The Boat of Life

Driving through the Pacific North Western coast can be lovely. Even though the vast areas around us shimmered in the heat, we were upbeat inside the car- the Umpqua river was keeping us company on the drive. Umpqua river – What a river! What a name! It was beautiful as the roads snaked and curved and we never once knew on which side the river would emerge. 

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Looking at people trying to get their canoe afloat on the river that afternoon reminded me of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome again, and I resolved to read it again soon. With Covid rampant everywhere, the world around us seemed more muted, but the river seemed to assure with its little gurgles, eddies, swirls, and bubbles that life will go on. This too shall pass and any number of things we tell ourselves when in need of lifting our spirits. 

The truth is that Californian summers in the Bay Area can mean slim pickings with vibrant rivers. The Oregon coast was different – the Umpqua river was full, mature with the strength of the waters from the melting snows of the Cascades and we were driving right alongside its path as it made its way into the Pacific Ocean. 

As the road rose over the ridge carrying us over the valley of the Umpqua, the mists gradually rolled in signaling one thing –  we were nearing the oceanfront!  The trees were towering over us, and my spirits rose on that mist-filled afternoon.

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“The hills are alive with the sound of music! “

I bleated along as we drove through the hills, and the children exchanged a look that confirmed their worst suspicions. Their Mother Nature was with them. And with this Mother Nature in attendance, there would be no dawdling and letting things be. This would mean hiking and looking at things, and singing along. Sure enough, I ended my bleat on a howling note with great pride and turned around to see the cubs splitting with laughter. I coaxed and under the threat of more of my own singing, they relented.

Pretty soon, there we were, playing a weird version of Antakshari – we took a word or theme of the last few words we sang and started off the next one. Sometimes, the sentiment was enough. We were off trying to coax musical notes from made-up lyrics, singing with mesmerizingly accurate actions to our imaginary orchestra, and completely off-tune. 

“The wind never bothered me anyway….Let it go! Let it go! “  I said drawing in a wisp of the wind by lowering the window,

The daughter piped up from behind:

“The cold never bothered me anyway…”

“What?”

“It’s not the ‘wind’, it’s the ‘cold’.” Said the daughter and I said, “Yes dear – that’s what I meant. “

“MA! You can’t just change up words when you are singing them and say that is what I meant! ”

The husband and daughter are wizards at memorizing the lyrics. Yours truly, on the other note, is only magical when it comes to making up nonsense to fill in the tunes. 

“Yes you can! I sang nonsense to you kids all the time when you were babies!” I said

“Yep! Yay! And see how well that worked out!” said the daughter – sarcasm dripping from her voice, and we all burst into laughter. Say what you might, it seemed a perfect philosophy for a lovely life given all our little imperfections.

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

I feel like I must say something witty about boats of life, and how it is the very thing that could turn into your life-boat, etc, but the lyrics elude me at the moment. Stay tuned – for you never know when inspiration will strike.

The Kaleidoscope of Life on Earth 🌏

“Hmm…how Covid has changed things right Amma?” said the daughter when I walked into her room one day, and spotted ‘Greece’ sprawled across the whiteboard. She has been spending her summer making minor changes to the decorations in her room. As most teens do, she has a fond attraction to her room, and one day I found her looking at the pictures she had printed out to make a sort of picture collage. Her teenage eye-roll and monosyllabic answers fell away as soon as I showed an interest in the choice of pictures she had laid out on the floor arranging and rearranging them to see the best patterns.

How do you see the best patterns in a kaleidoscope? Everything seems beautiful, everything seems fine, and yet the artistic piece of her fussed with the layout and order of the pictures. There were pictures of happy people, little cafes, books, beaches, forests, city lights, quotations, rainbows, flowers, and small towns. The collage was eclectic enough to interest me. She gurgled and burst forth with the thought that went into them. I listened amused. 

By then, her excited voice had attracted her little brother and fond father into the room. Her brother painstakingly wrote ‘Mars’ below ‘Greece’.

“Mars! Seriously dude- next thing we know you will be lugging us into black holes and having us all burst into all the tiny starry bits like your Avengers or Star Wars superhero dudes in their adventures! No! No space travel!”

“Just yet”. I added and she gave me a look that indicated that this idiocy with space is because I indulge him with this stuff. I laughed out loud, and the children joined in too.

“And while we are at it,  no fictional or mythical places either. Only places that we can locate on a known map of the world.”

“Sheesh – she is so strict!” said the young explorer of the cosmos.

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Cautiously, like deer in a prairie, we approached the topic of places we’d like to visit, ready to scurry back to Covid restrictions. Slowly, the name scrawled on a whiteboard set the stage. In the safe company of just the four of us, it felt good to take a peek into travel dreams again. It was done at first soberly – how happily we had taken international travel for granted? How happily we had taken good health for granted? Disconcerting as the Covid situation has been, it has also made us sit up and take notice of the beautiful things surrounding us on Earth. 

Once we started talking of lands beyond our day-to-day, a different energy gripped the room. Within moments, distances melted away, and the globe-trotters threw names on the board with no thought to distance or expense. Exactly how dreams should be.

Looking at the list on the board reminded us, however, that our lifetimes were not enough for this sort of ambition. How does one fit in a hike in the Himalayas for a zen feel, with a sort of Darwin-esque trip to the Galapagos? How can one fit the journey of civilization in Greece and Peru, to the pure sounds of nature as yet untouched by mankind? I suppose travel still has a lot to teach us, and post-covid, the world will start to cautiously explore once more.

We started, therefore, with a couple of day trips taken mostly on a week-day taken off from work, so we could avoid crowds. We looked for wide trails on which to get our dose of nature and exercise in. While for the first time thinking of a 2-3 day trip, we looked for godforsaken places. Places people do not usually go to for a vacation. But the house was a good one, pitched atop a hill with the nearest neighbor miles away. There was a  Jane Austen-esque feel to the whole thing. It reminded me of the poem by Wendell Berry: The Beauty of Wild Things.

On Being: The Beauty of Wild Things – By Wendell Berry

I set about the evening meal after the long drive there, while the children ran to find board games to be played that night. I cradled a cup of tea in my hands, as I set the water to boil, and rummaged the contents I had packed with me so as to minimize exposure to the outside world.  Slowly, the kitchen’s essence wafted around the room – smells, heat, textures all dancing together in an exquisite symphony of the senses. A symphony was playing as I cooked, and talked to the children. Here was a lively room packed with energy, activity, witty comments, and chaos that strangely translates to calm.

Inside this house overlooking a river valley, I felt the kaleidoscope of our life on Earth lap at me in waves. Watching the objects in the room around me evoked a strange sense of living  on this earth: the telescope, the books ,the music, the keyboard that promises the best music to those willing to invest in it, the creature comforts of a well-built house with the furnishings about us, the deer grazing in the hillside by us, the beautiful moon, the thousands of stars visible because of the distance from populated areas.

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The Peace of Wild Things: By Wendell Berry

I come into the peace of wild things

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.

The daughter’s pictures had indeed done a good job of capturing life on earth.

The 💫 Comet 💫 Life

The past few days have been a flurry of activity with tiny little bursts of stardust and magic spun into the day.

We traipsed home tired, sleepy but triumphant. This was a Sunday morning well spent: we had finally sighted the elusive comet, 💫  Neowise. The previous morning, we had run outside at a similar time, and stood pinching our eyes, squinting at a resplendent Venus and thinking that if you cocked your head to one angle, and yawned loudly enough to get tears in your eyes, you could spot the tail. This technique made for some hilarious moments, but comets don’t seem to care much for sentient beings on some transient planet trying to catch sight of them in the wee hours of their morning, and we had to accept defeat and head home.

The next morning, however, we had managed a grainy sighting of the comet and we were jubilant. When the chocolate drink was gulped, and the little fellow was tucked into bed again, I lay in bed thinking of the comet 💫 . I could not shake the beautiful image from my mind’s eye.

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To the naked eye, it looked nothing like the images taken by setting one’s camera to a long exposure, but it was there alright. The burning star with a yearning, a lone star shining its torch as it scorched its way by numerous stars treading a path it had set for itself. An unconventional celestial object. Compared to the systemic order of the rest of the universe, there was a object that was definitely unconventional , a trail blazer (get it, get it?) Why an elliptical shape, and why 6800 years?

I went about the days after the comet sighting with a faint gasp in my demeanor. Imagine, as we are holding all these important meetings, combating pandemics, and trying to protest against all things unjust, here was an icy blob just spinning away on its own elliptical. 6800 years before it can peek at us again. Often as I went about my day, I wondered whether there was a possibility of sentient life evolving on comets. Comets and asteroids have been known to be microbe transporters, seeding the possibilities of life as they hurtle through the vast dark emptiness.

Do extremophiles have what it takes to feel?

I mean, if we were to have evolved on a comet rather than a planet, would we have had such success in determining the nature of physics and the laws that holds the cosmos and the universe within which we thrive? How would time be measured on a comet? If rhythms helped us discern music, what would music have been in a comet-ic life? Our own days on Earth are neatly sliced into hours, minutes, and these days blend into weeks, months and years. Before we know it, we have made one full circle around the sun, and the seasons have changed along the way in predictable ways.

But none of that would be true if sentient life such as ours had evolved on a comet instead. There would be no days, no seasons, no predictable cyclical rhythm to our days. The sense of adventure as we drew near other stars and planets would probably fill the time. But time itself may have no more meaning, or much more meaning depending on how one perceived it.

These musings were sources of mild amusement, while life itself marched on with a comforting rhythm down here on Earth – dawns, days, dusks, nights, weeks.

Did the seagulls, deer and ducks think of such things?

Ahh! Comet life!

Comet Chasing * Chocolate Charms

The children have a shared liking for Calvin  & Hobbes. The adorable pair have been the source of many hysterical giggles between the siblings in our home. In the son’s room, there is a cartoon clip of Calvin & Hobbes that seems to tickle both his whimsy and his innate rapture and curiosity of the universe we live in.

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If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they would live a lot differently  ✨- Calvin & Hobbes

A few weeks ago, I was typing out an email with the ounces of concentration I could muster at the end of a 12 meeting day, and I wasn’t exactly thinking  about 💫 comets, stars, pulsars, neutron stars, black holes, and parallel universes, when the little fellow shot into the room bursting about comets. I turned around , and my face probably looked like some of the spreadsheets I was looking at, for the son gave me a pitying look that seemed to indicate, “What good is a day when you haven’t thought of these important things?”

I laughed at the incredulity on his face: Stars, superclusters, muons traveling the speed of light, quirky  quarks are all thriving right beside his world of super-powers for super-heroes, who are incidentally gifted with important sounding superpowers such as gamma-rays and electromagneto-muon-transporters and what-not. 

“Did you  know Halley’s comet is going to come again in 40 years?” said the son still bouncing and glowing from the stash of chocolate chips he has been chipping into while reading his little books on Physics.

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“Yep! Sounds about right. I was around your age when I saw Halley’s Comet. So once in 76 years means …” and I trailed off.

“What?! You’ve seen Halley’s comet? Aww…..so lucky!” said he, and I had to laugh at his yearning. I did remember the cold nights awaiting the turn at the telescope to catch a grainy sight of the Halley’s comet. I must say that the whole experience felt worth a lot more given the rapture with which he listened to the comet sighting. I seem to remember the hot chocolate provided to the young astronomers more than the telescope and the grainy image itself.

Maybe the universe really did hear his yearnings that day, for within a few weeks, another comet came our way: the Neowise 360 comet sighting was supposedly possible from where we lived. I was so happy for the little fellow. He could barely contain the excitement in his system when his father said at the lunch table that the comet would be visible at 4:30 a.m. He got up and ran upstairs to his room. We were exchanging quizzical glances at this when he tumbled downstairs and said, “Yes! I set the alarm for 4:30 – I cannot wait to see it!”

I had to admit; the young astronomer’s enthusiasm put us to shame. So, for the next few nights, we bundled up and comedically traipsed from location to location in the wee hours of the morning looking for a comet sighting. The clouds were there in one place, some low mountains in another, and then, finally, we managed to find a plain spot in which we caught a grainy sighting.

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Knowing that we caught a fleeting glimpse of something that is not going to come by to see us for another 6800 years is strangely moving. I have to tell you though, that similar to the Halley’s comet sighting, the hot chocolate after coming back, and the the long tail of wishes accompanying the comet sighting, definitely made the hustle worthwhile. 

That morning, the rest of the comet chasers had no problem falling back to sleep, but I did – the comet had kindled dreams of long ago: dreams born of comet chasing and chocolate charms; dreams woven with the magic of stardust 💫 and comet trails – bright, shiny, sparkling, path-breaking and aspirational.

Bill Watterson was absolutely right: People who spend time looking up at the night sky do live life differently!

 

Shoshin Seeking & Science Writing

Shoshin is a concept dear to me as regular readers know. Shoshin is the Zen Buddhist word for ‘beginner’s mind’, denoting the capacity to bring wonder and open-mindedness to learning anything.

To continue the quest in Shoshin seeking,  I volunteered to take an online writing class with a focus on Science for elementary school children. 

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The idea for the class was inspired by multiple factors:

(1) A sense of wanting to be useful while doing the socially responsible thing of staying home during the Corona-virus shelter-in-place. 

(2) My brain after years of running around from Place A to Place B found a method to calm down from the frenzied lifestyle that modern man prides himself on (The Virus is a reminder of something lost long ago – an essay by Alan Lightman – a writer and physicist at MIT) 

(3) Combining the marvels of Science and keeping the wonder of Shoshin alive is pretty much what my writing has been about (at least in the past 1/2 a decade). An area of passion that I was happy to share with the children, from whom I learn Shoshin in spades.

(4) A love for children and young minds has me yearning to be like them on multiple levels. I live precariously through this yearning by reading children’s books, squabbling childishly with my own children, and much more.

The result of this was a marvelous month in which I went about reading topics that had long since been pushed to the back of the brain. I wondered as I prepared for the classes, how we wasted those marvelous moments of youth with all these fascinating subjects. I understood as the class went on:  sometimes the children were enthusiastic and wanted to write all about the topic under discussion. Other times, they liked the sound of music-like science lilting in their ears, and they nodded along sagely. The rays of the afternoon sun filtering in through the window made for warm, cozy sessions in which one saw one’s friends on the zoom call, and answered when one felt like being a part of the discussion. This was nothing close to the normal they knew, but they adapted with ease and their customary good sense. All in all, it made for a marvelous time, and with the children happy, so was I, their teacher. 

If post-Covid, some children recall sunny afternoons with thrilling science to a background of their classmates trilling in the background, while taking a leap of imagination, it is time well spent, in my opinion. 

I remember distinct moments when something piqued the children’s attention. The time I told them about giraffes in the savannah, or when we played the little game of hearing frequencies, or when we spun off pretending to be whales using sonographic techniques to unearth something really unexpected.

I am going to sign up for another 4 week session in which I hope to have as much fun, learn as much and enjoy the companionship of younger authors, who are by  virtue of their youth also leaps ahead in imagination and spirits.  Wish me luck!

💦 🌳 Earth 🌏 Magicians 💥❄️

Magic was in the air. The afternoon sun was shining with an intensity that surprises us every summer. The high temperatures should really not surprise us anymore, but we still scuttle inside in the afternoon sun and wonder how it got to be so hot so soon. Inside the home, we were grateful for the cool atmosphere – the suns rays were filtering in through the large sycamore tree in the backyard, bathing us in Komorebi.

Komorebi (木漏れ日): Sunshine filtering through the trees.

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Komerabi is beautiful and especially marvelous to experience on a week-end afternoon after a hearty lunch.

I was sprawled out on the sofa beside the son with a heavy book, a light heart, an empty page, and a full stomach. I was reading Harry Potter, A History of Magic. It is an impressive book that has on the cover apart from a magnificent rendition of a Phoenix, the words- The Official Companion to the British Library Exhibition at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.

Leaving the title aside, it is a comprehensive compilation of some of the magic and folklore in the Harry Potter world. I was happily frisking through the magical journey of our species through the ages stopping to savor the beautiful images in the book, and marveling for the n-th time about the brilliant mind of J K Rowling and her rich repertoire of knowledge that led to the marvelous wizarding world.

Some of the tidbits in the book were truly mind-boggling. Like the plethora of plants the myths have grown from and some superb paintings of the flora through the ages.Reading about the book, A Curious Herbal, for instance, made me realize how lucky we are to be living in this era of human history where high quality renditions of art, photography etc are available for reading and sharing digitally.

A Curious Herbal seems to have been a labor of love by Elizabeth Blackwell. Written between 1737 and 1739, the book had pictures of over 500 plants used “in the practice of physick”. Written, illustrated, hand-graved and hand colored by Elizabeth Blackwell, it was used to free her husband from debtor’s prison. He repaid her by leaving the country and being executed for treason in Sweden.

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The son was sitting next to me and making cards for the game he was designing. The looks of intense concentration were matched only by the splash of colors – clashing, brilliantly hued, and sparkling. The sound effects were not captured on the document itself, but if it could, it promised to be quite the party.

We sat each wrapped in our own imaginary worlds of thought in companionable silence for a space, when I asked him how his game was coming along. A sneak peak into the document revealed a marvelous world. There were a lot of pictures, points for this and that, and what-not. It looked like the end game would be a fascinating one, if somewhat high on the dishoom-flashoom-bazinga factor. Muons, quarks and photons made their brave show alongside tornado-crushers, wave-ripplers and what-nots in the game cards (a reflection to all that he enjoys reading and watching really.)

“Okay – I’ll tell you!” , he said the magic of Creating bubbling over as he explained his cards to me. After some time, his exuberant tones came to a hush and he said with flair. “This is for Earth Magicians! You have to get 15000 healing points to become an Earth Magician.”

“And how do you get 15000 points”, I asked, for who doesn’t want to be an Earth Magician? What a lovely title to be bestowed with?

As he explained, I scratched the old chin, and stumped him by asking what special powers Earth Magicians have.

The little fellow hemm-ed and umm-ed a fair bit as he thought through his answer. When finally he gave his answer, it went on for about two minutes, and I gathered that he had envisioned earth magicians as having the powers to create something amazing from the ordinary.

“You know? I like it – I should fight trolls and dragons and what-not to become an earth magicians. This time I will choose gardening as a earth magician superpower!”” I said.

He looked puzzled and I said with a serious expression on my face “Well…Gardeners, singers, dancers, writers, artists, aren’t they all Earth Magicians?”

I pointed to our little patch in the garden outside, where I have tried to grow many plants and flowers. Elizabeth Blackwell would have a bit of a challenge drawing a plant of rare repute from my backyard, much as I love it. I’ve even had instances of ordinary flowers which seem to thrive in the wild simply limp along and give it up as a bad job when I set to it.

“See? I try with all the best intentions and little business results. Yet, there are so many talented gardeners among us who use the same potting soil and are able to raise not just trees, but get the flowers to bloom – a new set for every season, in them! If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is!” I said, and he guffawed.

“Well…I suppose that is true!” he said

“Want some more magic powers from Earth magicians? ” I said.

He rolled his eyes, a habit he has picked up from his teenaged sister. I told him I am going for some ice-cream, and he eagerly joined in – if Earth Magicians can make ice-cream, is there a bigger super-power?

 

A Hopeful Future

There is nothing quite as special as walking in nature after a long day or week. Every step seems to take one tiny bit of stress away, and replace them with happy endorphins  dancing to a beat in the body. As the eyes lift their gaze towards the skies, the clouds, trees, and birds seem to join in on one harmonious orchestra together welcoming the soul to relax and rejoice in the moment of being, and participate in the steady march of time. Hummingbirds, bluebirds and the occasional butterflies flit overhead, while the ravens and geese noisily make their way home.

Summer is creeping in, the jacaranda trees are in bloom in the neighborhood, the gingko leaves have come in fully, and though the world around us is in shambles, confused, anxious and worried, Mother Nature seems to have no such problems. She brought on Summer just in time.

The park near where we live has a steady smattering of high school students social distancing as best as they can and taking graduation pictures. In little knots of 2s & 3s, they cluster around giggling and looking hopeful. I stop at a distance admiring the high schoolers celebrating their graduation day with pictures in gowns. The smiles of confident youth look just as marvelous as the summer blooms they stand amidst, and their perfumes amidst the heady scent of the flowers is heaven itself. There is no doubt about it: The summer evenings seem doubly enjoyable and bright because of the young talent making their way out into the world.

These children did not get the graduation party like their seniors did, or their juniors will, but they seem to be coping with grace. A few photographs with their best friends would have to do. I hear loud peals of laughter puncture the evenings as they decide on how to take their pictures. I hope every child in these uncertain times has good friends. The laughter rings in the obvious: everything seems to be manageable with the right set of friends.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

Emily Dickinson

In other news,
Trump Rally Registered Million Attendees but Actual Count 6000!

Thousands of teens registered for Trump’s rally , after his initial Juneteeth rally was moved to Sunday, and then didn’t show up. What’s more? They deleted their tik-toks soon after!

Standing there that evening with the world on pause from the Corona virus, and the city’s curfew just ended due to the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt hope stir again. The angst and idealism of youth was intact. These young adults saw us flounder at a critical moment in their lives, and the exuberance with which they are eager to take the torch makes me hopeful.

“For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” Kahlil Gibran

Missing Chemistry Lab?!

“How are you managing to do Science experiments during these Covid times?” I asked the daughter as she munched on a cookie while on a diatribe about her latest Chemistry assignment.

“Oh we do it online. You can tip stuff into test tubes with your mouse, and it shows you what happens.” she said with a shrug, and I must tell you, I paled.

Wasn’t the whole fun of Chemistry lab the hissing noises as two unlikely elements reacted? Or the joy of seeing the colors change inside the test tube as you held it up to be seen by the light? The bright copper sulphate blue, the lilac, the pinks and turning neutrally to white letting out fumes? What about the olfactory? The hydrogen sulphide that sent us gagging towards the windows with the rotten egg smells. (The fact that we made it straight to lunch after a Chemistry lab with H2and tucked in with an enormous appetite speaks volumes to the marvelous feeling of youth.)

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I said as much to the daughter, and she gave me the pitying look she reserves for me when she senses that I miss my school days. “It’s just Chem Lab, it will be fine! Don’t worry!”

“Should I just forget about those eggs I bought a while back, so you can experience the rotten egg smells to your heart’s content?!” I asked solicitous.

She roared with laughter at this and said, “Your cooking is Chemistry enough Mother!”

It was in part conversations like this that peppered my read of Oliver Sacks’ Uncle Tungsten, A Chemical Boyhood.

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His journey with the Sciences and his joyous epiphanies as he realized the neat order of things, and his poetic joy  as he traversed the Periodic table, gave me a new appreciation for the Periodic table too. In his words,

“Chemical exploration, chemical discovery , was all the more romantic for its dangers. I felt a certain boyish glee in playing with these dangerous substances, and I was struck in my reading, of the range of accidents that had befallen the pioneers. Few naturalists had been devoured by wild animals or stung to death by noxious plants or insects; few physicists had lost their eyesight gazing at the heavens , or broken a leg on an inclined plane; but many chemists had lost their eyes, limbs and even their lives, usually through producing inadvertent toxins or explosions.”

Chemistry, is tucked so far away in my consciousness, that I reveled in the beauty of it all almost anew. Glimpses of my committed Chemistry teachers in my youth came to me. I remember the feeling where their passion for the subject came through as they explained how the electrons revolved around the nucleus, the atomic weights, the inert gases and all the rest of it. I can vaguely begin to recognize how it must’ve felt to wax eloquent about the structural wonders in the world around us, to a bunch of mildly interested, if not completely indifferent, teenagers.

If ever there was a profession that was steeped in delayed gratification, teaching must be it. Why does it takes us decades to realize the stalwarts who did their best by us?! I tried putting all of this into words as I discussed the book with the daughter, and she said, “Yeah age makes you kooky I suppose. Must find the chemical reactions for that!” She laughed at her own wit while I  scowled. Slowly, she donned a far-off look, and said, “You know? Chem is just fine if he doesn’t keep having us go back and write out our mistakes for him so we show him why we made the mistake! Really! He is a grumpy old man and he is only twenty!”

I guffawed out loud at this – I must remember to ask about this Chemistry teacher of hers a few decades from now.

To Nourish & To Cherish

This May marks 15 years of nourish-ing &  cherish-ing. I started the blog out as a sort of a personal journal with embarrassingly personal posts. But over time, the journal took on a life of its own. It has helped me find my voice, helped me resoundingly answer the question, “What is your friend?“, and has definitely played an outsize role in the family joke circles.

My family and friends have been marvelously sportive about starring in the posts, reading them and encouraging me. Over time, the nourisher became the cherisher, and vice-versa. Fiascos were looked on with amusement knowing it will take on a life of its own and pave  the way for amusement. Travelogues are interwoven with family  drama, and it makes it all the more memorable.

When I am out in nature stopping to admire the butterflies flit between flowers, 🌺 🌸 , I think of how I would capture these beautiful images in the one place I nourish and cherish. I have a phone filled with images of family, friends, travel destinations jostling along side the everyday wonders of sunsets, lakes, rivers, butterflies, mountainsides, grasses, flowers and trees, and still the photographs seem to lack a narrative. A narrative that words round out.

“To walk on Earth and fall in love with it. “, as Mary Olivers would say.

When I am reading books, I stop and wonder about particularly  well written passages. Books take us on incredible journeys and some of them, I manage to write down to nourish later on. Some books open my mind in ways I did not imagine possible, some others reiterate what I had nebulously known, while some others do the most marvelous job of soothing and calming the mind. For every article I do write related to books, there are probably 15 others that I didn’t get to finish writing.

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A friend of mine once asked me how I stumbled upon writing as a passion, and I found to my surprise that I had no clear answer. I remember a marvelous childhood filled to the brim with absolutely stunning and inspirational personalities, joyous friends, beautiful nature, dance, music, reading and writing complete with toppings of marvelous reveries and journeys into the make believe worlds. But somewhere in my early twenties I lost touch with it all. I meandered in the corporate world spending almost all my waking hours pursuing work and my part-time post graduate degree simultaneously. What time I had for reading was dedicated to academic work, and all other times were dedicated to learning and unlearning technologies to continue work.

Shoshin was in short supply.

Life in the meanwhile had brought me to the shores of the United States, opening a whole new world of possibilities. When I became a mother, something beautiful happened. I came in contact with the marvelous feeling of youth. Being an immigrant, the children’s books were all new to me, and with the children, I read and devoured books alongside them, reminding me of Kenneth Grahame’s note on the Wind in the Willows.

“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’.”

With all the supposed ‘achievement’ of being in the big world, there was a niggling dissatisfaction though. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was missing my link to Art. When eventually, I stumbled back to Art forms, albeit in a much reduced fashion, I started feeling whole again.

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

My hope and wish is for everyone to nourish and cherish their own creative powers to the extent possible.

 

The Art of Hair

Haircuts, when we were children, were a treat in themselves. As a girl, I watched my father’s hair being snipped and pipped many times. Over time, his bald pate emerged more and more, but our barber never seem to think any less of his job just because he had a balding pate to work with. We lived in a small schooling community, and sometimes the school barber, Velusamy, a sweet, gentle mannered man, stopped by when he was free.

Velusamy set himself up in the garden, fussing over his instruments which he lovingly stowed away in his steel case. He set the chair facing away from the direct rays of the sun, so his subjects need not squint into the sun as he worked his magic on them. He filled a bucket of water, and set his mug near it. He wiped his scissors and blew on his clippers. The wind rustled the trees around us, the bees buzzed, birds chirped, and the good barber trimmed. There was a ritualistic feel to the whole thing: clearly, Velusamy was a man who enjoyed his work. 

Once the setup was done to his satisfaction, he wrapped a cloth around his subjects and set about the task of shearing the sheep clean. The sheep sometimes snoozed in their chairs, and it was imperative to tell the man before hand how much to cut. For the gentle mannered man acquired a gleam when he picked up his tools. He ran his lawn mower over the heads at his mercy without any mercy. 

barber

When he was happy with his task, he held up a rickety mirror, polished clean, at various angles for the subjects to inspect. Rarely were there any adjustments to be made. Sometimes, an involuntary yelp would be emitted seeing the amount of hair gone, but Velusamy would give one of his flattering smiles, and assure them that the hair would grow back. What was there to worry about? There wasn’t much to be said against such sterling good sense. He then cleaned up behind him. His rituals complete, he would accept the flowing gratitude from all in the family for coming all the way for a personalized haircut experience, and after a gentle chit-chat over a cup of tea, he left with a good-ish tip. The men of the house looked spruce and trimmed for days afterward. 

But there were times, when Velusamy’s services were scarce – especially during the school holidays. People attempt all sort of things after watching you-tube videos these days – we did the same after watching Velusamy a few times. You see over the years, my sister and I have rather prided ourselves on the haircuts we have given the little brother when Velusamy could not make it. We were happy for days afterward whenever we saw the little fellow, even though in some places, it looked like a rat had gnawed at his hair. 

Covid-19 has certainly given a lot of people renewed respect for a lot of professions. When barbers open up shop again, I am sure their clientele will flock back to them with gratitude in their eyes. Over video conference calls, there has been a steady rise in the length and density of hair. Seeing people over the past few weeks over Video cam, there came a time when most folks on the video calls seemed to encounter  an obstacle like poor Earl Emsworth did in Blandings Castle:

“Lord Emsworth passed a hand over his chin, to assist thought, and was vaguely annoyed by some obstacle that intruded itself in the path of his fingers. Concentrating his faculties, such as they were, on this obstacle, he discovered it to be his beard. It irritated him. Hitherto, in moments of stress, he had always derived comfort  from the feel of a clean shaven chin. He felt now, as if he were rubbing his hand over seaweed.”

When I read this a few days ago after a day spent trying to discern faces from the ‘seaweed’, I burst out laughing, and could not stop. The men in the family looked at me like I needed to have my head examined. I brushed the mane of my flowing hair, and said while my tresses never looked better, theirs needed some work. The husband leapt backwards clutching his mane, and I gave him a pitying look. Really! One would have thought we were unskilled at hair styling the way they shied away. 

So, I decided to play the trump card. “Oh please! We used to cut my brother’s hair sometimes when he was a kid, and he looked marvelous!” There was some mumbling at this, but I let it slide. 

On a video call with the brother a few  days later, I peered through the foliage and said to my son, “See this guy? Your maama – he was given a perfectly good haircut by me when he was your age. Look at him now.”  The brother mumbled that some scars ran deep, and hence his reluctance to have his haircut even now. I ignored this and said, “Some modest successes under my belt you know?” 

The brother beamed as he said, “I knew she would try to flaunt her success”. I  did not care much for how he unflatteringly put the word success in quotes thrown up in the air,  “But don’t let that sway you. You are better off having your head shaved off little fellow. She is lousy at it!”

I what-what-ed at this treachery. Really  – this brother of mine has a most inconvenient sense of  integrity. “Those haircuts were pure of heart and generous!” I cried stung.

The brother said “Oh! No one doubts your heart or your intentions  – both were as you so rightly say, pure. We are only  discussing results here.” he said and gave into a full throated chuckle that his nephew joined in with heartily. I huffed and I puffed, but the call seemed to have an impact  on the son. He seemed to think that his maama was a nice enough man even though he had endured haircuts from his mother in his youth, so how lasting could the damage be? Maybe it was okay to attempt after all. 

Quiet courage shows up in multiple ways – The men, to our pride, acquiesced to having their hair cut by the daughter and myself.

That is how you saw the men of the nourish-n-cherish household looking slightly uncomfortable as we spread garbage bags on the floor, and clucked away with our scissors.