The Lure of NorEaWesSou

I picked up a light hearted book that outlined how journalism was done 100 years ago: Scoop By Evelyn Waugh. Written in the 1930’s, the book deals with how newspapers made do with telegrams from remote locations to fill newspaper columns: How they decided ahead of time on the stance to take, the line to pitch. Journalism was and is a series of Scoops. Which nugget gets scooped by whom?

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The book is based on William Boot, a thoroughly good-natured hedgehog type of fellow, who writes the nature column about life in the English countryside. One week his column writes of the country mouse, and the next week about thriving lobelias. Up in high brow London, he is mistaken for a dashing up-and-coming novelist, also Boot, and asked to go to Ishmaelia, a fictional country in Africa to cover the news. Given no choice, he embarks on the journey, and learns a thing or two about journalism from his journalist pals.

Corker looked at him sadly. “You know, you’ve got a lot to learn about journalism. Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read, and its only news until he’s read it. After that, its dead. We’re afraid to supply news. If someone else  has sent a story before us, our story isn’t news.”

William Boot is not only ignorant of the scoop business, but distinctly inept at keeping his bosses in the know. His telegrams read like stories; and lack buzz and content. When asked by his head office to send regular updates, Boot replies, that nothing much is going on, and that the weather continues to be fine.

The sort of missive that drives his editor mad. “How am I to fill a column based on the weather being fine?

The dilemma is real. Nobody wants to know when things are going well, and the weather is fine. The populace wants sensational news, and if there isn’t any, they have no qualms about creating some.

Purely by accident, William Boot uncovers a plot to overthrow the powers in the country. When he is composing the telegram with his first real piece of news, he receives the sack from the head office.

Telegram by William Boot:

Nothing much has happened except to the president who has been imprisoned in his own palace by revolutionary junta …. but governess says most unusual lovely spring weather …. bubonic plague raging.

He got so far when he was interrupted. Frau Dressler brought him a cable: your contract terminated stop accept this stipulated months notice and acknowledge stop beast.

William added to this message, Sack received safely thought I might as well send this all the same.

The book is not as engaging and funny as its critics claim, but the premise of the book makes for a charming plot. It is amusing to see how little things have changed since the days of the Telegram: our telegrams arrive almost instantly via tweets, but the essence is the same.

In the current era of news, and fake news, how does one discern truth, and in which cases does one have to bother to do so?

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I remember being about a decade old, traveling in South India, when I saw the headlines from a local daily: “Prime Minister resigns”. I gasped, and tugged at my father’s arm, and showed him the headline. Apparently, he had resigned from the milking committee of a farm or some such thing.

That is my earliest recollection of questioning the sanctity of print. Up until then, I read anything printed with a wholesome innocence assuming purity of thought and intent. The father noticed my shocked expression, and we went on discuss the nature of the Scoop, and the thrill of Sensationalism. Television had not yet entered into every home, and one waited every morning for the newspaper to bring us news of the wide world. A whole day in which to ruminate on what one read.

Aristotle apparently wrote, It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. 

Did he really say that? We don’t know.

Sensationalism and Scoop-ism have steadily chipped away at the hallmark of ruminating and discerning narratives having a semblance of truth.

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Refection on Reflection

I often feel this way after some heavy reading, or hard periods of news activity. Frazzled, taut if you know what I mean. On edge. One fine day, a voice in the upturned cauldron piped up and said, “Look, I know you mean well, and all that, but the old brain is not quite suited for deep learning, heavy news and all that lark. We’d better leave all that to the algorithms, while we potter around in the sunny recesses of the spring garden. What? What do you think of that?” I took a serious look at the proposition, and nodded along enthusiastically. Everyone should do what’s best suited to them, right? So, I should .. eh..potter and totter, nourish and cherish, or perhaps enjoy refection on reflection.  

So, it was with a wholly energetic outlook that I went on to read several books to air the musty brain a bit.  P.G. Wodehouse – that unwavering rallier of spirits rallied like nobody’s business, and started off by soothing the sore spot at once:

The Pride of the Woosters is Wounded, By P.G.Wodehouse:

If there’s one thing I like, it’s a quiet life. I’m not one of those fellows who get all restless and depressed if things aren’t happening to them all the time. You can’t make it too placid for me. Give me regular meals, a good show with decent music every now and then, and one or two pals to totter round with, and I ask no more.

It was after I had revived after a spot of humor that I went in for a bit of magic. The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith. It is a lovely little collection of essays on Middle Earth. The courage of Hobbits, the lore of the Ents. As I started reading the little book on Magic, it made me realize why we love Lord of the Rings so much that it endures on a century later. The hobbits are lovable in a way that is easy to relate to. They lead us to the joys in a simple way of life.

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The Wisdom of the Shire

Hobbits like a good meal, think nothing of throwing in an energetic walk in the Shire, enjoy the companionship of fellow hobbits and are generous enough in their outlook. Some of the essays on the Hobbits were:

Eat like a Brandybuck, drink like a Took

Sleep like a Hobbit

It seems they know how to enjoy a magical do-nothing day as often as possible.

Incidentally, A Magical Do Nothing Day is a wonderful children’s book written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. The book practically tugged at me in the library. Some titles speak to your heart, and this was one of them.

A Magical Do Nothing Day. Swirl it around, and feel that sense of peace descend upon you. The book gently takes you on a slide down the mountains, a whirl among the leaves, a dip in the pond and the exquisite pleasure of touching a snail.

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For each of us, a Do-Nothing Day would be different. I am curious to hear what a Magical Do Nothing Day signifies for you. Please share your ideal version of a Do-Nothing day with me.

I had several Magical do-nothing moments recently. Moments  in which the children and I learnt to skip stones in a pond, or I stood mesmerized by a cherry blossom tree that looked like garlands on every branch. The beauty around us is ethereal, and that makes it all the more inviting to go and enjoy nature.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower – William Blake 

 

 

Go Women Ninjas!

Spring is in the air, and I stepped out for a walk in the beautiful setting sun with the elementary school going son. He was telling me about a program that seems to be the craze among his friends: Lego, Ninjago. The program features the Ninja warriors, against evil Lord Garmadon. (I know!)

Ninjaaaa—goooo!”, said the little fellow and spun around on the spot kicking his legs up in the air. The place he had chosen to do this was not the best, for he stopped mid-way through an intersection to demonstrate Spinjitzu. “That is how they do Spinjitzu Amma. I wonder why they need to say Ninjaaaa-gooo before doing spinjitzu, but they always do that.”

“Well”, I said holding his hands tightly and rushing across the intersection before he spin-jit-zu-ed again, “Maybe it is like a spell, they need to say the word, or they cannot spin like that. Why do they spin so much anyway? Is it like ballet?”I asked.

The horror of my ignorance made him open his eyes wide in disbelief. “Amma! It is not like ballet. It is spin-jit-zu.”

I often prance into these gaffes. It was clear that the Ninjago masters did not appreciate being called ballet dancers, even though their spinjitzu-s looked like ballerinas who stubbed their toes mid-spin.

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Knowledge is the antidote to ignorance:

He set about enlightening me after taking a deep breath.“They do spinjitzu to use their powers. Every one has a power. Jai has ?” he looked at me expectantly. I knew the answer was somewhere. I had nodded along on several occasions when he explained the several powers these Ninja masters had.

 

I so often feel dumb stricken when I am talking to these children. I took a sip of humility and came clean. “Oh! I can never remember these powers. Why don’t you tell me all over again, and I will do my best to remember them, okay?”

Professors can very rarely resist such a humble seeker of knowledge, and so my Elementary-school-Professor launched on his ‘Amazing Superpowers of the Ninjago Masters’ class. I tried my best to listen. I plucked my eyes away from those early blooming cherry blossoms, and the cowslips that usually come up in March, but because of the lack of rain have started showing up now. I pulled my mind back from the scampering squirrels and listened to how Kai could not reach his full potential because he had relationship issues with his father. I looked quizzically at the fellow. “What relationship issues?” I asked amazed.

“Oh they don’t say. Just relationship issues.”

Lego Ninjago Action Figures (Image from Google search)
Lego Ninjago Action Figures (Image from Google search)

A few more minutes of Walk-Walk-Talk-Talk later, “Then, Lord Garmadon was bitten by the Evil sorcerer, and Evil coursed through his veins.”

“Oh no….his parents must’ve been so sad!”, I said. “What did his mother do?”

The fellow stopped with a quizzical expression on his face. “Umm…he has no mother. I don’t know why, but he doesn’t.”

Where are the Women?

It was as we continued toeing the Ninjago-Spinjitzu line that I asked him why there were no Women in the Ninjago world. His face crinkled with thought. “Hmm – There is Nya! Remember Cole became a Ninja master so he could save his sister Nya?”

I looked at his sincere face, and took a deep breath. I saw it was time for me to become a female Ninja.

I asked him what he thought of his sister. A look of awe crept into his eyes. His older, taller, and wiser teenaged sister?  Why? She looks after him, plays with him, imagines the unicorns and horses to play with, and tells him the most amazing Greek myths. “Do you love her?” , I hounded.

“Of course I do!” he said stung that I should ask him that.

“How about Amma? Do you like me?”

Affirmative.

I kicked it up a notch.

Tell me your friends. There were a few girls in the list. I made a mental note.

I asked him about his teachers. Amazing women.

Grandmothers and Aunts? Duh! Wonderful women of course!

He laughed and said that he liked them all.

“Now”, I said, “I want you to imagine how you will feel without any of these girls in your life! “

“What? Why?”, he said

“Because that is what those poor Ninjago master-fellows seem to be going through. Don’t you see? “

His face dawned, and then he gave a sheepish smile.

Gender Stereotypes

Research shows that our attitudes regarding Genders is formed between the ages of 5 & 6. In some experiments, before the age of 5, children equally selected females and males for various professions, but by the time they were 7, for most careers, they chose men. I am not sure that is not aided and abetted by the programs they watch.

Maybe this is the time to look at all our entertainment choices with a critical eye. If we expect Superman to do everything by himself, why do we think our sons will come to discuss their problems with us? If we consume show after show where Men save the world by going to War, how can we hope for future peace and diplomacy to come easily? Every evening, homes are flooded with soap opera entertainment that glorify women who suffer at the hands of those who should be their intellectual partners and friends.

We all suffer from this bias.

In a few weeks time, we will celebrate International Women’s Day.  We shall go agog for a day or two celebrating all the great achievements of Women in Science, Women in Literature, Women in Leadership and so on. Instead of just stopping and acknowledging the Women in our lives. The ones who make life what it is with their friendship, camaraderie and companionship.

 

 

For Women’s Day, I suppose we could learn to embrace the androgyny in all of us. We all have estrogen and testosterone in our bodies after all, just in different proportions.

I looked at the fellow again, and he said, “Wait! Nya also became a Ninja later in the series. She is a girl-Ninja now.”

“Good!” I said, and peace was restored in our world.

Spring is in the Air

I started the month off with a beautiful walk in the park as an unusually bright February unfurled itself around me. Nature’s shows are marvelous: Whether we are learning to skip pebbles along the waterside, or admiring the early cherry blossoms,  the unmistakable signs of Spring stirring is in the air.

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As I walked, I could not help listening to the wind rustling through the trees, the trilling of the birds, the quacking of the geese, and the chittering of the squirrels. If I had any musical sense, I would have conducted the Great Animal Orchestra.

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The Great Bird Orchestra

I was therefore very happy when a children’s book joyfully tapped into the orchestra playing out around us so beautifully.

Hiccupotamus By Steve Smallman and illustrated by Ada grey, is a perfect companion for a nippy spring.

It is a beautiful bubble squeaking sort of day. It makes little mouse want to squeak and so he does.

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His squeaks soon encourage the bird to tweet. Then, the centipede taps, and the alligator plays the xylophone with a bone on his teeth.

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Before we know it,

Boom-dee-Boom

Tappity Tappity

Squeak Squeak

Plink Plink

Boom ba-da boom boom!

Everyone is happy when the Hippo claims to have started the whole thing off. Hey! cried the mouse, bird, alligator and monkey. Where were you?

Why? I am hiccuping bubbles non-stop! says Hiccupotamus.IMG_7876.jpg

The illustrations are so charming, that we have looked at these pages several times, and enjoyed the joy contained in this book.

Spring is in the air, and I’d like to join the birds and animals out on these beautiful Wind In The Reefs sort of days.

President Squid

I get the feeling that the Universe potters around jotting down whether things are going the way they are supposed to and so on, and then stops and sees me having a good time, and says to itself. ‘That half-wit there seems to be enjoying herself. Catch her, and put her up for a Leadership course or something. Do something with her! Something!” So, in my unguarded moments, I have been bunged into courses on Leadership.  Barely do I totter out of one, when another beams at me touting the title, ‘Effective Leadership’, and the moment I finish that up, ‘Most Effective & Beneficial Leadership’ (Beneficial to whom?)

I have no problem with these blokes whose job it is to tell you to polish your pencils and sharpen your brain and what-not, but I find the whole thing irksome and tedious. So much better to take my Leadership course. My course is fun. Titled, Butter Battle Course, it is being substantially boosted up with these gems.

Skip several tomes on Leadership, and read up: Hope this helps the squids, squirrels and sheep too.

President Squid – a witty book that enthralls and amuses.

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Giant Squid has a very important realization. No giant squid has ever been a president before. He looks for qualities to be a President and surprise of surprise – he already has them all.

Qualities of a President:

  • He wears Ties
  • He has a large house (The Titanic!)
  • He is famous
  • He does ALL the talking
  • Big & bossy

 

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President Squid is as loud and rambunctious as ever. He is convinced that he the Best President Ever!

One day as a President, he unwittingly does some work, and then being a President doesn’t seem like fun anymore.

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President Squid: Book by Aaron Reynolds

The book also provides a solution for those unfortunate Presidents who became Presidents and then realized it is not all as gassy as a cup of beans.

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President Squid: By Aaron Reynolds

Complement this with the equally endearing and hilarious books on leadership:

King Hugo’s Huge Ego : By Chris Van Dusen

Loius I, King of the Sheep – By Oliver Tallec

Who was it who said that there is nothing that cannot be learnt from good children’s books? I heartily agree.

Children are actually the best (and worst) audience for literature because they have no patience with pretence.Orson Scott Card

Homo Incredulitatis

For the past few years, we have not watched any of the Harry Potter movies in the home because we did not want to ruin the Harry Potter stories for the little sponge in the household. So, we waited patiently till he read Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone. He read some of it, had some of it read to him, and he discussed the whole of it with his Harry Potter wise sister. (Please check out the latest edition with illustrations by Jim Kay. His illustrations are beautiful as if he lived and breathed in the story himself.)

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He only had the last chapter left, and savored the thought like the last piece of cake. The pair of us snuggled up one day with the rain pattering the windows and read. I read in the low rumbling voice of Albus Dumbledore:
‘As for the Stone, it has been destroyed.’
‘Destroyed?’ said Harry blankly. ‘But your friend – Nicolas Flamel – ‘

Dumbledore smiled at the look of amazement on Harry’s face.
‘To one as young as you, I’m sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well organized mind, death is but the next adventure. You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all – the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things which are worst for them.”

I could not agree more. Fresh from my readings of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, I was already uneasy with our hideous choices for progress:
An economy built on everlasting growth needs endless projects – just like the quests for immortality, bliss and divinity.

The husband had spent the afternoon watching a movie with some very interesting sound effects. A sci-fi crime thriller of one who had moved his consciousness into the ether and could possess bodies at will. “Something like Voldemort, only he could find one horcrux at a time and keep going.” said the husband.

Living for ever, resurrecting species back from the dead?

Why? A few years ago, we played a game in the car with the children where we asked the children which animal they would bring back from extinction, to great hilarity (Dodo, Dragon, Dinosaur Dis-apparitions) . This had such an impossible Sci-Fi feel to it, and that contributed to the thrill of the game. I mean you cannot bring back Dodos can you?

In less than two years, I read a book titled ‘Woolly: Bringing the Mammoth Back to Life’ by Ben Mezrich. I only read the book now, but work on that front has been going ever since we learnt to sequence a genome, and cloned a sheep. If pressed on the benefit of this move, I suppose mankind would say, “This will help reduce global warming by ensuring the Tundra permafrost is packed in with the stomping of large beasts.”

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I am not so sure. If anything, we use our considerable creativity to find grand purposes.

I was intrigued by the husband’s movie discussion on immortality in the form of storing one’s thoughts elsewhere. I have been looking at my thoughts ever since this discussion, and I got to tell you: There isn’t much going on up there. No future generation in the 25th century will benefit from my great wisdom. In fact, the number of times I resist eating chocolate, and then meekly give in, might be the greatest wisdom there is.

Projecting the future is a crummy business. An excerpt from the book, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari:
While some experts are familiar with developments in one field, such as AI, nanotechnology, big data or genetics, no one is an expert on everything. No one is capable of connecting all the dots and seeing the full picture. Different fields influence one another in such intricate ways that even the best minds cannot fathom how breakthroughs in artificial intelligence might impact nanotechnology or vice versa. Nobody can absorb all the latest scientific discoveries, nobody can predict how the global economy will look in 10 years, and nobody has a clue where we are heading in such a rush.

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Why does the unknown scare us? If that is the case, isn’t tinkering with immortality even more of an unknown than death?

Our tales and myths are full of warnings against this very wish. From Bhasmasura, Ravana and Hiranyakashipu to Grindelwald, and Voldemort, we have read and ingested that immortality is not such a sweet bunch of grapes as it is made out to be.

Homo Sapiens seem to have forgotten that Happiness is only important when we have unhappiness to compare it against. Life is only good because we know it is finite, and we strive to make it a full, worthwhile one. Would I cherish every moment and live in the present and all that lark, if the present is all there ever is? It was a sobering thought.

Really Homo Sapiens are Homo Incredulitatis!

Books: 
   Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone: J K Rowling 
   Homo Deus: Yuval Noah Harari
   Woolly: Ben Mezrich
Movie: Mayavan
Myths: Bhasmasura, Ravana, Hiranyakisapu

My Dearest K-Nearest-Neighbor

One evening over dinner, we were swapping stories of the day when I told the daughter that she must sit up and pay attention in class, and not ‘droop like a plant in the desert’.

“If the teacher has deemed it important and relevant for you, you must pay attention”, I said ticking off a box on the Parenting list, and hoping my guardian angel was paying attention.

What had happened was, their History teacher had made them watch a documentary on the Civil rights movement. As far as documentaries go, this particular one seems to have been one of those glacier drifter-paced ones with soothing lambs-bleating-on-distant-hills sound effects. The class had fallen into a stupor, and the daughter’s friend had told her she saw her ‘wilt’ in her seat.  With many giggles, she assured her that she had seen her go from sitting straight backed to ‘drooping like a plant in the desert’. Whether these children imbibe any lessons in History or not, they certainly seem to have picked up a thing or two on the poetic touch.

Their teacher also noticed the supine trend in fashion, and quizzed them to see what they had managed to learn, only to be greeted with blank stares. So, he set them an essay to wake them up. The sleepy heads heard him mumble, “I want an essay, hand-written, not typed, on Edgar Evans’. Those who had not heard were helpfully enlightened by their fellow snorers, and they set about writing about Edgar Evans,  all the while wondering why their teacher, usually sound in the head, would set them an essay on a Vietnam war veteran when they were being woken up in a Civil war lesson.

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After the busy pens had scratched for 10 minutes, one genius decided to ask the teacher Why Edgar Evans? To which the surprised gentleman fell off his seat, and said Medgar Evers(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medgar_Evers) – the Civil rights activist hero, not Edgar Evans.

The poor teachers!

‘Sleeping in class – tut tut!’, I said ticking the daughter off, though I had to admit the Edgar Evans gaffe was sound stuff.

In other news, you may have noticed that the New Year rolled around, and January whisked past. Resolutions were obviously taken with earnest in January.

The husband has resolved to read more. Now this is a resolution that has far reaching consequences, and we were not entirely sure we were ready to deal with it. What is the problem you ask? No? You did not ask? Well, never mind, I will tell you. It will be a good thing to get off my chest.

The husband is one of those people who beam at charging sockets and wi-fi connectivity in airplanes. While beaming, if you catch his eye by mistake, you can be treated to a most helpful dissertation on how wi-fi over the Arctic tundras should set your senses tingling. His engineering brain marvels and explains. If ever there was one who should’ve been a teacher, there he is readymade. So, of course, we groaned at his resolution. We know what that means.

Right enough, one day, as I was finishing up with the last dregs of cleaning up after a long, arduous day, the daughter came running to me , and said something had to be done about it. “He is boring me with sentiment analysis and K-N-N algorithms and stuff Amma.”

The husband said that the K-Nearest-Neighbor algorithm was most fascinating, and that we must show more curiosity, and showed every inclination to get started on K-N-N 101 right away.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K-nearest_neighbors_algorithm

I raised my eyebrows, and shoo-ed them both away – where were those noise canceling headphones when you needed them? A while later, the moon had said Good night, the books read, and I was ready to drift to that beautiful ocean where the spindle of dreams spins, and embrace that soother of souls, Sleep, when the husband traipsed in all set to deliver K-N-N 101 Lecture #2. Evidently, the daughter had firmly put her foot down, and sent him to explain elsewhere. I groaned and let him patter on.

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I have often observed this during my college days as well. All I needed was a professor to lecture on topic-dear-to-his-heart and the mind would most suitably wander. I could see the senses quiet down, almost like I am paying a spiritual homage to the lecturer. The glazed eye has been mistaken for sleep, but it is a homage really. I found the intervening decades have done little to stop this trend, and I found myself pleasantly drowsy as his soothing voice explained depths in trees and coefficients. Mozart and Brahms could not have done better.

I could hear my guardian angel scratch furiously in the margin, the unsavory word: ‘Hypocrite!’

I assured the husband that I wanted only him to be my dearest K-nearest neighbor in the tree of life for many long years together yet, but would he mind very much if I listened with my eyes closed instead of open?

He guffawed loudly at this waking me out of my reverie most rudely and said,’TCHAH!’, and stormed out of the room in mock protest. It seemed like an apt teenage reaction to our teenaged marriage.

“Amma! Sleeping when Appa is explaining? Tut Tut! When knowledge is being shared, you must focus, concentrate and absorb it Amma, not sleep.” said the smart-mouthed scholar drooping like a plant in the desert.