Mothers and Calves

During the few months of spring and early summer, the bay area resembles fairy land itself. The mustards are blooming alongside the lupines and golden poppies forming a profusion of yellows, violets and oranges against the lush green backdrop of the grassy hills.

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As I made my way through the green hills with my friends, who unwittingly agreed to a walk on a Friday evening, I chirped on happily. A few minutes in, there we were stalled in our tracks, faced with a herd of happy cows who didn’t seem too happy to see us. Right across our path they stood clustered around holding a conference of sorts, while one calf decided that the best place to drink mother’s milk was the pathway. This was one of the few places on the trail where a steep ravine drops on one side, and a rather incline presents itself on the other.

So, we stood, patiently awaiting the calf to finish drinking milk. Looking at my friends’ faces – not to mention the cows’ faces, I realized that this may not be the best time to tell them heartwarming stories of the elephant calf drinking milk on the Bandipur highway. (Galactic Plumes) So, I cheesed it, but here it is:

Along the roads from Karnataka towards the Nilgiri Hills are thick forests on either side. The Bandipur and Mudumalai national forests lie on this path. A drive through these roads is picturesque and can grant many marvelous views. Bison, spotted deer, and elephants are only a few of the marvels along this road. One such time when I had taken the night bus home, the bus stopped with its headlights off, and did not budge. The whole bus was awake within minutes and all of us were starting to get excited in those loud tones when the bus driver and conductor shushed everyone vehemently and told us to quieten down. It was apparent from their faces that there was potential trouble. Peering out into the road, we realized, they were indeed correct. There, in the middle of the road – on a national highway no less, stood an elephant mother, and her calf, who had decided to drink milk at 2 a.m. 

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While this may seem a trifle dramatic, the one thing elephant mothers do not tolerate is being disturbed when their infants are feeding. There have been several instances of a mother elephant losing it, and sending vehicles tumbling down ravines if disturbed. So, we waited. The waiting vehicles snaked for miles on each side, while the calf drank peacefully in the glow of the moonlight, and the headlights dimmed out of courtesy. How no one honked is beyond me, for Indian traffic is not known for its patience. Maybe, the road only attracted regulars, and they knew the ways of the forest creatures well. In perfect silence, the hundreds of vehicles waited on either side, quietly, patiently. Finally after 45 minutes, the calf had had its share, and the mother sagely moved to the forest. The drivers let out a perceptible sigh and slowly revved their engines on again, before proceeding. 

Where am I going with this? Well, replace the elephant with a cow, and add a herd of them in the middle of the road, and that was the situation facing us. We stood there, carefully waiting for the calf to finish its evening snack. Whoever termed the phrase ‘Mama bear’ got it right. Mamas aren’t to be messed with especially when they are in Mothering mode. It was a fitting lesson for Mothering day. (In the UK, Mothering day, different from Mother’s Day, is celebrated close to Easter.) 

I don’t know if you have ever walked through a herd of cows and calves before. If you haven’t let me assure you, it isn’t easy. It isn’t that the cows are going to do anything. Like the son said fairly during the wait, “We are in its home. So, it is better we wait!”, but the weight of even a calf is enough to send us tumbling down, and no one wants a stampede of cows. 

Anyway, we stood there feeling braver and looking dafter every passing minute. Funny how the braver we felt, the farther we seemed to be inching away from the cows. The cows seemed to be enjoying every minute of the predicament too. There were amused glances and tittering amongst them, I swear! Pretty soon, a cyclist came buzzing down and just parted the herd as he made his way past them. This seemed to give us courage, and we made our way too, though I must say I almost wet myself when the calf and mother gave me a warning as we passed. 

In ‘The Road To Little Dribbling‘, Bill Bryson writes of encountering cows in his walks. I couldn’t help thinking of the book at several points in the walk.

You know how we anthropologize our fellow creatures? I think this particular cow was messing with us. Probably make for a hilarious retelling at the water hole later on. You see, there she was, grazing on the hillsides, and just as she saw us coming, she turned a quiet eye towards us mocking us, and shuffled onto the road. There was simply nothing for us to do, but for us to scramble on to the hillsides ourselves while she looked on amused. The setting sun on one side, and a bright full-ish moon on the other, this picture is truly priceless. If only I could share it with the cow, so it lends her tale credence at the water hole! 

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People sometimes ask me what it is I find so enthralling in nature that I rave about it so much. Well: This is just it.

“I like being in a country where when cows attack, word of it gets around. That’s what I mean when I say Britain is cozy.”
Bill Bryson, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island

The Joy-o-meter

“I read the book like Appa watches a movie! Done in 15 minutes, but got the gist. “ I said to general laughter. When the Spring cleaning bug bites, the family scuttles, and shy away from me like a horse that choked on plastic flowers once, and whinnies at the fresh wildflowers in the fields. 

“Really Amma! You too?” said the children

I admit I usually do not resort to the skimming technique. But this time, I read the Marie Kondo book on The Magic of Tidying Up.  “Well …. You know how some books have all they need to say in an article, but make books and songs out of them? That was this book. In essence, the table of contents should suffice, but if you want the nub of the thing, it is: If something doesn’t spark joy discard it!” 

“So, why are you still here?” Came the answer pat. Really! The speed of the repartee, I will never learn I tell you. I just walk into traps, and then goggle like a famished gargoyle, with these smart-alecks in the home. 

I sniffed a haughty sniff, and continued. “Anyway, I am going to apply the concept to the whole house. So, if something sparks joy in you, keep it, else junk it. Spring cleaning starts tomorrow!” I said in my best energetic cleaner voice. Dark looks were exchanged, some mutterings were heard, and talk was ripe of hoping that I would head out into those long walks that have me famished by the end of it all, so I spare the lot the anguish of losing things. The problem is of course that the things the children are passionate about and the things I am passionate about, are not an intersecting set. Consequently, the last time, I threw away a cardboard box, I spent a trying afternoon with the son who behaved like a gladiator losing his arena. I have since learnt my lesson, and they are given a warning. 

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I started the morning with my closet feeling like Mole spring cleaning his home in The Wind in the Willows.

The Mole had been working hard all morning spring cleaning his little home.

I must tell you. How do you mean ‘spark joy’? Some clothes you see are out of fashion, have some problems, faded etc. But mostly I seem to have clothes that I liked. So, how to deploy the joy-o-meter by them? 

Almost all my ethnic clothes evoked memories – does that count as sparking joy? For instance, I picked up the pink skirt bought in a bazaar in Jaipur. The blue hand-drawn elephants were not exactly life-like, but I could not stop the memories from marching in. The sister-in-law and I had had a tete-a-tete with the skirt vendor, and we landed up enjoying tea, pakoras, and a long chat on local artisans and design techniques, while the husband stood nearby sounding like a cooker letting out impatient steam.

Or the carefully hand woven and fabric painted dupatta that I had decided was too much to buy in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk bazaar, and settled for more utilitarian lunch boxes.  Imagine my glee then, only to find that the lovely dupatta was bought for me by the loving family on a subsequent shopping trip seeing how much I liked it. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

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Or the dancing saree that captured my spirit? The one with ballet dancers and Bharatnatyam dancers printed on them in unison – East-West collaboration at its saree best. 

The only ones I could apply the rule to, seemed to be the mass produced mall clothes bought in ‘Sale’ sections, which wasn’t much.

If there was a usage ratio to apply, almost all of the ethnic clothes can be set aside. If there was a cost to the environment ratio to be applied, one must keep these clothes till we use them at least a few times before discarding them. Over this, one must apply the cultural umbrella of using new clothes for every occasion, and the result is a sorry state of affairs.

I wonder if joy-o-meter designs can use all these variables. 

I looked pityingly at the disappointing results of the morning scourge. Feeling a bit of a hypocrite, I told the children to save anything they liked, and almost instantly regretted it, for the son ran for the largest cardboard box set for the recycling bin and said – “Dibs! I want this in my room!” 

No wonder the Mole preferred to scurry outside into the beautiful spring rather than finish spring cleaning his home.

“The joy of living and the delight of spring made him jump into the air, and he raced across the meadow ….” – The Wind in the Willows

The Joy-O-Meter swung to the right, and all was well with the world.

Spring Fever

“Why do goats looks so stern? I thought they are happy especially now in spring-time. Like lambs in spring-time could also mean like goat-kids in spring-time, no?”

The children exchanged looks. They knew to diagnose my bout of Spring Fever. I am seen scuttling off to sniff the air and marvel at life sitting up and stirring from its sleepy winter state. I head into the house looking flushed and happy. By evening, I am tired, but refuse to reduce the dose of spring bounding. But still this talk of stern looking goats had them worried.

“Ma?! You okay? Why are we talking of goats now?” said the daughter a mock-solicitous look in her eye, and I laughed out loud, and told them the context of the goat-ish tale.

“Well, it all started like this. Do you remember last Friday evening being  particularly beautiful? So, I shut the laptop with a whim, and headed out into the sunset. The hills were alive with the magic of spring. I told myself poetically that I could not bear to be a cell in a spreadsheet anymore. I wanted to be a newly sprouted leaf on a tree, a whimsical flower fluttering away in the mild breeze, or a Finnish fainting goat chewing thoughtfully at that latest blade of grass.

“Not for me the confines of mankind! Get rid of the shackles, and head out! “ I said.

” Uh-hm – someone would think you have a mission you are fighting for. How many times will you take pictures of the cherry blossoms and the clouds, and the sunset, hmm?” said the children but I waved these things away. Days like this are not meant to be wasted indoors arguing about the wisdom or lack thereof of going outdoors.

For a few months of the year, our neck of the woods resembles fairy lands, or the lands of the gods, or maybe heaven itself. The occasional rains, the burst of wildflowers, and the sunsets are all glorious. So much so that I find myself wandering around the countryside apparently lost, but really just finding the inner self. At least it is what I tell myself when that pile of laundry needs washing or that closet needs cleaning. Marie Kondo urges me to better myself, but Early Spring is more inviting. 

The fox squirrels atop the plum blossoms look naughty, while the fainting goat looks stern, the horse in the pastures peaceful, and the sunset glorious.

Where was I? Yes, on the stern looks of Finnish fainting goats. I had often wondered while reading the Three Billy Goats Gruff why the author went in for Gruff, but I see the choice of the word as I stood there admiring the serene setting against which the Finnish Fainting goat stood in its patch of farmland.

“Anyway, ” I said getting back to the point of stern goats, “I suppose if I had foul folks like me boggling at their spot of residence in that manner just because it is Spring, I would be gruff too! But the goat has a manner that is at once endearing, sober and majestic. The clump of fur on its chin growing away like a goatee (Get it? Get it? Goats have goatees!) made it look wise, and the green grass it chomped on made the world look a sweeter place.”

The children moaned not unlike the goat, and said, “Why not just call it a goat, why this fancy Finnish Fainting Goat?”

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“That is easy my dears. Google assures me that the picture I took of the goat is a Finnish Fainting Goat. And in any case, I doubt you would have listened patiently if I said I would tell you a story about a goat. No you would not have. But a Finnish Fainting Goat got your attention, did it not?” I said feeling clever.

“Ma?!” said the daughter, clenching her teeth. “You haven’t told us the story of the goat. You told us about the goat…you know what?! Never mind!”

“Yes…Never mind.” I said using that conciliatory spring-time tone, and said, “I will take you hiking there to see the old fellow. I am sure you all will like him. Looks like a satyr of your Greek myths. There is your story! Percy Jackson stuff on our next hike! ”

I ignored the ensuing groans. The fainting goat satyr and narcissus blooms will help.

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.

Love and Rainbows

“By the way, how is Valentine’s Day this year for you kids?” I asked. This year, with Covid, Valentine’s day celebrations seemed to be muted too.

Valentine’s Day in elementary school can be fun. Though I will carry on and on about the commercialization of love etc, I do love the way the occasion has made its way into elementary grade classrooms. There are manifestations of love everywhere – from painstakingly drawn cards to candy for their friends, the love can be overwhelming and just as it should be at that stage of life: I feel all of life is there to make cynics out of a few of them, romantics out of a few of them and hard-core pragmatists out of another few and fools of us all 🙂

“Oh! It is awesome! Rem-em-ber I told about you the slideshow and the decorations we are making?” I vaguely uh-huh-ed. A lot of things are told, and un-huh-ed at. “Well…we are making slides for each of us, and we get to write our cards out for every person on this.”

I liked the idea very much, and said so. “What a marvelous idea?! Was it your teacher’s?” The fellow beamed.

I really like how the younger children get to see love in its more wholesome form. They love their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers, friends, siblings, caregivers and pets. It all gets a bit wearying when they want to make cards for them all, but I prefer that to the more narrow interpretation leading to conjugal harmony( or not) one day.

The week-end had a loving vibe throughout. The mater, a stoic sort of person, has also seen year after year the hoopla around Valentine’s Day, and sent a note wishing them a happy Valentine’s Day. (“Maybe we should have paati checked – is everything okay?” said the snarky teenage grand-daughter, but beamed at the approval she got from her grandmother for the brownies she had baked and decorated with cherry blossoms for the occasion. ) 

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This Valentine’s Day started off with me heading out with some of my girl friends for a lovely brisk walk that morphed into a saunter at places, and breath-taking gasps at others. As we made our ways past the suburban built up areas, past the railway tracks and the main roads, the spirits lifted with the scenery around us. The creek side, lakes, and green mountains in the distance made for a lovely, if long-ish walk.

As we headed back to civilization after mooning about the fields, we found ourselves walking along side a rainbow. Why do rainbows have a way of assuring us that all will be well? That magic exists in everyday droplets of water and the play of light.

“So, Ladies, Happy Valentine’s Day!” I said flourishing my umbrella against the rainbow. 

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I headed into the house and told the children and the husband how I thought of them and missed them when I saw the rainbow.

“What a poetic way to celebrate Valentine’s Day huh? We were happy snoozing in late, and you were thinking of us and sending us love seeing the rainbow and all that?! Life is as it should be!” said the philosophers, and I rolled my happy eyes.

I couldn’t help agreeing as I enjoyed the sidewalk chalk drawing made by some children outside.

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Making Cherry Blossoms

The daughter’s gift for Christmas was an embroidery kit. It was a small one, but detailed enough to give me joy. The gift made for many cold nights with the heater at my feet, music or some television in the background, the Christmas tree lights twinkling and the embroidery kit at hand. 

There is a kind of meditative feel to needling the thread and pulling it just so, and smoothing it this way and that. The restive spirit in me, usually rising and ebbing like a tide, was strangely lulled into calm and focus. As the little piece came into being, so did my peace. 

Many an unsullied moment from childhood spent in the sunny embroidery room in our Arts & Crafts building at school sailed before my mind’s eye, and I was grateful for all the things that we go through life learning to do.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do  with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

Watching my zen-like state, the daughter said she wanted to try crochet or knitting just for the fun of it, the son wanted to take up painting so he could draw for hours on end like his sister does. The resulting mess in his bedroom floor was appalling, and many a vocal chord strained at decibel levels only opera singers attempt, but the fun was real. 

If that isn’t a gift, I don’t know what is. I remember reading somewhere that the biggest gift we can give our children the ability to feel bored, and occupy themselves through it.

“I very much wished not to be noticed, and to be left alone, and I sort of succeeded. ” – Mary Oliver

Just in time, for the real cherry blossoms to bloom, my own little embroidery of the cherry blossoms and the blackbirds is done. While I stand looking at the real beautiful cherry blossoms, I know the embroidered ones are a poor imitation. But that does not take away the joy of cozy evenings. Hygge is real.

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I roam the rain-washed earth with fresh eyes, admiring, paying attention to the petals and the chrysalis. I stand watching the black birds, swallows and hummingbirds swooping and swirling swiftly by the cherry blossoms. The other day, a squirrel nibbled at the blossoms and shook the tree, sending a heavenly shower of petals down below. Blessings come in all forms, don’t they?

I bent down to pick up a cherry blossom flattened by the heavy rains last night, and marveled. There was no needle creating one petal at a time, no tugging, pulling, no mistakes. There was no satin stitch, stem stitch, or leaf stitch. There was just perfection. The soft petals of the blossom perfect against the dark brown branches off the tree, set against a marvelous blue sky flitting with white clouds, assuring me that this is Earth. The black birds against the sky perfect in their own way.

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I whipped out my phone for yet another photograph, for it seems to be that beauty such as this must be preserved. But the beauty is in the ephemeral isn’t it? We try to capture it in photographs, prose, embroidery and art, but they all, none of them, hold a candle to the real thing. The true joy is in paying attention.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Mary Oliver

Clouds & Rain

Rain Rain Go Away

Come Again An-other Day

The son was plucking away at the notes on the keyboard. I recognized the nursery rhyme and said, Let’s sing it as :

“Rain Rain Come Again

We have had none To-day”

He gave me a quizzical look, and started laughing. “Is this your words have meaning thing-y?”

“Well…yes! I mean everyday the forecast starts out as 100% rain, and then by the time the day rolls over, it is down 80% and then 40%, and then a tiny squirt like the clouds are having unitary tract issues. “ I said. 

Once their guffaws subsided, I sang along 

“Rain Rain Come Ag-ain 

We have had none To-day”.

I pondered about the garden-beds knowing that they should be bursting forth with clovers right about now, and the daughter would tell me not go about removing them, as they are so pretty. I mock-sigh, but enjoy this exchange every year all the same. I love the clovers too. The three-headed beauties remind me of the resilience of life, and the sweet and sour nature of life itself. When all the world is waiting for a spring, the snowdrops and clovers are the only ones brave enough to poke their head out and take into that leap of life.

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I am so glad to say that the first proper rains of the season descended on us this week. The sounds of the rain provided a beautiful back-drop as we went about our days. At nights, I relished the sounds of the gentle pattering rain, and the smooth whishing of the trees in the backyard. 

How beautiful gentle-ness is and how different from the gale-force winds that had ripped branches off a few days earlier? 

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I took a proper walk relishing the solitude of the fresh Earth two days after the heavy rains yesterday. Clouds were everywhere and there is nothing at all that nudges the philosopher awake like clouds and the smells of clean Earth. Thousands of seeds seem to have taken the leap of faith with the waters that descended over them in the past week, and the hills were green with possibilities. The poignancy of the writing in the book, Lab Girl, By Hope Jahren, nudged me. I stood there, admiring the fresh shoots, and relishing what she wrote:

“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” – Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

The possibilities of beginning and waiting play out endlessly in our lives. Sometimes, it is with the need for action, the time to spurt forth. At others, it is in the waiting. The time for things to play out so we can gain clarity. For those of us who favor action, the waiting of the seed is an important lesson. At others, the spurting of life itself is the nudge to take the leap of faith.

I came back with that look of contentment that the family recognized: there was no denying it, I had photographs to show them, and though I recognized the medium could hardly capture the magnificence of Being There, I still reveled in showing them pictures of all the wonders I had seen. 

Sometimes, nature astounds me with variety: In one day out with nature I saw hawks, wildcats, squirrels, turkeys, deer, herons, grebes, fresh shoots of all sort of flora and fauna, not to mention the play of the light through the clouds at sunset. A friend of mine feels that animals cross our paths to send us a message. I think the menagerie I encountered was trying to send me the message that life is beautiful, if we take the time to live it fully, creatively and wholly.

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Some of the books in January had already set the message :

  • A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
  • The River Bank and other stories from the Wind in the Willows – Graham Greene
  • Friends at Thrush Green – Miss Read
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon – By Kelly Barnhill
  • The Water Princess – Susan Verde (Childhood experience of Georgie Badiel)
  • Emily Writes – Emily Dickinson and her Poetic Beginnings – Jane Yolen, Christine Davanier

That evening, the son plucked at the notes for Clouds on his keyboard, and the clouds flitted above:

See the Clouds, in the sky

Wonder how they, Fly so high!

The Girl Who Drank The Moon

I was dawdling one evening. Quite uncharacteristically I might add. For the evening walks I go on are brisk and filled with purpose: I focus on getting the day’s stresses out of my head and to appreciate the larger world around us. I arrive after these walks, therefore, a trifle breathless maybe, but mostly refreshed in mind and spirit. 

“Are you tired?”, asked a solicitous neighbor. 

I smiled and said truthfully that I had been very tired when I set out on the walk, and after briskly taking in the sights, was now rejuvenating myself in the magic of the moonlight. “Moon-Bathing!” I called it, and she gave me an indulgent smile knowing my leaning towards nature.

Sometimes, all it takes is a peek of the waxing moon, or the brilliant hues of the setting sun, or the clouds in the skies painting a thousand pictures for us, or a hummingbird flying in the light of dusk, or geese flying overhead with the light of the moon on their wings never failing to remind me of the beautiful song in The Sound of Music : These are a few of my favorite things.

All good things are wild and free. – Thoreau

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Other times, it is inordinately hard. I find it very hard to leave the village behind as Thoreau says. 

“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.”  – Henry David Thoreau

I feel the Earth works doubly hard at these times. Always granting a little something extra by the end of it all to make up for the time lost in thought and worry. The wintry evenings of the past few days have been working hard at setting my mind at ease and helping the stresses of the day take flight into the unknown tendrils of the night. Lost in space, till I can grab newer positive strands from the cosmos and replace them consciously.

That evening that I was dawdling, had been one of these evenings. The light of the full moon shone through the clear dark skies, and I felt the strength of its benign light seep into my very being. The wintry skies have the magic of starlight, but the days when the moon is also at play, the nights feel vibrant with possibilities and magic.

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Maybe I was feeling poetic because of all the beautiful poetry in the book I had just finished reading. For those of you wanting a strong dose of magic, I strongly recommend The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill.  

“The heart is built of starlight 

And time.

A pinprick of longing lost in the dark.

An unbroken chord linking the Infinite to the Infinite.

My heart wishes upon your heart and the wish is granted.

Meanwhile the world spins.

Meanwhile the universe expands.

Meanwhile the mystery of love reveals itself,

again and again, in the mystery of you.

I have gone.

I will return.

Glerk” 

Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon

It maybe because of the waxing and waning of the moon, and the fact that we have only one moon, the sheer delight of catching a glimpse of its benign light in the evening skies is magic enough. The son, as regular readers knows, is a cosmologist and a curious wonderer at heart. One night, when he was a toddler, he asked me, “Imagine how it must be to take a walk on Jupiter, and you look up and see 64 moons in the sky.

Note: Jupiter has 79 known moons, and more are being discovered.

I suppose the magic of that sort of walk must be exemplified, but for now, I am grateful for a peaceful Earthly existence, with the ability to gaze and gain peace with the one moon we do have.

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. 

Rajma on Titan or Mars

“Yeah! Rajma!” The little fellow slurped in mock exaggeration throwing his hands up into the air. I smiled. I wondered yet again how genetics seems to work in odd ways. My brother as a child had the same expression or at least sentiment every time rajma was made. How could my children who are growing up on the opposite side of the earth from my rajma-loving brother have the same expressions of delight and exaggerated lip-smacking responses to this simple dish?

I can hear my brother mimicking Tamil movie comedians and saying,  “அனுபவிக்கனும் ஆராய கூடாது”. Loosely translated, this means, it is better to not analyze these things too much, but just enjoy them.

I turned the little red kidney beans over in my hands, and in a moment of impulse planted a few of them into the soil in a little pot where the winter colds had stripped the plants bare. 

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I started the year reading The Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan. Much of Carl Sagan’s writing celebrates the accident of life on this beautiful planet, and how incredibly lucky we are to be blessed with sentience to try and make sense of it all.

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by [Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan]

A sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. It is one of the reasons I love Thanksgiving and Pongal or Makara Sankranthi. The fact that we actually set aside our myriad problems to take a moment to express gratitude to the cosmos and this planet for nurturing life is special enough, but this year it feels extra special and even necessary. The planet has united human destiny with a virus, reminded us of the pettiness of grandiose ambition, and helped us appreciate the delights of the ordinary. No small feat. 

In the book, Carl Sagan talks at length about what all can revealed about a celestial object by a mere photograph. Our own pale blue dot – the picture of Earth he says can actually reveal existence of life on this planet. The combination of gases in the atmosphere, not to mention the presence of methane in the atmosphere. However, in the very next chapter, he examines the methane in Titan ( one of the moons of Saturn), and quickly debunks existence of life there as yet because of the temperatures and the concentration of the gas. However, he still holds out on its potential :  the moon has the conditions necessary for the accident of life to happen at some point in the future. 

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As he painstakingly examines one world after another, there is so much to marvel at, and also appreciate the only home known to our particular kind of life. There is nothing as yet discovered that can harbor our particular chemical compositions, our requirements for this particular combination of atmosphere, water and foliage. 

For all the marvels we surround ourselves with I still think the joy of seeing things sprout from a seed into a plant has to be the most wondrous of all. Every time I walk in a forest or a meadow, I wonder how many seedlings lie around us, waiting to take that leap into their chance of life. 

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I walk around my little strip of a garden that has been kindly putting up with my well-intentioned, but often laughable, attempts at horticulture. I stand marveling at the tulip bulbs shooting up through the soil. This year’s rains have been woefully low, and I hope it changes for I know what it portends for a fire season later in the year. 

A few days ago, I went to water the potted plants and I cannot tell you the joy of seeing little kidney bean plants sprouting up. To think of all that wondrous work happening quietly in the soil while we spend our days with our concerns of our human imprints on this one tiny planet of ours is truly humbling. This is the real work isn’t it? 

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“So can we really eat the rajma beans now?” Asked the son, his eyes gleaming with excitement. I found, I didn’t know the answer. How does one transform legumes to rajma beans that little fellows in kitchens go on to associate with warmth and love? 

I fumbled and told the little fellow honestly that I didn’t know, but that we’d find out together. We will spend a pleasurable evening looking through the process of legumes to kidney beans. Whether Mars or Titan ever gets to growing rajma beans, we do not know, but I did promise him a dish of rajma from our very own plants. I think my brother would give his approving nod half an earth away.