Roving on Planets

Standing outside by the curbside of our home one night, my eyes were drawn to the beautifully illumined Sirius shining bright in the night sky. Sirius has been looking brighter than usual in the winter skies, and I have often stared at the blinking star wondering what was happening that far away in the Universe.  Every dot in the night sky suggesting a universe of possibilities. The space between dots showing the emptiness, the dots themselves, bright and important only because of the surrounding darkness

Almost subconsciously, my eyes moved over to the red spot Mars. For here, in our own solar neighborhood, we know that something is happening. Something of human interest, and intent. To think that on that distant reddish spot in the sky, 3 generations of rovers have spent the time taking photographs and trying to determine the existence of life on the planet, is surreal. Not to mention the fact that they have been able to transmit the pictures back to Earth for analysis. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-21 at 2.46.02 PM

The planet has long beckoned us with its allure. All those Science Fiction writers, who used the planet as the home for their fertile imagination, paved the way for these missions. 

Fiction on Mars isn’t new. In fact, the red planet invited writers as early as mid-1800’s to set their stories there. Long before knowing anything about the sounds on Mars, the temperatures, or the atmospheres; worlds were set in it. War of the Worlds had the strangest creatures that human imagination could think of (cephalopod like creatures), who could overpower humans. (This quest for dominance vs courteous co-existence is a pet peeve – why must we turn everything into a conquest? But then, do ants wonder the same about us?) 

martian-ray

Throughout the week, the little cosmologist in the house interspersed our Earthly life with Mars-ly anecdotes and clips. 

Do you know? If we want to live on Mars, we have to have high metal barrier suits. If you go out on an adventure without a suit, there is so much radiation that it could kill you. “ (He had read a novel set in Mars)

Wonder what happened to all water on Mars. The video said there really was water there.” (He has been watching the NASA  videos with interest)

One evening, we sat together huddled up, watching pictures stitched together from the 3 Mars rovers: Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance. Barren desert landscapes, not unlike those in the Sahara desert or the Arizonian deserts, are all the rovers could see. In some shots, the commentator says the NASA team stitched thousands of individual images together to gain a clearer view. In some pictures, a blue sky is visible  (the commentator says that NASA colored the skies blue, so as to be able to see the images better, and I thought about how pretty blue skies are and how blue is a very rare color in nature. )

Curiosity and Perseverance will help us find answers. Till then, we have the opportunity to ponder and puzzle about these things. More than any of these curious wanderings, the one thing that the Martian landscape reinforces to me, is that our Earth is a beautiful planet – so vast in its diversity, and lifeforms. The Martian pictures make me want to go out and sigh and fall in love, look after, and cherish the one planet we can thrive on. To admire the miracle that is every tree, every lake, every cloud, every blade of grass, and every flower. 

summer-collage

Not to mention the great miracle of life in the form of marine creatures, land based creatures and those that are able to aerially survey our beautiful planet. 

img_1168-collage

If Martian 4K resolution images have taught me anything, it is to buckle down and look after the one planet we do have. If I am to be roving on planets, why not this beautiful one that has so much to offer?

“I walk in the world to love it.” – Mary Oliver

Mars Marvels

There is something special in being able to watch the Mars Perseverance Rover land on Mars during the day with your fellow explorer. 

Mars.Nasa.Gov

A work day was in bustling progress.  Many meetings, many projects, many interruptions, and many more deadlines were jostling about in the ether, when the son came charging into the room. It was the middle of his school day (one of the many high points of the corona lifestyle), “Amma! Amma! You will like this. I just came to tell you this! The Mars landing just happened!”

I plucked myself away from the myriad day-to-day happenings of my world, and looked up at his excited face. Luckily, it was one of those rare ½ hour slots that was meeting-free. “Do you want to see the landing? “ I asked, and he nodded. There is something special in being able to watch the Mars Perseverance Rover land on Mars during the day with your fellow explorer. 

Mars.Nasa.Gov

Screen Shot 2021-02-21 at 2.46.02 PM

The video attests to Carl Sagan’s deductions in the book, Pale Blue Dot (essay: Sacred Black). The Martian atmosphere does look pinkish red with heavily desert hues. The son & I looked outside at the beautiful blue sky with reassuringly white clouds flitting by. 

The Mars Perseverance Rover is tasked with looking for evidence for extraterrestrial life.

Excerpt from Wikipedia:

The Perseverance rover has four science objectives that support the Mars Exploration Program‘s science goals:[8]

  1. Looking for habitability: identify past environments capable of supporting microbial life.
  2. Seeking biosignatures: seek signs of possible past microbial life in those habitable environments, particularly in specific rock types known to preserve signs over time.
  3. Caching samples: collect core rock and regolith (“soil”) samples and store them on the Martian surface.
  4. Preparing for humans: test oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere.

Mars has, it seems, been a most fertile planet for the imagination through the centuries. From harboring questions about life on its surface to envisioning warfare between worlds. As rich as lifeforms on Earth are, even in our imaginings, we are somewhat limited by how life has evolved on Earth. Cephalopods, trees, giraffes, humans – but what else is possible? What sensory powers are we not even considering?

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

The War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells. Features an attack on England by cephalopod-like Martians and their advanced technology to employ fighting machines to decimate the world.

Even as early as the 16th and 17th century, writers made bold attempts at imagining life on its surface. The canal like squiggles on its surface, led to intriguing theories on an advanced civilization running advanced colonies etc. 

Now, seems like a good time for me to read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Given what we know about the Martian atmosphere now, there are places where the writing seems awkward. For instance, Ray Bradbury writes of a blue Martian sky – an example that it is hard for us to un-imagine what is. 

martian-ray

The Martian Chronicles (1950) by Ray Bradbury. Features human-like Martians with copper-colored skin, human emotions, and telepathic abilities. They have an advanced culture, but the human explorers are greeted with incomprehension. 

Science took us to Mars with the reddish sky, but it was the blue sky with white clouds that enabled us to dream. The hunter gatherer is us out to explore the cosmic ocean, as Carl Sagan would say.

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.

Travel_dreams

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.

Life_On_Earth

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.

To All Astrophiles

“Did you know, the Voyager Insight is going to land on Mars tomorrow?” said an excited son. T’was the night before school reopened after a joyous 10 day Thanksgiving break, and the night before the much anticipated Insight landing on Mars. I looked at his shining face when it should have been a sleepy one.  The sparkle in his eyes did not smack of eyes wanting to make the journey into the Land of Nod any time soon. So, I sat down next to him and said, “Really? How do you know?”

That’s better, his posture seemed to indicate, and said, “Yes…Appa told me. It has to land at an 12 degrees angle it seems.”

“Why 12 degrees?” I asked intrigued. 

Space.com article : Mars Insight Landing

Quote from article:

“InSight hit the thin Martian atmosphere at about 12,300 mph (19,800 km/h), nailing its entry angle of exactly 12 degrees. If the lander had come in any steeper than that, it would have burned up; any shallower, and it would have skipped off the atmosphere like a flat stone across a pond.”

After chatting a little more on the impressive Mars voyage, I asked the little fellow if we should read a book on Space exploration. He nodded. Anything to keep from falling asleep.

So, we picked up the sweet little children’s book, “Also an Octopus” or “A Little Bit of Nothing” 

also_an_octopus
Also an octopus : or, A little bit of nothing / Maggie Tokuda-Hall ; illustrated by Benji Davies

Also an octopus : or, A little bit of nothing / Maggie Tokuda-Hall ; illustrated by Benji Davies

The book is about an octopus who plays the ukulele, and wants to get on a purple spaceship. Who can help it build one though? Why a rabbit scientist of course!

 

We laughed as we read the book. As different as it was from Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker, Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, it stretched one’s imagination in a thoroughly whimsical manner that made us giggle at the very thought of the Octopus on the spaceship. If ever we need to convince ourselves of the diversity of life that we seem to be threatening, we need look no further than the impressive marine life we host on Earth. 

counting_on_katherine
Counting on Katherine – by Helaine Becker, Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

All space lovers should definitely read the beautifully illustrated children’s book, Counting on Katherine. Based on the scientists featured in Hidden Figures, Counting on Katherine illustrates the love for Mathematics and its application to space travels in the most endearing fashion. A child who has the inclination towards numbers cannot help deepen their fascination with them, and hopefully, those who do not share that fascination, will develop a curiosity towards them. I have always loved the look of a blackboard with neatly written mathematical formulae and calculations: this book captures the aesthetic beauty of the blackboard beautifully.

img_0287
Counting on Katherine – by Helaine Becker, Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Anyway back to Voyager Insight I said, “Do you think we can watch it land?” 

“Yes….it will be on You-tube.”, said the little fellow, positive that the image transmission from the Insight landing on another planet can make it to the nebulous internet without any trouble at all.

Here is a video link prepared by LockHeed Martin in collaboration with NASA’s JPL:

Automatically, my mind harked back to the old times when an image was work, precious work, with days in between clicking the pictures and getting them developed. When they came out, you saw the lighting could have been better the framing better, the shake a little less, and solemnly swore that you were up to no good, and waited it out till the next film roll proved it. 

I still marvel at any photographs we receive from Space. 

Human minds can adjust to improvements so easily – if only, we had the sagacity to adjust just as quickly to hardship.

The Lentil Chips Shine Down

The excitement in the bunch of children gathered was palpable. They were united by a sense of wonder and pleasant anticipation. Were they really going to be able to touch the telescope, and see something remarkable? A bar stool had been borrowed from a kindly neighbor and the little telescope was perched on it. An earthworm like line was formed with the children waiting to get a turn at the telescope. It was as wiggly and restless as an earthworm, and just as fascinating to watch from a safe distance.

mars_watching

Mars in the distance shone with the iridescence of a star. Mars has been exceptionally bright in the evening skies, and the Mars viewing party was happening on the week it was closest to the Earth.

Mars has fascinated mankind for centuries. It started with hoaxes of finding extra terrestrial life on Mars: maybe those rigged lines on the planet were canals? said a 19th century astronomer, and from that hypothesis, sprang a vibrant story of alien life. In our enthusiasm to find extra terrestrial neighbors, the populace went along. That kind of hope is refreshing even if misguided. 

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

Tonight the telescope we had with us was only as big as a professional camera, and I hoped it would not disappoint the children gathered.

While the telescope was being deftly handled by the husband, I diverted the attention of the children skyward. Their questions about progress were distracting the misguided astronomer who was pointing the lens towards the stile on our neighbor’s roof, and wondering how he could see things fluttering there (I pointed to the sycamore tree nearby that had shed a few of its leaves on the stile, and crushed the poor fish’s soul about finding extra terrestrial life on Mars. Andy Weir might have imagined potato cultivation on Mars, but even by his standards, a sycamore tree was a leap, I told him kindly. He guffawed loudly at this and fiddled on.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martian_(Weir_novel)

In the meanwhile, I pointed out the familiar constellations to the hopeful looking children. The budding astronomers were skeptical. 

‘How do you know it is Big Dipper?’ 

‘It could be anything or nothing’, said another, and quickly the pendulum swung from hope to disillusionment. I managed a quick save by not letting it swing too far, and told them about the excellent app, Skyview, using which they could confirm the stars for themselves. The older teenagers who had smartphones for themselves were suddenly beset upon to share the marvels of the night sky. 

 

Cecilia Payne would have been proud indeed of the motley group of astronomers gathered in our driveway. It is marvelous to see how the work of early astronomers & physicists set the base for us to be able to map the skies and predict the movements of stars and planets.

glass_universe

The Glass Universe

Book recommendation: The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel

“Oh look!”, said the Big-Dipper-doubter, pointing the phone wildly at the sky, “the moon, the moon!”. 

An experienced hand said he had seen the moon before and there was nothing remarkable about it.

“But it is so beautiful!” said another sounding reproachful at the dismissal of the beautiful moon, and I agreed. The moon has exerted her pull over mankind almost since the beginning of time. Even if we do see it everyday, the moon has a poetic beauty all of its own. That night it was looking achingly beautiful. 

Maybe it was the effect of the scintillating talk I had the privilege of attending earlier that week.

I have never had the opportunity to listen live to a TED Talk. But that week, I had listened to a very TED-esque talk by Jon Carmichael the cosmic photographer. He shared the beautiful story of how he photographed the full lunar eclipse a year ago with the help of a Southwest crew. 

jon_carmichael_speech

Please listen to the talk on the site if you can.

I was telling the children about the talk, when the husband let out an involuntary yelp and said this time he was fairly sure it was Mars. 

One child gazed into the telescope and said, “It looks like a Papad in the sky.”, and we all laughed. (Papad  – is a sort of flat, round lentil chip!)

The cosmos has a way of uniting us in the darkest of times. Even during the most inane days, there is always a cosmic show that is ready to enthrall us and fill our souls with enchantment. It is why I was so happy to be standing among the children gazing up at the stars, and soaking in the wonders of the cosmic show above me that day. Even if the children did see a lentil chip in the sky, I hope for some of them at least the magic seed was sown. A seed nurtured by the hopeful innocence of youth, tempered by the wisdom of years, with the potential to mature into a star of their own.

Are We To Become Lab Rats?

‘Let’s watch something together Amma.’ , said the children one Friday evening. It is officially our movie night. Watching something that suits all of us is a true test of Democracy (An Email From Mars) The littlest fellow is the easiest to appease, and also the fellow you want to most watch out for. He sits there like a sponge absorbing everything: tilting his head to one side, looking through the corner of his eyes, this child seems like the ideal companion. But, his inappropriate quips at opportune moments have chastened us and we no longer welcome him saying, “Oh – he is too little to know.” He knows!

So, the debate raged – which show can we watch that everyone will enjoy?

Everybody Loves Raymond, Cosmos, Big Bang Theory? How about Lab Rats? 

A resounding cheer went up for Lab Rats.

‘Isn’t that show for Teens?’

‘Well…yes but this little dobukins watches it all the time with me.’ said the daughter tousling her little brother’s hair lovingly.

‘Really?’, I said turning around towards the fellow with my hands on my hips.

‘Yes….but Lab Rats is fine….not teenagie stuff.’ he said chuckling merrily.

Like he knows what teenagie stuff is.  Maybe he does and should that worry me? The daughter now tells me things are inappropriate for us to watch. I wonder what rules she uses.

tv_show

Lab Rats is a show about a family where the children have Bionic superpowers – Bree the girl can run free, Adam the hulk can lift a truck, and Chase the fellow whose name sounds like he must run after Bree, instead is the one with superior intellect. They live with their non-bionic stepbrother, Leo.

Like most Television shows these days, they had aced the humor, characterization and it was an enjoyable show. All the same, it left a niggling after-taste in me.

This show captured human desires in a nutshell. We all want to be better. Better than the rest, better than we ever were, better, faster, stronger, smarter. Better to do what?  And where does this betterment stop? We know how any concept can be twisted by thwarted minds to suit themselves as was evident in the sad state of Eugenics.

I am reading Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, and the same vein popped up again.

The modern economy needs constant and indefinite growth in order to survive. An economy built on everlasting growth needs endless projects – just like the quests for immortality, bliss and divinity.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 3.31.08 PM

Human kind, when we set ourselves on the path to development, most probably do so with good intentions. The problem is once we fix the problems, it seems we can use these very technologies to make things better for those who do not need it. Like  plastic surgery for instance:

Modern plastic surgery was born in the First World War, when Harold Gillies began treating facial injuries in the Aldershot military hospital. When the war was over, surgeons discovered that the same techniques could also turn perfectly healthy but ugly noses into more beautiful specimens. Nowadays, plastic surgeons make millions in private clinics whose explicit and sole aim is to upgrade the healthy and beautify the wealthy.

In Homo Deus, the author goes on to point out this trend in bionic legs, Viagra and memory treatments:

When you develop bionic legs that enable paraplegics to walk again, you can also use the same technology to upgrade healthy people. When you discover how to stop memory loss among older people, the same treatments might enhance the memory of the young. 

No clear line separates healing from upgrading. Medicine almost always begins by saving people from falling below the norm. but the same tools and know-how can then be used to surpass the norm. Viagra began life as a treatment for blood pressure problems. To the surprise and delight of Pfizer, it transpired that Viagra can also overcome impotence. It enabled millions of men to regain normal sexual abilities; but soon enough men who had no impotence problems in the first place began using the same pill to surpass the norm, and acquire sexual powers they never had before.

(Bolding my own)

Growth is a wonderful thing. For the first time in the history of mankind, we are able to self regulate our belligerence, spend our resources towards ending disease and poverty, and feed our growing numbers. Science and Capitalism have enabled this wonderful state. But what next? This relentless growth has led to an inordinate strain on the one planet we have. Previously, we could look forward to discovering new lands, but now we have mapped every ounce of the Earth, and we know no Middle Earth or Earthsea is hidden anymore. We have tapped them all. Our only hope is to find a parking garage planet close by so we can continue to expand at the rate we are now.

no_garage

We need to change course for a sustainable future of our planet, and Capitalism with its growth needs seems to be ill-suited to call for such changes.

The recently deceased author, Ursula K Le Guin, said in a speech once:

“We live in capitalism,” said Le Guin, “Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

I am sure our intense need to survive will push us towards self-regulation and conservation.

With immortality, bliss and divinity projects, are we not Gods capable of solving anything? But, we are also a species who can make the Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss a sad reality.

Are we to become our own Lab Rats? What would our super-powers be? More importantly, will our shortcomings be even more apparent with our strengths magnified, or will our shortcomings be magnified too?

The 7E Diagnosis

But Amma you are not a lady! yelped the toddler son.

The conversation regarding who is a lady and who is not was an amusing one that lilted with the gentle evening breeze rustling over the early October trees still in bloom and blew all over the place before finishing on the note that I am no lady.

Paati (Grandma) is a lady. You will be a lady when you become a grandma. Now, you are a mom, just a mom, he says firmly.

All these mind altering conversations happen the evening prior to the sixth visit for repairing the despairing spirits who own the dishwasher. The dishwasher itself is beyond repair.

I know what you are thinking. Has the girl (or lady) lost her marbles completely? I thought she filled every available nook and cranny of the blogging space available to her years ago with this dishwashing lark of hers. As if her tales weren’t enough, we also endured those horrendous diagrams.

Dishwasher Chronicles: Do Birds Roar Like Lions?

The Dishwasher Chronicles Part 1

The Dishwasher Chronicles Part 2

The Dishwasher Chronicles Part 3

Not again, you moan. I understand you, and as much as I would like to say that I travelled down a time warp tunnel, it is not so. The pesky d.washer gave up a few months ago. The husband and I tried avoiding eye contact with it for a couple of months to see if rest would jog things along, but we had to finally agree that it was gone. 7E was something even the great wide internet space threw their hands up with. Picture the doctor in the Indian movies taking their glasses off and nodding sadly. I am doing that now. I have my glasses in my hand and I am nodding sadly. But 7E it is and shall be.

The dishes have been flopped and propped about all over the counter every time they are washed for months now. When folks accuse me of slacking off making idlies or critical grandmothers  look the children up and down and say, “Oh how thin they look. Do you feed them enough?” I’d like to invite them over to the sink. Barring the slightly bizarre notion that I revel in washing clean dishes again, how can this many vessels be dirty if I was not feeding them enough?

Anyway, the next day, the technician is downstairs on the call with Samsung technical support.  A mellow fellow whose name I am unable to sing no matter how many times he says it. Each time it sounds different. Tsung or Tshawng. There have been days when I have walked into the kitchen to see the husband crouching next to this fellow and peering into the depths of the dishwasher looking like microbiologists looking for life on Mars.

Twang looked miserable at the thought of picking up that phone to get on with his technical customer support buddies and took a long gulp of water before calling. Every time he sees 7E, he looks like lightning struck again. The husband and I exchange a look that says (Gandhi-died-in-1948. 7E-started-months-ago. Deal with it.)

dishwasher_7e I heard the static from the phone line, the clipped tone in which the customer service rep recognized him, and I heard the faint groans from Tsung and the dishwasher. After what seemed like an hour, I went downstairs to give him (the repair guy not the dishwasher) some moral support. Tsung had the customer service rep on speaker. At long last, I asked him if I can talk to him instead. He nodded and asked him, “Customer wants to talk to you.”

“No. No! I don’t want to.” responds this technician on the other side quite unaware that he is on the speaker.

What a useful device the phone must be in these situations. If the fellow was fumbling along with instructions in Isting’s ear in person, he would have found it a dash sight harder to avoid my piercing eye and my necessity to ask him man to man, I mean lady to gentleman, I mean mom to man (for I don’t know whether the guy on the other end is a dad.)

Ysung ties himself  in knots and is deeply embarrassed by his colleague and tells me that he will have the service desk call me again.

As promised, the day after Tsung mopped himself out of the house, I got another call from the Samsung Service Desk. I crackled and bristled a bit. I told the voice on the other end of the call that we are very busy folk who have important places to be with important things to do. I asked them what it would take for them to just replace the unit since nothing but the outer casing is the version of what we bought two years ago.

This is where I have got to admire the gall of the person on the other side. The sheer cheek. She said, “Can you hold”, and before I could answer, smartly switched on the hold-music designed to extract ear worms through your nostrils. Just like that she had un-bristled me and un-crackled me with one brilliant stroke.  When she came back on, I felt like telling her off and asking her a crisp question or two  on what she meant by putting this infernal music on when she was the one who called me, but I used her tactic on her. Brusque. And I asked her to call back when it is convenient for me and hung up.

The son is right: I suppose I am not a lady yet.

An Email About Plants On Mars

Weekday nights, apart from startling Californian flora and fauna out of their wits with the chaos and noise in the home, also means that the old father is busy. A note about the pater’s emailing habits. He settles down with a serious look on his face, a glass of warm water by his side, and corresponds with his trader in the Indian Stock Exchange. From 10 p.m to well past midnight, he is the paragon of efficiency. He painstakingly types out instructions, his tongue peeking out with concentration, leaning forward in his chair, his browser tabs opened to Gmail & Economic Times. His mind composes the shortest possible sentence before he starts typing, since he has to spend some time finding the right alphabets on the keyboard. Once a teacher, always a teacher, and he insists on using the right punctuation: commas, spaces, periods and semi-colons. Sometimes, he hits tabs for the extra space, and that lands up sending the email instead of moving the cursor, and then he starts over. The wonderful lady on the other side turns an indulgent eye on the septuagenarian’s emails, and sends him trade notifications and acknowledgements to the correct email.

Friday nights are different. The Indian Stock Market is closed, schools and offices in the USA are closed on Saturday. So the couch is cluttered with cushions, throws and comforters from the bedrooms, and the old television settles down to air a movie or television show down to the audience. Friday nights at the home always contain a general air of excitement. One would think that through the week, the children work 16 hours a day, with sparse meals and little fun, the way they whoop at the Friday evening fun. Entertainment choices are always a bit tricky given the age groups the television has to cater to at once. The son and daughter want different things. Throw the grandparents into the mix and it becomes a telling lesson in democracy. Sometimes, the choices made by popular votes turn out to be so bad that the voting audience clamors for a change midway through and the process begins again.One does not need to follow #Brexit and #Bremain for democratic ulcers.

One night we settled on The Martian. The budding toddler astronomer in our family agreed that he liked to go to Mars one day as a Space Racer, and helpfully showed us a rocket lift-off. (Space Racers is an animated television series. The main characters—Eagle, Hawk, Robyn, Starling and Raven—are cadets at the Stardust Bay Space Academy. The cadets spend each episode traveling through outer space) The old pater shelved his urgent emailing needs and settled in to watch. The rocket made a spectacular landing on the grandfather-tummy-airfield, and the audience quietened down to watch the movie.

Every time I watch a movie, I am amazed how clipped and to the point people speak. No rambling on the way we do, no unnecessary smiles. Maybe if we edited our speech thus, we would be as impressive. Meaningful glances that seal the decision of landing, curt nods that signal victory,  measured smiles that indicate tension. Waah Waah!

For those of you who have not watched The Martian, it involves an expedition to Mars going awry and people having to take off from Mars earlier than planned, thus clipping their mission short. One of the crew, Matt Damon, is left behind on Mars, and the story revolves around what he does on Mars instead of twiddling his thumbs and waiting for a slow, painful death.

Communication channels are broken, Mars looks unforgiving. Matt Damon is very sad, wondering what to do, when the pater piped up,  “If I was there, I would send an email to NASA and go to bed. “

A few scenes on, Matt Damon is growing potatoes on Mars. I know.

Martian

“What do you think happened to those organic vegetables that we planted ma? “ asked the father showing off rare horticultural curiosity.

The garden looks ready for a visit by the gardener every few months. That sturdy son of the soil comes over, sets the place to rights in an hour, and leaves after a tooth-ful smile. Last time in preparation for the gardener, the father and husband had picked up from Costco, some oddly shaped packets that looked like seed bombs to be dropped into the ground. Lo and behold, we were told, we should soon be playing host to some luscious, organic vegetables.

Anyway, it had been a few weeks since the planting of the seeds, and though the summer flowers were thriving, there did not seem to be much happening on the vegetable front. I looked forlorn: We seem incapable of growing potatoes on Earth, imagine doing it on Mars?

The toddler piped up and said he knew how to grow vegetables on Mars, since he had seen a program in which the Space Racers grew them on Mars. If I am stranded on Mars with these two, one can grow food, and the other can email NASA. It was a comforting thought to head to bed with.