Baða – A Vatn post

I remember seeing some pictures of Icelandic horses, in the meadows and thinking to myself that the fellows seem to be having a swell life. I mean fresh air, green pastures, and none of the bother of getting folks from one place to another harnessed to an infernal coach. Their poor ancestors must have had a thin time of it: I can’t imagine human beings being any better horse-coach passengers than public transit passengers. But, look at these fellas looking rather pleased with themselves knowing that no amount of chirping and tock-tock noises can budge them from their excellent perch in life. The younger generation I tell you! *Shakes head*

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The universe has a queer way of satisfying our desires. Within a few hours of landing in Iceland, I had the satisfaction of feeling like a horse. I suppose in a way that made me an Icelandic horse.

“Are you going to take a bath again?” , is a familiar refrain in the old home. Mia familia rolls their eyes indulgently as I come out feeling refreshed and happy again. In fact, when I am grumping around and shooting dark looks at folks after a long and trying day, the family gently nudges me to take a bath, and Voila! The magical waters yield a perfect amiable nut in their midst again.

Obviously after a long-ish flight, I pranced into the shower, but I was astounded to see the shower in our lodgings in Reykjavik were best suited for Icelandic horses, not humans. There were 2 shower heads, placed about 2 feet apart, and both spurted water together or not at all. This posed a number of problems for one who does not want to waste good warm water. Do you stick your feet in one shower and lean across to get your hands in the other shower, and leave the torso high and dry? Or do you go in for some of that fashionable puppy like scooting in the rain?

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Icelandic horses seem to throwing their heads back and laughing and neighing with glee at my plight. But I wasn’t done with my bathing adventures.

The next day, we were admiring the glacial melt join the oceans, when I shivered, and thought yearningly for a warm water shower, even if it was the horse type, when a young couple shouted, “What?! Do you think we are afraid?! “, and the pair of them removed their top clothing layers and plunged into the chill waters. I shuddered and my teeth went on chattering in that incessant typewriter mode in a speed and intensity that I wish were true when I start writing.

Apparently, in the olden days, babies in Russia were given cold dips in glacial or fresh water every now and then so they would adapt to the severe cold better. Called Polar Dips, I got to tell you, I was in no hurry to try it.

(https://siberiantimes.com/healthandlifestyle/others/news/like-ducks-to-water-in-the-snow-keeping-kids-healthy-siberian-style/)

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And then, Mývatn came along. Mývatn, a natural geothermal spa, was curious in that I came out smelling multitudes worse than when I went in, but I felt refreshed multiple times over. Iceland sits daintily on a couple of tectonic plates that have their tiffs and turfs every now and then. So, it is heavy in both volcanic activity and geothermal spas. These warm waters are like everything everyone said – warm, soothing waters, set in natural surroundings that smell like those gasping chemistry experiments in high school emitting Hydrogen Sulphide, that chefs later tell you is the smell of rotten eggs.

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Folks have called me a sound egg before, but what I was not prepared to smell like one, much less a rotten one.

Add to this the rinses, showers and dances in the rain, and I can truly claim that Iceland far from being the Land of Fire and Ice, was the Land of Baða Vatn. (I think that means Bath Waters.)

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Foss, Ain, Ja, Vatn, Jökull, Sjó

In a moment of poetic rarity, I daftly said I would break my posts into the Elements of our being (Earth, fire, air, water and space), which means I am now stuck with the strange problem of writing my experiences around water in Iceland in one post.

Now do I tell you about how I bathed like a horse in Reykjavik, or how I much-muchly laid bare my ignorance of this beautiful Earth’s ecosystem as I lamented the cleaving of the iceberg, or how we were convinced an obstinate mermaid had come ashore the beach, and insisted on getting into people’s pictures the whole afternoon?

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I have to swim quickly past the Icelandic rivers and streams (Ain), gasp like a wasp at the thousands of waterfalls (Foss), warm myself in a sprint by geothermal spas, jump and shiver near glaciers (Jökull), watch a tidal wave sweep past me as I admire the seas (Sjó) and let my soaking in the rain (rigning) all just fleet past.

I can hear you mumble that now, no one feels refreshed by the post on the most sustaining of the poetic elements, and I agree.

I get a faint understanding of what these authors have to deal with when they go and promise a N- book series. Take the Harry Potter series for instance. J K Rowling must have had little choice but to get the books bigger and bigger because she had to fit everything in 7 books.

I now have to delegate all of the important things to be said about these things to the links below:
Did you know how 90% of Iceland’s energy needs are obtained from geothermal energy?

Did you know Icelandic glacial water is so fresh that you can drink it from source with little fear of contamination?

Well, you do now.

We were there in Iceland when Summer was beginning to show her beauty. Even so, more than half our days, there was rain. For a pluviophile, this was marvelous. Everywhere the eye could see, green carpets were rolled out for us to feast our eyes on.

The rain matched the tones of the children. Sometimes, the joyful pattering of the rain was like their perky tones of enthusiasm, the shuddering and heavy downpours were met with “Amma! Do you really want to hike like that? Get in now!”, and other times when the rain could not quite decide whether to pour or drizzle, the heart was torn whether to go out or stay in the car. These moments of cloudic indecision were the best and I danced and pranced in the rain, while the children adopted a distinct “I don’t know this crazy woman!” stance.

There were waterfalls of every kind and very soon, we stopped pointing them out to one another. We quietly enjoyed the weeping wails of the fjords, as much as the roaring riptides of the beach, and almost as much as the gleaming turquoise blue of the glacial ice pack. Water, in any form, is mesmerizing, tantalizing, energizing and therapeutic.

Well, I suppose I shall at least have to write about bathing in Iceland after all this larking about.

Jörð, Gaia, Bhoomi

Fresh off the flight, and in our room, after loafing about during the day in Reykjavik, I was still groggy. I finally managed to sleep, happy to rest my tired frame on a good bed. The heart had already stirred in that nurturing soul mode, but was not in fully. A good night’s sleep is all I needed, I thought to myself.

It could not have been more than a couple of hours before I awoke to see the son looking cheerful, sitting on the bed alert, and tucking into Skyr, that delectable yogurt of Iceland that sustained our appetites anywhere. “Hi amma!” he said. The energy in his voice unfortunately was not echoed in my hollow moan.

The sun glowed outside, and I asked whether it was morning already. Tired or not, I was set on enjoying the holiday, and I tried to drag myself out, but the little fellow chuckled, “Nope! It is 2 o’clock amma. In the night. This is night!”

He was so enthusiastic and happy at this odd hour, that I smiled happily. (Smiled happily because he had the good sense to wake his father and not me for his night revels with Skyr)

I pointed at the window outside, and he said, “I know right?”

To be fair, I suppose that some of the clouds had a slight pink colouration indicating a sunset, but that was all. Within an hour, the sun had risen again without ever becoming dark or even dusky.

I goggled, the son giggled, and the sun cheerily ogled.

Our half baked theories are always fun, but this Khan Academy video of the Earth’s tilt is much better.

This infographic was useful to see how we would have to change our perception of a new day starting. Our minds are conditioned to the concept of dusk, the sun setting, and darkness enveloping our consciousness signaling the end of the day. But what if the Earth never signaled the end of the day. Would melatonin still be released?

 

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The long days, coupled with a sunny countenance made for action-packed days in which we had to force ourselves to sleep and take breaks. Nevertheless, it is truly wonderful when the earth offers its bounty to you the way Iceland does.

There were days when we saw fresh meadows filled with flowers that had sprouted afresh in the spring after the long winters, lava beds with thousands of years of moss growing on it, rivers gurgling with fresh snow melt winding their way across canyons and meadows, waterfalls thundering their way down as though their restive energy would not and cannot be contained, volcanoes and glaciers, all on the same day.

 

A country that blessed with natural beauty obviously tapped the imaginative strain in us. There was one particular place that looked like time had stood still in the middle of an epic battle in which a monster crocodile had pulled off a troll’s leg, and a bear was crossing the river.

 

If this sort of thing appealed to us within a few days of Iceland, it is only to be expected that the Viking myths and sagas are rich and bountiful. I am now reading Icelandic Myths, so I can continue to savor the experiences of that beautiful island.

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Years ago, when my dance teacher explained the poetic significance of the elements necessary for our very being, Panchabhutam – Earth, water, fire, air and space, I was thrilled with the poetic beauty of it.

My Icelandic experiences, I think, shall therefore be split into these elemental joys – this one of Earth(Jörð, Gaia or Bhoomi), followed by water, fire, air and space.

The Earth Laughs in Flowers

Quote from Education of Little Tree:
Everyone is born with two minds: one is the mind that is necessary for worldly survival – we need it for having young ‘uns, surviving and stuff. But there is another mind that is linked to the soul, that is the one that we must nurture.

I was off to nurture the soul like nobody has nurtured it for me before, only I had not realized that yet. Long flight journeys are true tests of the soul however, and I was still yelping with pain on the flight. Recent sharp pains indicated the causes: a teenage elbow was lodged in my rib-cage, and a smaller knee was lodged in my stomach. (The children were sleeping.)

I felt like a piece of clay pummeled and distorted by deft children’s limbs to be just the sort of play-doh shape that classifies for shapeless.

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Shapeless, exhausted, hungry and thirsty, I turned my head toward the vague direction of the husband’s head, and mumbled, “Iceland better be worth it after this journey!” He chuckled, or I think he did, for his mass rumbled underneath the jacket he had pulled over himself to sleep. In that strange deluded condition, I thought he looked like an iceberg about to surface, and chided myself for delirium.

Not delirium, leaps of fancy, said the soul-brain.

Little did I know that leaps of fancy were just what the doctor ordered for me, and something Iceland, the Land of Fire & Ice was set to give in the order and magnitude of the seeker’s soul.

These poets have a way of saying things that make you wonder how they put things like that. I mean you think and you think and then you say, Flowers are beautiful, and beam around for approval. But these poets, nuh-huh. They’ve got your back when it comes to hitting the spot. Look at the way Ralph Waldo Emerson put it for instance:

The Earth laughs in flowers – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Iceland not only laughed, it engulfed us all in its merry wake.

The first thing my heart-mind did in Iceland was to attach itself to the flowering lupines. There they were, strewn like birdseed – all over the countryside, the roadsides, the littlest mounds where you expect nothing, was home to purple flowering lupines. Entire mountainsides of them, valleys of them, meadows of them.

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They held their bright heads tall and straight and in their richness, I detected the essence of female kinship – waving and tossing their high spirit in the breeze with mellow grace, enriching those around them: heart-warming in their presence, strong in their roots; the world was infinitely better with them. In fact, in that short span, I could barely imagine Iceland without them.

 

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In my hurried search of pictures of Iceland, nobody had mentioned the lupines, and yet they are there in my mind’s eye, every time I close my eyes and think of beautiful Iceland.

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Our Rainbow Colored Hearts Can Sing

The elementary school going son and his friends were proudly showing off their art work at the open house. It always makes my heart sing when I see the beauty of effort. Tables that looked like flattened zebras, zebras that looked like striped platypuses, and platypuses that looked like duck bills were all being open to interpretation. I was admiring everything and the artists around me were very proud of themselves. They puffed their chests out and competed with each other to show off one another’s work. 

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The teenaged daughter tugged my hand to show me a particularly fetching piece of art done by her brother. “Oh beautiful!” I coo-ed, though I could not really make out what it was. But to paraphrase Ursula Le Guin, a potter’s job is not to explain a pot, but to make the pot. It is upto us to use that pot as we will. In her fascinating collection of essays or blog posts, No Time To Spare, she deplores this tendency in Modern Art museums for the artist to explain their work.

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An artists work, she says, is open to interpretation and mean different things to different people at different points in time. It is a sentiment that I agree with, and I relished her way of putting it into words. Something that I have always admired in Ursula Le Guin’s work. Of course, she put it far more elegantly than I have attempted to here. 

Please read this earlier post on the daughter’s drawings as a child.

Anyway, I admired the son’s work, and then the daughter pointed to the bunch of people in the picture. Peering closely, I noticed they had rainbow colored faces. I asked the son why the folks in his drawing looked like rainbow trout in the sunshine.

He said, “Oh my teacher said to the class, to put in some colored people.”

I turned to the teacher, and she said she did say that for Diversity and Inclusion. I smiled at her, and thanked our stars for all the lovely things teachers teach the children.  Half the adults seem to have difficulty remembering these simple lessons in these sad times. All the more reason why we should all attend a year of Kindergarten every decade.

I looked again at the rainbow colored people and thought how beautifully untainted and open minded we are before we learn our little prejudices along the way. To think how much we obsess on skin color makes my rainbow colored heart very sad. It was, therefore, with utter joy that I picked up the book, “Different? Same!” Written By Heather Tekavec and Illustrated by Pippa Curnick.

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

In this beautiful book, we are reminded of how each of us are so different and yet similar. How is a Zebra similar to a bumblebee? Or an Elephant and a Narwhal? 

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

The book finishes on a beautiful note that can make our rainbow colored hearts sing: If you look closely enough, it soon becomes clear … we’re not as different as we first appear.

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

Swimming Across The Media River

One week-end evening, the devices in the house were barking mad. Twing, twang, tring. Video calls, phone calls, instant messaging systems were all driving themselves to a tizzy. Far away, far, far away, 5000 miles away a temple bell was clanging.

I yearned for some quiet and asked if anyone cared on joining me for a walk in the cool Spring evening. Everyone sprang out of my sight like a cat let loose in a party of rats. The husband was trying to yelp his way out of a walk when the first free WhatsApp call came. He ran to pick up the phone with a sense of urgency, and secret relief that he did not have to go a-walking with me, but narrowly missed the call. I made for the open skies while he dialed back. 

The walk was a beautiful one. I admired squirrels chittering, birds twittering, even the raucous cackle of the geese seemed musical. I have, in my chronicles expressed an interest in finding out about animal communication. Misguided. It is better if we don’t know. This way, I could let the noise wash over me, and assume best intentions on their part. The breeze gently tousled my hair, and the setting sun threw brilliant hues across the scattered clouds.

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I stepped in to the home after some time, and saw the husband looking drawn and crumpled, like wet cloth tumbled about in a dryer.

Is everything alright? I asked him a little worried.

Yes! Yes! he said, and proceeded to tell me the thrilling tale of the past 1/2 hour. The saga clanged its way across temple towers, cell phone towers, underground cable networks, and busy human ones. Leaping from a small rural temple town in South India, a couple of metropolitan cities, and continents, with data bits coursing through half the earth, it read like the glossy blurb of these bestselling novels steeped in drama and suspense. 

I was intrigued, and gave the sympathetic ear at once.

The first phone call had been from his mother in India. She lives in Madras. WhatsApp calls are free, and people are free, so I will just give the gist. 

Mother in Madras: Can you call your cousin in New Jersey, and ask him for his sister’s number in India?

Husband in California: Why? 

M in M: His sister is here in India visiting no? 

Wait! I see even gists could take a while, alright let’s try this then:

Premise: Husband’s cousin visiting India for a few weeks.

Plot: Said cousin and her mother, viz, husband’s aunt, went to a small temple town in South India.  There, they planned to meet up with husband’s uncle, and go into the temple together.  

Plot Twist: Uncle tried to call Aunt, but she had put the phone in her handbag and did not hear it ring because someone was twanging the infernal temple bell with great righteousness.

Cliff hanger: Will they ever meet? The temple town had all of 3 streets culminating at the temple after all.

That is it. The entire plot. 

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How does that leap across metrops, continents and coasts, you ask? Fair question. 

As I see it, the itch to go temples stems from mankind’s search for spirituality. Learn to calm the inner anxieties and voices and so on. On this spiritual quest, when one does not meet the intended person in the first 32.5 seconds, the mind flutters and they place an immediate call to their sister in Madras. She then calms her brother saying there is no need to worry, and immediately places a phone call to the husband in California. 

Why husband in California? 

Repeat after me: Aunt visiting temple with d. Plot thickens when Aunt does not pick her phone. But the visiting cousin has a phone for use in India. Stroke of brilliance indicates that her brother preparing for bed in New Jersey will have his sister’s number. Call husband in CA *Tring* to call girl’s brother *Tring* to find out temp cell phone number in India. 

Husband misses call narrowly *Tring*. 

Husband calls mother again *Tring* as soon as possible, but mother’s phone is busy for she has called *Tring* her second son in New Delhi to call his cousin *Tring* in New Jersey and get the phone number. 

After several nerve wracking minutes, both folks call the poor fellow in New Jersey *Tring Tring*. The fellow moans sleepily that he has already fielded five free calls from various parts of the globe asking the same thing and there is no need for any of this, since they seem to have found each other. 

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Then a next set of phone calls were completed for the express purpose of letting everyone know that the concerned parties had met each other, and all was well. In all, I guess about 23 different calls were made. If one party had stood still for 5 minutes, the other party would have simply fluttered into them in the breeze. 

Though tactless, I laughed heartily. The husband looked like a spent force after dealing with this hurricane of calls. He eyed me, and said somewhat icily, “Let’s talk about something else, shan’t we?”

“Do you know how trees, and wild boars communicate to each other?” I asked the husband grinning. 

“Tell me”, he said, and we spent the rest of the walk discussing acacia trees, giraffes, wild boars and hunting laws in Geneva. (Inner Life of Animals, The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben)

“Did you know the wild boars are so smart, they have figured out that the Geneva side of the river has a hunting ban, and the France side doesn’t? So when the first gunshot rings out in France, all the boars scramble, splash into the river and swim to the other side of the river. I suppose they poke their tongues out at the hunters on the other side!” I said.

“Is there someplace that has a free-calling ban, so we can swim across the media river when the first phone calls start?” moaned the fellow, and I patted his hand in commiseration, wisely refraining from telling him that all of this could have been avoided if he had just come out on the walk with me leaving all modes of communication behind. 

Should Okras Be Peeled?

The father waddled up to me in the library and spoke in his whispers. “Oh! Look what I have found? I am going to become a force, and talk to Aunty by myself.” 

It was a Tamil book: Learn Hindi Through Tamil. I looked amused. Hindi has always been the pain point in the household. I remember being a single digit age, lolling on the bed in our childhood home, a few weeks before our trip to New Delhi, and the mother was exhorting us to learn Hindi.

I was the only one who was technically qualified to say anything in Hindi because I was the only one who learnt the subject, but I use the term ‘learnt’ loosely. The teachers taught, I struggled.  I always struggle with languages that force you to determine before hand whether a biscuit is masculine or feminine. Fine! Male biscuit! I say, and then it asks me, what about a dog? How does it matter whether the dog is a she-dog or he-dog?  ( although I suppose it matters to the dog, I see that now. Hmm.) Okay, She – The dog is female. Then what about a dog-biscuit? Is that asexual. You see how confusing it all is? 

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We made it to Delhi after a thrilling ride on the train that took us several days and various experiments with Telugu, Marathi, Bihari, Urdu, Rajasthani and Hindi. One day, we went shopping in Delhi. We were told by our kind advisors that the thing to do in Delhi markets was to issue a prompt, “Baap re baap Bhaiya. Itna?!  (Oh my goodness me! This much?!). Like a ‘Hello’, you first belt out the Baap-Re-Baap. After that you are on sound ground, and can proceed to ask for a price less than half the asking price. 

When we baap-re-baap-ed at this, our hosts told us that it is standard practice. Traders in that market priced goods at more than double for they knew it would come down to less than half, so it is a fair price game after all. I had no working knowledge of Economics then (or now), but this sounded wonkilicious.

So, we baap-re-baap-ed our way around the city.

In the crowded market, I heard the Baap-Re-Baap in the Pater’s voice emanate to much commotion. A soft voice was never his identifying feature. If he were an instrument in the band, he would be a trumpet, not the flute or the bagpipe.

The pater was bargaining hard. “Nahin, nahin. Pachees too much hai. Myn pachaas-heee givoonga, errrmm, day-oonga.” (“No no. 25 rupees is too much. I will give you only 50 rupees.” )

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I went over to investigate the fracas, since more and more people were joining in to get a good seat on the show. The pater was driving the hard bargain. 

I tried explaining in Tamil so folks watching the show would not understand: “Do you want to give Rs.15? He says the thing is Rs 25, and you are saying you will settle for Rs.50!”

The merchant was laughing to split, and several more were joining in by the minute. Finally, he said in perfect Tamil. “Saami – irupadhu kudu.” (Sir, just give Rs 20.)

After that, the association of market stall traders were most helpful – they pulled us into their stores and treated us to tea and more bargains. Who after all bargains to give more? Here was a soul of gold, they said to themselves, and went on to rip us off with perfect amiability.

I can’t say the decades in between taught very much more of the language.  One could get by quite well in South India without Hindi. 

Then, a few decades later, Aunty came to our household. She is a stellar help. She speaks Hindi and when excited switches to Urdu.

So, that day in the library, he was obviously thrilled that he found the book that promised to teach him Hindi through Tamil. That night, I heard the father proudly showing the ‘Learn Hindi through Tamil’ book to the mother, and telling her looking rather pleased with himself. “Look! The milk is here. Doodh yagaan hai! 

“Oh Look!” The father is a confirmed oh-look-er. “There is even a page for vegetables. Did you know aloo means potato? ”

The mother, always up to the challenge, told him that it was admirable, and said coolly. “Tomorrow, ask Aunty to cut the peerkangai (ridge gourd) into small squares, and keep the scrapped tholi (hide)”.

The father turned to the vegetable page, exclaiming loudly that it was a marvelous book, and asks like this are child’s play. Bacchaasplay. After a few minutes, he yipped loudly. “There is no translation for peerkangai in the book. I cannot ask her. Should I ask her to peel the bhindi instead? Vendakkai means Bhindi.” (Okra is vendakkai)

“Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.” – ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables