An Elephant is Faithful 100%

“Ughhh! Amma, why is this boy so bright in the morning?” moaned the daughter. The daughter and I are slow to rise and shine. The eye first creeps open, the bath helps a little but not much. By the time, we muster the energy to throw our weight around, it is mid-morning. We are like sunbeams trying to break through a misty, foggy, cold morning. The husband and son, on the other hand, are like light bulbs. When they are up, the switch is on and they beam brightly with all the wattage available. The duo look indecently chirpy in the morning and bustle around with breakfast, cracking jokes and what-not. The daughter and I exchange dark looks and shudder a bit at this exuberance.

sun_bulb.jpg

One morning, the son looked at me, shook his head with pity and said, “I know what will wake you up! Let’s listen to Horton Hatches An Egg”, and we did. The toddler son was cracking up with hilarious laughter in the car and I don’t care what you say about speed of light being a constant and all that, I must confess that the sun beams broke through the misty morning fog a little faster. It is a marvelous book, and takes one through the most hilarious plot of an elephant hatching an egg.

I recently read Dr Seuss and Mr Geisel, by Judith & Neil Morgan, a biography of the beloved author, Dr Seuss. Ted Geisel confessed that he saw the world through the ‘wrong end of the telescope’ and  he seemed to have stayed in touch with his childlike curiosity and joy through life.

IMG_5232

Ted’s family was well-off. His father, after running the successful family business for several years, later worked for the public parks system with access to a zoo. He puts many of his influences down to the natural loafing around in the countryside with access to animals as a child. His mother, had a knack of reading things in verse to him in a way that stuck in his brain. Over his brilliant career, he would combine both these influences in a charming manner to enable an entire generation to love reading.

Reading about his foibles and his educational escapades gives a glimpse into the kind of endearing personality he must have been. Especially in the early part of the book, you see the boy and young man Geisel was not exactly a Grade-A student. From an early age, he exhibited a wonderful personality with humor, zest and curiosity.

His college sweetheart, and later, wife, Helen Palmer, was the first person to suggest to Ted that he may be better off drawing and writing than pursuing an academic career at Cambridge. He says this was around the time he realized that writing and drawing were like the Yin and Yang to his work.

One day she watched Ted undertake to illustrate Milton’s Paradise Lost; he drew the angel Uriel sliding down a sunbeam, oiling the beam as he went from a can that resembled a tuba.

“You’re crazy to be a professor. What you really want to do is draw.” she blurted out. She glanced at a cow he had drawn and said, “That is a beautiful cow!

Praise from one you love is truly lovely, and it set him on the course of his career.

Ted was used to taking brisk walks during frequent breaks from his studio in La Jolla, California. One time, he accidentally left a window near his desk open. When he came back, he saw that one transparent sketch had flown over the other, resulting in a strange juxtaposition of an elephant sitting on a tree. This set off a magnificent thought process in his head. What was the elephant doing on the tree, why, hatching an egg of course. Why is he there – what happened to the mother bird and so on. What resulted after months of mulling this train of thought and multiple revisions is the brilliant book, Horton Hatches The Egg.

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”

Horton_hatches_the_egg
Image Source: Wikipedia 

If you haven’t read it, please do so. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient to living: Dr Seuss.

dr seuss

Coming up next:

Ted was a school going child when the First World War started. The Geisels were first generation German-Americans and though they were naturalized citizens at the time of war, it turns out the world around them did not treat them kindly.

Of Hailstones & Laundry Baskets

“I have a great idea! “, said the kindergartener. His face was shining with excitement. I braced myself and nodded for him to go on. I had between my teeth, a clip that threatened to tie my tongue together, my hands were yanking a large unruly mess of hair into a pony-tail for the daughter, and the stove was hissing ominously.

“Why don’t I wear the red laundry basket to school?” said the kindergartener. That tied my tongue, the daughter yelped because I pulled on the hair making her pony tail look like a sausage through a tree, and the stove boiled over.

The past week has been a whimsical one. It was ‘Read Across America’ week to honor Theodore Seuss Geisel’s birthday and the little world around us lit up. In Elementary schools, everyday of the week, it seemed, was a special one, and fliers exhorted all of us to jump in. I love the Elementary school age-group when the human mind is at its most creative, supple and fertile and is bursting at its seams with curiosity and enthusiasm.

Wear As Many Colors As You Can Day
Crazy Hat Day (the red laundry basket is always being worn as a hat by the toddler at home, and he thought it was a marvelous idea to go like that to school)
Favorite Story Book Character Day
What Do You Want To Become Day (What do you want to be?)
Mismatched Fox in Socks Day

Somewhere along the line, we lose that element of fun, and I admire how children can help us tap into it at times. The past week was a hectic one, but I must say that I enjoyed wearing mismatched socks on purpose just as much as the children did. There were times during the stern day when I smiled to myself thinking of my striped sock and my polka dotted mismatched socks that had resulted in so such mirth in the morning rush.

I had with all good intentions gotten a biography of Dr Seuss to read before his birthday, but in my typical feather brained inefficiency had not so much as moved past the Prelude to the Introduction (why do books do that?) So, the Dr Seuss post would just have to wait.

Dr Seuss was very much on our minds as we stepped out for a walk by a river to wrap up the week. There we were, ambling along a roaring river with the backdrop of the mountains in the distance. It was also a deceptively cold day(I am too cold), for there were patches of sun(I am too hot), patches of dark grey clouds scudded past the cumulonimbus clouds and the wind whooshing at times knocked off our hats (not laundry baskets.)

drseuss.jpg

Minutes into the walk, we were stringing together nonsense Seuss-ian style and cackling:
I am too cold
I am too hot
Why are you always too something?
I thought you were five
No I am not five cold
I am not five hot
I am too cold
I am not two but too
I thought you were five

And so it went….

You know how they tell you in these be-calm lessons not to do anything suddenly? Ignore it. For suddenly, the rain pelted down, and not just that, it pelted down with hail stones. Silly or not, being pelted with hailstones is amusing and annoying especially when the good intentioned mother did not bring an umbrella on a walk. But the toddler tackled the problem with a whining grace. He ducked under his jacket and we raced to a tree, and stood under the tree sticking our tongues and hands out to catch the hailstones.

“Eat it”, I said as I popped a hailstone into my mouth.
“What? No! Amma! You cannot do that. “
“Yes you can – you may like it. Try it Try it if you may.”
“Say! I like Green Eggs and Ham”, finished the toddler and popped in the hailstone looking amused.

Colors

It is perfectly normal to be mistaken for normal if you wear laundry baskets and eat hailstones, thanks to Dr Seuss.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/29/what-pet-should-i-get-dr-seuss/

Stop and Look at the Snails

After enduring a particularly long spell of drought, we are relishing the rains lashing down on us this year. The clean, fresh air after the rain is one we relish. As the toddler son and I make our way to school every morning, our heart lifts at the marvelous rainbows, the cherry blossoms starting to bloom and the beautiful snails out on the roads.

img_5103

Sometimes, we come up with silly names for the little creatures we find on our path. Turbo the Snail is always a welcome sight. Earthy Worm invokes the same curiosity if not adoration. Toby Turtle is remembered with affection, and we wonder aloud how we can find ways to hobnob more freely with turtles.

Watching the snails leave a shiny trail behind them one rainy day, we squatted there wondering whether that trail left behind by snails is poisonous. That innocent minute squatting on the sidewalk looking at snails criss-cross our path raised so many questions. It looked to us like a snail could not get very far if it had to flee a predator.

Where do they live when it is not raining and can’t move?
What if we had slippery slopes for snails? said the toddler always keen to help.
Do only snails walk the slippery slope? (completely lost on the toddler of course) and so on.

pets

 

“Amma, we will be late! Hurry up.” said the conscientious fellow and we galloped past the snails wondering how much there was to do in the world, and how little we manage to do.

The thought that there is so much more to be done can sneak up at you in the most unexpected moments. Like the time I was reading a love story written by Alexander McCall Smith in the book Chance Developments. The story imagined the life of a young man in Scotland using a vintage photograph of a young man helping to change a car tire in the presence of a beautiful young lady in a cream colored coat.

 

In the book, the young man is taking a stroll around a loch and is fascinated by some plants that many ignored because they were believed to be poisonous, but he nibbles at them lovingly almost, since his father had tried and demonstrated to him that these particular plants were not poisonous at all. He had studied the properties of the plant, and traced the origins of the myth to a Celtic folktale, and though most tales started off with a kernel of truth, this one probably did not.

How is a story as innocuous as that supposed to make one feel like there is so much to be done? Because they are so many ways in which we can remain curious, to question the this-is-how-it-is-done-s of the world. The fact that we can bust one myth just by questioning it is good. And it proves that we pave the path for one more myth to be broken and then one more.

It has been a few years since I read ’Surely, You’re Joking Mr Feynman – Adventures of a Curious Character’ By Richard Feynman. I remember one passage in which the celebrated scientist talks of watching ants as they made their way around his backyard. Marveling at how they navigated obstacles placed in their path, and admiring the innate steadfastness of the species.

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 10.28.43 AM.png

The quest for knowledge can be a curious, interesting journey, if only we take the time to stop and look at the snails.

Richard Feynman on the Meaning of Life – Brain Pickings

Weaving The Sequins Of Time

Taking a drive up the mountains is always a nostalgic experience for me. Regular readers know I grew up in a small village nestled in the mountainside and every time I spot a pine cone or take in a whiff of Eucalyptus scented air, I get a gleamy look in my eyes that prompts the daughter to ask me for a story about my childhood. I comply almost gleefully and she sits back and imagines her mother as a little girl, a person who is vastly more interesting than the adult version. One loopy enough to jump across streams, build mud tree houses and make a wish against a shooting star.

I was thoroughly pleased to do that again during our recent visit to the Inyo Canyons. Not build a mud tree house, but to make a wish against a shooting star. One of the best things about going out to the vast expanses of nature that we urban dwellers completely forget is how the dark the sky is at night (duh!) and how many stars we can see against this backdrop.

We were blessed with remarkably clear skies during our time there, and we headed out bundled up like Eskimoes in Winter to see the night skies. We made our way up a winding mountain road that overlooked a vast plain thereby giving us a wonderful vantage point for seeing the skies. Maybe it was the enormity of what was in front of us, but it subdued our normally stentorian voices temporarily. We stood there in companionable silence for a while just gazing at the outer arms of the Milky Way (at this time of year, apparently, we do not get to see the whole Milky Way).

My, it is so dark – it can be lonely here, we whispered to each other after some time.

The stars tousled our hair gently teasing us : of course it is dark, what did you expect, and look up at us. You are not lonely unless you wish to be. You have a universe unto yourself. ( I have an idea brewing here: it may be laughably inadequate, but that has not stopped me from publishing before)

The sun groaned from the other side : Duh, everyday I give you the gift of night, you know?

For the first time, I saw Ursa Major or Big Dipper drawn large against the night sky, with nothing to impede its view. It is amazing how many different civilizations managed to study the skies in varying yet similar ways.

There is the North Star, that was known as the Dhruva Nakshatram  in the early days when the Indian civilization named it (Story here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhruva).

Can you see Arundathi? Did you know the story about Arundathi being a twin star to Vashishta and rotating around each other? That is why it is a wedding ritual.  Alcor & Mizar known as Vashishta and Arundhati. Really?

So it went.

The daughter rattled stories from Greek Mythology that we tried to find Indian equivalents for. The magic of story-telling under the stars came alive for us that night. Sirius barked and Taurus ran. The hunters belt was bright and gleaming, the Plaeidis cluster was there, the Seven sisters were being relentlessly chased by the Big Hunter, while the same Krittikai sisters raised Karthikeya in the plains of Indus Valley millenia ago.

sequins_of_time

Lest you run off thinking that the daughter has sat down with the classics and pondered the deep recesses of ancient cosmology, let me assure you that Rick Riordan and his Percy Jackson books formed the basis for the bulk of her knowledge.

The white cloud that we never really see in urban areas was visible – consisting of millions of stars, the cosmos probably is home to millions of Earths fostering life and intelligent lifeforms. I was reminded yet again of Carl Sagan’s words  about the pale blue dot.

pale_blue_dot.png

It is true, every tyrant, every usurper of power, every chaser of money, every person with cares in this world, should stand beneath the blanket of stars everyday, and look at our souls in a detached manner. See ourselves as specks in a dark world where the only place for us to find light is by looking inwards and capture the feeling of light in our hearts like Earth captures sunlight and warmth in its atmosphere.

As we stood there with the children bundled up in the cold on a mountainside overlooking a vast plain with the stars shining down, we saw in the distant horizon seven or eight shooting stars.

Magical moments come in various ways, sometimes it comes in the form of shooting stars, sometimes it comes in the form of a fluttering leaf falling upon you and other times it comes in the warmth of a lazy winter morning when all the world outside seems bleak, but you feel warm inside. Even these cold winters can be translated to a warm feeling that the Danish have a wonderful word for: Hygge. ( pronounced – Hoo-ghey)

Embracing Hygge – The Danish Secret to staying happy in the winter

It is the feeling of warmth and coziness even when the world outside is harsh and cold.

As Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well says, “It leads to a sense of a rich inner life that radiates out through bleak days.”

What better way to weave the little sequins of magical moments into the fabric of life?

If

We had been to the East coast to gulp in the beauty of the fall colors before the trees were stripped bare for the Winter. I marveled at the beautiful tapestry that nature had laid out for us. The greens, golds, yellows, rusts, oranges, reds and browns blended together beautifully to please the eye. The same patch of forest looked beautiful in the different lights of day. The color of the skies above, the intensity of the sunlight, the shadows of the scudding clouds above, all painted marvelous pictures and nature soothed in a way that it has always done.

A forest is beautiful to look at. A forest in fall colors is brilliant to look at. The diversity in colors is mind boggling, and it all pieces together beautifully in a marvelous tapestry. It is the differences in color that make it glorious.

An artist’s palette is made more vibrant with different shades.

As much as we all like everyone to be like us, it is the fact that we are different that makes the world a beautiful place. It is the disappointments that should propel us forward.

I am distraught at the person America has chosen as its President elect. I am trying to find solace in the words of Carl Sagan on Earth:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-1-56-32-pm

Now, more than ever before, is the time for all of us to come together and become heroes in our own ways. I felt this was the right time to read Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ to the children.

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

When the materialistic society around us automatically glorifies money, we can use the moment to say that money does not equal dignity, money does not beget culture, money may earn you servitude, but not loyalty.

And point to the example in The White House.

Who Am I Revisited

I have been featured in The Times of Amma.
The editor , Shweta Ganesh Kumar, an author and a former CNN correspondent, sent me a questionnaire in interview format to fill out – all very official and intimidating it was, till I applied my usual tactics.
Parts of this ‘Who Am I’ answer is also there in my Who Am I ? post which was easily accessible before I changed the blog format in a stroke of brilliance.
The Times of Amma says: Today we feature Saumya Balasubramanian who blogs on Life, Humour, Books, Nature, Children, Adventures and Travel.
She also sent me one of the most interesting bios, I have read when I asked her for one. I usually edit bios when they come in the first person, but this was written so engagingly that I am publishing it here, as is.

Isn’t life a quest in finding who you really are?
Sometimes, I am a nefelibata and a pluviophile and a bibliophile and a logophile. There are dreams, passions and words floating up there in my mushroom shaped head. I love my family and friends, so when someone asks me who I am, I can barely stop myself from having this conversation:So what do you do?

Self: I think, I write, I play, I dance in the kitchen/fields/lawns/woods, I enjoy nature, I exercise, I plan, I am not scared of using my imagination, I analyze data, I code and design in the ever-changing software world, I teach, I experiment, I cook, I enjoy the company of family and friends, I sometimes talk to myself, I laugh and smile a lot.

I mean what do you do for living?

Self: I breathe. Try it. It is very good. One deep breath, fill your lungs and exhale and empty your stomach. Now try again.

I mean what do you do for A living? One thing please.
Me beaten: Fine. I am a Software Engineer and a Writer and a * Person loses interest and walks away *

I smile again.

There is always a state of flux and a number of articles, novellas, novels, children’s books in progress. It is what keeps me going, and if you are interested in reading anything of more length, please get in touch with me.I hope my readers enjoy my writing as much as I enjoy the process of writing them.

Please visit http://www.timesofamma.com/single-post/2016/10/14/Moms-Who-Blog-Featuring-Saumya-Balasubramanian for the complete interview.

Stephen Curry Comes To Play

T’was the NBA finals – San Francisco Giants vs Cleveland Rainbows or something. There was much excitement in the neighborhood, entire families were agog watching the match. Pizzas were ordered in, for though the athletes themselves had to keep fit, there were no such demands on the audience. Some Indian neighborhoods went all out and had samosas, chaat and tea for basketball viewing. Living in California, I could take a walk, far from television, and still figure out the direction of the match when I took a walk. Loud cheers meant SF Giants basketed a ball, and moans meant the C Rainbows did the same.

The last few minutes of the match was tense judging by the tension emanating from the Television areas to the street. Right enough, I headed home to find a certain clamoring for my presence. The children’s faces were shining with excitement and so it was that I got to watch the final 5 minutes of the match. What with the replays and the fouls and the drama and the penalties, the final 5 minutes took a goodish twenty minutes to watch.

After the match was done with, commentators tripped over each other in rehashing the match, the personalities that drove the players, the flaws that seemed to have surfaced. I moved off towards more pressing demands on my time like watering the garden, getting dinner going etc, musing all the while on the whole game viewing experience.

I was never one who enjoyed being plopped passively in front of the television, and spent a good part of my childhood not knowing the difference between a 4 and a 6 in Cricket. Blasphemy. I know. All I knew was that there was a major din every time there was a 4 or a 6, and since this happened multiple times during the day, and for several days at once, I did not really see the point. The brother did his best, since he spent many mornings lovingly polishing his cricket bat. He shook his head at my cricket-ry ignorance, but loved me all the same. What is with boys and cricket?

The basketball match seems to have left a mark on the toddler in the house too. After the match was done, there he was, using his blue football and trying his best to throw it into the clothes hamper. Not just that, I noticed a certain skip in his step, and every move was complicated by the ducking and falling in vague angles that seemed critical to the ball-into-hamper process. The commentators seemed to have made an imprint too. For there was a live commentary going on, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Stephen Curry, far from calling it a night after an exhausting match came to the old home to play with the son.

basketball

When Stephen Curry passed the ball, the son took it and on the way to the clothes hamper skirted a chair, deftly avoided me walking to the kitchen, dunked the ball into the hamper and then fell spectacularly.

His doting grandmother congratulated him on scoring a goal.

“You don’t score a goal in basketball Paati. “ he said shaking his head at such foolishness as he picked up his blue football again.