The Joy-o-meter

“I read the book like Appa watches a movie! Done in 15 minutes, but got the gist. “ I said to general laughter. When the Spring cleaning bug bites, the family scuttles, and shy away from me like a horse that choked on plastic flowers once, and whinnies at the fresh wildflowers in the fields. 

“Really Amma! You too?” said the children

I admit I usually do not resort to the skimming technique. But this time, I read the Marie Kondo book on The Magic of Tidying Up.  “Well …. You know how some books have all they need to say in an article, but make books and songs out of them? That was this book. In essence, the table of contents should suffice, but if you want the nub of the thing, it is: If something doesn’t spark joy discard it!” 

“So, why are you still here?” Came the answer pat. Really! The speed of the repartee, I will never learn I tell you. I just walk into traps, and then goggle like a famished gargoyle, with these smart-alecks in the home. 

I sniffed a haughty sniff, and continued. “Anyway, I am going to apply the concept to the whole house. So, if something sparks joy in you, keep it, else junk it. Spring cleaning starts tomorrow!” I said in my best energetic cleaner voice. Dark looks were exchanged, some mutterings were heard, and talk was ripe of hoping that I would head out into those long walks that have me famished by the end of it all, so I spare the lot the anguish of losing things. The problem is of course that the things the children are passionate about and the things I am passionate about, are not an intersecting set. Consequently, the last time, I threw away a cardboard box, I spent a trying afternoon with the son who behaved like a gladiator losing his arena. I have since learnt my lesson, and they are given a warning. 

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I started the morning with my closet feeling like Mole spring cleaning his home in The Wind in the Willows.

The Mole had been working hard all morning spring cleaning his little home.

I must tell you. How do you mean ‘spark joy’? Some clothes you see are out of fashion, have some problems, faded etc. But mostly I seem to have clothes that I liked. So, how to deploy the joy-o-meter by them? 

Almost all my ethnic clothes evoked memories – does that count as sparking joy? For instance, I picked up the pink skirt bought in a bazaar in Jaipur. The blue hand-drawn elephants were not exactly life-like, but I could not stop the memories from marching in. The sister-in-law and I had had a tete-a-tete with the skirt vendor, and we landed up enjoying tea, pakoras, and a long chat on local artisans and design techniques, while the husband stood nearby sounding like a cooker letting out impatient steam.

Or the carefully hand woven and fabric painted dupatta that I had decided was too much to buy in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk bazaar, and settled for more utilitarian lunch boxes.  Imagine my glee then, only to find that the lovely dupatta was bought for me by the loving family on a subsequent shopping trip seeing how much I liked it. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

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Or the dancing saree that captured my spirit? The one with ballet dancers and Bharatnatyam dancers printed on them in unison – East-West collaboration at its saree best. 

The only ones I could apply the rule to, seemed to be the mass produced mall clothes bought in ‘Sale’ sections, which wasn’t much.

If there was a usage ratio to apply, almost all of the ethnic clothes can be set aside. If there was a cost to the environment ratio to be applied, one must keep these clothes till we use them at least a few times before discarding them. Over this, one must apply the cultural umbrella of using new clothes for every occasion, and the result is a sorry state of affairs.

I wonder if joy-o-meter designs can use all these variables. 

I looked pityingly at the disappointing results of the morning scourge. Feeling a bit of a hypocrite, I told the children to save anything they liked, and almost instantly regretted it, for the son ran for the largest cardboard box set for the recycling bin and said – “Dibs! I want this in my room!” 

No wonder the Mole preferred to scurry outside into the beautiful spring rather than finish spring cleaning his home.

“The joy of living and the delight of spring made him jump into the air, and he raced across the meadow ….” – The Wind in the Willows

The Joy-O-Meter swung to the right, and all was well with the world.

Spring Fever

“Why do goats looks so stern? I thought they are happy especially now in spring-time. Like lambs in spring-time could also mean like goat-kids in spring-time, no?”

The children exchanged looks. They knew to diagnose my bout of Spring Fever. I am seen scuttling off to sniff the air and marvel at life sitting up and stirring from its sleepy winter state. I head into the house looking flushed and happy. By evening, I am tired, but refuse to reduce the dose of spring bounding. But still this talk of stern looking goats had them worried.

“Ma?! You okay? Why are we talking of goats now?” said the daughter a mock-solicitous look in her eye, and I laughed out loud, and told them the context of the goat-ish tale.

“Well, it all started like this. Do you remember last Friday evening being  particularly beautiful? So, I shut the laptop with a whim, and headed out into the sunset. The hills were alive with the magic of spring. I told myself poetically that I could not bear to be a cell in a spreadsheet anymore. I wanted to be a newly sprouted leaf on a tree, a whimsical flower fluttering away in the mild breeze, or a Finnish fainting goat chewing thoughtfully at that latest blade of grass.

“Not for me the confines of mankind! Get rid of the shackles, and head out! “ I said.

” Uh-hm – someone would think you have a mission you are fighting for. How many times will you take pictures of the cherry blossoms and the clouds, and the sunset, hmm?” said the children but I waved these things away. Days like this are not meant to be wasted indoors arguing about the wisdom or lack thereof of going outdoors.

For a few months of the year, our neck of the woods resembles fairy lands, or the lands of the gods, or maybe heaven itself. The occasional rains, the burst of wildflowers, and the sunsets are all glorious. So much so that I find myself wandering around the countryside apparently lost, but really just finding the inner self. At least it is what I tell myself when that pile of laundry needs washing or that closet needs cleaning. Marie Kondo urges me to better myself, but Early Spring is more inviting. 

The fox squirrels atop the plum blossoms look naughty, while the fainting goat looks stern, the horse in the pastures peaceful, and the sunset glorious.

Where was I? Yes, on the stern looks of Finnish fainting goats. I had often wondered while reading the Three Billy Goats Gruff why the author went in for Gruff, but I see the choice of the word as I stood there admiring the serene setting against which the Finnish Fainting goat stood in its patch of farmland.

“Anyway, ” I said getting back to the point of stern goats, “I suppose if I had foul folks like me boggling at their spot of residence in that manner just because it is Spring, I would be gruff too! But the goat has a manner that is at once endearing, sober and majestic. The clump of fur on its chin growing away like a goatee (Get it? Get it? Goats have goatees!) made it look wise, and the green grass it chomped on made the world look a sweeter place.”

The children moaned not unlike the goat, and said, “Why not just call it a goat, why this fancy Finnish Fainting Goat?”

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“That is easy my dears. Google assures me that the picture I took of the goat is a Finnish Fainting Goat. And in any case, I doubt you would have listened patiently if I said I would tell you a story about a goat. No you would not have. But a Finnish Fainting Goat got your attention, did it not?” I said feeling clever.

“Ma?!” said the daughter, clenching her teeth. “You haven’t told us the story of the goat. You told us about the goat…you know what?! Never mind!”

“Yes…Never mind.” I said using that conciliatory spring-time tone, and said, “I will take you hiking there to see the old fellow. I am sure you all will like him. Looks like a satyr of your Greek myths. There is your story! Percy Jackson stuff on our next hike! ”

I ignored the ensuing groans. The fainting goat satyr and narcissus blooms will help.

Sunny Side Up

California is bursting with beauty in Spring. Sometimes, the beauty is unimaginable in the literal sense of the world. When I close my eyes at night,  I see upon my mind’s eye the flowers rushing to bloom, and the leaves sprouting etc, but reality is much better. Hope is stirring, and I feel a great need to join nature’s party. 

The pandemic lifestyle has chipped into my reading time somewhat, so I felt a treat was in order. Uncle Fred in the Springtime, by P. G. Wodehouse was that treat. I spent time with the decision. Like an excited toddler told that they can choose either the candy or the ice cream. Should I visit Bertie Wooster & Jeeves, or the beautiful gardens of Blandings Castle? 

As I sat squashed between a rosemary bush on the left, a lavender patch behind me and purple verbena flowers (I think) on the right, I felt like Lord Ickenham (Uncle Fred) myself. A great sense of peace and a sanguine sense all-will-be-well stole over me. 

Uncle Fred in the Springtime by [P. G. Wodehouse]

Not for the first time did I thank the universe for sunny minds like P.G.Wodehouse. I suppose there are quite a few like him in this world- thank goodness he chose to share his bounty with us. 

A telling piece had me analyzing life from various angles and my restive spirit bounded off on its own. A helpful bee buzzed me back to the gardens of Shropshire where Lord Emsworth waited patiently with his large pig, The Empress of Blandings. 

“Anyone ignorant of the difference between a pessimist and an optimist would have been able to pick up a useful pointer of two by scanning the faces of this nephew and this uncle. The passage of time had done nothing to relieve Pongo’s apprehensions regarding the… As always when fate had linked his movements with those of the head of the family, he was feeling like a man floating over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Lord Ickenham, on the other hand, was all that was jovial and debonair. Tilting his hand at a jaunty angle, he gazed about him with approval at the decorous station which has for so many years echoed to the tread of county families.”

I felt for Pongo Twistelton. To hobnob with one with such an optimistic outlook as Lord Ickenham isn’t all roses and lavender, as I knew only too well.  The husband suffers from incorrigible optimism, and it is most trying. When you’d like to blow a few whistles like a cooker with too much pressure built up, it doesn’t help to see your partner-in-exactly-the-same-situation bleating happily and behaving like all these pressures are life’s little gifts meant to tease and ease our life.

The t-shirt his children chose for him has the phrase: ‘There is 50% water, 50% air, Technically, the glass is completely full!’

And he deserves every syllable of it. 

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Personality perplexes all the time. I have wondered how perfectly stout fellows with excellent circumstances in life, go about life like their last bondas were nicked from under their nose perpetually; and how others who have their last bondas nicked from under their noses, go about singing and shrugging it off saying, ‘That last bonda would really have been too much. Truly marvelous!”

The Disney Pixar movie, Soul, hits the mysteries of personalities bang on the head.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs–6c7Hn_A

Who enters the optimistic tent and which ones were lured into the pessimistic tents? Could we find a way to get us some optimism? The surest way I’ve found is via a peek into the ‘sunlit perfection’ of the worlds created by sunny minds such as P G Wodehouse.

For those moping about life, please head outdoors and take a sprig of spring. All others, please do the same. 

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Roving on Planets

Standing outside by the curbside of our home one night, my eyes were drawn to the beautifully illumined Sirius shining bright in the night sky. Sirius has been looking brighter than usual in the winter skies, and I have often stared at the blinking star wondering what was happening that far away in the Universe.  Every dot in the night sky suggesting a universe of possibilities. The space between dots showing the emptiness, the dots themselves, bright and important only because of the surrounding darkness

Almost subconsciously, my eyes moved over to the red spot Mars. For here, in our own solar neighborhood, we know that something is happening. Something of human interest, and intent. To think that on that distant reddish spot in the sky, 3 generations of rovers have spent the time taking photographs and trying to determine the existence of life on the planet, is surreal. Not to mention the fact that they have been able to transmit the pictures back to Earth for analysis. 

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The planet has long beckoned us with its allure. All those Science Fiction writers, who used the planet as the home for their fertile imagination, paved the way for these missions. 

Fiction on Mars isn’t new. In fact, the red planet invited writers as early as mid-1800’s to set their stories there. Long before knowing anything about the sounds on Mars, the temperatures, or the atmospheres; worlds were set in it. War of the Worlds had the strangest creatures that human imagination could think of (cephalopod like creatures), who could overpower humans. (This quest for dominance vs courteous co-existence is a pet peeve – why must we turn everything into a conquest? But then, do ants wonder the same about us?) 

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Throughout the week, the little cosmologist in the house interspersed our Earthly life with Mars-ly anecdotes and clips. 

Do you know? If we want to live on Mars, we have to have high metal barrier suits. If you go out on an adventure without a suit, there is so much radiation that it could kill you. “ (He had read a novel set in Mars)

Wonder what happened to all water on Mars. The video said there really was water there.” (He has been watching the NASA  videos with interest)

One evening, we sat together huddled up, watching pictures stitched together from the 3 Mars rovers: Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance. Barren desert landscapes, not unlike those in the Sahara desert or the Arizonian deserts, are all the rovers could see. In some shots, the commentator says the NASA team stitched thousands of individual images together to gain a clearer view. In some pictures, a blue sky is visible  (the commentator says that NASA colored the skies blue, so as to be able to see the images better, and I thought about how pretty blue skies are and how blue is a very rare color in nature. )

Curiosity and Perseverance will help us find answers. Till then, we have the opportunity to ponder and puzzle about these things. More than any of these curious wanderings, the one thing that the Martian landscape reinforces to me, is that our Earth is a beautiful planet – so vast in its diversity, and lifeforms. The Martian pictures make me want to go out and sigh and fall in love, look after, and cherish the one planet we can thrive on. To admire the miracle that is every tree, every lake, every cloud, every blade of grass, and every flower. 

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Not to mention the great miracle of life in the form of marine creatures, land based creatures and those that are able to aerially survey our beautiful planet. 

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If Martian 4K resolution images have taught me anything, it is to buckle down and look after the one planet we do have. If I am to be roving on planets, why not this beautiful one that has so much to offer?

“I walk in the world to love it.” – Mary Oliver

The 3 Cs

The daughter was educating me on Cancel Culture. I sometimes get classes such as these from the snarky teenage daughter. The syllabus is contemporary and loosely defined. Topics include ‘vibing’ with the times, progressive thinking patterns, book/movie reviews etc. This, she says, is necessary for someone like me who knows nothing about trends, latest pop culture references etc. “I get by!”, I tell her. But even as I say it, I get the feeling that I must sound like a wheezy dinosaur who hibernated too long and woke up in today’s age to her. Time is a curious entity for I remember the parents laughing when I enlightened them on some of these things as a teenager. 

“Anyway, want to come for a walk with me?” 

“Nope – going by myself.”

In the written medium, it is hard to pull off the time-lapse between the question and the ‘nope’ because there was none. Immediate response. Nope. Going by myself. 

“Fine! Be that way! Canceling walks with mom huh?!” I said, rolling my eyes. It did not seem to bother the girl. Off she went, straight backed and a little wave of her hand as a response. 

A few minutes later, I set out on a walk by myself, and who should I find? But the darling daughter, in apparent distress too.

“Hey! I am here!” I said waving inelegantly. I was thrilled to be seeing her, but by the looks of her reaction, I was no better than a twig fallen from the trees bereft of leaves above. Some people quietly act like their raised hand was just an attempt to stretch or straighten their hair. Nonchalance, ease, grace are all words that come to mind. Yours truly, on the other hand, upped the efforts. I was now gushing steam from my trunk-like spout of a nose, and waving like elephant ears in mid-sprint warding off pesky flies, not to mention sounding like a hoarse trumpet. 

I finally attracted the child’s attention. As I should have guessed, she had air-pods stuck in her ear-lobes and seemed relieved to see me. Her slipper straps were broken, and she needed help hobbling back home. 

It was a beautiful, sunny February day, The cherry blossoms were in bloom everywhere, the trees had not yet started to grow their leaves, and the blue blue skies above made for a perfect day! Though it was technically winter still, Spring was clearly in the air. If I lived near fields, hedgehogs may have been up and about. I didn’t know. All I knew for certain was that yellow thrushes, sparrows, and blackbirds had all hatched, and the air about us was rich with the twittering of birds. I said as much to the daughter. She rolled her eyes. 

“Yes Miss Different. I know you don’t think you are like me, but look at you mooning about the roads on a beautiful day inhaling the deep fresh air! “

She had the grace to laugh. I looked around sniffing rapturously and stopped. There was a beautiful patterned bug going about its business by the sage and lavender bushes. “Oh! Look – such a beautiful pattern on its back too!”

“Amma! Don’t touch it. This is a red bug – it is probably poisonous!” she said. 

“That’s Color-ist! So, what now if a bug is red, it is poisonous?! Going cancel-culture on red bugs now, are we? Oooh! “ I said. She laughed, and I carried on, feeling encouraged, “What about ladybugs huh?! You were constantly telling me to bend down and watch lady bugs slurry about in spring time when you were a child. Are they poisonous too?!”

“No….it is their defense mechanism. “ 

“Huh! How interesting!” I said. I think the genuine surprise and curiosity in my voice took her aback somewhat. But she liked it, and carried on. “Yes…monarch butterflies for instance are that bright orange for a reason. They are poisonous to birds, and birds know to leave them alone. So, painted lady butterflies evolved that way as a defense mechanism. They look very similar, but they aren’t poisonous.”

“Wow! You know so many interesting things. That is why I ask you everyday to go for a walk with me my dear.”

“Yeah! Ma! This is 4th Grade Science.” she said in her Elementary-my-dear-Watson voice. We laughed and sailed home together. I think Maria Meriam would have approved of our natural wonders lesson in Spring time.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science – Joyce Sidman

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Love and Rainbows

“By the way, how is Valentine’s Day this year for you kids?” I asked. This year, with Covid, Valentine’s day celebrations seemed to be muted too.

Valentine’s Day in elementary school can be fun. Though I will carry on and on about the commercialization of love etc, I do love the way the occasion has made its way into elementary grade classrooms. There are manifestations of love everywhere – from painstakingly drawn cards to candy for their friends, the love can be overwhelming and just as it should be at that stage of life: I feel all of life is there to make cynics out of a few of them, romantics out of a few of them and hard-core pragmatists out of another few and fools of us all 🙂

“Oh! It is awesome! Rem-em-ber I told about you the slideshow and the decorations we are making?” I vaguely uh-huh-ed. A lot of things are told, and un-huh-ed at. “Well…we are making slides for each of us, and we get to write our cards out for every person on this.”

I liked the idea very much, and said so. “What a marvelous idea?! Was it your teacher’s?” The fellow beamed.

I really like how the younger children get to see love in its more wholesome form. They love their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers, friends, siblings, caregivers and pets. It all gets a bit wearying when they want to make cards for them all, but I prefer that to the more narrow interpretation leading to conjugal harmony( or not) one day.

The week-end had a loving vibe throughout. The mater, a stoic sort of person, has also seen year after year the hoopla around Valentine’s Day, and sent a note wishing them a happy Valentine’s Day. (“Maybe we should have paati checked – is everything okay?” said the snarky teenage grand-daughter, but beamed at the approval she got from her grandmother for the brownies she had baked and decorated with cherry blossoms for the occasion. ) 

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This Valentine’s Day started off with me heading out with some of my girl friends for a lovely brisk walk that morphed into a saunter at places, and breath-taking gasps at others. As we made our ways past the suburban built up areas, past the railway tracks and the main roads, the spirits lifted with the scenery around us. The creek side, lakes, and green mountains in the distance made for a lovely, if long-ish walk.

As we headed back to civilization after mooning about the fields, we found ourselves walking along side a rainbow. Why do rainbows have a way of assuring us that all will be well? That magic exists in everyday droplets of water and the play of light.

“So, Ladies, Happy Valentine’s Day!” I said flourishing my umbrella against the rainbow. 

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I headed into the house and told the children and the husband how I thought of them and missed them when I saw the rainbow.

“What a poetic way to celebrate Valentine’s Day huh? We were happy snoozing in late, and you were thinking of us and sending us love seeing the rainbow and all that?! Life is as it should be!” said the philosophers, and I rolled my happy eyes.

I couldn’t help agreeing as I enjoyed the sidewalk chalk drawing made by some children outside.

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Why is our sky not green?

The elementary school going son, like many children his age, pulls a full why-wagon with him wherever he goes. The questions tumble out with ease, and can be anywhere on the spectrum : 

They are all fair game.

Sometimes, of course, his questions chip away at the stoutest of theories. For instance, a few years ago, as we mooned about the hills overlooking the bay at sunset and taking in the shades of pinks, oranges, blues, grays, purples and reds, he said, “Why is the sunset never green?

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Now, that is a perfectly valid question with a perfectly scientific answer. However, it had me stumped, for it never occurred to me to ask that particular question.  I remember being awed a few years ago, when the children had drawn rust and pink colored skies when asked to imagine a sky for their imaginary world. 

How often do we take the time to question things that just are? 

This is why when I read the Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, and he comes up with a marvelous chapter based on determining the planetary world one is in simply based on the color of the sky, I shone with girlish delight. Here, was the kind of leap in imagination where only deep thought and research can take you, and here he was, simply giving it away in a book. All his marvelous thought processes, his wonder of the world, his eternal curiosity and scientific rigor just laid out on a page so we could embrace it in one simple reading. 

“The color of the sky characterizes the world. Plop me down on any planet in the Solar System, without seeing the gravity, without glimpsing the ground, let me take a look at the sun and the sky, and I can, I think, pretty well tell you where I am, That familiar shade of blue, interrupted here and there by fleecy white clouds, is a signature of our world. “ – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

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The whimsical side of me wants to ask whether he will recognize Earth at sunrise, sunset, during wildfires and what-not. 

The essay, Sacred Black , in the book, Pale Blue Dot is well worth reading. He explains the reasoning behind the colors of the planets as we see them. He deduces the color of the sky based on the elements found in their atmospheres. 

  1. Venus, he says, probably has a red sky.
  2. Mars has a sky that is between ochre and pink much like the colors of the desert.
  3. Jupiter, Saturn – worlds with such giant atmospheres such that sunlight hardly penetrates it, have black skies. He talks about this bleak expanse of a sky being interrupted here and there by strokes of lightning in the thick mop of clouds surrounding the planets. This image does make for a sober shiver for someone who loves the sky and its myriad attractions. Imagine, not being able to the stars, the sun, or anything beyond the clouds – brrrr.
  4. Uranus & Neptune – uncanny, austere blue color. The distant sunlight reaches a comparatively clean atmosphere of hydrogen, helium and methane in these planets. The skies may be blue or green at a certain depth resulting in an aquamarine or an ‘unearthly blue’.

pale_blue_dot_pichttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PIA23645-Earth-PaleBlueDot-6Bkm-Voyager1-orig19900214-upd20200212.jpg

He shows us how in the absence of an atmosphere, an inky deep purple is all there is. How, our planet is only a pale blue dot floating in an inky void illumined by a ray of light from the sun. Our eyes may not show us green colors in the sky at sunset, but it does detect plenty of green in the flora around us.

What would you like to see in a sky?

Love Thy Spouse

I must preface this post with the following details:

Now, let’s get on with the events of the 19th anniversary celebrations, shall we?

T’was the anniversary hike. The hills were alive with the sound of Cricket.

We had reached the bottom of the hills after a marvelous time amidst the clouds and the green mountainsides. I remember telling the husband after a particularly long moo-ing breath that decades ago, we might have run up this hill just so we could.  The husband let out some deep breaths up and down his left and right nostrils and shook his head. The best part of that hike was the climbing was all done in one shot: The ugly huffing and puffing that the young couple of decades ago would have smirked at, was done with, and we were enjoying the lolling downhill. The sky was exceeding itself with all its beautiful paint strokes of the sunset, and the husband found speech again. As if making up for the quiet on the way up, he chattered on.

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I settled into the comfortable rhythm of hmm, uh..huh, and hee-hee while he rattled on about the injuries, the setbacks, the brilliant sequence of events that contributed to the legendary win for India. I couldn’t resist a smile at this boyish enthusiasm.

Boys and cricket!

“And the behind-the-scenes videos by Ashwin – mind boggling!” He gushed. I nodded painfully. I don’t know whether you have the experience of seeing your loved one sneak into bed at 2 a.m. and then surreptitiously watch a cricket interview on his phone after the match. It is not recommended. How many mornings since that blasted win have I rolled over in bed first thing in the morning to see my loved one cackling at something that happened in the match? Apparently, one of the fellows, Ashwin, runs a swell YouTube channel as a side job, giving the inside scoop, while his wife tweets the inside-beside scoop of the inside scoop-er’s side of things.

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All I can say is that I am grateful he has a bunch of friends with whom he can share his ball-by-bat analysis.

Now, apparently, life has been going on in full swing for these fellows playing cricket. Amidst other things, the Captain of the Indian cricket team went on paternity leave just before the series match in Australia, so the vice captain stepped in. I’ll spare you reams of analysis, 50 you-tube videos and a few hours on Twitter with a gist: Captain has Personality, vice-captain has Different Personality. 

“There is only one man who changed for the better because of marriage, and that is Kohli.” said the love of my life.

We were on flat land again, but really! The man was heading towards a precipice, and completely unaware of it.

“Uh-huh!”  Had the man been less involved in cricket, he might’ve caught the drop in temperature of this uh-huh from the uh-huh of 3 minutes ago, but as it turns out, secondary sportsmen are very passionate. He rattled on about how Kohli had been a sort of aggressive this-and-that and how he was now a so much nicer this-and-that.

I uh-huh-ed again. This uh-huh needed a jacket, but the man went on.

I stopped him, and slowly, lovingly held his hand as I walked him out of the precipice. “Hm…honey, what did you say about the institution of marriage changing only one man so far for the better, and that is Kohli?”

The man gasped and blinked like a fish that temporarily came up to see the moon, and realized the sun is shining brightly overhead.

“I don’t know about you darling, but I think I have changed a lot for the better after my marriage to you. “ I said, and flitted my eyelashes like I’d seen heroines do in movies 40 years ago.

He threw his head back and laughed. A weak, watery laugh, and he charged back from the cliff. “Oh of course, I didn’t mean you of course. You have been awesome. I mean Kohli became likable after his marriage to Anoushka. You know how it is?”

I said I did not.

He explained on. I was rather enjoying this exchange by now. I stood by, ever the helpful, loving wife, watching him extricate his foot that he had unwittingly lodged into his mouth. It took some time, but he did it, and we headed back holding hands and laughing. 

I am glad to say that in our marriage: 

He watches cricket while browsing, I make fun of him for it. 

He watches dozens of useless movies, I roll my eyes at him for it. 

I read while doing yoga and he makes fun of me for it. 

I go out on dozens of walks and come back mooning about nature, he rolls his eyes at me for it. 

So, all is well.

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Shhrama Pariharam – respite from the strenuous

T’was the day we had whipped up a feast fit for the eyes, and insisted the whole family climb out of pajamas and yoga pants to sit themselves down at the fancy table (this fancy table is usually overrun with the mail, packages from amazon, notes and books). All of this was swept in one great movement to the side room and the room door shut before anything could come tumbling out. The table was found, the food was laid on it, and the chefs beamed. The children had contributed in no small measure with the items on the table and it was remarkable how spacious the table , and the surrounding space was without the debris that usually surrounding this space. 

“Too much food!” said the daughter with a little shudder. 

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“Well! I am going to take my shhrama pariharam after this!” I said, regally rolling towards the feast of the day. 

“What?”

I saw that it was the sweet time to start reminiscing. I told the assembled lot about how their grandfather would talk about food, about his love for appalams and how he would pat his tummy lovingly and reminisce fondly about how in the olden days nobody cared about quantity : Did you know they served ghee in dhonnai-s – little straw cups, cups full of ghee and how they ate rice in those days. These heroes did not flinch when the ladle fulls hit the plate, they took it as a challenge, he said to us in his booming voice, and we used to laugh it at all till I saw it myself.  

I remember those days well enough. Maybe my memories are keener for they were formed in the exuberance of youth. One particularly hot afternoon floated into my memory and I burst out laughing.  “If Pythagorus had a strong foundation like us, who knows what else he might’ve found? “ I said. 

pythagorus theorem

The children looked at each other with that look of amused tolerance, “Uh-oh! Here comes another story within the story!”

I prattled off, whisking them away in one swift gallop on the chariot of time for a quick visit a few decades ago.

The occasion was something, and guests and priests made their way into the old village home. The gaggle of aunts, had been busy all morning in the kitchen preparing one of those meals that don’t fit on stainless plates and require three large plantain leaves on the floor just to get the servings in. 15 different vegetables, fried snacks that take all morning just so they many occupy a small portion on the plantain leaf, along with the main stay of sambhar, rasam and payasam had all been prepared. The corner leaf was given a special name, nuni elai, and the priests and his friends got busy. I sat with my cousins watching in awe. I had read mythological tales of giant-like people eating mountains of rice with rivers of sambhar and ponds of ghee, but I had always dismissed it as myth. I had read the story of Kumbakarna and that fellow who started the Vaigai river after eating so much, a river was required to quench his thirst thereafter. 

I suppose till that moment I had never really thought about what it takes to feed folks. How much food does one prepare, and how does one estimate? 

Children have an innate sense of wonder in them, a practice we must learn to cultivate just to enjoy our own life. There is a beautiful word, shoshin, that means just that: The practice of looking at things with wonder.

That afternoon, we, the pint sized folks, sat watching the priests fall asleep. Shoshin was shining in our eyes and we went to see how the legendary eaters were doing. We were told the siesta was not called a nap, it was given a name Shhrama pariharam – meaning the respite from the strenuous. It was an apt name, they had gone into the ring of leaves and fought like champions. Every last drop was polished off, every morsel of rice chewed and every fried item belched into the dark recesses of their expanding stomachs. 

That afternoon all those years ago, I remember watching the stomachs rise and fall with their gentle snores, remember seeing how the shadows lengthened with time, and how they rolled over before getting up, how they joked that a cup of coffee would help settle their stomachs, and then made their contented way home. We had discussed measuring the height of the stomachs, the length of the shadows and much more, only to be shoo-ed away by the aunts. 

I told the children all of this as we sat full, satiated, and laughing at the recollection. Thereafter, I showed them pictures of the South Indian meal. Was this a mythological tale? Or did people really have leaves filled with 50 different items on them? Had I not seen them in my childhood, I might never have believed it myself. 

elai

It has been a long time since I sat at a banana leaf and saw the world float by me with huge ladles of sambhar, rasam, copious amounts of rice and spoonfuls of ghee.

“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.” 

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

What’s your 2021 WotY (Word of the Year) Choice?

2020 escapes adjectives and mere words cannot quite capture the irony of the year. Ironically, last year when we selecting a word for the year in the nourish-n-cherish household, the teenager vehemently voted for the word, ‘Ironic’ (after I shot down ‘Sarcastic’ as an entry of course). I had been inspired by a colleague who regularly answered ‘How are you?” with the word “Terrific!” (In meetings through the year).

One time, I asked him whether he always said that, since it was a shot of positivity in the middle of the humdrum, and he said that it was a family tradition for them. Their family sat together and decided on a word to use through the upcoming year to answer the question ‘How are you?’. The logophile in me sat up and took notice. I got the gleam that the children have identified, and scram when they detect it. It is what gets them into walking miles in the wilderness, or fun read-a-thons.

Where was I? Yes – the word thing. When I came home with this heart warming suggestion, I expected in my naïveté, to be taken up on the word-building, and lists filling up with words such as : Fantastic, Fun, Awesome, or even a word that is only used in our home, Imaginate. But of course that is not what happened.

The words put forth by the teenager were not going to be my words of the year by any stretch. So, given chaotic, neurotic (Really! This child expects me to answer ‘How are you?’ with ‘Neurotic’!) , dystopian, terrible, quixotic, and another few like this, we decided on Ironic. Luckily, we did not use this word to answer every ‘How do you do?” question during the year. Last night when I mentioned the word-of-the-year-greeting-exercise again, the children said, “Come to think of it, our word choice was not bad huh?! Ironic how that worked out! Get it? Get it?”

It was my turn to moan, but also think. Maybe there is something to the whole thought->actions->universe themes that we hear about all the time.

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” – Lao Tzu

img_0851

It was a year in which ‘Ironic’ could be used with ease. Ironic how people react to pandemics, ironic how markets and stock market indices react to global pandemics, ironic how we are able to find pockets of quiet in the hectic world thanks to the very pandemic that is causing so much pain and suffering. Ironic how we determine leadership responses or lack thereof in our electoral choices, ironic that the very science naysayers will be benefited by a vaccine developed within a year of the genome mapping thanks to Science. Ironic how humans the social beings reacted to social distancing, and ironic too, how the themes of nationalism, chauvinism, racism, sexism were all rendered meaningless by a virus (too tiny to be rendered in colors by electron microscopes, but large enough to unite us all in the act of being human). If you are human, you are susceptible to the virus. 

  • 2020 word of the year turned out to be (no surprise here): Pandemic. 

Quote from BBC article:

This year has seen so many seismic events that Oxford Dictionaries has expanded its word of the year to encompass several "Words of an Unprecedented Year".

Its words are chosen to reflect 2020's "ethos, mood, or preoccupations".

They include bushfires, Covid-19, WFH, lockdown, circuit-breaker, support bubbles, keyworkers, furlough, Black Lives Matter and moonshot.

Use of the word pandemic has increased by more than 57,000% this year.

"It's both unprecedented and a little ironic - in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other."
  • 2019 was the inclusive gender neutral pronoun, They
  • 2018 went for Justice
  • 2017 for Feminism
  • 2016 was Surreal (truly!)

I wonder what 2021 holds in store for us. 

2020 also embodied a lot of good words such as Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing) Komerabi (the beautiful word denoting sun rays piercing through the leaves).

I’d like to hear some of the words you can think of for the coming year. I am thinking of ones that made the children say ‘Meh!”. Whatever else 2020 taught us, it is that we can make it through together if we can retain our sense of humor (the floods of WhatsApp forwards come to mind), and to delight in the ordinary. So I pump for the more humdrum ones: Life, Hope, Joy, Peace, Happiness.

What about you? I wonder what frabjous words Dr Seuss or Lewis Carroll would pick.