The Boat of Life

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The daughter piped up from behind:

“The cold never bothered me anyway…”


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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

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

Where To Go During The Third World War?

We had been to attend The Physics Show a few weeks ago. Living in an area housing the world’s most frightful technologists does that to you. One scientist tells his neighbor, who tells his friend, an engineer, who tells his friend, a Biochemist, and from there it passes on from one to another, all bound together by the loose brackets of a parent. Before long, there is a list of folks beating it up the hill to The Physics Show. If you peered closely at that hill, you would have seen me there with the daughter and some friends. I can’t fool the public into believing that the Opera and Broadway are competitors, but the general populace was surging to the show.

The Auditorium was atop a steep hill, and the populace was huffing and puffing like Po the Panda stopping for water breaks every now and then. I felt like I was on a strange padayatra (Journey by Foot) to see a Gingko Tree, growing amidst a grove of Japanese Cherry Blossoms, atop the Great Wall of China. The holy path only required one to sprinkle a few drops of the holy Ganga-jal along the way, to make the ritual complete.

Pada Yatra to see Gingko Tree amidst Grove of Japanese Cherry blossoms on the Great Wall of China
Pada Yatra to see Gingko Tree amidst Grove of Japanese Cherry blossoms on the Great Wall of China

The populace making their way up the hill were mostly enthusiastic folks of Asian descent: Parents of Chinese, Japanese & Indian descent with their reluctant progeny.

The show by itself was reasonably good. The scientists did their best to enthuse the children. “If you can’t have fun doing Physics, you can’t be having much fun doing anything!” they boomed on stage. All the parents laughed heartily and clapped at this, while the 5 year old boy sitting in front of me turned and stared at me as if asking, “Really?! You can laugh at this, but not at the Tom & Jerry show I was uprooted from for this lark?”. It looked to me like he was having a lot more fun ogling at these specimens who laughed for that joke, than anything else. I detected a judgmental gleam in his eye, and did my best to cope with it by ignoring him and enjoying the atmosphere instead.

I scanned the crowd to see the number of children in the 5-7 age group. There were even a few 4 year olds and I hoped they were taking one for the sibling and not because parents hoped that training started early.

The scientists talked about Electricity, Temperature and Atmospheric Pressure. But the best attempts to educate drew the biggest engagement when the team on the stage fried themselves deliberately or made their hair stand up. It was hilarious to see the hopeful expressions on the faces of the well-intentioned parents, while the children enjoyed the parts of the show that looked like circus performers out at tea-time.

A few days later, the daughter and I were out and about sauntering around the neighborhood. The waning summer had few butterflies and we made them proud by flitting from one topic to the next. We were talking about progress, science, the European refugee crisis, the recent fires, dodo bird extinctions and so on. The gentle Dodos helped me steer our conversation onto humans and humanity’s path and how our Scientific progress always has a good and a bad fallout. I told her about what Albert Einstein said, “The Fourth World War will be fought with sticks and stones!”.
I went on to tie the plight of the Syrian refugees to explain how civil unrest, war etc always lead to horrifying effects on people.

“So, Albert Einstein said that the Third World War will wipe out everything as we know it right? So, then we are okay isn’t it?” she asked, her face crinkled with worry.
“Alas! Even if it is a big bang annihilating life in the end, the hurtle towards that instant itself is a long and difficult journey involving much heartbreak and agony. It will be a long drawn out affair with millions of people losing their loved ones, suffering with injuries and wretched atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and anxiety.” I said. .

The daughter was quiet and somber. A rare occurrence.I did not relish this Doomsday Scenario either. We walked in silence for a minute.
“Well then the only way out is for people to go to Oregon then.” said she after a few moments in a final sort of voice..
“Eh?! You mean the state of Oregon?”
“Yes” she said. “Oregon – above California.”

God knows I have braved enough conversations, but this still had me stumped. “Why Oregon?”
“Well. Only there you can kill yourself legally, and put an end to misery right?” said the daughter.

Enlightenment dawned. A few days before this, we had been discussing the case of Brittany Maynard ( and we told her about Euthanasia and how it was legally allowed in the state of Oregon.

So, if ever there is a Third World War and a lot of people are suffering, you know where to go.

Glad to have that straightened out.