Mother’s Day in the Jungle

It’s Friday! It’s It’s It’s Friday!

I heard the son singing his Friday song. An infernal song with lyrics that are straight out of an album I know, but the rendition usually has joy in it, and that salvages it somewhat. I am partial to Friday mornings myself, but last week, I was simply unable to get out of bed even though I had something marvelous to look forward to. I know some folks who get up like an LED light: Zap to glory as soon as the switch is on.  How I envy these marvelous folks?! They light up at the crack of dawn and seem to bustle on. 

Self? I need a dragging to the watering hole, and steady nourishment to get to functioning state in a span of 2 hours. The husband gave me an amused look, and tried reviving the drooping shoulder with some coffee, but it wasn’t enough.

An hour later, I buzzed into the kitchen dancing and flitting like a hummingbird in spring. You see, I was invited to read my story, Mother’s Day in the Jungle, to the son’s elementary school classroom. 

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I love this one – It is a heartwarming story about the little animals in the forest getting together to prepare a mother’s day feast for their mothers. But one of them gets caught trying to pilfer sweet potatoes from Farmer Hasalot’s farm. 

At the end of the story, the children asked me questions, and I am always blown away by how much thought they put into these questions. I told them about how some parts of the story at least are inspired by elephants in the South Indian plains. They were curious to learn about elephant mothers and calves. They wanted to know about animal practices and whether the elephants or farmers were right, taking us beautifully into discussions on animal rights. 

As I read the story out to the children, it got me thinking of the many beautiful lessons of parenting that the animal kingdom shows us. So, that evening, I took off on a walk by the creekside. Watching the ducklings, and goslings take to the waters with their parents on either side is beautiful in spring. The birds flying home to their nests with the little ones waiting in nests is charming.

It is time to read Robert McCloskey’s adorable book. Make Way for the Ducklings

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What would we do without Mothers? 

Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful mothers out there. There are days when getting up is a chore, but days like this one with unexpected gifts make up for it, don’t they?

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.

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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When Autumn Feels Like Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales from a Village School – By Miss Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord of the Trees

I gazed out of the window feasting my eyes on The Lord of the Trees working hard so early in the morning. The trees went past their blooming-flowers phase to the sprouting-young-leaves phase in the past few weeks.

“How can anyone who has spent any time observing life like this, feel like not preserving it?” I asked. Us not looking after Earth well enough for future generations is a pet peeve that regular readers of this blog know.

“Because I don’t think people stand and gaze at squirrels like you do when one is already late for school in the morning”, came the crisp reply and I nodded sadly hastening to bustle about for the morning tasks.

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The squirrels have resumed lording about the trees like they own them, which I suppose they do, since they are in them so much. I see them lovingly scraping bark, and checking out the fruits . I fight a losing battle every year trying to save the fruits from them. Friends have suggested fruit nets, but I haven’t the heart. They are the ones that live there, and sometimes I like to think of them sunning themselves on the branches while I am in a drab looking conference room surrounded by tonnes of concrete to pay for the land that these trees rest on. I only wish they would eat the whole fruit before tossing them to the ground, or hiding them away somewhere for the Winter months.

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I cannot deny that it is nice to see the little creatures busy again. The winter months are a little slow for them: though they do not hibernate much (apparently, they do not have enough body fat to sustain them through long cycles of hibernation), they sleep a lot. I wonder how their burrows are, and whether they feel the difference between night and day when they emerge from their deep burrows into the spring time bursting with flowers, fresh leaves and the promise of fruit. 

A few days later, the son and I picked out a book in the library called Morris Mole by Dan Yaccarino that dealt with a similar subject. The book was about a mole who was a wee bit different from his brothers and sisters.

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Morris Mole – By Dan Yaccarino

One day when the moles ran out of food in the deep deep burrows, the eldest moles wanted to dig deeper down, but Morris had an idea that nobody listened to. So, he “dug deep down in himself and found courage”, to dig upwards.

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Morris Mole – By Dan Yaccarino

When he emerged into the spring time, he is enamoured and baffled by the big wide world up there. 

This world also offers him the rare gift of friendship with creatures unlike himself such as a fox. 

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Morris Mole – Dan Yaccarino

The book made me think of how some seemingly little occurrences and thoughts have the power of transformation in them. Would Morris Mole have discovered this wondrous world overhead if he had not paid heed to that little crazy idea and acted upon it?

A few days later, I stopped to observe a squirrel again. This time, it was sitting by the roadside, and sniffing a mustard yellow flowery plant with a contented look on its face. The photographers up at the National Geographic magazine would have been able to get a picture of just such a thing. As it turned out, by the time I fumbled in my pockets, and took out the phone, dropping the keys in the process and finding some tissue marring the phone screen, the squirrel scampered probably laughing to its burrow. But I have the image in my mental eye: I hope it will remind me to enjoy the present when plans shadow life, or life overwhelms reflection. 

All good things are wild and free – Henry David Thoreau

I wish we could all dig deep down inside us to find the determination to set aside some time to spend with living, growing things that are very different from ourselves – observe a bird sing, marvel at a squirrel on a tree, look at ants carrying food, watch a spider spinning a web, or feel the wind against our faces knowing that it just rustled that beautiful tree top nearby. Maybe that will open up a way of living that is much more rewarding and satisfying like the world Morris Mole found overground.

 

 

Live Like a Hibiscus Flower

It is the first day of Spring according to Google. We, of course, have been enjoying the excellent effects of spring and its bountiful air for the past few weeks. The robins are out, the blue thrush are cackling, the humming birds are as quick as they ever were and the squirrels are still bustling about looking busy and sincere. The cherry trees are in full bloom. For one to feel truly blessed, all one has to do is stand below a fully bloomed cherry tree when a squirrel is up there on its many branches tooting out something to nibble on. The little movements create a rush of movement and the cherry petals dislodge themselves from their fragile mooring to the flowers and float down, bathing you in a rush of happiness. One can squeal in happiness, but that would startle the sincere fellow doing you the favor of showering petals and scuttle away from the tree. It is all in good fun. 

Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossoms

One day, the toddler son and I went on a longish expedition instead of taking a walk down a well-beaten path. That was when we saw a Crane. There it was looking magnificent and pure white in its marsh and pecking at something. I have always wondered how it maintains its pure white coating. With all the excellent bleaches and cuff-n-collar liquids in the house, I can never really get white to remain white for very long. I suppose it requires a certain interest and dedication in that sort of thing. I am hopeless at it and the family is better off dressed in darker hues. Which is why I sat there gaping at the crane standing in the marsh looking pure white. Fantastic I tell you. Fantastic. I must take lessons in maintenance from it.

Crane Missing the Panda
Crane Missing the Panda

The son was obviously pipped too at seeing this beauty for he grabbed my arm and said that the Crane was missing the Panda. My mind swirled for a second to get its moorings, and then I laughed. You see, we have been watching the excellent Kung Fu Panda movies and short animation clips recently. Crane, Monkey, Tigress, Viper, Shifu, Mantis and Po are welcome visitors in our drawing room. We have all become great fans of the series and often remind ourselves to unleash our Inner Po and take life lightly, or learn to live like the Hibiscus flower. (The hibiscus flower only lasts for a day it seems, but in that time, not only does it live its life, it also ekes its happiness and cheer into the world around it.)

In short, we have been mooning around fields and traipsing up hills, creating those little bubbles of memory that we can throw our minds back to whenever we wish.

Whatever may be the circumstances, step out and take a deep breath. Maybe, you too can sigh like the toddler son and say, “Hmm…I am happy Amma!”

Happy Spring Everyone!