The Kaleidoscope of Life on Earth 🌏

“Hmm…how Covid has changed things right Amma?” said the daughter when I walked into her room one day, and spotted ‘Greece’ sprawled across the whiteboard. She has been spending her summer making minor changes to the decorations in her room. As most teens do, she has a fond attraction to her room, and one day I found her looking at the pictures she had printed out to make a sort of picture collage. Her teenage eye-roll and monosyllabic answers fell away as soon as I showed an interest in the choice of pictures she had laid out on the floor arranging and rearranging them to see the best patterns.

How do you see the best patterns in a kaleidoscope? Everything seems beautiful, everything seems fine, and yet the artistic piece of her fussed with the layout and order of the pictures. There were pictures of happy people, little cafes, books, beaches, forests, city lights, quotations, rainbows, flowers, and small towns. The collage was eclectic enough to interest me. She gurgled and burst forth with the thought that went into them. I listened amused. 

By then, her excited voice had attracted her little brother and fond father into the room. Her brother painstakingly wrote ‘Mars’ below ‘Greece’.

“Mars! Seriously dude- next thing we know you will be lugging us into black holes and having us all burst into all the tiny starry bits like your Avengers or Star Wars superhero dudes in their adventures! No! No space travel!”

“Just yet”. I added and she gave me a look that indicated that this idiocy with space is because I indulge him with this stuff. I laughed out loud, and the children joined in too.

“And while we are at it,  no fictional or mythical places either. Only places that we can locate on a known map of the world.”

“Sheesh – she is so strict!” said the young explorer of the cosmos.

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Cautiously, like deer in a prairie, we approached the topic of places we’d like to visit, ready to scurry back to Covid restrictions. Slowly, the name scrawled on a whiteboard set the stage. In the safe company of just the four of us, it felt good to take a peek into travel dreams again. It was done at first soberly – how happily we had taken international travel for granted? How happily we had taken good health for granted? Disconcerting as the Covid situation has been, it has also made us sit up and take notice of the beautiful things surrounding us on Earth. 

Once we started talking of lands beyond our day-to-day, a different energy gripped the room. Within moments, distances melted away, and the globe-trotters threw names on the board with no thought to distance or expense. Exactly how dreams should be.

Looking at the list on the board reminded us, however, that our lifetimes were not enough for this sort of ambition. How does one fit in a hike in the Himalayas for a zen feel, with a sort of Darwin-esque trip to the Galapagos? How can one fit the journey of civilization in Greece and Peru, to the pure sounds of nature as yet untouched by mankind? I suppose travel still has a lot to teach us, and post-covid, the world will start to cautiously explore once more.

We started, therefore, with a couple of day trips taken mostly on a week-day taken off from work, so we could avoid crowds. We looked for wide trails on which to get our dose of nature and exercise in. While for the first time thinking of a 2-3 day trip, we looked for godforsaken places. Places people do not usually go to for a vacation. But the house was a good one, pitched atop a hill with the nearest neighbor miles away. There was a  Jane Austen-esque feel to the whole thing. It reminded me of the poem by Wendell Berry: The Beauty of Wild Things.

On Being: The Beauty of Wild Things – By Wendell Berry

I set about the evening meal after the long drive there, while the children ran to find board games to be played that night. I cradled a cup of tea in my hands, as I set the water to boil, and rummaged the contents I had packed with me so as to minimize exposure to the outside world.  Slowly, the kitchen’s essence wafted around the room – smells, heat, textures all dancing together in an exquisite symphony of the senses. A symphony was playing as I cooked, and talked to the children. Here was a lively room packed with energy, activity, witty comments, and chaos that strangely translates to calm.

Inside this house overlooking a river valley, I felt the kaleidoscope of our life on Earth lap at me in waves. Watching the objects in the room around me evoked a strange sense of living  on this earth: the telescope, the books ,the music, the keyboard that promises the best music to those willing to invest in it, the creature comforts of a well-built house with the furnishings about us, the deer grazing in the hillside by us, the beautiful moon, the thousands of stars visible because of the distance from populated areas.

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The Peace of Wild Things: By Wendell Berry

I come into the peace of wild things

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.

The daughter’s pictures had indeed done a good job of capturing life on earth.

Why Is My Hair Curly?

I remember reading Lakshmi Iyer’s blog many years ago, and even then found her narrative style very interesting. The way she weaved emotions, surroundings, objects and people together makes it all seem so simple. But as a writer, I know just how difficult it is to evoke this combination of feelings in a reader.

Then, given the attention spans on the internet, I lost touch with her blog, but I was so glad to find her writing again 5 years ago. By now, she was living a marvelous story.

I have a valued colleague who has a laptop sticker that says: “Live a great story!” and I love it.

Lakshmi seemed to be doing just that – she was raising her adopted twin girls and a biological girl. Her attitude and mindset have always awed me – given humanity’s preoccupation with skin color, here she was parenting white twins and her own brown child with aplomb and apparent ease.

Every time I read one of her posts, I come away soaking in a bit of wisdom, reveling in the ordinary struggles of womanhood and finding grace in the exceptional ways in which we can handle our journey.

Therefore, when I read her book, Why Is My  Hair Curly?, is up for publishing, I waited for it.

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I know the book was out a few weeks ago, but I only write about it now, for I found her book was one of those few ones that linger on in your consciousness days after you’ve read them. I found myself thinking of Avantika when I least expected it: the sweet, emotionally mature Avantika and her resolution and acceptance of her hair.

My review on Amazon here:

Lakshmi Iyer has taken a premise that never really gets old (girls and hair troubles), and has managed to spin a delightful tale. The  story deals with important themes such as  inter-religious marriages, family relationships, adoption, sibling love and much  more. What’s more? She does this without being the least bit preachy.

I was also secretly happy to find a book in which Tamizh words crept into the narrative enhancing the read. My young son really liked reading ‘Thaatha, paati, kanna’ etc – words that are used in his everyday parlance, but rarely visible in children’s literature.

The Indian version of Anne of Green Gables is truly marvelous.

The Joys of Walking

There are places where walking is no longer allowed. Especially in densely populated areas where the coronavirus is raging and ravaging the population. Talking to my parents the other day, the father sounded strangely dull. A little prodding revealed that the evening walk was cut from his list of allowed activities for a few days, and I felt keenly for him. I, like him, enjoy nothing more than tying my hands behind my back (unladylike as my mother often said when I was growing up), and taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the air around me. Often, I don’t remember where all my mind has wandered during these walks, but I always come back strangely uplifted, the day’s conundrums a little clearer, and life’s perspectives a wee bit sharper.

I sympathized with the father and told him that all we could do was to make the best of the situation. For instance, I told him,  I had not enjoyed tea in my backyard for all this time. My work spot is a good 50 miles away from where I live, and I spent many an hour getting to and from work. Silently sipping my tea in the backyard before the day at work began the other day, I felt strangely grateful for this time – the time that I would ordinarily have been rattling to work on a crowded train. But that morning as I sat under the cypress trees, watching the sycamore sway in the breeze outside, I slowly raised my head upwards and was dazzled at the most beautiful blue that greeted the eyes.

The father lightened up at this little piece of my day that I shared with him, for he enjoys our backyard too when he visits, and spoke fondly of the squirrels. The squirrels really are admirable as a means of entertainment. They titter, run and make merry all day long in the fruit trees, and before you know it, a pleasurable time has been had by the entertainers and entertained alike. 

Walking makes philosophers of us. How many times have I admired the mallard ducks and the geese for their spirit? All these little creatures that we share the Earth with have to be the most engaging lesson-givers in the world. Squirrels, cats, butterflies, dogs, geese, ducks, and blackbirds – they are all marvelous teachers to the philosopher willing to take in lessons.

We fell into discussing the joys of walking, and he spoke of Thoreau and a number of writers who were known for their musing during their daily walks. We laughed at how some of our best ideas after hours of walking were nothing short of ordinary, while these authors of whom he spoke so highly had truly world-changing ideas at the end of theirs. One day at the end of a long walk, I came back with an epiphany about ducks, I said, and I wasn’t joking. 

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T’was one evening after a nice long walk, I sat by a lake. The waters were clearly more than 20-30 feet in depth, and I remember wondering whether ducks felt any qualms about plunging into waters that deep. Do they examine their toes studying the webbing and decide to swim? Do they stretch their legs knowing it is waddle-worthy? I have watched the ducks hatch their little ducklings countless times in the spring, and watched them teach their young to take to the waters. But how do they know their capabilities? Do they stretch their wings knowing it is intended for flight?  Ducks have to be the most admirable creatures for they adapt to any medium with ease, and seem to enjoy  it. They waddle, swim and fly with ease. 

How about that? 

“Anyway, why don’t you watch what you eat since your daily walks are also cut?” I said taking a large dollop of ice-water and pouring it over his igloo.

The mother came hissing into the phone like a queen bee in-charge of delivering the daily news updates to the BBC at this, and said, “As if! Now, because he is bored, he eats almost continuously from 4-8 p.m!” . We all landed up laughing at this. 

“Must see how these ducks control their diet Appa. But now that I got the chance to observe squirrels, I don’t think they control their diets very much. Munching on fruits all day long, and talking bites out of them and flinging them to the ground without even properly polishing them off!” I said.

And on this note, we said toodle-oo to each other. I continued on a walk grateful that I could indulge in this activity though my mask made me feel sweaty and hot. He went to make himself some coffee to go with his mid-morning snack. We both pondered on life.

A Philosophy of Walking

The 💫 Comet 💫 Life

The past few days have been a flurry of activity with tiny little bursts of stardust and magic spun into the day.

We traipsed home tired, sleepy but triumphant. This was a Sunday morning well spent: we had finally sighted the elusive comet, 💫  Neowise. The previous morning, we had run outside at a similar time, and stood pinching our eyes, squinting at a resplendent Venus and thinking that if you cocked your head to one angle, and yawned loudly enough to get tears in your eyes, you could spot the tail. This technique made for some hilarious moments, but comets don’t seem to care much for sentient beings on some transient planet trying to catch sight of them in the wee hours of their morning, and we had to accept defeat and head home.

The next morning, however, we had managed a grainy sighting of the comet and we were jubilant. When the chocolate drink was gulped, and the little fellow was tucked into bed again, I lay in bed thinking of the comet 💫 . I could not shake the beautiful image from my mind’s eye.

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To the naked eye, it looked nothing like the images taken by setting one’s camera to a long exposure, but it was there alright. The burning star with a yearning, a lone star shining its torch as it scorched its way by numerous stars treading a path it had set for itself. An unconventional celestial object. Compared to the systemic order of the rest of the universe, there was a object that was definitely unconventional , a trail blazer (get it, get it?) Why an elliptical shape, and why 6800 years?

I went about the days after the comet sighting with a faint gasp in my demeanor. Imagine, as we are holding all these important meetings, combating pandemics, and trying to protest against all things unjust, here was an icy blob just spinning away on its own elliptical. 6800 years before it can peek at us again. Often as I went about my day, I wondered whether there was a possibility of sentient life evolving on comets. Comets and asteroids have been known to be microbe transporters, seeding the possibilities of life as they hurtle through the vast dark emptiness.

Do extremophiles have what it takes to feel?

I mean, if we were to have evolved on a comet rather than a planet, would we have had such success in determining the nature of physics and the laws that holds the cosmos and the universe within which we thrive? How would time be measured on a comet? If rhythms helped us discern music, what would music have been in a comet-ic life? Our own days on Earth are neatly sliced into hours, minutes, and these days blend into weeks, months and years. Before we know it, we have made one full circle around the sun, and the seasons have changed along the way in predictable ways.

But none of that would be true if sentient life such as ours had evolved on a comet instead. There would be no days, no seasons, no predictable cyclical rhythm to our days. The sense of adventure as we drew near other stars and planets would probably fill the time. But time itself may have no more meaning, or much more meaning depending on how one perceived it.

These musings were sources of mild amusement, while life itself marched on with a comforting rhythm down here on Earth – dawns, days, dusks, nights, weeks.

Did the seagulls, deer and ducks think of such things?

Ahh! Comet life!

Comet Chasing * Chocolate Charms

The children have a shared liking for Calvin  & Hobbes. The adorable pair have been the source of many hysterical giggles between the siblings in our home. In the son’s room, there is a cartoon clip of Calvin & Hobbes that seems to tickle both his whimsy and his innate rapture and curiosity of the universe we live in.

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If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they would live a lot differently  ✨- Calvin & Hobbes

A few weeks ago, I was typing out an email with the ounces of concentration I could muster at the end of a 12 meeting day, and I wasn’t exactly thinking  about 💫 comets, stars, pulsars, neutron stars, black holes, and parallel universes, when the little fellow shot into the room bursting about comets. I turned around , and my face probably looked like some of the spreadsheets I was looking at, for the son gave me a pitying look that seemed to indicate, “What good is a day when you haven’t thought of these important things?”

I laughed at the incredulity on his face: Stars, superclusters, muons traveling the speed of light, quirky  quarks are all thriving right beside his world of super-powers for super-heroes, who are incidentally gifted with important sounding superpowers such as gamma-rays and electromagneto-muon-transporters and what-not. 

“Did you  know Halley’s comet is going to come again in 40 years?” said the son still bouncing and glowing from the stash of chocolate chips he has been chipping into while reading his little books on Physics.

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“Yep! Sounds about right. I was around your age when I saw Halley’s Comet. So once in 76 years means …” and I trailed off.

“What?! You’ve seen Halley’s comet? Aww…..so lucky!” said he, and I had to laugh at his yearning. I did remember the cold nights awaiting the turn at the telescope to catch a grainy sight of the Halley’s comet. I must say that the whole experience felt worth a lot more given the rapture with which he listened to the comet sighting. I seem to remember the hot chocolate provided to the young astronomers more than the telescope and the grainy image itself.

Maybe the universe really did hear his yearnings that day, for within a few weeks, another comet came our way: the Neowise 360 comet sighting was supposedly possible from where we lived. I was so happy for the little fellow. He could barely contain the excitement in his system when his father said at the lunch table that the comet would be visible at 4:30 a.m. He got up and ran upstairs to his room. We were exchanging quizzical glances at this when he tumbled downstairs and said, “Yes! I set the alarm for 4:30 – I cannot wait to see it!”

I had to admit; the young astronomer’s enthusiasm put us to shame. So, for the next few nights, we bundled up and comedically traipsed from location to location in the wee hours of the morning looking for a comet sighting. The clouds were there in one place, some low mountains in another, and then, finally, we managed to find a plain spot in which we caught a grainy sighting.

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Knowing that we caught a fleeting glimpse of something that is not going to come by to see us for another 6800 years is strangely moving. I have to tell you though, that similar to the Halley’s comet sighting, the hot chocolate after coming back, and the the long tail of wishes accompanying the comet sighting, definitely made the hustle worthwhile. 

That morning, the rest of the comet chasers had no problem falling back to sleep, but I did – the comet had kindled dreams of long ago: dreams born of comet chasing and chocolate charms; dreams woven with the magic of stardust 💫 and comet trails – bright, shiny, sparkling, path-breaking and aspirational.

Bill Watterson was absolutely right: People who spend time looking up at the night sky do live life differently!

 

Shoshin Seeking & Science Writing

Shoshin is a concept dear to me as regular readers know. Shoshin is the Zen Buddhist word for ‘beginner’s mind’, denoting the capacity to bring wonder and open-mindedness to learning anything.

To continue the quest in Shoshin seeking,  I volunteered to take an online writing class with a focus on Science for elementary school children. 

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The idea for the class was inspired by multiple factors:

(1) A sense of wanting to be useful while doing the socially responsible thing of staying home during the Corona-virus shelter-in-place. 

(2) My brain after years of running around from Place A to Place B found a method to calm down from the frenzied lifestyle that modern man prides himself on (The Virus is a reminder of something lost long ago – an essay by Alan Lightman – a writer and physicist at MIT) 

(3) Combining the marvels of Science and keeping the wonder of Shoshin alive is pretty much what my writing has been about (at least in the past 1/2 a decade). An area of passion that I was happy to share with the children, from whom I learn Shoshin in spades.

(4) A love for children and young minds has me yearning to be like them on multiple levels. I live precariously through this yearning by reading children’s books, squabbling childishly with my own children, and much more.

The result of this was a marvelous month in which I went about reading topics that had long since been pushed to the back of the brain. I wondered as I prepared for the classes, how we wasted those marvelous moments of youth with all these fascinating subjects. I understood as the class went on:  sometimes the children were enthusiastic and wanted to write all about the topic under discussion. Other times, they liked the sound of music-like science lilting in their ears, and they nodded along sagely. The rays of the afternoon sun filtering in through the window made for warm, cozy sessions in which one saw one’s friends on the zoom call, and answered when one felt like being a part of the discussion. This was nothing close to the normal they knew, but they adapted with ease and their customary good sense. All in all, it made for a marvelous time, and with the children happy, so was I, their teacher. 

If post-Covid, some children recall sunny afternoons with thrilling science to a background of their classmates trilling in the background, while taking a leap of imagination, it is time well spent, in my opinion. 

I remember distinct moments when something piqued the children’s attention. The time I told them about giraffes in the savannah, or when we played the little game of hearing frequencies, or when we spun off pretending to be whales using sonographic techniques to unearth something really unexpected.

I am going to sign up for another 4 week session in which I hope to have as much fun, learn as much and enjoy the companionship of younger authors, who are by  virtue of their youth also leaps ahead in imagination and spirits.  Wish me luck!

The Glimmer of Hope

I sat in my backyard reading on a hot Saturday afternoon. It was the 4th of July week-end, and I had pages to go before I slept. During the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, I resolved to read more about the life of minorities, racism, civil disobedience and much more. The son & I had painstakingly collated a list after reading several lists online, suggestions from friends, teachers, colleagues, and the companies we worked for. If there are any other recommendations, please let me know in the comments section. (Thank you 😊 )

  • Becoming – by  Michelle Obama
  • Civil Disobedience – by Henry  David Thoreau
  • Sneetches and other Stories – By  Dr Seuss
  • A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela – Abridged by Chris Van Wyk
  • Black Panther – by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • XVIII – 13th Netflix Documentary
  • Hidden Figures movie

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While I sat reading, there was a faint niggling guilt to the apparent normalcy of it all. Was it alright to be sitting calmly and reading in one’s backyard while the world around us was still reeling?  

I read as the sun overhead appeared to move towards the west, and finally got up to take a long walk. If anything, I had several things to think about in the book. There was a section in the book where she writes about failure being a feeling that sets in long before failure itself does. She writes about this in the context of the South Side in Chicago, and how the ghetto label slowly portended its decline long before it did. Families fled the place in search of upwardly mobile suburbs, the neighborhood changed in small, but perceptible ways at first, and then at an accelerated pace. Doubt is a potent potion, and when fed in small portions can quickly shadow everything.

The limitations of dreams are seeds planted in our sub-conscious slowly and surely so that we may fulfill what society thinks we ought to do, no more and no less. Minorities the world over know the feeling well enough.

Trevor Noah, in his book, Born a Crime, writes about the ability to dream being limited to what a person knows. If all people know is the ghetto, they can truly not think beyond that.

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” – Trevor Noah – Born a Crime

The largest section of population to know these limitations must be women.

In the Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates writes in her very first introductory chapter, “All we need to uplift women is to stop pulling them down.” 

It was, therefore, in sombre mood that I set out for the walk, little knowing that Serendipity, that most mysterious of forces will work its magic by the end of the night. 

I walked on taking in the setting sun at a fast pace. My mask hoisted on the face was sweaty, and every now and then on the trail when there weren’t people nearby, I slipped it down to take a deep breath of the summer air. I was walking by the waterside, and slowly  feeling the calm strength of the waters. My thoughts were slowly lifting as the sun was setting, and the full moon rose in the opposite direction. Out in the distance, the sound of Fourth of July fireworks was providing an orchestra of sorts to the accompanying bird sounds, and the sound of water sloshing gently against the shores of the lake. 

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“Bring the kids – sunset and moonrise marvelous and fireworks everywhere!” I texted the husband, and off we went in the approximate direction of the fireworks. We parked on a side road to take in the revels of the night. To stand there with the full moon behind us, and an array  of fireworks going off in front of us in a largely residential neighborhood was marvelous. 

Later, as we drove on, we listened to songs chosen with a special regard to the 4th of July. The children had aced the  list, and we drove on through the moonlight, lilting and dancing to the tunes.

“Behind the Clouds, the sun is shi—ii—ning. “ – What has to be one of our favorite Disney songs rent the car as we pulled into the garage. 

As I read the final section of Michelle Obama’s Becoming later that night, I found the audacity of hope (pun intended) stirring and this too felt different; worth examining. Politics is a dirty game, but Barack &  Michelle Obama had shown us what was possible. Dare we hope?  

P.S: I was blissfully unaware of (yet another) divisive speech by Donald Trump, and the announcement of Kanye West to run for President that night. I like to hold on to that glimmer of hope that permeated my heart as 4th of July ticked on steadily into the 5th of July.

Maybe hopes can translate to positive outcomes long  before they  happen.

 

Becoming – What a Title!

One would think that a book written by the former First  Lady  of the United States would not be relatable to a middle class couple living all the way in California. Not to mention that the husband and I hail from India from very middle-class  backgrounds. And  yet, that is the beauty  of the human condition I suppose, for I felt many places in the book where I could nod along and think, “Lord! How often I have felt that way!” 

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The need to question whether one is good enough, and wanting  to over-achieve believing that to be the only antidote to counter that feeling of not belonging for instance. The keen angst of youth as you overcome every  small and large bump along the way is so beautifully written.

Or the very real struggles of raising children while holding down a full-time job and constantly feeling a bandwidth issue; tugged at by the veneer of the formerly ambitious career-oriented young woman who is now slightly at odds wondering why the career years, child-bearing and rearing years, all coincide in one large tug and pull. To read that sentiment written by a former first lady is both marvelous and what makes our country great.

Or the place where she writes about her young husband and his eternal optimism. I can so readily identify with that. While it is the wind of the husband’s optimism that sets our boat to sail, it is the cause of many veering off-courses as well. For instance, I laughed out loud and read out the following paragraph to the children who chuckled and said, “Appa!”

Becoming – By  Michelle Obama

“On my way, I was learning, was he product of Barack’s eternal optimism, and indication of his eagerness to be home that did nothing to signify when he would actually arrive. Almost home was not a geo-locator but rather a state of mind. Sometimes he was on his way but needed to stop in to have one last forty-five minute conversation with a colleague before he got into the car.”

The children all laughed out loud at this, and the husband grinned sheepishly for there have been countless times when the good man has been so caught  up in whatever  he is doing, or talking to one colleague who caught him on the way out, that he lost track of time. It is now a well worn thread in our household. The good natured ribbing has taken multiple paths- “We know you are almost here Appa, and we believe  you, but when does Google say you will get here?”

Michelle Obama’s keen intellect, solid grounding, and sturdy family values shine through in her writing. 

There are passages that bring across the feeling of being African American in Chicago’s Southside that made me want to read these places again. I am sure there are plenty of good books dealing with these aspects of life in the United States. She writes about her husband – portraying him in a pragmatic human light (but again, after the 45th President, the 44th President  with his middle class upbringing, scholarly attitude, and high sense of integrity seems like a dream.) 

The book makes us realize that greatness while destined for some, the need to be motivated, live the best possible lives we can, while holding true to our intellectual and moral integrity, is something we can all choose for ourselves. 

Of course, the identify-with portions of the book ended with Becoming Me, and Becoming Us sections of the book. The final section of the Becoming More is something that only 45 families can relate to: Life in one of the world’s most famous addresses, The White House. Where life has parts of fairy-tale, power, ambition, noble intentions, inspirations, horror story, emotional wringing, the ugly and beautiful humanity of it all.

What a marvelous title : Becoming.

It captures the time-space continuum, and life’s journeys in one word. 

Unrelated, but also a good read: Ta Nehisi Coates essay: here

Qi to the Yin & Yang

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

I know I enjoyed reading  this in The Prisoner of Azkaban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

💦 🌳 Earth 🌏 Magicians 💥❄️

Magic was in the air. The afternoon sun was shining with an intensity that surprises us every summer. The high temperatures should really not surprise us anymore, but we still scuttle inside in the afternoon sun and wonder how it got to be so hot so soon. Inside the home, we were grateful for the cool atmosphere – the suns rays were filtering in through the large sycamore tree in the backyard, bathing us in Komorebi.

Komorebi (木漏れ日): Sunshine filtering through the trees.

trees_komerabi

Komerabi is beautiful and especially marvelous to experience on a week-end afternoon after a hearty lunch.

I was sprawled out on the sofa beside the son with a heavy book, a light heart, an empty page, and a full stomach. I was reading Harry Potter, A History of Magic. It is an impressive book that has on the cover apart from a magnificent rendition of a Phoenix, the words- The Official Companion to the British Library Exhibition at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.

Leaving the title aside, it is a comprehensive compilation of some of the magic and folklore in the Harry Potter world. I was happily frisking through the magical journey of our species through the ages stopping to savor the beautiful images in the book, and marveling for the n-th time about the brilliant mind of J K Rowling and her rich repertoire of knowledge that led to the marvelous wizarding world.

Some of the tidbits in the book were truly mind-boggling. Like the plethora of plants the myths have grown from and some superb paintings of the flora through the ages.Reading about the book, A Curious Herbal, for instance, made me realize how lucky we are to be living in this era of human history where high quality renditions of art, photography etc are available for reading and sharing digitally.

A Curious Herbal seems to have been a labor of love by Elizabeth Blackwell. Written between 1737 and 1739, the book had pictures of over 500 plants used “in the practice of physick”. Written, illustrated, hand-graved and hand colored by Elizabeth Blackwell, it was used to free her husband from debtor’s prison. He repaid her by leaving the country and being executed for treason in Sweden.

history_magic

The son was sitting next to me and making cards for the game he was designing. The looks of intense concentration were matched only by the splash of colors – clashing, brilliantly hued, and sparkling. The sound effects were not captured on the document itself, but if it could, it promised to be quite the party.

We sat each wrapped in our own imaginary worlds of thought in companionable silence for a space, when I asked him how his game was coming along. A sneak peak into the document revealed a marvelous world. There were a lot of pictures, points for this and that, and what-not. It looked like the end game would be a fascinating one, if somewhat high on the dishoom-flashoom-bazinga factor. Muons, quarks and photons made their brave show alongside tornado-crushers, wave-ripplers and what-nots in the game cards (a reflection to all that he enjoys reading and watching really.)

“Okay – I’ll tell you!” , he said the magic of Creating bubbling over as he explained his cards to me. After some time, his exuberant tones came to a hush and he said with flair. “This is for Earth Magicians! You have to get 15000 healing points to become an Earth Magician.”

“And how do you get 15000 points”, I asked, for who doesn’t want to be an Earth Magician? What a lovely title to be bestowed with?

As he explained, I scratched the old chin, and stumped him by asking what special powers Earth Magicians have.

The little fellow hemm-ed and umm-ed a fair bit as he thought through his answer. When finally he gave his answer, it went on for about two minutes, and I gathered that he had envisioned earth magicians as having the powers to create something amazing from the ordinary.

“You know? I like it – I should fight trolls and dragons and what-not to become an earth magicians. This time I will choose gardening as a earth magician superpower!”” I said.

He looked puzzled and I said with a serious expression on my face “Well…Gardeners, singers, dancers, writers, artists, aren’t they all Earth Magicians?”

I pointed to our little patch in the garden outside, where I have tried to grow many plants and flowers. Elizabeth Blackwell would have a bit of a challenge drawing a plant of rare repute from my backyard, much as I love it. I’ve even had instances of ordinary flowers which seem to thrive in the wild simply limp along and give it up as a bad job when I set to it.

“See? I try with all the best intentions and little business results. Yet, there are so many talented gardeners among us who use the same potting soil and are able to raise not just trees, but get the flowers to bloom – a new set for every season, in them! If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is!” I said, and he guffawed.

“Well…I suppose that is true!” he said

“Want some more magic powers from Earth magicians? ” I said.

He rolled his eyes, a habit he has picked up from his teenaged sister. I told him I am going for some ice-cream, and he eagerly joined in – if Earth Magicians can make ice-cream, is there a bigger super-power?