“Hey ma – will call you back later okay? Just talking to my friends rn.”
I stayed up till midnight doing this-and-that so I could wish the daughter a happy birthday. This also happens to be the first time she is away from the home for her birthday.
I had with me a Dr Seuss book “Happy Birthday To You!” And read out the “You are you-er than you today” line for her, to which she gave me a teen-new-college-going eye-roll, which is rather like the Ferrari of eye-rolls.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
I chuckled and let it slide. After all, eye-rolls take the place of approval sometimes.
As the day progressed, she called to tell us how her day was going. As annoyed as I was with my parents for asking me what I ate when I called, I did the same thing. The cupcakes, Mac-and-cheese, and coffees seem to have filled her day. I noticed that healthy eating had taken a backseat with their college diets and I gingerly pointed it out.
She said she was thinking of eating a salad and that ought to do.
“But did you really eat the salad?”, I said
“Well…no! But I thought of it, and she is eating a salad – see!” she said pointing the video cam towards her more nutritionally balanced friend. Honestly!
This letting-go is a funny business. I don’t suppose Dr Seuss wrote any books for adults on how to do that. But if he did, I should like to have a copy.
The son & I were chatting of this and that as we walked into the library mostly missing the old pater who had left the previous week. Grandfather, Grandson & Self: would make a song and dance out of our library trips, and look forward to it with shining eyes.
The rest of the household indulged us in this pursuit. We traipsed home with seeds for the vegetable garden from the Solarium in the library, we came home with books defying regular ideas, we got on spaceships and shot off to Mars and beyond with our books, we explored magical entrances to worlds in which we could safely explore our problems, we went on philosophical jaunts with ideologies, we set about trying to understand ecosystems, habitats, climate change, economies, neuroscience, cellular biology, systems design whether or not we completely understood, but just because we could and it was fun to do so.
Books became our source of infinity and the three generations were content for days in our different worlds.
“I wish Thaatha was here to see this. Oh! He would’ve loved to look at this.”, said the son, stopping in front of the spectacular Banned Books exhibit in the library.
For Banned Books Week, the little exhibit showcased famous banned books and the reasons they were questioned in the first place.
The son, looked at me with huge round eyes and said – “Really! Why would they ban Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, and this cute little book on Penguins just because it has gay penguins?”
I joined him at the exhibit and saw The Handmaid’ s Tale, Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte’s Web and a score of other loved books in that list.
I saw the concern in his face.
“You know? When I see this list, I am grateful we got to read so many of these books, but also makes me think of that little snippet in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
“The one where Hermione Granger is beaming after Umbridge bans Potter’s interview proclaiming the return of Lord Voldemort? She says that if Umbridge could have done one thing to make sure that absolutely everyone in the school read the interview, it was banning it.”
He smiled and we discussed why books are banned in the first place. Are inclusive ideas that frightening? Why do dictators ban books – for the ability to imagine is a dangerous game. What if their oppressed populace imagined life without their tyrannical rule?
Many authors have faced life threatening situations (most recently Salman Rushdie) for their ideas. Ideas are seeds after all, they can take root and make people imagine a better existence for themselves and where would be then?
“I wish your Thaatha had access to a good public library in India.” I said sadly. It has been a wish and a dream for the country I was born in.
We harked back to a little town he had designed. In that world, libraries were prioritized right alongside schools, hospitals, parks, and public transit and I liked it so much.
I picked up Where the Wilds Things Are – by Maurice Sendak for it seems we needed to read at least one book on that exhibit.
Summers in California are true and long, lingering summers. The grass becomes hay, the green hills become brown, lawns boast of signs that say ‘Brown is the new Green’, and birds and animals alike droop from the sun. The flora though thrives – vegetable gardens burst forth and produce in the bountiful rays of the sun, flowers bloom everywhere, and in the midst of all the heat, there is beauty at every corner. The weather sometimes heeds the arrival of the autumnal equinox but has no qualms about ignoring it either.
This year, even the cloud cover seemed scant. Sunsets were less than spectacular, the skies were a brilliant blue and slowly turned pinkish before becoming a deep ink-ish blue.
My sunset photographs from yester-years seemed magnificent in comparison. For clouds – scattered, wispy, thick, grey, white, fluffy, dense all make for brilliant sunsets.
You can imagine then, the joys of seeing the clouds rolling in. We were traveling and to see the clouds from the flight was magical. The son & I sat mesmerized by them. As the aircraft dipped in altitude and made toward the Earth, it was pure magic to see the clouds around us – the aircraft was literally flying through the clouds.
In the book, A Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan writes about how he could probably identify which planet on the solar system he was in merely by looking at the color of the sky. Our home, Earth, is a characteristic blue sky with white clouds. The absence of these day-to-day marvelous wonders, that Carl Sagan calls as the signature of Earth for the past few months, made us truly appreciate the beauty and grandeur of cloudy days.
Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
It is why you saw me with my face upturned and beaming at our heavenly companions as if they had feelings and needed to be welcomed.
It made for an interesting read on how we managed to get time down to a science. Dava Sobel creates an excellent narrative around the problem of Time and Maritime navigation.
“Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness withholds the shadow from the sundial, when the mainspring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on.”
Longitude by Dave Sobel
While many astronomers tried to solve the mystery of keeping time using the astronomical events in the sky such as mapping Jupiter’s moons and their eclipses etc, one man, John Harrison set about solving the problem mechanically with a superior clock design. Clocks of the fifteenth and sixteenth century lost time because their pendulums lost their swing with the swaying of the ships, the internal mechanics rusted with the moisture at sea, and numerous other problems.
Reading about Time and how difficult it must have been to measure, has always fascinated the son & myself.
I was reading Mrs Pringle of Fairacre by Miss Read – every time when life demands a slowing down and it is physically hard to do so, a dip into the lovely village green of Thrush Green or Fairacre does the trick. In the Fairacre books, Mrs Pringle is the competent school cleaner who is also a bit of a virago. Her scatter-brained niece Minnie Pringle is often featured – incompetent and maddening as she is, she helps(or hinders) Miss Read out now and then. In this snippet, Miss Read learns that Minnie Pringle, a mother of 3 and stepmother to 5 young children, never really learnt to look at the clock and read the time.
Mrs Pringle of Fairacre: About Minnie Pringle
I had not really taken in the fact that she could not tell the time
‘Well, I never sort of mastered the clock”, she said vaguely, implying that were a great many other things which she had mastered in her time.
‘But how do you manage?’ I enquired, genuinely interested.
“I looks out for the Caxley’, she replied. ‘It gets to the church about the hour.’ (The Caxley is the local bus)
‘But not every hour.” I pointed out.
‘Yes…but there is also the church bell.’
‘It still seems rather hit and miss,’ I said.
Mrs Pringle – By Miss Read
When I read the above snippet, I threw my head back and laughed. Almost subconsciously, I glanced at the various apps on my smartphone to remind me about the day : there were calendars synced with my meeting schedules, alarms to remind me of certain events and classes for the children, timers to help the rice cooker turn itself off, the world clock app to let me know when it is okay to call my friends in the different corners of the globe.
Out on a walk today – I thought it would be a good way to start the cooling down from what turned out to be a heat wave of the likes that set new records in temperatures.
While on the walk, I stood befuddled below some trees from which the leaves were falling. There was no cool breeze, and the sun-baked earth looked heavily in need of rains. But the leaves were gently starting to drift earthwards. The dissonance was loud, and the stillness louder. Falling leaves, changing colors, should all signify cooler temperatures, a move towards cozy indoor expectations et al.
When that thought flitted into my mind, I smiled. For the clarity with which the thought came, belied the fact that for half my life, I had never known the beauty of Fall. Yet, once the brain knows, it does, and how unexpectedly this expectation of seasons took root in me was baffling.
I do not remember when I started observing the seasons – for they are not as stark in California as in the East Coast.
The next day on a bike ride, the son & I took a moment to recover. For the lakes we had seen brimming with water and teeming with fish and birds just a month ago, was now barren and dry. It has been one of the driest summers California has experienced, but even so, the shock of the dry lakes are hard to bear. What would the seasons be like on other planets?
While the rhythm of the seasons is hopefully predictable, I could not help looking for old pictures of the same ponds and lakes from a few weeks ago,
I stood there thinking of the deep comforting voice of Frank Sinatra
“Fly me to the Moon
I’d like to see Spring in Jupiter and Mars!”
How marvelous it would be to get a glimpse into the different kinds of beauty in the universe? Are there other seasons in other planets? What is the music of each season?
Written by the legendary author of The Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, I could barely believe it when I saw the well-loved book in the library. This book is written from the perspective of their dog, Touché L’Engle and how she welcomed the other dog everyone calls a baby.
It is a light-hearted and joyous book celebrating the life of their first pet, Touché . At one point in the book, I stopped and laughed out loud.
I always tell my master and mistress
when the telephone or the doorbell rings.
No one could be more efficient,
about this than I am
Madeleine L’Engle – The Other Dog
I remember my friend telling me a few years ago that their dog, with whom I shared a birthday, and was always very proud of it, had taken it upon himself to take care of the children. Which meant that every time one of her babies cried, the dog would bark too, and every time the door bell rang, he would bark too.
As a visitor to their home, I found it all very amusing. I would ring the bell, listen to the gongs echo through their house, then the dog would bark, and usher me in with welcoming wags of his little tail. While there, if the baby so much as whimpered, the baby monitor would amplify the sounds and relay it to the room we were in. But that wasn’t enough: the dutiful little dog took it upon himself to also convey the message, and so there was a grand flurry of activity every time the baby got up.
I remember laughing so hard at all this activity, and my friend, tired as she was with a new baby in the house, joined in, and laughed heartily too. The dog was thoroughly bewildered. Had he not conveyed the message properly? THE BABY WAS CRYING! Why were we standing around laughing so hard that we had to clutch our stomachs?
Touché’s debut was in the production of Checkov’s The Cherry Orchard.
We go through life seeing many people who might’ve made good celebrities, and I am glad to say I have a met a dog or two in that category too. But fame, fickle as it is, can sit very poorly or gracefully on certain characters. It looks like Touché was gracefully accepting of his time on stage, and never let himself down from the higher standards of deportment he had set out for himself. If I were a celebrity, I would’ve learnt a thing or two from dear Touché.
There is a general hum of excitement when an Amazon package arrives outside the home. Is it some exciting thing required for the college-bound daughter, or something that would make the husband excited for his myriad hobbies, or another household item that would make yours truly beam?
Usually, the honors of opening the packages are done by the daughter with her adoring brother watching on. Hope I set the stage sufficiently:
Amazon package on porch
Children of house all expecting something for themselves open it
“Why would I take a children’s book to College Mother?” She said rolling her eyes and wishing her mother would have more sense.
Her grandparents, on the other hand, were truly thrilled by the book.
“What an excellent book ma? It was written the year before his death and has a lifetime of wisdom in it. Excellent book!” said the grandfather.
“Written in such simple terms for children to understand too. ” said the grandmother.
The grandmother and grandfather united in praise of a book shook her a little bit, but how could she? A near-18 year old, always sharing her ripe wisdom with her adoring brother, accept things that easily!
I saw her steal a glance at the book.
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
Dr Seuss – Oh! The Places You’ll Go
I, for my part, was an amused spectator. This book was one of Dr Seuss’s that I read multiple times over – every time I face a bleak stop at the waiting station, or an exciting time where I hope to soar.
Dr Seuss’s book is an energetic reminder that life throws many curveballs, and somehow in this shared sense of struggle and being, a human camaraderie emerges.
Every time, I talk to my friends and colleagues who in the course of their careers have inspired and taught me, I think how incredibly lucky I am to have had the ability to work with people like them.
And how, without our knowledge, we all lifted each other up.
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
Who soar to high heights.
Oh! The Places You’ll Go – By Dr Seuss
And then, in particularly stressful periods, when you are in the waiting station, and have to learn to un-slump yourself, I read that too, as a reminder that life is never a smooth ride and everyone goes through phases of the not-so-happening, not-so-good.
Yet, at the very end, when the book assures you that all will be well. You do develop an optimism and hope that everything will turn out well in the end.
“And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed)
KID-YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
Oh! The Places You’ll Go – By Dr Seuss
It is no wonder that this book is popular as a gift for anyone starting out a new phase in life.
Or not. It is a gift for all the times you need a reassurance of all that life takes.