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. 

573252dd-bd39-49aa-bedf-4b94622d146a

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.

img_9256

“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…”

“What?”

“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.

The Kaleidoscope of Life on Earth 🌏

“Hmm…how Covid has changed things right Amma?” said the daughter when I walked into her room one day, and spotted ‘Greece’ sprawled across the whiteboard. She has been spending her summer making minor changes to the decorations in her room. As most teens do, she has a fond attraction to her room, and one day I found her looking at the pictures she had printed out to make a sort of picture collage. Her teenage eye-roll and monosyllabic answers fell away as soon as I showed an interest in the choice of pictures she had laid out on the floor arranging and rearranging them to see the best patterns.

How do you see the best patterns in a kaleidoscope? Everything seems beautiful, everything seems fine, and yet the artistic piece of her fussed with the layout and order of the pictures. There were pictures of happy people, little cafes, books, beaches, forests, city lights, quotations, rainbows, flowers, and small towns. The collage was eclectic enough to interest me. She gurgled and burst forth with the thought that went into them. I listened amused. 

By then, her excited voice had attracted her little brother and fond father into the room. Her brother painstakingly wrote ‘Mars’ below ‘Greece’.

“Mars! Seriously dude- next thing we know you will be lugging us into black holes and having us all burst into all the tiny starry bits like your Avengers or Star Wars superhero dudes in their adventures! No! No space travel!”

“Just yet”. I added and she gave me a look that indicated that this idiocy with space is because I indulge him with this stuff. I laughed out loud, and the children joined in too.

“And while we are at it,  no fictional or mythical places either. Only places that we can locate on a known map of the world.”

“Sheesh – she is so strict!” said the young explorer of the cosmos.

Travel_dreams

Cautiously, like deer in a prairie, we approached the topic of places we’d like to visit, ready to scurry back to Covid restrictions. Slowly, the name scrawled on a whiteboard set the stage. In the safe company of just the four of us, it felt good to take a peek into travel dreams again. It was done at first soberly – how happily we had taken international travel for granted? How happily we had taken good health for granted? Disconcerting as the Covid situation has been, it has also made us sit up and take notice of the beautiful things surrounding us on Earth. 

Once we started talking of lands beyond our day-to-day, a different energy gripped the room. Within moments, distances melted away, and the globe-trotters threw names on the board with no thought to distance or expense. Exactly how dreams should be.

Looking at the list on the board reminded us, however, that our lifetimes were not enough for this sort of ambition. How does one fit in a hike in the Himalayas for a zen feel, with a sort of Darwin-esque trip to the Galapagos? How can one fit the journey of civilization in Greece and Peru, to the pure sounds of nature as yet untouched by mankind? I suppose travel still has a lot to teach us, and post-covid, the world will start to cautiously explore once more.

We started, therefore, with a couple of day trips taken mostly on a week-day taken off from work, so we could avoid crowds. We looked for wide trails on which to get our dose of nature and exercise in. While for the first time thinking of a 2-3 day trip, we looked for godforsaken places. Places people do not usually go to for a vacation. But the house was a good one, pitched atop a hill with the nearest neighbor miles away. There was a  Jane Austen-esque feel to the whole thing. It reminded me of the poem by Wendell Berry: The Beauty of Wild Things.

On Being: The Beauty of Wild Things – By Wendell Berry

I set about the evening meal after the long drive there, while the children ran to find board games to be played that night. I cradled a cup of tea in my hands, as I set the water to boil, and rummaged the contents I had packed with me so as to minimize exposure to the outside world.  Slowly, the kitchen’s essence wafted around the room – smells, heat, textures all dancing together in an exquisite symphony of the senses. A symphony was playing as I cooked, and talked to the children. Here was a lively room packed with energy, activity, witty comments, and chaos that strangely translates to calm.

Inside this house overlooking a river valley, I felt the kaleidoscope of our life on Earth lap at me in waves. Watching the objects in the room around me evoked a strange sense of living  on this earth: the telescope, the books ,the music, the keyboard that promises the best music to those willing to invest in it, the creature comforts of a well-built house with the furnishings about us, the deer grazing in the hillside by us, the beautiful moon, the thousands of stars visible because of the distance from populated areas.

Life_On_Earth

The Peace of Wild Things: By Wendell Berry

I come into the peace of wild things

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.

The daughter’s pictures had indeed done a good job of capturing life on earth.

To Nourish & To Cherish

This May marks 15 years of nourish-ing &  cherish-ing. I started the blog out as a sort of a personal journal with embarrassingly personal posts. But over time, the journal took on a life of its own. It has helped me find my voice, helped me resoundingly answer the question, “What is your friend?“, and has definitely played an outsize role in the family joke circles.

My family and friends have been marvelously sportive about starring in the posts, reading them and encouraging me. Over time, the nourisher became the cherisher, and vice-versa. Fiascos were looked on with amusement knowing it will take on a life of its own and pave  the way for amusement. Travelogues are interwoven with family  drama, and it makes it all the more memorable.

When I am out in nature stopping to admire the butterflies flit between flowers, 🌺 🌸 , I think of how I would capture these beautiful images in the one place I nourish and cherish. I have a phone filled with images of family, friends, travel destinations jostling along side the everyday wonders of sunsets, lakes, rivers, butterflies, mountainsides, grasses, flowers and trees, and still the photographs seem to lack a narrative. A narrative that words round out.

“To walk on Earth and fall in love with it. “, as Mary Olivers would say.

When I am reading books, I stop and wonder about particularly  well written passages. Books take us on incredible journeys and some of them, I manage to write down to nourish later on. Some books open my mind in ways I did not imagine possible, some others reiterate what I had nebulously known, while some others do the most marvelous job of soothing and calming the mind. For every article I do write related to books, there are probably 15 others that I didn’t get to finish writing.

cropped-reading_wordpress

A friend of mine once asked me how I stumbled upon writing as a passion, and I found to my surprise that I had no clear answer. I remember a marvelous childhood filled to the brim with absolutely stunning and inspirational personalities, joyous friends, beautiful nature, dance, music, reading and writing complete with toppings of marvelous reveries and journeys into the make believe worlds. But somewhere in my early twenties I lost touch with it all. I meandered in the corporate world spending almost all my waking hours pursuing work and my part-time post graduate degree simultaneously. What time I had for reading was dedicated to academic work, and all other times were dedicated to learning and unlearning technologies to continue work.

Shoshin was in short supply.

Life in the meanwhile had brought me to the shores of the United States, opening a whole new world of possibilities. When I became a mother, something beautiful happened. I came in contact with the marvelous feeling of youth. Being an immigrant, the children’s books were all new to me, and with the children, I read and devoured books alongside them, reminding me of Kenneth Grahame’s note on the Wind in the Willows.

“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”

With all the supposed ‘achievement’ of being in the big world, there was a niggling dissatisfaction though. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was missing my link to Art. When eventually, I stumbled back to Art forms, albeit in a much reduced fashion, I started feeling whole again.

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.” – Mary Oliver

My hope and wish is for everyone to nourish and cherish their own creative powers to the extent possible.

 

Candles in the Dark

I remember talking to a man who was our van driver in the Yucatan peninsula. His theories were astounding, and he seemed to have scoured the internet for the plausible and marvelous, completely ruling out the possibilities of evolution and what science proved to us. He was obviously a man whose love for the marvelous made him an interesting story-teller, and was probably well-received  at parties.

Here is a clip from his conversation:
’Ah! Evolution. I don’t believe in evolution as a theory. I have a theory’, said the van driver. ‘My theory is that aliens are responsible for life on earth. I think that the aliens had tried to see if life can flourish on Earth with dinosaurs.’
Four second pause.
‘And then they found them too big. The dinosaurs were too big, you know? I think that the asteroid that hit the Earth was nothing but a nuclear bomb sent by aliens. You see it all the time, don’t you?’

‘Eh… What do I see all the time?’ I asked. I have to come clean and admit that I don’t see dinosaurs all the time. Or aliens if you come to think of it, and definitely hope not to see nuclear bombs sent by the unseen aliens to hit the now extinct dinosaurs. I like a quiet life.

aliens_theory

I felt sorry for the man. His mind was after all curious, and he was obviously in awe of the marvelous. He wanted to know what happened to the dinosaurs, he wanted to know how we came to be. A Science education, half-heartedly imparted in the faraway days of his youth were hardly enough for him to find and keep the wonder in Science. Moreover, Science was a demanding master. Every hypothesis required proofs, validation by peers. It all proved too much for the man. He was happy enough believing that an alien race came and bombarded Earth with their nuclear missiles when they felt dinosaurs were of no use to them. We could do the same to another planet, couldn’t we?

I am currently reading Science as a Candle in the Dark – In a Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan.

In his usual manner Carl Sagan had hit the problem on its head:
We have arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements – transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting – profoundly  depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster.  ”

I found myself nodding along as I read: One the one hand, while we know about Machine Learning and how it is used to change our ways  of life, we do not always understand all the variables involved and how each value affects the outcomes. We do not really know the chemistry behind the medicines we take and why they work  on our biological systems, and so much more.

On the other hand, somebody had shared yet another spurious discourse given by a religious figure. This time, the man spoke glibly – his half baked theories about the nature of the Universe had his audience enthralled. The man spluttered forth a jumble of high-sounding words, and the audience cheered and applauded.

Again, the audience was looking for nothing more than understanding a complex world. A world made more complex everyday with our technologies and applications.

The truth is the world is a complicated place. Grants determine research, enabling rich businesses and corporations to drive and set the tone for research (Remember the studies where the Sugar industry completely misguided the population by funding research related to Fats instead? ) Big money corporations also have the ability to have their own research facilities, and they are not always going to watch out for the common man. (Privacy concerns by Ethicist Tristan Harris – the  former employee at Google)

More than ever, we need to find a way to incorporate Science as a way of life, and equip ourselves with Baloney Detection Kits as Carl Sagan named them. We need to enlighten ourselves – maybe light ourselves a candle in the dark.

Books: Science  as a Candle in the Dark – Demon Haunted  World – By  Carl Sagan

 

The Wonder Formula

Someone told me once that we lose the joy and wonder in things as we knew more and more about how things work. If we knew the conditions were right for a rainbow to form, or the planets will shine in the evening skies brighter than usual, we seem to expect them, and then lost the magic of it all.

I have pondered on that often – could adding a pleasurable anticipation make up for the lost serendipity? As we watch the bleak skies of the winter, we can wait and feel the weight of the buds in the spring snowflake 🌱 plants, or watch the tulips bulbs shoot up from the Earth admiring their sense of timing, can’t we?.

While, waiting for the rains to subside, we can nurse a secret longing for a rainbow – I know I do.

Aside from all else, what isn’t lovely about a World that has rainbows? Maybe on other planets, with different atmospheric makeups than our own, rainbows themselves manifest differently or not at all, but it is comforting to know the colors of the rainbow and their perfect arc will be this way on this Earth as long as the suns rays can diffract the light in the moisture laden droplets.

img_6569

One day during the Winter holidays, I got to sit in a beach. It being the rainy season, there weren’t as many people around. There were a few beach lovers, so we curled up our beach towels and all set to greet the noisy seagulls. There I sat watching the Atlantic ocean with my umbrella open, sitting on a Mickey Mouse towel with a book in hand.

It was a few minutes afterward that we discerned the rainbow forming in the sky. How marvelous and wondrous an experience to watch the rainbow go from a faint smearing of smudged colors as though making up its mind whether to come out in all its glory or not; and then watch a colorful, bright rainbow full of the conviction of Being play on the horizon. The son came running across from where he was playing, flush with excitement pointing at the rainbow -🌈 “I knew it will come now.”

Sometimes, I wonder why we cannot be like children. Even though, they know the hows and whys behind things, they still retain Shoshin: the Zen concept of wonder as in a beginner’s mind. I smiled and patted him to sit next to me and take in the rainbow 🌈 with me.

After a while, he went back to playing in the ocean waves with his sister. I sat there, nourishing my musings with whimsy. I remembered some drawings of the daughter when she was much younger. Dolphins leapt out of the seas, with a rainbow arc-ed beautifully around them. Of course, children imagine the best possible things together – there isn’t any dearth or rationing in their imaginary worlds, is there?

Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.” as Anne of Green Gables would say.

The dolphins may get to see rainbows, but the fish do not. But maybe their world is marvelous enough with a thousand prickling and tricks of light that the water medium presents to them.

Musing in a world of rainbows is nothing short of magical even if I do know the concept of light refracting and producing the colors of a rainbow. My heart still lifts.

I had been traveling during the past few weeks. One such time on my sojourns, I left my home amidst brown hills. The summer sun had toasted the hillsides, and I yearned for a little respite to the eyes. In the two weeks that I was out, the rains had lashed the area liberally, and when I came back, the hillsides had turned a marvelous green. The rolling hills lifted their misty veils every morning, and I felt my heart pound with the magic of it all. Yes, I knew the rains make the grass grow, but the transformation is still a miracle that my heart waits for every year.

When I watch the dew drops glisten on the spring snowflakes,
When I watch the rainbow makes up its mind and throw itself like a garland across the skies
When I watch the eight-legged marvels creations catch in the sunset
When I watch the waves lap and play with the sandpipers

I feel hope stir in the spirits
I feel decisive and conviction in Being
I feel solitude’s gift can be tangible and needs to be nurtured for its fragile state
I feel engaged with the planet and all its gifts

I recently read a book bySasha Sagan, that is full of the joy of being. Titled: For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, the book immediately caught my attention and I savored its many truths and facts about our rituals and festivals – the meaning behind life’s celebrations.

“My parents taught me that the provable, tangible, verifiable things were sacred, that sometimes the most astonishing ideas are clearly profound, but when they get labeled as “facts”, we lose sight of their beauty. It doesn’t have to be this way. Science is the source of so much insight worthy of ecstatic celebration.” – Sasha Sagan

sasha_sagan

I was also reminded of Richard Feynman’s meditations on 🌺 flowers.

Ode to a Flower – By Richard Feynman.

There is beauty in knowledge, and wonder in anticipation. We just need a formula linking the two now.

I call it Tao

I lowered the tired frame gingerly onto the mattress. The once firm mattress sagged a little, and I felt the springs creak, as though mattresses moaned. The senses were feeling somewhat overwhelmed. It is often the case after a long day amidst crowds, and cacophonous sounds. Crowded airports, train stations, bus stations can all bring the feelings to a head.

After a couple of weeks of continuous travel, I felt unmoored from the Earth. I had been flying a lot: both for long hours and frequently. I felt euphoric amidst the clouds, but yearned to stretch my legs and feel that solid connection to the Earth.

My steps on Mother Earth between my travels gave me a rushed feeling as well. Asian cities are crowded, and I lacked the narrative of control in my feet. I shuffled along with the crowds to make it in and out of places. I was being harried and jostled to a particular direction. I needed to slow down, to take it all in at my own pace, in solitude. Maybe speed isn’t a good thing, and bullock carts were better off.

I don’t know how our ancestors felt after traveling a few days by horseback or bullock carts to neighboring villages. At first, I started my musings on the travels in time assuming simpler times and less problems, but my pragmatic side took over: If all our modern methods of comfortable travel still pounded the muscles and energies out of our system, how must rudimentary modes of travel have felt on their poor frames? After their tiring journeys, there were no instant methods of heating water, drinking tea, or cooking a meal after all. If the humans felt that way, how did the bulls and horses feel?

tring-tring

No, maybe we all have bodies that need rest regardless of bullock carts or airplanes.

This is where I rewind to the place in the narrative where I lowered the t.frame gingerly onto the mattress. The m sagged and springs creaked, thoughts swirled. You get the picture.

I tried to calm the senses enough to sleep, but it was uphill work. I tried visualizing the misty mountain tops that I love hiking in. I tried imagining the body after a good hike amidst the mountains, but found I just could not! It was then that I surrendered to the written word with a deep breath.

In the Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen was on a journey to find snow leopards in the upper reaches of the Himalayas. Journeying into the heartlands of Tibet’s Dolpo valley, and possibly an inner journey much richer. The author was discovering the meaning of being present. He was walking a high cliff and looking down upon a distant meadow with goats grazing. The cliffs on either side of him a constant reminder that unless his entire being was concentrated on being there, he would not. There was a moment of clarity he says, when he realized that he would never set foot on that distant valley in this lifetime, and not be amidst the same goats in that distant wanderland ever. But he was given the opportunity of being there on that ledge-like cliff at that moment, and he took it.

snow_leopard

Of course, I realize I am doing a poor job of both my explanations and interpretations of the passage. (I was too tired at the time to jot down the passage for reference), but that was a clairvoyant moment for me. In one sentence, in one breath, I felt space both in me, and around me. I was in a cramped city with no parks or beautiful walkways nearby, but I was transported to the clear mountain ledge atop the Himalayas. Maybe we all have such moments of clarity, and appreciate them. Or the moments themselves vaporize and there is a vague feeling of contentment, I do not know.

I felt one such moment when I came home, and was standing in my backyard. Winter had come in, the leaves had all been stripped bare from the trees, and the wet earth squelched as I walked gingerly on it. There, in the glorious peek of the sun’s rays, I felt a moment of grounding, a moment so profound that I can visualize it now. The suns rays caught on the rain drops in a spider web that was gently swaying to the winds. The work of one creature that did its work in solitude, with perfection, and at its own pace. Though the web itself was spun well above the ground, it held against the branches of the trees, on a planet spinning very fast in its cosmic journey with the Universe.

mars_watching

I remembered this passage from the book then:
“Before heaven and earth
There was something nebulous
     silent isolated
     unchanging and alone
     eternal
     the mother of all things
I do not know its name
I call it Tao

The Dream Weavers Web

It had been a few years since we had taken the magical pill. When the daughter was younger, she was enamored with Disney movies, was obsessed with unicorns and mermaids (the mermaids still hold sway), but the general euphoria with Disney has come down somewhat, or so we thought. It turns out, magic may be dormant, but thankfully not absent. When those Mickey ears came on, so did the smiles, the magic, the ridiculous mixed with the plausible, the tales with long tails, the myths and legends, everything came bubbling up in one hot cauldron full of fun and adventure.

I must say I was thrilled too. The day to day living tends to routinely pound magic out of us unless we make a concerted effort to keep it. The schools manage to do so for the children. There are Dr Seuss weeks, there are Read-a-thons, crazy hair days and crazed sock days to keep it all intact. But as the business of earning a living and adult hood takes on, there is a brush working in the background to make us more even keel, more predictable and less whimsical.

Reading children’s books keeps it for us in some ways.

I had expected to have a good time at Disneyland. I manage to put my whimsies on with a delight, and get the children going too. So far so good. But there are serendipitous surprises lurking even in the most magical of places. The Disney World in Florida was even better than I had expected. There was Animal Kingdom, in which I expected plastic hippos and lions made to scale. Consider my surprise then when we went on the Kilimanjaro safari to be taken into the hinterlands with animals in relatively free reign. It is marvelous to see a bloat of hippos, a tower of giraffes, a something of warthogs, and a blush of pelicans roaming freely. When a white horned rhino waddled across our path, we simply waited for it to move quietly. Even the children, though looking awed, did not utter a sound. There is majesty in nature.

One of the best surprises for me was the onus on conservation of our beautiful planet for the years to come. There were green houses showing us the marvels and possibilities of vertical farming. It was apparent to those of us floating in the boats by the lazy river taking us through these green houses, that many of us had never seen plants of many vegetables and fruits before. One excited child pointed to an eggplant plant, and squealed – “Look the eggplants are hanging from them!” I could see it was a beautiful revelation for the child who had simply assumed you picked it up in the grocery aisles of the supermarket, while making a passionate case for a Hot Wheels toy car at the billing counter.

Saturated with the magic of life on this beautiful planet, we spent a day amidst the shots to space. Kennedy Space Center. The past merged with the magic of fairy-tales, the present beautifully thrumming with possibilities for conservation and conversation, and the future hits among the stars. Looking for possible planets for us to expand into.

It is marvelous to see we are on the cusp of a decade that holds so much promise. For among the young I saw in the parks, there will be quite a few starting their careers in the coming decade.

IMG-6125

The whole time, I was absorbing the atmosphere around me, little words were forming themselves into sentences. I was making my journey on the river of time and I was grateful for so many things. Some good sentences disappeared because I had not written them down, but I didn’t fret. It is often like this – playing with the words to relive my experiences.

Imagine how I felt then, when I read Ursula Le Guin’s essay on Writing. I felt the sage author’s words like balm, and nodded along. Writers are creators, but unlike potters and weavers, our products are less tangible. Our dreams are webs weaved in the magical recesses of the brain, and not all of it worth reading or sharing.

“Writing is a risky business. No guarantees. You have to take the chance. I’m happy to take it. I love taking it. So, my stuff gets misread, misunderstood, misinterpreted, – so what? If its the real stuff, it will survive almost any other abuse other than being ignored, disappeared, not read.”

When I read this piece in the essay though, I was grateful. I have written 800 posts over the past 14 years, and I would never have done that if not for the encouragement I have received from my dear friends and readers. It is magical. Encouragement like Love, is so fuzzy a thing to try to describe. For both the forces have the power to gently nurture, nudge, and poise for acceptance.

Thank you for all of that. Let the magical dreams weave on in the coming decade as well. Happy New Year and Happy New Decade – May the River of Time course on gently.

The Chrysalis of Clouds

Long flights are a time for introspection and solitude. Maybe given how little I get of this precious time unconnected, and alone, I am doubly appreciative of these spots of solitude gifted to me.

It is strange to think I am surrounded by sentient beings on a flight amidst the clouds. It was cramped being surrounded by people, but yet, free enough to let my fancies roam the beautiful worlds outside. The stars that I stare at from down below seem closer, and more familiar without the forms of the lit urban landscape to obscure the view.

Squinting into the night, it is faintly possible to remember a world swirling below and worlds swirling all around us, and worlds in which our problems are just that – fleeting wisps of cloud.

It is also rarely that I get to indulge in the beautiful meditations afforded by looking out the window. The tinkling lights of spots of civilization below make me think of how our problems look from above. I can think benignly of mankind just as I can do so when I am atop a mountain looking down at our lives.

img_5571

The rain bearing clouds were floating heavily as I surveyed them longingly from the airplane window. There is a strange uplifting feeling in being up among the clouds. When you are up there for hours together just quietly admiring the clouds, and the various lights that illumine them, there is cosmic beauty there. A calm beauty that words cannot do justice to. The idea of a soaring high atop a large thrumming bird watching the moonbeams light up the clouds is magical.

Watching the sun rise from above the clouds is even more magical. The transformation between dusk to night and from night to dawn is amazing. When on a long flight like that, it is doubly interesting to note that it is hard to imagine trees among the clouds. There is just a white/grey world tinged with silver, gold, yellow and orange against a black or blue sky. Where are the greens and purples that the eyes yearn for up there?

img_5532-effects

Flying among the clouds, there was a strange sense of being transient. Aren’t we all transient beings, here among the clouds for a while? This world. While it feels beautiful to experience this fleeting sensation, it is also bourne upon us about the fragility of our beings. We are in pressure controlled vessels , being looked after by flight attendants with food and drink that our peculiar palates can accept.

As the flight announcements came on about our landing, I felt an unease. A return from the lands of fancy above to one tinged with reality. Was this how adventurers felt? Maybe it was because of the chapter I was reading in The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen as he wraps up his 6 month trek in the Tibetan Dolpo region on the lookout for snow leopards:
“To emerge gradually from such a chrysalis, drying new wings in the sun’s quiet, like a butterfly, to avoid a sudden tearing of the spirit. Certainly this has been a silent time, and a hallucinatory inner journey too, and now there is this sudden loss of altitude.”

The transcendental nature of flights,  watching the moonbeams, suns-rays and so on illumine the fluffy worlds below is a gift indeed. A time of mellifluous thought,  the landing to the earth is seldom smooth – do birds feel that way?

img_5549

A Poem From The Clouds:


The rain bearing clouds shimmer over the city lights below

Giving way to a darker journey where

The stars keep me company as they twinkle over the wing

Blinking and twinkling their friendly greeting as my eyes fathom their shapes.
The sun’s rays across the wing span creep in, slowly

Ushering in a new world

The same world blanketed by the stars

Or is it?
A billion diamonds replaced by one

One Star that outshines everything – The Supreme Star

Till Time takes charge at dusk again

A reminder that Time alone endures.

When Deserts Are Cool

I was calling the parents in India, flushed with excitement from the week-end trip. A Girls Trip to Sedona, Arizona! I twirled the words around in my mouth relishing the effect it would have on the mater in particular. She was bound to be critical for ‘leaving’ the children on this ‘unnecessary jaunting’, and I looked forward to telling her about the trip, for this very reason. (My teenage years have been long drawn out, I know)

I had seen the pictures of all-girls trips on Facebook with a tinge of yearning for so long.

I had read the slightly romanticized version of Kate Harris’ version of two girls traveling on the Silk Road in The Lands of Lost Borders.

lands_of_lost_borders

I had followed XPD 2470, the all- women’s group that set out on a road trip from Coimbatore, South India to London via the vast plains of India, through the mountainous regions of the Himalayas, the difficult (socially and physically ) terrains of Afghanistan through Iran, Iraq – emerging into Eurasia and traveling on towards the heartlands of Europe over 72 days and passing through 24 countries in all.

How marvelous it all sounded?

Our own modest trip was nowhere close on the adventure scale or on the hardship scale, but it was exciting nevertheless. I did not have to take care of everyone’s packing, hygiene, hydration, and food? Liberation comes in various doses and forms I tell you.

Anyway, the mater picked up the phone and launched into a Grade 2 complaining session about the pater almost soon after saying Hello. I listened amused – “He doesn’t allow me to go alone and he won’t accompany me either!” she said.

I don’t know whether Jhansi Rani got an opportunity like this when she came in to lay down her sword after a rigorous day of training. Imagine, Jhansi Rani’s mother or aunt complaining to her how that she is never allowed to yield the kitchen knife. I felt like that.

Rani_of_jhansi
Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi 

Image: By Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi – Gallery, which that says it is from the British Library’s ‘Images Online Collection’, but the provided link to the Collection is dead., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5624069

I launched into my version of “Take up your own butter knife!” with gusto.

“Why do you care what he says? You go where you want. As though you don’t know how to get around. Its your own fault for listening to him.”

“As if! I cannot be like you people. Just go wherever I want whenever I want!” she said. I ignored the dig.

The pater sensed what was going through my head and quickly chimed in, “Nothing of the sort ma! I allow her to go anywhere, do anything!”

“First of all – who are you to allow her to do anything may I ask?” said I.

“True True – she allows me to allow her to go anywhere she wants!” said he.

“Secondly, what are you holding her back for? If she goes, you can have some quiet time of your own too, can’t you?”

He chuckled.

Then, in all grand glory, I told them all about the amazing trip we girls took to Sedona, Arizona. “Isn’t that a desert area?” said the pater who had touchingly moved to the map of the United States that hung on the walls of the home, and was now tracing his finger on the places I was telling him about.

“Yes it is! But when the girls go together, even deserts are cool!” I said and beamed. Lost on them of course, for they couldn’t see me, and by the sounds of it barely hear me as well.

img_4695

“What did the children do when you weren’t there?” the mother asked.

“Why?! Had fun of course -what do you think they did?” I said smartly and felt the glow of a battle won.

 

Running like Elephants

“Guys! Let’s hurry up a little. I like how we are dawdling, but the school bell waits for no ships to sail across the seas! ” I said. There had been a mild spattering of rain across the dry summer season. A few snails had popped out to enjoy the moist, and the son and his friends were looking at them as they chatted and made their way to school. Rain drops on the late summer roses and oleander flowers made the scene a rather endearing one.

img_3991-effects

The response from the children was predictable – they ran, and I ran shouting like a charioteer pulling the reins on the excited steeds, “Slow down! No running here – oncoming traffic!”
“But you asked us to hurry up!”
“Yes – run like Elephants!” I said.

I had told the children earlier about the Elephant’s gait, and they exchanged glances and started laughing. The snail they were studying looked startled and showed a leap of speed as it made its way back to the comfort of the garden bed.

Is this walking? *giggle*
Is this running? *giggle giggle*
Is this fast walking? * giggle giggle giputly duggle*
Is this slow running? *giggle puddle chuckle duffle*

I smiled slowly. “Pretend you are Elephants teaching Snails to run.”

elephant_snail

I suppose that was a wrong metaphor altogether. By the time we arrived in the school, not only were we out of breath with the laughing, but we were also fashionably disconcerted. The legs seem to not remember how to walk straight or run properly, and were caught in this limbo of the Elephant’s Gait.

Later that week, I was sitting in the garden and watching the world go about its true business of living. I watched a hummingbird’s fast-paced wing movements up in the trees. A few butterflies were flitting hither and tither. A skein of geese were flying overhead in that beautiful v-shaped formation. Closer to the ground, a few snails were marking their slow way across the courtyard.

This combination of sitting in a garden, and watching life flit by had me take a hundred pictures with my phone. Pictures that may or may not be seen and appreciated again. I could capture the slow motion video of the humming bird whizzing up above or the butterflies in my midst. I could use time-lapse videos to capture the slow moving snails and a dozen pictures to capture the beautiful movement of the caterpillars.

As I sat there musing on the ease with which we capture movement these days, I could not help comparing and contrasting humanity’s struggle to capture that. I remember yawning in the Art galleries after seeing the n-th painting of a horse or the x-th statue of a horse drawn chariot.

But as I sat there that afternoon, I wondered whether I had appreciated them enough. After all, at the time of their making, studying movement was not all easy. One had to have an almost eidetic memory to understand the muscles and the way they moved.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s work is appreciated because of the lengths he went to study the anatomy of the creatures in his works. 300 years ago, movement must have been particularly hard to study.

In Oliver Sacks’ essay on Elephant Gaits in the book, Everything in its Place, he writes about the problem of studying movement.

everything_place

More than a century ago, Etienne-Jules Marey had made a pioneering investigation of elephant gaits. Of course, he did not use video analysis then, but still photography. I quote: “Marey’s lifelong fascination with movement started with the internal movements and processes of the body. He had been a pioneer here, inventing pulse meters, blood pressure graphings and heart tracings – ingenious precursors to the mechanical instruments used in Medicine even today.

Later, he moved onto the animal movements and analysis.
For animal analysis he used pressure gauges, rubber tubes, and graphic recordings to measure the movements and positions of limbs. From these recordings, he rotated in a zoetrope, reconstructing in slow motion the movements of the horse.

Muybridge, a contemporary of Marey, however, a peripatetic artist as Sacks describes him used 24 cameras along a track where the shutter would be tripped by the horses themselves as they galloped past to capture the movements of the horse as they raced.

When a similar technique was used to analyze the fast movement of elephants, it was found that they neither walked nor ran, but rather a combination known as fast walking.

I remember a long ago conversation with a friend who was training for a marathon on the more recent study of leopards running, and how he had changed his running technique to take a few tips from the world’s fastest runner.

As we watch the world around us, I wish different creatures could teach us some of their marvelous techniques. The dragonfly and the humming bird for flight; mallards and coots for water locomotion. Doesn’t Biomimicry as a field of study sound more fascinating than ever before? I positively yearn to be Dr John Dolittle at times!

Books/Articles to be read/referenced in this post: