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.

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 12.14.54 PM.png

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

 

IMG_7854

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.

IMG_7856
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.

IMG_7857
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

Advertisements

Are We To Become Lab Rats?

‘Let’s watch something together Amma.’ , said the children one Friday evening. It is officially our movie night. Watching something that suits all of us is a true test of Democracy (An Email From Mars) The littlest fellow is the easiest to appease, and also the fellow you want to most watch out for. He sits there like a sponge absorbing everything: tilting his head to one side, looking through the corner of his eyes, this child seems like the ideal companion. But, his inappropriate quips at opportune moments have chastened us and we no longer welcome him saying, “Oh – he is too little to know.” He knows!

So, the debate raged – which show can we watch that everyone will enjoy?

Everybody Loves Raymond, Cosmos, Big Bang Theory? How about Lab Rats? 

A resounding cheer went up for Lab Rats.

‘Isn’t that show for Teens?’

‘Well…yes but this little dobukins watches it all the time with me.’ said the daughter tousling her little brother’s hair lovingly.

‘Really?’, I said turning around towards the fellow with my hands on my hips.

‘Yes….but Lab Rats is fine….not teenagie stuff.’ he said chuckling merrily.

Like he knows what teenagie stuff is.  Maybe he does and should that worry me? The daughter now tells me things are inappropriate for us to watch. I wonder what rules she uses.

tv_show

Lab Rats is a show about a family where the children have Bionic superpowers – Bree the girl can run free, Adam the hulk can lift a truck, and Chase the fellow whose name sounds like he must run after Bree, instead is the one with superior intellect. They live with their non-bionic stepbrother, Leo.

Like most Television shows these days, they had aced the humor, characterization and it was an enjoyable show. All the same, it left a niggling after-taste in me.

This show captured human desires in a nutshell. We all want to be better. Better than the rest, better than we ever were, better, faster, stronger, smarter. Better to do what?  And where does this betterment stop? We know how any concept can be twisted by thwarted minds to suit themselves as was evident in the sad state of Eugenics.

I am reading Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, and the same vein popped up again.

The modern economy needs constant and indefinite growth in order to survive. An economy built on everlasting growth needs endless projects – just like the quests for immortality, bliss and divinity.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 3.31.08 PM

Human kind, when we set ourselves on the path to development, most probably do so with good intentions. The problem is once we fix the problems, it seems we can use these very technologies to make things better for those who do not need it. Like  plastic surgery for instance:

Modern plastic surgery was born in the First World War, when Harold Gillies began treating facial injuries in the Aldershot military hospital. When the war was over, surgeons discovered that the same techniques could also turn perfectly healthy but ugly noses into more beautiful specimens. Nowadays, plastic surgeons make millions in private clinics whose explicit and sole aim is to upgrade the healthy and beautify the wealthy.

In Homo Deus, the author goes on to point out this trend in bionic legs, Viagra and memory treatments:

When you develop bionic legs that enable paraplegics to walk again, you can also use the same technology to upgrade healthy people. When you discover how to stop memory loss among older people, the same treatments might enhance the memory of the young. 

No clear line separates healing from upgrading. Medicine almost always begins by saving people from falling below the norm. but the same tools and know-how can then be used to surpass the norm. Viagra began life as a treatment for blood pressure problems. To the surprise and delight of Pfizer, it transpired that Viagra can also overcome impotence. It enabled millions of men to regain normal sexual abilities; but soon enough men who had no impotence problems in the first place began using the same pill to surpass the norm, and acquire sexual powers they never had before.

(Bolding my own)

Growth is a wonderful thing. For the first time in the history of mankind, we are able to self regulate our belligerence, spend our resources towards ending disease and poverty, and feed our growing numbers. Science and Capitalism have enabled this wonderful state. But what next? This relentless growth has led to an inordinate strain on the one planet we have. Previously, we could look forward to discovering new lands, but now we have mapped every ounce of the Earth, and we know no Middle Earth or Earthsea is hidden anymore. We have tapped them all. Our only hope is to find a parking garage planet close by so we can continue to expand at the rate we are now.

no_garage

We need to change course for a sustainable future of our planet, and Capitalism with its growth needs seems to be ill-suited to call for such changes.

The recently deceased author, Ursula K Le Guin, said in a speech once:

“We live in capitalism,” said Le Guin, “Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

I am sure our intense need to survive will push us towards self-regulation and conservation.

With immortality, bliss and divinity projects, are we not Gods capable of solving anything? But, we are also a species who can make the Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss a sad reality.

Are we to become our own Lab Rats? What would our super-powers be? More importantly, will our shortcomings be even more apparent with our strengths magnified, or will our shortcomings be magnified too?

Dear Athai

When I look back upon my childhood, I see that it sparkled with a fine collection of aunts and uncles (most not related by ties of blood) My father was a teacher in a residential school (Lawrence, Lovedale), and all teachers lived on the campus along with their broods like one large, extended family. It is only natural that we adopted some of his close friends for our very own aunts and uncles as well.

“Isn’t she such an inspiration?” said my friend, as we waved to Athai (meaning Father’s sister) one night about thirty years ago. “Poor thing has had such a tough life.” Athai seemed happy enough to me, I thought to myself, why was her life tough? Seeing my puzzled expression, my friend, who was older, taller and wiser (she still is), took it upon herself to enlighten me.

That evening, she told me how Athai was a very well off young lady when she lost her husband unexpectedly. She realized later that she not only lost her husband, but her fortunes as well. Suddenly, she found herself rudderless. She told me how Athai took up the job as matron in her children’s school, and how she had rebuilt her life with dignity and perseverance. She had gone on to raise her three children as a single mother through those hard times.

I never looked at Athai the same way again.

They say children have an innocence that is hard to define, and I understand now what that means. I had known Mrs Ramachandran my whole life spanning less than a decade without stopping to think about her past life: her life beyond being matron to hundreds of children, the person who managed the kitchens and Athai to all of us. In all of these roles, she was gracious, loving and giving. It was as if she had simply sprung into being the same beautiful way in which I interacted with her everyday. Her grey hair framing her round face with a ready smile that dimpled her cheeks.

When I stopped to think of it, I realized that she must have been a stunning beauty in her youth.

It was then that I started asking Athai about her life. She would share bits and pieces of some incidents here and there and I was happy to listen whenever she did. She came home in the evenings some days with her friends and we always looked forward to seeing her if only for a few minutes.

One day, I opened the door looking despondent. She asked me what the matter was, ever ready to deal with the intensity of teenage turmoil.

“This is one of the reasons I don’t like jewelry!” I said as I finished telling her about how I lost one of my gold earrings on the playground. I was feeling miserable.

With her characteristic humor, and knowing how much I balked at wearing jewelry, she teased me that I might find myself married to a husband in a remote village, where every woman wore six chains, twelve bangles, sagging earrings, a nose-ring, and that I would have to get into a bullock cart decked up in my finery, in order to take a phone call from my sister on market day. I laughed, feeling better already.

maatu_vandi

Then, she said, “You should be careful with your belongings, but you must not become attached to them.”

Every bit that Athai shared of her life was beyond inspirational, it was motivating. I sat mesmerized by how without her ever realizing, she weaved her grief, misfortunes, perseverance and joy together as one beautiful tapestry through which her personality shone through. I loved every interaction with her, the attentive companionship she gave, and her unfailing good humor.

Last week, Athai passed away at the age of 88. I wished I lived in a remote village and had to wait till market day to receive the sad news of her passing. But WhatsApp is relentless and swift. The network packets encrypted and decrypted the message the same way it packaged every inane joke and forwarded message: “Athai passed away. “ it said blankly.

I am enormously grateful that my life was influenced by people like Athai, Raghavan uncle, Mr Bharathan and so many more.

Don’t cry that it is over, smile because it happened. – Dr Seuss.

Seuss_dont-cry-because-its-over

I dragged my children along for a walk that evening. Fresh air always makes it easier for me to think happy thoughts, and I knew the walk would help me celebrate Athai’s life. I do not know whether my children will remember the evening, but for me, it was important. It is a tiny piece of Athai that I wish to share with my dear ones.

I know Athai would have liked to know my little ones. In her heart, there was always place for love.

Dear Athai – may you rest in peace and thank you for everything.

athai_3

An Elephant is Faithful 100%

“Ughhh! Amma, why is this boy so bright in the morning?” moaned the daughter. The daughter and I are slow to rise and shine. The eye first creeps open, the bath helps a little but not much. By the time, we muster the energy to throw our weight around, it is mid-morning. We are like sunbeams trying to break through a misty, foggy, cold morning. The husband and son, on the other hand, are like light bulbs. When they are up, the switch is on and they beam brightly with all the wattage available. The duo look indecently chirpy in the morning and bustle around with breakfast, cracking jokes and what-not. The daughter and I exchange dark looks and shudder a bit at this exuberance.

sun_bulb.jpg

One morning, the son looked at me, shook his head with pity and said, “I know what will wake you up! Let’s listen to Horton Hatches An Egg”, and we did. The toddler son was cracking up with hilarious laughter in the car and I don’t care what you say about speed of light being a constant and all that, I must confess that the sun beams broke through the misty morning fog a little faster. It is a marvelous book, and takes one through the most hilarious plot of an elephant hatching an egg.

I recently read Dr Seuss and Mr Geisel, by Judith & Neil Morgan, a biography of the beloved author, Dr Seuss. Ted Geisel confessed that he saw the world through the ‘wrong end of the telescope’ and  he seemed to have stayed in touch with his childlike curiosity and joy through life.

IMG_5232

Ted’s family was well-off. His father, after running the successful family business for several years, later worked for the public parks system with access to a zoo. He puts many of his influences down to the natural loafing around in the countryside with access to animals as a child. His mother, had a knack of reading things in verse to him in a way that stuck in his brain. Over his brilliant career, he would combine both these influences in a charming manner to enable an entire generation to love reading.

Reading about his foibles and his educational escapades gives a glimpse into the kind of endearing personality he must have been. Especially in the early part of the book, you see the boy and young man Geisel was not exactly a Grade-A student. From an early age, he exhibited a wonderful personality with humor, zest and curiosity.

His college sweetheart, and later, wife, Helen Palmer, was the first person to suggest to Ted that he may be better off drawing and writing than pursuing an academic career at Cambridge. He says this was around the time he realized that writing and drawing were like the Yin and Yang to his work.

One day she watched Ted undertake to illustrate Milton’s Paradise Lost; he drew the angel Uriel sliding down a sunbeam, oiling the beam as he went from a can that resembled a tuba.

“You’re crazy to be a professor. What you really want to do is draw.” she blurted out. She glanced at a cow he had drawn and said, “That is a beautiful cow!

Praise from one you love is truly lovely, and it set him on the course of his career.

Ted was used to taking brisk walks during frequent breaks from his studio in La Jolla, California. One time, he accidentally left a window near his desk open. When he came back, he saw that one transparent sketch had flown over the other, resulting in a strange juxtaposition of an elephant sitting on a tree. This set off a magnificent thought process in his head. What was the elephant doing on the tree, why, hatching an egg of course. Why is he there – what happened to the mother bird and so on. What resulted after months of mulling this train of thought and multiple revisions is the brilliant book, Horton Hatches The Egg.

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”

Horton_hatches_the_egg
Image Source: Wikipedia 

If you haven’t read it, please do so. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient to living: Dr Seuss.

dr seuss

Coming up next:

Ted was a school going child when the First World War started. The Geisels were first generation German-Americans and though they were naturalized citizens at the time of war, it turns out the world around them did not treat them kindly.

Of Hailstones & Laundry Baskets

“I have a great idea! “, said the kindergartener. His face was shining with excitement. I braced myself and nodded for him to go on. I had between my teeth, a clip that threatened to tie my tongue together, my hands were yanking a large unruly mess of hair into a pony-tail for the daughter, and the stove was hissing ominously.

“Why don’t I wear the red laundry basket to school?” said the kindergartener. That tied my tongue, the daughter yelped because I pulled on the hair making her pony tail look like a sausage through a tree, and the stove boiled over.

The past week has been a whimsical one. It was ‘Read Across America’ week to honor Theodore Seuss Geisel’s birthday and the little world around us lit up. In Elementary schools, everyday of the week, it seemed, was a special one, and fliers exhorted all of us to jump in. I love the Elementary school age-group when the human mind is at its most creative, supple and fertile and is bursting at its seams with curiosity and enthusiasm.

Wear As Many Colors As You Can Day
Crazy Hat Day (the red laundry basket is always being worn as a hat by the toddler at home, and he thought it was a marvelous idea to go like that to school)
Favorite Story Book Character Day
What Do You Want To Become Day (What do you want to be?)
Mismatched Fox in Socks Day

Somewhere along the line, we lose that element of fun, and I admire how children can help us tap into it at times. The past week was a hectic one, but I must say that I enjoyed wearing mismatched socks on purpose just as much as the children did. There were times during the stern day when I smiled to myself thinking of my striped sock and my polka dotted mismatched socks that had resulted in so such mirth in the morning rush.

I had with all good intentions gotten a biography of Dr Seuss to read before his birthday, but in my typical feather brained inefficiency had not so much as moved past the Prelude to the Introduction (why do books do that?) So, the Dr Seuss post would just have to wait.

Dr Seuss was very much on our minds as we stepped out for a walk by a river to wrap up the week. There we were, ambling along a roaring river with the backdrop of the mountains in the distance. It was also a deceptively cold day(I am too cold), for there were patches of sun(I am too hot), patches of dark grey clouds scudded past the cumulonimbus clouds and the wind whooshing at times knocked off our hats (not laundry baskets.)

drseuss.jpg

Minutes into the walk, we were stringing together nonsense Seuss-ian style and cackling:
I am too cold
I am too hot
Why are you always too something?
I thought you were five
No I am not five cold
I am not five hot
I am too cold
I am not two but too
I thought you were five

And so it went….

You know how they tell you in these be-calm lessons not to do anything suddenly? Ignore it. For suddenly, the rain pelted down, and not just that, it pelted down with hail stones. Silly or not, being pelted with hailstones is amusing and annoying especially when the good intentioned mother did not bring an umbrella on a walk. But the toddler tackled the problem with a whining grace. He ducked under his jacket and we raced to a tree, and stood under the tree sticking our tongues and hands out to catch the hailstones.

“Eat it”, I said as I popped a hailstone into my mouth.
“What? No! Amma! You cannot do that. “
“Yes you can – you may like it. Try it Try it if you may.”
“Say! I like Green Eggs and Ham”, finished the toddler and popped in the hailstone looking amused.

Colors

It is perfectly normal to be mistaken for normal if you wear laundry baskets and eat hailstones, thanks to Dr Seuss.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/29/what-pet-should-i-get-dr-seuss/

Mockery Bird In Zenkali

I sat in the garden in my backyard, relishing the mild breeze after a hot day. I looked up to see that my fruit trees looked green, and played host to plenty of animals still, but the fruits were no longer there. Could the trees have lived past their prime? I do not know. My botanical knowledge is excruciatingly narrow for one who enjoys nature so much. I watched squirrels scurry up and down on the very trees I was looking at, with a sense of purpose. How sincere, how single minded in their pursuit and yet, how completely at ease on the trees they were and how beautifully they fit into the complex pattern of life and their place in the food chain?

Colors

As I looked at the little creature who was mildly peeved at finding me in my own backyard, I realized with a shock that in spirit he knows and accesses the fruit trees far more than I do, and he probably helps the trees in my backyard by seeding them elsewhere.  Then I think about how little I do know about the complex interdependencies of species. We all learn, while young, about the food chain and all that, but we need something to remind us about these marvels every now and then.

Sometimes that gentle reminder comes in the form of a marvelous book. Every once in a while you stumble upon a book that you wish you can thrust upon everybody and have them read it. But they don’t.  Do you give up? No! You write about it, you read snippets out to them in the hope that they will relent and read the book.

TheMockeryBird

Image: First Edition Cover Art by Hanife Hassan

There is nothing quite so lovely as observing nature and seeing how we are all interdependent species within this planet. Mockery Bird by Gerald Durrell is one of the most endearing books I have ever read. It is a beautiful tale of man’s ignorance and greed. Set in the picturesque fictional island of Zenkali, the book is humorous and satirical to the point of wanting to read it back to back again. It shows us how we are all part of an ecosystem – trees, flowers, insects, birds and man.

In The Mockery Bird, I sat amongst the Ombu & Amela trees, and took in the exotic scents of the tropical island, immersed in the world of Kingy, Peter Foxglove, the tribes, the side sweeps at religion, the absurdity of greed, and the twisted aims and means of the media. The book sparkled with laugh out loud moments. Like the one and only newspaper of the Island run by Damiens, that contains so many typesetting errors, it is a beauty it functions at all.

“Poor old Damiens is like that. he threw the nursing fraternity into a rare state of confusion some time ago with his article on Florence Nightingale entitled ‘The Lady with the Lump’.”

The Mockery Bird, became extinct due to the culinary prowess of the invading French colonies some years prior. The Mockery Bird is the God to one of the tribes on the island, and obviously they were not happy with the extinction of the bird. It turns out that the Ombu trees survived only because the Mockery Birds ate the fruit of the Ombu tree and not being able to digest the seed, germinated them elsewhere. Now with the Mockery Birds gone, there was only one surviving Ombu tree on the island. Plans to have an ugly airstrip through the dense forests in the island are thwarted when Peter and Damien’s daughter accidentally see that 30 Mockery birds are still alive deep in the forest amongst a long lost patch of Ombu trees. This throws the island into a state of chaos, and the ruler, Kingy, is stretched to find a solution that satisfies the international community, the locals and the environment.

Zenkali

Does anyone remember Lorax? Written by Dr Seuss, in which he shows us what greed and ignorance can do, and made into a lovely movie? Now imagine a similar theme, written with endearing characters, a brilliant sense of humor and an exceptional setting? That is Mockery Bird.

It is a pity this book was not made into a movie. If you can read the book, please do.

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).

tinkle-collage

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.

dr seuss

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.