Tales from a River Bed

I stood there one morning, the serenity of the surroundings mirrored in my face. There, ahead of me, in the river bed with just a trickle of water making its way to the bay in the west was a snowy white egret. It stood there relishing its solitude. I have never seen them in groups in the riverbed. There are a few of them I spot every once in a while, but never together. Further in the distance stood a great blue heron – also alone, its regal grey neck craning to see I knew not what.

Great blue heron – when this grey beauty flies, one’s spirit soars too

This riverbed is an interesting place. Of late, I notice a little red fox darting quickly especially as the sun sets. How one fox cub managed to make its way into the suburban area so far removed from the hills on the other side of town is beyond me. I’ve seen coyotes up in the hills before, but never a red fox. There are many cats slinking around the river. I’ve seen water rats, geese, ducks, ducklings, deer. One some days, we see sheep grazing there, tended lovingly by a horseman with a cowboy hat who eclectically raises his hand in greeting, “Hola Amigos!” , and his shepherding dogs. 

On warm evenings, I am accompanied by cricket songs, and croaking. I read in a non-fiction book by Peter Wohlleben , The Weather Detective, that crickets only chirp when the temperature is above 54 degrees Fahrenheit. That is most summer evenings in California. 

The squawking of geese, the flapping of small wren-like birds, the beautiful chittering of birds, the blackbirds songs, the swooping of the sparrows, and cawing of ravens as they make their way home are all harmonious against the setting sun. The autumnal equinox is here, which means that the sun sets are getting earlier and earlier. Soon, by the time we are done with our host of meetings, life in the riverbed would have quietened down or is at least not visible.

The more time I spend in corporate worlds, the more I relish the simple pleasures of the creatures in the riverbed. True, they are affected more than we think by our lifestyles and the effects. The river -bed is a sad reminder of global warming. The Earth is hot and thirsty and is forever parched. The ribbon like strand of water is heavily regulated and trickles by not so regularly. The river bed itself is fully grown with reeds and tall grasses, creating the perfect camouflage for all the creatures that seek to make this place home.

A distant palm tree reflected in the river

I think the kind of landscape that you grew up in, it lives with you. I don’t think it’s true of people who’ve grown up in cities so much; you may love a building, but I don’t think that you can love it in the way that you love a tree or a river or the colour of the earth; it’s a different kind of love.

Arundhati Roy

But the river bed never looks the same. A trick of the light, the clouds scattered differently, the moonlight, the houses along the banks, and the creatures therein. There is constant change and yet, a constancy in its charm.

This trail near the new nest has become my own version of The Wind in the Willows. I stroll by there, sometimes yearning for the peek at the crane, or the heron, on other days just to catch a glimpse of the deer. Most days I go expecting nothing but come back fulfilled all the same. Some little thing has always worked its magic, and I come back refreshed.

Life’s Lessons – Fun Pockets

Life’s lessons are imparted in many ways. On walks in nature, yaps with the children, and of course in the moments of reflection from the constant doing. 

Sometimes, all these come together in the form of lovable books.

Take these 3 for instance:

  • You are a beautiful beginning – by Nina Laden Illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley. The book takes all of those trite sayings and manages to make it a beautiful compilation of images. A joy to thumb through. Stop me if I have mentioned this before, but the illustrations in children’s books are brilliant, and I am so grateful to be able to see so many of them and appreciate them in my own simple way.

Lovely wise things in beautiful settings:

It is not wishing to be different. It is learning to love being you

It is not about winning the game. It is having fun while you play,

  • You are a beautiful beginning – by Nina Laden Illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley.
    • Wild Symphony by Dan Brown (yes, the author of  Da Vinci Code.) I do think this book is much better than all of his other best sellers (I liked Da Vinci Code, but subsequent ones rambled and tumbled downhill I felt) If I need to remember his work, I would gladly remember Wild Symphony. He manages to combine whimsy, poetry, and music to the most marvelous effect. The illustrator has taken things even further by the beautiful imagery in the book.

    Side note: Dan Brown has become a sort of joke between the husband and daughter.
    You see, we each try to get her to read things that we are fairly sure she will like. With what result? A shrug. Some nonchalance. Maybe a snort. She takes the husband’s recommendation for movies far more than his recommendations of books. I stopped keeping score of the statistics on my side. It was heavy going, and the odds aren’t encouraging.

    Wild Symphony – By Dan Brown, illustrated by Susan Batori

    Anyway, back to Dan Brown, this book is in my opinion his best. Every animal plays a different instrument, and teaches a different lesson.

    Do you feel like a little alone-time would be nice? 

    A swan song would be just the thing

    Do you feel alone in the world?

    A walk in the evenings with Cricket song might be just the cure

    Animal Orchestra – By Dan Brown

    Here is a link to some of the songs in Wild Symphony.

    Really between these books, life does feel meaningful, purposeful and joyful. Most importantly, it reminds us to watch out for wonder and learning on every side.

    Snail Tales

    When R K Narayan said, writing is like a yoga, I suppose he didn’t quite envision the exact pose in which inspiration would strike. For me, it seems to be in the Shavasana(sleeping or corpse) pose. Take Saturday night for instance. I had mooned about the hills early in the am. Happy  cows, and cheeky turkeys hobnobbed with nervous cows and pesky humans to great delight in the misty dews of the morning. 

    A morning out in nature is usually balm enough to get the old inspiration going. I spent the whole day with wisps of little sentences floating in and out of the brain. Sentences that would make amazing epiphanies, little witticisms that I yearn for when trying bite-size nuggets of wisdom, they all paid a visit.

    Throughout the day, inspiration seemed to come along just when I was slicing the onions, or grumbling about the crumbs with the old vacuum cleaner in hand. I had no access to put some of these words to paper. Then, early evening came, and I sat down to write, when the beautiful full moon rose – hanging like a large golden orb over the Earth. Poets swooned, artists swelled, and writers bloomed. I rushed in, opened my laptop, and had one of the dullest writing sessions possible. 

    I teased and pleaded – trying to gather the wisps into a cotton ball of candy, but nothing happened. I wrote the dullest set of sentences conceivable and decided to not fight the muse anymore, and headed to bed. 

    I opened , Over Seventy, by P G Wodehouse, (his autobiography) and there was a section written by P G Wodehouse on how he would hesitate to use snails as subjects.

    “As a writer I have always rather kept off snails, feeling that they lacked sustained dramatic interest,. With a snail, nothing much ever happens, and of course, there is no sex angle. An informant I can rely says they are ‘sexless or at least ambivalent… Obviously, the snail-meets-snail, snail-loses-snail, snail-gets-snail formula will not help you and this discourages writers from the start.”

    Over Seventy – P G Wodehouse – Essay on Bridges, Snails and Meteorites

    Well, what do you think this innocuous paragraph did? It started the brain off on a most interesting snail trail. I harked back to the book, Birds, Beasts & Relatives, by Gerald Durrell, where he dedicates a good portion of his musings on myrtle forests to snails, and what an interesting love subject it proved to be.

    He writes with such obvious rapture on the mating ritual of snails, that I wonder why entire sonnets aren’t dedicated to this marvelous endeavor. He had the good fortune of finding the slow blisters stirred into action after a freak thunderstorm got them going. 

    Sure enough, on a myrtle branch there were two fat, honey- and amber-coloured snails gliding smoothly towards each other, their horns waving provocatively.

    … This freak storm had obviously awakened them and made them feel gay and romantic. 

    So, there they were, side by side attached to each other by the two little white cords. And there they sat like two curious sailing ships roped together. This was amazing enough, but stranger things were to follow. The cords gradually appeared to get shorter and shorter and drew the two snails together. They stayed rapturously side by side for some fifteen minutes and then, without so much as a nod or a thank you, they glided away in opposite directions, neither one displaying any signs of darts or ropes, or indeed any sign of enthusiasm at having culminated their love affair successfully.”

    Birds, Beasts, and Relatives – By Gerald Durrell – Essay on Myrtle Forests

    I closed the book, and an image from the early evening, with the skies pink in the setting sun arose. I had just watered the plants. The children and I had squealed at the moisture at the end of the hot day, and stood there enjoying the little rainbows created by the water sprays, when I spotted a snail clinging to the succulents, and making a slow but hard climb towards the lavender patch. The children gathered around to see the beautiful creature too. Was the snail’s sentience relishing the sunset skies too?

    Sluggish thoughts indeed, but rather the best for a drift into sleep. Where old P.G.Wodehouse was stumped with the snail-as-dramatic-love-interest angle, old Gerald Durrell had spun a yarn with the very angle. I yawned one of those jaw-breaking ones, and resolved to write about snails instead. So, here we are.

    The Nature of Light

    “Uggghhhhh – guess what time I have to get up in the morning tomorrow?” , said the daughter as she piled into the house. School has started, and that means the poor teenager has had to get snippy while the time was still in the ‘AM’ . No more lounging around in those horribly comfortable looking baggy pants till well past noon, or late night giggling with her friends late into the night. Transitions are always tough, and I chuckled at the troubled face. 

    “Stop laughing!”

    “It’s okay – the first week is always hard. It is Friday, and you will be better off next week!”

    “No…really! Guess what time they are asking me to come tomorrow. I told them I am not going at that unearthly hour!”

    I raised my eyebrows. 

    “Senior Sunrise if you please.”

    “Oh that is lovely! But you must go. Of course you must – it is beautiful with all the marvelous colors, and think of company after the pandemic. I will get up, and wake you with a smile on my face.” I said.

    She gave me a withering look. “Of all the people to wake people up early in the morning, and that too with a bright smile, you take the biscuit. “

    I did not care too much for that flaunting hair toss, but I can take the rough with the smooth I suppose. 

    Later that day the son and I took out our bikes and headed off into the sunset. The cumulus clouds overhead were marvelous early in the evening, and we knew the sunset on a day like this will be beautiful. But, like nature usually does, we weren’t quite prepared for the kind of marvelous it had in store for us.

    I learnt a few beautiful words the other day from a post on Facebook: Nephophile ( A lover of clouds) & Opacarophile ( A lover of sunsets)

    Light has always fascinated mankind. Photons, wave-particle duality all aside, it is the one thing that illuminates our existence. The wavelengths that we can see is enough to make our experience magical. The differences in the world as perceived by other creatures is even more marvelous to behold. 

    We drooled and drank in the sunset as long as we could, and headed back home to see a beautiful crescent moon rising among the plethora of clouds. An orange hued moon, multi-hued clouds and the setting sun against the beautiful waters were more than enough.

    I came home that evening and opened the children’s book, Every Color of Light – By Hiroshi Oshada Illustrated by: Ryoji Arai

    Beautifully illustrated, each page is a joy. The subtle colors of a rainy day, an earth enhanced in its beauty by the light of the feeble sun through the clouds, and the lovely light of the sun setting before the stars start shining down on the benign page are all therapeutic.

    I returned to the fray with the daughter, and reiterated the magic of Senior Sunrise, with the silver lining: she could see and talk to her friends again. An eye-roll later, she accepted.

    Off she went the next day at 5:45 a.m. to catch the sunrise. She came home, and said, “Actually, I am kind of glad you made me go. Nobody really watched the sunrise – it was pinkish and just got brighter I suppose, but it was kind of beautiful and it was fun hanging out with everyone. I think I am remembering how to talk to people in the 3-d world again.”

    It isn’t often that I get this kind of acknowledgment and if I gloated and herded the family to catch another glorious sunset, what of it?

    Factfulness

    I am glad I read How to Understand the World by Hans Rosling, and then picked up Factfulness. I could more fully appreciate the journey and the person who became the man and found his purpose beyond being a doctor (in itself a marvelous profession). His young aspirations based on the world view in a developed country shifted and enhanced his life in so many ways. He knew when he was interacting with young doctors in Bangalore, India in the 1970’s that the society he had in mind was very different from the world. The world was changing, and yet our worldview had not

    He was to see this trend in varying degrees across different countries, professions and even in erudite halls where world leaders came together, and should’ve known better such as the UN or the World Bank. 

    It is still this way in varying degrees, although the internet and entertainment options have accelerated the understanding of different cultures in different ways. But Hans Rosling’s work along with his son and daughter-in-law, Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Roddmund has helped the world understand the areas in which we are doing well as a species, and as a planet. This factfulness enables us to concentrate our powers of doing to the right causes and people.

     

    Instead of Developed Vs Developing Countries, he instead splits societies into 4 levels on the development graph. (Source: Gapminder.org)

    • Level 1
    • Level 2
    • Level 3
    • Level 4

    Perhaps the most telling graphs in gap minder are those showing how countries shifted from Level 1 towards Level 4 over 2-3 generations, and how this is what we can hope and work towards for those countries stuck in Level 1 and Level 2 today.  Please watch his bubble chart from the Late 1800’s to 2018 to see the world view progress and change.

    Bubble Chart for Level 1- Level 4 countries over time

    He writes, for instance, of a Sweden during his grandparents time – a view that closely resonates with Level 1 or early Level 2 countries of today.

    • Large families, patriarchal mindsets limiting progress, faulty drainage, lack of access to good hospitals and medicines etc.
    • Then, in his mother’s lifetime, she was able to get treated for tuberculosis in a hospital for free, have fewer children than her mother did, gain access to some automation such as a washing machine – thus freeing her up to take her children to the library, and spend more quality time with them.
    • In his own generation, he was able to get free healthcare, a state sponsored medical education, ability to raise his children in good schools, and so much more. 

    The book talks about the most common ways in which our worldview are shaped, and how to work against each of these biases while understanding the world around us. But really, these tenets are useful for decision-making in general, not just for the world-view.

    • Negativity Instinct – we assume things are far worse than they really are, and this clouds our decision making process
    • Straight Line Instinct  – not all trends are linear even if they start out that way. Population growth for instance. It is estimated that by 2100, we would have leveled out around 11 billion – not a linear projection as predicted by doomsayers a few years ago. Largely due to education, family planning etc.
    • Fear Instinct – decisions made irrationally based on fear.
    • Size Instinct
    • Generalization Instinct
    • Destiny Instinct – Fighting against a predetermined fate helps us shape the decisions we’d like.
    • Single Perspective Instinct
    • Blame Instinct
    • Urgency Instinct – Anyone who has bought a car would know this one: Today, and today only deals – that we all know is

    The book finishes with an excellent essay on Factfulness in practice. Progress is happening and it is heartening – 🌏

    References:

    • How I Learned to Understand the World – Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Rönnlund
    • Factfulness – Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Rönnlund
    • Gapminder.org – Designed by Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Rönnlund

    The Statues of Liberty

    I have had the luxury of traveling and reading the past few days. I read and watched the following in one glorious spurt:

    I preferred the books and movies with animals & the magic of our thriving universe in them over the ones with just humans in this lot though.

    • Forgotten Beasts  – by Matt Sewell 
    • 100 animals to see before they die
    • Ice Walker – A Polar Bear’s Journey through Fragile Arctic – James Raffan
    • Birds, Beasts & Relatives – by Gerald Durrell
    • The One & Only Ivan – by Katherine Applegate
    • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – By Taylor Jenkins Reid
    • Back from the Brink – Documentary at the Boston Science Museum
    • Moons: Worlds of Mystery – Documentary at the Boston Science Museum
    • Kung Fu Panda – 2 – Dreamworks Animated Movie

    Granted that the 7 Hs of Evelyn H was a fast read. The narrative style pulled us along with just a hint of intrigue keeping us going till the very end. The story itself appeals because it is a story of someone trapped in the endless trap of fame and glory, and the constant insecurity of ratings and popularity. It is, though, a reminder of the things valued by plenty of humankind, and the reminder of love in a tumultuous world. The interest in another’s life, is a never-ending case of human interest, and the story does justice to that indeed. There are several well-written lines in there on human nature. I must say I have never been enamored by the Kardashian-type of celebrity life shows, so my review is somewhat lukewarm for this one.

    The heart-lifting tale of The One & Only Ivan was up next – the gorilla who saves his little elephant friend Ruby, after making a promise to an older elephant friend, Stella. Based on a true story, this is the kind of story that tugs at heart strings. Katherine Applegate’s writing is a class apart. I have been a fan ever since I read The Tale of Despereaux. 

    I wonder, sometimes with a tinge of envy I admit, about how animals, birds, and marine creatures live without the trappings of economics and finances, and social influences and so on. They navigate by the cosmos as much as we do – In Ice Walker, the author, James Raffan follows the life of a polar bear, Nanu, as she grows, hunts, mates, and raises her young in the polar ice caps. How surely she knows the changing seasons, and the direction in which to lead her cubs for food and sustenance, is beautifully written and portrayed. The bright stars that we peek at, is so much more for these creatures. How far we have come as humans, and how much more left to go? Nanu is killed by humans, and her surviving cub is forlorn. 

    On the way to view the Statue of Liberty, we stopped and watched plenty of statues of liberty along the way. Boston Public Gardens hosts the marvelously made statue of Make Way for the Ducklings by Robert McCluskey. 

    New York’s Central Park hosts many statues : Alice in Wonderland & Hans Christiaan Andersen with a swan are marvelous reminders of life and the marvelous influences of imagination. I wonder how many people worried about the economics and finances of the economies, their lives, and their jobs stopped to take deep breaths and believe in magic once again as they make their way past these statues of liberty.

    It seems only fitting to finish this marvelous post on the different things that sustain human minds and lives with a Seussism or two.

    And Always Remember

    And will you succeed?

    Yes! You will, indeed!

    (98  and 3/4 percent guaranteed) 

    KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS 

    Oh the Places You’ll Go – Dr Seuss

    Or this one?

    Expand Your Horizon

    The more that you read, 

    The more things you will know,

    The more that you learn,

    The more places you’ll go

    – I Can Read With My Eyes Shut – Dr Seuss

    Is This Bohemian Chic?

    We have been gallivanting across Boston and New York the past few days. 

    I remember reading a children’s book a long time ago about the country mouse who came to visit his cousin who lived in the town. Not surprisingly, I commiserated with the little country mouse who was dazzled and sprazzled by the city. 

    I felt the same way when I first visited Bombay, now known as Mumbai, as a little girl. From the hills of Nilgiris, where bus drivers stopped so we could safely straggle across while learning to ride the bicycle, and train drivers stopped for the mother running to the station, to Bombay, where no one, it seemed, stopped for anyone or anything else, was a long journey – 2 days and 2 nights by train to be precise. I clutched my father’s hand, the whole time in Bombay, and never let go, especially on the electric trains. Maybe, some of those calluses on his old hand, are from that trip. 

    I have the same feeling in New York. The city sprawls in all directions. The people, the subway, the sights, the movements feel too fast for a country mouse. There is so much to do – the energy exhilarating and enervating at the same time. 

    I said as much to the children, and they gave me pitying looks. “What you need is some Bohemian Chic!”, said the daughter diagnosing me with a severe expression on her face.

    I had no idea what that meant, but told her we would do our best to find Bohemian Chic.

    We had great fun running in one direction, only to find the little GPS dot turning slowly away from where we were supposed to go, and then charged back again. “Is this Bohemian Chic?” I asked.

    One time, we stood looking diffident and muddled when a pair of flamboyantly dressed gentlemen stopped and asked us directions to get to some square. We told them we were new to the city too, and agreed that it was best to ask someone else. A good twenty minutes later, we had boarded the train in the wrong direction, gotten down at the next station and came back riding the train in the correct direction, and found the gentlemen boarding the train too. I swear they tipped their bohemian hats and winked!

    I splashed into bed after 2 hectic days in New York City, and felt spent. I had no idea how much we had walked. We had spent so many hours and days in the city, soaking in sights and the sounds of traffic, that I yearned to see the moon rise over the hills, the ducks squawk and geese fly. I had no idea how much these things refreshed me. 

    Subconsciously, I think, I had selected for my reading during this time of city-living, the book:

    Birds, Beasts & Relatives by Gerald Durrell.

    Birds, Beasts and Relatives (The Corfu Trilogy Book 2) by [Gerald Durrell]

    A sequel to My Family & Other Animals, it is the second set of autobiographical tales by naturalist Gerald Durrell set in the beautiful sun-lit island of Corfu near Greece. After the hurried, panting days of New York, I bathed in the refreshing days of Corfu and the young author’s adventures ranging from rearing sea-horses and hedgehogs, to bear-dancing, and donkey-riding. It was all that was necessary. 

    “Coming from the calm, slow, sunlit days of Corfu, our arrival in London, late in the evening, was a shattering experience. So many people were at the station that we did not know, all hurrying grey-faced and worried.”

    Gerald Durrell – Birds, Beasts & Relatives

    I remember feeling a similar kind of gratitude to Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard on a similar long urban trip to the crowded cities of South Asia.

    Today, we decided to walk around Brooklyn and not much more. The day was sweltering: the children wanted a bookstore-day, and we ducked into a couple of them with gratitude. After a cool few hours, we staggered out with books, and very pleased expressions on our faces. 

    Do you have any books by Gerald Durrell? I asked the lady at the counter, and she looked it up, and said, “I have My Family & Other Animals!”. I have the book, have bought it several times to gift it to others, but I still felt a strange sense of calm at this. 

    Is this Bohemian Chic? If so, I like it!

    Am I Duck?

    The lakes shimmered in the early evening light, the rivers glistened in the beautiful spirit of Kawaakari (River glistening in the setting rays of the sun, or the moonlight) and I was trying to get the children to come on a marvelous trail for a bike ride. But the children would have none of that. They wanted ice-cream and no physical exertion.

    “Aww…come on kids! It’ll be fun – we can do that!” I said in my sing-song child-like voice.  

    “Amma! Stop that! You are doing that thing again where you think you are imitating us as kids, but actually you sound like Donald Duck!”

    “Well in this case, y’all are like Scrooges, so …eh!” I said. Clever repartees when they do come need to be crystallized in sea-salt, dipped in coats of honey, and preserved in the Museum of Family Quips (The blog) I received an eye-roll for this one, but still.

    “Okay…since you kids are not indulging me I am off on my walk. Maybe I’ll talk to the ducks, they might be more receptive…” I mumbled.

    Off I went, swinging my hands and marching purposefully towards the trail by the river. There is something in the evening air that makes the world around us come alive. The crows were flying home, bluebirds swooped and swallows tittered, cats prowled, and I saw a large water rat slink into the river bed. The river was more like a stream just then, but this scene was life was welcome.

    After some time, when clouds were flitting here and there, wondering how to place themselves just-so for the sunset, I sat myself down on a rock, watching a flock of ducks 🦆 (what are the flocks of ducks called? A chime of wrens, pod of pelicans? It turns out they are called a raft or paddling of ducks). The scene was a calm one. I was taking in the peaceful scene, feeling a sense of hope and a prayer bubble up inside.

     If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep, woods, and I’d look up into the sky–up–up–up–into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer. 

    Anne of Green Gables

    I closed my eyes to send a vague prayer of sorts into the Universe. A prayer of hope, joy, unity, elevation, and what-not. I opened my eyes slowly and the whole paddling of ducks rose together in one coordinated flight. The grace, beauty and their obvious comfort with one another made let out a yelp of joy and I clapped at the scene.

    I live in a suburban area, and am not always alone. I hadn’t noticed the family ambling along in the distance. They were closer to me now, and they gave me puzzled looks. I looked sheepish, but the joy of the ducks taking flight must’ve lit up my face, and they gave me cautious looks. I looked harmless enough, and was obviously caught up in the rapture of nature. Their children smiled, and joined me in clapping and cheering for the ducks. 

    The ducks did not quite see the joy they had sparked off when they flew as one. If we are all happy together, do we exude the same joy to fellow bings? I wish we do.

    I headed back and narrated this to the family.

    “This! This is exactly why I said I wouldn’t go! People assume that we are like her when she does stuff like this!” Said the teenager to her father.

    “Well – I am duck. Duck! Not cuckoo! Get it? Get it?” 

    The moans of feeble laughter was worth that, and I quacked happily upstairs.

    To See The World

    I remember the first excitement at seeing the bubble maps of population vs GDP for countries around the world, and how they changed across a span of a century. If one could have their mind blown, that chart was it. Then, a few years on, I saw the TED Talk by Hans Rosling in which he explained Large Families/Low GDP Vs Small Families/High GDP, and this time the wonder grew.

    In the intervening years, the power of big data and visualization grew by leaps and bounds, and there never was a dearth of graphs, or data analysis. Causal analysis, correlations, search engine optimizations, ad targeting, and numerous other concepts entered the lingo of the normal person. As early as 2012, Target could predict when a woman was expecting a baby even before her family knew.

    Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky changed our perceptions by introducing the world to a whole new world of Behavioral Economics.

    The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by [Michael Lewis]

    So, when I picked up the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, I thought I would find about more interesting statistics about the world, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

    In the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, written by Hans Rosling and his daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling, it is Dr Hans Rosling’s journey that is written. The book isn’t written in the style of can’t-put-it-down. Instead of a compelling narrative that is keeping one’s interest, it is the genuine interest in the human being who was instrumental in changing the way we think of global health and economies. His journey to help humankind starts off with being a doctor in a impoverished nation, but moves on to much more than that. This is an inspiring sketch of what is possible when we think outside the box. That varied interests and knowledge-seeking is never wasted: they truly do come together in myriad ways.

    The book starts as most biographies do, with a character sketch of the good doctor’s parents, grandparents, and his modest upbringing in Uppsala in Sweden.

    He goes on to study medicine, and then travels to lesser developed countries hoping to do good work. His perception of developing countries such as India undergoes a transformation as he studies and travels there. It is here that he gets an appreciation for public health. The Indian Government at the time was battling one of the largest public health initiatives of the time ( possibly polio vaccinations – I forget). It is a humbling experience for him. He realizes, for instance, that medical facilities were not as backward as he assumed, medical knowledge was quite on par, or better, where it was available. The true problems were scale, population and outreach. 

    After his return to Uppsala in Sweden, he goes on to begin work as a doctor in Impala. Where is Impala? Nacala? The joy of studying a map for these places is half the joy.

    Here, in the coastal region of Nacala, he settles into his work as a doctor with his wife and children. Faced with less than ideal facilities, low budgets, and even less trained people to work with, he slowly learns the areas in which he can make a difference. He learns the importance of cultural awareness, and his humility for people’s knowledge and way of living, helps him reach the people he is attempting to serve. Without this realization he might never have been able to understand the devastating Konzo (‘Konzo’ means tied leg referring to the paralytic symptoms) disease that was paralyzing children in rural areas.

    His work in Nacala, and his researches around the paralytic disease, konzo, led him to a life in research after his medical practicing days. The cassava plant is a staple diet in these areas. The cassava root is treated to a long, and arduous process of preparation before being made fit for human consumption. For example, the cassava is dried in direct sunlight for more than 8 weeks, to remove bitterness coming from a cyanide like substance that causes partial paralysis in human-beings (The long process is usually sufficient to remove the amounts of cyanide, but during times of drought, the plant produces more of this chemical content). Dr Rosling was the person to identify this link between the food process and the paralysis in his patients, and it was because he made the effort to understand the way of life in these areas. In times of food crises, the cassava plants are the only source of nutrition, and the results are devastating for those affected: their disability spiraling them further into poverty.

    His ability to reach dictators, elected officials, and private industry for the sake of public health is remarkable.

    His book, Factfulness, is the next one on my list to be read. In this one, he outlines the state of the world in terms of actual numbers. Is our world as bad as we think it is, or are we progressing better than we give ourselves credit for? I am waiting to read this one.

    Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by [Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling]

    A Dip into another Dimension

    The July 4th long week-end is always a special one. It comes panting along after the first half of the year has whizzed past in a blur of life. The northern hemisphere goes on as it always has with winter transforming into glorious spring that gradually melts into summer haze.

    School finishes with a flurry for the children and their long, luxurious summer holidays are there to stay, while those of who belong to the sterner corporate world have no such long, idle, ideal, vacations to look forward to. But the infectious joy of doing nothing is catching, and by the time this long week-end rolls around in the summer, there is an itch for the magical that is too strong to ignore.

    So, we gave in. Going in to the long week-end, I took a long resolute sigh to not work over the weekend, and what was more, I kept my word. I only worried about the deadlines, and the nagging problems  a few times. For instance, I firmly pushed away worries about work when I was trying to be an otter, when I was gazing marvelously at the anchovies swimming beautifully in the forests of kelp, and while taking a long deep sigh at the deer grazing by a pod of pelicans in a lake nearby. 

    We started the week-end to a marvelous romp to the library in which I picked out books like a hungry child at the candy store. I sat that evening looking contented and happy after a long-ish bath and read one children’s book after another. I admired Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial, I sat up and had a couple of mind-blowing life’s lessons from Seussisms by Dr Seuss, while admiring the grit and tenacity of Helen Keller and her marvelous life with her teacher, Anne Sullivan. 

    Helen Keller’s writings about absorbing the life around her was truly fascinating.

    The next day, we set off to peek into another dimension altogether. It has been almost 2 years since we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium thanks to the pandemic. But this week-end, in our resolve to make it magical, we went over there. You do have to get an appointment slot now, but once inside, all of the old magic stirs in your heart, and you feel lost without fins and scales.

    I remember harking back to the book, Flatland by Edwin Abbott. Technically, watching the sea creatures in an aquarium setting does not constitute traveling to another dimension, but it feels like it. Every time. The tentacles of the octopus, the slow mesmerizing motion of the jellyfish, the all-encompassing tales of the ocean whisper and roar with every peek.

    One instant, I remember looking at the manta-rays and the hammer-head sharks scattering the schools of fish as they lazed around their huge tank, and wondering where the turtles were, when a large one swept past me. Turtles aren’t particularly fast, but the wonder and excitement of seeing one swimming that close is enough to get your adventurous heart all a-swishing. 

    Reading the assorted jumble of books this week-end, combined with the therapeutic effect of a peek into oceanic life, constitutes a dip into another dimension in my book, and I wish it with all my heart for all of you.

    For as Helen Keller says:

    The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.

    Helen Keller

    Books: