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.

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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.

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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.”

The Covid Vaccine!

One blissful afternoon a few months ago, when the summer heat was beating down upon us, I was curled up on the couch overlooking the Umpqua river. The river was flowing gently in the valley below.  A deer and her fawn were grazing nearby, music was playing on the laptop, a book on the History of Medicine lay open in front of me, and every now and then, I read a piece out from the book to the family nestled nearby in various forms of ease. The unease surrounding Covid was there everywhere. (Grapes of Wrath).

History of Medicine is a somewhat misleading title for the book. Jane Goodall documented apes healing themselves by going to a cave miles away when they had stomach upsets, to find a herb to cure themselves.  So, I am pretty sure healing ourselves has an evolutionary angle.

We must’ve all seen the viral quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead, who supposedly said that the first evidence of civilization was a healed femur bone, since usually breaking this bone in the animal kingdom means death by starvation or predators. 

(I am not sure of the veracity of the quotation itself, but here it is)

In any case, I think the book addresses the last 200 years of practiced medicine.  

“What are you reading about now?”, was a frequent query as I made my way through the ailments listed in the book.

I told the children the hilarious tale of Jerome K Jerome, the author of Three Men in a Boat feeling off and searching up his ailments much like many of us first do with WebMD.

“I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.”

“I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.”

― Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

The history of medicine is a fascinating one. The book contained some black and white pictures too. There was a few pages dedicated to the sad tale of James Garfield’s assassination. Apparently, hand-washing was not a prevalent practice in 1881. Though the shooting itself was not immediately fatal to Garfield, infection set in to the wound in the days following the shooting essentially killing him. His shooter infamously said, “I didn’t kill the President! I only shot at him. The doctors took care of the rest.”

Given how often we wash our hands during these Covid-times, it seems like something elementary, but was such a problem even 100 years ago. 

“I am so glad that human understanding of the microbial world has come such a long way in the past century!” I said after reading this piece out to the children. “Just think of this, within days of the genetic sequence of the coronavirus being shared, scientists had finalized the sequence of the antibody required to combat the virus. mRNA-1273

The author wrote about the time his mentor told him to document the symptoms of polio for posterity: this, at a time when the polio vaccine was not yet available. To quizzical glances, he apparently said with confidence that Polio will be cured within a few years. This was the sort of conviction and hope that is at once admirable and remarkable about the human race.

News of the corona virus vaccine is a welcome one indeed, and a true testament to Science. The first vaccines were distributed to 50 states in USA from Pfizer’s facility in Michigan today.

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What is mRNA, and how do they work? Link from CDC

Like Bill Gates said in his 2015 TED talk, it isn’t missiles that we need to fear (since we now are invested in peace, knowing how we can annihilate ourselves many times over), but epidemics such as the Spanish flu. The coronavirus really did take the world by surprise, and showed us how we are all more interconnected than we realize – we are just a small pale blue dot floating in the cosmos – united in our destinies and apparently as weak as our vilest virus.  

The Boat of Life

Driving through the Pacific North Western coast can be lovely. Even though the vast areas around us shimmered in the heat, we were upbeat inside the car- the Umpqua river was keeping us company on the drive. Umpqua river – What a river! What a name! It was beautiful as the roads snaked and curved and we never once knew on which side the river would emerge. 

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Looking at people trying to get their canoe afloat on the river that afternoon reminded me of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome again, and I resolved to read it again soon. With Covid rampant everywhere, the world around us seemed more muted, but the river seemed to assure with its little gurgles, eddies, swirls, and bubbles that life will go on. This too shall pass and any number of things we tell ourselves when in need of lifting our spirits. 

The truth is that Californian summers in the Bay Area can mean slim pickings with vibrant rivers. The Oregon coast was different – the Umpqua river was full, mature with the strength of the waters from the melting snows of the Cascades and we were driving right alongside its path as it made its way into the Pacific Ocean. 

As the road rose over the ridge carrying us over the valley of the Umpqua, the mists gradually rolled in signaling one thing –  we were nearing the oceanfront!  The trees were towering over us, and my spirits rose on that mist-filled afternoon.

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“The hills are alive with the sound of music! “

I bleated along as we drove through the hills, and the children exchanged a look that confirmed their worst suspicions. Their Mother Nature was with them. And with this Mother Nature in attendance, there would be no dawdling and letting things be. This would mean hiking and looking at things, and singing along. Sure enough, I ended my bleat on a howling note with great pride and turned around to see the cubs splitting with laughter. I coaxed and under the threat of more of my own singing, they relented.

Pretty soon, there we were, playing a weird version of Antakshari – we took a word or theme of the last few words we sang and started off the next one. Sometimes, the sentiment was enough. We were off trying to coax musical notes from made-up lyrics, singing with mesmerizingly accurate actions to our imaginary orchestra, and completely off-tune. 

“The wind never bothered me anyway….Let it go! Let it go! “  I said drawing in a wisp of the wind by lowering the window,

The daughter piped up from behind:

“The cold never bothered me anyway…”

“What?”

“It’s not the ‘wind’, it’s the ‘cold’.” Said the daughter and I said, “Yes dear – that’s what I meant. “

“MA! You can’t just change up words when you are singing them and say that is what I meant! ”

The husband and daughter are wizards at memorizing the lyrics. Yours truly, on the other note, is only magical when it comes to making up nonsense to fill in the tunes. 

“Yes you can! I sang nonsense to you kids all the time when you were babies!” I said

“Yep! Yay! And see how well that worked out!” said the daughter – sarcasm dripping from her voice, and we all burst into laughter. Say what you might, it seemed a perfect philosophy for a lovely life given all our little imperfections.

“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

I feel like I must say something witty about boats of life, and how it is the very thing that could turn into your life-boat, etc, but the lyrics elude me at the moment. Stay tuned – for you never know when inspiration will strike.

S’mores by the Russian River

We’d been up to the Russian River for a spot of camping and the children were obviously enamored by the flowing water. It was a  lovely river and the day was even better: Cloudy and just warm enough to not make it uncomfortable. The river was teeming with people – some canoeing, some kayaking, some paddle-boating, some just wading in the waters. There was some sort of boat race, and the local canoeing club was obviously busy with its river rentals and before we knew it, we had saddled ourselves with three canoes, a paddle boat and a highly enthusiastic bunch of children.

The whole experience brought good memories of reading Three Men In a Boat and I found myself looking at the book longingly again. It was time for a re-read.

The daughter and her friends teamed up to canoe out on their own, and made a lot of noise about girl power. They got themselves into the canoe, looking spruce and fit in their life jackets and picked up their oars. They looked ebullient at this new-found independence and pride at having been allowed to strike out on their own.

“Go Girls!” they screamed, but of course nothing happened till the local nib who rented us the canoes untied the thing and pushed it mid-stream.

The toddler son looked forlorn at not being chosen first by his sister to get on the boat. He was usually chosen, why not now? Was it because he could not row? Well, if that was the case, he was going to show her that he could. Yes he was. 

A few minutes later, all the boats had pushed off like drunken lads swaggering from a pub, and only the youngest boys were left behind by their doting sisters.

The boys looked solemn: If their sisters decided to strike out as Four Little Women In A Boat, then they would do their best to be Two Little Men Without A Boat. They found themselves a paddle each and spent the entire hour paddling standing firmly in the water. They took Jerome K Jerome’s words to heart:

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“Life was not an idle dream to be gaped and yawned through, but a noble task, full of duty and stern work. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

They found themselves going forward 5 steps and then being yanked back by 3 steps.

It was later that we learned that the girls performed in much the same way downstream when they had difficulty maneuvering their canoe. At first, they resolutely declined help from the men, and preferred to get down themselves to push the boat out again. The river was shallow enough even in the middle of the river bed for the girls to stand and push.

As they sailed into harbor, they were soaking wet and remarkably happy at being able to jump into the water.

The burgers, salads and s’mores after a day like that, were especially welcome to the children.

“We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach.  Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care and judgment. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat