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

World Peace

The first part of this article was published in The Hindu titled Collective Effort dated 10th April 2022

I am in India on a short trip. Most evenings, I take a short walk around the apartment complex the parents live in. The community is a middle class community with children playing outside every evening. Regular readers know how much I enjoy seeing children playing outside everyday. One day as I was walking past the play area, I stopped to see what the commotion was all about. Slippers were being thrown as high as little hands could reach, and all the little children were standing around giving instructions. It was then I noticed the two badminton rackets lodged up in the tree branches above (probably a dare since there were two rackets lodged firmly.)

The little band of racket-throwers were now trying to retrieve them from the trees, It is amusing to be a silent spectator to problem solving such as this. Several suggestions were being given by all gathered (Some enthusiastic, but clearly not grounded in laws of Physics. Others, theoretically brilliant but lacking the practical aspects such as the presence of a long 7 ft stick to dislodge the rackets). When it looked like there were close to dislodging the racket by themselves, I carried on, only to come back a few minutes later on my rounds to see that several attempts had yielded nothing. A general despondency had set in, and some gloomy faces stared at the unyielding tree with its branches so ridiculously high above. 

When it was obvious that the little folk could not dislodge the rackets, a small dip in their collective can-do attitude was apparent. Sensing this, the older children playing a little distance away, gathered to help. On my walk as a spectator, this was such a heart warming scene, for I could see the future of humanity secure in this simple act. When one of us suffers a setback, the others came to help willingly without even being asked. The older children had height on their side, and the tallest one lifted a younger child, who then dislodged the racket with a stick lying around. 

The cheers erupted all around. One might’ve assumed that a World Series match was just finished. But this jubilation was a different one altogether and play resumed.

Retrieving rackets from trees!

I wish children played outside on the streets more especially in the United States. I couldn’t help thinking that that motley bunch of children could have a future CEO reimagining the world, a diplomat helping out in times of humanitarian crises, scientists solving problems as deftly and quickly as humanity creates them, artists and writers who dare to dream and imagine a different world, etc. 

Which brings to this excellent book I was reading earlier, World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements. I always think highly of children’s perspectives and potential, so naturally I was attracted to this book. In the book, a fourth grade teacher, John Hunter designed a game to restore World Peace in a mythical world of his creation bearing enormous resemblance to our own. Climate change, wars, humanitarian crises, economic bankruptcies are all problems to be solved in this world.

World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements by [John Hunter]

There are Prime Ministers of countries, nominated by the teacher. There is a World Bank, a weather goddess who controls things like freak climatic disasters, the stock market etc, a United Nations council all ably run by the children in the classroom. There is even a secret saboteur whose main job is to spread lies and sow discord between factions. So they learn to trust but verify, be wary but condone etc. 

He has a 3-D model depicting their world in which the oceans, the lands and the skies above us need governance and international cooperation to achieve World Peace. They are given 50 problems that must all be solved, and the net worth of the countries needs to be higher than when the game started for the game to be won.

He has perfected the game over several years in his classroom, and the results are indeed stunning in some cases as he writes in his book. In most years, the children did manage to solve World Peace in spite of the overwhelming odds stacked against them. Like in the little anecdote above, the children mostly hit upon a solution only after they are that close to giving up altogether. The failure, dejection all slowly yields to a new mode of thinking. One that is difficult to think of before, and this invariably leads the teams to collaborate and help each other better. (As J K Rowling says in her Harvard Commencement Speech – The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination)

TED Talk by John Hunter – 4th Grade Teacher

Truly, what we learn in Elementary School is priceless. The camaraderie accompanying solving problems truly makes the heart lighter. When in the right company, no problem is insurmountable. More importantly, there is hope for this world despite what we have done. 

To See The World

I remember the first excitement at seeing the bubble maps of population vs GDP for countries around the world, and how they changed across a span of a century. If one could have their mind blown, that chart was it. Then, a few years on, I saw the TED Talk by Hans Rosling in which he explained Large Families/Low GDP Vs Small Families/High GDP, and this time the wonder grew.

In the intervening years, the power of big data and visualization grew by leaps and bounds, and there never was a dearth of graphs, or data analysis. Causal analysis, correlations, search engine optimizations, ad targeting, and numerous other concepts entered the lingo of the normal person. As early as 2012, Target could predict when a woman was expecting a baby even before her family knew.

Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky changed our perceptions by introducing the world to a whole new world of Behavioral Economics.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by [Michael Lewis]

So, when I picked up the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, I thought I would find about more interesting statistics about the world, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

In the book, How I Learned to Understand the World, written by Hans Rosling and his daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling, it is Dr Hans Rosling’s journey that is written. The book isn’t written in the style of can’t-put-it-down. Instead of a compelling narrative that is keeping one’s interest, it is the genuine interest in the human being who was instrumental in changing the way we think of global health and economies. His journey to help humankind starts off with being a doctor in a impoverished nation, but moves on to much more than that. This is an inspiring sketch of what is possible when we think outside the box. That varied interests and knowledge-seeking is never wasted: they truly do come together in myriad ways.

The book starts as most biographies do, with a character sketch of the good doctor’s parents, grandparents, and his modest upbringing in Uppsala in Sweden.

He goes on to study medicine, and then travels to lesser developed countries hoping to do good work. His perception of developing countries such as India undergoes a transformation as he studies and travels there. It is here that he gets an appreciation for public health. The Indian Government at the time was battling one of the largest public health initiatives of the time ( possibly polio vaccinations – I forget). It is a humbling experience for him. He realizes, for instance, that medical facilities were not as backward as he assumed, medical knowledge was quite on par, or better, where it was available. The true problems were scale, population and outreach. 

After his return to Uppsala in Sweden, he goes on to begin work as a doctor in Impala. Where is Impala? Nacala? The joy of studying a map for these places is half the joy.

Here, in the coastal region of Nacala, he settles into his work as a doctor with his wife and children. Faced with less than ideal facilities, low budgets, and even less trained people to work with, he slowly learns the areas in which he can make a difference. He learns the importance of cultural awareness, and his humility for people’s knowledge and way of living, helps him reach the people he is attempting to serve. Without this realization he might never have been able to understand the devastating Konzo (‘Konzo’ means tied leg referring to the paralytic symptoms) disease that was paralyzing children in rural areas.

His work in Nacala, and his researches around the paralytic disease, konzo, led him to a life in research after his medical practicing days. The cassava plant is a staple diet in these areas. The cassava root is treated to a long, and arduous process of preparation before being made fit for human consumption. For example, the cassava is dried in direct sunlight for more than 8 weeks, to remove bitterness coming from a cyanide like substance that causes partial paralysis in human-beings (The long process is usually sufficient to remove the amounts of cyanide, but during times of drought, the plant produces more of this chemical content). Dr Rosling was the person to identify this link between the food process and the paralysis in his patients, and it was because he made the effort to understand the way of life in these areas. In times of food crises, the cassava plants are the only source of nutrition, and the results are devastating for those affected: their disability spiraling them further into poverty.

His ability to reach dictators, elected officials, and private industry for the sake of public health is remarkable.

His book, Factfulness, is the next one on my list to be read. In this one, he outlines the state of the world in terms of actual numbers. Is our world as bad as we think it is, or are we progressing better than we give ourselves credit for? I am waiting to read this one.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by [Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling]

Dear Democracy

“Gosh! Must you always be this dramatic?!” said the daughter rolling her eyes up at me, wrenching them away from the screen. 

I suppose ‘nail in the coffin of democracy’ was not exactly the poised and controlled reaction I was going for. 

“Well..”I fumbled for a moment, and then said with a steely determination that took me aback, “You know what? Yes I must! If I am not upset at a moment like this, I don’t have use of the emotion at all! This is democracy – and it is supposed to thrive!” I said taking a handful of emotions from Pandora’s box and letting them course through my system in righteous anger, and disappointment. 

Time and time again, we have been disappointed by politicians and humans seeking power. The one job that requires no specific training or education. #ButterBattleCourse

“Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,

and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth.” 

Hesiod, the 6th-century BC Greek poet Theognis of Megara 

Another eye roll, another laugh stifled, and another poetic exclamation later, I was spent. 

The chaos at the Capitol building as the senate ratified the election results was appalling. It was not being called a coup on television. The sitting 45th President of the United States had incited violence to be unleashed on the Capitol Building, and I felt a sinking feeling. We all know that the greater the power, the higher the fall and all the rest of it. But truly, nothing prepares you for that gloating face defacing the Speaker’s office with not an ounce of remorse. Nothing prepares you for the moment that a mob crashes into the Capitol Building, and gets to the Speaker’s chair in the largest democracy in the world. 

But Pandora had one last emotion that she had in her box. Hope.

The senators filed back in later that night and completed their constitutional duty well past midnight. 

Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;

the others have left and gone to Olympus.

Hesiod, the 6th-century BC Greek poet Theognis of Megara 

The next day, the daughter was showing us posts from her social network. 

“This video, see this one? Cries her heart out – thinks she is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and says she has come all the way from Tennessee for the revolution. ”

“What revolution? Wait a minute! She took a flight from Tennessee to Washington D C for this during a pandemic?! “, I asked, “And she is upset she was pushed back from the Capitol building?”

“I mean, we all know the ones who were creating the ruckus aren’t the smartest tools in the box, but they outdid themselves, Amma. This one guy searched up Georgia, and planted the Georgia flag – I mean the country Georgia’s flag. Then, one Indian dude shows up there with an Indian flag! I don’t know whether they stopped to think about what they were doing.”

https://qz.com/1953366/decoding-the-pro-trump-insurrectionist-flags-and-banners/”

I shook my head and we fell to discussing the sad state of affairs because one narcissistic man could not bear to lose. 

Reference: The history of the peaceful transfer of power: History.com

  1. The year was 1797. The first President George Wshington willingly stepped down after 2 terms in office setting a precedent to the two terms in office, that was later ratified as the 22nd Amendment to the constitution in 1951.
  2. The year 1801 set another important precedent. John Adams after losing to Thomas Jefferson quietly left Washington in the dark hours of March 4th. He did not attend the inauguration, but he did set the hallmark for the peaceful transfer of power. 

History.com: There were several ways in which power was transferred. One of the best is the letter George W Bush left for Bill Clinton, and the tradition followed.

“How did it come down to this? Why is it so hard to lose? You played your game, move on!” I said.

“He must not have played rummy with his mom!” said the son, and we all burst out laughing. It’s true isn’t it? We win some games, we lose some games. Play teaches us so much: the joy of playing, the thrill of winning, the grace of losing, and the friendship that binds it all together.

I used to wonder how Hitler rose to power democratically and was able to commit such horrendous acts of genocide. Recent events have shown us all too clearly how this can happen. By removing bars of decorum and conduct, we have been shown that the country may not survive a younger, more ruthless strain of Trump’s brand of dictatorship. 

I quite agree with how Aristotle describes the nobility required of politicians: he opines that politicians should take an oath, almost as sacred as a Hippocratic oath, to remain fair and mete out justice. From the Nicomachean Ethics – By Aristotle. 

Oh! How dear Democracy is.

Weather Monsters

“Have you gotten your bags ready?” my friends’ voices piped over the phone. 

“Uh – not yet. Got a bag down from the loft – will get to it.” I said shuffling my feet as I said so.

“Well..what are you doing now?”

“Writing about the weather over the past week.” I said somewhat sheepishly, and a loud laughter emanated from the other side. 

We toodled off with the sentiment of “Well Nero fiddled, I write!” but I am not going to lie. I was rattled, and went off to pack the emergency kit. The wildfires were too close for comfort – the air has been thick with smoke.

Exactly a week ago:

The days had been stifling in the heat wave that gripped the land. Oppressive waves rose from the shimmering hills nearby, and the eyes squinted for respite after the briefest strays outside. Some evenings had a splattering of clouds giving rise to splendid sunsets, and while I swooned my way through the evening walk, I yearned for a bit of rain, if nothing but to smell the parched sizzling earth cooling off a little bit. 

img_9485

I may have wished too soon.

For the very next day, I was looking at the most improbable of sights. I had set a whimsical alarm to rouse me at 5:30 a.m on that Sunday rearing for a hike before the sun started beating down on us. 

While I am always crooning about Nature and talking about it being the greatest soother of all time and all that, I often forget nature’s fury. I live in California where we pay a weather-tax. For the most part, the weather conditions are soothing, flowers bloom the year around, and though I yearn for more rains, it is a mellow nature that greets me most days. But that morning, I listened astounded as thunder rumbled overhead and the noise penetrated the double-paned windows, and then in the darkness the whole house stood illumined for a few seconds. I glanced unwittingly towards the sleeping children, and I stood awed.

We have easily gone more than two decades without thunder and lightning storms of this magnitude in this area. What was going on? 

I whispered to the husband – “Wow! Rain was not even in the weather forecast huh?” and stood mesmerized by the window wondering whether a walk was still on the cards if not a hike.

The husband looked at me and said, “Are you nuts?! Who goes out in this weather? Hiking at that. Nothing doing – if this is you wanting to watch the rain, pull up a chair and sit by the window!”, and he went right back to bed.

So, I did just that – I woke the son and showed him the lightning and the rain pelting down. It made for a magical morning, but I hadn’t completely realized the harm a storm of this magnitude can unleash on an already dry and parched Earth. In under 6 hours, there were more than 10,000 flashes of lightning starting over 300 fires that continue to rage across the Bay Area.

Time Lapse based off Satellite images of the Lightning strikes and subsequent fires in the area.

In just a few days we had experienced everything from heat waves to lightning and thunder storms – all in the midst of a pandemic no less. The air quality deteriorated significantly as the fires raged and fire fighters poured in from everywhere to contain the fires. 🔥 The sheer magnitude of the fires 🔥 they were dealing with had simple folk like me blanching, but these teams had strategy and they were working tirelessly. The tenacity for a job like that! 

In our skies, an angry sun shone through when it could through the smog.

img_9484

One week later:

Wildfires continue to rage over thousands of acres of land. Beloved forests and mountains ranges that have provided solace and comfort to millions of people over the years have been lost to the fires. My heart caught at the news that Big Basin Redwoods were damaged badly. Though redwood trees are supposed to be extraordinarily resilient to fires  and would probably make it past these fires, I grieved. Every time I visited these forests, I have come back not just refreshed, but spiritually in a better place as have thousands of tree huggers over the years. A true space for forest bathing or shinrin yoku as the Japanese call it.

trees_komerabi

It has been a week since the lightning strikes. 1 week in which more than 60,000 acres of land have been burnt, with ominous statistics of 5% fire contained, fire alerts etc.

California Redwoods 

2020 seems to be determined to make its mark.




 

The Grapes of Wrath

We were driving through the countrysides of rural America. Vast landscapes stretched on all sides reminding us once again of the beautiful and vast nature of this country. The countryside baked in the hot Californian sun as we made our northward. We drove past fields and small towns that reminded me of the areas featured in the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in more ways than one.

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The Grapes of Wrath evoked a sense of economic ruin, human struggles, and the helplessness of it all. I walked around for weeks pulled down by the plight of the millions of Joad families who had to survive post the Great Depression. 

You see, I was prepared to see a certain level of isolation. Covid-19 has changed the landscape unimaginably with the service sector and the retailing industry in hiatus. What I was not prepared for, was the eerie and pervasive shadow of desolation and ruin. The divide between the haves and have-nots a deep chasm yawning wide and deep. 

https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/employment-by-industry-1910-and-2015.htm

The husband and I were in a somber mood as we made our way back, and fell to discussing the nature of work and how it is has changed so drastically in the past century. Just under a century ago, there was a good percentage of the population working farming jobs, then factory jobs. So, there still was a dream for a middle-class life – a life that promised reasonably good education for the children, relatively good health care, a decent home, and food on the table. It seemed the only jobs left for people to work in these small towns were in the service sector or the retail industry. With both these sectors impacted so heavily with Covid-19, it was a terrifying sight. 

“There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.”

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

If the elections bring the current president to power again, he will find a way to make things much worse – maybe even go to the extent of inciting riots and civil unrest. If another president takes the reins, I do not envy the poor president-elect – what a mess to unravel and what a huge responsibility to the citizens. 

How would the world get back on its feet? 

“But how on earth is the stock market holding up?” I asked, for wasn’t that supposed to be an indicator of the economic conditions on the ground?

There – right there, is what is called a mystery. Anthropologically, mankind has been through worse survived more, but there is no doubt about it  – we have rough times ahead of us post-corona. As children, when we sang the hymns in our school, we liked some, loved the lyrics of others, and some stayed on with us through the ages. The first song that came to me that day was this one:

“We shall overcome .. We shall overcome…We shall overcome…Some day….”

After all:

“Muscles aching to work, minds aching to create – this is man.”

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

grapes_of_wrath

The Glimmer of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_20200407_195324-effects

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Hopeful Future

There is nothing quite as special as walking in nature after a long day or week. Every step seems to take one tiny bit of stress away, and replace them with happy endorphins  dancing to a beat in the body. As the eyes lift their gaze towards the skies, the clouds, trees, and birds seem to join in on one harmonious orchestra together welcoming the soul to relax and rejoice in the moment of being, and participate in the steady march of time. Hummingbirds, bluebirds and the occasional butterflies flit overhead, while the ravens and geese noisily make their way home.

Summer is creeping in, the jacaranda trees are in bloom in the neighborhood, the gingko leaves have come in fully, and though the world around us is in shambles, confused, anxious and worried, Mother Nature seems to have no such problems. She brought on Summer just in time.

The park near where we live has a steady smattering of high school students social distancing as best as they can and taking graduation pictures. In little knots of 2s & 3s, they cluster around giggling and looking hopeful. I stop at a distance admiring the high schoolers celebrating their graduation day with pictures in gowns. The smiles of confident youth look just as marvelous as the summer blooms they stand amidst, and their perfumes amidst the heady scent of the flowers is heaven itself. There is no doubt about it: The summer evenings seem doubly enjoyable and bright because of the young talent making their way out into the world.

These children did not get the graduation party like their seniors did, or their juniors will, but they seem to be coping with grace. A few photographs with their best friends would have to do. I hear loud peals of laughter puncture the evenings as they decide on how to take their pictures. I hope every child in these uncertain times has good friends. The laughter rings in the obvious: everything seems to be manageable with the right set of friends.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

Emily Dickinson

In other news,
Trump Rally Registered Million Attendees but Actual Count 6000!

Thousands of teens registered for Trump’s rally , after his initial Juneteeth rally was moved to Sunday, and then didn’t show up. What’s more? They deleted their tik-toks soon after!

Standing there that evening with the world on pause from the Corona virus, and the city’s curfew just ended due to the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt hope stir again. The angst and idealism of youth was intact. These young adults saw us flounder at a critical moment in their lives, and the exuberance with which they are eager to take the torch makes me hopeful.

“For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” Kahlil Gibran

What Does It Mean to be Human?

I  struggle to write about the past week of events for two reasons.

(1)  I have not read enough of Black History in my adopted country to know the depth and breadth of the problem. (A shortcoming, I hope to rectify to the  best of my ability in the coming months.) All I  know is that the Black Lives Matter movement is long overdue. 

(2) The other is that the blatant nature of the cold killing of George Floyd flabbergasted me. How could a man sent sprawling to the ground with his hands handcuffed  behind him be such a threat, that a policeman felt he needed to put his knee on his neck in addition to everything else? How could he not let up when he felt the man go limp under his knee? How could .. why did he…could he not have instead…a million questions that will remain unanswered. The killing is a chilling realization of the moment when our humanity deserted us collectively.

We Belong on Earth  is a strong theme in my blog as regular readers know. 

Do not hate in the plural is another strong theme on my blog. 

The Black Lives Matter movement very strongly aligns to both these causes.

As I  mutely witnessed the events and absorbed the weight of the movement, my heart stirred and yearned for only one  thing: that the civil rights movement is long overdue is an understatement; what I wanted more than anything else is for the awareness to be translated  into action. 

So, what does it mean to be  human? 

If a person, racist or not, is  in need of a blood transfusion or an organ transplant, do they, even for a moment, think about the race of the donor? I don’t think so.

I thought the Corona virus reminded us of what it means to be human. In spite of borders, and diatribes about immigrations, and the numerous ways in which  we find ways to divide ourselves, the virus proved to us without a doubt that we are human and are therefore susceptible.

In the words of Seneca: 

Dum inter homines sumus, colamus humanitatem

“As long as we are human, let us be humane.”

Additional Reading:

What does it mean  to be human?

The Biology of Skin Color (The link between human evolution over time; the ability to adapt to different levels of UV  radiation in the tropics vs the poles; and its correlation with absorption of Vitamin D is explained in this video)

Maria Popova in her Brain Pickings blog had written a sentence on a meditation of the human condition, and I had jotted it down, for it was such a powerful sentence. I quote:

“At a time when the need to celebrate both our shared humanity and our meaningful differences is all the more painfully evident, the question of what makes us human becomes not one of philosophy alone but also of politics, justice, identity, and every fiber of existence that lies between.”

That is the Earth!

“Do you know what this is?”

“That is the Earth! From the moon.” said the son matter of factly. “I saw it before!” he said in response to my awed expression.

We were looking at the back jacket of a book, that I flipped to the last page first.

this_is_earth

This is the Earth, by Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander with paintings by Wendell Minor.

It was a picture of the Earth rising on the Moon’s horizon.

A picture that generations of humans for millennia could only have imagined, and never really gotten close to the sheer beauty of it. Our myths are at once rich and limiting in its reach. They have imagined Earth as being elephants on elephants, turtles on turtles all the way down, flat discs, imagining heavens above and hells below.  

earth_myth

 

The picture was taken by an astronaut, Bill Anders, aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft in 1968. I looked on mesmerized at the picture.

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Bill Anders / Public domain

But this picture is truly astounding. The pale blue dot when seen from the Moon is a brilliant, blue orb, suspended in space, intriguingly spattered with clouds, oceans, landmasses, not really depicting the billions of lives it fosters, or the number of ecosystems it has in its fragile balance. 

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.

50 years later, we have made rocky starts and gains towards conservation. But this April 2020, 50 years later, purely coincidentally, Covid-19 has the world on lockdown, not just imagining a life of bare necessities but embracing it for the social good. We, the people, now have the time to observe our fellow inhabitants.

Heart warming tales of peacocks making its foray into the deserted cityscapes of Mumbai; turtles coming ashore to hatch in the beaches along the Bay of Bengal; seeing the Himalayas from a 100 miles away once the smog fog lifted; deeming the waters of the Ganges near Rishikesh fit for human consumption again without all the factories along the way dumping its wastes into the flowing water;or bears enjoying their natural habitats unhindered by human presence in Yosemite National Park, are surfacing, and it has my heart lifting again. I have often enough lamented on this blog about the poor attention we pay to the Planet that nurtures our fragile selves and egos. 

Watching the even more fragile ego of the stock market indices, it seems to me that we can very well have the world function this way, by having a month off every year in which everything stops but essential services. An Earth Month every year to reflect, slow down, plan and recoup our staggering impact to the environment. After all, the stock market seems to have a life of its own and seems only to want some stolidity in its expectations. So, we anticipate a month with no major events, no excessive or unnecessary travel, and only essential services operating. The notion isn’t that far-out either. 100 years ago, no one thought we could have 5 day work-weeks. Yet, here we are, in state where it is the norm now. 

Maybe this could be the measure we take for Earth Day to slow the rise of Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 6.33.29 PM

Please go this site to see the curve over 2 years and over 200  years Keeling Curve – Scripps UCSD

If you look at the extrapolated curve from the 1700’s, it has risen exponentially. It is probably too soon to see the effect of Covid-19 on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Could, Earth Month become the new normal for us. So children matter of factly accept that Earth Month as essentials month in the coming generations?

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