Go Women Ninjas!

Spring is in the air, and I stepped out for a walk in the beautiful setting sun with the elementary school going son. He was telling me about a program that seems to be the craze among his friends: Lego, Ninjago. The program features the Ninja warriors, Kai, Jay, Cole and Zane, who are coached by Sensei Wu to stop the evil Lord Garmadon from collecting the Golden Weapons of Spinjitzu.

Ninjaaaa—goooo!”, said the little fellow and spun around on the spot kicking his legs up in the air. The place he had chosen to do this was not the best, for he stopped mid-way through an intersection to demonstrate Spinjitzu. “That is how they do Spinjitzu Amma. I wonder why they need to say Ninjaaaa-gooo before doing spinjitzu, but they always do that.”

“Well”, I said holding his hands tightly and rushing across the intersection before he spin-jit-zu-ed again, “Maybe it is like a spell, they need to say the word, or they cannot spin like that. Why do they spin so much anyway? Is it like ballet?”I asked.

The horror of my ignorance made him open his eyes wide in disbelief. “Amma! It is not like ballet. It is spin-jit-zu.”

I often prance into these gaffes. It was clear that the Ninjago masters did not appreciate being called ballet dancers, even though their spinjitzu-s looked like ballerinas who stubbed their toes mid-spin.

spin-jit-su

Knowledge is the antidote to ignorance:

He set about enlightening me after taking a deep breath.“They do spinjitzu to use their powers. Every one has a power. Jai has ?” he looked at me expectantly. I knew the answer was somewhere. I had nodded along on several occasions when he explained the several powers these Ninja masters had.

“Uh! Lightning?”

“Very good Amma! And Cole has?”

I so often feel dumb stricken when I am talking to these children. I took a sip of humility and came clean. “Oh! I can never remember these powers. Why don’t you tell me all over again, and I will do my best to remember them, okay?”

Professors can very rarely resist such a humble seeker of knowledge, and so my Elementary-school-Professor launched on his ‘Amazing Superpowers of the Ninjago Masters’ class. I tried my best to listen. I plucked my eyes away from those early blooming cherry blossoms, and the cowslips that usually come up in March, but because of the lack of rain have started showing up now. I pulled my mind back from the scampering squirrels and listened to how Kai could not reach his full potential because he had relationship issues with his father. I looked quizzically at the fellow. “What relationship issues?” I asked amazed.

“Oh they don’t say. Just relationship issues.”

Lego Ninjago Action Figures (Image from Google search)
Lego Ninjago Action Figures (Image from Google search)

A few more minutes of Walk-Walk-Talk-Talk later, “Then, Lord Garmadon was bitten by the Evil sorcerer, and Evil coursed through his veins.”

“Oh no….his parents must’ve been so sad!”, I said. “What did his mother do?”

The fellow stopped with a quizzical expression on his face. “Umm…he has no mother. I don’t know why, but he doesn’t.”

Do you like?

It was as we continued toeing the Ninjago-Spinjitzu line that I asked him why there were no Women in the Ninjago world. His face crinkled with thought. “Hmm – There is Nya! Remember Cole became a Ninja master so he could save his sister Nya?”

I looked at his sincere face, and took a deep breath. I saw it was time for me to become a female Ninja.

I asked him what he thought of his sister. A look of awe crept into his eyes. His older, taller, and wiser teenaged sister?  Why? She looks after him, plays with him, imagines the unicorns and horses to play with, and tells him the most amazing Greek myths. “Do you love her?” , I hounded.

“Of course I do!” he said stung that I should ask him that.

“How about Amma? Do you like me?”

Affirmative.

I kicked it up a notch.

Tell me your friends. There were a few girls in the list. I made a mental note.

I asked him about his teachers. Amazing women.

Grandmothers? Duh! Wonderful women of course!

He laughed and said that he liked them all.

“Now”, I said, “I want you to imagine how you will feel without any of these girls in your life! “

“What? Why?”, he said

“Because that is what those poor Ninjago master-fellows seem to be going through. Don’t you see? “

His face dawned, and then he gave a sheepish smile.

Gender Stereotypes

Research shows that our attitudes regarding Genders is formed between the ages of 5 & 6. In some experiments, before the age of 5, children equally selected females and males for various professions, but by the time they were 7, for most careers, they chose men. I am not sure that is not aided and abetted by the programs they watch.

Maybe this is the time to look at all our entertainment choices with a critical eye. If we expect Superman to do everything by himself, why do we think our sons will come to discuss their problems with us? If we consume show after show where Men save the world by going to War, how can we hope for future peace and diplomacy to come easily? Every evening, homes are flooded with soap opera entertainment that glorify women who suffer at the hands of those who should be their intellectual partners and friends.

We all suffer from this bias.

In a few weeks time, we will celebrate International Women’s Day.  We shall go agog for a day or two celebrating all the great achievements of Women in Science, Women in Literature, Women in Leadership and so on. Instead of just stopping and acknowledging the Women in our lives. The ones who make life what it is with their friendship, camaraderie and companionship.

 

For Women’s Day, I suppose we could learn to embrace the androgyny in all of us. We all have estrogen and testosterone in our bodies after all, just in different proportions.

I looked at the fellow again, and he said, “Wait- Nya also became a Ninja later in the series. She is also a girl-Ninja now.”

“Good!” I said, and peace was restored in our world.

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The Artistic Touch

I waltzed in to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art thinking my usual self should do. It didn’t do. It pursed already thin lips and drew in breaths that should have been released.

So, here is a tip: Before you head into a museum, prepare to put on a face that reminds you of a serious matter: something like a puppy being pulled back home from a glorious spring saunter that yielded an unexpected bone, a couple of birds to chase and beautiful water hydrants to raise their hind legs against. An occasional smile commiserating with the owner (or the puppy) is okay, but grim seriousness is admired.

Remember: Life is Stern, Art is Earnest & Its Depiction Torturous. Good.

pets

What tripped me up was this: I walked into a largish room and found a men’s piddle seat in the middle. You know one of those umbrella-handle shaped urinals? In the middle. I know I have expressed the opinion that I wished the blasted things in bathrooms were less in the corner when you were trying to tighten a screw, but by gosh, I had not quite meant this! I am afraid I did the wrong thing here – I pointed and let loose a guffawing squeal and giggled at the exhibit. Modern Art patrons are a tolerant lot. Tolerant towards Art I mean – they scowled at my flippant attitude, while the urinal drew admiring noises.

urinal
Random pic of some urinal from the internet – I did not take a picture of the thing!

When I finally tottered away from this marvel, there was a painting around the corner, that reminded me of one of P.G.Wodehouse’s short stories. Reggie Pepper (who gave PGW the idea for Jeeves) says of his Artist friend’s work:

I’ve seen his pictures, and they are like nothing on earth. So far as I can make out what he says, they aren’t supposed to be. There’s one in particular, called “The Coming of Summer,” which I sometimes dream about when I’ve been hitting it up a shade too vigorously. It’s all dots and splashes, with a great eye staring out of the middle of the mess. It looks as if summer, just as it was on the way, had stubbed its toe on a bomb. He tells me it’s his masterpiece, and that he will never do anything like it again. I should like to have that in writing.

Art certainly conflicts: I stood astonished I suppose that one would take up a whole wall for a work like that when I looked around, and was told by a Patron, “Don’t you just admire how a true artist comes out?”
I eh-ah-ed weakly. When he says, artist comes out: Did artists lay their intestines out on canvas? It certainly did look like it. I recoiled a bit, but luckily the fellow was well launched on his story to notice. He then proceeded to tell me the most extraordinary thing.
Apparently, this artist was hailed as a genius after his death. His paintings regularly sold for $150 million dollars. I gasped at this. I should like to see these patrons! Apparently, one of his works made it to the local Goodwill shop where a lady paid 3 bucks for it. I suppose it must have shocked the $150 million dollar fellows, but life is tough. Anyway, a friend of the $3 buyer said there were enough squiggles to make the fellow a big artist, and had her check it out. Apparently, she got $25 million bucks for it but was not happy, since the other paintings of the fellow sold for over 100 million bucks. People I tell you. Never really happy! Tush.

There were beautiful paintings that managed to depict the 4 seasons, something that looked like a desert sunset, geometric shapes and so much more.

 

All of these marvels jostled with what I thought were the trial canvasses of the artist – you know those sheets against which you imagine them testing their strokes, and shaking out the extra spots on the brush and so on. (They weren’t – they were the real pieces of Art. I checked.)

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What really got me thinking about this whole Art business is the Sensuous blue painting.

There was one painting that looked like this.

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Oh, sorry, that is a picture of my daughter’s wall.

This is the painting.

 

Next to this was written a most poignant note. If I had not read the notice, I could not have imagined such a beautiful set of phrases can be applied for the color blue.

The final straw was the one where the artist forgot to paint and occupied a wall.

 

“Does this white square hold a mystery?”

I shoo-hoo-ey-ed my way up the floors, all the while admiring the many works, stopping to muse at a fair few, and thoroughly enjoying myself. When they say Art is mind-blowing, I could agree. I may not be able to appreciate the finer details of each piece the way the sturdier patrons do, but I was quite sure, it awakened some dormant senses.

 

Finally, I washed up in front a pool of floating dishes. Not a dishwasher, more like an indoor pool with clean china chinking and tinkling against each other producing a haunting musical memory to go with the visual. It seemed like a marvelous touch depicting the day at the museum.

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All in all, the museum should have made me feel like this character from one of P.G.Wodehouse’s story on being in the presence of an Artist:

She was perfectly pleasant, and drew me out about golf and all that sort of thing; but all the time I felt that she considered me an earthy worm whose loftier soul-essence had been carelessly left out of his composition at birth.

But it didn’t. There was matter enough to engage simple minds like mine, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Drunk Koala Dreams

The tale below yanks one through time, hangs out with koalas on Eucalyptus branches and yearns for hibernation like the grizzly bears do. Bear with me: I hope it is a tale worth your time.

Modern living can be fast. Cars zip down freeways, flights jet down runways, and people charge down escalators. We were set to do them all to get home from the quiet, beautiful Bryce and Zion national parks. We had had an enjoyable trip, and were going home again.

Nature does not hurry, yet achieves everything – Lao Tzu

Mankind hurries and achieves nothing – Drunk Koala

We looked at each other and glowed in spite of those pesky hunger pangs gnawing at the stomach. It had been a busy morning with nothing much to eat, and we now had time to tuck in before the flight. We had arrived at the Las Vegas airport earlier than expected.

The husband looked at me and said, “We have a whole hour before boarding time. Maybe we can go and relax in the lounge, eat something, and stretch ourselves a bit before heading back to board the flight. “

relax

My deer like senses tensed: I can sniff lounge trouble like the best sniffers on the priarie.

“But you heard the fellow – he said that lounge is 3 terminals away. Terminal A to Terminal D!” I said in case one had difficulty counting 1.2.3.

“Yes…but we can relax.” said the fellow who would ask Relax if he has ever had the pleasure of meeting him before. Relax indeed. Hummingbirds relax more while flying.

This is where I need to yank you folks through time a bit:

The day I heard the husband coo like a love struck dove on the phone to me from Bangalore airport, I knew that trouble lay ahead. A few years ago, the husband had been overseas on an official trip. One cold, bright day, I picked up the phone to hear his voice from the airport before he boarded the long flight back to the USA.

“I ate masala dosas! Hot, masala dosas!” he cooed. No brisk got-to-go-s, no frenzied recap of trip to the airport, nothing: just the musical sound of dosas. A surprisingly passionate tone of voice for food given that any trip to Incredible India involves grande servings of food.
“At 1 in the morning?” I asked incredulous that one felt like stuffing masala dosas at that time of the circadian rhythm.
Not one to be discouraged that easily, he said, “Why not? They also had a make-your-own omelet bar. “
“I’ll make sure I keep a salad and a crouton ready for you when you land.” I said.

drunk_koala1

The excesses at the Bangalore airport were due to the fact that he had access to a lounge area. Ever since, every time we set foot in an airport, I know that his mind is ticking with masala dosas and make-your-own-omelet bars: The dosa dream never fades.

This time we had hardly stepped foot in the Las Vegas airport on our flight back from Zion and Bryce, when the lounge itch got him. I diagnosed it in the eyes. Fervent enquiries told us we had to cross 3 terminals, hop onto a train, jump onto an elevator, skip on and off three walk-a-lators, before getting to the lounge.

The husband with the food gleam is like a koala high on eucalyptus sap. He has the same fuzzy look, and his companions have the same urge to give in to the sloshed fellow on the grounds of compassion for the dulled mind. It is the idea of food, nothing else. He’ll be fine soon, we tell ourselves and solicitously pat him on his back.

In the meanwhile, in his brain, the Sober Animal Trainer part tries reasoning with the Drunk Koala part:
Drunk Koala: Lounge! Drool. Food! Juice! Relax, enjoy! Masala dosas – hmm!
Sober A T: Yes yes, I know, but there are restaurants here
Drunk Koala: But Free food?
S.A T: Not at all, you pay for the lounge.
D.K: I know. But we already pay for the lounge.
Wise Sober .Animal .Trainer.: Stop harking back to Bangalore airport masala dosas! You know perfectly well, your wife is right. She always is, remember? Good. Never forget that. Anyway…point is: you are not going to get good food at the lounge here.

With this sound reasoning, the drunk koala in his mind won, and the rest of us jogged behind him as the man on a mission set off for the lounge in Terminal D. Every 5 minutes the sober animal trainer would cause him to pause, and say, “Do you think we should turn back?”, but D.K drummed his chest again, and off we went.

We arrived at the lounge looking like baby bears during spring time standing upstream for the salmon to come jumping up. Eager for the food in the other words.

The hospitality industry requires extensive human resources in order to thrive. A resource that the United States is not burgeoning on, in general. An irritated lady sat behind the counter and eyed us beadily, as if daring us to approach her. Her cold welcome did nothing to the hunger pangs.

The children and I left her presence to go peering around the refreshment nooks. Close inspection revealed 3 chips packets, 2 sad bananas, and 1 dehydrated apple peering out from a fruit holder. Next to that lay a tray with two flasks (coffee, hot water) and a plastic cane to stir the creamer and sugar. The feast was done. We peeked under the table to see if trays of burritos and sandwiches, heaps of salads and pastas were hidden there. Nothing. Hide and seek can be a depressing game sometimes.

I helped myself to a watery tea, the children swamped on chips, and the husband moodily bit into his apple. “We could leave early so we can eat somewhere?” he said.
The children stomped this down with the logical, “But we just got here!” argument.
15 minutes later, we started on our journey back to Terminal A.

drunk_koala2

As the flight made for liftoff, a low rumble was heard. It was our stomachs growling like grizzly bears. If ever you see little bears with their papa bear standing upstream with their tongues hanging out for the salmon, try breaking it to the bear cubs that the salmon this year had decided to swim downstream again instead of jumping upstream, and let me know what happens will you? In our case, Drunk Koalas may not know what to do, but grizzly bears fresh with the memory of hibernation do: even if they growl and kick their feet to do so. We promptly fell asleep.

The rest of the journey home is a blur best skipped for brevity. Two long hours later, when finally the glow of home-cooked food in our stomachs suffused us with a warm glow, the husband said, “That lounge idea wasn’t so great huh?”

I disagreed. I got a long walk, and a blog out of it. The lounge idea was marvelous.

Playing Aeronautic See-Saw with Lions

Have you thought about how an airplane crew feels with respect to their dress?  I look at the air hostesses tottering up and down the aisles wearing heels, tight fitting skirts, berets and what-have-you, and give them commiserating smiles when they look forlorn at the way their wards on the plane are attired.

The poor blighters look like they are dressed for one of those high brow diplomatic commissions where they stop countries from throwing tomatoes at each other. Just a moment, hold on – I feel like Archimedes in the bath-tub. I am not bathing, I mean, I feel one of those Eureka moments coming on: Maybe they are dressed for the part.  I have seen these stellar folks walk up to people and tell them to stop throwing tomatoes, or to refrain from kicking the passenger’s seat in front of them, though better judgement tells them, ‘To blazes with the tomatoes. D’ya think tomatoes can ruin that attire. Tchah!’

eureka

We had seated ourselves toward the back of the plane, and it proved to be an excellent vantage point to observe one’s fellow passengers scramble aboard. In sharp contradistinction to the crew, we seem to have rapidly climbed the comfort curve and equally rapidly slipped down the presentation curve. Some of the folks on that plane! I am not sure they would have been allowed to lounge in their own rooms in the days of Victorian clothing, let alone poke their heads out to observe traffic. Yet, here they were, looking rather pleased with their debonair sense of fashion taking their seats on an airplane headed to Las Vegas. Oh well.

“I should be used to the way Americans dress when traveling, yet it still manages to amaze me. It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this. I’m going to Los Angeles!” 

David Sedaris, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

When everyone was strapped in, and the flight buzzed with the excitement of school children on a field trip, the flight attendant came up in front of the audience.  I settled down to watch a stellar production of how-best-to-fasten-the-seat-belts when I was met with a bizarre announcement instead.

The flight attendant seemed to feel the same way, for she came up this time, braced herself for some of that iron resolve that lions summon up before roaring, and asked for a passenger to volunteer to move to the back of the aircraft. ‘We need the lift to be more evenly balanced’, she mumbled.

None of that confident button-your-seat-belt attitude. Here was no lion, here was a caterpillar that was quite willing to poke its entire self back into the folds of a flower.

The thing smacked of euphemisms. Lift to be balanced indeed.

One appetizer bite sized lady gallantly stood up, and said she’d go. She was one of those svelte beauties that could have dotted these beauty magazines when young, and probably filled up on half a lettuce leaf. Mouse-like about summed up her appearance.

I could see the flight attendant struggle. I mean, how do you break it gently to the appetizer that laudable as the effort was, the entree is what the doctors prescribe for tummy rumbles? Lions educated in modern thought resist the urge to laugh at mice who offer help. Summoning up her L.courage again, and praying none of this would get tweeted and bandied about the internet, she tried again. ‘Thank you very much Ma’am. But, maybe, some one who can help the frontal pressure be eased, so we have sufficient lift for take-off. You can come back after the flight takes off.’

lion_see_saw

We could have helped the poor things by calling out, “She is looking for someone stouter on the scale folks!”, but the same modern education seemed to restrain us all, and we watched as a brave spirit stood up looking sheepish. He towered impressively, looking like a football player who could mow three lions when stirred. The airplane clucked approvingly, and gave the fellow admiring looks. I don’t think his mother could have looked on the fellow more lovingly when he tucked into his sausages. He followed her looking like Mary’s little lamb to the back of the aircraft, while she squeaked, “Thank you thank you sir. You may come back after the flight takes off.”

I suppressed the uneasy image of an airborne see-saw bravely, and pretty soon, we were airborne.

I wonder often about the life of a flight crew. They must have their moments of getting-back as they march smartly down aisles dressed like Napoleon at battle, trying to herd a lazy bunch of bovine swatters lounging around in yoga pants, and flannel night-suits. I like to think they attend black-tie events in pajamas just to get even with the world.

I wasn’t mistaken.

Just as soon as one calmed those take-off butterflies somewhat, the smart officer came on saying something to the effect of,  “Good evening all. We are cruising at 33,000 feet and a cool 23 F outside. Please relax and enjoy your flight.

I saw the impressive gentleman (the one whose mother lovingly … never mind. 3 paragraphs above) make his way back to the front of the air-plane, and I wondered how cold it is to be playing on the see-saw.

see-saw

Cosmic Nature of Living

We have several friends who are whiz-kids behind the lens, and rise before larks to photograph that first ray of sunlight through the crevice of the rock and so on. We are grateful to their creative labors, for the pictures show the artist behind the lens, and one needs only look at them to get an instant nature spa. We, on the other hand, forget to take cameras, or if we do, leave them behind in the car before getting out. Plans for sunrises are often derailed by the low trick the sun plays on us by beaming on us and waking us up with his rays before we beat him to it.

So, it is no doubt that armed with nothing but our cellphones, we had no method of capturing the brilliance of the Milky Way galaxy.

star_trails
Star Trails of the Milky Way Galaxy

Every time we have the luxury of traveling out of our urban areas swathed in artificial light, we try to step out at night to indulge in star gazing. The winter skies over Zion national park did not disappoint. The wisps of cloud that had floated in during the sunset to show us a more resplendent sunset had flitted away obligingly so that we may take in the iridescent brilliance of the Milky Way galaxy unobstructed.

A friend most kindly took a picture of the husband gazing up at the skies that had me yearning to see the sky like that.

milky_way_shree

Photographers will tell you something about shutter speed, and exposures and frames per second: Lark that always has me looking like a glazed doughnut at t+2 of the discourse. Therefore, I produce slightly alarming results that has physicists going back over their calculations to see how the focal length with the curvature and the light ray divided by exposure rate gave rise to the image that I seem to have obtained. (Just a moment: f/1.4 should blur that background, how did it blur the subject?)

I meander as usual. The point is: I thought we required post processing and superior photographic techniques like make-up on a set to be able to see that night sky. However that night at Zion national park, we had no need to resort to these advanced techniques to see the nebulous cloud of the Milky Way. The skies split open, and the stars poured their celestial brilliance upon us. If this was the show our ancestors enjoyed every night, it is no wonder that we have such wonderful myths and shapes in the ‘ever changing panorama of the skies’ (James Woodforde Parson).

As we looked up, we could not help wondering how the desert beauty in the canyons was so different from the beauty of the seaside and yet so unlike the snowy mountain plains. If this many vagaries of nature could exist on one planet, the mind boggles on what exists in the vast cosmos out there. We rarely stop to think of the skies in any color than the ones we are blessed with. It takes children to imagine that. I remember the childrens’ essays in first grade where they were asked to imagine another world, and their skies looked nothing like ours. They opened our minds to the possibility of having rust colored night skies, with swirling colorful gusts of wind and rainbow colored days. When asked to imagine extra terrestrial life, we are so limited by our imaginations that we seldom look beyond the slightly changed human form.

Yet on this very planet, we know that octopuses have a level of consciousness radically different from our own.

For a long time, we thought that being conscious was something unique to human-beings, then Jane Goodall paved the way for several scientists to study animals and not fear being accused of anthropomorphizing their subjects. Finally, in the 1970’s, Jennifer Mather’s work was acknowledged.  Quoted from The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery:

Once overlooked or dismissed outright, Jennifer’s work now is respected and cited by cognitive neuroscientists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists so that the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness asserts that “humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness”, and that “nonhuman animals, including all birds and mammals and many other creatures, including octopuses also possess these neurological substrates.”

Days filled with the daily business of living truly and fully demand our attentions so that we often forget the vibrant universe in which we float. The night view from our planet, ‘ a tiny mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam’ as Carl Sagan so elegantly put it, is the best cure for arrogance there exists. Instead of taking our place among the harmonious orchestra of the universe, if all our dictators are fighting over, is a small patch in this tiny speck on a remote planet, we must feel sorry indeed for ourselves.

The Quixotic Birthday Gift

Family and friends enveloped me with love and showered their kindness on me for my birthday. In the words of Oliver Gold Smith, I often think our lives are lived out in what is called the ‘vale of obscurity’, but this essence of living and giving bathes me in gratitude. This Thanksgiving, I counted my blessings with joy, thanked everyone for enabling a fruitful life and continued to ponder on the mysterious power of love.

I don’t care what physicists have to say about it, or whether the teenagers in my life roll their eyes, it is love that makes the world go around.

“So, what do you want as a birthday gift?”, asked the children dancing around me excited. I had seen and marveled their cards, and they looked on expectantly as I struggled to find a wish they could fulfill.

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Finally, I said,  “Sometime this year, I want to go a national park I have never been to before.

“Ugh! I don’t want to go another national park!”, moaned the daughter.

“Well…thank you for that marvelous gift my dear. Like Jane Austen says: They are much to be pitied who have not been given a taste for nature early in life. ”, I said.

She had the grace to blush and said, “Good job at the sarcasm Amma! But another nature themed vacation? Seriously?”

I nodded unabashed at this less than enthusiastic response. I had my eyes set on two national parks that I had been planning and dropping for the past 10 years: Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.

“Why? It will be lovely, we can go hiking, running and playing.”, said her little brother skipping at the prospect of the great open.

“Oh please!” was the only response she deigned to grace us with. Not one to mince words, she made it clear that she was a reluctant camper, and that I had pulled a low trick in asking for a National Park trip as a birthday gift. I chuckled. A grunt told me that the matter was under consideration, and I left the matter to rest for the time being.

The next morning we scrambled to school in the usual fashion. One snack pack lay forgotten on the kitchen counter, two clean socks had flown through the car window hitting the car-driver squarely in the cheek (Appa! Duck your head, Socks incoming!) , and three sheets of loose paper trailed the way to the car. I tootled cheerfully as the car left the garage, ‘Have a nice day! Remember – next week is off!’

Leaving For School
Leaving For School in the morning

That evening, the daughter came back beaming benevolently. Nibbling on a cheese sandwich of her own making, she said, “You know? It might be lovely in Zion national park this time of the year. “

The son and I exchanged quizzical looks at this volte-face.

Apparently, one of her close friends in school had said that the national parks in question were beautiful and that she would love an opportunity to go back there again. That evening, the banal national-parks-again tune had changed to a vibrant symphony of Zion-is-beautiful, but Bryce-is-much-prettier. I smiled to myself. Oh! The beauty of friendship. I only hope she continues to have level headed and smart friends, was my private thought.

The daughter’s friend was right: Zion had a majestic grandeur to it,  while Bryce Canyon can only be described as breath-takingly beautiful. I had never imagined sparse vegetation and sheer rock face to be this splendid.  I have always been more a lover of trees, and streams. But Zion and Bryce made me think of beauty in a whole other manner. It was as if in one short trip across 4 states(CA, NV, AZ & UT), we had been transported to another planet.

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A land where hoodoos made magnificent shapes against the blue sky, 

A place where bristlecone trees cling to cliffs

Towering over the abyss of erstwhile marine trenches, 

Where overhead, peregrine falcons swoop swiftly upon their prey 

Hundreds of feet below in the rust colored labyrinths. 

It is a vibrant diorama sparkling underneath the weak wintry sun in the desert

An ecosystem that has seen it all, and still persists. 

 

 

The Physics Of Myth

“Which is your favorite tree?” asked the children one day.

I am often asked questions like this, especially by the elementary school going son. Your favorite color, your favorite food, your favorite flower and on and on till I shriek in agony, at which point he flips to – when was the first time you ate with a spoon, when was the first time you touched a frog, when did you first climb a tree?

I thought about the favorite tree one though: which one was my favorite tree? Is it the oak tree that I plonked my satchel under every day in school, or the flowering jacaranda trees under which we had steaming hot cups of tea with friends, or the tall eucalyptus tree that edged our street towering majestically against the skies signaling home was nearby, or the fir & pine trees that contributed to many an amateur flower arrangement lending beauty and joy to the surroundings, or the willow that made one want to relax just by its shape and allure, or the gingko tree that makes me smile on a evening walk, or the oleander trees that sag with flowers in the summer, or the fruit trees in my backyard that are so hospitable to squirrels ,or the redwood trees that urge me to be like them: strong, resilient and upright, or the curious, curvy bristlecone trees that remind me they are older than our oldest myths, or the pine tree with an elephant head that reminds me of the time the son as a toddler tried to fit his understanding of Physics into Myth?

 

It was a tough question and I told them so. The son scenting a ‘wild’ story from his childhood asked for the story, and I mock-sighed before telling him:

“One day a couple of years ago, when you were very much a toddler, and had just started attending a preschool, you picked up a book from the library about Lord Ganesha. You were thrilled with the find because Indian mythology is hardly found in the libraries in America, right? Lord Ganesha Curses The Moon – was the title. Appa and you settled down to read together at night.

Anyway, so, remember the story? It went something like this:

The moon used to beam as a full moon every night. One day, the moon laughed at Lord Ganesha when he tripped and fell in the forest.  Ganesha promptly got angry at the moon, and cursed it into oblivion.The whole world plunged into darkness (this was before electric lights remember?). At this, the book painted some gory pictures of the problems faced by the population because it was completely dark. People fell, people bumped into each other, people were robbed. Soon, everyone begged Ganesha to take back his curse. But he couldn’t. His word being law and all that. 

So.

An impasse was reached, and soon the king of Gods, Indra, came to him and asked him to do something about it. Ganesha thought and thought, and finally reached a compromise. He said the moon could grow from no moon to the full moon, and then shrink back again to no moon. That ought to teach him not to laugh at people. The moon agreed, and that is how it remains to this day.

ganesha_moon

After the story, Appa asked you, “What do you think of the story? Do you really think that is what happened?”

You had that serious look on your face as you thought about it, and you said, “Yes, of course. That’s when the moon must have started going around the Earth, and the Earth started spinning, so the moon could grow bigger and smaller.”

“Appa told me what you said later, and ever since I think of that story and remember how you fit your understanding of Physics into that mythological story when I see that fir tree with an elephant head.”

“Did I really do that?” asked the son laughing heartily, and I smiled.

It was true of course. His response had us flabbergasted, for we hardly ever consciously think about how we continually shape our worldly views and understanding. We subtly and subconsciously incorporate the stories we hear, choosing to consider which ones to digest and which ones to leave.

“So, as you see, I cannot only name one favorite tree. I love them all. Just like…”

“We know…. we know! Just like you love us both!”, said the children, and I smiled my favorite smile.