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.

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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.

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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!”

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Image Source: Wikipedia 

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

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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.)

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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).

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

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

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

What Pet Should I Get?

Seuss-isms

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

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

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

Fantasy : A Necessary Ingredient to Living?

The list of things that keep us up at night has become more bizarre as the days go on.  I chronicle what was the state of affairs about a week ago because I just let time slip by me.The son had a spot of a cold. He spent a few nights sniffling and having trouble taking in those deep, fulfilling breaths so essential to sleeping fitfully through the night. The humidifiers have been called to action and Herr Mozart has been making his nightly appearances to induce sleep in the child and mother to poor avail. After the third night of this grand party, I was looking for ways to get the husband to gallantly step forward and take on night duty and made a few pitiful noises. But it was sadly lost in all the noises around the home, and elicited no response whatsoever.

I looked around to see the husband sticking to his laptop like a frog to its lily-pad. You see, over the past few weeks, I have been noticing the sincere man bent double over his laptop with a serious, worried expression on his face. Me being the supportive w. and all that, I decided to give him the time to think and delve or whatever it was he was doing. I obviously assumed it was something to do with his work. You know? The noble task of putting food on the table kind of work. Slowly, however, I noticed that this mysterious work had a way of popping up during after-dinner dishwasher time or the before dinner all-hands-on-deck time or getting-the-daughter-to-school in the mornings time. Very shifty the whole thing was.

“I have an early meeting tomorrow morning – a fitful night’s rest is necessary I think.” said the husband before I could beat him to it, making a point of stretching his arms in that tired manner that induces sympathy. If I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep myself, what of it?  I bade him a good night’s sleep and sent him to the guest bedroom and sought the assurance of the humidifier and Eucalyptus oil. It was about 3 a.m. when the son woke up sniffling again and cried for the 6th time that night.  Thinking that a hot cup of milk will probably do the trick, I set out amid the mists of sleep enveloping the night air that was thick with sleep to the kitchen downstairs. It was when I was creaking up the stairs again that I saw a faint light emanating from the guest bedroom. I went in to see what happened. I mean, the important-meeting-goer needed his sleep right?

There he was, squinting into his girdle-shaped phone with that same mysterious expression. It was too much for me. I asked him what the matter was. There was a sheepish expression on his face and I caught on  like a blood hound and said, “Confess now, my friend! What is going on?”

The story came tumbling out. Apparently, the husband had been playing in the Fantasy Leagues of Indian Cricket and since the matches take place in Indian Standard Time, he has been getting up at all sorts of hours and checking his players, switching out his teams and what-not. He evaded the glare on my face and said, “You should be proud of me. I have come up to the second position from the 8th position solely by  strategic planning and thinking.”

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to summon pride at 3 in the morning at a man who is proud of his victories at the Fantasy League matches. But I bravely reminded myself about Dr. Seuss’ words :  Fantasy is a necessary ingredient to living.  I smiled at the husband and told him as much.

 Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living Dr Seuss quote

I then, did some strategic thinking myself and gave him the warm milk to take to the crying toddler. My fantasy was to get into the snug bed in the guest bedroom to catch a few hours sleep.

Unleashing Teen Potential

Ask me what I have been up to and you would find me fumbling for words. There has been much going on that had me reaching for tissues (No, I don’t have a cold, I mean of the nostalgic type)

I am not much of a sappy writer, but I must admit the past weeks experiences tugged at my heart strings like no violinist has tugged on his violin before.

You see, I went with the nephew to admit him to college. The same bundle of a baby that I sniffed at the day he was born more than 17 years ago. It reminded me of how much wisdom I have gained over the years, that I did not go and meet his would-be class mates for the next 4 years and tell them all about how he was the most beautiful baby I had ever laid my eyes on. In fact, I did not even tell them that he recognized and smiled at me within hours of being born. (I know since that it is gas, but try telling a teenage first-time aunt that)

As I walked the grounds of the University, I could not help feeling inspired. The campus was sprawling and the faculty seemed to be filled with competent and motivated professors. The atmosphere was one which had me reaching back longingly to the recesses of my brain where I had loved lolling in the library and reading up on random topics. Not only that, the University library was named after one of my favorite authors (Dr Seuss) and I got to take a picture of his statue

 Dr Seuss with the Cat in the Hat
Statue of Dr Seuss with the Cat in the Hat

The University grounds were large and impressive and best of all, filled with Eucalyptus groves and one singing tree. Oh! The lure of Eucalyptus leaves : it brought back some extremely pleasant childhood memories. I grew up in the Nilgiris where Eucalyptus trees dotted almost every hillside.  I sniffed around the campus inhaling the scents every opportunity I could.

Great thoughts seeped into my mind as I took in the scents. For example, I wondered why on Earth I had not thought of wearing sneakers instead of sandals. Here is a tip to all readers going to drop their kids in college : please wear comfortable shoes.

Eucalyptus Grove
Eucalyptus Grove

Walking around the campus and taking in the trepidation on the young, eager faces ready to start college was … well, priceless. But what really sealed the deal was the number of times parents worried about what the children would eat at college. After the thirteenth time the topic came up, we decided to fatten the boy up before dropping him off in his room with this:

The Pizza Test
The Pizza Test

Unleashing teen potential maybe the University’s concern, but I have no doubt they have a solid foundation to start with. Watching this pizza disappear in minutes was enough to convince me that great things are possible.

Here is wishing the College-going-lot all the very best.