Comet Chasing * Chocolate Charms

The children have a shared liking for Calvin  & Hobbes. The adorable pair have been the source of many hysterical giggles between the siblings in our home. In the son’s room, there is a cartoon clip of Calvin & Hobbes that seems to tickle both his whimsy and his innate rapture and curiosity of the universe we live in.

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If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they would live a lot differently  ✨- Calvin & Hobbes

A few weeks ago, I was typing out an email with the ounces of concentration I could muster at the end of a 12 meeting day, and I wasn’t exactly thinking  about 💫 comets, stars, pulsars, neutron stars, black holes, and parallel universes, when the little fellow shot into the room bursting about comets. I turned around , and my face probably looked like some of the spreadsheets I was looking at, for the son gave me a pitying look that seemed to indicate, “What good is a day when you haven’t thought of these important things?”

I laughed at the incredulity on his face: Stars, superclusters, muons traveling the speed of light, quirky  quarks are all thriving right beside his world of super-powers for super-heroes, who are incidentally gifted with important sounding superpowers such as gamma-rays and electromagneto-muon-transporters and what-not. 

“Did you  know Halley’s comet is going to come again in 40 years?” said the son still bouncing and glowing from the stash of chocolate chips he has been chipping into while reading his little books on Physics.

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“Yep! Sounds about right. I was around your age when I saw Halley’s Comet. So once in 76 years means …” and I trailed off.

“What?! You’ve seen Halley’s comet? Aww…..so lucky!” said he, and I had to laugh at his yearning. I did remember the cold nights awaiting the turn at the telescope to catch a grainy sight of the Halley’s comet. I must say that the whole experience felt worth a lot more given the rapture with which he listened to the comet sighting. I seem to remember the hot chocolate provided to the young astronomers more than the telescope and the grainy image itself.

Maybe the universe really did hear his yearnings that day, for within a few weeks, another comet came our way: the Neowise 360 comet sighting was supposedly possible from where we lived. I was so happy for the little fellow. He could barely contain the excitement in his system when his father said at the lunch table that the comet would be visible at 4:30 a.m. He got up and ran upstairs to his room. We were exchanging quizzical glances at this when he tumbled downstairs and said, “Yes! I set the alarm for 4:30 – I cannot wait to see it!”

I had to admit; the young astronomer’s enthusiasm put us to shame. So, for the next few nights, we bundled up and comedically traipsed from location to location in the wee hours of the morning looking for a comet sighting. The clouds were there in one place, some low mountains in another, and then, finally, we managed to find a plain spot in which we caught a grainy sighting.

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Knowing that we caught a fleeting glimpse of something that is not going to come by to see us for another 6800 years is strangely moving. I have to tell you though, that similar to the Halley’s comet sighting, the hot chocolate after coming back, and the the long tail of wishes accompanying the comet sighting, definitely made the hustle worthwhile. 

That morning, the rest of the comet chasers had no problem falling back to sleep, but I did – the comet had kindled dreams of long ago: dreams born of comet chasing and chocolate charms; dreams woven with the magic of stardust 💫 and comet trails – bright, shiny, sparkling, path-breaking and aspirational.

Bill Watterson was absolutely right: People who spend time looking up at the night sky do live life differently!

 

Bee Blossoms

Out on a evening walk one day, my heart rose. The corona virus may be taking the world for a spin of its own. Days seem to be blending into weeks, and weeks into months. There are times, I sit up and notice the weekend is here. Some other times, I sit up and wonder where the week-end went. All of life seems to be one long news cycles of confusion & anxiety. What is a good time to reopen, should we reopen?

Human-beings may be in a state of confusion and anxiety.  But Nature around us has no such doubts. She brought on Spring just in time. The leaves sprouted in one marvelous unified stage opening. I stood mesmerized under the fresh, new leaves, sometimes glinting with dewdrops, and other times, filtering the rays of the sun beautifully around. Early tulips bloomed, spring snowflakes made their hearty show.

Then slowly, and just as surely, the temperatures rose, and the hills near where we live browned in the suns. But that meant, it was time for the summer flowers to take the stage. The jacaranda trees took their cues from the receding spring snowflakes, and assured them that the show must go on. On the evening walk, I noticed the beautiful purple flowers blooming against the green leaves, the early oleander flowers are revealing their pinks and whites, and roses everywhere are out on their annual romps warming hearts and lifting spirits with greater sincerity this year.

The son and I stood watching bees buzz from one flower to another taking with them the memories of a thousand blossoms with them, slowly but surely nurturing the circle of life. I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s saying:

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

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When I watch the dew drops glisten on the spring snowflakes,
When I watch the rainbow makes up its mind and throw itself like a garland across the skies
When I watch the eight-legged marvels creations catch in the sunset
When I watch the waves lap and play with the sandpipers

I feel hope stir in the spirits
I feel decisive and conviction in Being
I feel solitude’s gift can be tangible and needs to be nurtured for its fragile state
I feel engaged with the planet and all its gifts

There is beauty in knowledge of the changing seasons, and wonder in anticipation.

Mother Earth is preparing for the Summer!

The Noble Accolades

The sun was up briskly rousing all of nature’s non-nocturnal creatures to rise and shine. I opened my eyes – the sun had nudged me half heartedly wondering whether I was to be classified as nocturnal or non-nocturnal that beautiful Sunday morning. I had after all spent a good part of the night reading several books late into the night. Covid-19 has wrought a strange change in reading habits and I found myself yearning for some uninterrupted time in which to get my reading done. I devoured two short stories by P.G.Wodehouse, read some tidbits of 3 other books and finally settled in for a long-ish snuggle with Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks.

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I felt strangely alive – with that beautiful feeling of youth-ish rebellion stealing over me as I read on. How long had it been since I had defied reasonable bed-times and gone on reading late  into the night? Moreover, I was reveling in the boyhood of the great Oliver Sacks – a boyhood steeped in Chemistry and his experiments with them.

But, there is a reason for such pesky things as sleep times. As a teen, the body shrugged off a night like that with a spot of tea, but I found the intervening decades did not take so kindly to this sort of treatment, and I was being given by the stink eye by the neurons in the brain that refused to wake up.

I dragged myself from bed the next morning and set some dish-pots on the stove for the afternoon meal. I don’t know what I plopped in there it terms of ingredients. I moped and moaned, “Oh with Covid, all these folks are posting these amazing pictures of their culinary adventures in Facebook, and I don’t even know what I am making!”

“Aww! Don’t worry ma! You always manage to make it palatable except when you get creative and experiment and stuff!” said the daughter eyeing me drooping over the kitchen counter. She shuddered and said, “Remember that bread pudding?!”

I maintained a dignified silence for post-bread-pudding, most people had to do the same as the pudding seem to get their jaws stuck. While the pot bubbled, I flopped over to the Uncle Tungsten book again, and started  reading. The chapter was about Eve Curie’s biography of Madame Curie. The book was given to Oliver Sacks when he was a ten year old boy by his mother and he had savored the copy over the years. 

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 I seemed to finally awaken as I read the passage below aloud to the children:

Eve Curie’s biography  of her mother – which my own mother gave me when I was ten –   was the first portrait if a scientist I ever read, and one that deeply  impressed me. It was no dry recital of a life’s achievements, but full of evocative, poignant images- Marie Curie plunging her hands into the sacks of pitchblende residue, still mixed with pine needles from the Joachimsthal mine inhaling acid fumes as she stood amid vast steaming  vats and crucibles, stirring then with an iron rod almost as big  as herself; transforming the huge, tarry masses to tall vessels of colorless  solutions, more and  more radioactive, and steadily concentrating these, in turn, in her drafty shed, with dust and grid continually getting into the solutions and undoing  the endless work.”

The book is full of footnotes, and annoying as this can be sometimes, this particular footnote was fun. 

Footnote:

In 1998 I spoke at a meeting for the centennial of the discovery of polonium and radium. I said that I  had been given this book when I was ten, and that it was my favorite biography. As I  was talking I became conscious of a very  old lady in the audience, with high Slavic cheekbones and a smile  going from one ear to the other. I thought, “It can’t  be!” But it was – it was Eve Curie, and she signed her  book for me sixty years after it was published, fifty-five years after I got it. 

The pot I had set on the stove sizzled over, and I charged to take control. When the dish was salvaged, I said, “See what all can happen when Eve & Madame Curie worked together dear? Madame Curie won the Nobel prize, and her daughter chronicled her! Imagine all that is possible if we were work together more sweetly in the kitchen together? I plop, you stir, I salt, you pepper. Maybe we could have our picture posted on Facebook as two smiling chefs who were never happier than when cooking together, and you can post the dishes-finale in your Insta account!” I said. 

The child did not even have to think before she shook her head. “Mom and daughter working together with chemicals and stuff! Oh they must’ve fought plenty. Besides! Think Mother! Is a Facebook photo worth all that?”

“You think!” I retorted. I have always been quick with dumb repartees.

She laughed and tousled my hair – she is now fully a head taller than my head and these days when I need to give her ‘the look’, I get the feeling of a meerkat peering at a giraffe. I suppose my noble culinary marvels will just have to wait for the Facebook accolades.

The Land of Crumpled Cardboards

I love to see the children play their games of make-believe. One night the son went on and on about which island I would save and why. I was doing three different things in the physical realm as he spoke, and mentally fifteen. So, by the time the question was posed to me, I was flummoxed.

“Umm the biggest island.”, I said.

“Ugh! You didn’t listen did you? That has the ferocious dragon, and not just that, it won’t even listen to you! Do you really want a dragon that doesn’t listen?” he asked. Distracted as I was, I was glad that the irony of the moment was not lost on me, and I chuckled.

Sometimes, I need to get something at night, and howl and yip after stepping on gallant heroes, tired cars, planes and figurines parked on the ‘arena’ in neat rows so they can sleep.

An old cardboard box has occupied prime real estate in my home landing for months. Several attempts to throw the thing out fizzled out when I heard the touching passion with which the son argued for it to be kept. It isn’t an ordinary one: It has hosted grand prix races, super hero battles and has even been used as an air strip for firefighting airplanes. 

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Inside, you will notice several faded crayon marks, the battle scars on a war-field.  The faded crayon lines are the tracks where the races take place. The green colored lines are the lanes within which the firefighter plane has to land, exhausted after fighting fires raging over the crumpled forests of paper nearby.

I was reminded of the poem, The Land of Counterpane, by Robert Louis Stevenson. A poem so endearing to me given the situation with the crumpled cardboard box.

The Land of Counterpane – By Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 – 1894

When I was sick and lay a-bed,   
I had two pillows at my head,   
And all my toys beside me lay   
To keep me happy all the day.   

And sometimes for an hour or so     
I watched my leaden soldiers go,   
With different uniforms and drills,   
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;   

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets   
All up and down among the sheets;  
Or brought my trees and houses out,   
And planted cities all about.   

I was the giant great and still   
That sits upon the pillow-hill,   
And sees before him, dale and plain, 
The pleasant land of counterpane. 

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Illustration from Book of Poems – R L Stevenson

 

One evening, all the adults and teenagers in the house were busy trying to figure out how to amuse themselves. Netflix was straining its algorithms, and saying, If you liked that, how about this? You-tube stars were creaking and moaning leading folks down rabbit holes of if-you-like how the soap bubbles popped in this purple bucket, then you will surely also like how the soap bubbles pop in this pink mug.

The elementary school going son, however, was playing vigorously. The Piston Cup was in progress, and he was charging round and round the stadium trying to see whether Lightning McQueen would win yet again. After an hour or two of this game, he became a firefighter, and flew off, his mouth-engine purring brrrr—prrr—vrooom—broom. 

 

Ask any adult about how they played as children, and you can be sure of being entertained.

“Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.”
― L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables 

I wonder when we lost this admirable skill. What would it take for us to regain the ability to amuse ourselves, and delve into the wonderful worlds of our imagination? 

I can understand now what Robert Frost meant when he said something to the effect of, the older one gets, the younger the teachers. 

When I was young my teachers were the old.

Now when I am old my teachers are the young.
Robert Frost

The Lord of the Trees

I gazed out of the window feasting my eyes on The Lord of the Trees working hard so early in the morning. The trees went past their blooming-flowers phase to the sprouting-young-leaves phase in the past few weeks.

“How can anyone who has spent any time observing life like this, feel like not preserving it?” I asked. Us not looking after Earth well enough for future generations is a pet peeve that regular readers of this blog know.

“Because I don’t think people stand and gaze at squirrels like you do when one is already late for school in the morning”, came the crisp reply and I nodded sadly hastening to bustle about for the morning tasks.

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The squirrels have resumed lording about the trees like they own them, which I suppose they do, since they are in them so much. I see them lovingly scraping bark, and checking out the fruits . I fight a losing battle every year trying to save the fruits from them. Friends have suggested fruit nets, but I haven’t the heart. They are the ones that live there, and sometimes I like to think of them sunning themselves on the branches while I am in a drab looking conference room surrounded by tonnes of concrete to pay for the land that these trees rest on. I only wish they would eat the whole fruit before tossing them to the ground, or hiding them away somewhere for the Winter months.

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I cannot deny that it is nice to see the little creatures busy again. The winter months are a little slow for them: though they do not hibernate much (apparently, they do not have enough body fat to sustain them through long cycles of hibernation), they sleep a lot. I wonder how their burrows are, and whether they feel the difference between night and day when they emerge from their deep burrows into the spring time bursting with flowers, fresh leaves and the promise of fruit. 

A few days later, the son and I picked out a book in the library called Morris Mole by Dan Yaccarino that dealt with a similar subject. The book was about a mole who was a wee bit different from his brothers and sisters.

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Morris Mole – By Dan Yaccarino

One day when the moles ran out of food in the deep deep burrows, the eldest moles wanted to dig deeper down, but Morris had an idea that nobody listened to. So, he “dug deep down in himself and found courage”, to dig upwards.

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Morris Mole – By Dan Yaccarino

When he emerged into the spring time, he is enamoured and baffled by the big wide world up there. 

This world also offers him the rare gift of friendship with creatures unlike himself such as a fox. 

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Morris Mole – Dan Yaccarino

The book made me think of how some seemingly little occurrences and thoughts have the power of transformation in them. Would Morris Mole have discovered this wondrous world overhead if he had not paid heed to that little crazy idea and acted upon it?

A few days later, I stopped to observe a squirrel again. This time, it was sitting by the roadside, and sniffing a mustard yellow flowery plant with a contented look on its face. The photographers up at the National Geographic magazine would have been able to get a picture of just such a thing. As it turned out, by the time I fumbled in my pockets, and took out the phone, dropping the keys in the process and finding some tissue marring the phone screen, the squirrel scampered probably laughing to its burrow. But I have the image in my mental eye: I hope it will remind me to enjoy the present when plans shadow life, or life overwhelms reflection. 

All good things are wild and free – Henry David Thoreau

I wish we could all dig deep down inside us to find the determination to set aside some time to spend with living, growing things that are very different from ourselves – observe a bird sing, marvel at a squirrel on a tree, look at ants carrying food, watch a spider spinning a web, or feel the wind against our faces knowing that it just rustled that beautiful tree top nearby. Maybe that will open up a way of living that is much more rewarding and satisfying like the world Morris Mole found overground.

 

 

Blame The Toxos

Every once in a while a book comes along that changes the way you fundamentally view things. I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong is one such. In the book, the author covers various types of microbes, bacteria and pathogens that we carry within ourselves or encounter in the world. A fascinating adventure awaits the reader on this microscopic journey.

The book shows us how each being is a complex symbiosis unto itself. A concept we know vaguely but appreciate deeply when we read the book.

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We have heard of parasitic infections that control the minds of hosts like rabies. Rabies makes its carriers aggressive and the only way for it to spread is by biting and scratching another being. ( Rabies is probably the basis for the myth of the werewolf.)

There is one particular type of parasite that is chilling in its tale. Toxoplasma Gondii or Toxo is a single celled organism that latches itself onto brains. It is also referred to in the TED talk linked below for further information.

Quote : Toxoplasma Gondii is a brain parasite otherwise known as Toxo. It can only sexually reproduce in a cat; if it gets into a rat, it suppresses the rodents natural fear of cats and replaces it with something more like sexual attraction. The rodent scurries towards the cats with fatal results, and T.gondii gets to complete its life cycle.

Toxo has been known to manipulate mammals. It makes rats run towards cats and offer themselves as prey just so toxo can reproduce. Classic tale of self destructive behavior, wouldn’t you agree? It is also proven that many humans play host to Toxo.

TED Talk by Ed Yong

The book led to many happy, wild conjectures such as:
(a) Could that be the reason Cat videos are so popular on You-tube? I mean, I have always wondered: Why Cat Videos? Why not hippo videos?

(b) Humans affected with Toxo also fare differently on personality tests, showing different trajectories when it comes to risk taking and pleasure seeking behaviors. Could a combination of Toxo and Dopamine releasing behaviors such as increased reliance on social media have engineered the elections?

It sounds like a weird sci-fi scenario: Toxo encourages self-destruction, dopamine clamors for fake news, and the world falls prey to single celled organisms manipulating mammals (us), while we run around like zombies thinking we have free will.

The understanding of human biology has fascinated mankind for centuries. But advances in microbiology itself is less than 200 hundred years old. Even then, our narrative surrounding the understanding has been harsh: Bacterial infections, germs, plagues, survival of the fittest. While there are numerous examples of these, the truth is that we also play host to a large number of helpful microbes and bacteria.

Theodore Rosebury, a microbiologist, wrote in 1928, during his research that:

“The knowledge that micro organisms can be helpful to man has never had much popular appeal, for men as a rule are more preoccupied with the danger that threatens their life than in the biological forces on which they depend. The history of warfare always proves more glamorous than accounts of co-operation.”

A fact so timeless that we ought to have it framed in halls of learning if it isn’t already.

P.S: Please watch the TED Talk by Ed Yong – it is only 13 minutes long.

Paada The Fashion Tycoon

Recently, I found myself reading a travel magazine that highlighted the delights of San Francisco. San Francisco is one of those delightful cities that has so much to offer the free soul. I pored over the food options like a snooty gourmet, and realized that the thing to do was to catalog all the ingredients in the menu option. I realized my folly. I should not be saying idli & sambhar for dinner. I should be saying rice cakes made from fermented rice and lentils ground to a perfect consistency & lentils (not the same lentils used for the idlis, another type) with tamarind from local farms with just a touch of coriander and grape tomatoes from the Napa valley.

I should pitch in the local motif strongly, till people stop me to ask, local to where? Eh. The sturdy plains of the Cauvery delta maybe or the African plains? I mean, does tamarind grow elsewhere?

Then, I went on to the shopping pages to find that local boutiques were marketing their wares. Locally designed and tailored by seamstresses in San Francisco, it screamed.

I can see things shrewdly sometimes. It seems to me that local is good, not-local not-good. I wonder when things changed.

Human-beings have many faults. One of them is yearning for something that is not currently available to one and all. Exclusivity. That’s the thing we go for. Take the whole local vs foreign thing. I remember when I was growing up in a small mountain village in South India, people distinctly preferred the Made in <Country other than India>. Shiny material from Singapore was higher rated than polyesters made in Calico mills, India. Soaps from Dubai better than plain-raj Hamam. You get the gist. Foreign better than local.

It was a different matter altogether that no matter the source of the material, the actual stitching was done by the local tailoring talent. In our case, Paada or Gobi: Stalwart tailors, both of whom deserve a separate series of blogs to themselves. Paada was the  tailor who stitched our clothes. Gobi did the honors for the father’s baggy coats and pants. Paada was the one who would stop at our home on the way back from work in the school, take measurements and give us fashion design suggestions as to what would work best with the cloth at hand.

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Paada knew the kind of fashions that was approved of by the parents, and those that would appeal to the young at heart. The parents  seemed to think that if the clothes we wore belonged to the time and age of their youth, our outlook would too, and they would not have to worry about the common disease that afflicted young women about being the Modern-Girl and all that. It seemed to us that the kind of fashions that appealed to the parents belonged best in a Jane Austen book, and so an impasse was reached.

Paada stepped in gallantly at times like these. He was a soft-spoken, medium sized, middle-aged man with a gentle smile. I sometimes doubt whether Paada might have done well for himself in the Diplomatic Services.  His suggestions were smack in between the parents’ and ours. For example, if my parents wanted a maxi (full-length dress) with a full-hand sleeve, and we wanted a knee-length skirt with a top having a puffed sleeve stopping thirteen inches above the elbow, he thought hard and wielded his magic wand i.e. tape measure, and suggested something that pleased both parties. Something like a skirt that was mid-way between ankle and knee, with an elbow length sleeve top. Then he’d suggest using the remaining cloth to bung in a hideous looking shirt for the little sibling.

As you can imagine, that was not always the most pleasing to the eye, and made us look like Thing 1, Thing 2 and Thing 3. But it half pleased the affected parties, and he got his pay, life was good. Fashion has left many scars on the Bala household.

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The point is that we had local tailors, seamstresses and custom made local fashions, and much as we liked dear old Paada and Gobi, we did not care for it, since the in-thing at the time was ready-made fashions preferably made abroad and imported. If Paada & Gobi were to set up shop in San Francisco now, however, they would be the hot fellows in demand. Interesting.

Lessons From The Little Blue Train

The Article below also appeared in The Hindu in the Open Page on May 10th:

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/looking-back-at-a-little-blue-train/article8576823.ece#comments

My mother ran downhill through a steep slope in order to catch her little blue train to get to school, where she taught, everyday. We lived in a small place nestled in the Nilgiri Hills, where everybody knew everybody else and even though we might not have been invited to Tea at the train driver’s house,  he obviously knew my mother. He would see her pelting down the hill, practically skating on the little seeds dropped from the Eucalyptus trees above, as he maneuvered the train around the mountainside. He would wave a friendly hand to her telling her to slow down indicating that he would wait for her to board. What is a minute here and a minute there was his philosophy, and one that entirely suited the place and times.

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The Nilgiri Mountain Railways was not competing with the Rajdhani Express or the electric trains of Mumbai. The little steam engine was a joy, and intended to show people that true joy in living came from hard work with a dose of huffing while going uphill and a friendly toot and speed moderation while going downhill. The journey, it steamed, was the most important thing. Chug past the lakes and mountains, cling to the cliffs, take deep breaths of the nippy air and keep moving while you can.

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From Wikipedia: Picture Credit: By Nsmohan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37242880

When people ask me about the banes of urban living, I rank not knowing the train driver quite high up on the list of grievances. I have to run up 50 stairs like an asthmatic calf to get to the platform.  So many times, just by virtue of being stuck behind a set of folks who refuse to budge on the escalator, I have missed the train. More often, I charge into the train just in time to have the doors close behind me and then stand there panting and mooing for breath.

When one considers how often I have flown past steps and hopped past debris and skidded into the train, I suppose it is only fair. A matter of tempting fate long enough. One day last week, a quick look at the watch (set to two minutes past the actual time), and another look at the car clock (set to three minutes past the actual time) revealed that I have a 30% percent chance of making it to the train if it was on time and a 43% percent chance if it was a minute late. Give me a chance at something like that and I mysteriously transform into a demonized matador bull:  I will lower my head and point head train-ward and charge like a demon with horns. However I was not feeling sufficiently bull-like that day, more like The Reluctant Dragon.

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The Reluctant Dragon is a marvelous children’s book written by Kenneth Graham. In the book, the villagers are keen to slay the Dragon assuming all dragons are vicious. The Dragon, however, wants no fighting or flame spewing. He simply wants to rest his back against a rock, think and write poetry.

The train doors above me opened and I looked upwards while running. I forgot about the raised platform around the 57th step. It was then that I took a toss. Now, when I say ‘Toss’ in that flippant manner, it does not truly capture how much an ass it makes one look.  Well, there really is no comparison with the animal kingdom, I mean have you seen deer trip or donkeys slip on the mud? That is set aside for the two-footed I believe.  The point is that the step hurled me and I fell spectacularly. My bag flew one way, my legs the other, while my knees scraped along trying to keep the bag and legs together. I lay there trying to resist a bizarre urge to laugh out loud, though I could feel the stinging pain in my scraped knees. I did chuckle to myself though – I must have looked like a prized fool sprawled there first thing in the morning when folks have important things to do and places to be. One cyclist evidently late for her own train, said, “You okay?” and I said “Yes”. She gave me the Thumbs Up and cycled off.

As I stared at the departing train to see if I could detect a smirk from anyone on the train, I need not have worried. The shiny silver train streaked off glinting against the morning sun as efficient and indifferent as ever. I did not know which was worse, the physical pain from the bruises or the indifference of the departing train. Just as quickly as laughter had come, I found much to my embarrassment, that tears stung my eyes.

No one knows whether the kind train driver who waved to my mother is still alive today, but I miss the likes of him in today’s world.

Nose in Books & Feet in Socks

As an immigrant to the United States, there are things I will always cherish. Lovable quirks such as “Water no ice please” or “Aww..”. Things like different reading fare is marvelous. Growing up in the misty mountain valleys of South India, we had access to good children’s books, and I relished every moment spent with my nose in books and my feet in socks.

Enid Blyton lifted all of us children into clouds above The Magic Faraway Tree or whisked us away on the Wishing Chair. Tinkle comics & Champak took us for a spin (I am trying to remember some of the characters without the aid of the Internet – a cheap thrill in the current times – Kalia, Chamataka, Doob-Doob, Tantri the Mantri, Suppandi, Naseeruddin Hodja, Vikram & Betal and of course, that vague huntsman who should be the mascot for gun control laws, Shikari Shambu).

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Later, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, R.K.Narayan, and Alexander Pushkin were the in-things to read.

As more serious fare gradually replaced this wonderful array, I never expected to be revisit that wondrous feeling of picking up a children’s book where you know not what magical world opens up to you, and when. But that is exactly what happened when I had children here, and we journeyed into these marvelous worlds together. I had never read the Thomas Train series or the Curious George series or the Beranstein Bear series or any of the books by Dr. Seuss as a child and I got to experience all of this with them for the first time. Oh! The simple pleasures of reading a book like any of these for the first time is gift enough, but to be blessed to be able to read it for the first time as an adult is surreal. It was like growing up all over again. To that, I am eternally grateful.

Walking into the children’s section of books is such a treat. Dr Seuss’s birthday gave rise to a number of excellent articles and I relished them almost as much as the books.

What Pet Should I Get?

Seuss-isms

Just as Dr Seuss promised, the nonsense woke up the brain cells that were sluggish due to lack of use and life became an adventure again.

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It even makes me think nothing of making a fool of myself publicly and putting out things like:

Do you want to be a Sailor?
Or do you want to be a Tailor?
Maybe we need to be a Failor
Before we become a Winnor.

Does the cold make you Deaf?

I was blissfully lost in wonders, natural and man-made for the past week. A trip to nature, (to nature or with nature?), is intensely refreshing. As the car made its way upwards into the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, I could see a large orb hanging from the sky casting a golden glow upon the stark outline of the rising mountains. I was wondering whether it was some sort of industrial light. But it turns out that large yellow orb hanging like an overturned lantern in the sky was the moon and the unusually bright, twinkling objects in the sky were the stars. Yet, the very same objects seem somehow diminished by urban lighting, when I gaze upon them at home.

I must say that I felt a keen kinship with nature there. Like Earth beckoned and embraced its children again. The car held up well against the steep inclines and the atmosphere inside was toasty and warm. We glanced at the dipping temperature gauge in the car every now and then, but continued to admire the night sky.

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It was when we reached Lone Pine, CA, and made for our hotel room that the cold hit us. It was teeth chattering. “Oh! I know I rue the relentless march of civilization and all that, but I quite welcome these advances”, I said through clenched teeth and fists as I switched on the room heater, and let the warm bursts of air swirl around the room.

The days were not much warmer. As we drove on the next day, there were vast expanses of nothing but mountains and desert plains. Stark and beautiful. There were times when the temperature gauge sat looking dismal at 14F.

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We wrapped ourselves in layers, only to find the cold finds a way to seep into the vulnerable spots somehow. We were playing on a frozen lake when we met the kind couple, who, I am afraid, thinks I am a demented owl.
“Where are you from?” they asked.
“We are from the Bay Area.” I said, to which they beamed back and said, “Oh! That’s nice. We are from there too. We have been coming up to these mountains for 41 years now.”
“I can imagine that.” I told them looking sincere, and I am sure they thought I was alright then. “This place is beautiful and I can imagine it becoming a place that we would want to visit now and again. Where are you from?” I asked them smiling in a way that hopefully belied the fact that my jaws could not move out of its smiling position once I got it there. The cold locked my jaws in.
“We are from Mountain Dew” said the lady.
“Oh where is that?”
This is when she looked like all logic had bottomed out of the conversation for she said, “Bay Area!” and looked at me as though surveying me for known defects.
“Oh! really? Okay, I don’t know the place. By the way, do you have a pair of scissors or a knife?”
“A knife?” I could see a slightly worried expression cross her face, but she was nice enough to go on, “Well…no. What for?” she said.

I showed her a pair of brand new gloves that were quite useless because it was all packaged so thoroughly. Really, what do these factories in China expect us to do with their brilliant packaging? Do they expect people with numb fingers, broken jaws and barely functioning faculties, to find a saw to get through the packaging in the snow?
“Oh no…we don’t have really have any on us, but here is something you can use for the little one. It was my grandson’s and he has grown out of it.”

I thanked her profusely with that bizarre grin on my face, and headed back to the car, wondering why they looked so down when I did not know where Mountain Dew was. After all, everybody cannot know every place.

It was after the teeth had stopped rattling like windowpanes in a thunderstorm,  after the jaw loosened up with the heat, and unlocked my bizarre smile, and well after feeling seeped into my fingers and toes, that I realized the lady had probably meant “Mountain View, CA.”, not Mountain Dew.

Do you think the cold makes one deaf? Well, if I run into her here, and if she doesn’t run away from me, I suppose I shall explain.