Essential or Eternal Communication?

I recently read a book called The Hidden Life of Trees written by a forester, Peter Wohlleben.

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Trees have always fascinated me. I have tried becoming one with little success.

Their calm, stoic essence of being is reassuring. Trees are social beings, and they are capable of immense internal processes that not only sustain their lives, but also those of others around them.

Reading the book is like dipping into a life that we as a race can barely contemplate for as the author reminds us in the book, trees live life in the slow lane, and that is what made the reading experience refreshing. It is largely based on observations and of the forester’s study on the forests he helps to manage. Throughout the book, he cites relevant research studies that have been carried by botanists.

Trees are social beings and know that they can thrive if they look out for one another. Many interesting anecdotes dot the book such as the one with the giraffes chomping down the leaves of the acacia trees in the Savannah.

The giraffes there were feeding on umbrella thorn acacias, and the trees didn’t like this one bit. It took the acacias mere minutes to start pumping toxic substances into their leaves to rid themselves of the large herbivores.

The acacia trees that were being eaten gave off a warning gas (specifically, ethylene) that signaled to neighboring trees of the same species that a crisis was at hand. Right away, all the forewarned trees also pumped toxins into their leaves to prepare themselves. The giraffes were wise to this game and therefore moved farther away to a part of the savannah where they could find trees that were oblivious to what was going on. Or else they moved upwind.

How beautifully nature equipped the trees and giraffes for survival.

After reading about how effectively and essentially Trees communicate, I could not help comparing and contrasting our lives with those of our stoic friends. This frenzied communication lifestyle we have adapted as our own, often leads to amusing outcomes, but sometimes to questionable ones.

One morning, I set out to enjoy a leisurely week-end breakfast with the children. When the menu card says ‘Noodles’, the beaming sous chef in the home is more active than is called for. I doubt restaurant kitchens have sous chefs standing on chairs next to the chef gabbling instructions for all to hear, but our kitchen does.

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Minutes later, we clattered down with our bowls of steaming instant noodles – there is something deeply satisfying about slurping the long noodle strings noisily, and reveling in the liberating feeling of not being governed by the ticking minutes of the clock for a change.

I was doing my best to ignore the incessant modes of communication that is our bane today, but I was still interrupted with the International Phone Call.  On the call, I was given the shocking news that Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp had been vying to give me, and told to check it all immediately. Apparently, the noodles I was eating that very day had 17% lead content. 17% lead. Funny because I did not feel like I had a metal tube lodged in my intestines after eating it, nor did I feel like an old ceiling waiting to be torn down. What it meant to say of course is that there were supposedly 17 parts per million of lead in the offending food item, a claim that in itself proved to be baseless later on.

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Quote from link: http://nextdraft.com/archives/n20170310/leaky-gut-reaction/

The wrongness of the initial stories is the result of a perfect storm of three factors: Technical subject matter, a master of disinformation, and always on race to publish stories quickly. It’s yet another reminder of the Internet’s five least common words: Let me think about that.

Should we learn the art of essential communication, and develop the ability to chaff it from the demands of eternal communication? Maybe learn a lesson or two from our stoic friends.

For a quick read: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/09/26/the-hidden-life-of-trees-peter-wohlleben/

How To Become Dandelions?

I have wracked my mind to find what it is I would like to share about Women’s Day. Surely, I have something to say. Everyone had something to say: We celebrate women, we demand equality and abhor the crimes committed against womenkind. Yet, there I was on the sidelines still twiddling my thumbs and looking lost. Some said ‘Happy Something’. The day passed, and I must say critics would call the tripe I had written ‘pedantic and whiny’, and what is more, I would have to agree with them wholeheartedly and shake their hands for the right choice of words.

I mostly like being female.

Except when I am told not to laugh too much because I am a girl #Direnkahkaha anyone?

Or when I am told not to apologize. I am sorry, did I step on your toes? Tough Luck Buddy! Hee Her Haw Haw….

NY Times: When an apology is anything but

Or being told to be a man to be a woman. Huh?!

Medium: Leveling both sides of….

I mostly like being female. I say mostly because there are times when I feel being a dandelion would be better. You know a gust of wind would take care of reproduction, and one does not have to worry so much about being a female dandelion or a male dandelion, and policy makers do not have to concern themselves about dandelion population. We don’t yet know how to interpret dandelion communication, but when I see a circle of dandelions, I see a beautifully androgynous group reveling in each other’s company – till a deer comes along and chomps them down of course. (We recently read this sunny little children’s book.)

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So, what is with reproduction? Human beings are obsessed with reproduction though it is established beyond doubt that the human race is in no jeopardy. We are always in danger of nuking ourselves of course, but that is idiocy not procreation – quite different.

I remember clearly one hot summer afternoon several years ago.  I had just had the son, and his doting older sister was casting adoring glances at her infant brother. She told me that her first grade classroom had sang congratulations for her that day when she told them she had a baby brother. ‘Though, it is a lot of work Amma.’ she said looking solicitous. I was touched by her observation and told her about imagining a lifetime of hot summers with a new baby every other year. She whooped and said golly and giggled like elementary school children do, and I went on to tell her about my stellar grandmother who had nine children, all bawling, healthy and hungry.

Why didn’t she stop with two or even three? Nine seems like so much. she said in a matter-of-fact tone, and I told her in terms as best as I could about how the concept of planning one’s family size itself was a luxury only afforded to the past two or three generations. How many children to have and when to have them was not things women controlled then, I said.

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I am saddened indeed that on International Women’s Day (about a century after this day was officially set up), this news item pops up.

Planned Parenthood rejects Trump proposal to stop abortion services – CNNPolitics.com

What will it take for reproductive choices for Women to become a civil liberty?

Back to the Dandelion theory, wouldn’t it be nice to just have have a storm knock the wind out of us, scatter and reproduce thus – all of us men and women. I’d like to see whether men will control the wind intensity and direction of the wind then.

I can barely state things better than Melinda Gates though:

https://www.gatesnotes.com/2017-Annual-Letter

Towards becoming Dandelions then!

Beauty in Diversity & Unity in Adversity

This article was published in India Currents & San Francisco Chronicle.

I am one of the thousands of people who ride BART regularly. One particularly cold morning, as two train loads of people tried to stuff ourselves into 1 train, I took to my favorite pastime on the train when not being able to read or write: people-watching. It was packed and constricted given the crowd. I mused on the different experiences that Bart has given me.

I look around me to see that people from different backgrounds, different religions, different ideologies, different skin tones, different economic levels are all there rubbing shoulders together. We all say our sorry’s and our don’t worry’s good-humoredly when the train pulls an unexpected stop and we all bump into each other.

Over time, the trains have provided opportunities for conversations with people traveling elsewhere. As they clamber on with suitcases and strollers, it is hard to not share their enthusiasm. When they get off, you give them a quiet smile and wish them a happy vacation, and they all smile back happily and go on their way. The experience of travel had already started as far as they are concerned. They already got to smile at strangers, already got to ask directions from people very different than themselves.

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If you truly want to experience life, the public transit is a good place for it. Take for example, the con-man who asks for precise and exact amounts of money every few weeks. “Good morning all. I need 89$ and 27 cents to save my son – I would appreciate anything you can help with. Thank you, thank you, God bless you.”

“Didn’t you ask for $137 and 25 cents last time”, asks an exasperated regular, and the con-man does a bunk, trying his luck in the next compartment.

Then, there is the prattler who takes care of his business on the phone, the I-am-right-ler ensconced in his seat comfortably in the middle issuing moral dictums, the scornful-lookers who think the train is beneath them, the relentless hair combers who brush the shines away from their hair, the make-up doers, the readers, the coders, the writers all shake down together in a tiny space for that aspect of the day.

https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/the-trees-spiritual-path/

On these trains and platforms, I have been transported to small villages in Africa, felt sorry for people living in war-torn regions, listened to the lilting tones of foreign languages, seen and heard people share stories about Egyptian mummies, been wary of con-men, talked to erudite people who have shared a drop of their wisdom on the way.  I have also edged away discreetly from people who are stone drunk at 8 o’clock in the morning rearing for a fight, and seen people injecting themselves with drugs. I have seen policemen and policewomen go about their grim duties of ensuring a safe transit with a smile on their faces.

https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/yogic-alcoholics/

I have talked to people who are wondering whether they will be able to afford health care , laughed with pregnant mothers, and then congratulated them months later and be shown the baby’s pictures.

As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world: Virginia Woolf

I have listened to loud music that I otherwise might not have listened to because some quirky character decided that what the world wanted that day was some music. I like the street musicians on the underground stations singing to a seemingly uninterested audience. But I have noticed a little spring in peoples’ steps as they near the musicians, and a slight smile even as they move away.

Anyone who doubts the advantages of diversity should get on public transit and immerse themselves in the experience. There is beauty in diversity.  

I may not know people’s names, I definitely do not remember every interaction, but as I started writing, I realize that there is so much that I have absorbed about life just by riding the public transit. Therefore, I was doubly pleased to see Bart tweet out in response to Donald Trump’s ban on immigration that everyone is welcome on Bart.

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Beauty in Diversity & Unity in Adversity, seems like a good slogan in these times.

Thank you Bart.

The Salons of Bodie

During our trip to the Inyo Canyon area, we got truly lucky.  Not just because of the weather (which I need to write about in a later post), but because we got to see many places that are usually closed this time of the year due to heavy snow conditions. Bodie State Park is one such. I have only visited the Inyo canyons twice so far and both times, they woke the spiritual in me. Maybe it was the sheer magnificence of nature in the area, I don’t know. Spiritual Mysticism or Spiritual Naturalism

Bodie State Park is a ghost town. A bustling, mining town a century ago, there are no more than a few hundred shacks left in a dilapidated condition in the town now. If ever one needs a humbling lesson in the ephemeral nature of our existence, the bristlecone pine forest and Bodie ghost town have it covered between themselves.

As I peered into the dust covered windows of the various buildings, a dozen observations flitted through my mind.

The apothecary seems to have catered to similar problems judging by the bottles still on display there. There was a house with dusty furnishings – a rattled bath-tub, an old kitchen. A picture on the wall said, ‘Nothing endures but change’. The school house with a steeple on its roof looked remarkably like schools do today: with wooden chairs and desks all facing the teacher up in the front. Some things don’t change even in a century, I mused.

As we meandered up and down the ghost town, we stopped to listen to the park ranger. He was giving details of life in the town at the height of its glory, and we stood there enthralled, each of us contorting a story and an image of life in those times in our head.

Bodie was a town of maybe 8,000 or 10,000 people, and they seemed to have had quite a good life. Traveling caravans had theatrical performances here, fresh octopus and seafood supplies arrived regularly from San Francisco on iced wagons. People from nearby hills trudged up to this town for a day out or for market supplies. It certainly sounded like a bustling, happening place and looking at the town in the present age was a disconcerting sensation. Hundred or two hundred years from now, would people be taking a cruise out to where we live, and saying that this used to be a bustling place too? Given the current rate of global warming, it is a very plausible scenario.

http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-sea-level-rise/

http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/gw-impacts-interactive/

Standing there in the town with the vastness of the Sierra Nevadas engulfing us on all sides, it seemed surreal to imagine that this very place was witness to human drama, tragedy, hope, love affairs and scandals. There was family life, culture, entertainment, education, sickness and health here. One could imagine the barber’s son eloping with the mine owners daughter or some such thing. As if the ranger had read my thoughts he said pointing down the hill to the right – this part of town had 50-60 salons too.

My mind buzzed and I asked him – “Really for a town of 10,000 people, they needed 50-60 salons? They must have been a pretty well groomed lot. And everyone had to trudge down to one part of town too.“

The ranger gave me a quizzical look, and thought of saying something but decided to let it go. “Beyond that, were the jails – you know so that area was not very respectable back in the day.”

My! I thought, not only did people have to cut across town to get a haircut, but also scout near the jails? Assuming 50% of the population were males, that is approximately 1 salon for every 100 males, and considering they probably needed a haircut once a month …. I could imagine the mothers giving out the money to the little fellows with dire warnings as to what happens if they strayed near the jails, and how they were to get a hair cut and head straight back home.

I don’t know whether pedicures and manicures were popular during the day for the women or whether their hair styles were demanding ones or simple ones.

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What about pet grooming salons? Did folks a century ago groom their pets as dearly as they do today?

It struck me how keenly these authors of historical fiction have to think. For instance, were there razors and portable blades 100 years ago, or did people have to go to the salon for everything?

I mentioned these profound revelations to the husband and he gave me a look similar to the one the ranger had given and said with a smile playing at the tip of lips, “You realize that by salon, he did not mean hair cutting salons like today, right?”

“What do you mean? Oh! “ I said my eyes widening and the husband laughed.

“Oh! You are naive!”, he said laughing, “Why else would they be clustered together like that?”

Looking around at the ghost town around me, suddenly made me realize that half the world’s cares, worries and problems were just as man-made a century ago as they are today. Some things at least don’t change.

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Every now and then, there arrives a book that is designed to knock the sails out of your windpipe. William Kamkwamba’s journey to build a windmill and uplift his community is one such. It is the true story of a poor boy in Malawi.

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I bought the book a while ago, and it lay languishing on my tsundoku pile. Maybe, there was a purpose to the book. The book needed to be read at a time when I most wanted to reassure myself on human potential if only we choose to apply it for good.

The only son, among eight children, of a poor Malawian farmer in Wimbe near Kasungu, Malawi, this is a true story of William Kamkwamba.

The book started off slowly talking about tales of magic, witchcraft and sorcery in Africa. As you read about William and his journey, you cannot help getting absorbed into the life around him with good natured understanding. You like his dog, Khambe, and his friends, Geoffrey and Gilbert, who show themselves to be the kind of stalwart friends you wish your children will grow up to be. Kind hearted, supportive, fun and ready to lend a hand, always.

When, famine hits Malawi, William Kamkwamba is forced to drop out of school, it is crushing to read how his father felt and I wish no parent should have to face that in their life.He writes about how his family struggled for months with nothing but a few nsima cakes between them to eat everyday. Everything we tell our children about starving children in Africa is true.

During those long hours of working in the fields to do their best to see if they can fortify themselves against another famine, it is William’s dream to build a windmill that keeps him going. William had seen pictures of a windmill, and given that his little village is always blessed with wind, he wants to build one, so that water and electricity can mitigate another famine. He is called misala (crazy) for haunting the trash piles to find something reusable to build his windmill.

After months, of scouring trash piles and junkyards, using tools that would not pass any safety standards laid out in the West, it is a proud moment indeed when finally he connects his rickety windmill to a tiny light bulb.

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The windmill is noticed by a school official who notifies a professor and a blogger. From there to TED Fellow in 2007 is a remarkable journey for a boy who had never set foot outside his little village in Wimbe.

When William is finally called upon to talk at the TED conference, he is justifiably nervous. His English is poor among other things, and to make it easier for him, his host on stage, Chris, prefers to ask him a few questions that he can answer instead:

My heart beat fast like a mganga drum as I climbed the steps to face the audience, which totaled 450: inventors, scientists and doctors who’d stood on that stage in the previous days.

Five years ago, you had an idea”, Chris said, “What was that?”
“I want to made a windmill”. Wrong again. Chris smiled.
“So what did you, how did you realize that?”
I took a deep breath and gave it my best. “After I drop out of school, I went to library…and I get information about windmill…”
Keep going, keep going…”And I try and, I made it.”

The problem with reading a book like The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind on public transport is that it is takes phenomenal effort to keep from tearing up. You can manage a silent tear that just needs to come out, and one that you can unobtrusively wipe away as if some dirt got in there. But if the book goes on to make you want to weep not out of despair or sadness, but out of pride, joy and the eternal good-ness of mankind despite everything, that is hard to do.

Some pictures from the book: The image of his prototypes, his big windmill and one of his parents after he was able to harness the energy generated from the windmill to provide clean drinking water and electricity in his village.

Unfortunately, for every William who is outstanding in perseverance, grit and intelligence, there are thousands of williams who flounder in the stormy tempests of life. Every time I am caressed by the wind during this Thanksgiving break, I will know what to give thanks for. Thanks to William Kamkwamba.

I try, and I made it.

Please watch the TED talks, even if you are unable to get to the book:

TED Fellow William Kamkwamba

Oh Snap!

I attended a conference last week, a vast sprawling area brimming with people having an analytical bent of mind, or at least that is what they do for a living.

It was wonderful, for many reasons: It not only provided a good change of pace for me, but it also helped me cope with the post election disbelief by observing vast numbers of people from different parts of the country.

Before one of our trainings, our instructor put up a hashtag on the screen and requested everybody to tweet with that hash tag, so we could analyze the data coming in for that hashtag for the exercise.

For our convenience, he was also streaming the tweets as his code picked them up. For a hall containing at least 200 people, the tweets were trickling in. 5 and then 10 and then a plateau. After some time, another few.

The instructor then showed us how he was going to analyze this data and when he tried to pull up the dashboard he had created for the purpose of the training, the server went down. As it turns out, the instructor was embarrassed, obviously, that his carefully prepared presentation ran into a glitch in this uncharacteristic manner, but he had a Plan B, and going by the way he conducted his training, probably had Plan C, and D. Competence and Determination. He took a derogatory stab at himself, got a laugh, and moved on. He chose instead to recreate the dashboard from scratch, so we all get to see how it is done, instead of showing us the finished product.

The person right next to me, pulled out his phone though, and tweeted the hashtag almost instantly saying “#Hashtag Demo not working. Not Cool.” I was sitting right next to him , so I could see his tweet. I also remembered that he had not tweeted when the instructor asked us all to tweet so that he could get a dataset, but when it came to calling someone’s failures out, he was more than willing to do so.

That is human nature. We all suffer from it. So, I am not blaming this person by any chance, but rather hoping to use this as a call to introspection. Are we so quick to judge that we are losing our ability to empathize just because we now have the power to quickly voice our opinions? That could have been us fumbling when the server went down unexpectedly, couldn’t it?

I was reading an article in which President Obama warned us in a similar manner about snap judgments that social media enables us to make:

Obama, without directly naming Trump, appeared critical of the political discourse in the United States, saying social media has made it easier “to make negative attacks and simplistic slogans than it is to communicate complex policies.”

Obama-Merkel issue joint rebuttal to the coming era of Donald Trump

Every tool has its place, but if we attempt to mow the lawn with a kitchen knife, it will not work. I cannot help thinking of our gardeners, who in my mind have magical abilities, get things done quickly and efficiently, while I blubber and fly rudderless because I do not use the right tools for the job. (Divine Intervention of the Gardening Gods)

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Now is the time for all of us to tap the critical thinkers in us, to read extensively, to seek the truth and take up the job of providing a voice of reason. All of us know how distorted our consumption of information can be. Sites like Snopes.com have their work cut out for them in the age of social media.

Snopes.com Check Facts!

P.S: I loved Angela Merkel’s measured response to Trump’s victory:

Angela Merkel in her note to Trump offered cooperation reiterating that cooperation should be based on “a common platform of democracy, freedom, advocacy for human rights all over the world and championing the open and liberal world order.”

After all, we all may have to pack up and go to different planet soon (in which case we are all in the same boat regardless of race, creed or gender.)
Stephen Hawking’s prediction that humans have at best 1000 years in which to find another planet to inhibit

If

We had been to the East coast to gulp in the beauty of the fall colors before the trees were stripped bare for the Winter. I marveled at the beautiful tapestry that nature had laid out for us. The greens, golds, yellows, rusts, oranges, reds and browns blended together beautifully to please the eye. The same patch of forest looked beautiful in the different lights of day. The color of the skies above, the intensity of the sunlight, the shadows of the scudding clouds above, all painted marvelous pictures and nature soothed in a way that it has always done.

A forest is beautiful to look at. A forest in fall colors is brilliant to look at. The diversity in colors is mind boggling, and it all pieces together beautifully in a marvelous tapestry. It is the differences in color that make it glorious.

An artist’s palette is made more vibrant with different shades.

As much as we all like everyone to be like us, it is the fact that we are different that makes the world a beautiful place. It is the disappointments that should propel us forward.

I am distraught at the person America has chosen as its President elect. I am trying to find solace in the words of Carl Sagan on Earth:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

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Now, more than ever before, is the time for all of us to come together and become heroes in our own ways. I felt this was the right time to read Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ to the children.

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

When the materialistic society around us automatically glorifies money, we can use the moment to say that money does not equal dignity, money does not beget culture, money may earn you servitude, but not loyalty.

And point to the example in The White House.