Mothers and Calves

During the few months of spring and early summer, the bay area resembles fairy land itself. The mustards are blooming alongside the lupines and golden poppies forming a profusion of yellows, violets and oranges against the lush green backdrop of the grassy hills.

img_1677

As I made my way through the green hills with my friends, who unwittingly agreed to a walk on a Friday evening, I chirped on happily. A few minutes in, there we were stalled in our tracks, faced with a herd of happy cows who didn’t seem too happy to see us. Right across our path they stood clustered around holding a conference of sorts, while one calf decided that the best place to drink mother’s milk was the pathway. This was one of the few places on the trail where a steep ravine drops on one side, and a rather incline presents itself on the other.

So, we stood, patiently awaiting the calf to finish drinking milk. Looking at my friends’ faces – not to mention the cows’ faces, I realized that this may not be the best time to tell them heartwarming stories of the elephant calf drinking milk on the Bandipur highway. (Galactic Plumes) So, I cheesed it, but here it is:

Along the roads from Karnataka towards the Nilgiri Hills are thick forests on either side. The Bandipur and Mudumalai national forests lie on this path. A drive through these roads is picturesque and can grant many marvelous views. Bison, spotted deer, and elephants are only a few of the marvels along this road. One such time when I had taken the night bus home, the bus stopped with its headlights off, and did not budge. The whole bus was awake within minutes and all of us were starting to get excited in those loud tones when the bus driver and conductor shushed everyone vehemently and told us to quieten down. It was apparent from their faces that there was potential trouble. Peering out into the road, we realized, they were indeed correct. There, in the middle of the road – on a national highway no less, stood an elephant mother, and her calf, who had decided to drink milk at 2 a.m. 

img_3588

While this may seem a trifle dramatic, the one thing elephant mothers do not tolerate is being disturbed when their infants are feeding. There have been several instances of a mother elephant losing it, and sending vehicles tumbling down ravines if disturbed. So, we waited. The waiting vehicles snaked for miles on each side, while the calf drank peacefully in the glow of the moonlight, and the headlights dimmed out of courtesy. How no one honked is beyond me, for Indian traffic is not known for its patience. Maybe, the road only attracted regulars, and they knew the ways of the forest creatures well. In perfect silence, the hundreds of vehicles waited on either side, quietly, patiently. Finally after 45 minutes, the calf had had its share, and the mother sagely moved to the forest. The drivers let out a perceptible sigh and slowly revved their engines on again, before proceeding. 

Where am I going with this? Well, replace the elephant with a cow, and add a herd of them in the middle of the road, and that was the situation facing us. We stood there, carefully waiting for the calf to finish its evening snack. Whoever termed the phrase ‘Mama bear’ got it right. Mamas aren’t to be messed with especially when they are in Mothering mode. It was a fitting lesson for Mothering day. (In the UK, Mothering day, different from Mother’s Day, is celebrated close to Easter.) 

I don’t know if you have ever walked through a herd of cows and calves before. If you haven’t let me assure you, it isn’t easy. It isn’t that the cows are going to do anything. Like the son said fairly during the wait, “We are in its home. So, it is better we wait!”, but the weight of even a calf is enough to send us tumbling down, and no one wants a stampede of cows. 

Anyway, we stood there feeling braver and looking dafter every passing minute. Funny how the braver we felt, the farther we seemed to be inching away from the cows. The cows seemed to be enjoying every minute of the predicament too. There were amused glances and tittering amongst them, I swear! Pretty soon, a cyclist came buzzing down and just parted the herd as he made his way past them. This seemed to give us courage, and we made our way too, though I must say I almost wet myself when the calf and mother gave me a warning as we passed. 

In ‘The Road To Little Dribbling‘, Bill Bryson writes of encountering cows in his walks. I couldn’t help thinking of the book at several points in the walk.

You know how we anthropologize our fellow creatures? I think this particular cow was messing with us. Probably make for a hilarious retelling at the water hole later on. You see, there she was, grazing on the hillsides, and just as she saw us coming, she turned a quiet eye towards us mocking us, and shuffled onto the road. There was simply nothing for us to do, but for us to scramble on to the hillsides ourselves while she looked on amused. The setting sun on one side, and a bright full-ish moon on the other, this picture is truly priceless. If only I could share it with the cow, so it lends her tale credence at the water hole! 

img_1691

People sometimes ask me what it is I find so enthralling in nature that I rave about it so much. Well: This is just it.

“I like being in a country where when cows attack, word of it gets around. That’s what I mean when I say Britain is cozy.”
Bill Bryson, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island

Musings: Whally Mousical

 I was reading to the son’s classroom. I had planned out two little sections – one from the Tale of Despereaux and the other a true story of a pod of whales saved from the iced in waters of Siberia. The theme linking the two was music. I started, and the little musicians looked thrilled. I was too.

As I turned to the start of Chapter 4 in which the little mouse who was different finally understands what that honey-sweet sound was. I felt like Despereaux myself as I read about how little Despereaux felt a welling in his heart for the music, and how he slowly forgot where he was, or what he was doing. Slowly, he inched out from his hole, listening, mesmerized to the king playing music. As I read it out aloud to the children, I wanted to stifle a laugh, for a childhood memory peeked out of its deep hole the same way that Despereaux did. 

“And he discovered, finally, the source of the honey-sweet sound.

The sound was music.

The sound was King Phillip playing his guitar and singing for his daughter, the Princess Pea, every night before she fell asleep.

Hidden in a hole in the wall of the princess’s bedroom, the mouse listened with all his heart. The sound of the King’s music made Despereaux’s soul grow large and light inside of him.

Oh,” he said, “it sounds like heaven. It smells like honey.” 

Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

We lived in the chilly mountainsides, and often times, the cold outside attracted rats and mice into the warm house. Several times, when music was playing in the old tape recorder, we would notice a mouse peeping cautiously and just listening. Curious as to what the noises meant maybe, but maybe not. One of the family would shriek, and the pater would at first try to quieten us down saying it was just a little mouse enjoying some music – so what, or something to that effect, only to have a somewhat more hysterical reaction. 

Almost reluctantly would ensue a hilarious game of hockey sticks against furniture trying to get the mouse. Mice are as nimble as well, mice, and humans are – how do I put this kindly? Clumsy. Well-fed humans have several disadvantages stacked against them as they go about the mouse chase:

* Leaning back in the chair after a good meal listening to music in the background has made them soporific, so while the hockey stick is meant to be a tool, it is often used as prop against which to lean on to catch a breath

* They lack the right motive to catch a mouse. The human’s motive is to see if they can tumble in another gulab jamun into the tummy before bed. The mouse’s is to get to the hole

* Crowd sentiment is hard to gauge. The mouse chaser is in the tough spot of being a warrior and a saviour. While the shrieking indicated that something must be done, if something were done, the shriekers would be devastated and clamor for animal rights. So, the mouse chaser has to diplomatically chase the mouse, but not harm it in anyway.

 By the end of this jolly game of mouse chasing, the furniture has received several whacks from the hockey stick, and the mouse has strolled into its hole, while the music lilts on from the tape recorder. Which takes me to the curious scenario of mice in kings courts. I wonder how a mouse must’ve been treated in the king’s court. Would the musicians stop playing, while the commotion continued, or would they lilt on? The shriekers would be more, and therefore the motive higher. Would the courtiers gallantly prove their loyalty to the king by mouse chasing themselves, or let the warriors go for it?

They say a mouse’s brain is closest in structure to the human brain, so is that why we enjoy music together? 

New Items: Lab Rats Listen to Mozart and Become Maze Busters

So Mozart turns rats into maze-busters. But does it have a similar effect on humans?

I suppose The Pied Piper of Hamelin knew what he was doing. 

The story of the effect of Classical Music on Whales is equally mesmerizing. From the book, The Symphony of Whales, By Steve Schuch

The story, is based on a real incident that happened in the narrow Senyavina Straits of Siberia. Over 3000 beluga whales had been trapped by the rapidly freezing waters in 1984-1985. For seven weeks, the people of the Chukchi peninsula, and the crew of the Moskva risked their lives to save the whales.

The story does not end there. Once the icebreaker ship, Moskva, had cleared the way, the whales had to follow the ship out into the open seas, but they were reluctant to do so. The crew tried playing whale song to lure them. While they reacted to the music, they were not assured of human intent, and were still scared of the engine sound. They lurked in the waters.  Then they tried Classical Instrumental Music.

“The crew found some classical music. First, the sweet sounds of violin and violas, next the deeper notes of the cellos and, deepest of all, the string basses…and way up high, a solo violin…

Everyone fell silent as the music carried over the waters.”

That had done the trick. The ship’s engines started and the whales slowly followed the icebreaker out into the open ocean.

Some musings are whally mousical, and all the more whimsical for it. The children seemed to enjoy the reading too. Their wondrous brain did not once question why a mouse liked music or how whales, mice and humans liked the same kind of music. 

Coming Soon: Musicophilia

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. 

Screen Shot 2021-03-06 at 11.21.19 PM

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. 

img_1318

 

Making Cherry Blossoms

The daughter’s gift for Christmas was an embroidery kit. It was a small one, but detailed enough to give me joy. The gift made for many cold nights with the heater at my feet, music or some television in the background, the Christmas tree lights twinkling and the embroidery kit at hand. 

There is a kind of meditative feel to needling the thread and pulling it just so, and smoothing it this way and that. The restive spirit in me, usually rising and ebbing like a tide, was strangely lulled into calm and focus. As the little piece came into being, so did my peace. 

Many an unsullied moment from childhood spent in the sunny embroidery room in our Arts & Crafts building at school sailed before my mind’s eye, and I was grateful for all the things that we go through life learning to do.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do  with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

Watching my zen-like state, the daughter said she wanted to try crochet or knitting just for the fun of it, the son wanted to take up painting so he could draw for hours on end like his sister does. The resulting mess in his bedroom floor was appalling, and many a vocal chord strained at decibel levels only opera singers attempt, but the fun was real. 

If that isn’t a gift, I don’t know what is. I remember reading somewhere that the biggest gift we can give our children the ability to feel bored, and occupy themselves through it.

“I very much wished not to be noticed, and to be left alone, and I sort of succeeded. ” – Mary Oliver

Just in time, for the real cherry blossoms to bloom, my own little embroidery of the cherry blossoms and the blackbirds is done. While I stand looking at the real beautiful cherry blossoms, I know the embroidered ones are a poor imitation. But that does not take away the joy of cozy evenings. Hygge is real.

img_1174

I roam the rain-washed earth with fresh eyes, admiring, paying attention to the petals and the chrysalis. I stand watching the black birds, swallows and hummingbirds swooping and swirling swiftly by the cherry blossoms. The other day, a squirrel nibbled at the blossoms and shook the tree, sending a heavenly shower of petals down below. Blessings come in all forms, don’t they?

I bent down to pick up a cherry blossom flattened by the heavy rains last night, and marveled. There was no needle creating one petal at a time, no tugging, pulling, no mistakes. There was no satin stitch, stem stitch, or leaf stitch. There was just perfection. The soft petals of the blossom perfect against the dark brown branches off the tree, set against a marvelous blue sky flitting with white clouds, assuring me that this is Earth. The black birds against the sky perfect in their own way.

img_1252

I whipped out my phone for yet another photograph, for it seems to be that beauty such as this must be preserved. But the beauty is in the ephemeral isn’t it? We try to capture it in photographs, prose, embroidery and art, but they all, none of them, hold a candle to the real thing. The true joy is in paying attention.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Mary Oliver

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.

img_1220

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.

Cricket

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.

hike_together

Clouds & Rain

Rain Rain Go Away

Come Again An-other Day

The son was plucking away at the notes on the keyboard. I recognized the nursery rhyme and said, Let’s sing it as :

“Rain Rain Come Again

We have had none To-day”

He gave me a quizzical look, and started laughing. “Is this your words have meaning thing-y?”

“Well…yes! I mean everyday the forecast starts out as 100% rain, and then by the time the day rolls over, it is down 80% and then 40%, and then a tiny squirt like the clouds are having unitary tract issues. “ I said. 

Once their guffaws subsided, I sang along 

“Rain Rain Come Ag-ain 

We have had none To-day”.

I pondered about the garden-beds knowing that they should be bursting forth with clovers right about now, and the daughter would tell me not go about removing them, as they are so pretty. I mock-sigh, but enjoy this exchange every year all the same. I love the clovers too. The three-headed beauties remind me of the resilience of life, and the sweet and sour nature of life itself. When all the world is waiting for a spring, the snowdrops and clovers are the only ones brave enough to poke their head out and take into that leap of life.

img_1162

I am so glad to say that the first proper rains of the season descended on us this week. The sounds of the rain provided a beautiful back-drop as we went about our days. At nights, I relished the sounds of the gentle pattering rain, and the smooth whishing of the trees in the backyard. 

How beautiful gentle-ness is and how different from the gale-force winds that had ripped branches off a few days earlier? 

img_1149

I took a proper walk relishing the solitude of the fresh Earth two days after the heavy rains yesterday. Clouds were everywhere and there is nothing at all that nudges the philosopher awake like clouds and the smells of clean Earth. Thousands of seeds seem to have taken the leap of faith with the waters that descended over them in the past week, and the hills were green with possibilities. The poignancy of the writing in the book, Lab Girl, By Hope Jahren, nudged me. I stood there, admiring the fresh shoots, and relishing what she wrote:

“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” – Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

The possibilities of beginning and waiting play out endlessly in our lives. Sometimes, it is with the need for action, the time to spurt forth. At others, it is in the waiting. The time for things to play out so we can gain clarity. For those of us who favor action, the waiting of the seed is an important lesson. At others, the spurting of life itself is the nudge to take the leap of faith.

I came back with that look of contentment that the family recognized: there was no denying it, I had photographs to show them, and though I recognized the medium could hardly capture the magnificence of Being There, I still reveled in showing them pictures of all the wonders I had seen. 

Sometimes, nature astounds me with variety: In one day out with nature I saw hawks, wildcats, squirrels, turkeys, deer, herons, grebes, fresh shoots of all sort of flora and fauna, not to mention the play of the light through the clouds at sunset. A friend of mine feels that animals cross our paths to send us a message. I think the menagerie I encountered was trying to send me the message that life is beautiful, if we take the time to live it fully, creatively and wholly.

img_1168-collage

Some of the books in January had already set the message :

  • A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
  • The River Bank and other stories from the Wind in the Willows – Graham Greene
  • Friends at Thrush Green – Miss Read
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon – By Kelly Barnhill
  • The Water Princess – Susan Verde (Childhood experience of Georgie Badiel)
  • Emily Writes – Emily Dickinson and her Poetic Beginnings – Jane Yolen, Christine Davanier

That evening, the son plucked at the notes for Clouds on his keyboard, and the clouds flitted above:

See the Clouds, in the sky

Wonder how they, Fly so high!

A Celebration Of … 🌏

The afternoon was a mild, sunny one. Quite unusual for wintry January. The grass has turned green enough, the birds were chirping, and every now and then, the son and I stopped to admire a willow tree. How different each tree looks, and yet how soothing they all are together?  One doesn’t need a leap of the fanciful to liken the willows to beautiful damsels letting their hair down to dip ever so slightly into the waters below. What is remarkable is these damsels don’t seem to mind us watching. 

img_1119

I do not remember the first willow tree I saw, although I am sure I would have admired it long before knowing its name.  These are times I feel remiss. 

Why do we not make a celebration

of smelling the first sprig of lavender

and falling in love with the scent of it? 

Why do we not celebrate the perfect clovers,

the first feel of moss against a damp earth 

the taste of the first wild berry, 

the first sniff of eucalyptus after a fresh rain, 

the first time we touched a petal, 

the first time we sat and watched a butterfly, 

the first time we heard the name of someone who would go on to become kindred spirits 

and brighten our lives forever more?

While at this, why not also celebrate 

the times, we can watch a tree upside down,

The moon rise, or the sun set?

The times we spot the shape of a fluffy dog in the clouds,

the times we are mesmerized by a rainbow,

the times we can watch the world flit by with nary a worry?

summer-collage

Anyway, where was I before I went off on my little celebration-of-life poetic trail? Yes yes. It all comes back now: I cannot quite resist the charm of a willow tree. It’s true. There is a generosity to its form. The tree just seems to give itself. The long tresses weigh down as they reach into the waters below.  When you walk along a river, you can be fairly certain that if there is one willow by the banks, nature would have given us a few more beautiful ones just further downstream. It was while reading Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren that I learnt many of these willow trees are identical genetically. Apparently, all it takes is for a branch to break off by a riverside, float down the banks, a little joyful eddy to push it near the banks, and voila: it can take root. An identical, genetically mapped tree, though it looks different on the outside – the trunks bulge differently, the branches fan out differently, but essentially the same. Hope Jahren’s lyrical writing is as beautiful as the willows themselves. 

“It is easy to become besotted with a willow. The Rapunzel of the plant world, this tree appears as a graceful princess bowed down by her lush tresses, waiting on the riverbank for someone just like you to come along and keep her company.” 

We walked on for some time on this beautiful day, before I plonked myself on the grass. I tugged the little fellow’s arm to sit on the grass next to me. After the initial reluctance of getting his clothes dirty, this suburban child gave in to the pleasures almost completely.  There we were, lying down on the grass, the willow trees drooped into the waters nearby while winter’s afternoon sun gently glowed upon us, and the clouds drifted above.

I told him about the willow trees and how most of the ones we saw may have originated from the same one. He looked awed. 

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more,” 

Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Will he remember the first time he learnt that willow trees reproduce with just a branch flowing downstream? I hope he does, but if not, here it is written down: It was a golden day in early winter on a walk with his loving mother: when all the world was green and filled with possibility.

Rajma on Titan or Mars

“Yeah! Rajma!” The little fellow slurped in mock exaggeration throwing his hands up into the air. I smiled. I wondered yet again how genetics seems to work in odd ways. My brother as a child had the same expression or at least sentiment every time rajma was made. How could my children who are growing up on the opposite side of the earth from my rajma-loving brother have the same expressions of delight and exaggerated lip-smacking responses to this simple dish?

I can hear my brother mimicking Tamil movie comedians and saying,  “அனுபவிக்கனும் ஆராய கூடாது”. Loosely translated, this means, it is better to not analyze these things too much, but just enjoy them.

I turned the little red kidney beans over in my hands, and in a moment of impulse planted a few of them into the soil in a little pot where the winter colds had stripped the plants bare. 

Screen Shot 2021-01-15 at 1.58.03 PM

I started the year reading The Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan. Much of Carl Sagan’s writing celebrates the accident of life on this beautiful planet, and how incredibly lucky we are to be blessed with sentience to try and make sense of it all.

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by [Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan]

A sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. It is one of the reasons I love Thanksgiving and Pongal or Makara Sankranthi. The fact that we actually set aside our myriad problems to take a moment to express gratitude to the cosmos and this planet for nurturing life is special enough, but this year it feels extra special and even necessary. The planet has united human destiny with a virus, reminded us of the pettiness of grandiose ambition, and helped us appreciate the delights of the ordinary. No small feat. 

In the book, Carl Sagan talks at length about what all can revealed about a celestial object by a mere photograph. Our own pale blue dot – the picture of Earth he says can actually reveal existence of life on this planet. The combination of gases in the atmosphere, not to mention the presence of methane in the atmosphere. However, in the very next chapter, he examines the methane in Titan ( one of the moons of Saturn), and quickly debunks existence of life there as yet because of the temperatures and the concentration of the gas. However, he still holds out on its potential :  the moon has the conditions necessary for the accident of life to happen at some point in the future. 

Screen Shot 2021-01-15 at 1.55.15 PM

As he painstakingly examines one world after another, there is so much to marvel at, and also appreciate the only home known to our particular kind of life. There is nothing as yet discovered that can harbor our particular chemical compositions, our requirements for this particular combination of atmosphere, water and foliage. 

For all the marvels we surround ourselves with I still think the joy of seeing things sprout from a seed into a plant has to be the most wondrous of all. Every time I walk in a forest or a meadow, I wonder how many seedlings lie around us, waiting to take that leap into their chance of life. 

img_1112

I walk around my little strip of a garden that has been kindly putting up with my well-intentioned, but often laughable, attempts at horticulture. I stand marveling at the tulip bulbs shooting up through the soil. This year’s rains have been woefully low, and I hope it changes for I know what it portends for a fire season later in the year. 

A few days ago, I went to water the potted plants and I cannot tell you the joy of seeing little kidney bean plants sprouting up. To think of all that wondrous work happening quietly in the soil while we spend our days with our concerns of our human imprints on this one tiny planet of ours is truly humbling. This is the real work isn’t it? 

img_1113

“So can we really eat the rajma beans now?” Asked the son, his eyes gleaming with excitement. I found, I didn’t know the answer. How does one transform legumes to rajma beans that little fellows in kitchens go on to associate with warmth and love? 

I fumbled and told the little fellow honestly that I didn’t know, but that we’d find out together. We will spend a pleasurable evening looking through the process of legumes to kidney beans. Whether Mars or Titan ever gets to growing rajma beans, we do not know, but I did promise him a dish of rajma from our very own plants. I think my brother would give his approving nod half an earth away. 

2-d Meditations in our 3-d world

T’was a week-end that I was looking forward to. Which meant I looked forward to sleeping in. The son, however, has an internal alarm that seems to work contrary to social expectations.

yawn

Anyway, the point is, the son came up bright and shining. I lifted my tub from the covers and moaned from under the covers at his exuberant greeting. Hmmm….Hmmm…..AAAyyynnsnjsjfhsjfh!

He bustled into the room carrying a suspicious looking questionnaire. Just as I thought, the blasted thing turned out to be a Physics quiz that started with the question:

“What holds the quarks together in the nucleus of an atom?”

Luckily I knew the answer to that one (gluons), but it went downhill from there.

By the time we had arrived at the last question, my weak force was battling with the gravitational forces holding me down on the bed, and I sprang out in one gravity defying leap showing a strong force I did not think I was capable of, and hustled the little fellow and the husband out on a hike. If I was going to survive any more Physics quizzes on quarks, I needed to get my spark. 

The discussion on his favorite topics led us to the fascinating topics of dimensionality, and I told him about a particularly fetching piece on Flatland geometry in the book, How The Universe Got Its Spots – By Janna Levin.

Flatland is a fascinating piece of work written by Edwin Abbott Abbott in 1884. He imagines a two-dimensional world in which all occupants are lines, flat shapes or circles, and also examines a social construct with this premise.  (People with more number of sides occupy a higher social position, with priests being circles. In Victorian times, women had no ways and means to careers, and therefore were represented as lines in that universe.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wv0vxVRGMY (Carl Sagan explains flatland)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland

That day on the hike, we went up and down the hills in the beautiful three dimensional world we live in, discussing what it would be like in Flatland.

In our everyday lives, rarely do we stop to think of flatland fantasies, and when we do, it is all the more magical. I mean how would a sunset look in Flatland? What would a sunset look like if we were in 4 dimensional worlds? Is our entire existence just us passing through this 3 dimensional world?

The gluon quiz master was, in the meanwhile, practicing his martial arts as he spurred himself through the hills, chipping in here and there, while listening fascinated to the Flatland theories. “Umm…Wonder whether that happened to Ant-man when he went into the quantum world.”

Wandering along by the waterside, watching the wind rippling the waters, and rustling the leaves in the trees nearby, it was beautiful indeed to occupy oneself with thoughts of how a wind would be in Flatland: maybe it would be like an earthquake to 3-dimensional creatures such as us. Maybe our cosmic upheavals are the breezes of the 4th and 5th dimensions. Who knows?

“Imagine, if you were an orange, trying to pass through the two-dimensional world.”

You could only see a dot as it touches the surface, and then a circle as it passes through flatland, a circle that gets bigger and bigger, and then recedes in size. Smaller and smaller till it becomes a point again and then disappears altogether.

Just as an orange cannot ‘get up’ from the 2-d world,   we cannot flit in and out of our 3-d worlds. But imagine if we could. If we could give ourselves the gift of perspective (that is another perspective –nature and our vast cosmos give us a fair sense of perspective already, if only we care to look and reflect of course)

Flatland

I am sure scientists who are spending their entire careers contemplating questions such as these are far more qualified to answer, but the very act of thinking seems to be a marvelously magical act. We admired our fellow creatures on our 3-dimensional walk in the hills: The geese, pelicans, seagulls and hawks.

Does a laugh in Flatland cause ripples? Do our laughs cause the butterflies to flit?

“Here is a joke for you”, I said on  the topic of laughs in inter-dimensional space. “What do you call a seagull that flies over a bay?”

“A Bagel – get it?” (a colleague’s joke!)

The joke was met with moans and laughs alike.

By that same extension, are all our lives just us passing through this 3-dimensional world? Where does Kung Fu Panda meet  interdimensional Physics and the Tao of Being?

I shrugged my 3-d shoulders. How quickly the contemplation of the physical world morphs into the philosophy of being? How easily our thoughts can become magical?  

Walking in to Utopia

I had been ruminating about all the problems that had beset the world – pre and post elections in the USA for sure, but also the interconnected economies of the world, the problems that a once-in-a-century virus mutation showed us all too clearly.

A spectre is haunting our world!

The perfect cure seemed to call for a long walk. I could not help admiring the physician who prescribed the slightly hypochondriacally inclined Jerome K Jerome in Three Men in a Boat the following that could not be filled at the pharmacy.

“1 lb. beefsteak, with 1 pt. bitter beer every 6 hours.”

I had substituted the steak with (white rice, avial, and rasam), and the bitter beer with (tea – Earl Grey & Lipton with milk and sugar ), and was now ready for the middle portion of the prescription.

“1 ten-mile walk every morning.

1 bed at 11 sharp every night.”

So, I set off. The beanie cap lopsided on my head, hands tied behind my back, pace at about 5 duck waddles per quack, and at spots of true inspiration speeding up to 15 duck waddles per quack. There is something so invigorating about an evening walk in solitude: admiring the setting sun, and the birds lending their musical accompaniment to the dazzling show put out by the sun and the clouds is truly magical.

img_0715

By the time the sun had set and Jupiter and Saturn had come peeking in the early evening skies (so close that only those in Galileo Galilei’s time had seen it this close before), I had formulated sections of all-that-is-wrong and how-to-fix-it. I don’t know whether Karl Marx took any long walks when he was writing his little manifesto. All I can say is, I am sure it would have been a lot better if he had.

You see? By the time I had hit the ‘Walk’ button with my elbow at the signal near the house, I was happy, fueled on by my own thoughts in my little utopian world. All that was needed was to document this in a letter to President Obama. President O, on seeing the letter dripping with wisdom, and great ideas then clasps the letter, and says, “Bring forth the author!”. He even  goes on to offer the daughter a leadership position in his institute.

You see? I had solved several sections

  • Job pipeline
    • By skill and
    • Education levels
  • A new model of Capitalism
    • This model rewards not growth but sustainability
    • Stock markets pander for reusability, energy conservation, and factories pride themselves on N-I-W models (Never in Waste duh!)
  • Manufacturing pipelines by sector
    • Ensuring there is know-how and skills within the country
    • Capacity to sustain internally in case a despot ruins relations with the rest of the world (Case in point Corona virus medications)
  • Changes required to the US constitution
    • Electoral College done away with, and the popular vote to count instead
    • Having more than 2 parties to be major players in the elections
  • Environmental Responsibility
    • Clean Fuels
    • Energy Consumption
    • World leaders promoting sustainability as a model
    • Expanding protected lands and waters
    • Climate Change
  • Research & Funding
    • Funding for scientists is skewed and too reliant on industry
    • Bold bets – personalized medicine, geo thermal cooling, space explorations
  • Military Spending & Gun Control
  • Healthcare
    • Women’s health care
    • Geriatric care

I walked into the home looking flushed and happy. I regaled the children about how accomplished I felt. The daughter happily chimed in. “Doesn’t it feel awesome? Mostly by the time I come back, I have given some very powerful messages to the antagonists on my story! My speech to the world has changed the lives of folks everywhere, and all is well. I love it when that happens Amma!”

“Yeah! My villains are destroyed by the awesomeness of the imaginating sequence!” said the son kicking his feet into the air and swirling in the middle of the room closely missing a jar of cereal precariously perched nearby, and the pair of them burst out giggling once again.

the_world_playground

The next day, the husband joined me on my walk, and I told him all about it. He looked thoughtful after every section, and said, “Yes..hmm. But didn’t India already try that in the 1970s? I don’t think that was a success.”

“Hmm…you are right. Burma does try that, but can a happiness index be as effective as a stock market index for world economies?”

“That is a socialistic thought right there … so it may not work out so well here.”

I gave out a big sigh – maybe there was no point after all. It is better to muddle along just as we are, and let one politician after the other try things out, so long as it is not badly botched.

“And what did Obama invite our kids for?” said the husband, looking amused. The idea squasher! I gave him a peeved look and said, “Don’t ask me why? Inconvenient Questions – pish tosh bigosh!”, and haughtily pressed the walk signal to head on home.

As a Secret Santa Christmas present, I received ‘A Promised Land’ by Barack Obama. I plan to read it, and see if he still needs my letters and thoughts.

I suppose it is time for me to get to the last line of the prescription:

 “And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.”

The End

“We have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite.”