Antheia’s Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean Arachne challenging Athena.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is it all Political?

I was listening to an author, Sayantani Dasgupta, speak the other day, and she said, “Imagination is a political act.”

I jotted down the phrase. Several times during the next few days, the phrase would peek out at me as I went about my work. I mused and smiled when it unexpectedly caught my eye.

Four years ago, I had traveled to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania the week prior to the elections after mailing in my ballot in anticipation of the journey. The day of the 2016 elections, I was at a conference in Texas. The day was busy enough. I moved from session to session assimilating, learning and wondering a little how the elections were going. But I was not overly concerned. My focus was on learning. The polls had shown that Hillary Clinton will be in power soon. There was nothing to fear. I was ready to join the Pantsuit Nation in celebrating our first ever woman president. 

That night, alone in the hotel room in Texas, I switched on the television, after a hot shower, though all I wanted to do was sleep. It had been a 14 hour day, and I found myself drifting off to sleep every now and then.  Finally, when the tides began to turn, I thought my over-tired brain was playing games. The next few days were indeed one of shock, and given that I was far from my family and friends, I held it in as best as I could. Racism and bigotry seem to have received an amplifier and I felt more vulnerable than ever. I was not white, not male, not a Christian, not this, not that, and certainly not anything. How could one individual suddenly make me, a being of flesh, blood and emotions,  into so many things I was not?

Since then, we have seen things happen that are indeed too strange for fiction. Divisive people have a way of polarizing the environment around them. Slowly, I noticed how the literature around me changed: Posts and books giving us hope, filling us with age old wisdom. Every blustery tweet or policy was analyzed and we have had the busiest most riled up period in recent memory. 

But it also helped us all grow in so many ways. To realize that we are all different. All different in our ideologies, all different in what is important to us, all different in what  affects us, and how it does. For all of the politics, and whether or not people supported the Democrats or the Republicans, I do not waver in one thing – people are inherently good. They do want the best for themselves, theirs and the larger community, and in that regard, we are the same despite our differences.

Some days, I think of the Dalai Lama, meditating on the state of the world for 3 hours every morning. I wonder how he does it, and I marvel at the compassionate view he takes of humanity. The 45th President has taught us that no matter how strongly we feel about somethings, we cannot change how others feel about the same things. He taught us grudging acceptance. He taught us to value competence. He showed us how everything could become a political act with a dictator. 

everything_is_political

Travel became a political act.

Health became a political act.

Climate Change became a political act.

Science became a political act.

Now, Imagination is a political act.

Today, the only political act I can think of in my power, is Voting. 

Before Being becomes a political act, it is time to act.

Continue reading “Why is it all Political?”

The Fabled Life of Aesop

When we think of literary bodies of work that have endured over Millenia, we think of epics such as the Mahabharatha, Ramayana, Iliad and Odyssey, or the Bible. But there are so many endearing little tales that have endured just as long, and have passed down morals, lessons and fun along the way.  I am referring to stories such as Aesop’s Fables & Panchatantra tales.

The library had a wonderful picture book on The Fabled Life of Aesop: the book was not just a collection of his most fables, but the life of the slave we think was Aesop. 

 

Written by Ian Lendler, and illustrated by Caldecott winner, Pamela Zagarenski, it is a book with marvelous reading material, and highly imaginative pictures.

2500 years ago, a baby boy named Aesop was born to slave parents in Greece. Aesop, as a child born to slaves, was taken from his parents and sent to work in the hot grape fields of Samos. As a slave, Aesop learnt to speak carefully. One of his friends who talked about their master’s smelly feet was taken away and was never seen or heard of again. So, the slaves learnt to speak in code.

 “Did you hear about the lion? He stepped on a thorn and his paw got infected.”

“Oh!” said Aesop. “So that’s why his paw smells!”

Aesop learned to speak in code.

I could not help remembering this snippet from a poem by Margarita Engle in the book, Enchanted Air :

Tyrants always

try to control communication.

They always

fail.

The human spirit is not meant to be caged, and tyranny somehow tries to do just that every time. 

Aesop’s talent in spinning stories with morals using the animals around him was soon noticed by his master Xanthus, and he was tasked with more challenging tasks in helping his master’s life. One time when his master had a falling out with his friend, Aesop was called to mediate. Aesop was but a young boy and he was scared. If either his master or his friend felt offended, they had the power to put him to death. So, he came up with a story about the lion and a boar who fought over who should drink first at the watering hole. It was only when they noticed vultures circling overhead that they realized it was better to share the water rather than have the vultures eat the loser.

The master, Xanthus, and his friend, Jadon, were so impressed with Aesop, they sought an amicable resolution. As a peace offering, Aesop was sold to Jadon who continued to seek Aesop’s help in his business and personal affairs.

Aesop’s stories helped his masters live their lives with honesty, humility, and kindness. His stories warned against greed and deceit. 

Many of them taught another hidden lesson as well. It was something no master would pick up, but every slave or powerless person would understand. “

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Eventually, Aesop was set free, and his stories have been handed down from generation to generation helping millions of us glean the wisdom and morality handed down by these endearing tales.

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Freedom

I have often wondered about what it means to be human. Is it opposable thumbs, or imagination, or tool use, or brain to body ratio, or empathy? Maybe the complex combination of all these things, and the collective will to make things better in spite of all our failures is what sets us apart.

We have heard of scalded cats staying away from milk. Maybe our power is in ensuring that we do not  make the same mistake again and again,but learn from it.  

The world around us always has lessons for us: Octopii, whales, monkeys, dogs, crows, geese, herons, squirrels, rabbits, trees, and to that I am grateful.

 

Imaginating on unbirthdays

There’s a little something that we have been treasuring in our home. It isn’t so much a secret as a quirk really. But it is something that our hearts have grown fond over, an idea that we share with close friends with a stab of joy, pride and a laugh that acknowledges the un-normal-ness of it all. But by doing so, we have invited you into our little circle of joy and keeping our spirits up. 

So, why do I share this now, here on the blog. My answer to it is, “I feel it will help us all cope in these times of uncertainty. ” Practiced over small doses, it can be comfortable or not depending on how much you have used this part of your personality before. But it is possible. I know it. For on the sternest of days, when life seems to be boxed into a little screen, and the slings and arrows of fortune come by taking straight swings at us, and the mind struggles for an outlet, this tiny act of will works its way into a part of the brain that senses wonder and magic. It seeps in.

I will need to take you back into our world for a bit. So, please come on over.

I was trying not to fall asleep one afternoon.  The leaves were rustling outside in the soft afternoon breeze, our stomachs were full with a week-end meal, and I had retired for a space to read a book. I had only just managed to let the book slide out of my hands as a wave of sleep crashed over me, when I heard  sounds of battle from within the home.

Bwoooshhh! Swoosh…aahh…guhgh, brwooosh!

This sizzling sound effect was followed by dull thumps, and a moan. A moan not of defeat, but of acknowledging a hard task that needs to be  done. If ever a moan was cloaked in determination and strategy, this was it.

“What are you doing?” I hollered. 

“Just imaginating!”, the reply came from the young son, and the samurai, dragon, ninja, or jedi warrior went about his business of setting his world to rights. Sometimes, electrons and quarks swoop in to change the nature of the opponent.

I smiled sleepily trying to figure out the latest battle he was fighting.

The dragons were slowly gaining ground and judging from the throaty cries, and the swift roll-ups being performed by the other side, lightsabers were running out of energy and quickly needed recharging, if anything were to be done about the dragon menace. They were taking over the mountainsides , gaining speed and traction even worse than the  wildfires that raged in the area just a few days ago. Weather monsters are only one kind of monster.

Imaginating

In our home, the act of pure imagination has been given a verb-form all on its own. Imaginating, we call it, and go about our business of imagination without batting an eyelid. 

When the son came up with the word as a toddler, I was amused. Here is a word that documents insist on underlining in squiggly red as unrecognized, and yet, this word feels right. It feels like a word that belongs. 

Imaginating evokes the act of imagination sure, but it is an imagination with power and force. Imaginating in the face of tyranny, imaginating in the throes of uncertainty, and imaginating in the relentless negativity of news cycles, seems to be just the panacea to set our world to rights. It is an act of our will, and to quote L M Montgomery from Anne of Green Gables,

“Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worthwhile.” 

Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Our song could be:
We shall imaginate.
When tyranny comes my way, I shall imaginate.
When hopelessness clouds my day, I shall imaginate,
Just like the tree that imaginates itself to be a bird. I shall imaginate!
 

Lewis Carroll, a man known for inventing words, would love to hear the word from the son, were he alive. So, here is the secret of imaginating and I am sure it is a necessary one in a world in which we are all mad.( To quote the Cheshire Cat in Alice by way of explaining Wonderland to her, “We are all mad here.”)

So why not have fun imaginating with it, and reserve them for special occasions such as our unbirthdays. (Lewis Carroll’s word for every special day that isn’t a birthday, which means we all get to have 364 of them every year).

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P.S: The story has been put to rights by the hero of the imaginating sequence. That afternoon, it was pirates he was fighting off, and not dragons. So, they weren’t gaining ground, but they were gaining water.  What else did I think those squishes and swooshes were? It was obviously the sounds of water splashing against the stern of the ships as he bravely fought off them pirates. Moreover, he wasn’t on an intergalactic space adventure to use his lightsaber, he was simply using his dark matter sword. Duh! 

 

Our Attention, Our Imagination, Our Opinion

Poetry has seeped into our lives yet again. At times I wonder whether poetry, music and art are all luxuries that only dare to raise their heads when the busyness of our pointless existence relinquish their clutch, or whether poetry, music and art enable us to go about our busyness with joy and acceptance.

Either way, I am simply grateful to experience the effect of these soothers to our lives.

The news can be a whirlpool, not just pulling those who happen to float nearby into its swirl, but also sending a whirlwind to attract those on land. Of late, every week seems to be packed with a year’s worth of news. All of this of course results in an enervating tug of emotions. 

We do not know whether the farm worker in the 17th century had this many opinions he needed to have, or whether the soldier in the Dark Ages had a semblance of control in his fates. All we have experience of, is this time, and this age, when we are being called upon to not just have an opinion, but also to voice them and defend them almost relentlessly. 

How the world clamors for opinions and stands? Having a world leader who takes pride in swirling the world around for his endless rollercoaster is exhausting. This is Gaslighting we are told, that is Egotism. Here we are, endlessly naming, categorizing, instead of just appealing to an inner sense – Yes? Or No? Which is it?

It is also deeply instructive for us as individuals. A lesson on ourselves. How much do we want to dragged into the endless show put on for us; how much do we want to rectify things, solve problems with creativity and resilience; and how much do we want to be pulled here and there, like specks in a whirlwind?

The other day, I saw a heron standing patiently in the shallow waters of a river, waiting patiently. I was out for my evening walk, and I had to stop and admire the heron. The heron was going about its business of living, observing quietly, waiting patiently, and if in the process of being, a wandering soul got a lesson or two out of it, that was good, but that wasn’t its purpose.

I chuckled to myself thinking of what the heron would say to me if I asked it about any of the world’s problems. Would it laugh at me or with me at the problems humans have created for ourselves?

The heron in that moment taught me the simple act of keeping still and untangling the strains of thought. That this isn’t a luxury, but a necessity.

Sometimes, sitting and reading a piece of poetry evokes the same feeling. Take the poem, Yes! No! By Mary Oliver for instance. 

How necessary it is to have opinions!

I think the spotted trout lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I think serenity is not something you just find in the world, like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly, looking at everything and calling out Yes! No!

The swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppyrocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.

How often I have stopped to look at the heron taking a short flight from the river nearby and wondered whether its opinions were sought, and whether it mattered. They should, for our opinions and actions have definitely resulted in less than ideal living conditions for them. 

Mary Oliver in one short sweep of her pen was able to capture all this and more in the poem, Yes! No!

P.S: I love how the swan in her poem wants to live in a nameless pond. Our planet is just that isn’t it? A nameless, priceless habitat that we have bestowed a name upon.

Heron flying

The Magic of Story-Telling

“Stop being a Jellyfish!” said the husband.
“I knew you were going to say that – you are such an open book yourself!” said I.

We both giggled like children at our own pathetic joke. T’was the time for hulking men with or without mustaches and serious women to quack like ducks, twirl like fairies, flex those non-existent abs, and find that little teeny bit of whimsy that adulthood so expertly hides away beneath the layers. Halloween was here.

 

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T’is the time people astound you with their imagination. Who doesn’t like having 3 spidermen knocking on your door all at once? Or to see the twin toddlers dressed as Nemo & Dory? The super-heroes and ninjas cowering behind their larger siblings in Vampire clothing, or the witches cackling hard?

There is something so uniquely beautiful about Halloween – the one festival where we can display our idiosyncrasies with grace, be accepted for whatever we are. You want to be a skeleton? That should be fine. Here is some candy for you. Really, buddy? You want to go out in the world in that costume? Well, if this appeals to you, then I suppose you deserve some candy anyway!

How many times in our lives do we get that kind of universal approval?

The husband and I were very proud of our last minute Halloween costumes: an open book & a jellyfish.

The little fairy lights I had taped into place made the jellyfish glow, and I received many compliments – I must say I glowed all evening with the praise, though I did credit the Internet with it.

When people asked me where I got the inspiration from, I replied truthfully that I have always wondered what it must be like to live under the sea, and they invariably laughed at my answer.

But it’s true. Every trip to the aquarium rekindles the magic of another world – right here with us. Reading Gerald Durrell’s essay about scuba diving is enthralling.

I have often wondered how we would have adapted if we had evolved under the ocean. Would we have figured out the laws and physics of the Universe to the extent we have, or would the medium have made little difference in understanding. The Octopus’s evolution to have more neurons than us is truly astounding.

Quanta Magazine: What shape is the universe? Closed or Flat?

It is why I like reading about the intelligence of dolphins and whales: the fact that they have epics the sounds bits of which are roughly the equivalent of our Iliad is amazing. Quote from Carl Sagan’s essay on Whale song:

If the songs of the humpback whale are enunciated as a tonal language, the total information content, the number of bits of information in such songs, is some 10 to the power of 6 bits, about the same as the information content of the Iliad or the Odyssey.

What must their epics say? For all our anthropological worldview, I wonder whether humans figure in them at all. That will be a fine thing to hear – a Dr Dolittle who finally translates a Whale Epic, only to find their world far richer than our own.

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Art work by Daughter

I recently re-read the Voyages of Dr Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed visualizing myself sailing the seas with his motley group – either by skimming along like a porpoise, or better yet by getting a place inside the giant snail’s back as it sailed along smoothly churning the ocean as it went.

Swimming with Dolphins

We are all children of stories. We need epics and tales of fantasy. Our very own imaginations need an outlet, and Halloween gives us just that. I know my enthusiasm rubs off on the children as they go about planning their costumes. While I am out with a big smile on my face, a number of people give me an indulgent smile as if to say “Aren’t you a bit old for this?”

Mary Oliver gently reminds me to react with this nugget of wisdom:

“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” 

― Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Privately, I am happy that our inner child never really leaves us.

Authors:

An Extraordinarily Ordinary Life

I read and re-read and read out this paragraph in the book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking.

“I have led an extraordinary life on this life on this planet, while at the same time traveling across the universe by using my mind and the laws of physics. I have been to the furthest reaches of our galaxy, travelled back into a black hole and gone back to the beginning of time. On Earth, I have experienced highs and lows, turbulence and peace, success and suffering. I have been rich and poor, I have been able-bodied and disabled. I have been praised and criticized, but never ignored. I have been enormously privileged, through my work, in being able to contribute to our understanding of the universe. But it would be an empty universe indeed if it were not one the people I love, and who love me. Without them, the wonder of it all would be lost on me.”

This is one of the passages in the book by Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions. The title is no empty boast, he really does take a stab at the big questions with the simplest language. The book’s forewords, and epilogue themselves make fascinating reading: A foreword by Eddie Redmayne who played Stephen Hawking in the movie based on his life, and Kip Thorne who worked with him at Caltech and one of the foremost players in the detection of gravitational waves (LIGO)

Related: Philosophers & Tinkerers

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Some questions:

  • Is there a God?
  • Is there other intelligent life in the Universe?
  • Will we survive on Earth?

He touches upon climate change (Related: A Planet of Wizards & Prophets), and whether we have any option but to colonize space. It is written in layman’s terms, which suited me quite well.

Regular readers know how much I enjoy looking up at the night skies. It is the time I come closest to stoicism. I shiver and wonder what is out there among the great distances. I happily contemplate on the vast empty distances between the stars. I ponder on time and how we are seeing things that are no longer exactly like that. How a serendipitous sequence of events enabled us to be there to contemplate this beautiful universe.

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Picture taken by a Friend – an amazing photographer

I marvel at our insignificance, I genuinely enjoy riding the thought sails through the night skies, and I look out the magic of it every chance I get. It is one of those times when I am in love with Being.

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Star Trails of the Milky Way Galaxy – Pic taken by my friend who is an amazing photographer among other things.

One of my friends on a nightly stroll with me once teased me that I will become a star when I pass on, and I laughed heartily. Her tone reminded me of how spoiled I am by my friends who indulgently put up with me as I moon about flowers, hills and stars.

It is extraordinary indeed that I should have read Brief Answers to the Big Questions so closely after I read this particularly fetching poem by Walt Whitman.

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer – By Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

It is even rarer that I find the perfect illustration to go along with it. But Rob Gonsalves in the book, Imagine A World is the perfect one (Related: A Touch of the Eternal):

journey_to_stars

To me, the ability to enjoy these simple pleasures in an ordinary life constitutes an extraordinary one.

What do you want to be?

I like reading children’s literature. I have always liked reading children’s books. They tap into beautiful aspects of our mind that is dormant in our adult lives. It is almost like unicorns and fairies are only there for minds great enough like a child’s mind. The son seems to like tales of friendship between frogs and toads, race cars and tow trucks, octopus and squid etc.

Squid and Octopus : By Tao Nyeu
Squid and Octopus : By Tao Nyeu

The ability to imagine a whole different world when we have a perfectly good one around us requires an imagination greater than our conditioned minds can take.

Imagining
Imagining

Of late, I have been thinking often of the post of mine a few years ago:

https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/logarithmic-linear-logarithmic/

Children’s books remind me of the quote by Einstein.  When asked what to read to children to make them intelligent, he said:

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/03/14/einstein-fairy-tales/

I love the books by Dr Seuss addressing important questions such as:

Want kind of feet do you want?

Would you rather be up or down?

A question our children often get asked is: What do you want to be when you grow up?

I know it weighs on some children a rather lot more than on others. When they ask me what they should be when they grow up, I reverse the question and send it back to them to think. What do you like to do, and from there we can see what you would like to be.

The son’s answer is an interesting one. He wants to be an eye doctor and a fire fighter ‘this month’. (He was fascinated that his sister went for an eye exam and got to come home and test her brother’s eyesight, and he is in awe of fire-trucks and Disney’s Planes 2 movie about a plane training to be a firefighter ).

The daughter picks a different profession every few months, and one day when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I thought a little harder instead of shooting something out to appease them: This is what I want to do. I want to do several things that stretch my  imagination in several directions for several weeks at a time. I want to be a writer,  a dancer, a teacher, an entertainer, a researcher, an economist, a firefighter, a nurse, a counsellor, a tree planter, a software engineer, a banker, a naturalist, a biologist, a librarian (one of my earliest dreams), a doctor, a teacher, a painter, a sculptor, a physicist, a chef, a scented candle maker, a perfume maker, a florist, a gardener, a textile engineer, a physicist, an anthropologist, a historian.

How about a reader, a dreamer, a traveler, an adventurer, an imagineer?

Dr Seuss: Would you rather be?
Dr Seuss: Would you rather be?

Some weeks, I want to be as introverted as it is possible to be, some weeks, I want to work a party into everything I do. I would like to be the animated one day and an animator the next. I would like to be a thinker one day and a do-er the next.

I would like to be curious-er everyday.

There are several things that removal of poverty can bring about. One, I hope is the ability to try different things to see the most appealing work for each person. That, in itself, could obviate the need for self renewal:

 http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/07/14/self-renewal-gardner/

Our education could be a few years of doing everything, for the mundane is already taken care of, the existential is no longer a question.

What do you want to be today? This month? This year?

The White Tiger Stops at Gray – Part 2

I now know what the writers of television soap operas must be going through. I mean, they stop at a crucial point, only to come back the next day to find another point at which to stop. Pretty hard task. I am going to do the square thing and proceed with the story after recapping the driver episode with you all, instead of this deplorable practice that SUN TV serial writers have of replaying the last 5 minutes and then going in for a break soon after.

So far, we have a driver who is bordering on giving me a nervous breakdown and my intestines are on the verge of collapsing under the strain of an upset stomach and  butterflies. Also to note that I am going back with my young daughter alone in the car for a good hour and a half to the airport, and I had begged the husband to keep calling me every few minutes.

I don’t know what I expected the calls to do – inform the police to strap up their hound dogs on the highway if I don’t pick up? Anyway, before going, I dutifully emptied the contents of the stomach lining again and hoped that while the lining grew back, there would not be much else to throw out and resolved that I will not stop en-route for any such requirements. I told the daughter in as much subtlety as possible to tone the conversation down. You see I’ve got to be careful while telling her this. Next thing I know, she’ll be asking the driver – “Driver Uncle, are you dangerous?” and we all know that not-dangerous-driver-uncles can turn dangerous when asked that question.

I don’t remember if there was a Greek hero who was honoured for having unending reserves of energy. It sounds like the kind of hero that Greek mythology would have liked. Anyway if there was someone like that, this driver would have been his avatar. Mere things like driving and being up and about the whole day did not seem to tire him. Catch me at the end of a work day, and you will see the drooping sunflower about to close up and leave for the day, not the bright sunflower beaming up at the sun. Not him however. He kept the charade up and blabbed to me about his life story again. I was quieter than usual, but simple things like that did not deter him.

I must mention that it started raining now. I peered out of the car, and the countryside was steadily darkening and the rain started a patter. Spooky Agatha Christie novels competed with Sherlock Holmes (The hound of the baskervilles I think is the one where the pouring rain forms the backdrop) and the Arvind Adigas of the World I cursed almost loudly.

The husband’s calls were coming in and so far I was asking the driver for location information and conveying them religiously to the better half. Given that each time he called, he was eating or drinking something, I am not sure how much of what I was saying was being absorbed. Once he said he was having tea, and then he was tucking into soft idlis, and then another time he was having coffee, and buying chips. Remember my bill of health in the gastronomic department? Empty – not a thing to eat or drink since a miserable black-tea-with-lemon in the morning and linings torn down. And every time the life savior called, he gave me a status update on what he was eating. Men and finesse I tell you.

“I love the rain. It reminds me of what all is possible on Earth.” The poet had commenced.

What did he mean by the promise of what all is possible on Earth? Did he simply mean the evaporation-condensation process or something else. He also added something about the place being really beautiful afterward. I had to agree. I love Earth soon after a rain too. Everything looks so clean and fresh.

We went on this way for a while – the poet talking, me barely nodding, daughter asking weird questions about the moon. I don’t know how long this happy state of affairs lasted before he told me his mother had died when he was three days old. He had been brought up by his mother’s sister. I felt a pang of sympathy for him.

“But I ran away from my aunt’s house when I was thirteen. You see my aunt’s daughters had attended their age and I felt awkward to live with them after that. It is embarrassing when…”

I almost gagged. I must take a minute here to bash this utterly nonsensical custom that is prevalent in South India with this “attended age” gig. Which other country in the WORLD makes such a huge deal of a natural biological process? I mean do we really need a band to come and perform when a girl attains puberty?  Do villages really need to gather round for food when this happens?

South Indians as a creed may not know how to enjoy their functions, but they certainly want their share of rituals and functions. They clammer for engagements and weddings and births and naming ceremonies and first birthdays. You see how this came to be? After the first birthday bash, there aren’t any rituals right up to the time the girl gets married – can be a long wait.  What about the male equivalent? Why not celebrate when his voice cracks or the first stubs of facial hair appear on his face? Huh?

Back to the point, this statement clearly had me on edge. I had no intentions of talking about the driver’s aunt’s daughter’s puberty. But what was I to do? There was a checkpoint of some sort coming up and he was slowing down for that. I wracked my brain a bit, and thought hard.

I was just pondering on this spot of a problem when I hit the perfect solution. Remember my telling you early in Part 1 that our family were a talkative bunch, and we were left trying to butt into the driver’s stream of talk for a few minutes of airtime? How does that happen? Simple – the fiend beat us to it at our own game.

So now I think, what tools do I have at my disposal to beat him at his own game? There are two occupants apart from me in the car. Though I can be impressive when I want to, and talk like the dickens, currently I was not interested in saying anything more than “Oomph” and “ah”, both unimpressive as conversation replacements you’ll agree. But I did have my daughter. If you tap her with the right sort of questions, she can perform to meet the expectations set by her genes. So, before the driver recovered from the checkpost, I asked her to narrate the Ariel story for (hold your breath) Driver uncle in great detail. I could have asked for any princess story and been safe. She went on about Ariel and Samuel or Samantha and Flooper and Ursula the sea witch for such a blasted long time.

You see what I’d done there? Driver Uncle was allowed to ask questions, but only about the story she narrated. So, filled up to his neck he may have been with Gujarat and fate and cousins attaining their age, he was stuck with a mermaid and a sea witch. Personally, I love Ursula the sea witch. Just her description and moral epilogues ran for a good 6 minutes.

We had reached an intersection of sorts – to the right seemed to be the first glittering lights of the airport, and to the left was a desolate road with nothing. There was no traffic anywhere nearby. The car slowed to a near stop: as if deciding and I gulped.

“Being evil is very bad. When you are evil, you will get destroyed right?” said my daughter summing up Ursula the sea witch’s fate

“Silence.

“Yes”. Pause.  “Will you be a good girl on the flight?” asked the driver.

The White Tiger Stops at Gray – Part 1

When Arvind Adiga’s ‘White Tiger’ won the Booker, I promptly read the book. White Tiger is about a driver who works for a rich Indian family,  and turns gruesome as he kills his US-returned employer for gain.

People have heard of the fact that I travel, and that I read when I travel. Well, this should have meant that I was slicing the encyclopedia and chewing the glossary as paan – information oozing out of very pore in short. On the contrary, I confess I have done little to improve my intellect with this spot of commute. I have dedicated myself to the lighter works of fiction that have worked to improve my imagination. Whether any of this imagination has been useful in any way constructively, I am yet to find out, but it has had a terrible effect upon my nerves.

Take the case of the Gray Tiger.

During my recent trip to India, we had hired a car for the day with a driver. The parents-in-law accompanied us too, and the car was generally full. This is when a character sketch of the driver is required information for the narrative to proceed. The driver was as talkative a bat as ever visited the driver-dom. The man had an opinion to offer on any topic and monopolized the conversation on any matter. I am pretty sure the man has never been inside a plane, but he could ramble on the comforts of his car over a plane for all of 12 minutes and 52 seconds. For a man to get this much air-time in our family is stupendous. We, as a family, are well-known for our loquacity.
We were deep in Tamil Nadu, and another point to note with this driver was the fact that he refused to talk in Tamil, or listen to Tamil songs. He talked fluently in English and seemed proud of having an audience. Being the kind of man who doesn’t waste an audience no matter how large, he also told us that, ‘I don’t ever listen to Tamil songs. If you want, I have old ghazals or this CD’.
I should mention here too, that on this particular day, my intestines were dancing the Wonka. I had steadily visited the toilets in every conceivable location, and was withering like a plucked flower in a vase without water by the minute. One can readily understand why I was not quite interested in knowing why the man did not like Tamil songs. If he did not like Tamil songs, that was his taste, I told myself. But the man insisted on using the cue to take the topic of conversation onto why he did not like Tamil. He told us he had travelled extensively in Gujarat, and also that he did not like the sugar element in Gujarati food. The mention of food was making me twist in agony again, and added to this was the question: why should one not like Tamil songs if one has travelled in Gujarat?

So, there we are, just watching the scenery flit by, and listening to this man ramble on in the background, when he starts to open up his life story.
“One can call it destiny or the dance of fate, but I had to quit the employ of the Sait family.” he said dramatically. He was plainly tempting us into just muttering a syllable of interest, upon which he would pounce like a bird of prey. Had I been Arvind Adiga without an upset stomach, I might have evinced interest, but as such the only things that held my interest were toilets with water in them. Looks like the family felt the same way too (not with regards to toilets, but the story). Usually we are all agog for a story, this time everybody looked resolutely at their footwear and wondered why I’d forgotten to pack the moisturizer (at least that is what I remember thinking before my stomach got affronted and drew attention back to itself). So the maestro was left high and dry and sullenly manned the car for sometime.

The guy was chatting with considerable interest with my daughter, who seemed quite oblivious to the silent stares I was boring into the back of her head, so naturally the mo.-in.law assumed he had children or at least liked them. The mother-in-law took it upon herself to steer the conv. towards more neutral topics and asked the fellow if he had family. The man came up with utter drivel as an answer to this question, something about matrimony being a jail term or unending agony or some such thing. I forgot what exactly it was, but I remember laughing out loud. It was all in very flowery language and clearly calculated to impress. Yes – I got it now.

It was a rather bad similie about marriage being like quick sand in the desert, when one is mirthlessly pulled in, as against quick sands in the forest where the agile can latch themselves onto hanging tree branches, and save themselves. Apparently, trees near quick sand patches do that. I did not know that, it was a revelation to me.

He then went for the “Oh, I am a single man – have been alone for the past few decades” effect. After which he sighed – a hollow sigh that seemed to emanate from his bowels.

If I hadn’t just seen him function as a car driver, I would have thought he was the star student at the Drama Academy.

I don’t know about you, but watching everybody else eat a “full meals” at a wonderful restaurant, while I drank black tea and lemon combined with this dose from the driver was making me uneasy. Why was this man saying he was alone and dancing with fate and tempting destiny by jumping into quicksand or whatever drivel he was going on about?

We reached our spot of interest as it were, and the husband and I decided to take a small stroll through an adjoining grove. You know, a spot of a romantic walk pondering deep philosophical questions. The jaundiced eye was keeping the lookout for quicksand holes too, so we could decipher for ourselves whether if one of us were to fall in, would the other haul us out. The quiet birdsong kept us company for all of a minute, and I addressed the dearest – “You know what?”

I can’t remember the last time I got a nastier jar in my life.
“Yes madam? Please tell me..”

What the…..hell – whose hand was I holding onto? The husband’s all right. Have I started hallucinating? Oh god – what now? My head did a 180 degree turn to find the ingratiating chap right behind us. It is a wonder he didn’t bump into us when I stopped. I mean – really!

Events turned out such that, I had to take the car back with the daughter in the evening alone for an hour and a half after dropping the husband and parents off, through a rural countryside. I don’t think I can find a person who cursed Arvind Adiga as wholely as I did for writing the book and myself for reading it. Unease had turned to plain nervous, and I am fooling the butterflies if I were to tell them they weren’t keeping me company that day.

I held onto the husband’s hand and asked him to call me every 15 minutes, and left gulping loudly.

— Stay Tuned for Part 2.