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.

Checking_the_door

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 4.57.22 PM

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.

tow_man

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. 

IMG_2326-EFFECTS

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?

Advertisements

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. 

img_8684.jpg

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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 4.57.22 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 5.22.25 PM
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? 

img_8805
Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

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.

img_8806
Different?Same! By Heather Tekavec, Illustrated by Pippa Curnick

Are We To Become Lab Rats?

‘Let’s watch something together Amma.’ , said the children one Friday evening. It is officially our movie night. Watching something that suits all of us is a true test of Democracy (An Email From Mars) The littlest fellow is the easiest to appease, and also the fellow you want to most watch out for. He sits there like a sponge absorbing everything: tilting his head to one side, looking through the corner of his eyes, this child seems like the ideal companion. But, his inappropriate quips at opportune moments have chastened us and we no longer welcome him saying, “Oh – he is too little to know.” He knows!

So, the debate raged – which show can we watch that everyone will enjoy?

Everybody Loves Raymond, Cosmos, Big Bang Theory? How about Lab Rats? 

A resounding cheer went up for Lab Rats.

‘Isn’t that show for Teens?’

‘Well…yes but this little dobukins watches it all the time with me.’ said the daughter tousling her little brother’s hair lovingly.

‘Really?’, I said turning around towards the fellow with my hands on my hips.

‘Yes….but Lab Rats is fine….not teenagie stuff.’ he said chuckling merrily.

Like he knows what teenagie stuff is.  Maybe he does and should that worry me? The daughter now tells me things are inappropriate for us to watch. I wonder what rules she uses.

tv_show

Lab Rats is a show about a family where the children have Bionic superpowers – Bree the girl can run free, Adam the hulk can lift a truck, and Chase the fellow whose name sounds like he must run after Bree, instead is the one with superior intellect. They live with their non-bionic stepbrother, Leo.

Like most Television shows these days, they had aced the humor, characterization and it was an enjoyable show. All the same, it left a niggling after-taste in me.

This show captured human desires in a nutshell. We all want to be better. Better than the rest, better than we ever were, better, faster, stronger, smarter. Better to do what?  And where does this betterment stop? We know how any concept can be twisted by thwarted minds to suit themselves as was evident in the sad state of Eugenics.

I am reading Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, and the same vein popped up again.

The modern economy needs constant and indefinite growth in order to survive. An economy built on everlasting growth needs endless projects – just like the quests for immortality, bliss and divinity.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 3.31.08 PM

Human kind, when we set ourselves on the path to development, most probably do so with good intentions. The problem is once we fix the problems, it seems we can use these very technologies to make things better for those who do not need it. Like  plastic surgery for instance:

Modern plastic surgery was born in the First World War, when Harold Gillies began treating facial injuries in the Aldershot military hospital. When the war was over, surgeons discovered that the same techniques could also turn perfectly healthy but ugly noses into more beautiful specimens. Nowadays, plastic surgeons make millions in private clinics whose explicit and sole aim is to upgrade the healthy and beautify the wealthy.

In Homo Deus, the author goes on to point out this trend in bionic legs, Viagra and memory treatments:

When you develop bionic legs that enable paraplegics to walk again, you can also use the same technology to upgrade healthy people. When you discover how to stop memory loss among older people, the same treatments might enhance the memory of the young. 

No clear line separates healing from upgrading. Medicine almost always begins by saving people from falling below the norm. but the same tools and know-how can then be used to surpass the norm. Viagra began life as a treatment for blood pressure problems. To the surprise and delight of Pfizer, it transpired that Viagra can also overcome impotence. It enabled millions of men to regain normal sexual abilities; but soon enough men who had no impotence problems in the first place began using the same pill to surpass the norm, and acquire sexual powers they never had before.

(Bolding my own)

Growth is a wonderful thing. For the first time in the history of mankind, we are able to self regulate our belligerence, spend our resources towards ending disease and poverty, and feed our growing numbers. Science and Capitalism have enabled this wonderful state. But what next? This relentless growth has led to an inordinate strain on the one planet we have. Previously, we could look forward to discovering new lands, but now we have mapped every ounce of the Earth, and we know no Middle Earth or Earthsea is hidden anymore. We have tapped them all. Our only hope is to find a parking garage planet close by so we can continue to expand at the rate we are now.

no_garage

We need to change course for a sustainable future of our planet, and Capitalism with its growth needs seems to be ill-suited to call for such changes.

The recently deceased author, Ursula K Le Guin, said in a speech once:

“We live in capitalism,” said Le Guin, “Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

I am sure our intense need to survive will push us towards self-regulation and conservation.

With immortality, bliss and divinity projects, are we not Gods capable of solving anything? But, we are also a species who can make the Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss a sad reality.

Are we to become our own Lab Rats? What would our super-powers be? More importantly, will our shortcomings be even more apparent with our strengths magnified, or will our shortcomings be magnified too?

Magic of Zen

“Chitthi, you should read this book for sure. I am sure you will like it.”, said the niece, holding up some teen fiction. She has been reading what she calls Dystopian Fiction and some of her stories tend to mistake my blood for milk set out to curdle. I looked skeptical.
The daughter joined in the conversation with another book suggestion. “Adults won’t enjoy it, but I am sure you will Amma.” she said.
I donned an amused expression. That I should be pegged for having a child’s capacity made me feel truly honored.

Like Ursula K Le Guin, the famous fantasy author said, ‘The creative adult is the child who survived.’

“I mean of course you are an adult and stuff, but … well you know what we mean.” The girls rushed on almost immediately, “This is the good stuff – you will love it.”

The book recommendations discussion was happening before our trip to Mt Shasta, and I was deciding what should be taken along for reading.

After a little deliberation, I picked out Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin. A better book for the wilderness could not have been chosen if I had researched the thing for weeks. Earthsea is a mythical archipelago where wizardry is not uncommon. This book contained tales from Earthsea set in various points in time. The stories are set in beautiful islands amidst forests and meadows and was the perfect read at Shasta.

One fine early morning, on a hike in the forests of Shasta, I chose a spot in which to slowdown and take in the surroundings just like the characters do in the Grove. I sat myself on a rock, and looked out upon miles of trees and forest cover. Sitting there, I noticed how the leaves were shaped against the blue skies, the clear, sharp shapes rising up against the sky, looking majestic and beautiful. Why is it, that nothing man made can even hope to compete with the magnificence of a leaf, tree, forest or mountain? It was a biomimicry moment.

shasta1

With the forest around me and Mt Shasta in the background, Nature helped still and quiet my senses so much that I felt strange. The incessant chatter of inner turmoil quiet, the constant rippling of life’s waves smoothened, the distant and affectionate view of my own foibles on Earth. In only a few moments of this relative calming of the senses I could feel every observation keenly as though the distant telescopes were adjusted better to give a clairvoyant view into life.

To hear, one must be silent.
Ursula K. Le Guin

I resolved to take the children on a hike that very evening. The evening hike was just as splendid. It hugged a coastline on a lake, and the evening sun transformed a normal forest setting into a magical one. We trudged up the mountain path chattering happily and gaining altitude. A number of meandering trails and paths criss-crossed the ones we were taking as we hiked on.

shasta-lake.JPG

As we were hiking, I told my daughter about the moment of Zen that I felt during the morning hike, and she said she would try it too. I looked up surprised, but noticed that a while later, she sought out a rock and sat there just drinking in the scenery. I hope she felt the same sense of quiet.

keena_zen.JPG

As we made our way back, the sun had started to set and colored the sky with patches of radiant pink, purple and orange. It was then that we realized that we may have lost our way. I remember going left from this mountain peak, but that trail up there also goes there, how about this one? Every one was sure we had come up by a completely different path. The daughter was unusually quiet and then she exclaimed thoroughly proud of herself, “This is it! I know now. This is it. This is the way to go!” and she was perfectly right.

Days later, when we were discussing the concept of magic, I went all Ursula Le Guin on her and said, “You know? That day, on the hike, you were so much in tune with nature that you were the one who found the way back. You know how appalling you are usually when it comes to directions, but that day because you loved the hike so much, the forest revealed its magic to you.” She rolled her eyes, but the joy in her eyes was unmistakable.

Le Guin writes of magic in a way that is manifest in our daily lives without us ever stopping thinking of them as magic. It is neither wand waving nor dramatic, but it is spectacular. It is in the unique talents we each have, and just like any other talent needs nurturing and nourishing to develop to its full potential.

The Author’s work has the influence of Tao-ist philosophies, that help us tap into the ageless wisdom of generations. The books talk of listening to the Earth as a means to understanding the greater forces at play, the ability to gauge what is to happen, but have the sagacity to neither judge nor criticize its actors unduly. In short, it is life cloaked in the glamorous garbs of magic.

Lao Tzu Tao – Ursula Le Guin