Rajma on Titan or Mars

“Yeah! Rajma!” The little fellow slurped in mock exaggeration throwing his hands up into the air. I smiled. I wondered yet again how genetics seems to work in odd ways. My brother as a child had the same expression or at least sentiment every time rajma was made. How could my children who are growing up on the opposite side of the earth from my rajma-loving brother have the same expressions of delight and exaggerated lip-smacking responses to this simple dish?

I can hear my brother mimicking Tamil movie comedians and saying,  “அனுபவிக்கனும் ஆராய கூடாது”. Loosely translated, this means, it is better to not analyze these things too much, but just enjoy them.

I turned the little red kidney beans over in my hands, and in a moment of impulse planted a few of them into the soil in a little pot where the winter colds had stripped the plants bare. 

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I started the year reading The Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan. Much of Carl Sagan’s writing celebrates the accident of life on this beautiful planet, and how incredibly lucky we are to be blessed with sentience to try and make sense of it all.

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by [Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan]

A sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. It is one of the reasons I love Thanksgiving and Pongal or Makara Sankranthi. The fact that we actually set aside our myriad problems to take a moment to express gratitude to the cosmos and this planet for nurturing life is special enough, but this year it feels extra special and even necessary. The planet has united human destiny with a virus, reminded us of the pettiness of grandiose ambition, and helped us appreciate the delights of the ordinary. No small feat. 

In the book, Carl Sagan talks at length about what all can revealed about a celestial object by a mere photograph. Our own pale blue dot – the picture of Earth he says can actually reveal existence of life on this planet. The combination of gases in the atmosphere, not to mention the presence of methane in the atmosphere. However, in the very next chapter, he examines the methane in Titan ( one of the moons of Saturn), and quickly debunks existence of life there as yet because of the temperatures and the concentration of the gas. However, he still holds out on its potential :  the moon has the conditions necessary for the accident of life to happen at some point in the future. 

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As he painstakingly examines one world after another, there is so much to marvel at, and also appreciate the only home known to our particular kind of life. There is nothing as yet discovered that can harbor our particular chemical compositions, our requirements for this particular combination of atmosphere, water and foliage. 

For all the marvels we surround ourselves with I still think the joy of seeing things sprout from a seed into a plant has to be the most wondrous of all. Every time I walk in a forest or a meadow, I wonder how many seedlings lie around us, waiting to take that leap into their chance of life. 

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I walk around my little strip of a garden that has been kindly putting up with my well-intentioned, but often laughable, attempts at horticulture. I stand marveling at the tulip bulbs shooting up through the soil. This year’s rains have been woefully low, and I hope it changes for I know what it portends for a fire season later in the year. 

A few days ago, I went to water the potted plants and I cannot tell you the joy of seeing little kidney bean plants sprouting up. To think of all that wondrous work happening quietly in the soil while we spend our days with our concerns of our human imprints on this one tiny planet of ours is truly humbling. This is the real work isn’t it? 

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“So can we really eat the rajma beans now?” Asked the son, his eyes gleaming with excitement. I found, I didn’t know the answer. How does one transform legumes to rajma beans that little fellows in kitchens go on to associate with warmth and love? 

I fumbled and told the little fellow honestly that I didn’t know, but that we’d find out together. We will spend a pleasurable evening looking through the process of legumes to kidney beans. Whether Mars or Titan ever gets to growing rajma beans, we do not know, but I did promise him a dish of rajma from our very own plants. I think my brother would give his approving nod half an earth away. 

Soothe The Dragon and Make a Cat

“How come this year has so many festivals? It wasn’t like this last year! Or any of the other years!”, said the daughter looking painfully at the feast laid out on her plate. “This is like those stories of feasts thaatha used to tell us about!”

I thought I had written about those feasts before, but it looks like I have not yet published them on the blog. Will do so soon.

“Well..the festivals were there. I just wasn’t bothered to celebrate them all. Too much work you know. Plus when your grandmothers were here, they took care of most of these things on the day the festival actually fell, so you probably did not see them huffin and puffin in the kitchen. Some of these things you would only see the special things to eat in the evenings.”

With Covid days here, life seems to have slowed down enough for me to take the pains to cook a decent feast every now and then. Though my cooking is not facebook-worthy, by my standards, it is much more than usual, and it has the daughter worried. 

Not cooking for the daughter is truly rewarding. Tell her to make do with a slice of bread that day, and she beams happily, saying she loves special days like this. Every time the husband was out on his travels, we would plan these special days and revel in clean kitchens and munch through biscuits and buttered toasts to our hearts’ content. The husband belongs to the unfortunate clan that thinks bread-and-butter dinners are meals for those convalescing in bed. Thanks to this attitude towards bread, simple buttered toasts have come to acquire an altogether special place in our hearts over the years.

Anyway, our stomachs are not accustomed to platefuls and after this meal, I set out on a small walk. The heat waves had subsided somewhat that day before they angrily rose again this week-end. Several of the areas cats were resting I noticed. I passed a fat cat napping on the roof, and it deigned to open half an eyelid to see if I was worth its notice. Considering I was not, it stretched a little and rolled over looking happy and content. I could not blame it. In fact, if actions could inspire, that cat certainly was inspiring.  No speeches like Martin LutherKing for yours truly, a cat napping was enough, I thought wryly to myself. Maybe all we need to spread world peace is to have peaceful looking folks meditating happily under trees.

Buddha's disciples
Buddha’s disciples

I walked on and noticed scurrying everywhere. The squirrels seemed to be extra active at this time of day. Seeing the cats all enjoying a nap and resting, this seemed like a highly prudent approach, and I sat on a tree stump admiring the activity around me. A gentle breeze stirred and my own platefuls nudged me into aspiring for greater things like the napping cat had shown me.

I came home, and headed up for what my father’s side of the family called , “Shhrama Pariharam” (translated loosely to mean a rest after tough experiences with a touch of a sacrificial air to it) . They would tuck into their feasts that our aunts had whipped up, and retire to snooze it off in the cool thinnai (a breezy verandah) outside.

When last we cousins met up, we doubled up laughing about this, but I found that this was the only thing to do after a meal of ½ * (Onam Sadya ) standards.

I must say the nap proved to be every bit as satisfying as I had imagined. The cool breeze of the fan was there in the room, and the carbohydrates were sedating like nobody’s business. The cells tried to wake up, and then gave it up as a bad job. I had a marvelous nap, followed by a crisp cup of tea and was reminded once more of the simple pleasures of life as it should be.

I think feastly meals are ghastly beasts and after every meal like that a nap makes us sharper and better human beings. It soothes the dragon inside and makes a cat out of you.

“It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon it says, “Work!” After beefsteak and porter, it says, “Sleep!” After a cup of tea (two spoonfuls for each cup, and don’t let it stand for more than three minutes), it says to the brain, “Now rise, and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature, and into life: spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!” 
― Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat