The Magic of Just Being

The world of news was being rocked once again. The company I worked for had already endured hard times in the news and the general feeling was one of anxiety and exhaustion. 

Over the week-end, I had come for a walk by a water body that the son & I lovingly christened Reflection Pond – for you could see the skies reflected in the waters, the world from a different perspective.

There were 2 deer peeping out from within the mist and a rustling nearby indicated the hares were getting ready for some morning exercise as well. 

There were a pair of pelicans who took insouciance to a different level. Yet, as they gracefully paddled on that lake, I thought of that little piece in the Fox, Mole, Horse and Boy. 

“How do they look so perfect together?” Asked the boy.

‘There is a lot of frantic paddling going on beneath’ said the horse.

The Fox, Mole, Horse and Boy

As I walked back, my attention went again to the digital town square that is the sign of the times we live in. I had one of those moments that Henry David Thoreau chastised us against, for it was obvious that I brought the village (or in this case, the town square) with me. 

When I realized what I was doing though, I shook myself out of this and firmly pushed these thoughts aside telling myself that  shall attend to them when the time was right. I looked up from the previous posture of a head bent with woe, and that is when I saw the pelicans take flight. 

There is something majestic about large birds taking flight. The little ones flit and twit with ease, while the larger ones seem to be much like our cargo aircraft. Huge, but still not half as unwieldy as our man-made designs during takeoff or landing.

By the time I fumbled for the phone for the pictures, the pelicans had flown leaving me with a sense of awe.

The clouds that paint a different picture for us every day had painted a lovely dragon or an enormous swan taking flight that day. The crescent moon in its waxing phase was shining amidst all this glory.

The pink hues against the light blue skies were enough to make the heart rejoice. As the pinks turned to orange and then grey, my spirits lifted slowly.

I had an idea for a lovely children’s book that has since morphed and evaporated like the clouds that day.

A few deep breaths made me realize that fresh air, beautiful clouds, a time of transformation are all things we take for granted, but when we do stop to think about them, they fill us with a sense of contentment.

Nature had worked its magic yet again: There is no better place to learn the lesson of Just Being.

I realize that I cannot quite capture the serenity of a walk such as this one. But I can jot down the gratitude for this magnificence so I may be able to dip into it at will.  

An Orchestra of Avocets

A few black and white birds, most probably avocets, if I remember correctly were flying calmly around me in great circles. They seem to have their beaks open, and relishing whatever they were eating as they flew. They were completely at peace around me, and a great sense of serenity swept through me watching them. My vantage point was perfect. I was on a hill overlooking a lake and the avocets darted in and out at times, but glided seamlessly at others. I had just decided to not reach out my hands and touch the beautiful birds  so I could have them comfortably flit above me for a while longer, when the alarm went off. 

It was one of those nights that melt into morns – seamlessly, and far too quickly. It is a blessing indeed to be able to get up when in the midst of a beautiful dream, so surreal, calm, peaceful and oh so vivid, and I felt a great sense of possibility and serendipity as I bustled through the morning and hustled the children to school. 

The son & I hummed and listened to our favorite Disney songs on the way to school. Before starting what promised to be a full day I wondered what a group of avocets are called. Then, my meetings called and I forgot all about them.

Before piling into bed sixteen hours later, I said to the daughter, that I wished to be a hedgehog. You know just curl up under a cosy tree and forget about everything and sleep. I don’t know if hedgehogs really do so, but they definitely look like it.

I have often wondered while standing and admiring birds and other fauna in suburbia whether they ever feel the same way. Do we give them peace the way they give us peace? Do they decide to stop and look at us so they can feel peaceful as they go about their days? I think not. But what a lofty goal that would be. I suppose we are curious creatures to many of our fauna friends.

That night, I opened the book, Sweet Dreamers – by Isabelle Simler, and was I in for a surprise?

This is a children’s book that shows the many denizens of the planet settling into sleep. A bat hangs upside down, while whales float with one eye closed amidst jellyfish floats, and koalas hug eucalyptus trees. There is a page for hedgehogs curling up to sleep.

The hedgehog in the book, Sweet Dreamers

It is a sweet lyrical book, but the illustrations are what seals the book. On every page are stunning revelations. Scratch that – they are beyond stunning. Every page looks like the artist got up after seeing themselves in this joyous avatar in their dreams and just captured the sensations. 

Children’s book illustrations are always a joy to behold – this one tugs ones attention. 

Before flitting to sleep, I checked what a group of avocets is called. They are referred to as an orchestra of avocets. What a fitting collective noun for the birds of joy?

koi sonder

One day during a particularly windy bike ride, I stopped to catch my breath. Riding against the wind even if the terrain is flat can be hard. I watched the windy skies blowing the fluffy cirrus clouds away, and said aloud that it would be nice for some rain. The husband gave me that look he reserves for my references to eucalyptus, rain and all things Nilgiris. “You and your rain!”

But the universe has a strange way of granting wishes sometimes. A day or two later, the temperatures dipped, a cold spell gripped the area, and I sat up around midnight watching the rain pelt the windows. It was beautiful to watch in the warmth of our homes. I felt a blast of warm air from the air purifier in the room and sent a little note of gratitude for warmth and security when it must’ve been cold and wet outside. 

A few days ago, we had visited a quiet spot tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Bay Area freeways, and turned in past the almond farms into a quaint garden and farm. There, in the corner was a small koi pond with koi fish whose size looked magnified several times given the size of the pond itself. The fish swam towards where we were standing peering into the waters.

The curiosity of these creatures 🙂 If I knew Koi-polese, I could’ve translated. But I think they wanted to know more us: Who were these people who are peering at us? Would they be kind enough to feed us? 

I thought of Dr Dolittle:

These fish languages, they really only work underwater. It’s fascinating! The basic system is mouth movements and bubbles signals.

Dr Dolittle

For some reason, that night looking at the rain against our the windows, I thought of the koi fish peering out of the waters and contemplating the gathering clouds. How they would react to the gentle rains falling from the skies? Would their sea brethren feel the same way when they navigated the oceans? I remembered reading an article in the New York Times about how the fish used stars and starlight to navigate the oceans. Polar bears and many creatures do so too. How do they fare when the cloudy skies 🌌 obscure their vision?

“Did you know that an ant has more intelligence than a hippopotamus? And that a grasshopper, in relation to his size, has more power in his hind legs than a kangaroo. Absolutely, fascinating! There’s no doubt about it, animals are much more interesting than people.”

Dr Dolittle

There is a word that captured my fancy when I read it, for I have often felt that especially when traveling. (Grocery shopping in Afghanistan post) . 

sonder (the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own).

That night I felt that word with respect to all our fellow creatures. We have no Dr Dolittles among us to know the extent of our fellow creatures feelings. But we do know we have many creatures around us show feelings of warmth, love, clannishness and so forth. 

Dream Boats

Oh! Books! Marvelous Books! 📚

I am so grateful to live in a world that has an abundance of books. Take this one for instance: The Wanderer – By Peter Van Den Ende.

Paper boats have held a fascination all its own. The oceans must’ve been the first great frontier that humankind was enthralled by. How we came to design boats in the manner we do now must be an interesting journey. Why this shape – why not in the shape of a whale, or a swan with paddlers underneath? 

How long have boat designs stayed in this cup shape that floats? 

I remember making paper boats all the time. Setting them to sail on little puddles or watch them scooting along with a fast flowing rivulet of the rainwaters. Either way, the joy is never dampened, though the paper may be (please pardon the pun). Some folks made paper planes pretty well, but the paper boats were my little special things. I made them out of napkins in restaurants, out of spare paper in schools and work spots, and chocolate wrappers. I wrote poems on Puddle Boats, The Dream Weaver. A boat has an endless fascination: a mystical vessel with its ability to journey into places unknown, and encounter adventures unimaginable. Which child has not enjoyed the finale of The Adventures of Dr Doolittle even if the rest of the book did not enthrall?

Imagine my joy then in seeing this book. I had no words, and neither did the book.

Some books capture the heart’s yearning with no words at all. The Wanderer by Van Deck Ende is one of them. A simple concept, one that any one who has played with paper boats in rain puddles, rivulets and streams has often dreamed off. It takes a true artist though to capture those dreams and meanderings onto paper for others to enjoy. And an exemplary one to make the possibilities even better with monochromatic themes.

The little paper boat starts its journey off simply enough. As it traverses streams, rivers, oceans, and peeks into lakes, the pages come alive.

Whether you look around above the waters and take in the egrets and herons by the lake

Or peek into the depths of the ocean below and take in the sights of the reefs and whales below, this book is sure to take us on a journey of a lifetime. 

Every page is a different destination on its own, and every stop along the way adds unto a wonderful journey.

What a marvelous book! The above are a few sample pictures taken from the book to enable a review. The book has many more.

Tonight, after all is quiet, and the world can be left to its own devices, and the land of dreamlands can be entered; these images should help us along to the beautiful lands of possibility. 

Kimêtawânaw – we all play

The daughter was giving me Tea. 

‘Tea’ I was enlightened earlier, is not the beverage that I love, but interesting events of note in her life. The child told me about her new teachers, the classes, the people around her – the ones who were mean, and the ones who weren’t, something about Discord, and something else about friends with their heart strung in different directions. 

“How long since school reopened?” I asked bemused at this barrage of interesting information. 

She gave me a sheepish smile, “Well… Mother. Would you like to hear this or not?”

I nodded and she rattled on about the joys of companionship. 

The son patiently listened to all of her tales with an intent and bemused expression on his face.

“What about you my dear? How have your days been going?” I said turning to him.

Thankfully, elementary school children are still spacemen and super-heroes. The throes of the heart have not yet occupied their minds. In his stentorian voice, he regaled us with a tale of a newly invented game that others had been willing to play along with. Time-tastic Adventures. 

Apparently, the den was tasked with picking a date in the past or the future, and then, they all play and enact games during this period. Medieval times, times in the future, making their way to the stars, or the fields for strawberry picking, it was all done together.

“Such an interesting game! Did you come up with it?” I asked

He looked shy and proud at the same time. “Yes! Did you guess because it was all about time?”

I nodded. His fascination with Time and playing outside is well known.

What about you ma! What’s your highlight for today? 

I told them about the antics of a particularly adventurous little squirrel that hot summer’s day when I had gone out on an errand. All the world preferred to shelter in the trees, or stay indoors, but this one was practicing for a hurdle race. He or she ran gaining speed, and elegantly leaped over the mounds on the fence. Not once, not twice but at least for 100 meters. The Olympic committee was probably cooling off in the summer heat, but I was there – I pulled the car over and watched the little creature leap joyously.

That evening, I opened this beautiful book, We all play = kimêtawânaw By Julie Flett 

Kimêtawânaw – we all play – by Julie Flett

In simple language and beautiful pastel colored pages, the joy of play and companionship is etched.

I smiled my way through the book, and as I closed my eyes to sleep, I thought of the little squirrel jumping over the hurdles in the heat.

The little squirrel somehow embodied the spirit of choosing joy in the pursuit of happiness on that hot day. 

Often times when out on a walk I would stop to enjoy the different creatures playing outside. The ducks splashing together, the squirrels chasing each other up and down trees and running across one’s path, the co-ordinated flying of the geese, and the deer bursting into what looks like spontaneous sprints. The urge to skip and pirouette in the sunset often overwhelms me. When I think there aren’t too many people about, I give in – feeling thrilled and somewhat sheepish at the same time, for adulthood frowns on these displays of spontaneity. But, like the children say, “People know you are the official kook of the house, so you’re okay ma!”

Well, kimêtawânaw – we all play!

Life’s Lessons – Fun Pockets

Life’s lessons are imparted in many ways. On walks in nature, yaps with the children, and of course in the moments of reflection from the constant doing. 

Sometimes, all these come together in the form of lovable books.

Take these 3 for instance:

  • You are a beautiful beginning – by Nina Laden Illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley. The book takes all of those trite sayings and manages to make it a beautiful compilation of images. A joy to thumb through. Stop me if I have mentioned this before, but the illustrations in children’s books are brilliant, and I am so grateful to be able to see so many of them and appreciate them in my own simple way.

Lovely wise things in beautiful settings:

It is not wishing to be different. It is learning to love being you

It is not about winning the game. It is having fun while you play,

  • You are a beautiful beginning – by Nina Laden Illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley.
    • Wild Symphony by Dan Brown (yes, the author of  Da Vinci Code.) I do think this book is much better than all of his other best sellers (I liked Da Vinci Code, but subsequent ones rambled and tumbled downhill I felt) If I need to remember his work, I would gladly remember Wild Symphony. He manages to combine whimsy, poetry, and music to the most marvelous effect. The illustrator has taken things even further by the beautiful imagery in the book.

    Side note: Dan Brown has become a sort of joke between the husband and daughter.
    You see, we each try to get her to read things that we are fairly sure she will like. With what result? A shrug. Some nonchalance. Maybe a snort. She takes the husband’s recommendation for movies far more than his recommendations of books. I stopped keeping score of the statistics on my side. It was heavy going, and the odds aren’t encouraging.

    Wild Symphony – By Dan Brown, illustrated by Susan Batori

    Anyway, back to Dan Brown, this book is in my opinion his best. Every animal plays a different instrument, and teaches a different lesson.

    Do you feel like a little alone-time would be nice? 

    A swan song would be just the thing

    Do you feel alone in the world?

    A walk in the evenings with Cricket song might be just the cure

    Animal Orchestra – By Dan Brown

    Here is a link to some of the songs in Wild Symphony.

    Really between these books, life does feel meaningful, purposeful and joyful. Most importantly, it reminds us to watch out for wonder and learning on every side.

    For the love of libraries – 2

    The nourish-n-cherish household love for books and libraries is well known. On our recent trip to Boston for instance, we made an afternoon of the Boston Public Library and spent several evenings at the local bookstores. By the time, New York and Boston were done, we had bought between ourselves 10 large books that needed to be packed on a flight. Flights, as you know, would, if they could, weigh the sandwich you were eating to see if they priced tickets right (Boops: 3 layered sandwiches – $50 extra please. )

    When we moved our nest a couple of months ago, the whole family squealed at the sight of a little yellow lending library in the neighborhood. There it sat on the lawn of one of our neighbors, and is a sight that always has me smiling. The generosity of the owners, the marvelous gift of books for everyone, not withstanding, I also see that they do a fine job of rotating children’s books, picture books, fiction and non-fiction books. It is an inevitable stop on a walk, if just to peek at the collections set forth for the week.

    Obviously, then I was attracted to the book, Digging For Words – Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built, Written by Angela Burke Kunkel Illustrated by Paola Escobar

    Digging For Words – Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built

    In the city of Bogota, Colombia, live in two Joses. One is a little boy who dreams and waits patiently for Saturdays when he gets to visit a special place. The other, a garbage collector, who has over the course of 20 years of garbage collecting,  created a library of the books picked from garbage piles, to share with the rest of the city. His library opens on Saturdays.

    The story by itself is a heart warming one based on the true life of Jose Alberto Gutierrez, However what makes a wonderful story completely captivating is the beautiful illustrations. The unexpected joy of seeing the Little Prince in the last page, leaves one with a fuzzy feeling after reading a tale of warmth, perseverance and possibilities of doing good in our world.

    Jose Alberto Gutierrez, is known as the Lord of the Books (what a marvelous, marvelous title?)

    Excerpt from the Author’s Note:

    In addition to running his library, Gutierrez directs the foundation he established, La Fuerza de las Palabras (The Strength of Words) which provides reading material to schools, organizations, and libraries across Colombia.

    Author’s Note from Digging For Words – Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built

    What are your favorite libraries and bookstores?

    Musical Musings

    The busyness of living had taken over the days, and I felt a little soulful pondering and meandering was in order. I listened to an uplifting album of Anoushka Shankar as I went about the chores in the home after a long week of deadlines, and never-ending demands on my time physically and emotionally.

    The children gave me indulgent looks, and nodded approvingly. They had been telling me to get my head out into the clouds for some time now.

    I peeked out the window and saw a breeze flutter though the pine tree outside, and resisted no more. I picked up the beautiful children’s book, A Violin for Elva by Mary Lyn Ray, Illustrated by Tricia Tusa.

    Fresh from reading Musicophilia – Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, I found myself analyzing the music in our lives. In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks writes about musicians who don’t read music, but get to listen to the music in their heads as they read the sheets. I imagined the neurons in their brains reacting like those little piano keys – bobbing up and down.

    Who remembers Tom & Jerry Piano Concerto? Here it is for those of you requiring a refresher.

    The music teachers at our school had been blessed by the muses themselves. I remember many a morning assembly being mesmerized by our piano teacher’s musical notes wafting from her swift hands flying across the piano. The band master and the Indian music teachers were just as talented and gifted. 

    How could one man teach the saxophone and the bugle, just as marvelously as the drums?

    How could one person teach the harmonium, sitar and the tabla? 

    I have always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument. It is probably why I never tire of seeing Anoushka Shankar’s hand leap up and down the sitar producing marvelous music. The harp player must be harnessing a power of the gods, and no wonder the goddess of learning in Hindu mythology holds the Veena.

    I sat by the rose bushes reading. A gentle breeze accompanied the birdsong outside. I watched mesmerized as the breeze rippled through the luscious pines generating green soothing waves. Well, I may not know how to play a musical instrument, but I am lucky indeed to be able to enjoy the music.

    I opened the book, A Violin for Elva, and was soon so happy with the choice of book. The book talks of Elva listening to music wherever she went. She imagines herself playing the violin, and asks her parents for one, but she doesn’t get one. She goes about imagining her toothbrush, tennis racket and anything else to be her violin. The whimsical illustrations are a joy to behold.

    Life passes her by, and in her working years, the faint whiff of her love of music is there, but she is too busy in the busyness of living. 

    Finally, after her years of working, she gets herself a violin to teach herself, but finds it very hard. She then goes for music lessons and when she gives her first concert, the sense of accomplishment, the much-delayed gratification she receives is amazing. It is also a reminder to those of us waiting to do what we love that though it is never too late to take up what we love. It is also pointless to let life pass us by. 

    “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 

    Annie Dillard

    Elva’s story reminded me of Mary Oliver’s essay on the three distinct selves within each of us:

    • The Child Self
    • The Social Self &
    • The Eternal Self.

    Though in the essay, Mary Oliver, refers to the Eternal Self as the artistic self, I like to interpret it as the Creative self. 

    • The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 
    • The second self is the social self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer. 
    • Then, there is the third self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. This is the self that needs nurturing.

    The essay ended on this note:

    “The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.”

    Mary Oliver

    It was a chastening thought to enjoy those things that sustain us, and in doing so make our lives meaningful and joyful.

    What would you like to nurture?

    I Think You’ll Like This Ma!

    Mother’s Day was upon us and before we knew it, the children were wishing me a marvelous day. We sat there, refusing to get up from bed, and just enjoying the mother’s day stories of past years. 

    “Remember the year you made me that crown?! “

    The now-teenaged daughter shuddered, and said, “It was horrible – why did you wear it and take a photo too?! I would not have done that.”

    I gave her a smile and thought to myself how satisfying it would be to see her eat those words willingly and happily when her time comes. 

    The most touching gift I received this year was the pair of them thrusting their favorite books into my hands with shining, expectant eyes. 

    “Read this one – we loved the book in our class. I really think you will like this one, even though we don’t have a dog.” said the son.

    The daughter’s request was firmer. “No…no…don’t touch it like that. See – this spine? It must not be creased. A few rules with this book. I don’t want you falling asleep with the book in your hands. That causes the book to become lopsided.”

    “Just give me the book! I know how to take care of books. I love them.” I said, and the son and I exchanged amused glances. He is often at the receiving end of this lecture from his sister and seemed happy to see his mother’s version was just as firm.

    “Yeah yeah. But some books just have to be cared for you know? Your love can sometimes cause creases.”

    She looked at me skeptically, then went to her bookshelf and picked out a book as an example. “See this one? I had to give this little guy here a lecture because I caught him bending it.”

    “Love lines and laugh lines are the essence of life. Books like to have them.” I said weakly.

    Really! This child.

    I pulled out a favorite poem from A Sky Full of Bucket Lists by Shobhana Kumar and read out Spaces. Her haibun  in between the prose was just right. It was the prose I chose to help me this time.

    She shows the children how to inhale the pleasure of unsullied pages. Savour subtleties from a dog-eared favorite.

    “What do you think?”

    “I love the poem Amma, but just…please? Unsullied pages, see?”

    I nodded and did my finest teenage imitation. “Fine!”, and muttered how I preferred ‘subtleties from a dog-eared favorite’.

    “Love you MA!”

    So, it was arranged that I could fall asleep reading Shiloh, but must sit upright without coffee or tea nearby, or a tendency to fall asleep with Perks of being a wallflower in my hand.

    To misquote P G Wodehouse, the surest way to find love is to have a shared taste in Literature. 

    I must say both the books filled my heart with their poignancy. 

    Happy Mother’s Day!

    Mother’s Day in the Jungle

    It’s Friday! It’s It’s It’s Friday!

    I heard the son singing his Friday song. An infernal song with lyrics that are straight out of an album I know, but the rendition usually has joy in it, and that salvages it somewhat. I am partial to Friday mornings myself, but last week, I was simply unable to get out of bed even though I had something marvelous to look forward to. I know some folks who get up like an LED light: Zap to glory as soon as the switch is on.  How I envy these marvelous folks?! They light up at the crack of dawn and seem to bustle on. 

    Self? I need a dragging to the watering hole, and steady nourishment to get to functioning state in a span of 2 hours. The husband gave me an amused look, and tried reviving the drooping shoulder with some coffee, but it wasn’t enough.

    An hour later, I buzzed into the kitchen dancing and flitting like a hummingbird in spring. You see, I was invited to read my story, Mother’s Day in the Jungle, to the son’s elementary school classroom. 

    Mother’s Day in the JungleScreen Shot 2021-05-09 at 12.19.16 AM

    I love this one – It is a heartwarming story about the little animals in the forest getting together to prepare a mother’s day feast for their mothers. But one of them gets caught trying to pilfer sweet potatoes from Farmer Hasalot’s farm. 

    At the end of the story, the children asked me questions, and I am always blown away by how much thought they put into these questions. I told them about how some parts of the story at least are inspired by elephants in the South Indian plains. They were curious to learn about elephant mothers and calves. They wanted to know about animal practices and whether the elephants or farmers were right, taking us beautifully into discussions on animal rights. 

    As I read the story out to the children, it got me thinking of the many beautiful lessons of parenting that the animal kingdom shows us. So, that evening, I took off on a walk by the creekside. Watching the ducklings, and goslings take to the waters with their parents on either side is beautiful in spring. The birds flying home to their nests with the little ones waiting in nests is charming.

    It is time to read Robert McCloskey’s adorable book. Make Way for the Ducklings

    make_way_ducklings

    What would we do without Mothers? 

    Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful mothers out there. There are days when getting up is a chore, but days like this one with unexpected gifts make up for it, don’t they?

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