A Whiff of Youth & A Hint of Innocence

As summer closes its curtains, I look forward to the beautiful season of Fall. I yearn to see the colors of the leaves changing, resplendent in their glory for a few weeks, and the inevitable flutter they produce in my heart as they come to terms with letting go of their branches.

The children and I had our first scrunch-party this morning: We saw a small bunch of dried leaves near our feet, and we jumped and heard the delightful scrunch that was then followed by giggles that caused a squirrel to pause on its scamper and chitter at us looking amused from the roof above, reminding me of one of the poems in the book, A Whiff of Pine and a Hint of Skunk ( A Forest of poems by Deborah Ruddell & Joan Rankin)

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  • Above my head a robin sings
  • a shy hello and flaps her wings.
  • She whistles to a waiting squirrel
  • who gives his fuzzy tail a twirl
  • and bounces on a flimsy branch
  • which starts a leafy avalanche
  • of red and gold from every tree
  • as if they’ve planned it all for me.
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A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk

Afterward, we made our way to the son’s school. I waved goodbye to the fellow, and then dilly-dallied for a minute after he had gone into his own classroom. I love the atmosphere of the fresh energy and exuberance of children on a Friday morning. I was soaking in the scene when I saw a child crying. Great big tears coursed down her cheeks, and her face was so troubled, I stopped to ask her what the matter was. I cannot bear to see children cry (Tantrums annoy, but these genuine feelings of sorrow wrack my heart).

It was then I saw three girls her own age come and stand around her in a knot. They comforted her in their own way, asked her what the matter was, and then took her along to walk to the classroom with them. Her slumped shoulder straightened just a wee bit after a few steps, and her hands that were held by one of the girls was given more willingly. I watched them walk away together, and a warm glow suffused me.

In that glimpse of school, I saw the heartening stirrings of a friendship, the kind heartedness of fellow classmates, the easy grace with which relationships start – an art that adults seem to have forgotten along the way.

I walk around the neighborhood seeing the early stirrings of fall. The precocious among leaves are turning color. Fall raises the question of mortality, and I admire the example the fall leaves set for us, when the time has come for them, by letting go and fluttering down. with the promise of renewal in the air.

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It reminds me of a conversation I was having with my parents, as many people of the older generation grapple with the problem of aging. For the first time in the history of mankind, we will soon have the same number of people over the age of 80 as below the age of 5. Depression and anxiety among the aged is common. (My article here on Aging: Toby Turtle’s Lesson on Life)

If old age were indeed the second childhood, what would it take to keep forging relationships without expectation, and reaping its unexpected rewards, like the little girls that morning? How to infuse our minds with a hint of innocence and a whiff of youth?

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The Moon’s Beard

The son and I had been on a quick trip to see my family in India. The brother, the shining Galahad of our family, said he would be there to pick the little fellow and self at the airport. I nestled into the journey comfortably equipped with books.

I was midway through Reading Lolita In Tehran, a book that has languished on my to-read list for far too long. The journey was comfortable enough, and I found myself pulled into the period from the overthrow of the Shah of Iran to the early 2000s when the author finally decided to leave the country and move to the United States. The author is a professor of English Literature and her upbringing in an intellectual family and world make it very hard for her to digest the increasingly repressive practices the regime imposed on them.

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By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3734465

In the book, she writes of how many of her students were categorically rigid in their views. Some boys (or young men) were vociferous and rigid in their condemnations and swallowed all the rhetoric that had been fed to them by the repressive regime. Men could be punished for not sporting beards, women flogged for not wearing purdahs. One time she finds herself cautioning a young man who followed her to her office parroting things about the West after a class on Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, that he may well end up like Elizabeth changing her mind about Mr Darcy one slur at a time.

It is astonishing how many young minds could be made to think a certain way. As I moodily prodded a potato on the flight’s lunch, I looked to the son sitting next to me – he was avidly watching Cars and pulling my attention to particular scenes.

“See? See? Lightning is going to blow a tire now. Now Amma.” he said far too loudly, for he had the headsets on, and was excited. How did innocent boys like him grow to young men like I was reading about?

You ready to meet Maama (Uncle)? I asked the son as he sat up after he finished watching the movie for the n-th time. Yes! he beamed and I thought how much he resembled my brother when he was a child. He had the same beam like a full moon.

I got down at the airport and scoured the crowds gathered outside. I looked out for the beaming face of my brother, couldn’t see him and stepped back inside to get wifi access so I could message him. It was then that I noticed a man of palm tree height, swinging his branches at us. There was no reason to single us out. It was 3 am and the throng outside was not waving at us. It was minding its own business. Plus this tree was employing that windmill action that is characteristic of the Bala family. But this could not be him.

What I saw wasn’t the smooth face of a full moon, but a moon that slipped and muddied itself in the nearest marsh. Apart from a beak and two eyes, everything else as I said was scoured. I peered closely and he leaped forward startling some of the crowd with his “HIIII”. The voice was his, but I could not understand why he looked like Ayatollah Khomeini , and I said so with some asperity.

“Reading a book on Iran I see?” he said shrewdly as he pulled me in for a hug.

“Reading Lolita In Tehran”, I said bemusedly. “What’s with the beard – like a louse rug on a biscuit.”

The beard affected me strongly, and I set aside sisterly tones of affection and reached for the tug – “It looks ghastly.” The brother looked pleased that I was taking the facial hay like this, and he clung to it looking more like three billy goats gruff, every minute.

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“Keep with the times! The latest fashion – all the dudes have them.” At this point, he stopped to reel off the names of cricket stars and film actors, the best of whom I could not recognize if I had coffee with them beardless. If they were beardless I mean. I don’t have a beard. Estrogen and all that.

I sighed and quoted Azar Nafisi’s husband from Reading Lolita in Tehran:
None of us can avoid being contaminated by the world’s evils; it’s all a matter of what attitude you take towards them.

The son was peering at his loving uncle in that keen manner that children have. “Maama – how come your hair is coming out of your face? Mine only grows on my head!” said the fellow who has been under the influence of the clean shaven thus far.

“Magic!” murmured the brother and chuckled softly at his awe. The moon beamed down at us from the sky above, and a gentle breeze rustled the palm trees, as we made our way home.

Oscar Nominations for Dumb-Charades

There are many games that appeal to people of all age groups, but our favorite by far is Dumb-Charades.  This stellar game asks for nothing other than enacting the title out. The grandparents are given movie names in Tamil to enact, the children are given children’s books and movies, and a good time is had by all.

Usually, one of us gives the movie name to mime, and that person refrains from guessing the title.

We started off with Disney Pixar titles for the elementary school aged son. I have noticed how boys in that age group generally play the game.  Never mind if the movie was called ‘Slumbering Sloths’. If in the movie, there was a 5 second scene showing the sloths thundering against each other and charging, that is what they would mime. Most trying on the audience the whole thing is.

We all suffered in the same keen way when the son started miming. To make matters worse,  he said he would select a movie on his own (I will think of a movie in my mind by myself). This meant that there was not a single other person in the room who knew what the movie title was.

I would have liked to capture the whole thing on video, but we were so mystified and desperate to find the real name, that it hardly occurred to any of us to tape the thing. He ran around the living room that had a clunky tea table in the center and tumbled out of sight.

We looked at each other quizzically. Spiderman?
He shook his head, smiled and ran fast around the table again before tumbling out of sight.

Superman!
No! He looked crestfallen that his superb miming was getting him nowhere. He pointed at his chest and ran fast and tumbled again. If not for the carpet, the child might’ve hurt himself. Usually, his sister comes to our rescue for the pair of them flit between each other’s imaginary worlds quite easily, but this time she too looked perplexed.

“Try something different this time.”, she told him. He perked up at this suggestion and ran around the table once again and tumbled thrice before sitting up beaming.

The psyche of the group by this time was worth noting. The actor was fatigued and wondering whether the audience, much as he loved them, had any dramatic sense at all. Might a few broad hints help to prod the dim group along?

The spot under the table looked spotless now, and we were no closer to guessing the movie name. The audience was insistent on not letting Superheroes rest. Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, Batman, Transformers, Flash (from Incredibles) had all come and gone.

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“No Superheroes!”, he said finally speaking up, and thus leaving us completely clueless. With superheroes, there was a chance we could find the right fellow eventually, but this was like being told there are no oases in the desert. None.

We looked imploringly at the daughter, and she finally asked him to confide the title in her, so she could help him out. Clearly, we weren’t quite up to par in the brain department. He agreed, pulled her out of the room in exaggerated gestures, and told her the title. She came back laughing to split, and said she was going to have some more fun watching us figure this one out, now that she knew how easy it was.

Now Really!

You think you’d get a break given all that we do for these children. I gave her a disappointed look, and she said, ‘Believe me, you will like my sense of humor once you find out the name of the movie.”

After 2 more attempts, she relented seeing the looks of dumb anguish on our faces, and told him, “Bobbicles, do what we talked about inside.”
The little fellow looked stung. “But, I told you! They don’t do that in the movies.”
“I know, I know. But they may guess the actual word at least even if they do not do that in the movies.”
“Fine! “, said the artiste making it plain that he usually did not dilute his high standards for the sake of the audience, but was doing so this time. .

He put on a face that showed so much disappointment that we felt quite cowed. Finally, he used his hands to mime a steering wheel of a car.

Cars!” we yelled.
“No!” he said.

The daughter was clutching her sides and cackling with laughter and said, “Stop! Stop! It is Cars….but what Cars?”

Cars 2?
No
Cars 3?
YES! said the little fellow wiping his brow.

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We asked him why he simply did not show the steering wheel to start with, to which he said, “But in the Cars movies, they don’t use the steering wheels to drive!  They just drive. I was showing you how Lightning McQueen races around the track, and then has an akiscent (accident) and tumbles! Amma – you should know that. Remember you said, Oh! Poor Lightning! when we were watching the movie?”

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—-
He showed us his Mappy face, which is a sort of grimace containing both mad and happy expressions rolled into one. I took my reprimand with grace, high-fived the fellow and instituted a new rule: One cannot think of their own titles to mime. At least one other person in the room should be able to help if need be.

Madagascar”, I whispered to the daughter when it was her turn. Laughing at us for Cars 3 are we? That should fix her.

“Oh come on! I expected Appa to give me something like that. Not you!” she said pulling an emotional toss with ease.

She tried waddling like Penguins and everyone shouted ‘Emperor Penguins!” to which she glared and showed, “1 word!”
Finally, she split the word into 3 portions:
For the 3rd part, she pointed to her brother, ran around the table and tried tumbling out of sight.
Cars! The triumphant audience yelled.
Mimed a fart for gas (really sometimes I wish these children would be a tad bit more classy)
Gas!
Her brother’s mappy (mad+happy) face
Mad?
Madagascar?

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Car & Gas indeed!
“No more Oscar nominations tonight!” we said. I don’t think we could have handled anymore.

 

Magic of Zen

“Chitthi, you should read this book for sure. I am sure you will like it.”, said the niece, holding up some teen fiction. She has been reading what she calls Dystopian Fiction and some of her stories tend to mistake my blood for milk set out to curdle. I looked skeptical.
The daughter joined in the conversation with another book suggestion. “Adults won’t enjoy it, but I am sure you will Amma.” she said.
I donned an amused expression. That I should be pegged for having a child’s capacity made me feel truly honored.

Like Ursula K Le Guin, the famous fantasy author said, ‘The creative adult is the child who survived.’

“I mean of course you are an adult and stuff, but … well you know what we mean.” The girls rushed on almost immediately, “This is the good stuff – you will love it.”

The book recommendations discussion was happening before our trip to Mt Shasta, and I was deciding what should be taken along for reading.

After a little deliberation, I picked out Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin. A better book for the wilderness could not have been chosen if I had researched the thing for weeks. Earthsea is a mythical archipelago where wizardry is not uncommon. This book contained tales from Earthsea set in various points in time. The stories are set in beautiful islands amidst forests and meadows and was the perfect read at Shasta.

One fine early morning, on a hike in the forests of Shasta, I chose a spot in which to slowdown and take in the surroundings just like the characters do in the Grove. I sat myself on a rock, and looked out upon miles of trees and forest cover. Sitting there, I noticed how the leaves were shaped against the blue skies, the clear, sharp shapes rising up against the sky, looking majestic and beautiful. Why is it, that nothing man made can even hope to compete with the magnificence of a leaf, tree, forest or mountain? It was a biomimicry moment.

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With the forest around me and Mt Shasta in the background, Nature helped still and quiet my senses so much that I felt strange. The incessant chatter of inner turmoil quiet, the constant rippling of life’s waves smoothened, the distant and affectionate view of my own foibles on Earth. In only a few moments of this relative calming of the senses I could feel every observation keenly as though the distant telescopes were adjusted better to give a clairvoyant view into life.

To hear, one must be silent.
Ursula K. Le Guin

I resolved to take the children on a hike that very evening. The evening hike was just as splendid. It hugged a coastline on a lake, and the evening sun transformed a normal forest setting into a magical one. We trudged up the mountain path chattering happily and gaining altitude. A number of meandering trails and paths criss-crossed the ones we were taking as we hiked on.

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As we were hiking, I told my daughter about the moment of Zen that I felt during the morning hike, and she said she would try it too. I looked up surprised, but noticed that a while later, she sought out a rock and sat there just drinking in the scenery. I hope she felt the same sense of quiet.

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As we made our way back, the sun had started to set and colored the sky with patches of radiant pink, purple and orange. It was then that we realized that we may have lost our way. I remember going left from this mountain peak, but that trail up there also goes there, how about this one? Every one was sure we had come up by a completely different path. The daughter was unusually quiet and then she exclaimed thoroughly proud of herself, “This is it! I know now. This is it. This is the way to go!” and she was perfectly right.

Days later, when we were discussing the concept of magic, I went all Ursula Le Guin on her and said, “You know? That day, on the hike, you were so much in tune with nature that you were the one who found the way back. You know how appalling you are usually when it comes to directions, but that day because you loved the hike so much, the forest revealed its magic to you.” She rolled her eyes, but the joy in her eyes was unmistakable.

Le Guin writes of magic in a way that is manifest in our daily lives without us ever stopping thinking of them as magic. It is neither wand waving nor dramatic, but it is spectacular. It is in the unique talents we each have, and just like any other talent needs nurturing and nourishing to develop to its full potential.

The Author’s work has the influence of Tao-ist philosophies, that help us tap into the ageless wisdom of generations. The books talk of listening to the Earth as a means to understanding the greater forces at play, the ability to gauge what is to happen, but have the sagacity to neither judge nor criticize its actors unduly. In short, it is life cloaked in the glamorous garbs of magic.

Lao Tzu Tao – Ursula Le Guin

Hill Billy Tales

We took a short trip to the beautiful place in the mountains where the Sierra Nevada mountains meet the Cascade range of mountains. It is also where the grasslands sport a sign that says ‘Welcome to Oregon’ as you keep driving north in California. Studded with lakes, rivers and waterfalls, amidst the towering glory of the tall trees, the place really welcomed us with marvelous, serendipitous finds, wholesome joys and gave us moments of Zen that I know we will look back on with contentment for years.

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We drove smartly past grasslands and hills rolling by and sailed into Oregon in style. Within a few miles, we saw the quintessential American landmark: Signs indicating how many miles to the nearest Visitor Center.

15 miles to the Visitor center.
10 miles to the Visitor center.
The count down was on. The highway signs were creaking with the beckoning of the visitor center. This is one of those times where you can see Marketing mess with your minds: What if we missed the sight of a lifetime because we ignored the signs to the V Center? We succumbed and went in to find a sleepy town that had two main streets and two cross streets connecting the main ones (Lest the folks of the town come at me: I exaggerate, but you get the pic).

Once in there, we tootled along for a walk by the river admiring the swallows and giving them the names in the fancy pamphlet. We spotted a narrow sign that stated ‘River access’, and off we went through the thickening vegetation. Brambles scratched, the sound of the fresh flowing water was soothing to the ear, and the teenage girls (daughter and niece) looked distinctly uncomfortable with the mosquitoes but gallantly kept from complaining. In a titter and a tat, we found ourselves amidst lingerie on a rock, a dog that was wondering whether to rouse itself and check out the strangers, and two people camping by the riverside.

“Oh…sorry to bother you. We did not know this comes to the campground – just admiring the river.”, we said largely for the benefit of the dog, who felt that he must earn his keep and came along to check us out.

An old man clumped out of the trees, and said in his gruff voice that it was alright, and that the river and the river bed did not belong to him, and anyone was welcome. His unshaven face gave him a mane-like countenance, his voice reeked of not being used often, and he looked like he had been living on the rough for sometime. I felt the children draw closer to me and gave him a nervous smile.
He went on to tell us about how he has been camping by the riverside for a while now. “ I am down from the South,” he said.
“Oh really! We are here from California too.”
He threw his mane back and laughed.
No Ma’am. Am from down south!” he said puffing his chest out with pride.
“Oh you mean southern states like Louisiana?”
Yes Ma’am – a true hill-billy I am. You meet a hill-billy before?

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This is where the conv. got a little strained. I mean, I had not met a true hill-billy before, or atleast I did not know the conditions for classifying someone as a hill-billy. I spent my childhood in the remote hills, and still startle at loud motor noises like metal being grated for a salad, does that make me a hill-billy? I gave him a silly, strained, forced laugh to which he looked at me keenly, and said “Why? What is wrong with me being a hill-billy.
“Uh..Nothing. Nothing at all. Do you like being a hill-billy?”
I do! Course I do! There are sum who can’n live off earth-like. Me? I can live off the earth – I can find meself some berries an’ hunt an’ fish like.
“That is very good.” I said.
I have to admit my admiration for the man rose. I have often wondered whether we have the ability to survive anymore. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we are slowly devolving to a point of not knowing how to survive by our wits. We seem to rely on GPS for going to the corner grocery store, the corner grocery store seeing the trend, is telling us, “Please please don’t bother. Just press a button and we’ll send a drone along with milk and such. You just keep pressing ‘Yes’ on that remote when it asks you whether you want to continue watching.”

Conversation languished for sometime after this, and the daughter came to my rescue, by shoving the creature catalogue in his hands, and asked whether he had seen river otters before. He gave her a pleased smile and told her about all the different bird and animal-likes he had seen in the river, and said he had never seen an otter before. His classifications and naming differed somewhat from the pamphlet, and his ‘white birds’ and ‘grey lil ones’ and ‘those brown ones up top’ were definitely easier to look out for.

We were well on our way after bidding him and his dog good-bye. Living on the wits may have suited him, but for us, we needed a good sandwich before we could go on, seemed to be consensus of the group. The husband reached for the phone, and I smartly took it from him saying, ‘It is such a small town, I am sure we can just drive down and find a Subway sandwich place. If he can live without technology, why can’t we?”.
‘It will be much quicker with a phone!’, he groaned, but I heard none of that nonsense: it was drowned in that growl that emanated from the stomach.

Life’s greatest lessons are learned when tempers are short. Everyone argued that the sandwich place was the other way, and after 3 u-turns, 4 no-no-not-that-one false starts, a hungry gloom settled upon the car.

Sniffing out a sandwich place in a car with its A/C on in full blast and closed windows is an art you got to learn. The hill-billy might have done it with the dog’s help, but we had to admit defeat.

I confess that we finally pulled out the phone to locate the place in a 3 mile strip. But after that: Boy! We were bulldogs and nosed on straight for Crater Lake with the GPS on. After all, evolution also means knowing how and when to use the right tools, what?!

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Historically Speaking …

I looked at the delectable pile of books by my side waiting to be read. The top of the pile was the beautifully annotated ‘Jane Austen’s History of England. –

Just the sort of history book that appeals to me. Written by Jane Austen when she was 16 years old, the book bears the hallmark of her humor.

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I sat smiling at some of the things written about Henry the 8th & Anne Boleyn.

The book certainly sounded like some of the answer papers of my youth.

I have always felt that History was one of those subjects that was calculated to freeze my brain. Good though my teachers in the subject were, bless them, they could not but help say that the Second Battle of Panipat was fought in 1556. Inside my brain, this simple fact would start a whistling train of thought:

1556. Hmm … funny number.

How to remember that number?

55 in the middle and 6-1 = 5. 

Why not 6551? Because that is in the future.

Very clever. But what about the number 6? Why 6 and not 7?

Maybe, History is the sixth period(?)

But only on Wednesdays.

If only it were 1596, 15*6=90  and then add 6

“Can anybody tell me what happened to Akbar after that battle?” These teachers have voices that have a way of cutting through the most interesting meanderings of the mind.

“What battle?”, I’d write on the side margin, and slip it across to my friend. There she would be, sitting by my side at the wooden desk with a vacant expression on her face biting her pencil. But at this urgent message, she’d stoutly pull herself together and write back, “The Battle of Panipuri, I think.”

Then the exams would roll along, and after days spent cramming the dates and emperors, I would come to the conclusion that all emperors who sought to reign should be made to stand in line in shorts and recite the dates of all those who aspired to power before them.  If they still want to reign, may their shorts fall while they lead the charge – that should teach them not to add to that horribly long list.

To make matters worse, the rumor mills during examination time worked overtime:

(a) The teachers likes diagrams, one person would say, stating emphatically that whatever you do, make sure you draw a diagram for it.

Feverishly, we would start drawing Africa maps, and label the Gold Coast, and the Sahara desert, throwing in the Kilimanjaro for luck. Never mind that the question was about Egypt.

(b) The more you write, the better will be your marks.

So, we would write double-spaced and add spice to the Spice Wars.

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One time I remember writing about Alexander’s Horse. Our History teacher had on one occasion told us about the fine breeds of horses that emperors prided themselves on. My brain tick-tocked away with Alexander’s Horse, and I found to my amazement that the brave stallion was heroic beyond what History books knew. I imagined the horse pulling his great emperor across the blizzards of the mountains one day just by trusting its instinct. The marvelous animal found a stream of fresh flowing water for its emperor. I wrote about 16 sentences on the virtues of the horse, borrowing heavily from my recent reading of Black Beauty (also a black horse with a star on its forehead, duh!) I wrote of its aching muscles, its loyalty that was much admired, and how stable managers had a job that was olfactorily unsatisfactory maybe, but really quite a prestigious one, if it meant looking after the emperor’s horse. I also gave him a name, Macedonia, if I remember right – sealing my understanding of the reign once and for all. (Alexander’s Horse, Bucephalus, would have turned in his grave and asked ‘Is she talking about me? Neigh! ‘ )

He_ran_toward_the_horse_and_seized_the_bridle
By Walter Crane – The story of Greece : told to boys and girls

“15 more minutes.” the examiner said, and I looked to see that while the paper had a brilliant character sketch of the horse, it had very little about Alexander the Great.

I hastily started another paragraph on the the horse’s rider and finished up the paper. I came out into the brilliant sunshine from the exam hall when my friend said looking at me in admiration, “How much you wrote! I saw you taking two extra sheets! I am sure you are going to ace it!”

I shrugged off this undue praise guiltily, feeling a little sorry for the teacher who had to read such drivel.

It was years later that I read “I, Claudius”, the historical fiction book written by Robert Graves,  and came upon Incitatus, Caligula’s horse. Whether it was fiction or not I cannot say, but this was the horse that the Roman ruler, Caligula, sought to make a senator, and invited to State dinners.

http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/did-caligula-really-make-his-horse-a-consul

The truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t. Mark Twain

I smiled at these pleasant memories, and opened the book in my hand.

 

Jane Austen said,

Edward the 4th

This monarch was famous only for his Beauty & his Courage of which the Picture we have here given of him, & his undaunted behavior in marrying one Woman while he was engaged to another are sufficient proofs. His Wife was Elizabeth Woodville, a Widow who, poor Woman! was afterwards confined in a Convent by that Monster of Iniquity & Avarice Henry the 7th. One of Edward’s Mistresses was Jane Shore, who has had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy & therefore not worth reading. Having performed all these noble actions, his Majesty died, & was succeeded by his son.

The Elusive Soother of Souls

We were at a party of sorts where good friends gathered for the evening with families. Adults, senior adults, teenagers, tweens, kids all jostled together happy to see one another.

The children got eating out of the way as soon as they could, and started playing in that vigorous fashion that makes me want to drop everything and join them. 

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People with food on their plates drifted like continents and grouped and regrouped for conversations. At one point, I found myself amidst septuagenarians talking about sleep, or lack thereof. “Go on and tell them how little I sleep!”, said the father-in-law to me.

 “He does have difficulty falling asleep…”, I said carefully, casting a longing look at the children playing outside.

He gave me a wilting look for this lame endorsement, and decided to stick it out on his own.

“I was never like this. I cannot sleep these days. I used to sleep the moment my head touched the pillow.” he said

“Me too” agreed an uncle.

“It would take sometime to fall asleep, but once I did, I could sleep well without interruptions.” said an aunt.

“How many times can one turn this way and that? How many times to say our prayers?”

“It is such a big problem. What do you think we should do?” they asked, looking at me earnestly.

Sometimes, I get when it is a rhetorical question, and nod. Other times, I behave like a particularly dimwitted penguin, and start telling an ostrich how to bury its head in the sand. I go on to make comparisons between the similarities in nature between sand and snow and how it is all a matter of technique.

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“Well, sometimes when I am excessively tired,  I find a hot bath before bed helps.” I said.

“I take a hot bath every night. Nothing helps.” my father-in-law said looking miserable. All the senior adults agreed: Baths were elementary stuff.

The squeals from the garden indicated an energetic game of hide-n-seek in progress. I glanced to see a squealing army run towards the washing machine – apparently somebody saw one of them go there to hide, and everybody was running to investigate.

By now, more folks had joined in the conv. Herbal teas were discussed next as aides to that Elusive Soother of Souls, Sleep. Chamomiles, lavenders and orange blossoms wafted their scents in.  In time, the topic had slid down the tea slopes and gone on to meditation as a technique.

“I find I worry if I have nothing to worry about”, said an aunt, and smiled wanly. “One day, I saw 2 o’clock and was so disgusted”, said she.

“But it cannot be as bad as mine. The other day, I saw 3 o’clock on the clock. 3 o’clock can you believe it?.”

My father in law said he saw 3:10, while another uncle said 3:30.

They all looked at me to declare the winner. Braver generals could have taken on the task, maybe, but I confess I shrank from the task. These individuals who would happily set themselves to lose in a game against their grandchildren were now competing for The Most Ardent Sufferer Award, and I wasn’t going to be the one to decide. Nu-Uh.

I quietly slipped into the garden, to see the children were all running strictly following the principles of Brownian motion. They ran onto the lawn and tumbled over, and ran again. The setting sun washed them all aglow. The grass on their beautiful clothes, the dirt on their cheeks, the sweat pouring down their faces, and their squeals of laughter made a marvelous sight.

The evening slowly wound down, and we gathered all the folks up and started back on the ride home. The children were giggling still, while the senior citizens in the car were discussing the food in detail.

The Payasam was very good. 

The bondas could have been hotter

The rice was good, and the curd-vadaSome of them were soaked nicely, others needed some more time to soak.

One thing, everybody seems to not be able to sleep, they said with satisfaction.

I glanced at the children. One had already fallen asleep, and the other was nodding off.

Wynken Blynken & Nod one night

Sailed off in a wooden shoe

Sailed in river of crystal light

Into a sea of dew…..

“Did you make sure the children ate well?”, their solicitous grandmother asked me.