A Question of Time

The past week has been an interesting one in many ways. Emotions aside, what this meant in practical terms was that the nourish-n-cherish household ran on a clock. 

The map says it takes 45 minutes at peak traffic, but surprise of surprises, it took 62 minutes, neatly shaving off the buffer we had baked in for grabbing a snack. 

At 10:45, we would have to be there at Y parking garage so that we could get to X building at 11:00.

At 4:45, the flight leaves from Airport Here. That means, the time at Airport There would be x-12.5, but there is x+7.5 stop-over in between.

By pure chance during this time of frenzy, I had with me a slim book, Longitude – The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dave Sobel.

It made for an interesting read on how we managed to get time down to a science. Dava Sobel creates an excellent narrative around the problem of Time and Maritime navigation.

“Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness withholds the shadow from the sundial, when the mainspring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on.”

Longitude by Dave Sobel 

While many astronomers tried to solve the mystery of keeping time using the astronomical events in the sky such as mapping Jupiter’s moons and their eclipses etc, one man, John Harrison set about solving the problem mechanically with a superior clock design. Clocks of the fifteenth and sixteenth century lost time because their pendulums lost their swing with the swaying of the ships, the internal mechanics rusted with the moisture at sea, and numerous other problems.

Reading about Time and how difficult it must have been to measure, has always fascinated the son & myself.

I suppose Time has become such a cornerstone of our existence that it makes for a refreshing read to hark back to the times when time was an indicator and not as much of a martinet as it is in our over-scheduled lives today.

I was reading Mrs Pringle of Fairacre by Miss Read – every time when life demands a slowing down and it is physically hard to do so, a dip into the lovely village green of Thrush Green or Fairacre does the trick. In the Fairacre books, Mrs  Pringle is the competent school cleaner who is also a bit of a virago. Her scatter-brained niece Minnie Pringle is often featured – incompetent and maddening as she is, she helps(or hinders) Miss Read out now and then. In this snippet, Miss Read learns that Minnie Pringle, a mother of 3 and stepmother to 5 young children, never really learnt to look at the clock and read the time.

Mrs Pringle of Fairacre: About Minnie Pringle 

I had not really taken in the fact that she could not tell the time

‘Well, I never sort of mastered the clock”, she said vaguely, implying that were a great many other things which she had mastered in her time.

‘But how do you manage?’ I enquired, genuinely interested.

“I looks out for the Caxley’, she replied. ‘It gets to the church about the hour.’ (The Caxley is the local bus)

‘But not every hour.” I pointed out.

‘Yes…but there is also the church bell.’

‘It still seems rather hit and miss,’ I said.

Mrs Pringle – By Miss Read

When I read the above snippet, I threw my head back and laughed. Almost subconsciously, I glanced at the various apps on my smartphone to remind me about the day : there were calendars synced with my meeting schedules, alarms to remind me of certain events and classes for the children, timers to help the rice cooker turn itself off, the world clock app to let me know when it is okay to call my friends in the different corners of the globe. 

Maybe John Harrison (The man who came up with the design of a clock that could hold time during maritime vagaries such as storms and tidal waves without rusting or losing momentum in the sixteenth century) did not quite anticipate the extent to which the world would adhere to Time, but it is refreshing to think of a few people who are not ruled by the ticking of the clock.

Maybe we should have Do-Nothing Days in which neither the phones, nor the passing of time intrude. It will be a refreshing change for sure.

Note: The obsession with Time is called Chronomania and those who live in perpetual fear of time ticking, time passing have Chronophobia.

It Takes a Village

It was going to be a busy weekend. 

“I’ll try my best to make it and may just stop over with my father – even if I am a little late. Hope that is okay.” I said to my friends. They had kindly invited us for my school alumni dinner – the pater taught at the school for around 30 years and I could see it was going to be a lovely occasion. 

I walked into the daughter’s room. She was getting ready for her high school graduation the next day. She was decorating her graduation cap: she had drawn the picture of waves on which she intended to write the college name. I admired the waves so beautifully done and was pumping for that one to be used. 

The daughter’s drawing

“I don’t want to cut through the center of the ocean right there and spoil it.”

“You don’t need to Moses. You can paste over that so you don’t spoil the picture.” I said.

“Ha! Very funny! “

“Don’t worry, I will do something else!”, said the girl and settled down happily to some music and picked out her glue and art supplies. A few hours later, a beautiful hat with blue satin roses and other things tastefully aligned and decorated emerged. I gasped at the simple artistic beauty she had managed to achieve on a small hat.

As I sat there at the daughter’s high school graduation ceremony the next day, I hadn’t quite expected such a grand affair. There were proud parents, siblings, teachers, and of course, the high school children themselves. The hilarious stories of high school were swishing and swirling in the throngs as the names of the children were called. 

It seems only yesterday that we were all shoo-ed out of the pre-school classroom after dropping the 3 year old daughter. I still remember that lump in my throat as I forced a smile on my face. My eyes were beginning to smart. Blinking rapidly, I moved out so she would not see my acute feelings – in a room full of new children, new teachers, how would this child settle down? Well, she did settle down, and went on to enjoy her schooling.

Looking at the faculty who gathered there, I could see the joy and satisfaction with the set of children in the class of 2022. I thought of all the people in her life who had genuinely cheered and believed in her.

  • All her teachers, coaches, parents of friends, after school teachers, administrative staff.
  • The love of arts, dance and music being instilled by teachers who showed her the larger life and the elements to being happy and fulfilled despite academic and other life pressures.
  • All the volunteers and parents, who over the years, had set aside time to foster an environment for growth, learning and encouragement.

All the science fairs, debate tournaments, plays, dance and music performances, Ted Talks, sporting events : everything flashed before me in that beautiful instant when the children threw their grad caps up together in one harmonious, energetic motion. It truly does take a village to raise a child. I am so grateful to each of you who believe in our children and genuinely root for their happiness and success. Thank you!

Looking back at that first day of the daughter’s school through to the high school graduation, the days felt long at times, but the years incredibly short. 

The next day, the father & I attended the dinner with my high school alumni. We sat around the table, and as the stories and reminiscences tumbled over one another, a warmth filled the room. Like fine wine, the stories had textured beautifully with the passing years. Tales of haunted houses, maypole dances, plays with many children starring as actors, escapades of school mischief etc flew around the room. Teachers were remembered fondly, and the tales from the heartlands of the Nilgiris somehow managed to capture the misty rapture. Time and distance did not seem to matter much. 

It was apparent in that conversation that night, that the teachers had passed on to the children in their care, values and a way of life that we appreciate more in retrospect than in the throes of youth. It reminded me of this quote of Miss Read with regards to her old and esteemed friend and colleague who taught through 4 decades. 

Book:  Miss Clare Remembers

“She could only pass on to them the philosophy which sustained her throughout her life. She could teach them to face whatever came with calmness and courage, to love their families and their friends with unswerving loyalty, and to relish the lovely face of the countryside in which they lived. It might seem a humdrum, day-to-day set of values, but Dolly Clare knew from long experience that they could carry a man bravely through a lifetime’s vicissitudes.”

Miss Read, Miss Clare Remembers

On the way back after that dinner where we had relived the beautiful experience of school, I wished the same for the high school daughter, and the wishing-to-attend-Hogwarts son. The joys of friendships, shared spaces, tales of teachers, escapades and laughter.

The Happy Cluckers Are Named

I pinned the Volunteer badge proudly to my chest and walked into the son’s classroom. There, on the board, was a list. The teacher was busy adding to the list and I was flummoxed. There was no categorization. I mean this was not a grocery list, not an author list, not a mailing list, it didn’t look like ice cream flavors either. This list had no theme. 

A sample:

  • Caramel
  • King Cluck III
  • Nathan Drake
  • Westerpoolch
  • McFlurry
  • Lee

I must’ve looked quizzical, for the moment the teacher saw me, she said somewhat sheepishly. “Well, we are coming with a list of names for the chicks in Science class. Say what you will about my job, it is never dull!”

I laughed agreeing heartily. The son had told me about the chicks they were raising in Science class. I just hadn’t realized all the background work that went into raising them.

I have the greatest admiration for teachers as regular readers know: their job is the hardest (but also the most gratifying as the father likes to remind me. He was a teacher for 40 years and is still happy to teach when he can.)

Once the class had settled down, I set about reading a story I had written : Father’s Day in the Jungle, followed by an article published in The Hindu newspaper: Space Racers – Together the Fun Begins, and the saying on the Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan.

The picture of Earth Rising

The children were a marvelous audience as usual. They were curious, wanted to know about how we got the images of our planet, and how it came to be called the Pale Blue Dot. There is always a moment of awe as I imagine the Voyager II spacecraft turning around just before exiting the solar system to take that picture of Earth – the picture immortalized in Carl Sagan’s words as the Pale Blue Dot. I hope a little of that awe was captured by the children in class that day.  

Pale Blue Dot – Carl Sagan

The innocence, intelligence and joy in an elementary school classroom was more keenly acute this time so close on the heels of another meaningless gun shooting incident in America. 

I am always grateful to the children’s teachers who allow me to come and read to the children, for the experience is extremely satisfying, and the energy of the young children is like a tonic of sorts.

That evening, I asked the son whether the chicks had names yet, and he said happily. “Yeah! The voting was intense. But Caramel and Westerpoolch are happy cluck-ers ma!”

I was reminded of Miss Read’s sayings: Miss Read was a country school teacher who wrote prolific books about life in the English countryside with generous measures of common sense, nature, and gentle humor.

“Life went on. No matter what happened, life went on, inexorably, callously, it might seem, to those in grief. But somehow, in this continuity, there were the seeds of comfort.” 

Miss Read, Emily Davis

School Days

It was the first day of school – back to school in-person after a year and a half of remote learning for the Elementary school goer in the home.

There we stood – the husband and I- masked, behind a line holding a throng of anxious parents at bay. The children were coming out to the school environs after such a prolonged time in front of their screens. The nervous energy, chatter and activity, muted through masks as it was, was enough to uplift the senses. 

As Miss Read says in her chronicles of life as a school teacher in a village school: The first day of school has a life and energy all its own. Even if the preceding days have been somewhat dreary, she says, the first day manages to be bright and sunny. We live in California, so our summers are not dreary. If anything, they are all too glorious with the sun beating down on us, wildflowers hanging fully on every bush and tree. Even so, the energy and bright first day of school was marvelous.

It was only as we standing there with the others that I realized how much I missed this particular experience. I used to enjoy those precious little moments in the morning looking at the children enjoying their play. (Read: Recess as the basis of culture)

The arrival of the pandemic was like an unexpected blizzard that enveloped the whole Earth in its swirl. While the swirl continues, lessening at times, picking up pace at other times, there are times when post-vaccination, we can hope to remember our normal. 

Great Red Spot - Wikipedia
Great Red Spot on Jupiter

I stood there taking in the morning energy from all the young scholars gathered in each other’s physical presence after a year and a half, and smiled to myself. The mask has its advantages. I could observe the teary young parents of kindergarteners as they embarked on this great adventure, the weary parents of the older children who were happy enough to see their children out in their school, interacting with other children again. 

I glanced at the son who’d finally found his classmates and was amused by what met my eyes. One fella had learnt how to tie his shoelaces a different way, and he stooped and showed the admiring knot of his friends not once but three times, while they watched patiently, a light shining in their eyes at this new learning. 

I couldn’t help smiling.

A few minutes later, I noticed another young fellow, good samaritan that he was, double out of line, and race towards the field, and throw a football that was slowly rolling away from them to the center of the field. He came running back and nicked back into line just as their teacher came out to summon them in, and he was met with huge roars of appreciation for his citizenship. 

Who said education only happens in the classroom?

As I walked slowly back to the car hearing the receding chatter of the young and the studious, I hoped that they would have a normal-enough year. The vaccination isn’t here yet for younger children, and we would have to keep an eye on things as they proceed. Look out for each other, help keep one another safe, and navigate this together.

Enjoy the present has taken on a new meaning in Pandemic times. Senior Sunrise

How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel

When the Covid lockdowns started, many folks went on a buying spree (we all know the toilet paper jokes). Ever the dutiful one, off I went too. I was feeling rather pleased with myself when I got an extra bag of rice, and headed onto the library (to get books to tide us over during the lockdown).  When the husband called to ask where I’d gone, I sheepishly said that I was at the library just in case we were unable to get books during lockdown. I could hear a sound like a paper bag bursting – his version of a cross between a snort, and the urge to laugh. I bragged about the extra bag of rice, and I could see his face wondering why he had to be landed with someone, who in P G Wodehouse’s language, ‘must’ve been bumped on the head as a baby’. 

Well, I must say that when we staggered home with books for the children and self, I felt better. The local library has been one of my favorite spots to visit of course, but over the Covid period, I felt like Rapunzel in the book: How the Library Saved Rapunzel (Not the Prince). The library allowed us to schedule an appointment and arrange to pickup books on hold. What was more, they were kind enough to include a few picture books of their choice if you requested them to do so. I am eternally grateful to have access to libraries.

I felt almost an irresistible urge to increase my Science based reading this year (maybe this is a tiny rebellion for the disturbing anti-Science strain emerging with the 45th POTUS office). Starting the year off by re-reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos set the stage for the year ahead. The following books gave me no end of pleasure and learning over the year. (My Science writing class for children)

trees_komerabi

2020 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day

  • Unbowed – Wangari Maathai (in progress)
  • On Looking  – Alexandra  Horowitz
  • Losing  Earth  A Recent History – Nathaniel Rich
  • This is the Earth – Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander, Paintings by Wendell Minor

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

1200px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise

It was also a wonderful year to take in poetry. Mary Oliver & Margarita Engle were always welcome in a year when poets alone seemed to know the right turn of phrase for the bizarre. Dr Seuss & Jackl Prelutsky always know to turn one’s frown into a smile. 

  • Blue Iris – Mary Oliver
  • Enchanted Air – By Margarita Engle
  • Dog Songs – Mary Oliver
  • Owls and other fantasies – Mary Oliver (Yes! no!)
  • Be Glad your nose is in your face – Jack Prelutsky
  • Dr Seuss books (always worth reads and re-reads). I found a few gems that truly tickled the mind and got out some belly laughs.
    • Horton hears a Who
    • Horton Hatches an Egg
    • Sleep book
    • Oh the Thinks you can Think
    • How Lucky You Are
    • Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose

summer-collage

With the Black Lives Matter movement, the year was ripe for educating oneself on the inequities of society and civil disobedience. The local library, news media, and friends all helped with an excellent array of reading material. Notable among the works read then were:

  • Becoming – By Michelle Obama
  • Black Panther – by Ta Nehisi Coates
  • Sneetches and other stories – Dr Seuss
  • A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela‘s children’s book version
  • My Many Colored Days – Dr Seuss

img_8883

With uplifting books and humour, life can be truly marvelous. My all-time favorites kept me company, and I am eternally grateful to their influence of course but a few others were added to the list this year.

The world isn’t such a good place either, and reading books such as these helps to remind us about the many problems that still beset society

The lure of power, and how we are seeing it all play out in real life

  • The Fate of Fausto – Oliver Jeffers
  • Louis I – The King of Sheep – Oliver Tallec
  • Yertle the Turtle and other Stories – Dr Seuss
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (pieces relating to the Minister of Magic refusing to acknowledge Voldemort’s return so he could stay in power)

Of course the true magic of life is never complete without children’s books. There are so many of them in this genre, that I did not even note half of them. But a few of them lit up my life

  • My Grandma is a Ninja – By Todd Tarpley, Illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou (When I become a grandma – though it is a few decades off, that is how I wish to be 🙂 )
  • Gondra’s Treasure – By Linda Sue Park
  • Enchanted Wood – by Enid Blyton (old Saucepan Man, Silky and Moonface with the lands above the enchanted tree – though it doesn’t hold the same level of magic it did as a child, it still has its charm)
  • The Red Pyramid – By Rick Riordan (this was the son’s recommendation, and thoroughly enjoyable it turned out to be romping down the Egyptian myths!)
  • The Quiet Book – by Deborah Underwood
  • A Fun Day with Lewis Carroll – Kathleen Krull & Julia Sarda
  • Peter Rabbit’s Tales – Beatrix Potter
  • Why is my Hair Curly – By Lakshmi Iyer
  • A History of Magic – Based on Harry Potter Universe
  • Tintin Comics (a fair few)
  • Calvin & Hobbes
  • The Velocity of Being – Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick

velocity_being

On that magical high note, here is wishing everyone a healthy, happy new year in 2021. Things are already turning around, and looking hopeful. Keep reading, and sharing 🙂

img_0851

When Autumn Feels Like Spring

The first day of fall was here, and it felt like the first day of spring.

I stepped out to see a blue, blue sky with some cumulus clouds flecking the ocean above with froth. My heart soared like the eagle above. High and higher still. The air felt fresh like it does after the Earth has had a good rain. Even though it hadn’t rained, the Earth sparkled. The effect the clear blues, mellow temperatures and cumulus clouds have on our temperaments is remarkable. The Californian blue jay chirped, the squirrels tittered, the hummingbirds frisked and the hawks soared. Even I burst into song, and poured my joyous nonsensical lyrics into the world. 

But duty beckoned. I had a string of meetings awaiting me, and though my heart soared and flew with the eagles, clouds and all that, I headed inside musing all the while on how marvelous a blue sky is.

I read somewhere that the smog in some polluted cities is so bad that children growing up there think a ‘blue sky’ is a poetic liberty, for the skies are never blue. I could empathize with the poor children so far away. It was similar to that in California over the past few weeks. Wildfires burning over millions of acres hundreds of miles away drew a smoggy veil across the skies, and cast a pallid gloom at times, made for brilliant sunsets at others, but through it all, there was an air of impending doom.

That feeling fell away on the first day of autumn. Fall in California are not as drastic and spectacular as autumn in north-east or north-west parts of the United States, but it is beautiful nevertheless. The gingko leaves have started turning from their brilliant green to a golden yellow, and the maple leaves are turning colors slowly. The air is not nippy yet – in fact, we are bracing for another hot spell.

Meanwhile, inside the house, I was feeling a trifle boxed-up after a continuous string of meetings, in which people had showed up with varying amounts of enthusiasm and optimism. Some of them had managed to retain that cumulus cloud effect, others matched the brilliant blue skies outside – uplifting and promising, and some others retained the pallid gloom of the smoggy fire-ridden days. I glanced outside the window and could identify with the young pupils of Miss Read, who taught her on a beautiful Spring day that words and pictures are but imitations of the real thing. I reached out for the essay in Tales from a Village School from my newly acquired bookshelf (a gift from the dear husband for he could not stand the piles of books everywhere in the house).

Tales from a Village School – By Miss Read

Titled ‘The Real Thing’, the short essay evoked the essence of Spring in one breathtaking stroke of a page. She writes of a Spring morning she started to read The Wind in the Willows to her class.

“I had planned to start ‘The Wind in the Willows’ next term, but what more fitting occasion than this could be found for beginning such a spring song?”

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning spring cleaning his little home…” but after a page or two, I am conscious that Henry’s restlessness is infectious, 

‘Say’, he urges loudly, ‘lets go out!’

There is a shocked silence. What madness is this? Will it make me fly right off the handle?

The essay lilts on with ease and ends on the sagacious note:

It was he, the babe among us, who led us befuddled elders to reality when he cut straight to the heart of the matter with those three words, ‘Let’s go out!’

I heeded the clarion call of the essay, and briskly stepped out. Standing outside on that glorious day in September made me doubly grateful for things as normal as a blue sky and a breath of fresh air. May we continue to be blessed with these normalities! May we never complain about what a delight an ordinary day is!

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” ― Albert Camus

School in Covid Times

The week has been a blur. The son bounced into lunch the other day, and said, “Do you have a meeting at 12:30?”

Seeing us shake our heads, he said, “Yes! Finally I have a zoom meeting at 12:30! Gosh – it is so good to have something to do again, right? I mean, I was always the vetti one.” (vetti in this context means jobless one)

I love it when Tamil words and phrases creep into their conversations like this, and I said so. The children scoffed. “Oh stop already with this know-more-than-English thing. Indian people are so annoying!” 

“Well, I know my Chinese friends speak Mandarin at home, and go to Mandarin classes. My friends and colleagues from Russia have their kids learn a smattering of Russian. So …” I said shrugging my shoulders. 

The children exchanged glances that said “Parents will be parents! Let it go!”, and I smiled.

School has reopened in completely virtual mode, and the children have been thrilled. I feel bad that the usual back-to-school euphoria is muted with zoom calls, and not the raucous meeting of friends after a long summer ritual. The children felt it too. 

“I would have liked to meet my friends and the classroom amma. I mean, now, it is like looking at our pictures instead of us – you know the people?”

I laughed at the description, for it was true. The e-world has managed to make two dimensional beings out of us. Entire personalities squashed into a grid on the screen. 

On the second day of school, he spent the minutes prior to the zoom call getting things ready for the day: A Dr Seuss book, one of his comic book creations (with illustrations of superheroes fighting valiant battles with super magnetic force-fields against a turbulent tornado crusher etc), an Avengers action figure, his microscope and binoculars.

I looked amused at this collection of objects laid out by his computer. He saw me looking at these and said, “Oh! The teacher said she wants us to know each other better. So, I am looking for things that best describe what I like to do.”

I gave him a huge smile and thumbs up and awaited the news at lunch time. Say what you will about the Covid-situation, I am grateful to be home when school is done. It is a luxury I have seldom had, and the outpouring of chatter when they let out has been marvelous for me. My own batteries are not drained by a meaningless commute eating into my day, and I am more receptive to what they have to say.

“You know how we were supposed to get to know each other and bring stuff that represents us?! One fellow brings a football, because he likes football, and then he brings a basketball because he likes basketball, and then points to his shirt – a baseball shirt since he likes baseball. Really – you like Sports, we get it!” he said and looking at the smile on his face as he said it, I could see he already liked this fellow.

“I heard what you told your teacher! Really kid?! Sour patch candies and Pirates Booty?!” said the teenage older and supposedly-wiser daughter.

There was a train of giggles at this and the fellow gurgled on about how his teacher asked him if he knew more than 1 language and told him to practice speaking Tamil at home, so he doesn’t forget it. The words of wisdom coming from a teacher’s mouth meant that he took it to heart, and I could see him sprinkling in a couple of words here and there. 

I spoke to my school teacher-parents later that day and told them how their teacher had tried different things to get to know them, and my father said, “Poor  teachers and students ma! Most dedicated teachers come to the profession because of the joy of being surrounded by young people: their energy and personalities are truly a joy to be with. To have that replaced by a series of zoom meetings seems so sad! It will be okay soon. Don’t worry da kanna – you will get to see your school mates soon okay?” the grandfather’s voice boomed over the oceans like a foghorn of wisdom to his grandson, and he smiled and said, “Thanks Thaatha! So, when are you coming here?”

Well, in the words of Miss Read:

“Life went on. No matter what happened, life went on … But somehow, in this continuity, there were the seeds of comfort.” 
― Miss Read, Emily Davis

While I sincerely hope the children’s social aspects are not unduly affected by social distancing, I am grateful for what interactions they do get. While I have my gripes about technology, I am also grateful for it.

Life is full of paradoxes and that is as it should be.

Tea!

“There is some Tea in school, and everyone is acting really weird!” said the daughter announcing her entry into the house a couple of years ago, dumping her school bag where it must not be dumped.

“Oh – did you have some? Did you like it?” I said a trifle too eagerly. I am a tea-lover myself, and have been trying to get some company in the house whenever I brew the marvelous beverage. All efforts have fallen flat thus far. The husband likes coffee, and the children swear by chocolate flavored drinks (the teenager also has her tongue out for Boba – a heady mix of tapioca pearls and sugar that suddenly coasted into popularity like the record albums of these young artists you had never heard of before.)

If I could exalt any beverage to Divinity, I would pump for the humble Tea.

teas

I have been teased multiple times about High Tea and every now and then pick up a Miss Read book for she properly exalts Tea and the ritual of Tea drinking:

“The very ritual of tea-making, warming the pot, making sure that the water is just boiling, inhaling the fragrant steam, arranging the tea-cosy to fit snugly around the precious container, all the preliminaries lead up to the exquisite pleasure of sipping the brew from thin porcelain, and helping yourself to hot buttered scones and strawberry jam, a slice of feather-light sponge cake or home-made shortbread.”

“Isn’t Tea just marvelous?” I said again, for the scholar had lapsed into a silence.

“Generally, I am like not opposed to like Tea as long as like it doesn’t like you know like hurt anyone, but this time they are all like acting so weird! I mean like come on! Like nobody is going to remember it like next week!” she said liberally sprinkling the ‘likes’ in the sentence.

I was fogged. When had Tea hurt anyone?

“Please! Please! How many likes will you put into a sentence that doesn’t need ‘Like’ A.n.y.!” I said carefully quoting the ‘like’ in my sentence with air quotes. “If I were to write out that sentence, no one would give you any Tea!” I said, looking proud of myself for bringing the topic of disc back to the marvelous beverage of my dreams and likes.

The daughter looked at me with the tender look one reserves for the dim-witted, and tousled my hair. “Oh! you don’t know what Tea is right?”

I drew myself up. I may not have any accomplishments of note in other areas, but in the area of Tea, you could not say that. “ I am not just boasting about the fact that I can be counted upon to have Tea with Friends any time, I also take pride in knowing some friends who know all about Tea! The Nilgirisis a major producer of the divine drink – the beautiful hills does not only use its marvelous climes to produce this drink of the gods, but also nourishes the people who have the luck of calling the hills their home, you know?” I said looking proud of myself. “And – and I am not done yet! Though I may not be able to tell you the process and the differences in tastes of the different types of Tea, there are plenty of good friends of mine who can. “

tea_plantation

“You’re just salty that your posts on Tea don’t even like get half as many ‘Likes’ as the number of likes in my sentence!” she said.

Ouch!

“OOOOHHHH!” said the cheering squad witnessing the exchange in the kitchen.

“Okay – Like I told you before: you really need to listen to what I say more closely! Anyway, like I was saying: Tea is mildly annoying stuff that isn’t great. It isn’t as bad as Gossip …” she said, knowing how I will frown upon gossip. “but sometimes can start bordering on that line.”

The English Language is ever evolving and fluid language is marvelous to behold. Really Tea is essentially a social activity, even though we have taken to gulping it down to and from meetings in the most unceremonious manner these days. What I would do to have a proper Tea Time marked in the calendar to catch up with friends instead of this frenzied gulping? So, I suppose using Tea as a word for this essential yet inessential banter is amusing and I must appreciate the folks who thought of using it for this purpose.

I remember enlightening my parents on my trip from College about adding Pongal & Kadalai to our jargons.

In college, I found to my amusement that Kadalai and Pongal did not mean groundnuts and boiled rice with lentils & pepper. It refers to Tea with the Gender specifications added in (You ground-nut-ted when with the opposite sex, and Pongal-ed er rice-lentil-with-pepper-ed with those of the same sex)

Essentially, these refer to non-essential communications that are essential. They are the stuff that link us humans together – one groundnut, lentil piece, or cup of tea at a time.

Language and stylistic constructs will continue to evolve, and that is as it should be. Our languages will continue to merge, diminish, and ebb and flow with our populace and time.

“I’d like to sip some Tea while listening to your Tea dear!” I said finally looking proud of myself.
“Good one Amma! Waiting to say that haven’t you?”
“Yep! “I said. Triumph comes in tea-sized bites.

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Teachable Moments

I was telling the husband casually about a friend of mine. “She is thinking of taking up primary school teaching.”

“Huh?! Really?” said the son, his ears twiddling, for the news interested him. He loved this particular aunt.

“Well – maybe I should tell her the best grades to teach then!” said he.

“What do you mean the best grades to teach? ” I said cautiously for I felt a moment to savor coming on in my bones, but acted as nonchalant as possible. “Elementary school teaching – doesn’t that mean kids in your school?”

“Well, you know how it is? We aren’t all just cute kids like you think Amma! There are some grades you want to be careful with.” he said with a meaningful look in his eyes.

“What do you mean? I’ve seen you children in Elementary School – so sweet you all are!” I said – knowing fully well the reaction this would elicit.

“Ha! Okay, okay – I’ll tell you. Kindergarteners are naughty, 1st graders are okay, 2nd graders are rowdy, 3rd graders are sassy, 4th graders think everything is lame, and 5th graders are okay.”

I stifled a hearty laugh for the moment, and asked him, “So only 1st and 5th grades are okay to teach huh?!”

“Yep! Pretty much! ” he said.

I gave into a full throated laugh, not for the first time admiring and thanking all the stellar teachers of the Naughty, Sassy, Rowdy, and Think-Everything-Is-Lame children. Somehow, these magicians strive to make students of them all.

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Later that evening, the daughter came moaning into the kitchen – “Gosh! There is just so much homework! I mean – these teachers think we are awesome, but we really aren’t!”

Coming hot on the wheels of the Elementary School analysis, this seemed to be something to be milked for its true worth. So I tried.

“Are you saying your teachers are poor things for trying to uplift you and so on?”

“Of course they are!” said she.

“Remember they were teenagers too once, and probably realize that teen potential is high. They do want to give you the best opportunity to attain your true potential!” I said, thinking of the stalwart teachers of the folks who make the 30-under-30 and 20-under-20 lists.

Yeeaaarrcccchhh!” she said. I am quite sure Yeeaaarrcccchhh isn’t a real word, but a guttural sound open to interpretation. After a moment she said, “I sometimes think to myself what my teachers must be like if they were teenagers today. ”

There was silence for a moment. A silence I did not break while she gathered her thoughts. This was going to be something, I knew. When the daughter thinks of smart-aleck moments, it is best for the waiting populace to take cover.
“My Chem teacher would probably be obnoxious, but not a super smart version of Sheldon. My Math teacher would be a shy but sweet kid. My history teacher would have been the low key popular kid who is friends with everybody.”

I laughed enjoying this analysis as she went down the list of teachers. And then, I asked looking as innocent as it was possible to be. “What would you think of me as a teenager?”

“HA! Not falling for that one – better luck next time Mother! Mother, who is long past her teenage years!” she said, ruffling my head like I was a cute dog, and made off for her room to tackle the oodles of homework her stellar teachers had set out for her.

As a child I was keenly aware of both sides of the coin. Both my parents were teachers, but that did not stop me from becoming a dab hand at imitating my teachers, and giving them fond pet-names when required. The father and I enjoyed the creativity there.

All in all, I know in the name of professionalism and growing up, we lose this marvelous trait of making light of things, but I wish we didn’t.

For those who enjoy light tales of children in their schools, these are all good reads and worth chuckling anytime one feels the weight of the years settling in on them.

Some whimsical poems here:

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Turtlish Thoughts

When the children are hanging out nearby, I am amused to see they take the phrase literally. I find them hanging upside down from trees looking like bats wondering why the world cannot be more topsy-turvy on occasion. One day, I found them on the monkey bars like this: one fellow upside down, the other swinging wildly. One child cart-wheeling on the floor, (hop, skip, jump, cartwheel),and chatting about Turtles. I don’t think they realize how the scene must seem to adults who have long given in to the expectations of the adult world, and walk upright at a reasonable speed and acceptable gait. I grinned at the unusual scene and they smiled and waved, before resuming their chats.

The scene reminded me of the Kung Fu Panda movie. Thoughts of Monkey, Mantis, Viper, Crane, Tigress , Shifu, Po and Oogway are always welcome.

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Sometimes, when a bunch of stuffed shirts are droning on in self-important tones at the tail-end of an exhausting meeting, I think wanly how much more fun it would have been if we had jumped up and down, cart-wheeled a few times and hung from tree branches while discussing ‘Strategic Improvements to Aid And Abet The Committee’. Every bit helps.

That night, with the wind whipping up a mean rhythm outside, I suggested visiting our old friends in the Valley of Peace, and embrace the challenges of the Jade Palace again. The Kung Fu Panda series has long been a favorite in the household, and we all nodded. Movie nights are never an easy democratic process, but I was glad we all agreed on ‘Kung Fu Panda‘ that night.

Oogway, the turtle, holds a special place in our hearts, partly because, measured and slow is not something we do – we are forever racing from one place to another, hanging upside down with friends on monkey bars, competing to deliver the quickest quips and generally making quick pests of ourselves in the home. Oogway, on the other hand is the coolest dude. The turtles: Oogway of Kung Fu Panda fame, Crush of Finding Nemo fame and Toby of Kindergarten fame, have all been much loved and have taught us so much.

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It was no surprise then that we reached for the ‘Always Remember’ book by Cece Meng and Illustrated by Jago.

It is a beautiful book that talks about an old turtle. After the turtle dies, all of his friends remember him lovingly in their own way. It is a lovely book showing us how far and wide our impacts can be by living a fruitful and useful life, sticking to simple tenets of compassion, loyalty and friendship.

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The marine worlds always make for the best illustrations, but even so, Jago’s work in he book is mesmerizing. The characters (dolphins, starfish, baby turtles, whales, sea otters) remember Old Turtle, the compassionate companion, the adventurer, the teacher, the explorer. We, by our very being, mean different things to different people and this beautiful multifaceted aspect is illustrated in pictures splashed across the ocean in hues of blue and green.

Side note: For adults, a similar book about the far and wide reaching impacts we have on others, is a book by Miss Read, Emily Davis. A school teacher by profession, her life is remembered fondly by those whose lives she affected. Often times, we think of these large sized impacts but the most powerful ones are right by us all the time.

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Our companions on Earth have always fascinated us. I remembered fondly watching a baby turtle sun itself on the rocks in Spring  a few months ago. A friend once told me that once we start paying attention to the world around us, it tells us in so many ways what we need to hear and how.

So, what does it mean when a turtle enters your thoughts so apparently suddenly and steadily? Does it mean that we need to synchronize our movements with the animal companions that are paying us visits? In this case, s..l..o..w……d..o..w..n ? Well, my turtle teachers will be proud of me indeed to see me following their example so well. I am sitting cosily in bed as I write about these dear creatures, and look forward to slowly drifting into a world of quiet contemplation, and gently falling asleep while the Earth slowly but steadily hums and thrums on outside. The flowers may bloom or they may not, the shoots may grow or they may not.

 

“Your mind is like this water my friend. When it is agitated, it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear. “ – Oogway

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