Rustic Rumblings

I hadn’t met my siblings and siblings-in-law in 3 years and this unexpected trip to see them was rejuvenating. They had all taken a week-day off to spend the day with me, and had traveled hundreds of miles to see me. I was already on cloud nine and chittering happily when the brother added the icing on the cake: he was going to take the sister, nephew, pater and yours truly, on one of his legendary off-roading trips. As his car nosed its way past the city limits into rural Karnataka, a serenity seemed to descend amongst its occupants too. 

It was a day on which the North West monsoons were in zest. The riversides and little lakes the brother drove us through were swollen with the recent rains. He nosed the car towards lesser known off-roading trails. They seemed to beckon him through slippery slush and muddy muck. His staunch car wheeled and plunged into the side roads with gusto.

The old pater, not usually invited along to adventures in off-roading, had consented to come, and he ticked the brother off for needless adrenaline. 

“It is all your fault!”, said the brother chuckling at the far away memory of 3 decades ago when the pater would pile the three of us on his scooter and take to the steep roads of the Nilgiri Hills

The little brother,( then knee-high) would stand in front between his father’s arms peering out at the road ahead over the handlebars, myself (waist-high) between the sister and the father in the back seat looking sideways, and off we’d go on our school holidays. (The pater was a school teacher and enjoyed the same vacation schedule as we did.) As we reminisced about the good old days, the nephew pointed to a little girl clutching on to her father on a scooter nearby and asked if I was that girl. We all laughed. Yes I was. She even had her hair tightly plaited the same way, and had a maroon sweater on. More than that, she had joy writ large on her face as she felt the wind on her face. I felt like a little girl on an adventurous ride with her father again. (With the tens of pictures I clicked during that off-roading trip, the image that I retain the most vividly is this one and I did not click a picture. So much for visual diaries!) 

The number of waterfalls, steep hillsides and hamlets we’ve passed are too many to count.  We’d stop in small villages for a cup of tea amidst hospitable villagers in the tiny tea shops and learn of the local life. Grandmothers and mothers were present during the days, the men worked locally, and somehow every seemingly tiny village bustled with life. 

“So much has changed, hasn’t it?”, I said. We were out on a weekday too, but the work spots nearer the city were bustling. “I wonder whether the villages would look deserted. That would be so sad!” I said ever the nostalgic

The brother gave me an amused grin and said we’d soon find out as he had not gone out driving through these villages on a weekday either. The trail he was taking us on, apparently weaved through an extremely small village street – right through the main artery of the village – “almost like you’re driving through someone’s house” –  as he put it. 

I took pictures of bright little temples nestled under large banyan trees, cows, goats, and birds as they flitted in and out of the fields and wet trees. A little way off, we arrived at the village he was speaking of. 

As we inched our way past the narrow village street, we stopped. His car was not made for these streets. There was a bike parked on one side and it proved to be too narrow for the car to pass through. While the issue was being sorted out, I waved out of the car at the ladies sitting on their verandahs nearby. They smiled back even though they seemed to be sharing an internal joke as to why people needed such fat cars. My heart warmed to the gentle laughter and kind smiles flashed back at us. This village was not deserted at all. The mothers, grandmothers were all in attendance. The men too seemed to be at work in the local fields and the scene heart-warming. I asked them in my broken Kannada if I could take pictures, and they smiled and said ‘yes’.  

It was then a girl asked us in Kannada whether we’d like to stop and have some coffee. We thanked her and said we should be getting on our way, but such hospitality is the charm of rural India.

We fell to discussing similar stories of hospitality extended in various parts of India. The brother spoke of a time when he landed up haggard and dust-beaten at a restaurant on a bike trip of hundreds of miles in Northern India hoping for some food, but found out that the venue was closed off for external visitors as it was hosting a wedding that day. As he sheepishly apologized and tried to leave, the hosts would hear nothing of it. How could a guest leave hungry? Not only did they take in their dusty wedding guest heartily, but also gave him the full wedding meal planned for the family and friends in the village. 

The sister told us similar stories in Africa when she’d traveled on business years ago. 

I am not sure how this charm can be held as we swell in population and crowd together more closely. For I found myself wondering that the cities do seem to have lost this particular sense on more than one occasion. But if we do, then I am sure we shall bumble along with that undefinable quality of humaneness and humanity in spite of all our avarice and problems. 

“For though we may come from different places, our hearts beat as one.”

Albus Dumbledore – in the movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Aphonia

I hadn’t met my siblings and siblings-in-law in 3 years and this unexpected trip to see them was rejuvenating. I found myself in a bit of a jitter as I boarded the airplane. My stellar siblings, nieces, nephews, parents and parents-in-law had all come to Bangalore to spend a few days with me, and I felt my heart bursting with gratitude and anticipation.

Covid travel made for strange times, and though I was enormously grateful for video calls, phone calls, and all the different modes of communication, the ability to see and be with those you love was going to be special. Accordingly, it was an excited  chronicler of lives who stepped out into Bangalore airport.

The next few days were a blur of activity. 

I felt myself talking so much my jaws hurt. One particular night when the chats went late into the night, I felt my voice crack. It just sort of gurgled and went hoarse. It had to – there is such a thing as too much talking. It was a malady that struck us all this week. I suppose it happens to those who talk or sing for a living. It was a curious phenomenon for me. 

a·pho·ni·a (Pronunciation: /āˈfōnēə,əˈfōnēə/)

loss of ability to speak

I was told by Dr Google about the causes for Aphonia, and I nodded along – that last part was the cause:

What causes aphonia? The main causes of voice loss are: Diseases of the respiratory system: a cold, laryngitis, cough, tonsillitis, nodules, allergies, throat cancer. Misuse of the voice: straining the voice too much or shouting.

Dr Google

The next day as I coughed my way into the morning, my voice refused to wake up – the teas, ginger-lemon hot waters, nothing seemed to work.  I was told (with some glee if I might add) that it might be a good idea to keep quiet. I nodded wondering how I was going to do that when in a few hours, I was going to see my sister after 3.5 years. 

I was correct in my apprehensions, for the next night went into the same mode. The sister and I had sore throats the next day. We croaked and moaned our way through the day, and still kept talking. It was as if a dam had broken loose and the word torrents wouldn’t stop. Finally, it had reached a point of hopeless whispering and we were still going strong.

I had a strange feeling wash over me the following day -maybe this is what a hangover feels like. Fits of good girl-i-ness overcame me and I said to the sister that, “I want to be serene and above mere emotions! You know? One of those strong and silent types who are able to convey emotions with a mere grunt and a nod. The populace listens, the masses oblige, and the powers that be execute.” 

She gave me one of her looks, and chuckled, “No you won’t! To say you want to speak less, you used 3 sentences. You’re not going to be the strong and silent type. Besides, we want this one – not a buddha who nods and sshhh-es!”

With that I had to be content. 

The author can be found sipping hot water and lemon teas with her heart full and throat sore for the next couple of days.

The Origin of Dreams

It was a mild day in Jaipur. This time of year means one can walk among the structures of the Jantar Mantar without being fried to a crisp. The guide was explaining the scientific relevance of the structures in front of us. He explained how the latitude and longitudes were determined by the astronomers of centuries ago. As we stood there calculating the angle of the sun and subtracting it from the Indian Standard Time and so on, I missed the son. This is a place that would have interested him enormously – his unswerving curiosity and awe about the cosmos and the nature of time notwithstanding, it was also a propitious time for such musings. 

Earlier that day, I had cheered along with him as we sat on opposite sides of the world and watching the Artemis 1 launch and take off to the moon. Every time the launch had been delayed, he had had a small pang of disappointment. But this time, his eyes shone: “Amma, even if you have a meeting, please just make sure that you watch it. It will be at …”, and he went ahead and calculated the local time for me. Accordingly, I sat in my room watching the launch and cheering with the fellow.

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-share-artemis-i-update-with-orion-at-farthest-point-from-earth

Image credit: Bill Ingalls: Image Source: https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/artemis-i-launch-0.html

His eyes shone, triumphant as he caught the excitement of the launch with periodic updates from NASA. I told him that I was going to a place that he would really like later that day and he asked me to enjoy it on his behalf. An astronomical marvel from centuries ago. A place where astronomers had mapped the skies with accuracy and skill. 

As I stood there watching the different structures and listening to our guide as he explained how each worked, I also derived small pleasures in seeing that his own narratives often confused astrology and astronomy. (Humans have always been wracked by problems: If, along the way, they tried to understand the sources of their trials and tribulations as something beyond them, who could blame them? ) Nevertheless, it was humbling to see how the astronomers of centuries ago had managed to get their recordings and data accurate to such a high degree. 

That rocket launch of a few hours ago was a cumulative building of dreams and imagining worlds beyond what is known to us. Dreams that started with the ancient homosapiens wondrously mapping the skies, and millennia of human evolutionary interest in the heavens. 

Carl Sagan quote :

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”

– Carl Sagan

How many such dreams are being hatched as we speak? I read a children’s book: Ara, The Dream Innovator – By Komal Singh, that tried to capture the importance of Dreams. It was business-oriented even for a children’s book. The startup language of funding and patents and all the rest of it somehow did not quite capture the magic of dreams, but it was a good book nevertheless. 

We do not know how many dreams are being hatched today that have the potential of being realized in the near or far future. So, I am all for going to places that nurture these fantastical sojourns into our dream consciousness.

To infinity and beyond!

The Writing Life

I took my book, Writing For Your Life by Anna Quindlen to a cafe to read. The essay I happened to be on at the time was about Narrative Medicine, and the benefits of writing the stresses and reflections of life from our often stressed and there-when-folks-are-most-vulnerable medical professionals. 

Dr Rita Charon started a program titled Parallel Charts wherein medical students wrote their own experiences and charted their days out with information that would not appear on a medical chart. For example there was one instance of a young resident who felt a stab of personal pain every time he walked into the room where the patient was suffering from pancreatic cancer. The patient reminded him too much of his deceased grandfather who had died from the same disease a few months earlier; or the nurse who wrote about her mind wandering at the delivery of a first-time mother: ‘it’s her first baby, it isn’t going to be a slip-and-slide’. 

This kind of narrative writing is crucial not just because we may lose such lucid moments to the passage of time, but also because we do get to cement our learnings and experience while writing it out. Our learnings for the future if you will. Unfortunately writing is not easy. It requires patience, steadfastness and an active determination to set your thoughts into words.

In the words of Anais Nin :


“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

Anais Nin

I have often written about what a lifesaver writing has been. I got to treasure the truly hilarious moments of life multiple times over and I am sure I would not have remembered half of it had I not written it all down. To think that I have only recorded a small measure of life continues to be a yearning. I can blame time, resource and ability and many more limitations. However, it is equally required to experience life in its fullest forms to be able to jot at least some of it down. And thus life goes on. Not writing half as much as I’d like, but writing enough to give me a hearty glimpse on times gone by and the many joys, triumphs, trials and tribulations that it bought along its wake. 

Note: I was humbled to read that many authors have a daily output of nearly 10000 words. Truly astounding. 

It is a pity that this exercise of Narrative Medicine is not more widely practiced in other areas of life. Any body who is in the position of guiding or caring for another human being – teachers, coaches, mentors, leaders, managers, nurses, doctors, therapists, counselors, lawyers, tax accountants, parents should all have this in their toolkit to cope, better ourselves and enjoy the passage of time. 

I am an engineering leader, and having had the benefit of being shaped as a leader by companies that had a human interest, means that I do take an active interest in the people on my teams – the ones I directly manage and the ones I interact with. 

This was often a refrain in my team meetings and I still think it is true: We may forget the actual work we did or how it was done, but we will never forget who we accomplished these things with! 

This is the human experience and to have leaders who are able to see us for who we are: human beings with potential to do good, is the best thing that can happen to us. I know many who would scoff at this and write this off as corporate humdrum, but I can vouch that when you know a team-mate’s visa is up, or their child is undergoing surgery, or their insurance running out means tumultuous times for their dependents, it only makes us grow as humans to see these situations and help manage through them.

If, at the end of the day, we do not remember the humans who helped shape our thoughts and feelings, we may as well be replaced by AI bots. 

After all, we are all broken in different places and as I glanced up at the board in the cafe that day, the clairvoyance of it in the context of narrative writing was unmistakable.

“Let my troubles be the cause of someone’s laugh, but let not my laugh be the source of someone’s troubles.” – there truly was a wise restaurateur at the helm.

Grateful Novembers 🙏🏼

November is usually a month of gratitude and it is one of my favorite months for this particular reason. We do have a lot to be grateful towards even when many things seem to be out of shape and awry.

The world seemed to be losing its marbles all at once. The world of work, economics and egos were all swirling in one large vat of turmoil. I suppose it isn’t too much to confess that all one wanted to do at the end of it all was to curl up in a neat nourish-n-cherish sized hole. But. Life goes on. The sun does set, the moon does rise, and in that safety of time lies our path forward. If ever the seasons have taught us anything, it is that life goes on and life brings changes. (visualize the tunes from the Cars movie for that line!)

I found that my friends, stellar and wonderful as I have always known them to be, were often my buoys during this time. Their generous natures, optimistic outlook on life, pragmatic suggestions, were all reminders that the world is made of wonderful people though we often are at the mercy of the not-so-wonderful at times. With every text message, phone call, or the gift of their time, I found my gratitude for them growing. When I was too upset to talk about the events of the day, they gave the whole topic a wide berth, and worked their magic through their comforting presence instead. 

I was grateful also for those who I know would have thought of me, and refrained from asking me about events and giving me the space.  

“Close friends are truly life’s treasures. Their presence reminds us that we are never really alone.” 

Vincent van Gogh

We just finished watching a Harry Potter movie and fell to discussing the beautiful nature of friendships and how our worlds are much richer because of this simple human bond. I can wish for nothing more than genuine friendships for every body as we pass through this life. The ones we grow old with, the ones who saw each other win and fail and stood staunchly by one other, the ones you lose touch with and pick up right where you left off knowing we thought of each other way more than we spoke, and all the ones in between. 

Over time, I grow fonder and fonder of our motley group of friends – they are the ones who put up with our quirks, and help us belong. 

So, this post is just that: A note of gratitude to our friends. Like Abou Ben Adhem: May their tribe increase!

Psst – Read the BG

The daughter was probably five or six years old at the time. and the morning school going routine was enough to make athletes and event organizers shudder. 

  • Was the cereal done? 
  • Where’s the homework?
  • The shoes – don’t forget to wear shoes to school

One such morning, the husband saw her dawdle with her cereal and bowl of milk. His own sharp eye was on the clock, and he was trying to move her along without flustering her. He asked her if he can help her with the milk, but the already-too-big-to-ask-for-help daughter said no in a saucy voice and then proceeded to take the bowl and drink the milk from it with her lips on the upper side of the bowl.

Even without the grand influences of gravity that would have had an interesting outcome. With gravity, it meant that the milk poured like a beautiful white waterfall onto her light pink pants (her favorite at the time). 

Now, this set off an interesting train of events in the household. The husband saw that one word or raised voice would lead to a bigger drama and they would probably not make it to school on time. So, he pursed his lips and tut-tutted emitting a sound that sounded like (Pssskkk). He then charged upstairs, found another pair of pants, while I got her out of her dripping milky ones, and gave her a quick wash/wipedown. He threw the pants, I caught it, dressed her, and bundled her off to the car. The background music was now at a high octave and reaching a crescendo. If the signal is green they’d make it. If not, well….

A few minutes later, the husband enters looking like a warrior who’d won the latest war and beamed that they made it on time. We high-fived each other and on that high note of victory went about our day.

However, in the evening when the daughter saw us, her eyes brimmed with tears as she sat on her grandfathers lap. “You almost looked like you were going to yell at me. You said “PPSSSK” – waaah! “ 

The poor husband looked on helplessly as tears filled her eyes, and he almost looked like he was sorry for saying “PPSSKK!”

It has since become a joke in the house. You said “Pppssskkk! ” or “You looked like you were almost going to yell!” 

Where am I going with all this you ask. Bear with me.

I have a reasonable tsundoku pile as any book-lover would. The physical pile gives me a deploring look every now and then, and when particularly powerful, I yield. But there is another pile that is online, and that never gives me dirty looks. This pile, of course, is relegated to the let’s-see-when-we-travel lot.  Post-Covid – this pile has been particularly neglected. 

So, one day, a good friend of mine, was Bhagawad Gita-ing, and I asked in all humility whether I may borrow a copy of the book. A pained response came from him. 

He almost looked like he was going to say “PPPssskkkkk!” Waah waah! This poor friend had gifted me a copy of the book last year in the Kindle, and I had downloaded it dutifully. 

So, you ask what I have been doing. Remembering the almost-going-to-say-pppsssskkk look and reading the book.

I must say – it all seems simple enough in theory. Do your duty and leave the rest to the Universe. #Bhagwad Gita

It seems a good lesson in the current times of economic turmoil and companies announcing layoffs etc.

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 47

I am glad my friend almost looked like he was going to say “PPSSKK” for thinking of one’s duty and not its results seems like good advice for a week like this.

The Spider’s Vision

The son and I had embarked on a lovely bike ride. The autumnal equinox means that the sun sets earlier and earlier in the day.  It was still early enough in the evening and we biked along amicably talking of this and that. 

When we finally decided to take a short break by a lake, the son climbed a nearby tree, while I sat myself on a park bench. All was tranquil. The pelicans went about their ballet dance of coordinated fishing in the distance, the hawks and turkey vultures circled high above in the skies. Out in the distance, a dog ran on the shore chasing the birds and squirrels. Overhead, hundreds of ravens were flying and making their way home. 

It was in this world that I called out to the son and pointed out a visionary at work. We sat side-by-side in awe. For it was obvious, from conception to creation this would’ve daunted most competent engineers to undertake a project of this size alone, and here was this lone spider doing so : competently, peacefully and apparently with engagement.

In spider terms, it was the equivalent of building a bridge across a bay. From one tree to the next on the other side of the looming lagoon, a large suspension thread held the intricate web forming in the middle. How strong must the thread have been to sustain and hold the weight of the structure in the middle? Not to mention its prey.

When finally the spell was broken, the sun had set further and the spiders web was now bathed in a golden light. In those few moments of magic where nothing but weaving and creating was happening overhead, the earth around had changed its hue. From a bright blue sky, the pinks and oranges were thrown with abandon. Pretty soon, it would be getting ready to cloak itself in the inky blues of the night. 

The son and I got up – a sense of reverence and humility restored in our proud human spirits of achievement. Here was a lone spider, envisioning a humongous structure, creating a web of art and material integrity to withstand prey probably three times its own weight and going about it in a symmetric and beautiful light of the setting sun. What’s more? It was a design that was biodegradable and all the earth could be covered in this soft, silky web with nothing the worse.

Whether as materials for clothing, or structural integrity such as design of bridges, or the bio degradation of our products, a spider’s web is an inspiration for biomimicry based designs.

Biologically inspired materials could revolutionize materials science. People looking at spider silk and abalone shells are looking for new ways to make materials better, cheaper, and with less toxic byproducts. 

Janine Benyus, Biomimicry

Sometimes, a bike ride is all that is required for perspective to take its throne. 

Communication Ponniyin Selvan Style

In this busy world that chases productivity with a zest, our productivity tools often encourage speed. I’ve written about The Art of the Considered Response before (here it is) 

The Navarathri season was an excellent reminder of the times we live in. After 2 years of muted celebrations, all the goddesses decided to awaken the true shakthi in all golu organizers, and golu hoppers who missed their share of the festive foods honed their appetites. Navarathri golu invites came via WhatsApp, Evite, email, messages, and social media messenger apps.

Navarathri: 9-day festival primarily celebrating the feminine energy and the different days honor different goddesses (the goddesses of mountains, wealth, wisdom, power, cosmic creation and so on)

Golu: From Wikipedia: In Tamil Nadu, people set up steps and place idols on them. This is known as golu. Photos of typical golu displayed in Tamil Nadu style can be found here.In the evening women in the neighborhood invite each other to visit their homes to view Golu displays, they exchange gifts and sweets.

When one is so lovingly invited to people’s homes to view their creative decorations and bliss of music and divinity, it is hard to refuse. So, in the most efficient manner possible, I had drawn up the following schedule without realizing:

  • Accepted invites to be in San Ramon the same day and time as I was expected in San Jose. While I do live mid-way between the two places – one is nor-nor-east-east, and the other is sou-sou-west-west.
  • Also accepted 3 days of continuous invites to the same geographic location 20 miles from where we live.
  • As if none of this were enough there were often live updates to the actual invites in all of these platforms.

The husband can be relied upon in times of crises like these to make things better or worse. He chauffeured, accompanied, ate the yummies at various places, and sometimes, sent me off with a heave of relief. 

He also contributed by insisting on going to the Ponniyin Selvan movie that had released that week-end. When one friend asked him why he was late in arriving, he said his mouth full of sundal that he was disappointed she kept her golu on the opening week of Ponniyin Selvan. Couldn’t she have moved the golu? This drew a collective gasp from the older generation of aunts gathered around the golu. (If it had been me saying something like that, the aunties would have awakened their inner Goddess Kali to say a thing or two, but as it was an honorary son-in-law honoring Kalki (Writer of Ponniyin Selvan) if you will, they had a gasp followed by a weak giggle.) Even the husband knew what that meant and retreated to a safe place by the buffet afterward. 

Ponniyin Selvan – the movie based on the historical fiction written by Kalki 50 years ago and is somewhat of a cultural icon in Tamil Nadu

In an era where tweets sub in for official diplomatic (or otherwise) communication channels, and all these frantic modes of communication make things harder and harder to comprehend, it was fun indeed to sit back and watch a historical fiction drama set in the 11th century. 

Where 3 tweets would have done the trick, here was a 3 hour movie based on information traveling from one corner of the kingdom to the other. What’s more? Networking protocols and streaming services may have been working full-time to make sure that the theatrical experience of the most modern kind worked as a time-traveling tool, but no networking protocols were used in this story of information gathering and delivery. For that, a suave and charming friend sent as a messengers on horseback did the trick!

In the good old days, even the goddesses seemed to take their time visiting people’s homes on Navarathri and the nine days of singing and visiting homes had a gentle lull to the routine of life, not the hectic hustling that one has come to associate with every aspect of life, including divinity.

Maybe we do need more movies set far in the past like Ponniyin Selvan or in fictional realms with human limits to communication and speed such as the Lord of the Rings. That would remind us that we do not need to react to every Digital byte sent our way, but choose to respond in a more collected fashion. I’ve always wanted to invite folks home using the fashionable mode of dipping a pen in ink, writing a loving note on scroll, and delivering it by hand to our friends.

The Power of Banned Books

The son & I were chatting of this and that as we walked into the library mostly missing the old pater who had left the previous week. Grandfather, Grandson & Self: would make a song and dance out of our library trips, and look forward to it with shining eyes. 

The rest of the household indulged us in this pursuit. We traipsed home with seeds for the vegetable garden from the Solarium in the library, we came home with books defying regular ideas, we got on spaceships and shot off to Mars and beyond with our books, we explored magical entrances to worlds in which we could safely explore our problems, we went on philosophical jaunts with ideologies, we set about trying to understand ecosystems, habitats, climate change, economies, neuroscience, cellular biology, systems design whether or not we completely understood, but just because we could and it was fun to do so.

Books became our source of infinity and the three generations were content for days in our different worlds. 

“I wish Thaatha was here to see this. Oh! He would’ve loved to look at this.”, said the son, stopping in front of the spectacular Banned Books exhibit in the library.

For Banned Books Week, the little exhibit showcased famous banned books and the reasons they were questioned in the first place. 

The son, looked at me with huge round eyes and said – “Really! Why would they ban Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, and this cute little book on Penguins just because it has gay penguins?”

I joined him at the exhibit and saw The Handmaid’ s Tale, Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte’s Web and a score of other loved books in that list. 

I saw the concern in his face. 

“You know? When I see this list, I am grateful we got to read so many of these books, but also makes me think of that little snippet in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

“Which snippet?”

“The one where Hermione Granger is beaming after Umbridge bans Potter’s interview proclaiming the return of Lord Voldemort? She says that if Umbridge could have done one thing to make sure that absolutely everyone in the school read the interview, it was banning it.”

He smiled and we discussed why books are banned in the first place. Are inclusive ideas that frightening? Why do dictators ban books – for the ability to imagine is a dangerous game. What if their oppressed populace imagined life without their tyrannical rule? 

Many authors have faced life threatening situations (most recently Salman Rushdie) for their ideas. Ideas are seeds after all, they can take root and make people imagine a better existence for themselves and where would be then?

“I wish your Thaatha had access to a good public library in India.” I said sadly. It has been a wish and a dream for the country I was born in. 

We harked back to a little town he had designed. In that world,  libraries were prioritized right alongside schools, hospitals, parks, and public transit and I liked it so much. 

I picked up Where the Wilds Things Are – by Maurice Sendak for it seems we needed to read at least one book on that exhibit.

A Question of Time

The past week has been an interesting one in many ways. Emotions aside, what this meant in practical terms was that the nourish-n-cherish household ran on a clock. 

The map says it takes 45 minutes at peak traffic, but surprise of surprises, it took 62 minutes, neatly shaving off the buffer we had baked in for grabbing a snack. 

At 10:45, we would have to be there at Y parking garage so that we could get to X building at 11:00.

At 4:45, the flight leaves from Airport Here. That means, the time at Airport There would be x-12.5, but there is x+7.5 stop-over in between.

By pure chance during this time of frenzy, I had with me a slim book, Longitude – The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dave Sobel.

It made for an interesting read on how we managed to get time down to a science. Dava Sobel creates an excellent narrative around the problem of Time and Maritime navigation.

“Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness withholds the shadow from the sundial, when the mainspring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on.”

Longitude by Dave Sobel 

While many astronomers tried to solve the mystery of keeping time using the astronomical events in the sky such as mapping Jupiter’s moons and their eclipses etc, one man, John Harrison set about solving the problem mechanically with a superior clock design. Clocks of the fifteenth and sixteenth century lost time because their pendulums lost their swing with the swaying of the ships, the internal mechanics rusted with the moisture at sea, and numerous other problems.

Reading about Time and how difficult it must have been to measure, has always fascinated the son & myself.

I suppose Time has become such a cornerstone of our existence that it makes for a refreshing read to hark back to the times when time was an indicator and not as much of a martinet as it is in our over-scheduled lives today.

I was reading Mrs Pringle of Fairacre by Miss Read – every time when life demands a slowing down and it is physically hard to do so, a dip into the lovely village green of Thrush Green or Fairacre does the trick. In the Fairacre books, Mrs  Pringle is the competent school cleaner who is also a bit of a virago. Her scatter-brained niece Minnie Pringle is often featured – incompetent and maddening as she is, she helps(or hinders) Miss Read out now and then. In this snippet, Miss Read learns that Minnie Pringle, a mother of 3 and stepmother to 5 young children, never really learnt to look at the clock and read the time.

Mrs Pringle of Fairacre: About Minnie Pringle 

I had not really taken in the fact that she could not tell the time

‘Well, I never sort of mastered the clock”, she said vaguely, implying that were a great many other things which she had mastered in her time.

‘But how do you manage?’ I enquired, genuinely interested.

“I looks out for the Caxley’, she replied. ‘It gets to the church about the hour.’ (The Caxley is the local bus)

‘But not every hour.” I pointed out.

‘Yes…but there is also the church bell.’

‘It still seems rather hit and miss,’ I said.

Mrs Pringle – By Miss Read

When I read the above snippet, I threw my head back and laughed. Almost subconsciously, I glanced at the various apps on my smartphone to remind me about the day : there were calendars synced with my meeting schedules, alarms to remind me of certain events and classes for the children, timers to help the rice cooker turn itself off, the world clock app to let me know when it is okay to call my friends in the different corners of the globe. 

Maybe John Harrison (The man who came up with the design of a clock that could hold time during maritime vagaries such as storms and tidal waves without rusting or losing momentum in the sixteenth century) did not quite anticipate the extent to which the world would adhere to Time, but it is refreshing to think of a few people who are not ruled by the ticking of the clock.

Maybe we should have Do-Nothing Days in which neither the phones, nor the passing of time intrude. It will be a refreshing change for sure.

Note: The obsession with Time is called Chronomania and those who live in perpetual fear of time ticking, time passing have Chronophobia.

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