yet, when a dog entered her life, I saw a volte-face in her attitude. There was no doubting the symptoms. She had became a dog-lover. She recognized breeds, she spoke of how some dogs shed more hair than others – but most of all, the love in her voice was unmistakable, and I teased her for it. 

Anyway, the week-end reads were done and it was time for the week to begin. The children were all woken up for their school, and in their respective screens when I popped in to say hello before my day began. 

“Uhhhnnn! Go Away! Too early!” 

“Shh! Amma. I am in a class, and our teacher is yelling at us for not doing our work on time. “

“Can you give me a second please?” Continues sounding important and says, “Am in a meeting – can I talk to you later?”

No points for guessing who said what in the statements above. 

“Sheesh! You can’t be in bed for class! Sit up child and change into some nice clothes before class please!”

“I just want to check if you put cream. Fine!”

“Sure!”

Everyone was busy staring into their respective screens – a tiny rectangular tile in a meeting screen registering your presence. We do live in strange times and life isn’t always comprehensible. I muddled on along these lines, and stepped out into the street, to find our neighbor’s dog out for a stroll. Now, I don’t know how you feel when someone looks at you like you are the best thing that has ever happened to them. That’s how this little pup makes you feel.

The light in his eyes reflect, “How honored I am to know this person! If only they could give me a belly rub. Oh heavens above, please let me get a belly rub, and my life’s purpose shall be done!”

I turned around to see if there was someone else this poor pup was looking for, but no. It was me alright. Here was this marvelous soul, out for a belly rub with a neighbor, and all I did was – well, nothing really. I imagined meeting new people like this – nobody lies down on the porch looking for a belly rub – thank goodness, but here was this little pup thinking this is how life’s introductions have to be made.

So, I gave the little thing a belly rub and felt a lovely laugh build up in my being and let it out. Both of us laughed on that beautiful morning with the blue, blue skies above and a few clouds on the horizon, and all seemed right with the world. 

“If Jesus ever comes back to earth again, I’m thinking, he’ll come as a dog, because there isn’t anything as humble or patient or loving or loyal as the dog I have in my arms right now.” 

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Shiloh

I remember seeing a sign somewhere “Be the person your dog thinks you to be!”  And it seemed just right.

Dear Lovely Kala Chitthi

I was in a tither, and petered out after the last meeting. 

“Why does it have to be this way? All supposedly smart people with Ivy League fancy degrees and all, and yet half of them don’t know how to utter a statement without ruffling feathers in the room!” I said.

The husband gave me an all-in-day’s-work look and I looked weary.

I could not help thinking of resumes, college degrees, achievements, patents, and all the grand things we give importance to in our society.  And I crumpled and said, “What can’t they be like Kala Chitthi?” (Chitthi means Aunt in Tamil – either mother’s younger sister or father’s younger brother’s wife).

My sister had called that morning with the news that Kala Chitthi had passed away. I said I did not believe her. And I did not. She was not even sixty. Most vacations in our childhood had that glow of warmth and love around it thanks to her.

We live strange lives of dichotomy. I had no time to process the news or make sense of my denial for my morning was filled with meetings. 

Kala Chitthi was the youngest in the large Kalyanam family. Of the brood of 9 children that Visalam Paati and Kalyanam Thaatha bore, Kala Chitthi was the 9th child’s wife. She entered a large family as the youngest member – a daunting task for anyone. Yet, she chose to put her best foot forward and was accepted and loved by 3, and at times 4, generations of people in the large brood. She was ever respectful, yet got her way. She neither ruffled feathers, nor shied away.

I remember one hot summer vacation when I was a teenager. We were visiting our dear uncle, aunt and grandmother in the village. The pater insisted on me wearing a half-saree. When pressed for a reason, he said something about Culture. Like my grandmother used to say with a wink: He left the village in his twenties, and he just remembers how his sisters dressed as children, that is all.

It was true. The father seemed to be stuck in a village scene of the 1940’s.

I know some people really like half-sarees. I suppose they looked nice enough on Tamil movie heroines, who knew how to sway their hips just so, while walking and dancing gracefully like the palm trees swaying in the breeze. Self? I detested them. I was not at all used to them in day-to-day life, and they made me feel like an ice cream in the sun. Would the slippery top slip off, would the long flowy skirt stay?

I liked to walk fast. The half sarees impeded my long manly stride with hands tied behind my back. No gentle sways of h. here. I suppose my gait was best suited to a sergeant major’s uniform, but I was willing to settle in for a salwar kameez with a dupatta. 

So, there I was arguing with the pater. Logically, I asked him, “What part of this dress is less decent than the half-saree? “. Seeing as there was no good answer to this, the pater was starting to huff and play the But-I-know-village-life card. 

Kala Chitthi was watching the unfolding drama as she went about her morning chores. Somehow she connected with everyone in the family – young and old.  She knew how much I hated the half-saree, and also how it was going to be difficult for the pater to slide down the palm tree he was climbing up with every sentence. 

She came along in that swift manner of hers, and hugged me about the midriff and said, “If you wear a half-saree, it will be so much easier to pinch you around here right? You should try it sometime!” And then smiling she said to her much older brother-in-law,  “Anna…you remember a village of long ago. These days, all girls wear a nightie or salwar kameez and stand outside. This looks beautiful!” She whisked us both on our way smiling all the way through. She had a morning full of duties to attend to and this matter was resolved with the attention it deserved. No more no less.

She loved all her nephews and nieces, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, parents-in-law. She made them all her sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, parents. She loved and was loved by all who knew her, with a generosity of spirit that was hard to comprehend. How could one soul have so much capacity to love? 

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” ― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

I had my next meeting to get to, but Kala Chitthi reminded me that life is not as prickly as we make it out to be. Human beings just need to be heard and understood is all. We have things to do, and one must be happy going about it.

Chitthi’s LinkedIn profile would not boast of any patents, for they do not give patents for unifying souls, who lavish their love and generosity upon everyone. But they should. It would make the world a better place.

The Laughing Life

The son tumbled out of his room with yet another joke. His teachers apparently tell them a joke every now and then, and he repeats them to me if he finds them really funny, or remembers to. One of the many gifts of the Covid lifestyle are little snippets like this.

I stood there waiting and wondering what today’s j would be about.

“Why did the skeleton not go to the party?”

“I don’t know – because it had too many bones to pick?”

“Ha! Good one. But no.”

“Umm…don’t know. Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party?” I said a little impatience in the tone. I had to get to that next meeting.

“Because it had nobody to go with. Get it? Get it? No Body to go with?!”

I moaned and laughed at the same time. A lovely feeling of warmth spread through the being as I headed off. 

Later that day, I sat musing about humor and how marvelous a gift it is to humankind.

My Family and Other Animals is a marvelous book by Gerald Durrell. This book has the distinction of being the first book that I read belonging to the Humor genre. I remember it as though it was yesterday. Sitting in class 8-B, the sun was shining outside, there was a butterfly in the lawns outside, but our English teacher seemed to prefer the miracle of the written word to the fluttering butterflies outside. She put on her glasses and whipped the book out of her handbag in one elegant motion and said we were going to read the book.

My Family And Other Animals: See how the author makes you laugh when you read the title itself? she said. We must have looked like Canadian geese being tickled for the first time, for she proceeded to explain the humor in the title. I don’t know whether you have tried tickling a Canadian Goose. I haven’t, but I think they would react the same way. Stern looking creatures Canadian Geese.

IMG_2223

Anyway, I hope for my teacher’s sake that we loosened up as the reading progressed. But, now that I look back, it was one of the first books that made me look for humor in daily situations. Mark Twain – especially the little story of Tom Sawyer painting the wicket gate was another. Swami and Friends by R K Narayan was equally memorable. I remember reading somewhere that R K Narayan when asked about his inspiration for Malgudi – that eternally inviting town that beckons you every now and then, said, he just watched life pass him by and that was all there was to Malgudi.

Pickwick Papers was slow going initially, but the humor in the book was unmistakable. These are the times I am thankful for growing up in a pre-Internet, pre-on-demand television era. I might not have stuck with Pickwick Papers otherwise. 

The ultimate guide was of course P G Wodehouse. When in high school, I changed upon P G Wodehouse, I did not immediately appreciate it. It took a few readings, but oh! What a gift?! What a gift! 

The father, of course, was and remains a constant reminder to find joy in every day life. His jokes were not always appreciated by the mater, but he could take a the rough with the smooth. Life was funny, curious, interesting and not always serious if only we stopped to admire the humor in them. The husband, the daughter and the son all joined the bandwagon too. My Family and Other Animals was taking shape in the Nourish-N-Cherish household.

Where am I going with all of this?! Oh yes! The blog itself. Nourish & Cherish started as an act of whimsy 16 years ago. It is a place that I regularly choose to don the sunny side up mentality in life.  As I started to write down this little skeleton joke, I mused on the thousands of little jokes that did not make it to the blog. For of course, I am guilty of thinking about writing and reading about writing far more than writing itself. But I am glad for the ones that did make it.

In over 900 posts over the past 16 years, life has taught me time and again, that you can choose the sunny side up.

To infinity and beyond!

I Think You’ll Like This Ma!

Mother’s Day was upon us and before we knew it, the children were wishing me a marvelous day. We sat there, refusing to get up from bed, and just enjoying the mother’s day stories of past years. 

“Remember the year you made me that crown?! “

The now-teenaged daughter shuddered, and said, “It was horrible – why did you wear it and take a photo too?! I would not have done that.”

I gave her a smile and thought to myself how satisfying it would be to see her eat those words willingly and happily when her time comes. 

The most touching gift I received this year was the pair of them thrusting their favorite books into my hands with shining, expectant eyes. 

“Read this one – we loved the book in our class. I really think you will like this one, even though we don’t have a dog.” said the son.

The daughter’s request was firmer. “No…no…don’t touch it like that. See – this spine? It must not be creased. A few rules with this book. I don’t want you falling asleep with the book in your hands. That causes the book to become lopsided.”

“Just give me the book! I know how to take care of books. I love them.” I said, and the son and I exchanged amused glances. He is often at the receiving end of this lecture from his sister and seemed happy to see his mother’s version was just as firm.

“Yeah yeah. But some books just have to be cared for you know? Your love can sometimes cause creases.”

She looked at me skeptically, then went to her bookshelf and picked out a book as an example. “See this one? I had to give this little guy here a lecture because I caught him bending it.”

“Love lines and laugh lines are the essence of life. Books like to have them.” I said weakly.

Really! This child.

I pulled out a favorite poem from A Sky Full of Bucket Lists by Shobhana Kumar and read out Spaces. Her haibun  in between the prose was just right. It was the prose I chose to help me this time.

She shows the children how to inhale the pleasure of unsullied pages. Savour subtleties from a dog-eared favorite.

“What do you think?”

“I love the poem Amma, but just…please? Unsullied pages, see?”

I nodded and did my finest teenage imitation. “Fine!”, and muttered how I preferred ‘subtleties from a dog-eared favorite’.

“Love you MA!”

So, it was arranged that I could fall asleep reading Shiloh, but must sit upright without coffee or tea nearby, or a tendency to fall asleep with Perks of being a wallflower in my hand.

To misquote P G Wodehouse, the surest way to find love is to have a shared taste in Literature. 

I must say both the books filled my heart with their poignancy. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day in the Jungle

It’s Friday! It’s It’s It’s Friday!

I heard the son singing his Friday song. An infernal song with lyrics that are straight out of an album I know, but the rendition usually has joy in it, and that salvages it somewhat. I am partial to Friday mornings myself, but last week, I was simply unable to get out of bed even though I had something marvelous to look forward to. I know some folks who get up like an LED light: Zap to glory as soon as the switch is on.  How I envy these marvelous folks?! They light up at the crack of dawn and seem to bustle on. 

Self? I need a dragging to the watering hole, and steady nourishment to get to functioning state in a span of 2 hours. The husband gave me an amused look, and tried reviving the drooping shoulder with some coffee, but it wasn’t enough.

An hour later, I buzzed into the kitchen dancing and flitting like a hummingbird in spring. You see, I was invited to read my story, Mother’s Day in the Jungle, to the son’s elementary school classroom. 

Mother’s Day in the JungleScreen Shot 2021-05-09 at 12.19.16 AM

I love this one – It is a heartwarming story about the little animals in the forest getting together to prepare a mother’s day feast for their mothers. But one of them gets caught trying to pilfer sweet potatoes from Farmer Hasalot’s farm. 

At the end of the story, the children asked me questions, and I am always blown away by how much thought they put into these questions. I told them about how some parts of the story at least are inspired by elephants in the South Indian plains. They were curious to learn about elephant mothers and calves. They wanted to know about animal practices and whether the elephants or farmers were right, taking us beautifully into discussions on animal rights. 

As I read the story out to the children, it got me thinking of the many beautiful lessons of parenting that the animal kingdom shows us. So, that evening, I took off on a walk by the creekside. Watching the ducklings, and goslings take to the waters with their parents on either side is beautiful in spring. The birds flying home to their nests with the little ones waiting in nests is charming.

It is time to read Robert McCloskey’s adorable book. Make Way for the Ducklings

make_way_ducklings

What would we do without Mothers? 

Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful mothers out there. There are days when getting up is a chore, but days like this one with unexpected gifts make up for it, don’t they?

The Young Wizard

The son finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in a marathon reading of 5 school days. I found him reading in dim corners, under the quilt after lights-out, by the moonlight streaming into his window at night, and with the class streaming on over zoom – it seemed I bumped into the fellow looking happy and reading wherever I went for a few days. Then, just like that, he was done with the book, and the series itself. 

The house has been abuzz with magic ever since. The wand from Ollivander’s gift shop has been found, batteries replaced, and the lumos spell is very helpful while looking for one’s shoes in the closet with no lights. 

As anyone who has gone through the arc with the young wizards will attest, there isn’t enough magic to go around after an event like that. The epilogue is described variously described as ‘a let-down’, ‘sappy’, ‘unnecessary’ and all of that. But in my mind, it was required closure for the author who spent every waking moment with these characters.

We had an unwritten rule in the house, viz: we’d watch the movies after the books have been read wherever possible. So, we waited patiently. As he finished one book after the other, there was a mini celebration and the week-end movie nights would invariably be Harry Potter & The Completed Book.

As we were getting ready for the movie watching session, the children came clamoring for an instant 2 minute Maggi noodles dinner. They love the tangy soupy instant nature of it. I gave them a stern look and a familiar lecture on healthy eating. Seeing the drooping faces, I said, “Look on the bright side, we can have 2 minute popcorn for movie night tonight!” 

Image from Amazon.com site

Comparisons between the movie script and a fresh reading of Harry Potter is always a thrilling exercise. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an even more wonderful experience since it rewards you with 2 movies. And so it was, last week-end that we got to dissociate from the myriad problems of the world and immerse ourselves in those of the wizarding world. 

The last 2 movies are especially great watching, since there are so many scenes of note: Dear Dobby, Voldy screaming Aaavvvaaddaa Kedaavvrraaa, McGonagall calling on the locomotor to defend the school. 

The next evening, the son lumos-ed his way into the kitchen as I stood helplessly wondering what to make for dinner that night. Have I mentioned that it is one of my least favorite things to do: Standing and wondering what to make. I must’ve. It is a pet peeve. So, there I stood looking as mutinous as Voldemort’s clouds of doom, when the youngest wizard pranced in, and said, “Do you know there are at least 7 ways in which you can kill somebody without screaming Avada Kedavra like Voldemort does in the last scene?”

“Really?” I asked and he proceeded to rattle them all off. 

I stood there, and asked if he knew a spell for making dinner. 

“Yes! It only takes 2 minutes!” He said and grinned. I gave in to the little tyke’s demands and slurped Maggi 2 Minute Noodles discussing all the possible spells with disastrous effects.