The Covid Vaccine

We rolled into the expansive grounds to receive the Covid vaccine. Everything shone with efficiency starting from the way our appointments were scheduled. It always astounds me when I see undertakings as large as this. Any public health initiatives are amazing in their scope and ability, and I was in awe. Like a child at the fairgrounds, I soaked in the sign boards, the appointment process, the courteous health workers all working on Saturday mornings to ensure the world can be a safer place. 

There were no questions unrelated to one’s health. No checks other than ensuring one was eligible age-wise and health-wise and had no known allergic reactions. 

As we waited for our turn and watched the registered nurses, volunteers and traffic attendants go about their duties, I thought once again of all the great things human beings are capable of as a species. Within a year of the coronavirus bringing the world to a stand-still, a vaccine was not just found, but mass produced and administered to millions of people. That is nothing short of a miracle. Even as the virus continues to spread its tentacles in waves, the vaccine outreach program was offering hope.

Extensive testing, mass production, and a dizzying level of community outreach and logistics had gone into place for this to work. But how did the mRNA vaccines work?

We live in the Information Age, and know first-hand how it can quickly be turned on its head to a Misinformation Age. A Quote from the Demon Haunted World came to mind.

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements—transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting—profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The nurse came up to the car with a thin needle and I closed my eyes instinctively. She smiled and said, “It’s done. You feeling okay?”

Just like that, the tiny ant-like pinch of the needle that delivered a tiny dose of messenger RNA gave rise to something else.

I felt a surge for love for America

A touch of pride in its efficacy and its courtesy

A ripple of gratitude for Science

A shiver while thinking how it might have been had the 46th President not been elected.

And finally a sense of gratitude that we did have a President who valued these things.

 

The Pandemic Year

“Why don’t you pick out a children’s book from the ones stacked there?” I said nodding at the pile from the library.

The son picked out Our Great Big Backyard for us to read together. Written by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, and illustrated by Jaqueline Rogers, the book extols the beauty of the natural world around us. It is about a girl, Jane whose family takes a wonderful road trip across the United States making several stops along the way at the magnificent national parks. Jane is very reluctant at first, and fights with her brother missing her friends back home initially. But as the family makes their way from Everglades National Park in Florida to Yosemite National Park in California, Jane’s appreciation of the natural world expands.  She cannot wait to share the wonders of the natural world with her friends back home in their own backyard.

“Can you imagine last year this time, we were traveling all over the world?” I said, expressing shock at how soon our world changed for the n-th time since Covid-19 started

It was true. I had made several trips back to back in December 2019, and early January 2020. I remember feeling unmoored from Earth, somewhat dizzy in my speed of movement around the globe, and had felt a strange sense of being connected to the earth when I saw the spider’s web glinting in the winter dewdrops after the hours of flying. (I call it Tao)

It is a whole year since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. A year in which some people adjusted admirably to their changed circumstances, while many others found it much harder.  Life everywhere was shaken out of its steady state. 

The past year was the year in which we morbidly looked at the death rates on a daily basis, and adjusted to losses of family members, and friends to Covid-19. It was also the year in which humanity astounded us by developing a vaccine before the year was out

The vaccines are being rolled out to older populations and front-line workers, teachers etc. While there are variants of the virus, there is already talk of returning to work, normal functioning etc. Many schools have resumed in-person instructions. 

This past year, Covid-19 has made everyone take pause and tread slower. Travel plans are seldom made, and even then, hopefully, are made considering crowds, infection and exposure. Most folks I know have turned an appreciative eye to what lies close by though. How many years the trees near us have had the same flowering in spring and fall, only to be barely noticed by us? Yet these past few months, the enjoyment of it has been greater. 

I feel like a renewed appreciation for Thoreau as he observed the intricacies of nature in Walden Pond. For this long, I hadn’t noticed how the moon rises later and later during the waning period, and earlier and earlier during the waxing period. (Or just the changes in when we see the moon) 

Full Moon Rising – March 2020

The Spring equinox means the days are getting longer, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and the leaves are sprouting everywhere. I remember one night when I was wakened by the sound of the pelting rain. I watched the rain for sometime, but wascompletely awed the next day, for the rains had ushered in the leaves on the trees overnight. I swayed around the trees wondering how  it would have been to watch the leaves grow overnight. 

Like Jane, the protagonist in Our Great Big Backyard , many of us realized, maybe for the first time, the many wonders of the natural world around us. 

As the vaccines are rolled out, and life limps back to normal, I hope we put the trying period behind us, but also remember the good things of this phase. The CDC announced that those who have been vaccinated can now gather indoors safely.

Roving on Planets

Standing outside by the curbside of our home one night, my eyes were drawn to the beautifully illumined Sirius shining bright in the night sky. Sirius has been looking brighter than usual in the winter skies, and I have often stared at the blinking star wondering what was happening that far away in the Universe.  Every dot in the night sky suggesting a universe of possibilities. The space between dots showing the emptiness, the dots themselves, bright and important only because of the surrounding darkness

Almost subconsciously, my eyes moved over to the red spot Mars. For here, in our own solar neighborhood, we know that something is happening. Something of human interest, and intent. To think that on that distant reddish spot in the sky, 3 generations of rovers have spent the time taking photographs and trying to determine the existence of life on the planet, is surreal. Not to mention the fact that they have been able to transmit the pictures back to Earth for analysis. 

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The planet has long beckoned us with its allure. All those Science Fiction writers, who used the planet as the home for their fertile imagination, paved the way for these missions. 

Fiction on Mars isn’t new. In fact, the red planet invited writers as early as mid-1800’s to set their stories there. Long before knowing anything about the sounds on Mars, the temperatures, or the atmospheres; worlds were set in it. War of the Worlds had the strangest creatures that human imagination could think of (cephalopod like creatures), who could overpower humans. (This quest for dominance vs courteous co-existence is a pet peeve – why must we turn everything into a conquest? But then, do ants wonder the same about us?) 

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Throughout the week, the little cosmologist in the house interspersed our Earthly life with Mars-ly anecdotes and clips. 

Do you know? If we want to live on Mars, we have to have high metal barrier suits. If you go out on an adventure without a suit, there is so much radiation that it could kill you. “ (He had read a novel set in Mars)

Wonder what happened to all water on Mars. The video said there really was water there.” (He has been watching the NASA  videos with interest)

One evening, we sat together huddled up, watching pictures stitched together from the 3 Mars rovers: Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance. Barren desert landscapes, not unlike those in the Sahara desert or the Arizonian deserts, are all the rovers could see. In some shots, the commentator says the NASA team stitched thousands of individual images together to gain a clearer view. In some pictures, a blue sky is visible  (the commentator says that NASA colored the skies blue, so as to be able to see the images better, and I thought about how pretty blue skies are and how blue is a very rare color in nature. )

Curiosity and Perseverance will help us find answers. Till then, we have the opportunity to ponder and puzzle about these things. More than any of these curious wanderings, the one thing that the Martian landscape reinforces to me, is that our Earth is a beautiful planet – so vast in its diversity, and lifeforms. The Martian pictures make me want to go out and sigh and fall in love, look after, and cherish the one planet we can thrive on. To admire the miracle that is every tree, every lake, every cloud, every blade of grass, and every flower. 

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Not to mention the great miracle of life in the form of marine creatures, land based creatures and those that are able to aerially survey our beautiful planet. 

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If Martian 4K resolution images have taught me anything, it is to buckle down and look after the one planet we do have. If I am to be roving on planets, why not this beautiful one that has so much to offer?

“I walk in the world to love it.” – Mary Oliver

Mars Marvels

There is something special in being able to watch the Mars Perseverance Rover land on Mars during the day with your fellow explorer. 

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A work day was in bustling progress.  Many meetings, many projects, many interruptions, and many more deadlines were jostling about in the ether, when the son came charging into the room. It was the middle of his school day (one of the many high points of the corona lifestyle), “Amma! Amma! You will like this. I just came to tell you this! The Mars landing just happened!”

I plucked myself away from the myriad day-to-day happenings of my world, and looked up at his excited face. Luckily, it was one of those rare ½ hour slots that was meeting-free. “Do you want to see the landing? “ I asked, and he nodded. There is something special in being able to watch the Mars Perseverance Rover land on Mars during the day with your fellow explorer. 

Mars.Nasa.Gov

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The video attests to Carl Sagan’s deductions in the book, Pale Blue Dot (essay: Sacred Black). The Martian atmosphere does look pinkish red with heavily desert hues. The son & I looked outside at the beautiful blue sky with reassuringly white clouds flitting by. 

The Mars Perseverance Rover is tasked with looking for evidence for extraterrestrial life.

Excerpt from Wikipedia:

The Perseverance rover has four science objectives that support the Mars Exploration Program‘s science goals:[8]

  1. Looking for habitability: identify past environments capable of supporting microbial life.
  2. Seeking biosignatures: seek signs of possible past microbial life in those habitable environments, particularly in specific rock types known to preserve signs over time.
  3. Caching samples: collect core rock and regolith (“soil”) samples and store them on the Martian surface.
  4. Preparing for humans: test oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere.

Mars has, it seems, been a most fertile planet for the imagination through the centuries. From harboring questions about life on its surface to envisioning warfare between worlds. As rich as lifeforms on Earth are, even in our imaginings, we are somewhat limited by how life has evolved on Earth. Cephalopods, trees, giraffes, humans – but what else is possible? What sensory powers are we not even considering?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_in_fiction

The War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells. Features an attack on England by cephalopod-like Martians and their advanced technology to employ fighting machines to decimate the world.

Even as early as the 16th and 17th century, writers made bold attempts at imagining life on its surface. The canal like squiggles on its surface, led to intriguing theories on an advanced civilization running advanced colonies etc. 

Now, seems like a good time for me to read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Given what we know about the Martian atmosphere now, there are places where the writing seems awkward. For instance, Ray Bradbury writes of a blue Martian sky – an example that it is hard for us to un-imagine what is. 

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The Martian Chronicles (1950) by Ray Bradbury. Features human-like Martians with copper-colored skin, human emotions, and telepathic abilities. They have an advanced culture, but the human explorers are greeted with incomprehension. 

Science took us to Mars with the reddish sky, but it was the blue sky with white clouds that enabled us to dream. The hunter gatherer is us out to explore the cosmic ocean, as Carl Sagan would say.

Dear Democracy – 2

The week has been a hard one, and yet a joyous one. A hopeful one. 

It has been a tumultuous time in the United States and the world at large over the past half a decade, Having an unsettling leader in the highest office in one of the most powerful nations in the world does not make for peaceful living. Would we be dealing with nuclear problems tomorrow, or an another unwonted instigation, or a wanton hateful rant? We never knew. All we knew for sure was that it was often not what we could anticipate, and even when it was possible to anticipate, was higher on the seismic index of previous recordings.

As if to show us how high the bar for a leader of the free world was, the 45th President set it as his task to take us tumbling down. 

  • Was America proud of its scientific progress? He took us down to denying Science.
  • Was America proud of its unity in diversity? He divided us in every manner possible: religion, skin color, country of origin, ideology.
  • Was America proud of its humanitarian work? He dehumanized with ease and an unsettling aplomb.
  • Was America proud of justice? He fanned racial injustice.
  • Was it the land of the brave? He fanned our fears till they overtook our innate good senses.
  • Was America proud of its Democracy? He pulled us all the way down to sedition ( a word I did not think I would look up to seeing the correct usage while living in the United States). 

We are but a blip in time’s horizon, and this period may not be remembered. But it should. It should, for a mere 5 years was enough to show us what it takes to slide from a respected, thriving democracy to an autocratic dictatorship. America escaped by the skin of its teeth. 

If I were a cartoonist, I would draw one of those cartoons of the fish escaping the killer sharks in the reef only in the nick of the time when the teeth-bared shark comes biting and cannot its gets it’s nose through the narrow straits the fish got into. Jan 6th was a wake-up call, and I did not realize how much tension I was carrying pent up inside me ever since Hope raised its head the day the election results were announced and it looked like an end to the despair was in sight. That knot tightened and stayed there waiting, wondering. Even though we live far away from the nation’s capital, social media has made it all far too close. All it takes is one flare for things to go too far. 

So, on the day of the inauguration,  hearing speeches containing words such as Soul, Unity, Healing etc was balm enough. I have never been one to pay much attention to policies, and tax reforms and such. But the past few years made everyone sit up and pay attention. My simple mind wants to be involved in the task of living whole-heartedly, happily and peacefully in a community that values compassion, kindness, education and morality. That is my hope and prayer for America.

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I watch with a heart filled with pride as we join the Paris Climate Accord and World Health Organization again (Feeling much as a sheepish child after being allowed into class again after a misbehaving stunt, we join the world in its heavy burden of restoring health and prosperity, while also looking after the only place we can call home.) I am grateful the world has accepted us into its folds once again.  

PS: There are some who say we must move on from Jan 6th. But I disagree. We must not move on. We must remember how close we came to losing the things dearest to us. We must remember how much easier it is to fall for divisive tactics than it is to work towards unity and being there for another. We must remember: for American Democracy may not survive a more efficient and ruthless dictator. 

Dear Democracy

“Gosh! Must you always be this dramatic?!” said the daughter rolling her eyes up at me, wrenching them away from the screen. 

I suppose ‘nail in the coffin of democracy’ was not exactly the poised and controlled reaction I was going for. 

“Well..”I fumbled for a moment, and then said with a steely determination that took me aback, “You know what? Yes I must! If I am not upset at a moment like this, I don’t have use of the emotion at all! This is democracy – and it is supposed to thrive!” I said taking a handful of emotions from Pandora’s box and letting them course through my system in righteous anger, and disappointment. 

Time and time again, we have been disappointed by politicians and humans seeking power. The one job that requires no specific training or education. #ButterBattleCourse

“Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,

and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth.” 

Hesiod, the 6th-century BC Greek poet Theognis of Megara 

Another eye roll, another laugh stifled, and another poetic exclamation later, I was spent. 

The chaos at the Capitol building as the senate ratified the election results was appalling. It was not being called a coup on television. The sitting 45th President of the United States had incited violence to be unleashed on the Capitol Building, and I felt a sinking feeling. We all know that the greater the power, the higher the fall and all the rest of it. But truly, nothing prepares you for that gloating face defacing the Speaker’s office with not an ounce of remorse. Nothing prepares you for the moment that a mob crashes into the Capitol Building, and gets to the Speaker’s chair in the largest democracy in the world. 

But Pandora had one last emotion that she had in her box. Hope.

The senators filed back in later that night and completed their constitutional duty well past midnight. 

Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;

the others have left and gone to Olympus.

Hesiod, the 6th-century BC Greek poet Theognis of Megara 

The next day, the daughter was showing us posts from her social network. 

“This video, see this one? Cries her heart out – thinks she is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and says she has come all the way from Tennessee for the revolution. ”

“What revolution? Wait a minute! She took a flight from Tennessee to Washington D C for this during a pandemic?! “, I asked, “And she is upset she was pushed back from the Capitol building?”

“I mean, we all know the ones who were creating the ruckus aren’t the smartest tools in the box, but they outdid themselves, Amma. This one guy searched up Georgia, and planted the Georgia flag – I mean the country Georgia’s flag. Then, one Indian dude shows up there with an Indian flag! I don’t know whether they stopped to think about what they were doing.”

https://qz.com/1953366/decoding-the-pro-trump-insurrectionist-flags-and-banners/”

I shook my head and we fell to discussing the sad state of affairs because one narcissistic man could not bear to lose. 

Reference: The history of the peaceful transfer of power: History.com

  1. The year was 1797. The first President George Wshington willingly stepped down after 2 terms in office setting a precedent to the two terms in office, that was later ratified as the 22nd Amendment to the constitution in 1951.
  2. The year 1801 set another important precedent. John Adams after losing to Thomas Jefferson quietly left Washington in the dark hours of March 4th. He did not attend the inauguration, but he did set the hallmark for the peaceful transfer of power. 

History.com: There were several ways in which power was transferred. One of the best is the letter George W Bush left for Bill Clinton, and the tradition followed.

“How did it come down to this? Why is it so hard to lose? You played your game, move on!” I said.

“He must not have played rummy with his mom!” said the son, and we all burst out laughing. It’s true isn’t it? We win some games, we lose some games. Play teaches us so much: the joy of playing, the thrill of winning, the grace of losing, and the friendship that binds it all together.

I used to wonder how Hitler rose to power democratically and was able to commit such horrendous acts of genocide. Recent events have shown us all too clearly how this can happen. By removing bars of decorum and conduct, we have been shown that the country may not survive a younger, more ruthless strain of Trump’s brand of dictatorship. 

I quite agree with how Aristotle describes the nobility required of politicians: he opines that politicians should take an oath, almost as sacred as a Hippocratic oath, to remain fair and mete out justice. From the Nicomachean Ethics – By Aristotle. 

Oh! How dear Democracy is.

How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel

When the Covid lockdowns started, many folks went on a buying spree (we all know the toilet paper jokes). Ever the dutiful one, off I went too. I was feeling rather pleased with myself when I got an extra bag of rice, and headed onto the library (to get books to tide us over during the lockdown).  When the husband called to ask where I’d gone, I sheepishly said that I was at the library just in case we were unable to get books during lockdown. I could hear a sound like a paper bag bursting – his version of a cross between a snort, and the urge to laugh. I bragged about the extra bag of rice, and I could see his face wondering why he had to be landed with someone, who in P G Wodehouse’s language, ‘must’ve been bumped on the head as a baby’. 

Well, I must say that when we staggered home with books for the children and self, I felt better. The local library has been one of my favorite spots to visit of course, but over the Covid period, I felt like Rapunzel in the book: How the Library Saved Rapunzel (Not the Prince). The library allowed us to schedule an appointment and arrange to pickup books on hold. What was more, they were kind enough to include a few picture books of their choice if you requested them to do so. I am eternally grateful to have access to libraries.

I felt almost an irresistible urge to increase my Science based reading this year (maybe this is a tiny rebellion for the disturbing anti-Science strain emerging with the 45th POTUS office). Starting the year off by re-reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos set the stage for the year ahead. The following books gave me no end of pleasure and learning over the year. (My Science writing class for children)

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2020 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day

  • Unbowed – Wangari Maathai (in progress)
  • On Looking  – Alexandra  Horowitz
  • Losing  Earth  A Recent History – Nathaniel Rich
  • This is the Earth – Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander, Paintings by Wendell Minor

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

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It was also a wonderful year to take in poetry. Mary Oliver & Margarita Engle were always welcome in a year when poets alone seemed to know the right turn of phrase for the bizarre. Dr Seuss & Jackl Prelutsky always know to turn one’s frown into a smile. 

  • Blue Iris – Mary Oliver
  • Enchanted Air – By Margarita Engle
  • Dog Songs – Mary Oliver
  • Owls and other fantasies – Mary Oliver (Yes! no!)
  • Be Glad your nose is in your face – Jack Prelutsky
  • Dr Seuss books (always worth reads and re-reads). I found a few gems that truly tickled the mind and got out some belly laughs.
    • Horton hears a Who
    • Horton Hatches an Egg
    • Sleep book
    • Oh the Thinks you can Think
    • How Lucky You Are
    • Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose

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With the Black Lives Matter movement, the year was ripe for educating oneself on the inequities of society and civil disobedience. The local library, news media, and friends all helped with an excellent array of reading material. Notable among the works read then were:

  • Becoming – By Michelle Obama
  • Black Panther – by Ta Nehisi Coates
  • Sneetches and other stories – Dr Seuss
  • A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela‘s children’s book version
  • My Many Colored Days – Dr Seuss

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With uplifting books and humour, life can be truly marvelous. My all-time favorites kept me company, and I am eternally grateful to their influence of course but a few others were added to the list this year.

The world isn’t such a good place either, and reading books such as these helps to remind us about the many problems that still beset society

The lure of power, and how we are seeing it all play out in real life

  • The Fate of Fausto – Oliver Jeffers
  • Louis I – The King of Sheep – Oliver Tallec
  • Yertle the Turtle and other Stories – Dr Seuss
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (pieces relating to the Minister of Magic refusing to acknowledge Voldemort’s return so he could stay in power)

Of course the true magic of life is never complete without children’s books. There are so many of them in this genre, that I did not even note half of them. But a few of them lit up my life

  • My Grandma is a Ninja – By Todd Tarpley, Illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou (When I become a grandma – though it is a few decades off, that is how I wish to be 🙂 )
  • Gondra’s Treasure – By Linda Sue Park
  • Enchanted Wood – by Enid Blyton (old Saucepan Man, Silky and Moonface with the lands above the enchanted tree – though it doesn’t hold the same level of magic it did as a child, it still has its charm)
  • The Red Pyramid – By Rick Riordan (this was the son’s recommendation, and thoroughly enjoyable it turned out to be romping down the Egyptian myths!)
  • The Quiet Book – by Deborah Underwood
  • A Fun Day with Lewis Carroll – Kathleen Krull & Julia Sarda
  • Peter Rabbit’s Tales – Beatrix Potter
  • Why is my Hair Curly – By Lakshmi Iyer
  • A History of Magic – Based on Harry Potter Universe
  • Tintin Comics (a fair few)
  • Calvin & Hobbes
  • The Velocity of Being – Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick

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On that magical high note, here is wishing everyone a healthy, happy new year in 2021. Things are already turning around, and looking hopeful. Keep reading, and sharing 🙂

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2020 Genre Unknown – Tops Bestseller List

I started this post out to write about all the books that have made life so enriching and beautiful in 2020. It has become a lovely annual ritual – a look-back on the kinds of things that interested and sustained me throughout the year.  But as I started writing, I felt a commentary was in order, as my reading changed with the events of the year. One felt like an eager student trying to cram everything relevant into one year, and then still feeling there is so much left to learn, so much to change, and so many things left to be done.

However, this overwhelm helps no one unless one reflects on the year past. So here goes. (The book list follows in another post.)

2020 is like one of those template books that somehow make it to the best seller lists. It started off as usual I suppose, maybe even showed a little promise, then the story takes you on a rollercoaster.  Deftly crashing you here, and bashing you there, the flow of events sometimes called for rolling one’s eyes.  Yet it took us to places one only imagined in thought experiments. There, inside a dystopian world, the story plunges on from one bizarre happening to another. True Schadenfreudian style if ever there was one. 

Then having rattled your innards, somehow in the end, it manages to end on a hopeful note.

Were it a novel, we would write up a review that said ‘Unbelievable at times’.

2020 had it all. 

🚀 It showed us Time Travel was possible. How? you ask.

  • Consider this: a leader of the free world denied science, and actually made impassioned calls for medieval forms of thinking (sigh!). If that wasn’t traveling back by a few centuries, I don’t know what is.
  • The past few years have also shown us how truths can be twisted, our realities distorted to suit the loudest people with the loudest voices in our online echo chambers. 

🌏 You want an inconvenient truth? 2020 gave us several.

  • From unprecedented bush fires and forest fires to hurricanes and snow storms, the year showed us all the true extent of what we have done to the one planet we call home.
  • Wall-E is becoming a reality. Our man-made things weigh more than the biomass of the planet put together. That’s more diapers, concrete, nylon, cars, and plastic than all the whales, sharks, seals and fish in the oceans; trees, shrubs, flowers and vines in the forests; elephants, rhinoceroses, bisons, zebras in the world.

If only we had mastered biomimicry before mass production!

⚖️ In my close to two decades of life in the United States, never had we had to face a curfew owing to civil unrest, but 2020 saw plenty of these too. The Black Lives Matter movement reminded us yet again about how equity and justice are terms that not everyone can use with a level of trust. 

🌌 It was also a year of cosmic splendor:

🏳️‍🌈 It was a political thriller (Will the elections happen? Will the votes be counted? Will the results hold? Will the winner be able to take up power?)

😩 It was one of the most tragic years in recent history. More lives were lost this year in the United States to Covid-19 than all the major American wars in recent history

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🥳 But it also has a hopeful end. Who would have thought that a virus that surfaced out of the blue (well bats really) killing thousands of people around the world, would have a vaccine found, and mass produced for consumption before the year was out? It feels like a Science Fiction movie in real-time. #CovidVaccine

What’s your 2021 WotY (Word of the Year) Choice?

2020 escapes adjectives and mere words cannot quite capture the irony of the year. Ironically, last year when we selecting a word for the year in the nourish-n-cherish household, the teenager vehemently voted for the word, ‘Ironic’ (after I shot down ‘Sarcastic’ as an entry of course). I had been inspired by a colleague who regularly answered ‘How are you?” with the word “Terrific!” (In meetings through the year).

One time, I asked him whether he always said that, since it was a shot of positivity in the middle of the humdrum, and he said that it was a family tradition for them. Their family sat together and decided on a word to use through the upcoming year to answer the question ‘How are you?’. The logophile in me sat up and took notice. I got the gleam that the children have identified, and scram when they detect it. It is what gets them into walking miles in the wilderness, or fun read-a-thons.

Where was I? Yes – the word thing. When I came home with this heart warming suggestion, I expected in my naïveté, to be taken up on the word-building, and lists filling up with words such as : Fantastic, Fun, Awesome, or even a word that is only used in our home, Imaginate. But of course that is not what happened.

The words put forth by the teenager were not going to be my words of the year by any stretch. So, given chaotic, neurotic (Really! This child expects me to answer ‘How are you?’ with ‘Neurotic’!) , dystopian, terrible, quixotic, and another few like this, we decided on Ironic. Luckily, we did not use this word to answer every ‘How do you do?” question during the year. Last night when I mentioned the word-of-the-year-greeting-exercise again, the children said, “Come to think of it, our word choice was not bad huh?! Ironic how that worked out! Get it? Get it?”

It was my turn to moan, but also think. Maybe there is something to the whole thought->actions->universe themes that we hear about all the time.

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” – Lao Tzu

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It was a year in which ‘Ironic’ could be used with ease. Ironic how people react to pandemics, ironic how markets and stock market indices react to global pandemics, ironic how we are able to find pockets of quiet in the hectic world thanks to the very pandemic that is causing so much pain and suffering. Ironic how we determine leadership responses or lack thereof in our electoral choices, ironic that the very science naysayers will be benefited by a vaccine developed within a year of the genome mapping thanks to Science. Ironic how humans the social beings reacted to social distancing, and ironic too, how the themes of nationalism, chauvinism, racism, sexism were all rendered meaningless by a virus (too tiny to be rendered in colors by electron microscopes, but large enough to unite us all in the act of being human). If you are human, you are susceptible to the virus. 

  • 2020 word of the year turned out to be (no surprise here): Pandemic. 

Quote from BBC article:

This year has seen so many seismic events that Oxford Dictionaries has expanded its word of the year to encompass several "Words of an Unprecedented Year".

Its words are chosen to reflect 2020's "ethos, mood, or preoccupations".

They include bushfires, Covid-19, WFH, lockdown, circuit-breaker, support bubbles, keyworkers, furlough, Black Lives Matter and moonshot.

Use of the word pandemic has increased by more than 57,000% this year.

"It's both unprecedented and a little ironic - in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other."
  • 2019 was the inclusive gender neutral pronoun, They
  • 2018 went for Justice
  • 2017 for Feminism
  • 2016 was Surreal (truly!)

I wonder what 2021 holds in store for us. 

2020 also embodied a lot of good words such as Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing) Komerabi (the beautiful word denoting sun rays piercing through the leaves).

I’d like to hear some of the words you can think of for the coming year. I am thinking of ones that made the children say ‘Meh!”. Whatever else 2020 taught us, it is that we can make it through together if we can retain our sense of humor (the floods of WhatsApp forwards come to mind), and to delight in the ordinary. So I pump for the more humdrum ones: Life, Hope, Joy, Peace, Happiness.

What about you? I wonder what frabjous words Dr Seuss or Lewis Carroll would pick.

Walking in to Utopia

I had been ruminating about all the problems that had beset the world – pre and post elections in the USA for sure, but also the interconnected economies of the world, the problems that a once-in-a-century virus mutation showed us all too clearly.

A spectre is haunting our world!

The perfect cure seemed to call for a long walk. I could not help admiring the physician who prescribed the slightly hypochondriacally inclined Jerome K Jerome in Three Men in a Boat the following that could not be filled at the pharmacy.

“1 lb. beefsteak, with 1 pt. bitter beer every 6 hours.”

I had substituted the steak with (white rice, avial, and rasam), and the bitter beer with (tea – Earl Grey & Lipton with milk and sugar ), and was now ready for the middle portion of the prescription.

“1 ten-mile walk every morning.

1 bed at 11 sharp every night.”

So, I set off. The beanie cap lopsided on my head, hands tied behind my back, pace at about 5 duck waddles per quack, and at spots of true inspiration speeding up to 15 duck waddles per quack. There is something so invigorating about an evening walk in solitude: admiring the setting sun, and the birds lending their musical accompaniment to the dazzling show put out by the sun and the clouds is truly magical.

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By the time the sun had set and Jupiter and Saturn had come peeking in the early evening skies (so close that only those in Galileo Galilei’s time had seen it this close before), I had formulated sections of all-that-is-wrong and how-to-fix-it. I don’t know whether Karl Marx took any long walks when he was writing his little manifesto. All I can say is, I am sure it would have been a lot better if he had.

You see? By the time I had hit the ‘Walk’ button with my elbow at the signal near the house, I was happy, fueled on by my own thoughts in my little utopian world. All that was needed was to document this in a letter to President Obama. President O, on seeing the letter dripping with wisdom, and great ideas then clasps the letter, and says, “Bring forth the author!”. He even  goes on to offer the daughter a leadership position in his institute.

You see? I had solved several sections

  • Job pipeline
    • By skill and
    • Education levels
  • A new model of Capitalism
    • This model rewards not growth but sustainability
    • Stock markets pander for reusability, energy conservation, and factories pride themselves on N-I-W models (Never in Waste duh!)
  • Manufacturing pipelines by sector
    • Ensuring there is know-how and skills within the country
    • Capacity to sustain internally in case a despot ruins relations with the rest of the world (Case in point Corona virus medications)
  • Changes required to the US constitution
    • Electoral College done away with, and the popular vote to count instead
    • Having more than 2 parties to be major players in the elections
  • Environmental Responsibility
    • Clean Fuels
    • Energy Consumption
    • World leaders promoting sustainability as a model
    • Expanding protected lands and waters
    • Climate Change
  • Research & Funding
    • Funding for scientists is skewed and too reliant on industry
    • Bold bets – personalized medicine, geo thermal cooling, space explorations
  • Military Spending & Gun Control
  • Healthcare
    • Women’s health care
    • Geriatric care

I walked into the home looking flushed and happy. I regaled the children about how accomplished I felt. The daughter happily chimed in. “Doesn’t it feel awesome? Mostly by the time I come back, I have given some very powerful messages to the antagonists on my story! My speech to the world has changed the lives of folks everywhere, and all is well. I love it when that happens Amma!”

“Yeah! My villains are destroyed by the awesomeness of the imaginating sequence!” said the son kicking his feet into the air and swirling in the middle of the room closely missing a jar of cereal precariously perched nearby, and the pair of them burst out giggling once again.

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The next day, the husband joined me on my walk, and I told him all about it. He looked thoughtful after every section, and said, “Yes..hmm. But didn’t India already try that in the 1970s? I don’t think that was a success.”

“Hmm…you are right. Burma does try that, but can a happiness index be as effective as a stock market index for world economies?”

“That is a socialistic thought right there … so it may not work out so well here.”

I gave out a big sigh – maybe there was no point after all. It is better to muddle along just as we are, and let one politician after the other try things out, so long as it is not badly botched.

“And what did Obama invite our kids for?” said the husband, looking amused. The idea squasher! I gave him a peeved look and said, “Don’t ask me why? Inconvenient Questions – pish tosh bigosh!”, and haughtily pressed the walk signal to head on home.

As a Secret Santa Christmas present, I received ‘A Promised Land’ by Barack Obama. I plan to read it, and see if he still needs my letters and thoughts.

I suppose it is time for me to get to the last line of the prescription:

 “And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.”

The End

“We have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite.”