Ode to the Headphones

I surveyed the Christmas gifts piled under the tree and felt we had gone overboard again – did I really need those noise canceling headphones? The husband and children vociferously insisted in 18 Mhz frequencies that I did.

“But I like listening to the natural sounds when I walk. I don’t want to shut it out and listen to something else! The chickadees song, the squirrel’s titters and the wind rustling through the trees, these are all sources of joy. I feel alive when all my senses are in sharp focus! It IS music for me.” I said looking desperate.

Pic from Google search
Pic from Google search

It was perfectly true. Who can stop themselves from thinking of William Wordsworth’s Daffodils while on a brisk walk enjoying full communion with Nature?

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

The daughter rolled her eyes with typical teenage scorn, “ We know you like to listen to the wind rustling through the trees, and the rain pattering and all that. But you got to admit – the train clacking noisily, with you in it, is not exactly a natural sound, and therefore there is nothing wrong with shutting it out!”

It was a fair point. I could also tell that this was one of those things that the husband was high-fiving himself for. The strangest things excite the dear fellow. Like the time his face lit up when he did something brilliant to free up one HDMI port in the spaghetti system of connections near the television area.

“Didn’t you notice the change in sound output? “ he said looking remarkably proud of himself.

The truth was I hadn’t noticed. But when a puppy fetches a piece of wool from under the couch, tangling it all the way through every spot in the hall, and looking mighty pleased with his efforts, that is not the time to be telling the puppy that one was really not looking for the wool. When he rolls on his back lifting his legs to be tickled in his tummy, you coo and tickle the furry creature, and put the wool back somewhere out of reach. So, I did the square thing and tickled his tummy, uh-huh-ing at regular intervals as he related all the things he had to do to change the connections so that the sound system was rigged through the thing-a-ma-jig while retaining the mick-a-mumma-tone through the mimble-tum-milkatonia.

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The noise canceling headphones seem to make him just as happy, and I accepted the gift after he gave the pitch that put poets to shame. The Ode To The Headphone was spirited, bordered on romantic, and clearly reverent. Wordsworth may have pitched it strong with daffodils, but when it came to wireless headphones, the husband won.

I tucked it into my bag wondering if I ever shall use it, and went for a bath using the scented soap the daughter had gifted me (now that is the sort of gift I appreciate.)

A few days later, the husband asked me how I was getting along with the noise-c headphones. I think my shifty look gave the game away. “You are not using them! Give them to me here – I will set it up for you.” he said looking incredulous, yet wondering why he should’ve expected anything better from me.

Hell hath no fury like the headphones damned. I handed over the set carefully preserved.

“Here ..just try this now.” he said with the forcefulness of the wronged, and I accepted with an equally becoming meekness. The symphony of marriage I tell you.

The next day on the train, I looked forward to reading The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux. Maybe reading the book along with the noise canceling headphones would help me see how my world transformed.

It certainly was transformed. But something strange happened.

No sooner had I quietened my hearing, when I noticed the olfactory seemed to be doing double duty. Did noses grow sharper when the hearing dulls? I touched the prominent beak thoughtfully – any sharper and I might as well take up wood-carving. I felt nauseated with unsavory smells. They flooded my nostrils making me want to gag. I looked around alarmed. I had not been warned of this particular side-effect.

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Then, I saw the reason: I had not quite noticed that I was only two feet away from a fellow who had spent the night on the turf, hitting one good shot after another, and had gone to bed on the morning train, after vomiting and soiling himself spectacularly.

Wondering whether a pair of cloth clips for my nose could have been a better gift, I resorted to breathing like a rhino chasing a pack of lions out of its territory – huge snorts followed by short, quick gasps. Mozart was playing something, but all my nose could think of doing was sending signals to the brain with the smells of the samaritan.

I peeked out the window in disgust, and a signboard helpfully told me,

After you die, you will meet God!

Will I still be able to smell when I die? I thought waspishly.

That evening, the family asked me how the headphones were. I said truthfully that they were marvelous for the sound, but went on to relate the smells, and how we shall all meet God, to general hilarity.

The daughter said, “Well….you must savor anything natural Amma. Enjoy your senses, and feel alive!”. She pirouetted around the kitchen deeply inhaling and mocking me in what I thought was a brilliant fashion. I stood there laughing and relishing every bit of my humble pie.

The Tao of Travel gleamed at me with its wisdom, and I said to them. Did you know that Wordsworth – that staunch lover of flowers and fresh air, had no sense of smell?

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T’is The Season To Be Grateful

Every year end, by the time Christmas rolls around, the husband and I look like the crumpled and frazzled dolls hanging off the hastily put together Christmas tree ourselves. This year too, we had fallen to our usual folly of not co-ordinating the Christmas gifts between us for the children. I stealthily went off and hastily piled up a bunch of things, so that come Christmas morning, there is something under the tree. As I gift-wrapped the presents, late one night with the children safely tucked in bed, I was reminded of one of Miss Read’s sensible sentiments on Christmas – she is one of my favorite authors for a reason:
The thing to do, is to get absolutely everything in the summer and lock it in a cupboard. Then order every scrap of food from a shop the week before Christmas and sit back and enjoy watching everyone else go mad. I’ve been meaning to do it for years.

The day before Christmas, the husband waved a suave hand in my direction with the loving parting words, “So, you’ve got the kids for the day right? Right! I am off. “ His eyes gave me a look deep with meaning that said, “I got to go and get the gifts”, to which I gave him an equally meaningful look that said, “Don’t worry! I got them all gifts. Just buy the milk.”
We’ve been married for 15 years and understand each other perfectly, and so obviously he thought I was admiring the cow-lick on his newly combed hair (blog post waiting to be done), and tootled off bringing gifts for one and all, and no milk.

The result being that we were all feeling thoroughly spoiled for Christmas. After surveying the pile under the tree, I felt that we had gone overboard again. Did I really need those noise-canceling headphones? (The resounding answers did seem to warrant them, I’ll grant you that. ) Maybe, the motto around Christmas should be: if we were bindle stiffs, what would we need? Bindle stiffs, I was curious to learn the term, are those who carried their clothing around in a bundle.

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I started on my Children-in-Africa lecture, when the children must’ve realized that it is better to take pre-emptive action before this lecture turns into a vegetable-praising healthy-eating fest that cuts into their hot-cocoa-under-the-tree dream. They pronounced mid-way that they were donating half the gifts (piled neatly on the left of the table ) to the poor. I noticed the particularly angelic and noble expressions on their faces as they made this solemn announcement, and stifled an urge to laugh.

I was glad of the opportunity to relax around friends once Christmas had come around, in the warm regions of Southern California. Days spent laughing, chatting, reading, playing and goofing off are like balm to the soul, and we reveled in the warmth of good companionship, and not being ruled by the clock.

 

As the year wound down, I realized that politically, speaking, it may have been a tough year, but we have much to be grateful for.
Bill & Melinda Gates foundation’s newsletter was uplifting and I was glad to end 2017, on a grateful and hopeful note.

I wonder if you have read the book where the hungry caterpillar expresses its thanks to every living being it comes across. If not, it is a marvelous children’s book, with Eric Carle’s signature illustrations and wonderful message: Thanks From The Very Hungry Caterpillar. 

As we head into 2018, it already promises to be a year in which we shall be called upon to remember such simple things as being kind to every living being and to care for our environment.

The Artistic Touch

I waltzed in to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art thinking my usual self should do. It didn’t do. It pursed already thin lips and drew in breaths that should have been released.

So, here is a tip: Before you head into a museum, prepare to put on a face that reminds you of a serious matter: something like a puppy being pulled back home from a glorious spring saunter that yielded an unexpected bone, a couple of birds to chase and beautiful water hydrants to raise their hind legs against. An occasional smile commiserating with the owner (or the puppy) is okay, but grim seriousness is admired.

Remember: Life is Stern, Art is Earnest & Its Depiction Torturous. Good.

pets

What tripped me up was this: I walked into a largish room and found a men’s piddle seat in the middle. You know one of those umbrella-handle shaped urinals? In the middle. I know I have expressed the opinion that I wished the blasted things in bathrooms were less in the corner when you were trying to tighten a screw, but by gosh, I had not quite meant this! I am afraid I did the wrong thing here – I pointed and let loose a guffawing squeal and giggled at the exhibit. Modern Art patrons are a tolerant lot. Tolerant towards Art I mean – they scowled at my flippant attitude, while the urinal drew admiring noises.

urinal
Random pic of some urinal from the internet – I did not take a picture of the thing!

When I finally tottered away from this marvel, there was a painting around the corner, that reminded me of one of P.G.Wodehouse’s short stories. Reggie Pepper (who gave PGW the idea for Jeeves) says of his Artist friend’s work:

I’ve seen his pictures, and they are like nothing on earth. So far as I can make out what he says, they aren’t supposed to be. There’s one in particular, called “The Coming of Summer,” which I sometimes dream about when I’ve been hitting it up a shade too vigorously. It’s all dots and splashes, with a great eye staring out of the middle of the mess. It looks as if summer, just as it was on the way, had stubbed its toe on a bomb. He tells me it’s his masterpiece, and that he will never do anything like it again. I should like to have that in writing.

Art certainly conflicts: I stood astonished I suppose that one would take up a whole wall for a work like that when I looked around, and was told by a Patron, “Don’t you just admire how a true artist comes out?”
I eh-ah-ed weakly. When he says, artist comes out: Did artists lay their intestines out on canvas? It certainly did look like it. I recoiled a bit, but luckily the fellow was well launched on his story to notice. He then proceeded to tell me the most extraordinary thing.
Apparently, this artist was hailed as a genius after his death. His paintings regularly sold for $150 million dollars. I gasped at this. I should like to see these patrons! Apparently, one of his works made it to the local Goodwill shop where a lady paid 3 bucks for it. I suppose it must have shocked the $150 million dollar fellows, but life is tough. Anyway, a friend of the $3 buyer said there were enough squiggles to make the fellow a big artist, and had her check it out. Apparently, she got $25 million bucks for it but was not happy, since the other paintings of the fellow sold for over 100 million bucks. People I tell you. Never really happy! Tush.

There were beautiful paintings that managed to depict the 4 seasons, something that looked like a desert sunset, geometric shapes and so much more.

 

All of these marvels jostled with what I thought were the trial canvasses of the artist – you know those sheets against which you imagine them testing their strokes, and shaking out the extra spots on the brush and so on. (They weren’t – they were the real pieces of Art. I checked.)

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What really got me thinking about this whole Art business is the Sensuous blue painting.

There was one painting that looked like this.

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Oh, sorry, that is a picture of my daughter’s wall.

This is the painting.

 

Next to this was written a most poignant note. If I had not read the notice, I could not have imagined such a beautiful set of phrases can be applied for the color blue.

The final straw was the one where the artist forgot to paint and occupied a wall.

 

“Does this white square hold a mystery?”

I shoo-hoo-ey-ed my way up the floors, all the while admiring the many works, stopping to muse at a fair few, and thoroughly enjoying myself. When they say Art is mind-blowing, I could agree. I may not be able to appreciate the finer details of each piece the way the sturdier patrons do, but I was quite sure, it awakened some dormant senses.

 

Finally, I washed up in front a pool of floating dishes. Not a dishwasher, more like an indoor pool with clean china chinking and tinkling against each other producing a haunting musical memory to go with the visual. It seemed like a marvelous touch depicting the day at the museum.

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All in all, the museum should have made me feel like this character from one of P.G.Wodehouse’s story on being in the presence of an Artist:

She was perfectly pleasant, and drew me out about golf and all that sort of thing; but all the time I felt that she considered me an earthy worm whose loftier soul-essence had been carelessly left out of his composition at birth.

But it didn’t. There was matter enough to engage simple minds like mine, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

Days were blurring into weeks, and I had a flustered feeling. When days like these rear their heads, I reach for a children’s book to read. I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again, and again: Children’s book authors and illustrators are the true custodians of the human spirit. 

I had picked up a book left unwritten by Mark Twain, and finished by another author of today, Philip Stead. The book’s title is a mouthful, and its contents a mindful:  The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine: By Mark Twain & Philip Stead (Illustrated by Erin Stead)

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The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

Apparently, Mark Twain, after a long day’s work, was asked by his children for a story using a picture as a prompt everyday, and this story was told to the little girls in France. He liked it enough to jot it down, but did not quite finish it.

When a book like that comes along, it feels like perfect cure for the cold winds whipping the Californian hairlines. The narrative voice makes you sit up and wonder how brilliant it is, and brilliance in simplicity is rare indeed. The book suffuses you with enough warmth to get you going through the windy, cold days.

The story starts off with a simple note from the Author explaining the circumstances and getting us to believe that Mark Twain told him the story about our hero, Johnny, while sipping tea and coffee overlooking a lake on Beaver Island. This simple note then sets the tone for two unreliable narrators in the story, and the book chugs on towards the hinterlands of imagination giving us a healthy dose of incredulity, hilarity and thought.

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Our Hero, Johnny, lives a miserable life on a farm with his miserable grandfather and hen named, Pestilence & Famine.  One day, he is sent off by his grandfather to sell the hen, and off goes Johnny with Pestilence & Famine. 

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A Jack & Beanstalk-y bit later, Johnny finds himself with an kind, old lady who trades him the hen for some old blue seeds, with the promise that if tended to properly, a plant will rise, and “when a flower comes up, eat it, It will make you full and you will never feel emptiness again –

“I tell you this”, Twain said to me, raising his teacup in the air, “there are more chickens than a man can know in this world, but an unprovoked kindness is the rarest of birds.

“So, did the hen die?” asks the Author of today, and Mark Twain says yes, while the author today believes that the hen and old woman are living happily.

“Your version lacks credibility”, said Twain. “Surely the old woman is dead. “

“And it should be noted”, he added, “that if Charles Darwin taught us anything, it is this: The chicken is dead too. And, lucky for her, because there are many unflattering ways to leave this world, but none quite so unflattering as being forced to live in it.

The blue seeds turn out to yield the Juju flower, and Johnny finds himself hungry and desperate even after eating the Juju flower. He walks to the edge of the forest, and falls feint only to look up and find a skunk, Susy. After nearly losing his mind Johnny says to Suzy, the skunk: “How is it that you can talk?”

“All animals can talk! … A lion can speak to a squirrel can speak to an owl can speak to a mouse. A camel can spend to a pig who can speak to an elk can speak to an elephant. A whale can talk to a gull. A giraffe can speak to a hermit crab. It is only humans that no one can understand. It is why they are so ignorant and backward and lonely and sad – they have so few creatures to talk to” Susy added. “But I do not mean to offend, You do not seem ignorant or backward.”

“But you understand me?” asked Johnny.

“Yes”, answered Susy, “for evidently you have eaten the Juju flower. It is rarely given to anybody.”

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Please read the rest of the book to see what happens to Johnny and how he finds himself going to the King of the land.

Mark Twain’s words are still prescient:

“Terrible things are always happening to Kings. It makes you wonder why anyone would want the job at all.”

Drunk Koala Dreams

The tale below yanks one through time, hangs out with koalas on Eucalyptus branches and yearns for hibernation like the grizzly bears do. Bear with me: I hope it is a tale worth your time.

Modern living can be fast. Cars zip down freeways, flights jet down runways, and people charge down escalators. We were set to do them all to get home from the quiet, beautiful Bryce and Zion national parks. We had had an enjoyable trip, and were going home again.

Nature does not hurry, yet achieves everything – Lao Tzu

Mankind hurries and achieves nothing – Drunk Koala

We looked at each other and glowed in spite of those pesky hunger pangs gnawing at the stomach. It had been a busy morning with nothing much to eat, and we now had time to tuck in before the flight. We had arrived at the Las Vegas airport earlier than expected.

The husband looked at me and said, “We have a whole hour before boarding time. Maybe we can go and relax in the lounge, eat something, and stretch ourselves a bit before heading back to board the flight. “

relax

My deer like senses tensed: I can sniff lounge trouble like the best sniffers on the priarie.

“But you heard the fellow – he said that lounge is 3 terminals away. Terminal A to Terminal D!” I said in case one had difficulty counting 1.2.3.

“Yes…but we can relax.” said the fellow who would ask Relax if he has ever had the pleasure of meeting him before. Relax indeed. Hummingbirds relax more while flying.

This is where I need to yank you folks through time a bit:

The day I heard the husband coo like a love struck dove on the phone to me from Bangalore airport, I knew that trouble lay ahead. A few years ago, the husband had been overseas on an official trip. One cold, bright day, I picked up the phone to hear his voice from the airport before he boarded the long flight back to the USA.

“I ate masala dosas! Hot, masala dosas!” he cooed. No brisk got-to-go-s, no frenzied recap of trip to the airport, nothing: just the musical sound of dosas. A surprisingly passionate tone of voice for food given that any trip to Incredible India involves grande servings of food.
“At 1 in the morning?” I asked incredulous that one felt like stuffing masala dosas at that time of the circadian rhythm.
Not one to be discouraged that easily, he said, “Why not? They also had a make-your-own omelet bar. “
“I’ll make sure I keep a salad and a crouton ready for you when you land.” I said.

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The excesses at the Bangalore airport were due to the fact that he had access to a lounge area. Ever since, every time we set foot in an airport, I know that his mind is ticking with masala dosas and make-your-own-omelet bars: The dosa dream never fades.

This time we had hardly stepped foot in the Las Vegas airport on our flight back from Zion and Bryce, when the lounge itch got him. I diagnosed it in the eyes. Fervent enquiries told us we had to cross 3 terminals, hop onto a train, jump onto an elevator, skip on and off three walk-a-lators, before getting to the lounge.

The husband with the food gleam is like a koala high on eucalyptus sap. He has the same fuzzy look, and his companions have the same urge to give in to the sloshed fellow on the grounds of compassion for the dulled mind. It is the idea of food, nothing else. He’ll be fine soon, we tell ourselves and solicitously pat him on his back.

In the meanwhile, in his brain, the Sober Animal Trainer part tries reasoning with the Drunk Koala part:
Drunk Koala: Lounge! Drool. Food! Juice! Relax, enjoy! Masala dosas – hmm!
Sober A T: Yes yes, I know, but there are restaurants here
Drunk Koala: But Free food?
S.A T: Not at all, you pay for the lounge.
D.K: I know. But we already pay for the lounge.
Wise Sober .Animal .Trainer.: Stop harking back to Bangalore airport masala dosas! You know perfectly well, your wife is right. She always is, remember? Good. Never forget that. Anyway…point is: you are not going to get good food at the lounge here.

With this sound reasoning, the drunk koala in his mind won, and the rest of us jogged behind him as the man on a mission set off for the lounge in Terminal D. Every 5 minutes the sober animal trainer would cause him to pause, and say, “Do you think we should turn back?”, but D.K drummed his chest again, and off we went.

We arrived at the lounge looking like baby bears during spring time standing upstream for the salmon to come jumping up. Eager for the food in the other words.

The hospitality industry requires extensive human resources in order to thrive. A resource that the United States is not burgeoning on, in general. An irritated lady sat behind the counter and eyed us beadily, as if daring us to approach her. Her cold welcome did nothing to the hunger pangs.

The children and I left her presence to go peering around the refreshment nooks. Close inspection revealed 3 chips packets, 2 sad bananas, and 1 dehydrated apple peering out from a fruit holder. Next to that lay a tray with two flasks (coffee, hot water) and a plastic cane to stir the creamer and sugar. The feast was done. We peeked under the table to see if trays of burritos and sandwiches, heaps of salads and pastas were hidden there. Nothing. Hide and seek can be a depressing game sometimes.

I helped myself to a watery tea, the children swamped on chips, and the husband moodily bit into his apple. “We could leave early so we can eat somewhere?” he said.
The children stomped this down with the logical, “But we just got here!” argument.
15 minutes later, we started on our journey back to Terminal A.

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As the flight made for liftoff, a low rumble was heard. It was our stomachs growling like grizzly bears. If ever you see little bears with their papa bear standing upstream with their tongues hanging out for the salmon, try breaking it to the bear cubs that the salmon this year had decided to swim downstream again instead of jumping upstream, and let me know what happens will you? In our case, Drunk Koalas may not know what to do, but grizzly bears fresh with the memory of hibernation do: even if they growl and kick their feet to do so. We promptly fell asleep.

The rest of the journey home is a blur best skipped for brevity. Two long hours later, when finally the glow of home-cooked food in our stomachs suffused us with a warm glow, the husband said, “That lounge idea wasn’t so great huh?”

I disagreed. I got a long walk, and a blog out of it. The lounge idea was marvelous.

Playing Aeronautic See-Saw with Lions

Have you thought about how an airplane crew feels with respect to their dress?  I look at the air hostesses tottering up and down the aisles wearing heels, tight fitting skirts, berets and what-have-you, and give them commiserating smiles when they look forlorn at the way their wards on the plane are attired.

The poor blighters look like they are dressed for one of those high brow diplomatic commissions where they stop countries from throwing tomatoes at each other. Just a moment, hold on – I feel like Archimedes in the bath-tub. I am not bathing, I mean, I feel one of those Eureka moments coming on: Maybe they are dressed for the part.  I have seen these stellar folks walk up to people and tell them to stop throwing tomatoes, or to refrain from kicking the passenger’s seat in front of them, though better judgement tells them, ‘To blazes with the tomatoes. D’ya think tomatoes can ruin that attire. Tchah!’

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We had seated ourselves toward the back of the plane, and it proved to be an excellent vantage point to observe one’s fellow passengers scramble aboard. In sharp contradistinction to the crew, we seem to have rapidly climbed the comfort curve and equally rapidly slipped down the presentation curve. Some of the folks on that plane! I am not sure they would have been allowed to lounge in their own rooms in the days of Victorian clothing, let alone poke their heads out to observe traffic. Yet, here they were, looking rather pleased with their debonair sense of fashion taking their seats on an airplane headed to Las Vegas. Oh well.

“I should be used to the way Americans dress when traveling, yet it still manages to amaze me. It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this. I’m going to Los Angeles!” 

David Sedaris, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

When everyone was strapped in, and the flight buzzed with the excitement of school children on a field trip, the flight attendant came up in front of the audience.  I settled down to watch a stellar production of how-best-to-fasten-the-seat-belts when I was met with a bizarre announcement instead.

The flight attendant seemed to feel the same way, for she came up this time, braced herself for some of that iron resolve that lions summon up before roaring, and asked for a passenger to volunteer to move to the back of the aircraft. ‘We need the lift to be more evenly balanced’, she mumbled.

None of that confident button-your-seat-belt attitude. Here was no lion, here was a caterpillar that was quite willing to poke its entire self back into the folds of a flower.

The thing smacked of euphemisms. Lift to be balanced indeed.

One appetizer bite sized lady gallantly stood up, and said she’d go. She was one of those svelte beauties that could have dotted these beauty magazines when young, and probably filled up on half a lettuce leaf. Mouse-like about summed up her appearance.

I could see the flight attendant struggle. I mean, how do you break it gently to the appetizer that laudable as the effort was, the entree is what the doctors prescribe for tummy rumbles? Lions educated in modern thought resist the urge to laugh at mice who offer help. Summoning up her L.courage again, and praying none of this would get tweeted and bandied about the internet, she tried again. ‘Thank you very much Ma’am. But, maybe, some one who can help the frontal pressure be eased, so we have sufficient lift for take-off. You can come back after the flight takes off.’

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We could have helped the poor things by calling out, “She is looking for someone stouter on the scale folks!”, but the same modern education seemed to restrain us all, and we watched as a brave spirit stood up looking sheepish. He towered impressively, looking like a football player who could mow three lions when stirred. The airplane clucked approvingly, and gave the fellow admiring looks. I don’t think his mother could have looked on the fellow more lovingly when he tucked into his sausages. He followed her looking like Mary’s little lamb to the back of the aircraft, while she squeaked, “Thank you thank you sir. You may come back after the flight takes off.”

I suppressed the uneasy image of an airborne see-saw bravely, and pretty soon, we were airborne.

I wonder often about the life of a flight crew. They must have their moments of getting-back as they march smartly down aisles dressed like Napoleon at battle, trying to herd a lazy bunch of bovine swatters lounging around in yoga pants, and flannel night-suits. I like to think they attend black-tie events in pajamas just to get even with the world.

I wasn’t mistaken.

Just as soon as one calmed those take-off butterflies somewhat, the smart officer came on saying something to the effect of,  “Good evening all. We are cruising at 33,000 feet and a cool 23 F outside. Please relax and enjoy your flight.

I saw the impressive gentleman (the one whose mother lovingly … never mind. 3 paragraphs above) make his way back to the front of the air-plane, and I wondered how cold it is to be playing on the see-saw.

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Cosmic Nature of Living

We have several friends who are whiz-kids behind the lens, and rise before larks to photograph that first ray of sunlight through the crevice of the rock and so on. We are grateful to their creative labors, for the pictures show the artist behind the lens, and one needs only look at them to get an instant nature spa. We, on the other hand, forget to take cameras, or if we do, leave them behind in the car before getting out. Plans for sunrises are often derailed by the low trick the sun plays on us by beaming on us and waking us up with his rays before we beat him to it.

So, it is no doubt that armed with nothing but our cellphones, we had no method of capturing the brilliance of the Milky Way galaxy.

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Star Trails of the Milky Way Galaxy

Every time we have the luxury of traveling out of our urban areas swathed in artificial light, we try to step out at night to indulge in star gazing. The winter skies over Zion national park did not disappoint. The wisps of cloud that had floated in during the sunset to show us a more resplendent sunset had flitted away obligingly so that we may take in the iridescent brilliance of the Milky Way galaxy unobstructed.

A friend most kindly took a picture of the husband gazing up at the skies that had me yearning to see the sky like that.

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Photographers will tell you something about shutter speed, and exposures and frames per second: Lark that always has me looking like a glazed doughnut at t+2 of the discourse. Therefore, I produce slightly alarming results that has physicists going back over their calculations to see how the focal length with the curvature and the light ray divided by exposure rate gave rise to the image that I seem to have obtained. (Just a moment: f/1.4 should blur that background, how did it blur the subject?)

I meander as usual. The point is: I thought we required post processing and superior photographic techniques like make-up on a set to be able to see that night sky. However that night at Zion national park, we had no need to resort to these advanced techniques to see the nebulous cloud of the Milky Way. The skies split open, and the stars poured their celestial brilliance upon us. If this was the show our ancestors enjoyed every night, it is no wonder that we have such wonderful myths and shapes in the ‘ever changing panorama of the skies’ (James Woodforde Parson).

As we looked up, we could not help wondering how the desert beauty in the canyons was so different from the beauty of the seaside and yet so unlike the snowy mountain plains. If this many vagaries of nature could exist on one planet, the mind boggles on what exists in the vast cosmos out there. We rarely stop to think of the skies in any color than the ones we are blessed with. It takes children to imagine that. I remember the childrens’ essays in first grade where they were asked to imagine another world, and their skies looked nothing like ours. They opened our minds to the possibility of having rust colored night skies, with swirling colorful gusts of wind and rainbow colored days. When asked to imagine extra terrestrial life, we are so limited by our imaginations that we seldom look beyond the slightly changed human form.

Yet on this very planet, we know that octopuses have a level of consciousness radically different from our own.

For a long time, we thought that being conscious was something unique to human-beings, then Jane Goodall paved the way for several scientists to study animals and not fear being accused of anthropomorphizing their subjects. Finally, in the 1970’s, Jennifer Mather’s work was acknowledged.  Quoted from The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery:

Once overlooked or dismissed outright, Jennifer’s work now is respected and cited by cognitive neuroscientists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists so that the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness asserts that “humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness”, and that “nonhuman animals, including all birds and mammals and many other creatures, including octopuses also possess these neurological substrates.”

Days filled with the daily business of living truly and fully demand our attentions so that we often forget the vibrant universe in which we float. The night view from our planet, ‘ a tiny mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam’ as Carl Sagan so elegantly put it, is the best cure for arrogance there exists. Instead of taking our place among the harmonious orchestra of the universe, if all our dictators are fighting over, is a small patch in this tiny speck on a remote planet, we must feel sorry indeed for ourselves.