Purpose, Meaning 🌌 ? Experience 🌿

I was sitting on the window ledge talking to the daughter of this and that. Outside, it was a beautiful spring day. All the world seemed to be up and about. Bustling, blooming, tittering, fluttering, racing. “Life seems abuzz with a sense of purpose and so full of meaning today, don’t you think?” I said lazily to the daughter. I myself was content sipping coffee in my night suit.

She laughed and said something to the effect of meaning being humbug or some such thing. I sipped my coffee and waited. Seeing that she had lapsed into painting, I prodded on giving her the talk about finding the meaning of life, and how some days are more important than others etc. When she still didn’t bite, I pulled Mark Twain for support. 

“But you know what Mark Twain said? Two days are the most important days of your life. The day you were born and the day you figured out why you were born.”

“And who is Mark Twain exactly to be talking about this? “

“Mark Twain!”

“I know who Mark Twain is. Point is: of course his saying would be skewed towards purpose and meaning and all that because that is what he spent his life trying to find the answer to. I just don’t think there is one grand purpose to each of us you know? I mean, saying that we all come to this Earth with one grand purpose is subscribing to this theory of God putting us all here for this-and-this-and-this. There is nothing like that. The accident of life happened. A thousand things could’ve gone wrong, could’ve gone differently, but they panned out this way and therefore we are here. When we are here, I get that we must do things to be useful, happy etc, but that is it. There is no, like grand scheme of things or whatever!”

“So, you are saying it is okay for me to be wasting time like this, when I could be doing anything.”

“Well…again. There is no wasting time.”

“Ah – but that is the arrogance of youth isn’t it? Time isn’t exactly ticking for you all.”

“At your fine age, it is. “ she laughed a bit too callously for my taste, but that is youth all over. 

“So, you are saying that if all I want to do is look at the wind rustle through that pine tree, it isn’t a waste of time.”

“Sure…if that’s what you want to do!” she rolled her eyes and I couldn’t blame her. Watching wind rustle through pine trees isn’t exactly teen-buzz.

I get that you are cuckoo when it comes to nature stuff. But we’ve all got to do stuff we don’t like, stuff we like, stuff that’s just got to be done whether you like it or not. But whatever it is, if you are experiencing it, it isn’t a waste of time. And yes, all this stuff about meaning of life etc has been done by philosophers who spent their entire time trying to figure out the answer to that. If you were to pick any random person who lived 200 hundred years ago, what was their purpose? I don’t know. But if they lived happily, then I suppose they had a good life, and that’s what matters.”

I looked at the child astounded. There she was, teaching me to experience life, when she seemed to have only been born a few short years ago

“And this thing about the most important days of your life. The pressure of a thing like that could completely throw enjoying the day you know? I mean I could say it was the day I got a brother. But it wasn’t you know? It was more like a normal day with a wailing baby sure, but in time,  he grew up to be a brother that I enjoy. Don’t tell him that!”

She isn’t the philosophical kind. She is barely the deep thinking kind, yet she has this refreshing outlook that bodes for a contentment in life that I strive for. At this fine age, as she so eloquently described my age, I still confuse achievement, purpose, meaning and life. Here she was, happily painting one minute, off to hang out with her friends the next, while keeping up with her course work, and all that was required to be done.

But I disagreed with her on one thing. I do think there are special days and special moments – even if we don’t always celebrate them. The day she was born is one of them. 

The whole chat left me feeling like I had read that quote by Ursula K Le Guin again. It never fails to enlighten and uplift.


“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

Ursula K Le Guin

The Art of Words

There are days when fiction exerts a strong pull on the mind. We are, after all, children of stories.

The nature of the allure is in the constantly changing nature over time. Some days demand active adventure, mysteries to be solved, and battles to be won. These flights of fancy can be just as fascinating as the timeless nature of love encapsulated in the pages of P G Wodehouse and Jane Austen – the balm for the soul. Just as special is the quiet, kind, and often humorous companionship among humans written by the likes of Miss Read, L M Montgomery or RK Narayan, especially for one who is tired after a day of dealing with people and their problems at work. Revelations that give us tiny insights into the possibilities and depths of the human spirit.

Some days, the allure of poetry is there like a soothing essence of the night. Like a lavender enhanced bath drawn up – cocooning one in the safe tendrils of the fragrance. Could you not be the imaginative child drawing up a Block City, or the crane standing quietly in the marshes waiting for the right time to strike? Or the star far away twinkling and waiting for us to absorb some of its light and magic into our very being?

Then, there are days when non-fiction calls out to one with a clear call like a foghorn in a tempest. The days when the most delicious pieces of revelation are nestled as innocuous facts in a book. A book in which the writer has graciously shared their enormous love for the universe and their learnings kindly with the rest of humanity. A giving of their very soul – a sharing of knowledge so deep, so pure, it feels almost visceral to read through the contents and absorb as best as one can.

In all these genres, there are stellar writers, writers who have their streaks of brilliance, and writers who strike it big with or without the art of craft, for popularity and merit do not always go together. Nevertheless,  most of them are united by the common thread of striving continuously in their art. 

As I read Conversations on Writing with Ursula K Le Guin compiled from a series of interviews with David Naimon, I felt a thrill of the art of words once again. 

As David Naimon points out, Ursula K Le Guin is probably one of the select few authors on which one could have a conversation on fiction, poetry and non-fiction, having written all three to great acclaim.

Starting off from this simple place of:

“Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren’t real, “ says Ursula K Le Guin, “But they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books.”

That was my experience of reading Tales of Earthsea growing up.

Wizards walk the earth and dragons fly the skies. yet the further they took me from “reality” the closer I felt to the real.

Conversations on Writing – Ursula Le Guin with David Naimon

Her conversations on fiction and how she was unable to insert her science fiction portion of her mind to her poetry was fascinating.

As the conversation unfolds in the poetry section, David Naimon observes that her fiction stems from her imagination, but her poetry from contemplation. How true and marvelous? The quiet contemplation of the wind rustling through the leaves has quite a different rhythm in the heart from the mind imagining the wondrous life of the creatures by the riverside

The book provides many asides, many references to other writers, poets and non-fiction writers who have inspired her. Little snippets inserted on black pages while referencing another’s work provide branches into other worlds to explore into such as Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. The reference to wu-wei (the act of non-doing) getting a smile out of me.

Oh! To be cocooned in the Magical Art of Words is bliss indeed!

The Dream Within The Dream

It was Saturday morning. I got up, convinced I had come back to the real world. The world outside looked beautiful. The dew drops on the cherry blossoms glinted in the morning sunshine . A Californian blue jay was sitting on one branch and pecking at the flowers – such a beautiful sight is to be seen to be believed.

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Was that a really vivid dream or what? Covid-19 did feel surreal – what a dream?!

I sat on my bed the previous Friday evening exhausted. It was the first week of large scale disruptions – schools, offices, and malls had closed; crazy grocery shopping was behind us; and while I was grateful for being to work from home during all of this, I also realized that I was enervated.

That was how, you found me on Friday evening, determined to not think of the Corona Virus anymore at least for the night. I put it resolutely from my mind. I eyed the stack of books near my bed. I retreated to simpler times in an English village with Miss Read, I read about gardening, and I read about the life and times of Jane Austen in the 1800s.

The daughter was happy to not Coronaspeak anymore, and magnanimously offered to sit and watch Little Women with me. By the time, I went to bed, I had restored the mind to a semblance of normal.

Maybe the preceding Coronaweek was in my version of The Lathe of Heaven after all.

The Lathe of Heaven is a marvelous book written by Ursula K Le Guin. The book examines a scenario where a young man is gifted with the ability to make his dreams come – his psychiatrist realizes this, and uses his condition to his advantage. He attempts to change the world by offering to guide the young man. While under hypnosis, he makes suggestions and leads his mind into conjuring up dreams. One such dream reminds me of this scenario the most.

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He dreams for World Peace and for all of humanity to be united.

When he gets up, his dreams are realized. Humanity is united. United against the face of an alien attack. The aliens are already positioned on the Moon and are poised to strike Earth soon. Suddenly, Earthly borders and barriers melt away. All of humanity is united against the threat of green-belted aliens on the Moon

The psychiatrist tries making amends from them on, but the patient realizes what is happening and tries to distance himself. He is scared, vulnerable and refuses to fall asleep.

Could Covid-19 be a version of a dream playing out? It certainly feels like that at some times.

But if this were a dream, how would we know? I went and stood outside below the Cherry tree, and the cherry blossoms flitted down and landed gently all around me. The California blue jay was still there having a blissful breakfast as it let the petals float to the ground below. One petal settled on my hair, and I felt it. It was solid and soft. It was real. That settled it – the preceding week of Covid-19 must have been a dream.

Slightly shivering with the morning cold, I traipsed into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. It was full: stacked with extra cans of milk, vegatables and 2 cans of soup – so, we were in the Covid-19 reality. That wasn’t a dream.
The blue jay was confirming what with me exactly? That this too was a reality?
That our realities have a tendency to get warped?

I related this the daughter and son as they walked into the kitchen looking sleepy and exuberant respectively. The husband said, it did feel very much like a scenario in the movie Inception. The Dream within a Dream. That is how we always depicted it in our dumb-charades games.

The day wore on. As Saturday ticked into Sunday, I saw the digital clock in the microwave glow 11:59 – a moment in time that the young son loves to see. Maybe this was a reality within a reality too.

I am going to bed. After all, this version of reality does have some aspects that I dreamt about too:

  • I did hope to get a month to spend with the children at home.
  • I did hope to be able to spend at least time together without external demands on our time, to hear the clock tick in the quiet of the home.

I can understand why the whole thing seems so surreal. While some problems certainly unite humanity like Climate Change and our effect on the Planet, none seems to be as urgent and visceral as the Covid-19 reaction. It is happening, it is real, it is what it is.

This week seems less surreal than the week before. We have settled in to new realities of life. The life in which the simple, bare necessities of life will come to you. They’ll come to you!

 

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.

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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.

Galactic Plumes

I had been mooning about the fields outside in the village where we stayed near Topslip National Forest. People told me to be careful about venturing out far – “There are Elephants nearby, and they love the fields. “, they said emphasizing the word, Elephants. My eyes lit up. The villagers exchanged looks that doubted my sanity and hurried on, “It isn’t Good seeing Elephants in the fields – you never know what they will do. If you hear fire crackers in the distance, come straight back here!” said one toothless fairy godmother, and her husband (I think) nodded in agreement vigorously.

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Off we went then, sauntering through the fields, listening to the loud orchestra of birds, crickets and frogs, accompanying the beautiful colors that nature was setting forth for us to see. It is magical indeed to see a half dozen peacocks take flight into the sunset. By the time, we fumbled for the phones they were gone, and I was glad I did not waste those precious moments of seeing them start off awkwardly and then gain elegance in flight by trying to get a picture. I have it in my mind’s eye, along with the indescribable moment of feeling your heart soar with the peacocks’ trajectory.

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Peacocks have long feathers, and while they know how to fan them out and preen in front of peahens looking splendid in the process; when they fly, it looks like it can feel like long hair feels to women.

Gather your tresses,
Of plume and multi-colored beauty
Tuck them in,
Letting it stream behind you elegantly while
Trying not to let it look messy
And all the rest of that.

It was then in the distance that we heard firecrackers go off in the distance. I don’t know about you, but this is the sort of thing that holds mystique. It is what inspired my Mother’s Day in the Jungle tale. Trumpy elephant going off to Farmer Hasalot’s farm – there is such an element of thrill and romantic mysticism to this kind of thing, though I think the elephants and farmers in question disagree.

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I spent dusk in a similar fashion enjoying the fading sunlight, the rising moon, the fields, the clouds, the village, the children, the adults and creatures of beautiful Earth. Every now and then, crackers went off in the distance – elephants in the distance we whispered. Though, why we were whispering we had no idea. Dusk seems to call for these things. A laid back village in South India tucked away in the recesses of the Western Ghats with all the fascination of the bucolic. An occasional rumble of a vehicle is all there was to remind us of civilization, corporates, power tussles, wars, micro/ macro economics, nuclear heavy-lifts, and motives of profit.

Post dinner, I traipsed indoors, happy with life, still rattling on about the beautiful image of the peacocks taking flight together in the evening light. We stayed chatting happily into the night (Part 2)

It was well past midnight when the electricity went out, and the husband said, “Outside now! Completely dark – yes!”

Off we went, self carrying the son piggy-back to see the stars in all its glory outside. With the electricity gone, it was pitch black outside.
Oh!
My foot!
Not there.
Ouch!

We bumped into one another spectacularly and I tripped on a chair outside in the verandah, carrying the little fellow on my back. Both of us went crashing down, self trying to save the poor fellow from being dropped from my back. One splendid moment later, I truly saw what ‘seeing stars’ meant.

The pair of us dragged ourselves off our feet and took our eyes skyward. The light pollution we have unleashed on our planet means that there are very few places in the world that humanity can stand and gaze at the sheer immensity of the universe in which we live. On an average dark-ish day, we can see about 3000 stars, on a day like this surrounded by mountains, forests and fields for miles around us, we could see tens of thousands of them lighting up entire bands of the sky with their luminance. The stars and galaxies are always there, and maybe because of this very permanence, it is seldom appreciated.

Standing there in the surrounding darkness with people I love, I felt light-headed. There we were, standing on an Earth that was spinning incredibly fast in its journey around the sun; the sun was swirling around the Milky Way galaxy; and the galaxy itself was spinning and whirling away into vaster expanses. Carrying us all: our ethereal thoughts, wishes and desires; and our solid physical selves on a solid planet.

The galaxy tucking its star-studded plumes behind it gracefully, and taking flight with all its organic and inorganic components streaming gracefully along its path. Huge balls of gas and flames hurtling through space, and some spots in this beautiful expanse sanguine enough to cool down for a spot of life to flourish. #The Pale Blue Dot.

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The beautiful image of the peacocks taking flight earlier that evening came to me, and in that moment, the galaxies above looked like peacocks taking flight into horizons unknown.

Do the dreams of galaxies have limits? Do they have purposes?

Thinking back on that beautiful spin through the gathering darkness, I am reminded of this quote by Ursula K Le Guin:
“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

What We Do

I bobbed among the sea of fresh laundry. The children were helping with the folding and sorting, while I cackled and rattled around like a mother hen. Mother hens don’t fold clothes, I know, but it is a metaphor, or a simile or an odious comparison when viewed from the angle of a hen. Anyway, the conversation was quicker than the folding and after some time, I patted them on a job well done, and sent them over for a spot of week-end television. They tumbled off clucking happily. A prized activity they seem to think it is, though they seem to watch the same programs over and over again. 

After some more cleaning, I took stock. True, there was loads of cleaning left to do, but that was always the case. For now, the boats of laundry were taken care of, the family fed, the kitchen scrubbed, the shoes, jackets and all the paraphernalia that is plopped all over the place were back where they belonged. The children were happily watching their week-end television, and the husband was pretending to do some work on the computer. All was well.

I gingerly stepped out for a breath of fresh air even though it was cold. As soon as I opened the door, the wind gently lifted my hair welcoming my foray into the quiet pleasures of a Winter day. I surveyed my flower pots weathering the wind, rain and still cheerfully raising their heads welcoming the end of Winter. If that isn’t an invitation for a stroll, I don’t know what is, I told myself and set off, an umbrella swinging on my arm, and my spirits slowly rising to meet the clouded skies above.

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I stopped to gaze up at the trees sprouting the early Cherry Blossoms every now and then. One particular tree looked marvelous: There seemed to be a luminous glow on the cherry blossoms, with the dew drops glistening on them, and I could not help standing there, and catching a respite from the never ending activity that swirled around me. Our tasks and accomplishments seem to be so loud and cantankerous compared to this marvelous phenomenon of early Spring don’t they? 

The blossoming of a flower. 

I stood there wondering how lovely it would be to see the flower blossom, to actually see it expand into a flower from a bud. I suppose you could show me hundreds of time-lapse videos, but I still wanted to see the real thing. In front of my eyes. 

That is the sort of thing that will try the Dalai Lama’s patience, and I am happy that the thought to at least try it crossed my mind, since I knew my limits when it came to stilling the mind. A monkey mind if ever there was one. 

Watching a flower bloom is a thought that has occurred to many before me, and will occur to many after me. All we need to do is stop and admire a flower. In the River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks, he says that as a boy, he used time lapse photography using multiple photographs and frames to develop the blossoming of a flower. To play with time in a sense.

“I experimented with photographing plants. Ferns, in particular, had many attractions for me, not least in their tightly wound crosiers or fiddleheads, tense with contained time, like watch springs, with the future all rolled up in them. So I would take set my camera on tripod and take hourly photographs…and make a little flick book. And then, as if by magic, I could see the fiddleheads unfurl, taking a second or two, for what in real time took a couple of days.”

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When seen this way, we are all time machines, slowly growing and morphing all the time, are we not? Unfurling with furious energy that detracts at times, but all of us unfurling all the time, hopefully evolving into what we shall and can be.

I gazed up at the flowers again and wondered whether self reproach, achievement, contentment, ambition, or any of the things that seem to matter so much to human beings meant anything in the grand scheme of things. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Ursula Le Guin.

“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

The rain picked up, and I opened up my umbrella. I had stood there a long time, and my feet and hands were numb. I went in to the home, and put my wet, cold hands against the warm cheeks of the children watching TV, and they squealed half in exasperation and half in fun as the rain drops trickled down their cheeks. They chided me, united in their purpose: “Walking in the rain – being nuts! again? You will catch a cold. Go and get warm. Now!”

It was lovely to see the chicks take charge, and get a glimpse of the unfurling.

Philosophers & Tinkerers

I picked up the book Black Hole Blues by Janna Levin partly because I was intrigued by the poetic title, and partly because I like reading about our dear Cosmos, and its many mysteries. The skies have given me endless joy, peace and continue to do so, even though light pollution in our suburban areas mean that we cannot see the stars, planets and stars as clearly.

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Excuse me for a while, while I meander to a black hole of my own for a moment: I was appalled to note that a Russian startup intends to sell advertisements that can only be visible in the night sky. Are our products so important that we have to dwarf the shows the Cosmos puts up every night to sell toothpaste and whatever gawd-awful thing we contrive in our numerous factories? (I have a post clamoring and rattling in the brain waiting to get out on the number of contraptions that folks felt I must have, or I myself felt I must have, and now occupy valuable shelf-space in the home somewhere.)

Climbing out of the black hole then, the cosmos has given me endless joy and I indulge in dipping into its mysteries every now and then. What surprised me about detecting gravitational waves is the immensity of human endeavors. Theorizing and coming up with the supporting Mathematics to validate the concept is in itself a phenomenal achievement, but conceptualizing an experiment of such magnitude as to detect a stirring as faint as gravitational waves emanating when two black holes collide millions of light years away is astonishing.

As Janna Levin says, it is a project to fulfill a fool’s ambition.

“An idea sparked in the 1960s, a thought experiment, an amusing haiku, is now a thing of metal and glass.”
― Janna Levin, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

The LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory ) is astronomical in scope and dimensions. Janna Levin’s book takes us into the human dramas and the corridors of Caltech and MIT where much of this played out. While I did feel the flow and structure of the book could have been more crisp, and less about the human politics that plague undertakings such as these, it was nevertheless interesting.

As I read, I was amused at how humans unfailingly bring drama into our existence. At the altar of Science, many have sacrificed their egos, had their egos bruised, and have propelled or obstructed the flow of Science, but like a river it flows on and hopefully propels our understanding forward, not always cognizant of the applications of Science (One of my favorite sayings of Ursula K Le Guin:

When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow).

After the monumental setbacks and roadblocks along the way, it is a satisfying end to the book that the experiment finally paid off. Twice, it detected Gravitational waves as they passed through the Earth from the collision of two massive black holes millions of light years away.

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(Image tweeted by @LIGO)

We do not yet know how this will change our understanding of the Universe, and its applications, but we can be rest assured that both are underway. We have come a long way from the Sun God riding the sky every morning on his chariot, though I am reading a fascinating book on this very myth at the moment.

Human-beings are philosophers and tinkerers at the very core, are we not?

Also read: Cranes of Hope (Essay of the Value of Science by Richard Feynman with A Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr).

The Book of Kells

I was intrigued to see the book that Dublin is so proud of, and I wasn’t disappointed. Walking through the rain-washed squares of Trinity College, past all the students and tourists milling about the campus, I walked into the Trinity College Old Library to see the much talked about Book of Kells. Written about 800 years ago by at least 6 different scribes, it is reputedly the oldest book in existence in its original format. It was probably written at a monastery similar to the one below by monks.

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I was all agog to see the Book of Kells, rose early and off I went with nothing but 3 eggs, 2 pieces of toast with butter and blackberry currants jam, 3 cups of tea, some fruit, a spot of yogurt and some freshly squeezed fruit smoothie in me. (European hotels really do have the best continental breakfasts in the world. Try as I might, I could not get them to feed me less. Please can I have just 1 egg, nothing else, I’d say. “Just a leetel beet of vegetables on the side.” they’d say, and soon a tray bearing a couple of fried eggs, mushrooms, spinach, baked beans and toasts accompanying the eggs appeared behind a tottering waiter with a benevolent smile.)

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Anyway, the Book of Kells has scholars poring over its pages, art historians and critics study the dyes used for the illustrations in the book, and the book does look elegant. The letters were different, probably Celtic letters at the time, and the lettering had a calligraphic touch to it that we seem to have lost in the world of keyboards. What the book is about is, I guessed, derived more from the artful illustrations rather than the prose.

While it was inspiring to see writing as early as all that, I was not wholly prepared for how it made me feel later on.

Days later while walking down the streets, I’d recognize some rune from the Book of Kells or something similar looking displayed on the shop fronts, and feel a little strange. How ephemeral are our lives and its influences? Even the greatest works of the times, mean so little now. And only one book survived the times. What about the rest of the books written at that time?

So many languages fade away taking with it, another chunk of literary history forever with it. The thirukkurals in Tamil have had a good run so far.

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What writing will stand the tests of time, and which ones would not? What does it say about the writer who started with the intention of writing about the lofty Books of Kells and wrote instead of the fantastic breakfast she tucked into her stomach? Given how ephemeral even our inscribed works are, shouldn’t we have a little less ego, a little less lust for power, and little more acceptance of our state of being?

I mused on our social media presences. The place most avid users go to share our thoughts and feelings. Maybe we are subconsciously evaluating every thought that flits in like fluffy clouds on a bright day, taking a pulse of our feelings.  What of thoughts not shared, and if thoughts trigger feelings, will the absence of thought then remove suffering, but then what is the state of being?

Maybe that is why the old Eastern philosophers taught us to calm our minds. Ursula Le Guin’s quote comes to mind:

“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

I like my spot of writing even if sometimes I have muddled things up a little more by the end of it all.

The Corner Case

T’was the last day of May. The day started with the revelation that the car we had parked outside overnight was gone. It had been towed away overnight because a parking permit was not visible. I need to take this moment to assure you about the permit. You see, the pater accompanied us to place the permit in the car. 

How can I be so sure? For one, when we leave the house, the pater locks the door. By that simple statement what I mean is that he hangs on the doorknob and pushes and thumps the door till I can hear it howl in anguish, and confirms that the door is indeed locked.

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So, when the pater checks the permit in the car, the permit is in the car. And can be seen from every angle. With torch light or without.

Of course we were flummoxed to find the car missing the next morning. A few minutes later, there we were in the towing company’s yard. We went in, and the fellow behind the counter, from now on referred to as Tow-man, started off professionally enough.  He showed me some hazy pictures and I must admit I could not find the parking permit in the pictures he showed me.

He then walked with me to an impressive lot surrounded by a 8-9 ft tall fence topped with barbed wires on top. I wondered then why a towing company’s impound lot needed that kind of prison security. I was soon to find out.

I went in with him, and right enough, the parking permit gleamed. It is a shiny red one, and the morning rays of the sun made it glint cheerfully. I showed Tow-man the permit, and he was flabbergasted. I saw shock flit through his face. He had been so sure he had not seen the parking permit in the pictures. 

I asked him if I could take a picture of the car with the permit, and he agreed. Immediately, he realized that a picture could mean no money. I could almost see these thoughts run through his head, for he immediately clamped down his stance. He insisted that I get out from there, his company had a no-picture policy, and that he needed to investigate this. That was when anger became his companion.

Ursula Le Guin in her excellent set of essays, No Time To Spare, dedicates a few pieces to Anger. In one essay, she says, Anger usually stems from fear. 

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In this case, that made sense. Tow-man feared his bosses would not be happy with him if he did not get the money for the towed car. But there was no doubt that the permit was there. This is something that felt like a mystery to me too, and one I hoped to solve amicably. But his anger bubbled up, and stopped all possibility of a dialogue. He made ridiculous claims such as: You must have scaled the fence and jumped inside overnight to put the permit inside the car.

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The impound lot, as I have mentioned earlier, was double my height, and topped with barbed wire on top. I asked him a bit incredulously whether he really believed I could jump over something like that. I have my merits, but pole-vaulting over 9 ft high fences with barbed wire on top is not of them. Ask the rose bushes I walk by. I love them to bits and stop to sniff at them rapturously every now and then, but I still keep clear from the thorns. Getting scratched does not appeal to me. 

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There was no talking to Tow-man about rosebushes however. With anger as his weapon, things got ugly soon. 

“We have a no-picture policy, and you have been taking pictures.”

I felt the no-picture arbitrary rule a bit unfair, but there was nothing to be done.

Things started heating up, and we went out of the premises. 

Quote from No Time To Spare by Ursula K Le Guin:

Anger continued past its usefulness becomes unjust and then dangerous. 

It is very hard to find the right response to anger in a situation where both parties are technically right: His pictures showed no permit; I know the permit was placed before midnight and the car in the lot held the proof. 

It is a gripping tale, but in the interest of length, shall cut to the place where Tow-man shook his head obstinately, and said no, I won’t give you the car even if you pay.

The police had to come now. Professional as ever, they listened calmly to both sides of the story. Jobs dealing with people in general are hard, but jobs dealing with people in duress, peppered with high strung emotions and actions has got to be toughest of them all.  

It reminded me sadly of the piece on Anger again:

Quote:

Anger continued past its usefulness becomes unjust and then dangerous. Nursed for its own sake, valued as an end in itself, it loses its goal. It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness. Corrosive, it feeds off itself, destroying its host in the process.

The mystery was solved within minutes of his printing the towing papers:

The towing company indicated that they had taken the pictures at 11:26 p.m.

We had put in the parking permit at 11:30.

The vehicle was towed away at midnight.

The permit is only enforced between midnight and 6 a.m., but before towing the vehicle, they did not verify again. The Classic Corner Case.

How can we all be right and still live harmoniously together? (Link to Buddha In a Lotus article)

Quote:

What is the way to use anger to fuel something other than hurt, to direct it away from hatred, vengefulness, self-righteousness, and make it serve creation and compassion?

Our Rainbow Colored Hearts Can Sing

The elementary school going son and his friends were proudly showing off their art work at the open house. It always makes my heart sing when I see the beauty of effort. Tables that looked like flattened zebras, zebras that looked like striped platypuses, and platypuses that looked like duck bills were all being open to interpretation. I was admiring everything and the artists around me were very proud of themselves. They puffed their chests out and competed with each other to show off one another’s work. 

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The teenaged daughter tugged my hand to show me a particularly fetching piece of art done by her brother. “Oh beautiful!” I coo-ed, though I could not really make out what it was. But to paraphrase Ursula Le Guin, a potter’s job is not to explain a pot, but to make the pot. It is upto us to use that pot as we will. In her fascinating collection of essays or blog posts, No Time To Spare, she deplores this tendency in Modern Art museums for the artist to explain their work.

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An artists work, she says, is open to interpretation and mean different things to different people at different points in time. It is a sentiment that I agree with, and I relished her way of putting it into words. Something that I have always admired in Ursula Le Guin’s work. Of course, she put it far more elegantly than I have attempted to here. 

Please read this earlier post on the daughter’s drawings as a child.

Anyway, I admired the son’s work, and then the daughter pointed to the bunch of people in the picture. Peering closely, I noticed they had rainbow colored faces. I asked the son why the folks in his drawing looked like rainbow trout in the sunshine.

He said, “Oh my teacher said to the class, to put in some colored people.”

I turned to the teacher, and she said she did say that for Diversity and Inclusion. I smiled at her, and thanked our stars for all the lovely things teachers teach the children.  Half the adults seem to have difficulty remembering these simple lessons in these sad times. All the more reason why we should all attend a year of Kindergarten every decade.

I looked again at the rainbow colored people and thought how beautifully untainted and open minded we are before we learn our little prejudices along the way. To think how much we obsess on skin color makes my rainbow colored heart very sad. It was, therefore, with utter joy that I picked up the book, “Different? Same!” Written By Heather Tekavec and Illustrated by Pippa Curnick.

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Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

In this beautiful book, we are reminded of how each of us are so different and yet similar. How is a Zebra similar to a bumblebee? Or an Elephant and a Narwhal? 

The book finishes on a beautiful note that can make our rainbow colored hearts sing: If you look closely enough, it soon becomes clear … we’re not as different as we first appear.

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