The Laughing Life

The son tumbled out of his room with yet another joke. His teachers apparently tell them a joke every now and then, and he repeats them to me if he finds them really funny, or remembers to. One of the many gifts of the Covid lifestyle are little snippets like this.

I stood there waiting and wondering what today’s j would be about.

“Why did the skeleton not go to the party?”

“I don’t know – because it had too many bones to pick?”

“Ha! Good one. But no.”

“Umm…don’t know. Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party?” I said a little impatience in the tone. I had to get to that next meeting.

“Because it had nobody to go with. Get it? Get it? No Body to go with?!”

I moaned and laughed at the same time. A lovely feeling of warmth spread through the being as I headed off. 

Later that day, I sat musing about humor and how marvelous a gift it is to humankind.

My Family and Other Animals is a marvelous book by Gerald Durrell. This book has the distinction of being the first book that I read belonging to the Humor genre. I remember it as though it was yesterday. Sitting in class 8-B, the sun was shining outside, there was a butterfly in the lawns outside, but our English teacher seemed to prefer the miracle of the written word to the fluttering butterflies outside. She put on her glasses and whipped the book out of her handbag in one elegant motion and said we were going to read the book.

My Family And Other Animals: See how the author makes you laugh when you read the title itself? she said. We must have looked like Canadian geese being tickled for the first time, for she proceeded to explain the humor in the title. I don’t know whether you have tried tickling a Canadian Goose. I haven’t, but I think they would react the same way. Stern looking creatures Canadian Geese.

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Anyway, I hope for my teacher’s sake that we loosened up as the reading progressed. But, now that I look back, it was one of the first books that made me look for humor in daily situations. Mark Twain – especially the little story of Tom Sawyer painting the wicket gate was another. Swami and Friends by R K Narayan was equally memorable. I remember reading somewhere that R K Narayan when asked about his inspiration for Malgudi – that eternally inviting town that beckons you every now and then, said, he just watched life pass him by and that was all there was to Malgudi.

Pickwick Papers was slow going initially, but the humor in the book was unmistakable. These are the times I am thankful for growing up in a pre-Internet, pre-on-demand television era. I might not have stuck with Pickwick Papers otherwise. 

The ultimate guide was of course P G Wodehouse. When in high school, I changed upon P G Wodehouse, I did not immediately appreciate it. It took a few readings, but oh! What a gift?! What a gift! 

The father, of course, was and remains a constant reminder to find joy in every day life. His jokes were not always appreciated by the mater, but he could take a the rough with the smooth. Life was funny, curious, interesting and not always serious if only we stopped to admire the humor in them. The husband, the daughter and the son all joined the bandwagon too. My Family and Other Animals was taking shape in the Nourish-N-Cherish household.

Where am I going with all of this?! Oh yes! The blog itself. Nourish & Cherish started as an act of whimsy 16 years ago. It is a place that I regularly choose to don the sunny side up mentality in life.  As I started to write down this little skeleton joke, I mused on the thousands of little jokes that did not make it to the blog. For of course, I am guilty of thinking about writing and reading about writing far more than writing itself. But I am glad for the ones that did make it.

In over 900 posts over the past 16 years, life has taught me time and again, that you can choose the sunny side up.

To infinity and beyond!

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)

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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 🙂

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Eye of the Pumpkin

“What?! Dancing in the kitchen?!”, said the son smiling his dignified smile of indulgence. “I haven’t seen you this happy for a long, long time!”
 
 
“Yes! I am dancing 💃 young man! You dance 💃 in the kitchen when you have a dignified President! You dance 💃 when a woman’s ambition is finally rewarded. You dance 💃 in the kitchen, you dance 💃 in the streets, you dance 💃 in the woods, you just dance 💃!” I said kicking my feet up in the air.
 
 
The men smiled at each other exchanging significant glances.
 
 
“We are going to throw the drishti pumpkin 🎃 out! Oooh yeah! ”
 
 
“What?!”
 
 
“Well!” I said, catching my breath after the dance💃 routine and proceeded to talk about pumpkins, evil eyes and the evil eyes of the pumpkin.
 
 
It isn’t uncommon to see a pumpkin out on the street: During Halloween, 🎃👻, in the United States, but anytime on the streets in India.
 
 
I remember being shocked the first time I saw a pumpkin being flung out on the streets as a young girl. I was less than a decade old, and had wrestled my little brother, and then out-debated him in a secret language to get to the window seat as we travelled from the Nilgiris to my grandmother’s village near Trichy. The entire 8 hour journey is a picturesque one. As the bus winds its way down the Nilgiris, and then slowly descends into the plains, the air gets warmer and warmer, and the scenery changes from misty hillsides to lush green plains with the final stretch of road between Karur & Trichy by the river Cauvery. For several hours, the trees on either side of the road tip their branches together and whisper little messages to each other across the road as the buses, trucks, jeeps, cars, motorcycles and cycles rustle by underneath trying to get a wisp of the whispers above. The river flows on murmuring at places, serenely flowing along at others, but always providing a pleasing backdrop to life in these South Indian plains. The little villages along the way, could be Malgudi, and just peeking out is enough to provide a R K Narayan-ish story.
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I was daydreaming in the bus looking out and imagining a myriad things when I saw a sizable pumpkin lying squashed outside a house. Coming from a family that frowned upon wasting food of any form, I wondered what they would say about this great waste of a large pumpkin?
 
 
It turns out, that certain pumpkins are meant to be thrown out. That particular pumpkin, I was surprised to learn, was there to ward off the evil eye, and needed to be thrown out. The ‘evil eye’ or drishti is one of those things of folklore in India. There are many rules, laws, workarounds and theories at work here – it is dubious, but entertaining nevertheless:
 

 

  • When something bad happens, it may be a good thing, for it offsets the evil eye.
  • When something good happens, then one must remember to throw out a pumpkin to ward off the evil eye. (#Prevention better than #1?!)
  • When nothing happens, you squash a lemon or a smaller pumpkin to ward off the evil eye that slowly accumulates – like dental plaque I suppose.
  • When lots of things happen at once, and one cannot figure out whether it is good or bad, you trash a pumpkin just in case.

 

Now, many times in the past few years, I have referenced the pumpkin used to ward off the evil eye. If the United States has spent so much time being the world leader, championing climate change, leading scientific research and helping democracy thrive in different parts of the world, it must’ve accumulated oodles of drishti mustn’t it? When the 45th President, Donald Trump won in 2016, I cried. I cried not because I am particularly close to any policies or any such thing. But because such a great country would elect a boorish bumpkin like Donald Trump: a man hellbent on thwarting democracy.

 
 
This must be our drishti, I thought. Well, how does one know that? Refer to rule #1.
 
“The gods grow jealous of too much contentment anywhere, and they show their displeasure all of a sudden.”
― R.K. Narayan, Malgudi Days
 
 
Today, it is time to throw the drishti pumpkins, carved with those evil eyes, out.
 
 
Today, it is time to dance 💃 like no one is watching for the whole world is watching us reclaim our dignity.
 
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Continue reading “Eye of the Pumpkin”

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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Do-Nothing Cooking

It was a mild and breezy week-end morning. “Yeah! We are going to work in the garden today! In the garden! In the garden!” I heard the song gain in strength as the gardeners thumped upstairs. “Get up amma!”, they called. I was lingering on in bed, savoring the warmth of the summer quilt.

“What is this?” I asked a little later. The husband was back from somewhere brandishing several sinusoidal wave-like sticks of blue. Could they be fancy walking sticks?

“No – silly. These are for the tomatoes.”

“Yes – don’t you want large tomatoes from the plants? Look, they are already sagging outside.”, said the father-in-law pointing to his pride and joy in the garden. “The rasam can be even tastier with these tomatoes.”, he said with a sly grin on his face.

“Can you make rasam without tomatoes? I just don’t like tomatoes but I like the rasam otherwise.” said the daughter.

This I-Don’t-Like-Tomatoes theme was getting a bit tiring. I rolled my eyes, and stamped my foot in exasperation. “I do not know how to make tomato rasam without tomatoes! Let me know when you make it. ”

“Okay okay! Sheesh kababs! No need to get all cranky if you don’t know how to cook something.” she said and made off to the garden dragging her little brother with her to help her grandfather.

“Make rasam without tomatoes indeed!” I muttered to myself as I gathered the garlic, cumin, pepper, tamarind and tomatoes for rasam. Once the rasam was comfortably simmering, I went back and forth from the kitchen to the garden. Every now and then I was beset upon to give directions and suggestions for the garden. I asked for an old rose plant and the star jasmine creeper to be pruned.

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“But they are poonchedis ” said the father-in-law reluctant to cut flowering plants. South Indians have this strange, but endearing affection with flowering plants. I assured him pruning was good.

The children were busy discussing how to plant the other little flowers and herbs in the garden. The son was looking mighty impressed with himself for he was patted with admiration by his elder sister on the gardening tip he had provided.

“If you put a garlic in the herb garden, then nothing will happen – you know? Nothing. Yes. Ms Lara told us that. No insects will come.”

“Really? We can do that.”

“What?! Do we have garlic in the house? I didn’t know that!”

“Of course we have garlic in the house! How else do you think we can do any Indian cooking you little diddle gump?”, said the chef, who wanted to make tomato rasam without tomatoes.

The little brother was suitably impressed and a few frozen cloves of garlic made its way to the patch containing the Thai basil leaves.

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I looked at the father-in-law. He was tackling the unruly star jasmine creeper with energy. The jasmine had crept up the adjoining fir and cherry trees and was busy making its way past the garden fence. I saw the intense concentration on his face, and surveyed the garden. He must have taken lessons from the barber in the best army in a past life, for the trees had an efficient crewcut demeanor when he was done with them.

The whole scene reminded me of a short story, Annamalai, by R.K.Narayan in The Grandmother’s Tales. The story is about a gardener who had stopped on with him. The gardeners horticultural knowledge and classifications are simple. All flowering plants were ‘poonchedis’ while non-flowering plants were ‘not poonchedis’. The story writes of his taking charge of the garden and how sometimes he would go on a rampage and prune everything in sight, and the garden wore a threadbare, forlorn look for a few days afterward. At other times, he let things be, and the garden flourished anyway. It is a beautiful story that transports you to a little garden in South India almost instantly.

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I smiled thinking of the story. My horticultural knowledge is as woeful as that gardener’s, and my father-in-law’s botanical classification was equally simple. However, I hope our garden too thrives. Maybe we will become the best advocates of the Do-Nothing farming that Farmer Fukuoka speaks so highly of in the Biomimicry book by Janine Benyus.

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Quote from Biomimicry book:

A young man named Masonobu Fukuouka took a walk that would change his life. As he strolled along a rural road, he spotted a rice plant in a ditch, a volunteer growing not from a clean slate of soil but from a tangle of fallen rice stalks.

This proved an inspiration for the young boy : how a grain thrived without the need for coddling and soaking in water canals and so on.

Over the years Fukuoka would turn this secret into a system called Do-Nothing farming because it requires almost no labor on his part and yet his yields are among the highest in Japan. His recipe, fine tuned through trial and error, mimics nature’s trick of succession and soil covering . “It took me 30 years to develop such simplicity” says Fukuoka.

Instead of working harder, he whittled away unnecessary agricultural practices one by one, asking what he could stop doing rather than what he could do.

A sizzling sound alerted me to the rasam simmering over its sides. I charged into the kitchen wondering how to better the Do-Nothing cooking technique.

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