The Joy-o-meter

“I read the book like Appa watches a movie! Done in 15 minutes, but got the gist. “ I said to general laughter. When the Spring cleaning bug bites, the family scuttles, and shy away from me like a horse that choked on plastic flowers once, and whinnies at the fresh wildflowers in the fields. 

“Really Amma! You too?” said the children

I admit I usually do not resort to the skimming technique. But this time, I read the Marie Kondo book on The Magic of Tidying Up.  “Well …. You know how some books have all they need to say in an article, but make books and songs out of them? That was this book. In essence, the table of contents should suffice, but if you want the nub of the thing, it is: If something doesn’t spark joy discard it!” 

“So, why are you still here?” Came the answer pat. Really! The speed of the repartee, I will never learn I tell you. I just walk into traps, and then goggle like a famished gargoyle, with these smart-alecks in the home. 

I sniffed a haughty sniff, and continued. “Anyway, I am going to apply the concept to the whole house. So, if something sparks joy in you, keep it, else junk it. Spring cleaning starts tomorrow!” I said in my best energetic cleaner voice. Dark looks were exchanged, some mutterings were heard, and talk was ripe of hoping that I would head out into those long walks that have me famished by the end of it all, so I spare the lot the anguish of losing things. The problem is of course that the things the children are passionate about and the things I am passionate about, are not an intersecting set. Consequently, the last time, I threw away a cardboard box, I spent a trying afternoon with the son who behaved like a gladiator losing his arena. I have since learnt my lesson, and they are given a warning. 

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I started the morning with my closet feeling like Mole spring cleaning his home in The Wind in the Willows.

The Mole had been working hard all morning spring cleaning his little home.

I must tell you. How do you mean ‘spark joy’? Some clothes you see are out of fashion, have some problems, faded etc. But mostly I seem to have clothes that I liked. So, how to deploy the joy-o-meter by them? 

Almost all my ethnic clothes evoked memories – does that count as sparking joy? For instance, I picked up the pink skirt bought in a bazaar in Jaipur. The blue hand-drawn elephants were not exactly life-like, but I could not stop the memories from marching in. The sister-in-law and I had had a tete-a-tete with the skirt vendor, and we landed up enjoying tea, pakoras, and a long chat on local artisans and design techniques, while the husband stood nearby sounding like a cooker letting out impatient steam.

Or the carefully hand woven and fabric painted dupatta that I had decided was too much to buy in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk bazaar, and settled for more utilitarian lunch boxes.  Imagine my glee then, only to find that the lovely dupatta was bought for me by the loving family on a subsequent shopping trip seeing how much I liked it. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

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Or the dancing saree that captured my spirit? The one with ballet dancers and Bharatnatyam dancers printed on them in unison – East-West collaboration at its saree best. 

The only ones I could apply the rule to, seemed to be the mass produced mall clothes bought in ‘Sale’ sections, which wasn’t much.

If there was a usage ratio to apply, almost all of the ethnic clothes can be set aside. If there was a cost to the environment ratio to be applied, one must keep these clothes till we use them at least a few times before discarding them. Over this, one must apply the cultural umbrella of using new clothes for every occasion, and the result is a sorry state of affairs.

I wonder if joy-o-meter designs can use all these variables. 

I looked pityingly at the disappointing results of the morning scourge. Feeling a bit of a hypocrite, I told the children to save anything they liked, and almost instantly regretted it, for the son ran for the largest cardboard box set for the recycling bin and said – “Dibs! I want this in my room!” 

No wonder the Mole preferred to scurry outside into the beautiful spring rather than finish spring cleaning his home.

“The joy of living and the delight of spring made him jump into the air, and he raced across the meadow ….” – The Wind in the Willows

The Joy-O-Meter swung to the right, and all was well with the world.

Spring Fever

“Why do goats looks so stern? I thought they are happy especially now in spring-time. Like lambs in spring-time could also mean like goat-kids in spring-time, no?”

The children exchanged looks. They knew to diagnose my bout of Spring Fever. I am seen scuttling off to sniff the air and marvel at life sitting up and stirring from its sleepy winter state. I head into the house looking flushed and happy. By evening, I am tired, but refuse to reduce the dose of spring bounding. But still this talk of stern looking goats had them worried.

“Ma?! You okay? Why are we talking of goats now?” said the daughter a mock-solicitous look in her eye, and I laughed out loud, and told them the context of the goat-ish tale.

“Well, it all started like this. Do you remember last Friday evening being  particularly beautiful? So, I shut the laptop with a whim, and headed out into the sunset. The hills were alive with the magic of spring. I told myself poetically that I could not bear to be a cell in a spreadsheet anymore. I wanted to be a newly sprouted leaf on a tree, a whimsical flower fluttering away in the mild breeze, or a Finnish fainting goat chewing thoughtfully at that latest blade of grass.

“Not for me the confines of mankind! Get rid of the shackles, and head out! “ I said.

” Uh-hm – someone would think you have a mission you are fighting for. How many times will you take pictures of the cherry blossoms and the clouds, and the sunset, hmm?” said the children but I waved these things away. Days like this are not meant to be wasted indoors arguing about the wisdom or lack thereof of going outdoors.

For a few months of the year, our neck of the woods resembles fairy lands, or the lands of the gods, or maybe heaven itself. The occasional rains, the burst of wildflowers, and the sunsets are all glorious. So much so that I find myself wandering around the countryside apparently lost, but really just finding the inner self. At least it is what I tell myself when that pile of laundry needs washing or that closet needs cleaning. Marie Kondo urges me to better myself, but Early Spring is more inviting. 

The fox squirrels atop the plum blossoms look naughty, while the fainting goat looks stern, the horse in the pastures peaceful, and the sunset glorious.

Where was I? Yes, on the stern looks of Finnish fainting goats. I had often wondered while reading the Three Billy Goats Gruff why the author went in for Gruff, but I see the choice of the word as I stood there admiring the serene setting against which the Finnish Fainting goat stood in its patch of farmland.

“Anyway, ” I said getting back to the point of stern goats, “I suppose if I had foul folks like me boggling at their spot of residence in that manner just because it is Spring, I would be gruff too! But the goat has a manner that is at once endearing, sober and majestic. The clump of fur on its chin growing away like a goatee (Get it? Get it? Goats have goatees!) made it look wise, and the green grass it chomped on made the world look a sweeter place.”

The children moaned not unlike the goat, and said, “Why not just call it a goat, why this fancy Finnish Fainting Goat?”

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“That is easy my dears. Google assures me that the picture I took of the goat is a Finnish Fainting Goat. And in any case, I doubt you would have listened patiently if I said I would tell you a story about a goat. No you would not have. But a Finnish Fainting Goat got your attention, did it not?” I said feeling clever.

“Ma?!” said the daughter, clenching her teeth. “You haven’t told us the story of the goat. You told us about the goat…you know what?! Never mind!”

“Yes…Never mind.” I said using that conciliatory spring-time tone, and said, “I will take you hiking there to see the old fellow. I am sure you all will like him. Looks like a satyr of your Greek myths. There is your story! Percy Jackson stuff on our next hike! ”

I ignored the ensuing groans. The fainting goat satyr and narcissus blooms will help.

Musings: Whally Mousical

 I was reading to the son’s classroom. I had planned out two little sections – one from the Tale of Despereaux and the other a true story of a pod of whales saved from the iced in waters of Siberia. The theme linking the two was music. I started, and the little musicians looked thrilled. I was too.

As I turned to the start of Chapter 4 in which the little mouse who was different finally understands what that honey-sweet sound was. I felt like Despereaux myself as I read about how little Despereaux felt a welling in his heart for the music, and how he slowly forgot where he was, or what he was doing. Slowly, he inched out from his hole, listening, mesmerized to the king playing music. As I read it out aloud to the children, I wanted to stifle a laugh, for a childhood memory peeked out of its deep hole the same way that Despereaux did. 

“And he discovered, finally, the source of the honey-sweet sound.

The sound was music.

The sound was King Phillip playing his guitar and singing for his daughter, the Princess Pea, every night before she fell asleep.

Hidden in a hole in the wall of the princess’s bedroom, the mouse listened with all his heart. The sound of the King’s music made Despereaux’s soul grow large and light inside of him.

Oh,” he said, “it sounds like heaven. It smells like honey.” 

Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

We lived in the chilly mountainsides, and often times, the cold outside attracted rats and mice into the warm house. Several times, when music was playing in the old tape recorder, we would notice a mouse peeping cautiously and just listening. Curious as to what the noises meant maybe, but maybe not. One of the family would shriek, and the pater would at first try to quieten us down saying it was just a little mouse enjoying some music – so what, or something to that effect, only to have a somewhat more hysterical reaction. 

Almost reluctantly would ensue a hilarious game of hockey sticks against furniture trying to get the mouse. Mice are as nimble as well, mice, and humans are – how do I put this kindly? Clumsy. Well-fed humans have several disadvantages stacked against them as they go about the mouse chase:

* Leaning back in the chair after a good meal listening to music in the background has made them soporific, so while the hockey stick is meant to be a tool, it is often used as prop against which to lean on to catch a breath

* They lack the right motive to catch a mouse. The human’s motive is to see if they can tumble in another gulab jamun into the tummy before bed. The mouse’s is to get to the hole

* Crowd sentiment is hard to gauge. The mouse chaser is in the tough spot of being a warrior and a saviour. While the shrieking indicated that something must be done, if something were done, the shriekers would be devastated and clamor for animal rights. So, the mouse chaser has to diplomatically chase the mouse, but not harm it in anyway.

 By the end of this jolly game of mouse chasing, the furniture has received several whacks from the hockey stick, and the mouse has strolled into its hole, while the music lilts on from the tape recorder. Which takes me to the curious scenario of mice in kings courts. I wonder how a mouse must’ve been treated in the king’s court. Would the musicians stop playing, while the commotion continued, or would they lilt on? The shriekers would be more, and therefore the motive higher. Would the courtiers gallantly prove their loyalty to the king by mouse chasing themselves, or let the warriors go for it?

They say a mouse’s brain is closest in structure to the human brain, so is that why we enjoy music together? 

New Items: Lab Rats Listen to Mozart and Become Maze Busters

So Mozart turns rats into maze-busters. But does it have a similar effect on humans?

I suppose The Pied Piper of Hamelin knew what he was doing. 

The story of the effect of Classical Music on Whales is equally mesmerizing. From the book, The Symphony of Whales, By Steve Schuch

The story, is based on a real incident that happened in the narrow Senyavina Straits of Siberia. Over 3000 beluga whales had been trapped by the rapidly freezing waters in 1984-1985. For seven weeks, the people of the Chukchi peninsula, and the crew of the Moskva risked their lives to save the whales.

The story does not end there. Once the icebreaker ship, Moskva, had cleared the way, the whales had to follow the ship out into the open seas, but they were reluctant to do so. The crew tried playing whale song to lure them. While they reacted to the music, they were not assured of human intent, and were still scared of the engine sound. They lurked in the waters.  Then they tried Classical Instrumental Music.

“The crew found some classical music. First, the sweet sounds of violin and violas, next the deeper notes of the cellos and, deepest of all, the string basses…and way up high, a solo violin…

Everyone fell silent as the music carried over the waters.”

That had done the trick. The ship’s engines started and the whales slowly followed the icebreaker out into the open ocean.

Some musings are whally mousical, and all the more whimsical for it. The children seemed to enjoy the reading too. Their wondrous brain did not once question why a mouse liked music or how whales, mice and humans liked the same kind of music. 

Coming Soon: Musicophilia

Sunny Side Up

California is bursting with beauty in Spring. Sometimes, the beauty is unimaginable in the literal sense of the world. When I close my eyes at night,  I see upon my mind’s eye the flowers rushing to bloom, and the leaves sprouting etc, but reality is much better. Hope is stirring, and I feel a great need to join nature’s party. 

The pandemic lifestyle has chipped into my reading time somewhat, so I felt a treat was in order. Uncle Fred in the Springtime, by P. G. Wodehouse was that treat. I spent time with the decision. Like an excited toddler told that they can choose either the candy or the ice cream. Should I visit Bertie Wooster & Jeeves, or the beautiful gardens of Blandings Castle? 

As I sat squashed between a rosemary bush on the left, a lavender patch behind me and purple verbena flowers (I think) on the right, I felt like Lord Ickenham (Uncle Fred) myself. A great sense of peace and a sanguine sense all-will-be-well stole over me. 

Uncle Fred in the Springtime by [P. G. Wodehouse]

Not for the first time did I thank the universe for sunny minds like P.G.Wodehouse. I suppose there are quite a few like him in this world- thank goodness he chose to share his bounty with us. 

A telling piece had me analyzing life from various angles and my restive spirit bounded off on its own. A helpful bee buzzed me back to the gardens of Shropshire where Lord Emsworth waited patiently with his large pig, The Empress of Blandings. 

“Anyone ignorant of the difference between a pessimist and an optimist would have been able to pick up a useful pointer of two by scanning the faces of this nephew and this uncle. The passage of time had done nothing to relieve Pongo’s apprehensions regarding the… As always when fate had linked his movements with those of the head of the family, he was feeling like a man floating over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Lord Ickenham, on the other hand, was all that was jovial and debonair. Tilting his hand at a jaunty angle, he gazed about him with approval at the decorous station which has for so many years echoed to the tread of county families.”

I felt for Pongo Twistelton. To hobnob with one with such an optimistic outlook as Lord Ickenham isn’t all roses and lavender, as I knew only too well.  The husband suffers from incorrigible optimism, and it is most trying. When you’d like to blow a few whistles like a cooker with too much pressure built up, it doesn’t help to see your partner-in-exactly-the-same-situation bleating happily and behaving like all these pressures are life’s little gifts meant to tease and ease our life.

The t-shirt his children chose for him has the phrase: ‘There is 50% water, 50% air, Technically, the glass is completely full!’

And he deserves every syllable of it. 

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Personality perplexes all the time. I have wondered how perfectly stout fellows with excellent circumstances in life, go about life like their last bondas were nicked from under their nose perpetually; and how others who have their last bondas nicked from under their noses, go about singing and shrugging it off saying, ‘That last bonda would really have been too much. Truly marvelous!”

The Disney Pixar movie, Soul, hits the mysteries of personalities bang on the head.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs–6c7Hn_A

Who enters the optimistic tent and which ones were lured into the pessimistic tents? Could we find a way to get us some optimism? The surest way I’ve found is via a peek into the ‘sunlit perfection’ of the worlds created by sunny minds such as P G Wodehouse.

For those moping about life, please head outdoors and take a sprig of spring. All others, please do the same. 

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The 3 Cs

The daughter was educating me on Cancel Culture. I sometimes get classes such as these from the snarky teenage daughter. The syllabus is contemporary and loosely defined. Topics include ‘vibing’ with the times, progressive thinking patterns, book/movie reviews etc. This, she says, is necessary for someone like me who knows nothing about trends, latest pop culture references etc. “I get by!”, I tell her. But even as I say it, I get the feeling that I must sound like a wheezy dinosaur who hibernated too long and woke up in today’s age to her. Time is a curious entity for I remember the parents laughing when I enlightened them on some of these things as a teenager. 

“Anyway, want to come for a walk with me?” 

“Nope – going by myself.”

In the written medium, it is hard to pull off the time-lapse between the question and the ‘nope’ because there was none. Immediate response. Nope. Going by myself. 

“Fine! Be that way! Canceling walks with mom huh?!” I said, rolling my eyes. It did not seem to bother the girl. Off she went, straight backed and a little wave of her hand as a response. 

A few minutes later, I set out on a walk by myself, and who should I find? But the darling daughter, in apparent distress too.

“Hey! I am here!” I said waving inelegantly. I was thrilled to be seeing her, but by the looks of her reaction, I was no better than a twig fallen from the trees bereft of leaves above. Some people quietly act like their raised hand was just an attempt to stretch or straighten their hair. Nonchalance, ease, grace are all words that come to mind. Yours truly, on the other hand, upped the efforts. I was now gushing steam from my trunk-like spout of a nose, and waving like elephant ears in mid-sprint warding off pesky flies, not to mention sounding like a hoarse trumpet. 

I finally attracted the child’s attention. As I should have guessed, she had air-pods stuck in her ear-lobes and seemed relieved to see me. Her slipper straps were broken, and she needed help hobbling back home. 

It was a beautiful, sunny February day, The cherry blossoms were in bloom everywhere, the trees had not yet started to grow their leaves, and the blue blue skies above made for a perfect day! Though it was technically winter still, Spring was clearly in the air. If I lived near fields, hedgehogs may have been up and about. I didn’t know. All I knew for certain was that yellow thrushes, sparrows, and blackbirds had all hatched, and the air about us was rich with the twittering of birds. I said as much to the daughter. She rolled her eyes. 

“Yes Miss Different. I know you don’t think you are like me, but look at you mooning about the roads on a beautiful day inhaling the deep fresh air! “

She had the grace to laugh. I looked around sniffing rapturously and stopped. There was a beautiful patterned bug going about its business by the sage and lavender bushes. “Oh! Look – such a beautiful pattern on its back too!”

“Amma! Don’t touch it. This is a red bug – it is probably poisonous!” she said. 

“That’s Color-ist! So, what now if a bug is red, it is poisonous?! Going cancel-culture on red bugs now, are we? Oooh! “ I said. She laughed, and I carried on, feeling encouraged, “What about ladybugs huh?! You were constantly telling me to bend down and watch lady bugs slurry about in spring time when you were a child. Are they poisonous too?!”

“No….it is their defense mechanism. “ 

“Huh! How interesting!” I said. I think the genuine surprise and curiosity in my voice took her aback somewhat. But she liked it, and carried on. “Yes…monarch butterflies for instance are that bright orange for a reason. They are poisonous to birds, and birds know to leave them alone. So, painted lady butterflies evolved that way as a defense mechanism. They look very similar, but they aren’t poisonous.”

“Wow! You know so many interesting things. That is why I ask you everyday to go for a walk with me my dear.”

“Yeah! Ma! This is 4th Grade Science.” she said in her Elementary-my-dear-Watson voice. We laughed and sailed home together. I think Maria Meriam would have approved of our natural wonders lesson in Spring time.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science – Joyce Sidman

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Why is our sky not green?

The elementary school going son, like many children his age, pulls a full why-wagon with him wherever he goes. The questions tumble out with ease, and can be anywhere on the spectrum : 

They are all fair game.

Sometimes, of course, his questions chip away at the stoutest of theories. For instance, a few years ago, as we mooned about the hills overlooking the bay at sunset and taking in the shades of pinks, oranges, blues, grays, purples and reds, he said, “Why is the sunset never green?

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Now, that is a perfectly valid question with a perfectly scientific answer. However, it had me stumped, for it never occurred to me to ask that particular question.  I remember being awed a few years ago, when the children had drawn rust and pink colored skies when asked to imagine a sky for their imaginary world. 

How often do we take the time to question things that just are? 

This is why when I read the Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, and he comes up with a marvelous chapter based on determining the planetary world one is in simply based on the color of the sky, I shone with girlish delight. Here, was the kind of leap in imagination where only deep thought and research can take you, and here he was, simply giving it away in a book. All his marvelous thought processes, his wonder of the world, his eternal curiosity and scientific rigor just laid out on a page so we could embrace it in one simple reading. 

“The color of the sky characterizes the world. Plop me down on any planet in the Solar System, without seeing the gravity, without glimpsing the ground, let me take a look at the sun and the sky, and I can, I think, pretty well tell you where I am, That familiar shade of blue, interrupted here and there by fleecy white clouds, is a signature of our world. “ – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

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The whimsical side of me wants to ask whether he will recognize Earth at sunrise, sunset, during wildfires and what-not. 

The essay, Sacred Black , in the book, Pale Blue Dot is well worth reading. He explains the reasoning behind the colors of the planets as we see them. He deduces the color of the sky based on the elements found in their atmospheres. 

  1. Venus, he says, probably has a red sky.
  2. Mars has a sky that is between ochre and pink much like the colors of the desert.
  3. Jupiter, Saturn – worlds with such giant atmospheres such that sunlight hardly penetrates it, have black skies. He talks about this bleak expanse of a sky being interrupted here and there by strokes of lightning in the thick mop of clouds surrounding the planets. This image does make for a sober shiver for someone who loves the sky and its myriad attractions. Imagine, not being able to the stars, the sun, or anything beyond the clouds – brrrr.
  4. Uranus & Neptune – uncanny, austere blue color. The distant sunlight reaches a comparatively clean atmosphere of hydrogen, helium and methane in these planets. The skies may be blue or green at a certain depth resulting in an aquamarine or an ‘unearthly blue’.

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He shows us how in the absence of an atmosphere, an inky deep purple is all there is. How, our planet is only a pale blue dot floating in an inky void illumined by a ray of light from the sun. Our eyes may not show us green colors in the sky at sunset, but it does detect plenty of green in the flora around us.

What would you like to see in a sky?

Love Thy Spouse

I must preface this post with the following details:

Now, let’s get on with the events of the 19th anniversary celebrations, shall we?

T’was the anniversary hike. The hills were alive with the sound of Cricket.

We had reached the bottom of the hills after a marvelous time amidst the clouds and the green mountainsides. I remember telling the husband after a particularly long moo-ing breath that decades ago, we might have run up this hill just so we could.  The husband let out some deep breaths up and down his left and right nostrils and shook his head. The best part of that hike was the climbing was all done in one shot: The ugly huffing and puffing that the young couple of decades ago would have smirked at, was done with, and we were enjoying the lolling downhill. The sky was exceeding itself with all its beautiful paint strokes of the sunset, and the husband found speech again. As if making up for the quiet on the way up, he chattered on.

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I settled into the comfortable rhythm of hmm, uh..huh, and hee-hee while he rattled on about the injuries, the setbacks, the brilliant sequence of events that contributed to the legendary win for India. I couldn’t resist a smile at this boyish enthusiasm.

Boys and cricket!

“And the behind-the-scenes videos by Ashwin – mind boggling!” He gushed. I nodded painfully. I don’t know whether you have the experience of seeing your loved one sneak into bed at 2 a.m. and then surreptitiously watch a cricket interview on his phone after the match. It is not recommended. How many mornings since that blasted win have I rolled over in bed first thing in the morning to see my loved one cackling at something that happened in the match? Apparently, one of the fellows, Ashwin, runs a swell YouTube channel as a side job, giving the inside scoop, while his wife tweets the inside-beside scoop of the inside scoop-er’s side of things.

Cricket

All I can say is that I am grateful he has a bunch of friends with whom he can share his ball-by-bat analysis.

Now, apparently, life has been going on in full swing for these fellows playing cricket. Amidst other things, the Captain of the Indian cricket team went on paternity leave just before the series match in Australia, so the vice captain stepped in. I’ll spare you reams of analysis, 50 you-tube videos and a few hours on Twitter with a gist: Captain has Personality, vice-captain has Different Personality. 

“There is only one man who changed for the better because of marriage, and that is Kohli.” said the love of my life.

We were on flat land again, but really! The man was heading towards a precipice, and completely unaware of it.

“Uh-huh!”  Had the man been less involved in cricket, he might’ve caught the drop in temperature of this uh-huh from the uh-huh of 3 minutes ago, but as it turns out, secondary sportsmen are very passionate. He rattled on about how Kohli had been a sort of aggressive this-and-that and how he was now a so much nicer this-and-that.

I uh-huh-ed again. This uh-huh needed a jacket, but the man went on.

I stopped him, and slowly, lovingly held his hand as I walked him out of the precipice. “Hm…honey, what did you say about the institution of marriage changing only one man so far for the better, and that is Kohli?”

The man gasped and blinked like a fish that temporarily came up to see the moon, and realized the sun is shining brightly overhead.

“I don’t know about you darling, but I think I have changed a lot for the better after my marriage to you. “ I said, and flitted my eyelashes like I’d seen heroines do in movies 40 years ago.

He threw his head back and laughed. A weak, watery laugh, and he charged back from the cliff. “Oh of course, I didn’t mean you of course. You have been awesome. I mean Kohli became likable after his marriage to Anoushka. You know how it is?”

I said I did not.

He explained on. I was rather enjoying this exchange by now. I stood by, ever the helpful, loving wife, watching him extricate his foot that he had unwittingly lodged into his mouth. It took some time, but he did it, and we headed back holding hands and laughing. 

I am glad to say that in our marriage: 

He watches cricket while browsing, I make fun of him for it. 

He watches dozens of useless movies, I roll my eyes at him for it. 

I read while doing yoga and he makes fun of me for it. 

I go out on dozens of walks and come back mooning about nature, he rolls his eyes at me for it. 

So, all is well.

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Clouds & Rain

Rain Rain Go Away

Come Again An-other Day

The son was plucking away at the notes on the keyboard. I recognized the nursery rhyme and said, Let’s sing it as :

“Rain Rain Come Again

We have had none To-day”

He gave me a quizzical look, and started laughing. “Is this your words have meaning thing-y?”

“Well…yes! I mean everyday the forecast starts out as 100% rain, and then by the time the day rolls over, it is down 80% and then 40%, and then a tiny squirt like the clouds are having unitary tract issues. “ I said. 

Once their guffaws subsided, I sang along 

“Rain Rain Come Ag-ain 

We have had none To-day”.

I pondered about the garden-beds knowing that they should be bursting forth with clovers right about now, and the daughter would tell me not go about removing them, as they are so pretty. I mock-sigh, but enjoy this exchange every year all the same. I love the clovers too. The three-headed beauties remind me of the resilience of life, and the sweet and sour nature of life itself. When all the world is waiting for a spring, the snowdrops and clovers are the only ones brave enough to poke their head out and take into that leap of life.

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I am so glad to say that the first proper rains of the season descended on us this week. The sounds of the rain provided a beautiful back-drop as we went about our days. At nights, I relished the sounds of the gentle pattering rain, and the smooth whishing of the trees in the backyard. 

How beautiful gentle-ness is and how different from the gale-force winds that had ripped branches off a few days earlier? 

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I took a proper walk relishing the solitude of the fresh Earth two days after the heavy rains yesterday. Clouds were everywhere and there is nothing at all that nudges the philosopher awake like clouds and the smells of clean Earth. Thousands of seeds seem to have taken the leap of faith with the waters that descended over them in the past week, and the hills were green with possibilities. The poignancy of the writing in the book, Lab Girl, By Hope Jahren, nudged me. I stood there, admiring the fresh shoots, and relishing what she wrote:

“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” – Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

The possibilities of beginning and waiting play out endlessly in our lives. Sometimes, it is with the need for action, the time to spurt forth. At others, it is in the waiting. The time for things to play out so we can gain clarity. For those of us who favor action, the waiting of the seed is an important lesson. At others, the spurting of life itself is the nudge to take the leap of faith.

I came back with that look of contentment that the family recognized: there was no denying it, I had photographs to show them, and though I recognized the medium could hardly capture the magnificence of Being There, I still reveled in showing them pictures of all the wonders I had seen. 

Sometimes, nature astounds me with variety: In one day out with nature I saw hawks, wildcats, squirrels, turkeys, deer, herons, grebes, fresh shoots of all sort of flora and fauna, not to mention the play of the light through the clouds at sunset. A friend of mine feels that animals cross our paths to send us a message. I think the menagerie I encountered was trying to send me the message that life is beautiful, if we take the time to live it fully, creatively and wholly.

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Some of the books in January had already set the message :

  • A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson
  • The River Bank and other stories from the Wind in the Willows – Graham Greene
  • Friends at Thrush Green – Miss Read
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon – By Kelly Barnhill
  • The Water Princess – Susan Verde (Childhood experience of Georgie Badiel)
  • Emily Writes – Emily Dickinson and her Poetic Beginnings – Jane Yolen, Christine Davanier

That evening, the son plucked at the notes for Clouds on his keyboard, and the clouds flitted above:

See the Clouds, in the sky

Wonder how they, Fly so high!

A Celebration Of … 🌏

The afternoon was a mild, sunny one. Quite unusual for wintry January. The grass has turned green enough, the birds were chirping, and every now and then, the son and I stopped to admire a willow tree. How different each tree looks, and yet how soothing they all are together?  One doesn’t need a leap of the fanciful to liken the willows to beautiful damsels letting their hair down to dip ever so slightly into the waters below. What is remarkable is these damsels don’t seem to mind us watching. 

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I do not remember the first willow tree I saw, although I am sure I would have admired it long before knowing its name.  These are times I feel remiss. 

Why do we not make a celebration

of smelling the first sprig of lavender

and falling in love with the scent of it? 

Why do we not celebrate the perfect clovers,

the first feel of moss against a damp earth 

the taste of the first wild berry, 

the first sniff of eucalyptus after a fresh rain, 

the first time we touched a petal, 

the first time we sat and watched a butterfly, 

the first time we heard the name of someone who would go on to become kindred spirits 

and brighten our lives forever more?

While at this, why not also celebrate 

the times, we can watch a tree upside down,

The moon rise, or the sun set?

The times we spot the shape of a fluffy dog in the clouds,

the times we are mesmerized by a rainbow,

the times we can watch the world flit by with nary a worry?

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Anyway, where was I before I went off on my little celebration-of-life poetic trail? Yes yes. It all comes back now: I cannot quite resist the charm of a willow tree. It’s true. There is a generosity to its form. The tree just seems to give itself. The long tresses weigh down as they reach into the waters below.  When you walk along a river, you can be fairly certain that if there is one willow by the banks, nature would have given us a few more beautiful ones just further downstream. It was while reading Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren that I learnt many of these willow trees are identical genetically. Apparently, all it takes is for a branch to break off by a riverside, float down the banks, a little joyful eddy to push it near the banks, and voila: it can take root. An identical, genetically mapped tree, though it looks different on the outside – the trunks bulge differently, the branches fan out differently, but essentially the same. Hope Jahren’s lyrical writing is as beautiful as the willows themselves. 

“It is easy to become besotted with a willow. The Rapunzel of the plant world, this tree appears as a graceful princess bowed down by her lush tresses, waiting on the riverbank for someone just like you to come along and keep her company.” 

We walked on for some time on this beautiful day, before I plonked myself on the grass. I tugged the little fellow’s arm to sit on the grass next to me. After the initial reluctance of getting his clothes dirty, this suburban child gave in to the pleasures almost completely.  There we were, lying down on the grass, the willow trees drooped into the waters nearby while winter’s afternoon sun gently glowed upon us, and the clouds drifted above.

I told him about the willow trees and how most of the ones we saw may have originated from the same one. He looked awed. 

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more,” 

Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

Will he remember the first time he learnt that willow trees reproduce with just a branch flowing downstream? I hope he does, but if not, here it is written down: It was a golden day in early winter on a walk with his loving mother: when all the world was green and filled with possibility.

Shhrama Pariharam – respite from the strenuous

T’was the day we had whipped up a feast fit for the eyes, and insisted the whole family climb out of pajamas and yoga pants to sit themselves down at the fancy table (this fancy table is usually overrun with the mail, packages from amazon, notes and books). All of this was swept in one great movement to the side room and the room door shut before anything could come tumbling out. The table was found, the food was laid on it, and the chefs beamed. The children had contributed in no small measure with the items on the table and it was remarkable how spacious the table , and the surrounding space was without the debris that usually surrounding this space. 

“Too much food!” said the daughter with a little shudder. 

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“Well! I am going to take my shhrama pariharam after this!” I said, regally rolling towards the feast of the day. 

“What?”

I saw that it was the sweet time to start reminiscing. I told the assembled lot about how their grandfather would talk about food, about his love for appalams and how he would pat his tummy lovingly and reminisce fondly about how in the olden days nobody cared about quantity : Did you know they served ghee in dhonnai-s – little straw cups, cups full of ghee and how they ate rice in those days. These heroes did not flinch when the ladle fulls hit the plate, they took it as a challenge, he said to us in his booming voice, and we used to laugh it at all till I saw it myself.  

I remember those days well enough. Maybe my memories are keener for they were formed in the exuberance of youth. One particularly hot afternoon floated into my memory and I burst out laughing.  “If Pythagorus had a strong foundation like us, who knows what else he might’ve found? “ I said. 

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The children looked at each other with that look of amused tolerance, “Uh-oh! Here comes another story within the story!”

I prattled off, whisking them away in one swift gallop on the chariot of time for a quick visit a few decades ago.

The occasion was something, and guests and priests made their way into the old village home. The gaggle of aunts, had been busy all morning in the kitchen preparing one of those meals that don’t fit on stainless plates and require three large plantain leaves on the floor just to get the servings in. 15 different vegetables, fried snacks that take all morning just so they many occupy a small portion on the plantain leaf, along with the main stay of sambhar, rasam and payasam had all been prepared. The corner leaf was given a special name, nuni elai, and the priests and his friends got busy. I sat with my cousins watching in awe. I had read mythological tales of giant-like people eating mountains of rice with rivers of sambhar and ponds of ghee, but I had always dismissed it as myth. I had read the story of Kumbakarna and that fellow who started the Vaigai river after eating so much, a river was required to quench his thirst thereafter. 

I suppose till that moment I had never really thought about what it takes to feed folks. How much food does one prepare, and how does one estimate? 

Children have an innate sense of wonder in them, a practice we must learn to cultivate just to enjoy our own life. There is a beautiful word, shoshin, that means just that: The practice of looking at things with wonder.

That afternoon, we, the pint sized folks, sat watching the priests fall asleep. Shoshin was shining in our eyes and we went to see how the legendary eaters were doing. We were told the siesta was not called a nap, it was given a name Shhrama pariharam – meaning the respite from the strenuous. It was an apt name, they had gone into the ring of leaves and fought like champions. Every last drop was polished off, every morsel of rice chewed and every fried item belched into the dark recesses of their expanding stomachs. 

That afternoon all those years ago, I remember watching the stomachs rise and fall with their gentle snores, remember seeing how the shadows lengthened with time, and how they rolled over before getting up, how they joked that a cup of coffee would help settle their stomachs, and then made their contented way home. We had discussed measuring the height of the stomachs, the length of the shadows and much more, only to be shoo-ed away by the aunts. 

I told the children all of this as we sat full, satiated, and laughing at the recollection. Thereafter, I showed them pictures of the South Indian meal. Was this a mythological tale? Or did people really have leaves filled with 50 different items on them? Had I not seen them in my childhood, I might never have believed it myself. 

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It has been a long time since I sat at a banana leaf and saw the world float by me with huge ladles of sambhar, rasam, copious amounts of rice and spoonfuls of ghee.

“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.” 

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables