Is This Bohemian Chic?

We have been gallivanting across Boston and New York the past few days. 

I remember reading a children’s book a long time ago about the country mouse who came to visit his cousin who lived in the town. Not surprisingly, I commiserated with the little country mouse who was dazzled and sprazzled by the city. 

I felt the same way when I first visited Bombay, now known as Mumbai, as a little girl. From the hills of Nilgiris, where bus drivers stopped so we could safely straggle across while learning to ride the bicycle, and train drivers stopped for the mother running to the station, to Bombay, where no one, it seemed, stopped for anyone or anything else, was a long journey – 2 days and 2 nights by train to be precise. I clutched my father’s hand, the whole time in Bombay, and never let go, especially on the electric trains. Maybe, some of those calluses on his old hand, are from that trip. 

I have the same feeling in New York. The city sprawls in all directions. The people, the subway, the sights, the movements feel too fast for a country mouse. There is so much to do – the energy exhilarating and enervating at the same time. 

I said as much to the children, and they gave me pitying looks. “What you need is some Bohemian Chic!”, said the daughter diagnosing me with a severe expression on her face.

I had no idea what that meant, but told her we would do our best to find Bohemian Chic.

We had great fun running in one direction, only to find the little GPS dot turning slowly away from where we were supposed to go, and then charged back again. “Is this Bohemian Chic?” I asked.

One time, we stood looking diffident and muddled when a pair of flamboyantly dressed gentlemen stopped and asked us directions to get to some square. We told them we were new to the city too, and agreed that it was best to ask someone else. A good twenty minutes later, we had boarded the train in the wrong direction, gotten down at the next station and came back riding the train in the correct direction, and found the gentlemen boarding the train too. I swear they tipped their bohemian hats and winked!

I splashed into bed after 2 hectic days in New York City, and felt spent. I had no idea how much we had walked. We had spent so many hours and days in the city, soaking in sights and the sounds of traffic, that I yearned to see the moon rise over the hills, the ducks squawk and geese fly. I had no idea how much these things refreshed me. 

Subconsciously, I think, I had selected for my reading during this time of city-living, the book:

Birds, Beasts & Relatives by Gerald Durrell.

Birds, Beasts and Relatives (The Corfu Trilogy Book 2) by [Gerald Durrell]

A sequel to My Family & Other Animals, it is the second set of autobiographical tales by naturalist Gerald Durrell set in the beautiful sun-lit island of Corfu near Greece. After the hurried, panting days of New York, I bathed in the refreshing days of Corfu and the young author’s adventures ranging from rearing sea-horses and hedgehogs, to bear-dancing, and donkey-riding. It was all that was necessary. 

“Coming from the calm, slow, sunlit days of Corfu, our arrival in London, late in the evening, was a shattering experience. So many people were at the station that we did not know, all hurrying grey-faced and worried.”

Gerald Durrell – Birds, Beasts & Relatives

I remember feeling a similar kind of gratitude to Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard on a similar long urban trip to the crowded cities of South Asia.

Today, we decided to walk around Brooklyn and not much more. The day was sweltering: the children wanted a bookstore-day, and we ducked into a couple of them with gratitude. After a cool few hours, we staggered out with books, and very pleased expressions on our faces. 

Do you have any books by Gerald Durrell? I asked the lady at the counter, and she looked it up, and said, “I have My Family & Other Animals!”. I have the book, have bought it several times to gift it to others, but I still felt a strange sense of calm at this. 

Is this Bohemian Chic? If so, I like it!

Tea!

“There is some Tea in school, and everyone is acting really weird!” said the daughter announcing her entry into the house a couple of years ago, dumping her school bag where it must not be dumped.

“Oh – did you have some? Did you like it?” I said a trifle too eagerly. I am a tea-lover myself, and have been trying to get some company in the house whenever I brew the marvelous beverage. All efforts have fallen flat thus far. The husband likes coffee, and the children swear by chocolate flavored drinks (the teenager also has her tongue out for Boba – a heady mix of tapioca pearls and sugar that suddenly coasted into popularity like the record albums of these young artists you had never heard of before.)

If I could exalt any beverage to Divinity, I would pump for the humble Tea.

teas

I have been teased multiple times about High Tea and every now and then pick up a Miss Read book for she properly exalts Tea and the ritual of Tea drinking:

“The very ritual of tea-making, warming the pot, making sure that the water is just boiling, inhaling the fragrant steam, arranging the tea-cosy to fit snugly around the precious container, all the preliminaries lead up to the exquisite pleasure of sipping the brew from thin porcelain, and helping yourself to hot buttered scones and strawberry jam, a slice of feather-light sponge cake or home-made shortbread.”

“Isn’t Tea just marvelous?” I said again, for the scholar had lapsed into a silence.

“Generally, I am like not opposed to like Tea as long as like it doesn’t like you know like hurt anyone, but this time they are all like acting so weird! I mean like come on! Like nobody is going to remember it like next week!” she said liberally sprinkling the ‘likes’ in the sentence.

I was fogged. When had Tea hurt anyone?

“Please! Please! How many likes will you put into a sentence that doesn’t need ‘Like’ A.n.y.!” I said carefully quoting the ‘like’ in my sentence with air quotes. “If I were to write out that sentence, no one would give you any Tea!” I said, looking proud of myself for bringing the topic of disc back to the marvelous beverage of my dreams and likes.

The daughter looked at me with the tender look one reserves for the dim-witted, and tousled my hair. “Oh! you don’t know what Tea is right?”

I drew myself up. I may not have any accomplishments of note in other areas, but in the area of Tea, you could not say that. “ I am not just boasting about the fact that I can be counted upon to have Tea with Friends any time, I also take pride in knowing some friends who know all about Tea! The Nilgirisis a major producer of the divine drink – the beautiful hills does not only use its marvelous climes to produce this drink of the gods, but also nourishes the people who have the luck of calling the hills their home, you know?” I said looking proud of myself. “And – and I am not done yet! Though I may not be able to tell you the process and the differences in tastes of the different types of Tea, there are plenty of good friends of mine who can. “

tea_plantation

“You’re just salty that your posts on Tea don’t even like get half as many ‘Likes’ as the number of likes in my sentence!” she said.

Ouch!

“OOOOHHHH!” said the cheering squad witnessing the exchange in the kitchen.

“Okay – Like I told you before: you really need to listen to what I say more closely! Anyway, like I was saying: Tea is mildly annoying stuff that isn’t great. It isn’t as bad as Gossip …” she said, knowing how I will frown upon gossip. “but sometimes can start bordering on that line.”

The English Language is ever evolving and fluid language is marvelous to behold. Really Tea is essentially a social activity, even though we have taken to gulping it down to and from meetings in the most unceremonious manner these days. What I would do to have a proper Tea Time marked in the calendar to catch up with friends instead of this frenzied gulping? So, I suppose using Tea as a word for this essential yet inessential banter is amusing and I must appreciate the folks who thought of using it for this purpose.

I remember enlightening my parents on my trip from College about adding Pongal & Kadalai to our jargons.

In college, I found to my amusement that Kadalai and Pongal did not mean groundnuts and boiled rice with lentils & pepper. It refers to Tea with the Gender specifications added in (You ground-nut-ted when with the opposite sex, and Pongal-ed er rice-lentil-with-pepper-ed with those of the same sex)

Essentially, these refer to non-essential communications that are essential. They are the stuff that link us humans together – one groundnut, lentil piece, or cup of tea at a time.

Language and stylistic constructs will continue to evolve, and that is as it should be. Our languages will continue to merge, diminish, and ebb and flow with our populace and time.

“I’d like to sip some Tea while listening to your Tea dear!” I said finally looking proud of myself.
“Good one Amma! Waiting to say that haven’t you?”
“Yep! “I said. Triumph comes in tea-sized bites.

tea_with_friends

Patchy’s Lessons in Patience & Perseverance

Walking has always been a favorite with the Balas. From a mile away, one can identify the fathers or my walk. In moments of thought, we tie our hands behind our back, take long, energetic strides and march on. Walks are also the time when we come up with our epiphanies and learnings. Ripe with the lessons gleaned from a reading of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I took a walk near the cottage at Bala.

The mists were lifting and the sheep and their kids were starting to get on with their day. I looked at them and saw a number of tendencies that were downright endearing. The ewes and rams that were mothers and fathers cast a protective eye upon the surroundings and while they watched their kids frolic around, were quick to show they meant business if you approached too close to the kids.

After jumping over a gate and skipping over a gushing stream, I sat down to gaze at the surroundings. 

The English Countryside
The English Countryside – pic taken from wikicommons but where we stayed looked similar

As I sat there admiring the sheep near me, I mused on how wonderfully the whole society looked after one another. How they let the young ones thrive, while ensuring their safety. How they grazed, and what useful animals they were. Human beings have no means of knowing what animal thought processes are, but as I sat there gazing out at these gentle creatures, one of the kids came closer to me. I saw it approach, saw the mother cast a warning look and bleat at it to be careful (probably, for I don’t speak Sheep, but you can always get tone). I just continued to sit there and the kid approached me even closer and finally came really close to me,  before bounding off to boast to its friends. There was much bay-ing among the kids when this one bounded back and I could not help thinking the kid had approached me on a dare. It brought a little smile to my face and I headed back.

But again, I maybe inserting anthropomorphic tendencies into that lamb’s demeanor.

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/can-fiction-show-us-how-animals-think?mbid=social_twitter

Over breakfast I told the daughter about the lamb and inserted a ‘lesson’ about the virtues of patience. A lesson I can learn myself as I know too well. “Sitting and patiently waiting for things beyond our control is a skill and one that can be developed, “ I said to the children like I was Buddha. To give the daughter her due, she did not call my bluff and she did not laugh, but absorbed the statement with as much mellow-ness as her character would allow. Which was to say that she continued attaching herself to the chocolate syrup and the pancakes and ignored the banana pieces.

In a place like Bala, it is phenomenally hard to do something filled with purpose. After a few hours, we decided to walk. After walking for a bit, the children wanted to touch the lambs, but they would not let them approach. They frisked and ran when we approached. After some time, the daughter decided to try what I told her and I was truly amazed.

She approached a lamb and sat at a respectable distance for a few minutes. Then she moved an inch or so and then waited again. Patiently. Quietly.  Every time she moved, the ewes and rams gave her a warning look as if to say ‘Don’t mess with our kids!’. The minutes ticked on and though, at other times, she would have been anxious to move on to more gregarious activities, she sat and waited.

Apparently, she had taken my words to heart in the morning. It made me realize that though it looks like children are not sitting like disciples around the Buddha and listening, they are absorbing and it drove an even harder lesson to me.

Buddha's disciples
Buddha’s disciples

It happened after what seemed like a long time. The kid approached her. He let her talk to him and look into his eyes. She named him ‘Patchy’. When she tore herself away after a few minutes,  it followed her around like Mary-and-the-little-lamb. She was ecstatic in her joy as were the rest of us.

It was hard work winning the confidence of a lamb, but it was worth it.