Lightning in the Butterfly Grove

There is something immensely enjoyable about being around babies I tell you. You ask them the dumbest questions and they buckle down, crease their foreheads in deep thought and give you serious answers. 

“Where is your nose?”
“Where is the car?”
“What did Curious George do?”
“Did you throw the blocks outside?”

The infant son enjoys sitting on my lap and reading stories. There is one he particularly enjoys about an elephant playing hide and seek with his friends. You see, the pages are filled with illustrations of a baby elephant, a zebra, a giraffe and a crocodile. In that book, there is one whole page dedicated to a giraffe. When I get to this complex page, I ask the son “Where is the giraffe?” He sticks out his little index finger at the giraffe and I beam like Einstein’s mother. Pride pouring forth.

The sister watched me carefully as we did the ‘stick-index-finger-in-giraffe’ routine. There was another book that had pictures of animals in it.
“What does a lion do?” He roars impressively every time he sees a tiger or a lion.
“What does a dog do?” He barks (bo-bo) in response.
Just to prove that the man can think about tougher questions, I ask “What does a snake do?” He hisses like one.
WE high-fived, low-fived and fist-bumped in glee.

Finally convinced of his zoological knowledge, the sister took him to the zoo. Aunt and nephew made a great show of it. They packed snacks, milk etc and headed off. Midway through their visit, I got a frantic call from the sister. Apparently, they had stopped in front of the giraffes and she asked him where the giraffes were. The question seemed to excite him quite a bit. He clapped his hands in glee, jumped in excitement, smiled and pointed to a bunch of lions gamboling nearby.

All that effort into the little giraffe book – anyway….

Never one to brood, I decided that what the guy needs is real life exposure. So, we headed out to this almost magical eucalyptus grove that is filled with monarch butterflies during the Winter. While in the grove, we were watching the beautiful butterflies flit past, and I asked my little zoologist “How does a butterfly fly?”.

The fellow pulls on his thinking look, creases his forehead and whips out a model of Lightning McQueen and goes “whiz…whiz…whiz” and demonstrates the flying motion.


One can only hope those butterflies don’t fly the way cars do.

I need a new set of questions.

The Driver’s Spirituality

Somehow my India stories never seem complete without a driver’s story thrown in. So here goes…

Our driver for the day was Shiva or Murugan. Let’s call him Shiva. Shiva was a nice guy. Young-ish. He had a smile on his face and a can-do attitude in his stride. He was told that his duty in the cosmos that day was to take our family to the airport after stopping at a temple enroute. He smiled and nodded. He did not seem like a spiritual person himself but seemed happy to come along.

I told you about how we travel haven’t I? (  We had 3 large suitcases that needed to be hoisted atop the car and tied firmly with rope, or 3 large adults to be strapped and hoisted atop the car. Shiva chose the luggage to hoist on the car because he thought the people would be better company in the car. Well..I suppose everyone makes mistakes.

The family is generally genial and noisy and out-performing each other in the talking department, but this trip had it all stripped.

Now, imagine a broadway show where the cast introduction is bound to start and 2 major characters are missing because they were off visiting their uncle, who’d graciously offered to take them on a grand-tour of his new office parking lot. Backstage meanwhile, tempers run high…scripts are modified in the last minute to blend the introduction without the parking lot tourist characters, hoping against hope that they would make it in time for their real character scenes. Then, just a minute before the curtain goes up, the characters arrive and the whole cast shouts at them for being late. Not only that, tempers are running high because the script-writer has been ticked off for not being quick enough at redrafting the whole play without these characters, the orchestra is being told to cut out songs about these two characters and add extra ones about random characters instead and the percussionist had a few things to say to the drummer about this and all in all, melee reigned in the circus tent.

That was the scene back at the old home. The brother-in-law and sister-in-law went a-visiting somebody, got held up and came back bitingly late. Meanwhile, things were heating up to baking capacity nicely inside the home. An injudicious remark here and a callous remark there was enough to set some tempers going. The remaining were taken care of by the lack of electricity. Let’s just say that by the time the family piled into the car, the atmosphere was icy. Poor Shiva the driver watched the scene for a while and then decided that he couldn’t bear the quiet anymore and switched on a movie to keep his sanity.

It didn’t help that Shiva did not have rope on his person to tie the suitcases up and we had scrambled for rope at the last minute. The father-in-law kept kindly pointing out to him every 3 miles or so about the benefits of any driver keeping rope with him. Shiva might have been okay with the 3 minute reminders if it wasn’t interspersed with 2 minute reminders to ask somebody for directions. (I had my reservations on the driver-keeping-rope-handy theory – Shiva looked ready to hang himself, and readymade rope would not help matters, would they? )

All in all, he decided to trust to a greater power and switched on a movie about two elephants(one mad and the other not quite) and a bunch of lovers. The movie that Shiva had banked on to raise our spirits was doing its job at a snail’s pace. Jokes were eliciting a grunt every now and then, and the coldness in the car was melting. Once when I commented about how wonderful the songs were, Shiva said that they were the best part of the movie, since it was a tragic one and we’d all be pulling our tissues by the time the movie ended.

To everyone’s stupendous relief, the car rolled to a stop in front of the right temple, and the temple was open after all. Not only that, there was a huge elephant. Now call that uncanny. The temple elephant was decorated beautifully. In a moment, the family’s mood lightened. The children were awe-struck by the elephant and went in turns with their affectionate grand-father to touch him.


A short visit inside the temple and the family was miraculously back to being the gregarious-guffawing-silly_jokes lot.

If anything were to convince Shiva about what God really meant to people’s hearts the question was amply answered for him that day. A turning point in his life. I mean look at the facts:

Input: Morose, quiet, brooding family
Output: g-g-sj lot

To make matters worse, when we piled back into the car and the movie came on again; it tried its best to get us to turn on the hosepipes, but nothing happened. We laughed at the misery in the movie and called the director a dumb fellow for whatever he was doing.

Shiva either thinks that we are a family to gains love and laughter by going to temples, or thinks of us as potential clients to some excellent mental health hospitals he has heard of.

The Wedding Aboard Emirates 636 at 3 a.m.

It all started the day we were leaving India. I had spent all day the previous day packing everything we owned into the large suitcases. There is something charming about weighing international baggage to see if a packet of sambar powder would fit in the first 13 times you do it.  After the 17th time this happened, I lost patience.

The previous day had morphed into the day we were leaving and I was still doing the pack-dance. I sighed a loud sigh. Loud enough for the considerate and well-intentioned husband to abandon all pretense at not-hearing. He was nominated to finish packing before he could flee the premises on a flimsy context. He did.

Our plans are always simple. For instance, if we have to go from home to the airport, our plan is:
1) Go to a temple that is an hour and a half away from the airport in a south easterly direction.
2) After the temple visit, go to a guesthouse that is an hour away in the eest westerly direction. Change.
3) Proceed to airport that is an hour away in a northern southerly direction.

When plans are made, strategies are not far behind. Napolean could take a correspondence course from us. The able general may have moved his troops from France to Russia and back fighting some wars along the way, but I doubt he could have loaded the suitcases onto the top rack of a car, tied it with rope and loaded the troops into the car before transporting them to a temple enroute to an airport. It would have him stumped.

The large suitcases were all loaded and tied onto the car. The children were counted and loaded inside the car. I hollered to make sure the hand baggage was not tied on to the top and then the whole family piled in and we took off. I don’t know why this is, but the temple we were visiting insists on women wearing sarees and men wearing dhotis. The husband smartly tied his dhoti over his pants and deemed himself ready. The last time I’d tried to wear a saree on my salwar kameez, I was rapped on my knuckles and told that any pant-like garment was not allowed. So, I was relying on step 2 in our plan to change into something comfortable before the flight.

We stopped at the guest house to change. It was hot and the infant in my arms was having fun with my saree. He kept playing peek-a-boo in it. I was holding onto the garment quite gingerly. The husband thrust the hand carry suitcase in my infant-free arm and then bounded off indecently behind some banana chips that were being fried half a mile away.

I haven’t really talked to men of the desert, but I suppose they must feel a sense of relief when they see an oasis. My senses were similar. Silk sarees are extremely hot and uncomfortable. I clutched the suitcase and opened it with longing. At first sight, I could not find any clothes for me or the daughter or the son. So I looked again. Nothing. I gasped and tried everything. Closing and re-opening to see if I’d missed the goods in a poor angle of light or something. Still nothing.

The husband walked in with a smile on his face. My look must have unnerved him for he came and asked me to eat chips and “chill”. Hot though I was, I asked him icily where our clothes were.
“There!” he said.
“Where?” I said.
“Just there – under the bed sheet!” he says. Why a man should pack a bed sheet in our hand-carry suitcase I still don’t know.
I pulled out a nightie. “You mean this?” I ask. Sheep could have detected the sarcasm, but the husband ignored it.

He was serious. That was the garment he had for me. A nightie. One of those barrel-like pillowcase shaped garments that are so popular as night wear in India. I gasped. Even by my lax standards of dressing, I could hardly travel abroad in a nightie. I gulped and swallowed a hundred times and asked about the children’s clothes. There was nothing in that department either. He had 4 vests of his, 2 pairs of his jeans, some towels and bedsheets in there. Also the camera. I could hardly wrap the daughter in a towel!

For those of you who wondered why the daughter and I were dressed like the Emirates Flight leaving at 3 a.m in the morning was to host a dear one’s wedding: that’s why.


The Orange Torn Balloon

I’ve always liked balloons and my children seem to like them too. Our local Traders Joe has balloons that they dole out to kids. I almost always pick one up for the kids and can then be seen chasing the balloon for at least a few feet in the parking lot because of one of the following goofy reasons:
(a) I thought the balloon was inside the car before closing the door, when it really wasn’t
(b)the daughter opened the other door through which it floated out
(c)some such bloomer.
In any case, I had no idea my liking balloons in general would permeate to the extent of my hobnobbing with torn balloons for several hours every other day.

Since I don’t mind exposing my many idiosyncrasies on this blog, I shall tell you what I was doing one evening.
I walked into a room full of serious minded people. You know folks frowning with deep lines of concentration etched on their faces. There was Ms. Dont-Disturb-Me, Mr. No-eye-contact , Mrs Dopey and Mr Smiley all minding their business of the day.

I took off my shoes and planted myself on the floor. I first sat on the mat, but then shifted my butt to the dirty carpet instead. The freshly laundered pant of mine shuddered a bit, but I ignored it.

I pulled an orange colored torn balloon fastened to a chair’s leg toward myself and heaved and ho-ed like no man has heaved a torn balloon before. Mrs Dopey gave me a wince and turned back to what she was doing, while Mr Smiley was a bit taken aback. At one point, the balloon even made funny noises against my skin. You know one of those sounds like a dinosaur playing with whistles (the kind that are handed out in children’s parties).

Yet I pulled on the torn balloon till I could tear it no more, and looked up hopefully at Ms Dont-Disturb-Me. She merely passed the buck to Mr No-eye-contact. I sat there feeling dumber and smaller by the minute. After all, which adult sits on the floor pulling strands of balloon from chair-ends in a room full of people engaged in activities not involving pulling balloons? Huh?

After what seemed like hours, but was in fact only several minutes, I was invited to lie down and the old ankle received a wonderful massage.

The physiotherapy session was coming to an end. Hopefully I can get to using the pretty blue torn balloon one day…blue balloons have always fascinated me. Even torn ones.Image


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