How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel

When the Covid lockdowns started, many folks went on a buying spree (we all know the toilet paper jokes). Ever the dutiful one, off I went too. I was feeling rather pleased with myself when I got an extra bag of rice, and headed onto the library (to get books to tide us over during the lockdown).  When the husband called to ask where I’d gone, I sheepishly said that I was at the library just in case we were unable to get books during lockdown. I could hear a sound like a paper bag bursting – his version of a cross between a snort, and the urge to laugh. I bragged about the extra bag of rice, and I could see his face wondering why he had to be landed with someone, who in P G Wodehouse’s language, ‘must’ve been bumped on the head as a baby’. 

Well, I must say that when we staggered home with books for the children and self, I felt better. The local library has been one of my favorite spots to visit of course, but over the Covid period, I felt like Rapunzel in the book: How the Library Saved Rapunzel (Not the Prince). The library allowed us to schedule an appointment and arrange to pickup books on hold. What was more, they were kind enough to include a few picture books of their choice if you requested them to do so. I am eternally grateful to have access to libraries.

I felt almost an irresistible urge to increase my Science based reading this year (maybe this is a tiny rebellion for the disturbing anti-Science strain emerging with the 45th POTUS office). Starting the year off by re-reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos set the stage for the year ahead. The following books gave me no end of pleasure and learning over the year. (My Science writing class for children)

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2020 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day

  • Unbowed – Wangari Maathai (in progress)
  • On Looking  – Alexandra  Horowitz
  • Losing  Earth  A Recent History – Nathaniel Rich
  • This is the Earth – Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander, Paintings by Wendell Minor

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

1200px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise

It was also a wonderful year to take in poetry. Mary Oliver & Margarita Engle were always welcome in a year when poets alone seemed to know the right turn of phrase for the bizarre. Dr Seuss & Jackl Prelutsky always know to turn one’s frown into a smile. 

  • Blue Iris – Mary Oliver
  • Enchanted Air – By Margarita Engle
  • Dog Songs – Mary Oliver
  • Owls and other fantasies – Mary Oliver (Yes! no!)
  • Be Glad your nose is in your face – Jack Prelutsky
  • Dr Seuss books (always worth reads and re-reads). I found a few gems that truly tickled the mind and got out some belly laughs.
    • Horton hears a Who
    • Horton Hatches an Egg
    • Sleep book
    • Oh the Thinks you can Think
    • How Lucky You Are
    • Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose

summer-collage

With the Black Lives Matter movement, the year was ripe for educating oneself on the inequities of society and civil disobedience. The local library, news media, and friends all helped with an excellent array of reading material. Notable among the works read then were:

  • Becoming – By Michelle Obama
  • Black Panther – by Ta Nehisi Coates
  • Sneetches and other stories – Dr Seuss
  • A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela‘s children’s book version
  • My Many Colored Days – Dr Seuss

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With uplifting books and humour, life can be truly marvelous. My all-time favorites kept me company, and I am eternally grateful to their influence of course but a few others were added to the list this year.

The world isn’t such a good place either, and reading books such as these helps to remind us about the many problems that still beset society

The lure of power, and how we are seeing it all play out in real life

  • The Fate of Fausto – Oliver Jeffers
  • Louis I – The King of Sheep – Oliver Tallec
  • Yertle the Turtle and other Stories – Dr Seuss
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (pieces relating to the Minister of Magic refusing to acknowledge Voldemort’s return so he could stay in power)

Of course the true magic of life is never complete without children’s books. There are so many of them in this genre, that I did not even note half of them. But a few of them lit up my life

  • My Grandma is a Ninja – By Todd Tarpley, Illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou (When I become a grandma – though it is a few decades off, that is how I wish to be 🙂 )
  • Gondra’s Treasure – By Linda Sue Park
  • Enchanted Wood – by Enid Blyton (old Saucepan Man, Silky and Moonface with the lands above the enchanted tree – though it doesn’t hold the same level of magic it did as a child, it still has its charm)
  • The Red Pyramid – By Rick Riordan (this was the son’s recommendation, and thoroughly enjoyable it turned out to be romping down the Egyptian myths!)
  • The Quiet Book – by Deborah Underwood
  • A Fun Day with Lewis Carroll – Kathleen Krull & Julia Sarda
  • Peter Rabbit’s Tales – Beatrix Potter
  • Why is my Hair Curly – By Lakshmi Iyer
  • A History of Magic – Based on Harry Potter Universe
  • Tintin Comics (a fair few)
  • Calvin & Hobbes
  • The Velocity of Being – Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick

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On that magical high note, here is wishing everyone a healthy, happy new year in 2021. Things are already turning around, and looking hopeful. Keep reading, and sharing 🙂

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What’s your 2021 WotY (Word of the Year) Choice?

2020 escapes adjectives and mere words cannot quite capture the irony of the year. Ironically, last year when we selecting a word for the year in the nourish-n-cherish household, the teenager vehemently voted for the word, ‘Ironic’ (after I shot down ‘Sarcastic’ as an entry of course). I had been inspired by a colleague who regularly answered ‘How are you?” with the word “Terrific!” (In meetings through the year).

One time, I asked him whether he always said that, since it was a shot of positivity in the middle of the humdrum, and he said that it was a family tradition for them. Their family sat together and decided on a word to use through the upcoming year to answer the question ‘How are you?’. The logophile in me sat up and took notice. I got the gleam that the children have identified, and scram when they detect it. It is what gets them into walking miles in the wilderness, or fun read-a-thons.

Where was I? Yes – the word thing. When I came home with this heart warming suggestion, I expected in my naïveté, to be taken up on the word-building, and lists filling up with words such as : Fantastic, Fun, Awesome, or even a word that is only used in our home, Imaginate. But of course that is not what happened.

The words put forth by the teenager were not going to be my words of the year by any stretch. So, given chaotic, neurotic (Really! This child expects me to answer ‘How are you?’ with ‘Neurotic’!) , dystopian, terrible, quixotic, and another few like this, we decided on Ironic. Luckily, we did not use this word to answer every ‘How do you do?” question during the year. Last night when I mentioned the word-of-the-year-greeting-exercise again, the children said, “Come to think of it, our word choice was not bad huh?! Ironic how that worked out! Get it? Get it?”

It was my turn to moan, but also think. Maybe there is something to the whole thought->actions->universe themes that we hear about all the time.

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” – Lao Tzu

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It was a year in which ‘Ironic’ could be used with ease. Ironic how people react to pandemics, ironic how markets and stock market indices react to global pandemics, ironic how we are able to find pockets of quiet in the hectic world thanks to the very pandemic that is causing so much pain and suffering. Ironic how we determine leadership responses or lack thereof in our electoral choices, ironic that the very science naysayers will be benefited by a vaccine developed within a year of the genome mapping thanks to Science. Ironic how humans the social beings reacted to social distancing, and ironic too, how the themes of nationalism, chauvinism, racism, sexism were all rendered meaningless by a virus (too tiny to be rendered in colors by electron microscopes, but large enough to unite us all in the act of being human). If you are human, you are susceptible to the virus. 

  • 2020 word of the year turned out to be (no surprise here): Pandemic. 

Quote from BBC article:

This year has seen so many seismic events that Oxford Dictionaries has expanded its word of the year to encompass several "Words of an Unprecedented Year".

Its words are chosen to reflect 2020's "ethos, mood, or preoccupations".

They include bushfires, Covid-19, WFH, lockdown, circuit-breaker, support bubbles, keyworkers, furlough, Black Lives Matter and moonshot.

Use of the word pandemic has increased by more than 57,000% this year.

"It's both unprecedented and a little ironic - in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other."
  • 2019 was the inclusive gender neutral pronoun, They
  • 2018 went for Justice
  • 2017 for Feminism
  • 2016 was Surreal (truly!)

I wonder what 2021 holds in store for us. 

2020 also embodied a lot of good words such as Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing) Komerabi (the beautiful word denoting sun rays piercing through the leaves).

I’d like to hear some of the words you can think of for the coming year. I am thinking of ones that made the children say ‘Meh!”. Whatever else 2020 taught us, it is that we can make it through together if we can retain our sense of humor (the floods of WhatsApp forwards come to mind), and to delight in the ordinary. So I pump for the more humdrum ones: Life, Hope, Joy, Peace, Happiness.

What about you? I wonder what frabjous words Dr Seuss or Lewis Carroll would pick.

A Medley of Hope

When I started reading to the children in my son’s elementary school classroom, I was a little worried. I could see the little tiles in the zoom classroom when I explained the theme I had planned out for that morning. I had planned Poetry and paired a fiction book by Dr Seuss with a non-fiction memoir by Margarita Engle.

My brain was doing a quick ‘Maybe’ check in the background: Maybe this was too much for them. Maybe I should have gone with a simpler theme. Maybe I should keep it simple and just switch to a sweet little book that everyone would feel comfortable and cosy with. I could’ve switched, but then I remembered the words of wisdom by E.B.White

Never write down to children – E.B. White 

Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly. I handed them, against the advice of experts, a mouse-boy, and they accepted it without a quiver. In Charlotte’s Web, I gave them a literate spider, and they took that.

More sound advice I have never heard in my life, for the children settled into the themes even if it was a little heavy going before the Thanksgiving holidays for them. 

I had chosen a book by Dr Seuss, The Butter Battle Book. The book is a brilliant satire of nuclear weapons during the cold war. Dr Seuss’ brilliance was in full display. The book is about Yooks and Zooks: The Yooks eat their bread with the butter side up, while the Zooks eat their bread with the butter side down. This leads to escalating differences and a long curvy wall is built between the two lands.

butter_battle

Soon, both sides start fighting by using weapons of increasing grandeur and magnitude starting from the Tough Tufted Prickly Snickle Berry Snitch to the Eight Nozzled Elephant Toted Boom Blitz. The book finishes with the Yooks and Zooks sitting on either side of a wall threatening to drop the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, signifying the nuclear threat.

We discussed the long years of Cold War and how it was a true lesson in diplomacy that the two countries managed to keep from blowing us all up together. From there, we moved on to  the Bay of Pigs invasion, and then switched to the memoir, Enchanted Air, by Margarita Engle.

The author’s maternal side hails from Cuba, while her paternal side fled from the Ukraine – then a part of the USSR.

Dancing Plants of Cuba

In California, all the trees and shrubs

standstill, but on the island, coconut palms

and angel’s trumpet flowers,

love to move around,

dancing.

..

Maybe I will be a scientist someday

studying the dancing plants of Cuba

Her father’s family escaped from Ukraine, from a communist regime, not knowing whether those left behind survived or not. Her mother immigrated from Cuba.

Two countries

Two families

Two sets of words.

Her paternal grandparents’ recollections are therefore muted, brief and vague. How starkly, concisely, she sums up the human condition for survival? When she asks her Ukrainian-Jewish-American grandma about her childhood, she gets nothing more than ice-skating on a frozen pond.

Her maternal grandmother, on the other hand, regales her with richly detailed family stories, of many island ancestors, living their lives out on tropical farms.

In the poem, Kinship, she sums it up:

Apparently, the length 

of a grown-up’s

growing up story

is determined

by the difference

between immigration 

and escape.

In the poem October 1962, she writes about the standstill known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Grim news

Chilling news

Terrifying

Horrifying

Deadly.

US spy planes have photographed

Soviet Russian nuclear weapons

In Cuba.

Hate talk.

War talk.

Sorrow.

Rage.

The children looked sober and serious at the quiet tone of the poem. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. When asked for their opinions, they shared prescient observations, and looked stricken. I moved on quickly to the poem, Hope, that is the last poem in the book.

Hope

An almost war 

can’t last forever.

Someday, surely, I’ll be free

To return to the island of all childhood 

dreams.

Magical travel, back and forth.

It will happen.

When?

“By Jan 2015, independently announced by both countries, Cuba & USA restored  relations . ” I said to the class.

There was a palpable air of relief in the room. The children cheered while their proud teacher beamed at them. The questions that followed left no doubt in my mind about how well the children had perceived the stories. The more I heard them discussing how important it was to patch up between human-beings, the more I felt comfortable in future diplomacy. 

If only children could help counsel us, we would be far wiser.

Books for the King

The son’s brisk questions were being met with sluggish answers and were wrong to boot. He looked at me with concern and said, “Ma! Are you okay?” 

“I feel like I need to read 3 fiction books back-to-back to start feeling myself again!” I moaned. The cuppa coffee wasn’t doing its job. I knew I had a long day of meetings, planning, production issues, and more news trickles along the way before that happy dream could be realized. 

What happened next should not have surprised me in the least, for that child has a knack for soothing frayed souls. He ran away at top speed and I went about lapping my coffee like a cat licking its milk out of the saucer on a cloudy morning.

After a few moments he tumbled into the room carrying three Dr Seuss books. “Don’t worry, I can read it to you for 2 minutes.” he said and proceeded to read from Yertle The Turtle and Other Stories.

He could not have selected a more apt book for the times  if he had thought about current world trends towards dictatorship and decline of large democracies, cross-referenced  it with philosophies on power and ambition etc. 

Yertle the Turtle was the king of the Sala-ma-Sond pond, but as often happens with power, he wanted more, and then some more. Maybe a really high throne would help him thought Yertle. So, he summoned some turtles on which he could perch himself . Yertle thought that the higher his throne, the greater he was. Everything in his eyesight could be his, couldn’t it?

Soon, a cow, a farmhouse and a blueberry bush wasn’t enough for the great Yertle the Turtle. More and more turtles scrambled, while Mack – the poor turtle at the bottom of the pile struggled. Mack’s complaints meant nothing. Yertle could see butterflies and birds, but what he really wanted was to get up there with the moon. 

In a fitting end to the story, the dictatorial Yertle meets his nemesis with Mack’s inadvertent burping. The pile of turtles totter and collapse sending Yertle crashing into the muddy swamps below. Yertle the Turtle learns his lesson. 

I know we ask of no formal training for politicians: there are no politician licenses, no courses one has to complete to take up public office, but I really think there should be a set of children’s books that they all have to read and re-read as refreshers every year in order to stay in office. We could call it the Butter Battle Course.

I’d definitely add these three titles to the course.

  • Yertle the Turtle and other stories – By Dr Seuss. (It even has a story about unbearable braggarts meeting their match in a humble worm who is trying to just till the soil underneath without the incessant brag-fests disrupting him)
  • Louis XIV – the King of Sheep – By Oliver Tallec ( A beautiful tale illustrating how Louis I the sheep became a king – the wind rolled a crown to him, and the same wind blew the crown away from his head)
  • The Fate of Fausto – By Oliver Jeffers ( This tale takes a megalomaniac’s obsession with ruling everything he sees including mountains, rivers, and sheep until he meets his match in the great ocean.

Let’s care a whole lot!

T’was family movie night. An evening fraught with decisions, and everyone’s voice and opinion clanged over the dishes and sizzled over the noise from the stove.
Suggestions rose, opinions swelled and movies quelled.

“Uggghhh! No way!”
“That again?”
“What are you? A kid? Oh wait! Yes you are a kid! Okay never mind!”
“Nope! Too much for Amma! “
“What do you mean? It isn’t too much for me?!”
“You bawled last time for a movie that wasn’t even a tear-jerker, nope! How about this?”
“Star Wars!”

A collective moan went up. Finally, it was revealed that the youngest member of the family had no recollection of the Dr Seuss movie Lorax. He has read the book multiple times, and so we all settled in to watch Lorax.

The_Lorax

Dr Seuss is an inspiration, of course; but just how insightful his take on humanity is uncanny. From fresh air as a commodity, to a land without trees, to surveillance at every pore, his far sighted vision has so much to nod your heads at.

The Thneeds, created by the Once-ler, in his story are made from Truffle trees. Thneeds were fashion statements – doubling up from head scarves to sweater vests and shawls. (“But even he, it seems, could not envision a future where ripped jeans were fashion trends!”,  I said and drew a grudging chuckle from the teen with the ripped jeans. ) Eventually, of course, the Once-ler’s greed led to decimation of trees, habitat loss and a devastated landscape is all that is left.

“Wow – that was such a good movie Amma – though the movie had scenes that the book didn’t have.” was the verdict of the youngest.

“Really! Humans are impossible!” said the teenager, and discussion turned to conservation, Greta Thunberg and some you-tuber who talks about going green.

“Did you know the Lorax was banned in some schools in California because loggers felt it was not friendly to the ‘foresting industry’. ” I said.

I looked at their agonized faces with awe – how is it children get these things, and adults don’t; and I felt a surge of hope.

lorax

We were walking a familiar route through our neighborhood a few days later, stopping to see some of the felled trees as we do every so often. The rings in the pine trees show they must have been at least 80 years old, and to see the forlorn stumps reminded of the beautiful book, The Giving Tree.

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The book starts with friendships between a young boy and an apple tree. The boy plays and swings on the tree’s branches, but as he grows older demands more and more from the tree. He needs her apples to make money, cuts her down to build himself a house and a boat, and finally comes back tired and spent with life, when all the poor tree can offer is the stump to rest.

The Giving Tree, can be interpreted and discussed in many different ways. Givers & Takers, Need & Greed, Selfish & Selfless, but the most beautiful one is the simple one, the one where your children make a sad face at the end, and say, “Why doesn’t this boy/man/grandpa ever feel sorry for what he’s done?”

giving_tree

The boy reminds us of human’s relationship with nature. The human species can be broadly classified as takers: from the planet, & from our co-habitants on this planet. You might have seen this video clip of Man’s greed By Steve Cutts:

The Giving Tree too was banned interestingly for sending sexist messages – the tree was female and the little boy continued to take from her without ever giving back.

I just finished a book called Losing Earth – by Nathaniel Rich. The book, deals with the science, politics and action of climate change.

losing_earth

Despite humanity having the science locked down more than 50 years ago, little action has resulted. The closest we came to getting everyone to agree on unified action was the Paris Agreement where all countries agreed to work towards keeping emissions such that we not go above the 2 degree increase of temperatures world-wide. The largest emission offender for decades, United States, pulled out of the agreement when Donald Trump became President.

I was shocked to find that Climate Change as a topic has been banned in certain schools, skirted around in others and given a miss altogether elsewhere. The science behind Climate Change and the effect of our industries were long proved – as far back as 1970.

This April 22nd is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a special onus on Climate Action. Maybe this Earth Day, we can renew our commitment to the only pale blue dot that will harbor us. Let’s care a whole lot about our planet before all we are left with is the word ‘Unless‘ like in the Lorax story, or the tree stump in The Giving Tree.

 

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Read also: Are we to become Lab Rats?

 

The Time For Scrunch Parties

I wonder when we stop skipping on our way, when we stop reading children’s books: tales of magic and myth and splendor, when we start looking weird for having crunch parties in the scrunchy leaves of fall, but it is a time we must take a knuckle and give ourselves a good knock on the head, and cut it out!

“Please! Just come with me for a walk! “ I said to the children.  November is the month of Scrunch Parties, and the month I can be seen begging the children to come on walks with me, even if they look and act like Hawks and Pandas. I still remember the day I came tottering into the home, my confidence in the true tra-la-la  of the world shaken. 

I had stepped out without the children after they had both called me ‘Nuts’ for wanting to go for a walk when the time could be spent inside the house on the couch instead. I gave them a withering look, and told them that I shall ascend to higher levels with my stint in the fresh air, where nature shall nurture my spirit and enhance my being, and they were going to miss all that. I threw in a quotation or two, gave them a sprinkling of philosophy, and a hint of lavender from my coat pocket to entice them into coming. I straightened my shoulders, and delivered the pep talk that Generals could take notes from. 

general_pep_talk

I don’t know how these Generals must have felt when they spread themselves liberally on the pep-talk, so they can leave pronto to acquire the next kingdom, only to have the troops say, “Nay, it is better if we camp here for a month. The Biriyani is particularly aromatic and spicy here!” But that is how my pep-t was received. They lolled on the couch, gamboled lazily in the warm, fuzzy throws like lambs in springtime, and continued watching whatever-it-is that amuses them so much. 

I told them they shall soon see a reformed person and made my way out, my back registering disapproval at this lack of enthusiasm for nature-walks, but my front eagerly galloping towards the joys awaiting me outside.  

A few minutes later as I stood looking up at the sunlight filter through the trees, a stiffish breeze started up. The mesmerizing sound of the the wind rustling through the trees caught my attention (There is a fascinating word for this – Psithurism). The wind rustled a special tune sending beautiful waves of ripples through the leaves. Standing there with the sunlight illuminating the waves was magical, the wind was also sending hundreds of leaves dancing their way down to the Earth. My face lit up with happiness, and I charged left and then right trying to catch one of these beautiful leaves on their way down.

My arms felt like the wings of a butterfly spread wide, my leaping from one side to another left me feeling catlike. I clasped at thin air as the leaves fluttered past me. I don’t think my performance would have landed me a spot on the International Cricket team for fielding, but no one could fault my enthusiasm. My face was happy, and it was then that I caught the eye of a gentleman out on a walk too. 

scrunch_party

He looked at me like I needed to have my head examined. A small twitch of his bulbous nose indicated disapproval of this entirely whimsical and childish act of catching falling leaves, his round head shook like he could not believe I was let loose on the streets and he made his way again with an exaggerated dignity. His figure exuded the unmistakable message: I was an adult in a world where we do not show happiness by ourselves, was I not? We do not skip, we certainly do not run like lumbering sea-whales going after fish, we are prim, and we must be proper, and we must never forget that we live in a world where there are many problems waiting to be solved.

I tried to shake the wet geezer off, but the scrunch had gone out of the scrunch party. I went back home, an altered soul. Seeing my less-than-exuberant spirits slink back into the house, the children wanted the low-down. I usually come back from my November walks bearing gifts of colorful leaves, or tales of butterflies and chirps of birds; not the slumping shoulder and the lack-luster shrug. I poured my heart out, and revived under the sympathetic brow swiftly giving way to gushing laughter. 

“You must’ve looked such a goofus Amma, running after leaves and scrunching leaves by yourself.” They cackled, and I smiled. 

Some inelegant demonstrations of my chasing the leaves were given to much mirth, and I felt happy at being able to spread joy in this stern world, even if it was at my expense. I mean I did not really think this little wet sop episode deserved rolling on the floor and laughing so hard, it was hard to stop.

I wonder when we stop skipping on our way, when we stop laughing out loud at Dr Seuss books, when we stop reading children’s books: tales of magic and myth and splendor, when we start looking weird for having crunch parties in the scrunchy leaves of fall, but it is a time we must take a knuckle and give ourselves a good knock on the head. 

When Seuss-isms Save Your Spirit

“Oh my gosh! You have to write about this!”, said the daughter laughing, and the son looked pleased with himself. He had uttered a Seuss-ism that just made the whole lot of us laugh out loud. I dilly-dally-ed on writing up the little anecdote and the incident has now slipped my mind. It had something to do with a packet of chips, some fellows playing on the street, some elephants and a circus. Something that reminded me of these two books by Dr Seuss:

If I Ran The Circus &

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street

 

I tell you a writer in the nourishncherish household has a full plate, and as a chronicler of sorts in the household, I tend to miss out on a lot of things, such as the tale of the water hose and the tulip bulbs, or the cartwheel aspirer whose tales of the leaping t-shirt kept us all enthralled, or the time the husband walked in to find a boy and his tiger entertaining the rest of us in the bedroom to chuckles and guffaws.

So, I hurried and wrote this down now before it too joins the nebulous places where thoughts and memories go: the duper pin lot of thunderbolt crate.

UUUUGGGGHHHH! This day sucks! GAAAAAHHHHHH!” I said exasperated. My family’s dinner, carelessly prepared, but tastefully done with the freshest of vegetables and the spiciest of spices lay in an orange goo splattered all over the kitchen. Like someone exploded a sunset on the ocean reef floor, only not as pretty.

It had been one of those days when I had dropped the daughter at Drombasollu, and picked the son at Pickabolou, then shopped for groceries at the Packed Aisles of Drabaloo, only to run an errand to the wasted lands of Grimes via the packed streets of Trafficity, before heading back to Drombasollu – all of this after a long working day on the grimiest streets of the city of the Somaridden, and back after a ride on the silver caterpillars of Mushart, not to mention 10 phone calls to co-ordinate who did what-s, where-s and when-s – with curt replies when the conversations veered to the how-s and why-s. I had run low on energy, even lower on patience and the ability to see the fun side of things was off hiding till I ventured to find it again.

The son came over, gingerly stepped around the splattered muck that I had intended to call dinner, and said, “Oh thank goodness you are not one of the engineers who work on the bridge of Bunglebung Bridge across Boober Bay – they have things falling from everywhere!”

This was from the book, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are – By Dr Seuss

lucky

He then gave me a hug from the back, and in a minute my tensions splattered too. I laughed at the genius of it, and hugged the little fellow. “Always read Dr Seuss my dear. Always! When you are ten, don’t forget them, when you are twenty, remind yourself to read them, and then go on reading them when you are thirty, forty and with tea, it will always be …. gah I can’t rhyme this anymore now!” I said, but the smile was back on my face.

“But it was pretty good!” said the little fellow encouragingly.

Within minutes, we had laughed and cleaned up the kitchen floor and were rummaging the shelves for another slap-a-dash dinner. When the husband and daughter came back from wherever their drombasolu, pickabolou route had taken them, we had a semblance of dinner ready again. Our spirits much revived by a Seuss-ism were smiling and happy again.

I doubly appreciate Dr Seuss, because I had never read his books as a child. But I get to enjoy them now, as I read them with the children – one of the many joys of immigration. It makes me a whimsical child again, and grateful for reading them at time when it is lovely to remind ourselves of the sunny days of youth again.

Like Graham Greene said of his famous work, The Wind in the Willows, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading every now and then:

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

 

Hero-Worship, Nicomacean Ethics & Baloney Detection Kits

I have heard friends rave about Dune by Frank Herbert many times over the past few years. I finally got to read the book, and I feel richer in mind and thought for it. The book was long and at times hard to keep track of (especially in the beginning). This is one of those times when I realize how my mind flutters with attention spans that drive calm butterflies to frenzy. But slowly, steadily, I settled into the book, and there were multiple moments when I felt like I must grab a pen and start writing (but that stern butterfly gave me a look, and kept me at my the task of reading). This, is probably the reason I have forgotten half the things I wanted to write about (This is where I glare back at the butterfly guardian who kept me reading)

Dune-Frank_Herbert_(1965)_First_edition
First Edition Cover – Image from Wikipedia

One of the many things that appealed to me in the Dune was the fact though there were vague references made to technology and the number of technological devices used by those living at the time, it is not a mainstay.

The book is a multi-layered piece of literature with over-arching themes of ecology, the art of war, religion, philosophy and politics. There is a particular quote that stuck with me in the Prologue written by Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert’s son, about the dangers of hero worship.

Quote:

As Liet Kynes lay dying in the desert, he remembered the long ago words of his own father: “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero.”

Having studied politics carefully, my father believed that heroes made mistakes…mistakes that were simplified by the number of people who followed such leaders slavishly.

In many ways, hero worship is what leads people to choose leaders who then turn into despots and dictators. Adulation affects everyone, and those with fragile egos are the most prone to its lure.

Towards the end of the book, Paul Atreides recognizes that he is being hailed as the Messiah and regardless of his acceptance of the title, there is a holy jihad in his future. He can either lead to the best of his abilities like his able and excellent father, Duke Leto or simply be the mascot of a movement that has already gathered momentum – a force that is much larger than him. This sort of trusting faith in one human being is never a good sign, and is a malady that has affected us for centuries. 

I quite agree with how Aristotle describes the nobility required of politicians: he opines that politicians should take an oath, almost as sacred as a Hippocratic oath, to remain fair and mete out justice. From the Nicomachean Ethics – By Aristotle. 

The lecture on Aristotle and Socrates on How Does One Live The Good Life? From 36 Books That Changed The World (Chapter 8) is an excellent listen.

 

There are no initiation courses for politicians. No training. Though, I have a suggestion to have every politician complete the Butter Battle Course, it is unheeded. (The Butter Battle Course is an excellent course consisting of childrens’ books not more than a few pages each, and should only take a few moments of every leader’s time):

butter_battle

However, till politicians start taking their careers to truly be in service of humanity, we need to equip ourselves with Carl Sagan’s excellent Baloney Detection Kit from the book: The varieties of scientific experience : a personal view of the search for God / Carl Sagan ; edited by Ann Druyan. This book contains the Gifford lectures given by Carl Sagan in 1985.

The_Varieties_of_Scientific_Experience
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28513011

When someone asked Carl Sagan after his lecture what we can do when the governments do not act in our best interests, he advised us to have Baloney Detection Kits handy.

Quote:

“I would say that the first thing to do is realize that governments, all governments, at least on occasion, lie. And some of them do it all the time – some of them do it only every second statement-but, by and large, governments distort the facts in order to remain in office.

And if we are ignorant of what the issues are and can’t even ask the critical questions, then we’re not going to make much of a difference. If we can understand the issues, if we can pose the right questions, if we can point out the contradictions, then we can make some progress. There are many other things that can done, but it seems to me that those two, the baloney detection kit and use of the democratic process where available are at least two things to consider.”

This seems to be age old wisdom: our oldest myths write about flaws in heroes, what brings about the downfall of the most powerful tyrants  etc; and yet, the reminder for our own Baloney Detection Kits is a timely one.

Books:

  • Dune – Frank Herbert
  • Varieties of Scientific Evidence  – Carl Sagan 
  • Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle
  • 36 Books That Changed The World – Lectures on Great Courses
  • Butter Battle Book – Dr Seuss

Radiance of a Thousand Suns

The children and I were reading the Butter Battle Book, by Dr Seuss again: A marvelous book that never fails to enlighten : the bigociously atrocious weapons we are capable of creating, how littlyfully small-minded we are when we come to self righteousness,  and the idiotic ends to our means. It makes me want to take our brains apart to see where bravado and ego reside and short circuit them, to see if it results in a fuzzy ice-cream show in the pupils. 

butter_battle

 

Written in 1984 this book is a simple parody of the nuclear arms race, and is chillingly relevant today.

The book is about Yooks and Zooks: The Yooks eat their bread with the butter side up, while the Zooks eat their bread with the butter side down. This leads to escalating differences and a long curvy wall is built between the two lands.

butter_battle_2

Soon, both sides start fighting by using weapons of increasing grandeur and magnitude starting from the Tough Tufted Prickly Snickle Berry Snitch to the Eight Nozzled Elephant Toted Boom Blitz. The book finishes with the Yooks and Zooks sitting on either side of a wall threatening to drop the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, signifying the nuclear threat.

Around the same time that Dr Seuss came out with this brilliant book for children, another one of my favorite writers delivered  a series of Gifford Lectures. Titled ‘The Varieties of Scientific Experience : A Personal View of the Search for God’ , Carl Sagan goes on to explain in one lecture how we fail to comprehend the true magnitude of the nuclear problem ahead of us. 

The_Varieties_of_Scientific_Experience
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28513011

Quote:

The bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki – everybody’s read about them, we know something about what they did-killed some 1/4 million people … The planet Earth today has 55000 nuclear weapons, almost all of which are more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and some of which are, each of them, a thousand times more powerful.* Some twenty to twenty-two thousand of these weapons are called strategic weapons, and they are poised for as rapid delivery as possible, essentially halfway across the world to someone else’s homeland.

*By 2006, the world nuclear arsenals had been reduced to about 20,000 weapons-still roughly ten times what would be necessary to destroy our global civilization. the principal reductions since 1985 were due to the 1993 Start II Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union.

“Twenty thousand strategic weapons in the world is a very large number. For example: lets ask how many cities there are on the planet Earth. If you define a city as having more than 100,000 people in it, there are 2,300 cities on the Earth. So the US and  Soviet Union could, if they wished, destroy every city on the Earth and have eighteen thousand strategic weapons left over to do something else with.

These lectures were delivered in 1985, the numbers have definitely been revised from thereon. A number of countries have also harnessed the power of nuclear weapons, even though there have been treaties and agreements to restrict its use. 

Robert Oppenheimer, credited as being the ‘father of the atomic bomb’, when he witnessed the test of the nuclear bomb over the desert in New Mexico was supposedly reminded of a text in the Bhagawad Gita.

If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst at once into the sky
That would be like the splendour of the Mighty One…
I am become Death,
The shatterer of worlds.

With the rise of autocracy the world over, what would it take for us to save ourselves this time around? For all our brilliance in developing the bomb, we have yet to develop sound defenses against it.

 

The World of Pure Imagination

The daughter pranced into the home one evening a few months ago, her eyes agog with excitement. She had auditioned and been cast as Willy Wonka, the eccentric chocolate factory owner in Willy Wonka Jr (the musical based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). They say Art is Transformative, and it is true. Every time I see the children pull off something spectacular, my heart soars. 

Come with me and you’ll be 

In a world of pure imagination

We’ll begin with a spin 

Traveling the world of my creation

What you’ll see will defy explanation

IMG_8469.jpg

As she sang her songs from Willy Wonka around the house, there was a pleasant hum in my brain too. I remember reading the little book with her when she was in elementary school. The years in between have smudged into a blur in which I remember doing a lot of things, cherishing a few memories, and before I knew it, my little girl towered over me in height and ability. 

In a world of pure imagination: how would that world be? It must be a world in which all things vile are wished away, and only pleasant striving has a place. A canvas on which the best is to be painted and awaits the strokes of our creation. Maybe that is how we must view life. Every aspect of ours a stroke on our canvas – the true nature of the painting ever changing to be revealed to us as we go along, giving us a subtle choice here and there on whether to put in that jarring, wrong stroke or a mellow, right one.

There are many marvelous things that I can attribute to imagination (and immigration). One that ranks highest is the fact that I get to read American Children’s literature as an adult. As a child, in the lovely hills of South India, I loved curling up with Enid Blyton’s books, and often escaped into fairy lands on wishing chairs and ran into magical forests. It was easy imagining an adventure, while swinging on tree trunks that had fallen in the last storm. We had plenty of time, and had no one but ourselves to rely on for entertainment. State television made its entry a few years later, but it was agreed fact that our own flavor of entertainment was far superior to what we saw on Television. I sometimes played alone, but not once did I feel lonely. There were always imaginary friends who’d drop in for a cup of tea and we’d bake some scrunchy scones and whip up some tea cake, though I had never seen the inside of an oven. 

The Indian comic books, Amar Chitra Katha, Chandamama added flavor and beans to the curry pot of imagination. It was a wonderful time in the head. The pressures of wanting to make something of oneself had not yet begun to exert itself, the only lures were those of nature as it enclosed us. The trees were friends and frequently doubled up as props in our adventures. Many a scraped knee was soothed away with scratches from brambles. 

I entered my teenage years, and my imagination left some of its whimsy behind. The teen years and the early twenties were dedicated to much serious reading, and I spent a good portion of my time striving and wondering what to make of myself.

“That’s the worst of growing up, and I’m beginning to realize it. The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them.”

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Then, I realized that all those years that I had spent wondering what to make of myself had actually made me. Just like that, I could embrace all that happened to me. It was liberating, and then the more whimsical side of my imagination swooped in once more. I took tentative steps into Wonderland when I became a mother in the United States, and indulged the child in me with my growing children. 

 

Dr Seuss graced our tongues and teased the brain (What if I had duck feet? Did the elephant hatch the egg finally, will Zooks and Yooks ever become friends?), we sang poems by Robert Louis Stevenson set to the tunes of the old hymns in our school hymn book (To be written), we giggled with Bernstein Bears, hoo-hoo-haa-haa-ed with Curious George, and marveled at the friendship between Frog & Toad. The children and I read Charlotte’s Web when I was in my thirties, but I enjoyed it even more than I would have as a child.  

dr seuss

For a long time, I had meant to read Anne of Green Gables, but for some reason, did not. The daughter had not shown inclination towards this series, and there was no one to tell me how I absolutely must read it. Then, one day I read a quote from Anne of Windy Poplars, and I was intrigued. I have always loved that style of uplifting writing weaving the tendrils of imagination with subtle humor: the gentle breeze of the soothing powers of nature to nurture our soul wafting through every page. It is why I like Miss Read’s writing so much.

I identified keenly with how much Anne prized the gift of imagination. Somehow, we lose that streak of imagining as we grow older, much like we forget to skip while walking.  I now have that pleasurable thrill of reading all the remaining books by Lucy Maud Montgomery. It is a sustaining thought.  

Margarita Engle’s poem:

No giant or dragon

Is bigger or stronger

Than the human imagination

P.S: If you have not already listened to J K Rowling’s commencement speech, it is definitely worth listening to: The Importance of Failure and Imagination