The Young Wizard

The son finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in a marathon reading of 5 school days. I found him reading in dim corners, under the quilt after lights-out, by the moonlight streaming into his window at night, and with the class streaming on over zoom – it seemed I bumped into the fellow looking happy and reading wherever I went for a few days. Then, just like that, he was done with the book, and the series itself. 

The house has been abuzz with magic ever since. The wand from Ollivander’s gift shop has been found, batteries replaced, and the lumos spell is very helpful while looking for one’s shoes in the closet with no lights. 

As anyone who has gone through the arc with the young wizards will attest, there isn’t enough magic to go around after an event like that. The epilogue is described variously described as ‘a let-down’, ‘sappy’, ‘unnecessary’ and all of that. But in my mind, it was required closure for the author who spent every waking moment with these characters.

We had an unwritten rule in the house, viz: we’d watch the movies after the books have been read wherever possible. So, we waited patiently. As he finished one book after the other, there was a mini celebration and the week-end movie nights would invariably be Harry Potter & The Completed Book.

As we were getting ready for the movie watching session, the children came clamoring for an instant 2 minute Maggi noodles dinner. They love the tangy soupy instant nature of it. I gave them a stern look and a familiar lecture on healthy eating. Seeing the drooping faces, I said, “Look on the bright side, we can have 2 minute popcorn for movie night tonight!” 

Image from Amazon.com site

Comparisons between the movie script and a fresh reading of Harry Potter is always a thrilling exercise. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an even more wonderful experience since it rewards you with 2 movies. And so it was, last week-end that we got to dissociate from the myriad problems of the world and immerse ourselves in those of the wizarding world. 

The last 2 movies are especially great watching, since there are so many scenes of note: Dear Dobby, Voldy screaming Aaavvvaaddaa Kedaavvrraaa, McGonagall calling on the locomotor to defend the school. 

The next evening, the son lumos-ed his way into the kitchen as I stood helplessly wondering what to make for dinner that night. Have I mentioned that it is one of my least favorite things to do: Standing and wondering what to make. I must’ve. It is a pet peeve. So, there I stood looking as mutinous as Voldemort’s clouds of doom, when the youngest wizard pranced in, and said, “Do you know there are at least 7 ways in which you can kill somebody without screaming Avada Kedavra like Voldemort does in the last scene?”

“Really?” I asked and he proceeded to rattle them all off. 

I stood there, and asked if he knew a spell for making dinner. 

“Yes! It only takes 2 minutes!” He said and grinned. I gave in to the little tyke’s demands and slurped Maggi 2 Minute Noodles discussing all the possible spells with disastrous effects.

Antheia’s Gifts

April has the whiff of spring about it. Fresh green leaves, and flowers bursting forth everywhere. 

I could not help thinking of William Blake’s ‘heaven in a wild flower’ as we made our way through the trails. Really! I am in awe of poets – how do they think up these things? 

“Who was the Greek god of flowers? Persephone?”

“Nope! Persephone was agriculture, you know when she comes out of the underworld, she brings Spring with her and the world blooms again. She was the one who was abducted by Hades.”

“Ah yes. There should be one for flowers though. Or is it just nymphs?”

She shrugged – “There is a minor goddess. I forget.”

I looked it up as I sat down this morning after sniffing a couple of roses in the garden. Antheia is the greek goddess of flowers.

I was out walking with the daughter on a trail. She was telling me about a fascinating piece of fan fiction she read about the lives of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. Told from the perspective of Remus Lupin, it was truly amazing. A deer grazed in the river bed now overgrown with shrubbery, while the stream-like river played host to herons and geese. It was fitting setting for the story of The Marauders who first made their appearance in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

I stooped to sneeze. “You know? I think you deserve this!” she said, looking severe. That child has the heart of Minerva McGonagall. Her lips looked thin and her eyes had just a hint of a smile that could not be displayed for wanting to look stern.

“Do you really have to sniff every flower when you know you have allergies?”

“But I do! Just see this my dear. A spider has patiently woven its web within the petals of a narcissi bloom. What is that story of the Ariadne challenging that Greek goddess?”

“You mean Arachne challenging Athena.”

“Yes…really how perfect these spider webs are! As an engineer, I admire the tensile strength, as a artist, I love the clean nature of their work, as a minor creepy crawlie phobe, I want to squeal, and as a clean freak,  I know I clean out cobwebs, but it makes me wonder every time about the nature of work. The constant doing and undoing of it all. It all seems so haphazard, but nature is so intensely productive in its being, no.” I said and then told her about the book I was reading just then.

Titled The Tree, it is part meditation on nature, part autobiographical detailing the relationship with the author and his father, and their differing views of nature. His father was quite the productive fruit producer in his narrow strip of land in the city, while the author’s love for trees bloomed away from the structured fruit producing expectations – in the wilder countryside.

On the walk, in the meanwhile, I pointed out the resourcefulness of the vine that can jump fences and leap between trees, the flowers that think nothing of scenting the world as they go about blooming, the humming bees, and the humming birds darting about all of this with a purpose of their own. “I suppose one could spend all day thinking about these things without any sort of cogency huh?”

“Yep! Like you are doing now? You know this is where some folks really surprise me. I mean, they regularly write and put out a chapter of fan fiction every week, to this brilliant story of Lupin and Sirius I was telling you about. ”

“Yes and look at humankind’s imagination through the ages. All those myths and stories of nymphs turning into rivers, and running through worlds and sprouting off into geysers. ” We walked back in admiration of writers and poets. Oscar Wilde, the daughter’s favorite poet and his life, William Blake, Greek myths, her re-reading of The Song of Achilles, Harry Potter characters all contributed to a magical spring-time saunter.

Imagination and Creativity are always enthralling themes to engage in. How do you cultivate it – are we born with a natural gift that we then need to prune and cultivate like the trees the author’s father looked after or does it thrive and bloom like Antheia’s flowers in the wild?

No fruit for those who do not prune; no fruit for those who question knowledge; no fruit for those who hide in trees untouched by man; no fruit for traitors to the human cause. – John Fowles, The Tree

Love, Acceptance & Gumption

Rarely do the skies reflect our inner turmoils so accurately. The past few days have been a strange time in that respect. The wildfires in California have been giving us days of poor air & light quality.

The first day dawned with the daughter waking us up looking excited. “Oh look how beautiful the light is outside. Everything is so pretty!” I peered outside and indeed it was. The world was bathed in a mellow yellow light, radiating a divine light. “It looks like a day when you feel you must count your blessings!” I said and rolled out of bed looking for the colors of the sunrise.

It turned out be a day to be doing exactly that – counting your blessings. A day to be celebrating a truly marvelous life, and thankful for the opportunity of having his presence in our lives. 

When I checked my phone, I saw that our dear Maama (Mother’s brother) – the younger one, had passed away. My mother confirmed that he passed away while on a video call with his daughter in the USA. Till the end, he was not in pain, and in these times of Covid troubles, he passed away peacefully at home. In death he had been blessed. Though if you had asked him, he would have said he had been blessed in birth as well.

For the past few months, he had been re-living his early years with his siblings at times. His conversations flitted to the village of his youth often, and he spoke of his life as a little boy, and he asked after his little siblings. In moments of clarity, he gave his caregivers careful instructions on how to reach the village where his dear siblings were: “Turn right from the road, and go straight for 6 miles, and you will see a small temple on the side of the road. “

His caregivers, like everyone who had the privilege of loving and being loved by him, indulged him. He truly was a man of many gifts – loving pragmatism was just one of them. 

Dear maama’s life was full of verve, energy, fun, love, and was tragic at the same time.

Yet, he never dwelled on the tragic. He was always a man of action. His nimble mind moved quickly with any tragic event to acceptance, and then looked for the actionable. He never considered any other course that a lesser human being might have resorted to. He was going to be helpful however he could, and he would do whatever was in his power to do. That was his responsibility. 

Talking to some of the lives he had touched after the dear man passed away, I found myself crying at times, laughing at some loving and funny thing that was so characteristic of him at others. The skies went from a count-your-blessings light to a gloomy ash-spewing state as the fires continued to spread through acres of land. 

Gloomy skies spewing ash

I have often wondered how the young children moved past self-pity. After all, the universe had played a low trick on them. He must have been a 11 or 12 year old boy when his father died, and his mother went into a decline from which she never recovered. The youngest sibling of his was my mother, all of 2 and a half years old, and he took her under his protective wing from when she could remember. 

Every time I think of the mammoth responsibilities the brothers shouldered, I shuddered. In an unforgiving world, the 7 siblings formed a bond like none others. 

No story about my mother is ever complete without Jayaram Maama and Pattumani Maama. Corporate environments would have made one write the vision statement and the other the mission statement. The younger of the two brothers, Ambi, as he was affectionately known, was the visionary one. He was also the effervescent one. The brothers made it their mission to educate their sisters at a time when most girls were married off at a tender age with an elementary school education – #HeForShe before it became a thing. They were curious combinations of the ritualistic and progressive. (My mother and her sister were the first women graduates from their village and went on to teach High School Maths, Physics and Chemistry)

Always forward looking, always willing to take action for what needs to happen next; his life is a lesson in acceptance, gumption, and constant self improvement. 

Today the skies have cleared up sufficiently for the sun to shine through again. It doesn’t feel apocalyptic anymore. 

Maybe the grand man is ready for the next great adventure. After all, he joined Pattumani on his second death anniversary.

To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter 

Turmeric Magic

I felt a surge of amusement when I made cauliflower last time. The grocery lists needed love, and the results were showing.

“Yay Cauliflower!” yipped the young son, beaming like the early rising golden moon at this wonderful treat. Moments later, the moon face drifted under the clouds and his face looked disappointed as he looked at the pale muck of a curry that had been ladled onto this plate. “This isn’t Cauliflower curry! Isn’t it usually golden?” he said.

“Yeah ma – this one looks so pale. Like it needs some Vit D or something – should I take it for a walk in the sun?” said the daughter.  

I laughed at their reaction. Running a home can be tricky business in the best of times. My grocery lists are not things one writes home about even then (newspaper articles maybe but not to one’s mothers). In Covid times, I beam when we get by with everyone fed at reasonable times. Of course, this means I had to throw 2 tantrums since nicely asking did not seem to work. (I know!)

  1. Tantrum#1: 
    1. Venue:  work
    2. Subject: No meetings between 12:30 & 1:15! 
    3. Result: Sheesh kebabs reactions but people finding ways to accommodate this unreasonable ask
  2. Tantrum #2:
    1. Venue: home
    2. Subject: All people requiring daily sustenance will come to eat between 12:30 & 1:15!
    3. Result: Jeez-whats-with-her flavored eye rolls, followed by expressions as if indulging the local idiot 

Anyway, what happened was that we had run out of turmeric powder. As any decent south-indian cook will tell you, this simplest of spices is a must in almost everything that makes its way to a stove-top. It was only when one does not have the little sprinkling does one realize the joy and gaiety in the dishes thanks to it. It is like a drop of sunshine in the blobs of goo, and the children picked up on that. 

For the next few days, I quietly turned up more discolored dishes. The jokes became more raucous. Even the taste seemed altered. It is curious how tuned our sensory systems worked: taste seemed better if we liked how they looked, they even smelled more appetizing when they looked that scintillating yellow. Seeing that the world seemed a less vibrant place sans turmeric, the husband quietly made a special grocery run after the third day of discolored dishes. 

That day, I felt like a particularly gifted potion maker working her magic with the spices:

“…The beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses…” – Professor Severus Snape – Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone.

I am glad to say that the folks seated around the table glowed from the rays of the yellow mellow sun at this meal.

“Wow! Everything is golden and sunny again!”

“Yep! Appa got turmeric at the grocery store!” I said, and the children cackled.

“Who’d have thought we would miss turmeric?” said the daughter. 

“Well Marco Polo certainly did!” I said. “The world was altered thanks to turmeric, pepper and ginger! So, I suppose it is okay to miss it.” I could see the little titbit had their interests piqued, and they listened in spite of themselves. 

The Travels of Marco Polo

“Many explorers started out in the medieval ages trying to find newer and better routes to the Indian subcontinent for spices. Marco Polo attempted an exploration that lasted almost 24 years . He made his way from Venice in Italy through the Mediterranean seas, past the harsh climates of the deserts in the middle east and the Himalayas in the north and north-east, as he went on past modern-day Tibet all the way to the Gobi Desert in China. His travels along the silk road were published in 1298 and are still sought after – The Travels of Marco Polo! “

“I did not write half of what I saw, for I knew I would not be believed”
― Marco Polo, on his deathbed

“So, you see – It is probable that this brave explorer in search of turmeric, pepper and other spices, altered world history and our grocery lists forever!” I said. 

The discussion then turned to European explorers setting out to find new routes to the Indian subcontinent, silk roads and trade routes. The history of the world, and how we have always been more interconnected on this planet than we realize, is fascinating.

The golden dishes took on an extra flavor with the story of the spices, and I sat back contented and grateful for a good meal in these times of the pandemic.

Qi to the Yin & Yang

Fact and Fiction were swirling and creating waves and patterns inside the old eggshell. Harry Potter – A History of Magic was entertaining in ways I did not quite expect. Regular readers and friends know how much I love the Harry Potter series. The sheer brilliance and richness of the world, and the marvelous ways in which J K Rowling examines our world has been written about in far greater depth and width and by far greater minds than my own. (Leaky Cauldron site for instance)

I know I enjoyed reading  this in The Prisoner of Azkaban

“Witch Burning in the Fourteenth Century Was Completely Pointless — discuss” – Holiday homework set to Harry Potter and his classmates in the Prisoner of Azkaban.

“Non-magic people (more commonly known as Muggles) were particularly afraid of magic in medieval times, but not very good at recognizing it. On the rare occasion that they did catch a real witch or wizard, burning had no effect whatsoever. The witch or wizard would perform a basic Flame Freezing Charm and then pretend to shriek with pain while enjoying a gentle, tickling sensation. Indeed, Wendelin the Weird enjoyed being burned so much that she allowed herself to be caught no less than forty-seven times in various disguises.”
—Bathilda Bagshot, A History of Magic

Harry Potter – A History of Magic book was amazing – Firstly, it contained little tidbits of deleted sections, some planning sketches etc. Secondly, it was organized by subject area: Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Care of Magical Creatures, & Transfiguration. In each section were glimpses into humankind’s long fascination with magic. It is astounding to see the vast repertoire of knowledge that the author herself had to be able to synthesize all this and to create another world based on anthropological details, myths from various cultures and her own dose of fantastic imagination.

history_magic

The mind was reveling in the fact and admiring the fiction therein. Our cosmic dance of fact and fiction as a species is almost necessary to examine and understand the world around us. We are story tellers, and we are curious to understand and infer. The Qi to the Yin and Yang of understanding the world around us.

The Astronomy section of the book contained a drawing of the Rudolphine Tables, which helped the reader locate the planets amidst the stars. Containing the locations of 1000+ stars, this was probably the most comprehensive study at the time.

Beside the picture of the Rudophine Tables was a note by Alexander Lock, the Curator
“In 1617, Kepler’s mother was suspected of witchcraft, a crime punishable by death. The accused spent over a year in prison but was eventually released when her son intervened. Kepler was an official astronomer to the Holy Roman Emperor – this family intrigue must have been very difficult for him.”

489px-Johannes-kepler-tabulae-rudolphinae-google-arts-culture

I could not help linking this with some of the things I read in Carl Sagan’s Science as a Candle in the Dark, especially a chapter titled the Demon Haunted World, in which he talks about the grotesque practice of witch hunts and how it became an increasingly profit driven model as well.

Pope Innocent VIII (if ever there was a name that was totally out of sorts with the meaning, this must be it). Pope Innocent was singularly responsible for starting and popularizing the witch hunts in the 15th and 16th centuries leading to millions of people losing their lives and millions more living in a state of constant fear.

There are demon-haunted worlds, regions of utter darkness. – The Isa Upanishad (India ca 600 BC).

With a single proclamation in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII “initiated the systematic accusation, torture and execution of countless “witches” all over Europe.

While we know of the barbaric practices, little did I realize how pervasive the evil was – The Demon Haunted World -By  Carl Sagan:
It quickly became an expense account scam. All costs of investigation, trial, and execution were borne by the accused or her relatives down to per diems for the private detectives hired to spy on her, wine for her guards, banquets for her judges the travel expenses of a messenger set to fetch a more experienced torturer from another city, and faggots, tar and hangman’s rope. Then there was a bonus to the members of the tribunal for each witch burned. The convicted witch ‘s remaining property, if any, was divided between Church and State.

While I am enormously glad to see that we have evolved past this especially cruel phase of mankind’s history it does make me feel terrible about the state of things in the world today. Conspiracy theories, choosing which version of the truth to believe in etc have been problems for a long time, but now it seems these problems have occupied center stage because the leader of the free world seems to spend enormous amounts of time ingesting and spewing conspiracy theories himself.

Maybe it is time for all of us to equip ourselves with Carl Sagan’s famous Baloney Detection Kits.

But there is hope, we have moved past the atrocities of witch-burning to the point that we are now not only able to have witches and wizards in our stories, but also have a clear distinction between fact and fiction.

The yin and yang are sturdily holding their own, and I hope our qi (understanding) will remain unclouded and clear.

 

United in Social Distancing

This post was published in The India Currents magazine: Unity in the face of the Virus-that-must-not-be-named

“This is the Ministry of Magic all over again!” I said.

The Ministry of Magic, as Harry Potter fans know completely botched up the rise of Voldemort – they were in denial, then went on a campaign of outright lying with false facts, bravado, and then a rude reckoning of the truth. The Order of the Phoenix, is one of those books that really opens our eyes to incompetent leaders.

order_of_phoenix

We were discussing the United States’ handling of the Corona virus, COVID-19 health threat.

Everywhere on social media there was information – some true, some untrue, some alarmist, some pacifist, many telling us not to worry, but worrisome all the same. Our President, it seems, has not yet arrived at the true reckoning of the situation, and continued his bravado. The President blundered on about his building walls to stop the spread, his biggest problem seemed to be the Stock market index.

Meanwhile, the CDC did not have enough testing kits ready, so we do not know how pervasive the situation really is.

Vox article: here

We all pass through these phases of denial, a state of holy-moly, and a surreal settling in to things. (I had been vacillating between astonished denial & mild panic, up until the 1st week of March in California). We do the best we can. We see the terms quarantine & social distancing, and try to come to terms with this new mode of functioning. We are social animals now united by the need for social distancing.

Our company announced an ‘Encouraged to WFH policy’ like many other tech companies. That has now been upped to a ‘Mandatory work from home’. I know many of us used the public transit systems to get to the office, so we were obviously grateful to be told thus, and to have the kind of jobs that can be done remotely for a short period of time. It was not lost on me that a great many people did not have the same luxury.

Covid-19 is unprecedented for many of us. People who had lived through the SARS outbreak 18 years earlier are probably the ones who have seen something similar in their lifetimes. For the vast majority of us though, this is new territory. How do we determine the best sources of information?

How do we learn lessons from the countries who are already dealing with the situation? Taiwan, China, Singapore. How did Italy quarantine their entire populace?

Humanity always comes together in the best & worst of times. When our leaders do not provide timely guidance, our collective reasoning can, and much like the Wizarding World united in the face of Voldemort, I am sure we shall do the same this time around: by collectively, voluntarily, distancing ourselves socially, being responsible, and putting the greater good ahead of us.

Read also:

Blame the Toxos

Good Food Mood

Click to access 2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf

The tiniest virus it seems brings us closer to the human condition than any other thing can. We are human and are therefore at risk.

 Books: 

  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J K Rowling
  • We Contain Multitudes – Ed Yong

 

Fox 🦊  & Pan 🐐 ⛰

“You know? Most of my morality comes from Percy Jackson and Harry Potter?” said the teenage daughter one day. 

“Gee! Thanks for that speech on wonderful parenting my dear, No clasping mother and father to heart and tears of joys on helping you navigate a messy world and all that?!”

She had the grace to laugh. 

She had been holed up in her room all morning, and I had hollered to her to come and help me with the chores. She stumped downstairs, unable as a teenager, to let on that she was probably enjoying the interlude of putting away the dishes with music in the background. 

As the dishes clattered, the kitchen was enveloped yet again in a mythological whirl. The daughter was always fond of Rick Riordan’s Greek and Roman mythological tales. The son, who has now started to read the series with gusto is thrilled at being included in the club of discussing these important works of literature with his sister. The warring factions of the Gods Vs the Titans has been analyzed from teenage, pre-teenage and elementary child angles. Myths have an alluring charm and when you find the similarity between Cerberus and Fluffy the three-headed dogs in Percy Jackson and Harry Potter series, it is always worth doing a little dance jig, and discussing with the teenaged sister. 

3-head-dog

The husband and I have been made to read the books too, and I must say they make for entertaining reading. I still prefer the Harry Potter series, but I see the lure of Rick Riordan’s work. He has perfected the rhythm of adventure with the right mix of modernity set against Greek gods in our world. 

“Which God would you be if you had an option?” the daughter asked, and the answers flowed forth. When it came to me, I paused for a moment and said, “Probably a nature god. Who was she? Hera?”

“Nah…You are thinking of Persephone. She is the Goddess of spring – you’ll like her too”, looking like a doctor arriving at a tricky diagnosis, “but I think Pan is more suited to you,” said she.

img_1993

“Fine then. I will be Pan. Pan is the strongest God if he is the Nature God right?” I said knowing fully well that my answer would be met with an uproar: 

Zeus is the most powerful. 

The top three are Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. 

“Well you know what happened to Pan?”, and then the pair stopped mid-sentence and exchanged meaningful glances. 

“We must not spoil the suspense for you, Amma, but it is very sad what happened to Pan.” said she.

“What happened?”

“NO! Don’t – let Amma read it!” said the most recent reader of the books.

“Just tell me!”, I said, deftly catching a cup from cracking as I caught it from the dishwasher.

A dramatic sigh followed, and the sad prognosis was delivered.  “Pan is fading Amma. He is no longer a force that he was on Gaia now. It is up to us now to save Earth!”

I looked at their faces and felt a surge of pride, alongside a wave of gratitude to writers like Rick Riordan who so beautifully captured the essence of conservation in a manner that so many young children can relate to. Where would we be without the gifts of imagination and creativity?

I read another short story, Fox 8 , by George Saunders, who captured my attention, in a similar manner. Written from the viewpoint of a fox, Fox 8, it outlines the sad outcome of a mall being developed in Fox View Commons ( an area that was home to many animals, forests and trees). Fox 8 learns how to “speek yuman”, at the window of children being read to by their parents at bedtime. Fox 8 loves the stories, their morals and their imagination. Even though, the stories get things wrong about animals all the time, he is fascinated. Fox 8 is a huge fan of yumans and their ingenuity even when the mall development essentially drives their pack to hunger and death. The story ends on a sad note, with Fox 8 wondering how yumans can be cruel and unfeeling towards fellow beings with life, when their stories promise to teach differently.

I have said this once and I say it again – if only we could learn to live like the stories we weave for our children – with wonder, empathy, bravery and curiosity, wouldn’t our lives be more whole-hearted and content? Maybe our greed could be in check and Pan would not have to fade away so much.

Homo Incredulitatis

For the past few years, we have not watched any of the Harry Potter movies in the home because we did not want to ruin the Harry Potter stories for the little sponge in the household. So, we waited patiently till he read Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone. He read some of it, had some of it read to him, and he discussed the whole of it with his Harry Potter wise sister. (Please check out the latest edition with illustrations by Jim Kay. His illustrations are beautiful as if he lived and breathed in the story himself.)

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He only had the last chapter left, and savored the thought like the last piece of cake. The pair of us snuggled up one day with the rain pattering the windows and read. I read in the low rumbling voice of Albus Dumbledore:
‘As for the Stone, it has been destroyed.’
‘Destroyed?’ said Harry blankly. ‘But your friend – Nicolas Flamel – ‘

Dumbledore smiled at the look of amazement on Harry’s face.
‘To one as young as you, I’m sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well organized mind, death is but the next adventure. You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all – the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things which are worst for them.”

I could not agree more. Fresh from my readings of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, I was already uneasy with our hideous choices for progress:
An economy built on everlasting growth needs endless projects – just like the quests for immortality, bliss and divinity.

The husband had spent the afternoon watching a movie with some very interesting sound effects. A sci-fi crime thriller of one who had moved his consciousness into the ether and could possess bodies at will. “Something like Voldemort, only he could find one horcrux at a time and keep going.” said the husband.

Living for ever, resurrecting species back from the dead?

Why? A few years ago, we played a game in the car with the children where we asked the children which animal they would bring back from extinction, to great hilarity (Dodo, Dragon, Dinosaur Dis-apparitions) . This had such an impossible Sci-Fi feel to it, and that contributed to the thrill of the game. I mean you cannot bring back Dodos can you?

In less than two years, I read a book titled ‘Woolly: Bringing the Mammoth Back to Life’ by Ben Mezrich. I only read the book now, but work on that front has been going ever since we learnt to sequence a genome, and cloned a sheep. If pressed on the benefit of this move, I suppose mankind would say, “This will help reduce global warming by ensuring the Tundra permafrost is packed in with the stomping of large beasts.”

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I am not so sure. If anything, we use our considerable creativity to find grand purposes.

I was intrigued by the husband’s movie discussion on immortality in the form of storing one’s thoughts elsewhere. I have been looking at my thoughts ever since this discussion, and I got to tell you: There isn’t much going on up there. No future generation in the 25th century will benefit from my great wisdom. In fact, the number of times I resist eating chocolate, and then meekly give in, might be the greatest wisdom there is.

Projecting the future is a crummy business. An excerpt from the book, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari:
While some experts are familiar with developments in one field, such as AI, nanotechnology, big data or genetics, no one is an expert on everything. No one is capable of connecting all the dots and seeing the full picture. Different fields influence one another in such intricate ways that even the best minds cannot fathom how breakthroughs in artificial intelligence might impact nanotechnology or vice versa. Nobody can absorb all the latest scientific discoveries, nobody can predict how the global economy will look in 10 years, and nobody has a clue where we are heading in such a rush.

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Why does the unknown scare us? If that is the case, isn’t tinkering with immortality even more of an unknown than death?

Our tales and myths are full of warnings against this very wish. From Bhasmasura, Ravana and Hiranyakashipu to Grindelwald, and Voldemort, we have read and ingested that immortality is not such a sweet bunch of grapes as it is made out to be.

Homo Sapiens seem to have forgotten that Happiness is only important when we have unhappiness to compare it against. Life is only good because we know it is finite, and we strive to make it a full, worthwhile one. Would I cherish every moment and live in the present and all that lark, if the present is all there ever is? It was a sobering thought.

Really Homo Sapiens are Homo Incredulitatis!

Books: 
   Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone: J K Rowling 
   Homo Deus: Yuval Noah Harari
   Woolly: Ben Mezrich
Movie: Mayavan
Myths: Bhasmasura, Ravana, Hiranyakisapu

Sunset In The Queen’s Garden

In what was an impressive track record for last minute booking, the husband booked a trip, that flew us into Las Vegas and from there onto the beautiful sights in Utah. In one week, we had been in 4 states: California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

Sitting in the car that bright morning as we drove past Zion national park into Bryce Canyon national park, I felt the familiar stirrings of wonder. Nature often has this effect on me. The magnificence, brilliance and grandeur of nature never fails to instill awe. Always partial to trees, rivers and mountains when it comes to scenery, I could not help thinking how nature had once again jostled me out of my familiar likes and dislikes and opened my mind to appreciate beauty so different and so breath taking.

As Johannes Kepler says in his book, Mysterium Cosmographicum

The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment. 

Buddha in Lotus?
Buddha in Lotus?

We had driven past Zion national park early enough in the morning to go on to Bryce Canyon National Park. We received the first glimpse of hoodoos in Dixie national forest. Set against the bright blue sky, they looked like statues from another world sent here to evoke an art that stuns and astonishes. We were listening to a Harry Potter audio book: a series that nudges even the most reluctant thinker into imagination, so it was no wonder that my mind buzzed with actors from another world setting the stage for the impressive hoodoo theatre.

“What should we do at Bryce?” asked the husband

“Well… the Queen’s Garden trail comes highly recommended, so that and a few other trails ought to do it.” I said vaguely, and continued musing.

Would the Queen’s Garden be as poetic as its name?  Would there be any hoodoos?  Little was I to know that Bryce Canyon hosted an entire amphitheater of them, and that we would be able to walk amidst them.

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One of the things I like best about road trips through the National Parks in the USA are the poetic names every point is given. Take for instance the Queen’s Garden. Instead of saying Rock Point or Hoodoo Lookout, the trail was given a mystifying  and satisfying name: Fairy Loop through the Queen’s Garden in the Amphitheater. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Apparently, one of the hoodoos resembled Queen Victoria in the setting sunlight’s shadow.

Could there really be a weird coincidence of having one’s silhouette set in stone that gives us a clue as to which human beings live on in name and fame? Or do we only assume likenesses to those already living on in name and fame?  Hoodoo musings are quixotic.

The day at Bryce Canyon was beautiful and as other-worldly as it is possible to get in so short a span of time.

Meandering through the park, we found ourselves washing up near the Queen’s Garden trail towards day’s end. The trail itself looped from Sunrise Point dipped via the Queen’s Garden and came back up near Sunset Point. If the point had not been named Sunset Point, would we have stopped to take in the grandeur of the sunset over the Amphitheater like setting of the valley? I am not sure. I do not think the sunset is any more spectacular here than at any other point in the Canyon, but simply by naming a point Sunset Point, we were encouraged to wait for the hues of the setting sun to unleash its marvelous palette of colors across the skies, thus bathing the amphitheater before us in surreal colors.

The setting sun took its time. It first peeked behind a hoodoo and then cast its fading light slowly upon the horizon.

As we stood there bundled up bracing for the sudden dip in Winter temperature after the sun sets, I could not help thinking of Ray Bradbury’s thought on the Happiness Machine in the book, Dandelion Wine: A Sunset is only beautiful because it doesn’t last forever.

While it lasted though, it was magical.

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“Doesn’t it make you feel poetic?”, I said gazing mesmerized at the hoodoos in the amphitheater before us.  “This Queen’s Garden hike reminds me of Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole. This is a Wonderland. The gargantuan arches of orange and pink beauty beckon!”, I said theatrically, flourishing my hands wide and raising my face heaven-wards. It is imperative at moments of impetuousness such as this to ignore teenagers inserting the practical note into life.

“It is just erosion.”, said the daughter bringing me back to Earth in a thud, but I saw her smiling happily and taking in the horizon.

Without art, science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science, art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous. -Raymond Thornton Chandler 

http://www.zionnational-park.com/bryce-canyon-trails.htm Quote below:

The Queen’s Garden Trail leads hikers past wonderful rock formations, including Gulliver’s Castle, the Queen’s Castle and many that are unnamed. Man-made bridges are scattered throughout the trail. At the end is Queen Elizabeth’s garden and the Queen herself, standing on a backward facing camel, calling out orders to the ships in the garden. The queen can also be seen from Sunrise Point.

Standing there under the rays of the setting sun, waiting to unleash another cold night, before rising again, the daughter and I imagined the place as it would have been millions of years ago, with underwater life teeming in its depths, crafting the very hoodoos for us to delight in today.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” — Lao Tzu

If only, we let Nature go on its course without hurrying to leave our indelible imprint on the canvas, I am sure something even more remarkable can be handed down to generations after us.

Happy All Hallows Eve

Did you know November 1st is Saints Day? With Halloween around the corner, I thought it might be fun to see how the word evolved. So, here goes:

November 1st is All Saints Day

Therefore, October 31st is All Saints Eve

October 31st is All Hallows Eve (‘Hallow’ also means to make holy or respect greatly and hence, synonymous with Saints)

October 31st is All Hallows Even (It is the evening after all)

When you try to say ‘Happy All Hallows Even’ about 30 times in 2 minutes, you get at ‘Happy Halloween’. (I suggest you try the exercise in private.)

All this is fine so far, but if you are unsure as to how All Saints Day got associated with ghosts, ghouls, spirits and ugly decor, please check out this news item that walks you through the progression of Halloween over the centuries.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/28/forgotten-history-of-halloween_n_6062236.html?ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067

In the meanwhile, two diabolically different worlds are coming together in the household this year for Halloween. A perfectly poised Hermione Granger (replete with the fake British accent) from the Harry Potter Universe will boss around 3 year old Lightning McQueen. Uncharacteristically, for Lightning McQueen, he will listen humbly and follow unquestioningly all the directions that Hermione sets forth for him. So what if the Harry Potter Universe is still using floating candles and speaking Latin, while Lightning McQueen is off touring the world and racing big-time? Who said there should be no collision between fictional worlds?

Speaking of fictional worlds, it is time for us to peek into that lovely forest with all the animals to see what they are doing to celebrate Halloween. Halloween In The Jungle is now available in the iBook store. Tango Tiger, Oby Elephant, Biso Bison, Percy Parrot, Zebo Zebra and many more join in this adventure to make Halloween a success in the Jungle. Please grab a copy, and listen to the story while sipping some pumpkin juice from Farmer Hasalot’s pumpkin patch.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/halloween-in-the-jungle/id928925386?ls=1&mt=11

Halloween In The Jungle
Halloween In The Jungle: 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/halloween-in-the-jungle/id928925386?ls=1&mt=11

The Jungle is a busy place with Halloween approaching, eerie orchestra sounds, pumpkin juice and lemonade stalls, spiders at work. You must feel just a little bit compelled to chip in, right?

The Jungle is a busy place preparing for the Halloween Party
The Jungle is a busy place preparing for the Halloween Party

Happy Halloween! May the force be with you!