Every year as I walk by homes where the residents have gone to great pains to celebrate and decorate their house for the Holidays or Halloween, two things happen.
One: I take a tiny hammer to the brain and give it a rap– right there on the skull where it ought to remind you to say “Ouch!”
Two: I convince myself that I should indeed decorate the house and I get started like a damp fire cracker. I make a lot of noise, sizzle about a bit, generate a lot of smoke and then die out without doing anything brilliant.
I’d call it a childish attempt, if I had not seen the attempts made by children and how vastly superior they were to my own. Not only that, for a week after that brave attempt, I was sore in muscles I did not know existed and I cheesed the pumpkin-carving after that. Only pumpkin craving remains now. My neighbors put me to shame with attempts like this:
Last year, I steamed out of the house like a tank engine and came back with Halloween decorations that will make my house dazzle and not just that, uplift the whole neighborhood. I know my faults, so I went in for foam stickers with a bit of sparkle on them. We stuck spiders on the garage door and some foam stickers on the door. It looked beautiful and frightful enough. We even had a few children come and coo.
For the whole year after that we have had partial Halloween decorations – the foam stickers refuse to come off and the spiders stuck on the door remain there (well, some of them fell off on their own, the others remain, joined at times by their live brethren). The cobwebs are entirely natural and add to the aura of the place.
If you ask me what I did for Christmas, I will gallantly point you to the lights hanging outside. They have simply not been taken down ever since and we have blue and white icicle lights twinkling all year through. They light up the space for the spiders well enough should they need a little help. The thing is, I was so proud of our lights that I refused to take them down in January. Then, by the time February rolled around, my enthusiasm for Spring took over and the lights were forgotten.
The last time we had put up lights, I almost died of heart failure for one, and the husband almost fell off a six-foot ladder for another, so I was not going to take this brilliant easy lighting system down in a hurry (I notice I haven’t written about it yet, and probably should. A thrilling tale and I wish to do it justice. )
What horrors do you wish to inflict this time? You ask. I am thinking and rubbing that soft spot in the skull for ideas. I may go in for the tablecloth decoration once again. I bought one of those Halloween themed disposable tablecloths and stuck them on the door. I was so pleased with myself with that one.
I tell myself every year to buck up one of these years and try my hand at decorating something nice for Halloween or Christmas. How I admire people who have that creative bent of mind?Sigh.
Navarathri is behind us and I breathe easier. Navarathri – nice days of carb-loading, pujas, Golu hopping, shying away from singing (From Wikipedia: In Tamil Nadu, people set up steps and place idols on them. This is known as golu. Photos of typical golu displayed in Tamil Nadu style can be found here.In the evening women in neighborhood invite each other to visit their homes to view Kolu displays, they exchange gifts and sweets.)
You see, I have never been one of those artsy creative type of folks. I have seen folks carve a beautiful statue of Buddha out of a potato and I watch in awe. When I see a potato, I see a potato. In my creative moments, I see a potato-curry or a mashed potato. But there it stops.
Navarathri, it seems, comes along to show me what all avenues are there for the creatively inclined, and how very demented I am along those lines. It would be one thing if I could just withstand 9 days of this and then go back to my lack-a-daisical ways. But it refuses to let up. Navarathri is quickly followed by Halloween decorations and then Diwali lights followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Some of my friends during Navarathri not only put up 9 steps full of dolls, they create themes around them, they have a side show of modern themes, and themes around their past themes. Maybe somebody should try the vegetable carving motif the next time around.
My theme is more practically suited to my ability: why bother? It seems better to go and enjoy the displays so painstakingly put up by the brave-hearted and creative-minded. My theme has been confused for lazy, but I say I am being gallant. If not for folks like us, who would appreciate all the work that goes into a Golu?
Facebook showed me Golu attempts in Chennai, New Delhi, San Jose, Seattle, Norway and Ghuangzhou Province in China. WhatsApp gave me blow by blow accounts of others doing it and mildly urged me to try my hand at it sometime. But I am made of sterner stuff. I admired everybody’s attempts, but am steadfast in not adding my own feeble attempts to the grander themes.
My daughter, who had a fantastic time with her friends eating the different varieties of rices and sundals (chickpea salads) laid out in hordes at the Golus asked me why I did not join in the fun. I pointed her to my past attempts at decorative splendor (being put up as Part 2 of this blog ) and she gave me a gentle look filled with pity, and a pat and said, “Oh Amma! I know you are quite useless at decorating, it’s okay!”
In our household, we skip, dance and thump our chests, looking proud when we arrange cereal boxes in a line like this, and if you visit, we can pluck one box and feed you with it:
There was a lunar eclipse and a red moon a few weeks ago. The world watched the rare phenomenon and so did we. I remember seeing the Halley’s Comet about three decades ago, using the School telescope. The telescope was set up in our neighbor’s garden. There is a secret excitement and a strange lesson in mortality when looking at a comet that comes once in 75-76 years.That, by itself, was sensational enough for us to brave the cold nights to see the comet. The newspapers had been our source of knowledge and I think the news on state television made a statement too, but that was all.The rest of the buzz we created. I remember a lot of intent gazing and saying “Watdidocee?Isthatit?WOW!”
Now, I am tripping all over the internet over viewing pieces of it remnants : The Orionid Meteor Shower: Leftovers of Halley’s Comet
I can’t but help compare and contrast how we would have viewed it today’s times. Just as spottily is my guess, though we would have the pleasure of seeing the recording taken by somebody immensely more skilled at these things than myself.
We set about viewing the eclipse in our customary fashion. That is to say, we made a complete muck of things: hashed a pig or two in the duck pen and squashed a rat.
The husband stood at the kitchen island, with a seriousand urgent expression on his face. The daughter strolled in and said, “Oh – he must be playing chess!”
The affronted husband puffed out his chest and told her not to say trivial things like that. “I am, in fact, checking out a very important scientific phenomena that we can see in the skies today. “
The daughter, suitably chastened, went near him and cried, “He is on Facebook!”
“Yes, but checking to see whether the lunar eclipse started, not, you know, just face-booking.” he finished somewhat lamely.
The toddler son, flying his toy plane, and attempting a lunar landing, then explained the lunar eclipse to us: Moons can be red, blue or white (Is it American? No Everyone can see the moon when it is blue, red or white) and hide in the sun (Won’t it burn? No. Because Shadows are not hot.)
“So, why can’t you go out and check if the lunar eclipse started?” I asked. “After all, if people were saying so on Facebook, they must have done the same thing.”
This struck the children as sound logic, and they ran outside to see what was going on. They caught glimpses of a red moon and they charged in with the sensational news. The son ran into the house, taking his bass decibel levels to an excited high and the daughter came, tripping over her shoes as she took them off. I was, as is usual, in the evening, flopping about the kitchen looking efficient and determined. The urgent appeals from the whole family made me set dinner aside for the moment:
Just switch off the dinner. We can come back and eat.
Come fast. Now.
It takes a long time to cook. You are always cooking dinner.
I likes dinner.
They hustled me out of the house and we stood outside in a sort of anti-climax. The clouds, usually welcomed in the Bay area skies, were having a tough time figuring out why people were standing outside and grimacing at them like that. Hadn’t these very people been pandering for rain, and putting up mugshots of what clouds look like to make sure the populace did not forget? Now when the clouds did come and flit across the evening sky, there was animosity. Did they think moons brought rains? No. Clouds did. Very confusing for the cloud-body.
By now, of course, the husband had to take matters in his hand. He sprinted out to the street and then said we’d get a better view from the end of our street, so off we went leaving the door ajar. The husband, looking like an Admiral General in shorts,was directing his troops to better viewing positions. The children dutifully ran after him. He turned to bellow out further instructions, only to find his faithful wife running in the opposite direction. It is enough to rattle any Admiral. One cannot determine strategic spots with the errant soldier retreating. He stopped and the children skidded into him and they all bellowed at the recalcitrant soldier.
The problem was, there had been a spate of robberies of late, and I was loathe to leaving the door open. So, I doubled back to lock up, while the rest of the family ran. Questions, explanations, eye-rolls and lectures on how-to-live-in-the-moment and not miss lunar eclipses were happening when the daughter yelled – ‘There! There is the moon.” The mutinous Admiral and the penitent trooper, both abandoned earthly worries for the moment and gazed sky-ward to see the moon disappear once again.
The husband tried to take a picture with the phone, “There are far better photographs that are going to be shared at the end of the eclipse, why bother now?”, I said, like it was going to make a difference.
We gazed again only to find a twig obstructing our view of the clouds. The husband charged homeward saying he’d bring us the car, so we could all pile in and get a clearer view. I tried telling him that a better view can only be had above the clouds, but he had gone. He ran and I ran after him with the house keys,and we met each other mid-street (In case you thought the children missed this piece of action, they did not.The toddler thought we were playing, and ran after me. The daughter, tasked with looking after her little brother, ran after him.)Within minutes of this rhino-charge, the car came, with the husband panting in the driver seat and we jumped in and headed out to a open parking lot.
I don’t know whether you have observed children playing in the park. They run up and then they run down, they run left and they right. All with no apparent purpose. So do the child-like. After about 15 minutes of running this way and that, there was some heavy breathing, more useless photographs, and a state of dejection.
If aliens used this time to observe life on earth, I am afraid to say the news they carry back to their homing civilization cannot be a promising one. A lot of pointless running, needless pointing later, we decided to just head back home.
We entered our community when the clouds cleared again. Swearing loudly, off we leaped from the car, and charged out to see the eclipse. We saw a knot of our neighbors standing to view the eclipse too. They had, in their usual wise manner, skipped the drama and simply came out of their homes and raised their eyes.
This was the picture the internet showed us the next day:
Sigh! For those of you trying to view the Orionid Meteor Shower – I wish you a peaceful viewing. Let me know how it goes.
We are enjoying Wind in the Willows sort of days of late. Every so often, I crave for some comfort reading and fall back on Children’s story books. The Wind in the Willows is one such. I still remember my best friend walking up to the front of the assembly and saying nervously, “The Wind in the Willows By Kenneth Grahame. The Mole had been working hard all morning spring cleaning his home …” She had me sit in the first row so she could look at me for moral support, and I gladly obliged. She had brushed her wavy hair neatly parted at the side, and her nervousness was evident in the small shake in her voice. She looked at me and smiled nervously and I gave her a large blooming-flower-kind of smile that encouraged her to go on and she carried on heartened. She finished her recitation to much applause, and collapsed on the chair next to me, and I assured her that she had been marvelous.
When I read snippets of the book on the train, I thought of her again and all the sunny balmy days of childhood play in the warm sun and pouring rain came back to me. Folks looked at me like I need to have my head examined, I grinned disarmingly at them. After all, Grahame described The Wind in the Reeds (the working title till it became Wind in the Willows) as:
“A book of youth, and so perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of the sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things that ‘glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck’.”
There is something deeply alluring about animal stories. I love to imagine them talking to each other, helping one another in times of trouble and having their little adventures. I was similarly happy when I read another passage on Dolphins and Humans in the Cosmic Connection by Carl Sagan. These helpful animals probably crave a little intellectual stimulation and have often been friends to humans, and yet we have shown them time and again how heartless we are by going after them.
Carl Sagan writes of Elvar the Dolphin, who he had the pleasure of meeting during one of his visits to his friend, John Lilly. John Lilly was an admirable scientist who was involved in several researches, Dolphins being one of them. Lilly introduced Elvar-the-Dolphin to Sagan-the-Human, and seeing that they were getting along, let them to it. Sagan and Elvar came into playing a sort of game, and after being splashed thoroughly by Elvar thrice, Sagan refused to play a fourth time.
Elvar surveyed the standoff for several minutes and swam up to Sagan up and said in a squeaky tone of voice, “More!”.
Carl Sagan, justifiably flustered, came running to his friend and said he might have heard a dolphin say the word, “More”.
To which his friend asked him, “Was it in context?”
“Yes! “, spluttered the poor physicist, to which the neuro-scientist smiled and said that it was one of the 50 odd words he knew.
In all these years, we have yet to pick up one word of Dolphinese and yet, we boast about being knowledgable and go to no end to display our arrogance to Mother Nature.
If we are so intent about looking for extra terrestrial life, maybe we should stop and let our own ecosystems thrive.
I am reminded of what William James said, about letting Nature teach us as she ought:
“It is to be hoped that we have some friend, perhaps more young than old, whose soul is of this sky-blue tint, whose affinities are rather with flowers and birds and all enchanting innocencies, than with dark human passions, who can think of no ill of man.“
The toddler son has always been a little preoccupied with Time. He buzzes around asking me the time every so often. Initially, of course, I did the square thing and checked the watch and told him. Soon, I realized that I could check the refrigerator, count my tomatoes, and just blurt out an approximate time. Then, I realized that he did not need the approximate time either – he just needed a number. (I tried time-to-sleep, and time-to-eat, but he did not accept that answer. He did, however, accept 14 o’clock, 14:52 – but not 14.)
The little fellow, like most children, is a question-machine. He asks why there is no half sun, why the dinosaurs died, how he came back to life to spend the day with Danny, why the flowers dried, why his sister came to the World earlier than him. What is dish – (You can eat a dish and put mammum (food) in a dish?), how to see if water reached a particular spot in the water-hose, what is before zero, how do tree roots drink water (Thank goodness, my biology teacher was not there to hear my answer.)
Sometimes, I give him an answer that is in essence correct, but otherwise useless. Like the time he asked me how to make water. (You take two hydrogen atoms, combine it with an oxygen atom and you will get water.) He looked at me puzzled and drank his water. So, I am drinking three water, but there is only one water? I never learn I tell you. After that rash answer, I spent a few trying minutes laying bare my ignorance in Chemistry for all to see.
One time, at the end of a 16-hour long day, we lay there savoring a children’s book together. I told him that it was his sister’s favorite book when she was a baby and he lapped it up. At the end of it, we both sighed contentedly and I told him it was time to sleep. That was when he crinkled his brow, and asked me what is Time. I must have looked perplexed for he went on: “You rember when I was eating applejacks cereal in the morning, you said Time is going? I want to go yesterday.”
If I wasn’t lying down, I would have gone. I am guilty of hustling the fellow when he is relishing his ‘applejacks cereals’ over breakfast, but mornings are a bit rushed in the household and my train won’t wait.
He looked serious and a bit frustrated to see that I had not grasped his simple question. “I want to go yesterday!” he repeated slowly and a bit louder than before. I know that on his timeline things that happened a decade ago qualify as yesterday, so I asked him why he wanted to go to Yesterday.
His answer to that was simple enough. He wanted to see his sister as a baby. I had to dash the fellow’s hopes. There were photographs I could show him, stories I could tell him of her babyhood, but no, he could not go back in time.
Then, he asked me why time only goes forwards and not backwards.
This is when you see me mop my brow. I tell you, I am no physicist. His questions are steadily chipping at whatever Science I have managed to grasp over the years, despite my teachers’ best intentions.
I barely understand time now. It is ethereal, and deceptive. I feel like I am spending enough time during the day enjoying the present, yet, here we are already confusing the Fall season with the sunshine that is Summer’s trademark. I seem to remember helping the fellow take his first steps and now here he is asking me for explanations that are dubious at best. If every day does not seem to fleet past, why do the years flit by?
How come I forget the name of the person I met yesterday, but remember the names of my friends from when I was 5 years old?