Aphonia

I hadn’t met my siblings and siblings-in-law in 3 years and this unexpected trip to see them was rejuvenating. I found myself in a bit of a jitter as I boarded the airplane. My stellar siblings, nieces, nephews, parents and parents-in-law had all come to Bangalore to spend a few days with me, and I felt my heart bursting with gratitude and anticipation.

Covid travel made for strange times, and though I was enormously grateful for video calls, phone calls, and all the different modes of communication, the ability to see and be with those you love was going to be special. Accordingly, it was an excited  chronicler of lives who stepped out into Bangalore airport.

The next few days were a blur of activity. 

I felt myself talking so much my jaws hurt. One particular night when the chats went late into the night, I felt my voice crack. It just sort of gurgled and went hoarse. It had to – there is such a thing as too much talking. It was a malady that struck us all this week. I suppose it happens to those who talk or sing for a living. It was a curious phenomenon for me. 

a·pho·ni·a (Pronunciation: /āˈfōnēə,əˈfōnēə/)

loss of ability to speak

I was told by Dr Google about the causes for Aphonia, and I nodded along – that last part was the cause:

What causes aphonia? The main causes of voice loss are: Diseases of the respiratory system: a cold, laryngitis, cough, tonsillitis, nodules, allergies, throat cancer. Misuse of the voice: straining the voice too much or shouting.

Dr Google

The next day as I coughed my way into the morning, my voice refused to wake up – the teas, ginger-lemon hot waters, nothing seemed to work.  I was told (with some glee if I might add) that it might be a good idea to keep quiet. I nodded wondering how I was going to do that when in a few hours, I was going to see my sister after 3.5 years. 

I was correct in my apprehensions, for the next night went into the same mode. The sister and I had sore throats the next day. We croaked and moaned our way through the day, and still kept talking. It was as if a dam had broken loose and the word torrents wouldn’t stop. Finally, it had reached a point of hopeless whispering and we were still going strong.

I had a strange feeling wash over me the following day -maybe this is what a hangover feels like. Fits of good girl-i-ness overcame me and I said to the sister that, “I want to be serene and above mere emotions! You know? One of those strong and silent types who are able to convey emotions with a mere grunt and a nod. The populace listens, the masses oblige, and the powers that be execute.” 

She gave me one of her looks, and chuckled, “No you won’t! To say you want to speak less, you used 3 sentences. You’re not going to be the strong and silent type. Besides, we want this one – not a buddha who nods and sshhh-es!”

With that I had to be content. 

The author can be found sipping hot water and lemon teas with her heart full and throat sore for the next couple of days.

The Origin of Dreams

It was a mild day in Jaipur. This time of year means one can walk among the structures of the Jantar Mantar without being fried to a crisp. The guide was explaining the scientific relevance of the structures in front of us. He explained how the latitude and longitudes were determined by the astronomers of centuries ago. As we stood there calculating the angle of the sun and subtracting it from the Indian Standard Time and so on, I missed the son. This is a place that would have interested him enormously – his unswerving curiosity and awe about the cosmos and the nature of time notwithstanding, it was also a propitious time for such musings. 

Earlier that day, I had cheered along with him as we sat on opposite sides of the world and watching the Artemis 1 launch and take off to the moon. Every time the launch had been delayed, he had had a small pang of disappointment. But this time, his eyes shone: “Amma, even if you have a meeting, please just make sure that you watch it. It will be at …”, and he went ahead and calculated the local time for me. Accordingly, I sat in my room watching the launch and cheering with the fellow.

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-share-artemis-i-update-with-orion-at-farthest-point-from-earth

Image credit: Bill Ingalls: Image Source: https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/artemis-i-launch-0.html

His eyes shone, triumphant as he caught the excitement of the launch with periodic updates from NASA. I told him that I was going to a place that he would really like later that day and he asked me to enjoy it on his behalf. An astronomical marvel from centuries ago. A place where astronomers had mapped the skies with accuracy and skill. 

As I stood there watching the different structures and listening to our guide as he explained how each worked, I also derived small pleasures in seeing that his own narratives often confused astrology and astronomy. (Humans have always been wracked by problems: If, along the way, they tried to understand the sources of their trials and tribulations as something beyond them, who could blame them? ) Nevertheless, it was humbling to see how the astronomers of centuries ago had managed to get their recordings and data accurate to such a high degree. 

That rocket launch of a few hours ago was a cumulative building of dreams and imagining worlds beyond what is known to us. Dreams that started with the ancient homosapiens wondrously mapping the skies, and millennia of human evolutionary interest in the heavens. 

Carl Sagan quote :

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”

– Carl Sagan

How many such dreams are being hatched as we speak? I read a children’s book: Ara, The Dream Innovator – By Komal Singh, that tried to capture the importance of Dreams. It was business-oriented even for a children’s book. The startup language of funding and patents and all the rest of it somehow did not quite capture the magic of dreams, but it was a good book nevertheless. 

We do not know how many dreams are being hatched today that have the potential of being realized in the near or far future. So, I am all for going to places that nurture these fantastical sojourns into our dream consciousness.

To infinity and beyond!

The Writing Life

I took my book, Writing For Your Life by Anna Quindlen to a cafe to read. The essay I happened to be on at the time was about Narrative Medicine, and the benefits of writing the stresses and reflections of life from our often stressed and there-when-folks-are-most-vulnerable medical professionals. 

Dr Rita Charon started a program titled Parallel Charts wherein medical students wrote their own experiences and charted their days out with information that would not appear on a medical chart. For example there was one instance of a young resident who felt a stab of personal pain every time he walked into the room where the patient was suffering from pancreatic cancer. The patient reminded him too much of his deceased grandfather who had died from the same disease a few months earlier; or the nurse who wrote about her mind wandering at the delivery of a first-time mother: ‘it’s her first baby, it isn’t going to be a slip-and-slide’. 

This kind of narrative writing is crucial not just because we may lose such lucid moments to the passage of time, but also because we do get to cement our learnings and experience while writing it out. Our learnings for the future if you will. Unfortunately writing is not easy. It requires patience, steadfastness and an active determination to set your thoughts into words.

In the words of Anais Nin :


“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

Anais Nin

I have often written about what a lifesaver writing has been. I got to treasure the truly hilarious moments of life multiple times over and I am sure I would not have remembered half of it had I not written it all down. To think that I have only recorded a small measure of life continues to be a yearning. I can blame time, resource and ability and many more limitations. However, it is equally required to experience life in its fullest forms to be able to jot at least some of it down. And thus life goes on. Not writing half as much as I’d like, but writing enough to give me a hearty glimpse on times gone by and the many joys, triumphs, trials and tribulations that it bought along its wake. 

Note: I was humbled to read that many authors have a daily output of nearly 10000 words. Truly astounding. 

It is a pity that this exercise of Narrative Medicine is not more widely practiced in other areas of life. Any body who is in the position of guiding or caring for another human being – teachers, coaches, mentors, leaders, managers, nurses, doctors, therapists, counselors, lawyers, tax accountants, parents should all have this in their toolkit to cope, better ourselves and enjoy the passage of time. 

I am an engineering leader, and having had the benefit of being shaped as a leader by companies that had a human interest, means that I do take an active interest in the people on my teams – the ones I directly manage and the ones I interact with. 

This was often a refrain in my team meetings and I still think it is true: We may forget the actual work we did or how it was done, but we will never forget who we accomplished these things with! 

This is the human experience and to have leaders who are able to see us for who we are: human beings with potential to do good, is the best thing that can happen to us. I know many who would scoff at this and write this off as corporate humdrum, but I can vouch that when you know a team-mate’s visa is up, or their child is undergoing surgery, or their insurance running out means tumultuous times for their dependents, it only makes us grow as humans to see these situations and help manage through them.

If, at the end of the day, we do not remember the humans who helped shape our thoughts and feelings, we may as well be replaced by AI bots. 

After all, we are all broken in different places and as I glanced up at the board in the cafe that day, the clairvoyance of it in the context of narrative writing was unmistakable.

“Let my troubles be the cause of someone’s laugh, but let not my laugh be the source of someone’s troubles.” – there truly was a wise restaurateur at the helm.

Magical Novembers

Novembers in Bay Area are magical. There is a promise of rain in the air, the fall colors are out and the dry sordid months of summer finally seem to be behind us. The trees burst forth in a sudden splash of color. Octobers are to Prince Edward Island in Canada as Novembers are to California. So, I have absolutely no problem in gushing like Anne of Green Gables : “I love a world with Novembers in them.” 

The son and I had were taking a short break after a bike ride. We stood there admiring the way the leaves seemed to be flipping as the wind went through them when an ornithologist found us. We politely made space for him on the park bench. After a few minutes, we went on to having conversation on nature based hobbies and such. 

He had with him one of those cameras and lenses that can zoom upto 714 times. The son & I exchanged glances. Could that pelican sitting on that small island in the lake be seen well with that lens then? Jack (the ornithologist cum photographer), told us indeed he could and he went on to take a few photographs to show us. We were more than suitably impressed, and he was gracious and generous in showing us how his lens worked.

I have always been in awe of those who were able to get fantastic photographs of the birds. I have several friends whose photographs have me yearning for their gift of composition. With landscapes, while I still admire the artistic compositions, with moving targets such as birds, I find the whole process fascinating. My attempts at hummingbird photography have proved to me that (a) hummingbirds are very fast – research says they can flap upto 50 times a minute and (b) my phone is usually unable to capture them flying. 

But my new phone and Jack’s attempts at the photographs were inspiration enough for me to go back to mooning about the lakesides and riverfronts looking for birds. I suppose these birding photographers do this all the time, but when I did, I felt like I had developed wings myself and fluttered away – whether as an angel or a devil did not matter.

I got my first picture of an Anna hummingbird (albeit one resting on a tree), but I got a picture nevertheless. I also captured on my phone,  a mockingbird, a siege of herons, a pod of pelicans and an assortment of wood ducks, grebes and coots.

The skies, in the meanwhile, look like nothing I’ve seen before( although my phone best to differ based on the number of pictures it classifies as ‘Similar pictures’). I would love to be a crepuscular artist knowing fully well that I could never aspire to the true artistry that is on display every day for us – especially during the rainy season. 

I suggest everyone take some time to enjoy the rains and the clean skies and earth afterward.

I sat in the car watching the rain pouring down and feeling the sense of life’s stresses washing away. Californian rains are whimsical: one minute they beat down, maybe even give in to a thumping hailstorm, but in the next few minutes, the clouds scud away as quickly as they gathered leaving a jaw-dropping sort of blue and white clouds behind them. It is magical. 

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

Henry David Thoreau

Psst – Read the BG

The daughter was probably five or six years old at the time. and the morning school going routine was enough to make athletes and event organizers shudder. 

  • Was the cereal done? 
  • Where’s the homework?
  • The shoes – don’t forget to wear shoes to school

One such morning, the husband saw her dawdle with her cereal and bowl of milk. His own sharp eye was on the clock, and he was trying to move her along without flustering her. He asked her if he can help her with the milk, but the already-too-big-to-ask-for-help daughter said no in a saucy voice and then proceeded to take the bowl and drink the milk from it with her lips on the upper side of the bowl.

Even without the grand influences of gravity that would have had an interesting outcome. With gravity, it meant that the milk poured like a beautiful white waterfall onto her light pink pants (her favorite at the time). 

Now, this set off an interesting train of events in the household. The husband saw that one word or raised voice would lead to a bigger drama and they would probably not make it to school on time. So, he pursed his lips and tut-tutted emitting a sound that sounded like (Pssskkk). He then charged upstairs, found another pair of pants, while I got her out of her dripping milky ones, and gave her a quick wash/wipedown. He threw the pants, I caught it, dressed her, and bundled her off to the car. The background music was now at a high octave and reaching a crescendo. If the signal is green they’d make it. If not, well….

A few minutes later, the husband enters looking like a warrior who’d won the latest war and beamed that they made it on time. We high-fived each other and on that high note of victory went about our day.

However, in the evening when the daughter saw us, her eyes brimmed with tears as she sat on her grandfathers lap. “You almost looked like you were going to yell at me. You said “PPSSSK” – waaah! “ 

The poor husband looked on helplessly as tears filled her eyes, and he almost looked like he was sorry for saying “PPSSKK!”

It has since become a joke in the house. You said “Pppssskkk! ” or “You looked like you were almost going to yell!” 

Where am I going with all this you ask. Bear with me.

I have a reasonable tsundoku pile as any book-lover would. The physical pile gives me a deploring look every now and then, and when particularly powerful, I yield. But there is another pile that is online, and that never gives me dirty looks. This pile, of course, is relegated to the let’s-see-when-we-travel lot.  Post-Covid – this pile has been particularly neglected. 

So, one day, a good friend of mine, was Bhagawad Gita-ing, and I asked in all humility whether I may borrow a copy of the book. A pained response came from him. 

He almost looked like he was going to say “PPPssskkkkk!” Waah waah! This poor friend had gifted me a copy of the book last year in the Kindle, and I had downloaded it dutifully. 

So, you ask what I have been doing. Remembering the almost-going-to-say-pppsssskkk look and reading the book.

I must say – it all seems simple enough in theory. Do your duty and leave the rest to the Universe. #Bhagwad Gita

It seems a good lesson in the current times of economic turmoil and companies announcing layoffs etc.

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 47

I am glad my friend almost looked like he was going to say “PPSSKK” for thinking of one’s duty and not its results seems like good advice for a week like this.

The Magic of Just Being

The world of news was being rocked once again. The company I worked for had already endured hard times in the news and the general feeling was one of anxiety and exhaustion. 

Over the week-end, I had come for a walk by a water body that the son & I lovingly christened Reflection Pond – for you could see the skies reflected in the waters, the world from a different perspective.

There were 2 deer peeping out from within the mist and a rustling nearby indicated the hares were getting ready for some morning exercise as well. 

There were a pair of pelicans who took insouciance to a different level. Yet, as they gracefully paddled on that lake, I thought of that little piece in the Fox, Mole, Horse and Boy. 

“How do they look so perfect together?” Asked the boy.

‘There is a lot of frantic paddling going on beneath’ said the horse.

The Fox, Mole, Horse and Boy

As I walked back, my attention went again to the digital town square that is the sign of the times we live in. I had one of those moments that Henry David Thoreau chastised us against, for it was obvious that I brought the village (or in this case, the town square) with me. 

When I realized what I was doing though, I shook myself out of this and firmly pushed these thoughts aside telling myself that  shall attend to them when the time was right. I looked up from the previous posture of a head bent with woe, and that is when I saw the pelicans take flight. 

There is something majestic about large birds taking flight. The little ones flit and twit with ease, while the larger ones seem to be much like our cargo aircraft. Huge, but still not half as unwieldy as our man-made designs during takeoff or landing.

By the time I fumbled for the phone for the pictures, the pelicans had flown leaving me with a sense of awe.

The clouds that paint a different picture for us every day had painted a lovely dragon or an enormous swan taking flight that day. The crescent moon in its waxing phase was shining amidst all this glory.

The pink hues against the light blue skies were enough to make the heart rejoice. As the pinks turned to orange and then grey, my spirits lifted slowly.

I had an idea for a lovely children’s book that has since morphed and evaporated like the clouds that day.

A few deep breaths made me realize that fresh air, beautiful clouds, a time of transformation are all things we take for granted, but when we do stop to think about them, they fill us with a sense of contentment.

Nature had worked its magic yet again: There is no better place to learn the lesson of Just Being.

I realize that I cannot quite capture the serenity of a walk such as this one. But I can jot down the gratitude for this magnificence so I may be able to dip into it at will.  

Elusive Wisdom!

When folks talk about gratitude etc, I suppose they think of the big things in life: good health, good job, good grades, good education, good house to live in etc.

I don’t suppose people have the wisdom to thank their teeth for not hurting. They should. For all of the pesky pains, a toothache takes the biscuit! I started with a minor toothache about 10 days ago. Like one of these classical sonatas, the tempo and intensity increased gradually at first and by the end of it all, I was positively galloping to the dentists’ office.

The saga started with the revelation that I had wisdom teeth left. I thought that all that was gone a few years ago. But after a half dozen x-rays taken in increasingly awkward positions with my jaw propped open, my dentist (who has the bedside manner of a goose denied its supper) said I needed surgery – for the wisdom (teeth) was hard to get to. 

I whelped. 

By means of an answer, she took what felt like a hot knitting needle and plunged it into my gums. When I leapt out of the chair, she looked proud of her deductive skills and told me that it was as she suspected: I have a toothache and needed surgery. 

So, it was that I found myself on a chair, and going under. I suppose these anesthesiologists have a way of confirming that one has really transcended the realm of our daily living. I don’t know what technique was used. But like one of those Disney princesses in fairy tales, I was woken up a few hours later and I got to ask the surgeon and nurses “Oh! Where am I?” – only I don’t think any sounds came out. 

I was whipped to a nearby wheelchair and wheeled to the car where the husband looked suitably sympathetic, though I could see he was waiting to laugh once I did. But I suppose common courtesy kept him from starting the hilarities. I appreciated it. 

When finally, I managed to get a glimpse of myself, I did let out a hollow laugh. He turned and after ascertaining that I was amused let out a nice, generous laugh. The left side of my face looked like it was the storage shelf for a mini water melon.

The eye drooped, the cheek bulged, the nostril flared, the chin braced, the ear held on, the eyelids closed, the eyelashes stuck together, the lips and tongue all looked and felt as one, and the whole head felt like a lemon that has just been through a squeezer and a bloater at the same time. In time, I was assured that all this would unstick and unravel and un-bilge and un-bulge, but for now, I had to adorn the stiff upper lip (only the lip and t were…) 

It was what I call an interesting week. Sleep eluded me at nights inspite of the painkillers, and I found myself looking out the window often. I didn’t know our old home was a such an interesting hangout. One night I saw a raccoon family jump over the fence. First , the mother came along and she must’ve given her kits the signal and soon, a nice, large family trooped across the lawn looking inquisitive, happy and content. This mother was obviously doing a good job for all the kits listened to her directions and seemed to have camaraderie amongst themselves. 

Another night, I heard the unmistakable hoots of owls, and though I scoured the trees nearby, could not spot them.

In any case, the old face has straightened itself out again and the pain has subsided somewhat, and so I shall leave the creatures of the night to their own devices.

Bon Nuit! Wisdom reigns again.

Poetry

“How was your morning Amma?” said the son looking solicitous. He has taken to asking me this question every now and then knowing that I have been missing the companionship of the past few months. (The daughter went to college, the parents left for home, the niece left for her college, and what was a swirling whirlwind of wonderful social interactions suddenly quietened down to a buzz. I do enjoy solitude, but the suddenness of it took me by surprise )

That week-end morning, I answered with zest.

“Good kanna. I listened to galaxies, and then went rock climbing to solve a few problems. Then, I closed my eyes and went to some wild, wild places to hobnob with some wild, wild things. “

“Right!”, he said rolling his eyes just like his teenaged sister taught him. “So you read a couple of children’s books!” 

“Yep! Which ones did you like best?”

I looked at the cosmophile and gave him my truthful answer.

“Listening to the Stars – the life and story of Jocelyn Bell Burner who was credited with discovering the first 3 neutron  stars, but denied the Nobel Prize for the discovery. They gave it to her male colleagues instead.Ugh!”

“Yes..I read that book too. It was awesome! I wish she won the Nobel Prize too.”

We then shared a moment or two about the unfairness of it all. Then to lighten things up, I said, “But I also realized that the fragile tendrils of love tethering us to Earthly existence are very strong!”

“Ugh! Cheesy! Which book is that?”

“Forgotten poems of Pablo Neruda.” I said grinning.

He chuckled as he walked away. “Poems by Pablo Neruda!”

“You can’t just be an astronaut – you also have to have poetry in your heart so you can share it with the cosmos my man! Remember how folks would’ve liked that from Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin?”

“And music too. Remember you might to have to interpret whale song for other lifeforms! Our life as a kaleidoscope!” I said with a grand gesture of the world with my hands.

“Yes..yes! Well – good to hear you all chirpy. Have fun ma!”

The Power of Banned Books

The son & I were chatting of this and that as we walked into the library mostly missing the old pater who had left the previous week. Grandfather, Grandson & Self: would make a song and dance out of our library trips, and look forward to it with shining eyes. 

The rest of the household indulged us in this pursuit. We traipsed home with seeds for the vegetable garden from the Solarium in the library, we came home with books defying regular ideas, we got on spaceships and shot off to Mars and beyond with our books, we explored magical entrances to worlds in which we could safely explore our problems, we went on philosophical jaunts with ideologies, we set about trying to understand ecosystems, habitats, climate change, economies, neuroscience, cellular biology, systems design whether or not we completely understood, but just because we could and it was fun to do so.

Books became our source of infinity and the three generations were content for days in our different worlds. 

“I wish Thaatha was here to see this. Oh! He would’ve loved to look at this.”, said the son, stopping in front of the spectacular Banned Books exhibit in the library.

For Banned Books Week, the little exhibit showcased famous banned books and the reasons they were questioned in the first place. 

The son, looked at me with huge round eyes and said – “Really! Why would they ban Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, and this cute little book on Penguins just because it has gay penguins?”

I joined him at the exhibit and saw The Handmaid’ s Tale, Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte’s Web and a score of other loved books in that list. 

I saw the concern in his face. 

“You know? When I see this list, I am grateful we got to read so many of these books, but also makes me think of that little snippet in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

“Which snippet?”

“The one where Hermione Granger is beaming after Umbridge bans Potter’s interview proclaiming the return of Lord Voldemort? She says that if Umbridge could have done one thing to make sure that absolutely everyone in the school read the interview, it was banning it.”

He smiled and we discussed why books are banned in the first place. Are inclusive ideas that frightening? Why do dictators ban books – for the ability to imagine is a dangerous game. What if their oppressed populace imagined life without their tyrannical rule? 

Many authors have faced life threatening situations (most recently Salman Rushdie) for their ideas. Ideas are seeds after all, they can take root and make people imagine a better existence for themselves and where would be then?

“I wish your Thaatha had access to a good public library in India.” I said sadly. It has been a wish and a dream for the country I was born in. 

We harked back to a little town he had designed. In that world,  libraries were prioritized right alongside schools, hospitals, parks, and public transit and I liked it so much. 

I picked up Where the Wilds Things Are – by Maurice Sendak for it seems we needed to read at least one book on that exhibit.

A Question of Time

The past week has been an interesting one in many ways. Emotions aside, what this meant in practical terms was that the nourish-n-cherish household ran on a clock. 

The map says it takes 45 minutes at peak traffic, but surprise of surprises, it took 62 minutes, neatly shaving off the buffer we had baked in for grabbing a snack. 

At 10:45, we would have to be there at Y parking garage so that we could get to X building at 11:00.

At 4:45, the flight leaves from Airport Here. That means, the time at Airport There would be x-12.5, but there is x+7.5 stop-over in between.

By pure chance during this time of frenzy, I had with me a slim book, Longitude – The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dave Sobel.

It made for an interesting read on how we managed to get time down to a science. Dava Sobel creates an excellent narrative around the problem of Time and Maritime navigation.

“Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness withholds the shadow from the sundial, when the mainspring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on.”

Longitude by Dave Sobel 

While many astronomers tried to solve the mystery of keeping time using the astronomical events in the sky such as mapping Jupiter’s moons and their eclipses etc, one man, John Harrison set about solving the problem mechanically with a superior clock design. Clocks of the fifteenth and sixteenth century lost time because their pendulums lost their swing with the swaying of the ships, the internal mechanics rusted with the moisture at sea, and numerous other problems.

Reading about Time and how difficult it must have been to measure, has always fascinated the son & myself.

I suppose Time has become such a cornerstone of our existence that it makes for a refreshing read to hark back to the times when time was an indicator and not as much of a martinet as it is in our over-scheduled lives today.

I was reading Mrs Pringle of Fairacre by Miss Read – every time when life demands a slowing down and it is physically hard to do so, a dip into the lovely village green of Thrush Green or Fairacre does the trick. In the Fairacre books, Mrs  Pringle is the competent school cleaner who is also a bit of a virago. Her scatter-brained niece Minnie Pringle is often featured – incompetent and maddening as she is, she helps(or hinders) Miss Read out now and then. In this snippet, Miss Read learns that Minnie Pringle, a mother of 3 and stepmother to 5 young children, never really learnt to look at the clock and read the time.

Mrs Pringle of Fairacre: About Minnie Pringle 

I had not really taken in the fact that she could not tell the time

‘Well, I never sort of mastered the clock”, she said vaguely, implying that were a great many other things which she had mastered in her time.

‘But how do you manage?’ I enquired, genuinely interested.

“I looks out for the Caxley’, she replied. ‘It gets to the church about the hour.’ (The Caxley is the local bus)

‘But not every hour.” I pointed out.

‘Yes…but there is also the church bell.’

‘It still seems rather hit and miss,’ I said.

Mrs Pringle – By Miss Read

When I read the above snippet, I threw my head back and laughed. Almost subconsciously, I glanced at the various apps on my smartphone to remind me about the day : there were calendars synced with my meeting schedules, alarms to remind me of certain events and classes for the children, timers to help the rice cooker turn itself off, the world clock app to let me know when it is okay to call my friends in the different corners of the globe. 

Maybe John Harrison (The man who came up with the design of a clock that could hold time during maritime vagaries such as storms and tidal waves without rusting or losing momentum in the sixteenth century) did not quite anticipate the extent to which the world would adhere to Time, but it is refreshing to think of a few people who are not ruled by the ticking of the clock.

Maybe we should have Do-Nothing Days in which neither the phones, nor the passing of time intrude. It will be a refreshing change for sure.

Note: The obsession with Time is called Chronomania and those who live in perpetual fear of time ticking, time passing have Chronophobia.

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