Write an ode to my wife, my life

“So, will I be getting my romantic poem then?!” I teased the husband who was looking sheepish. I giggled at his obvious discomfort. He is the sort of fellow who relishes the sentiment behind  P G Wodehouse’s statement:

I once stayed at the residence of a newly-married pal of mine, and his bride had had carved in large letters over the fireplace in the drawing-room the legend: ‘Two Lovers Built This Nest’, and I can still recall the look of dumb anguish in the other half of the sketch’s eyes, every time he came in and saw it.

  • P G Wodehouse

We had been gurgling on about some rom-com movie, a rather touching spot of sentimentality that clinched the deal between the love-birds and all the rest of it. Which led to me to ask for my romantic poem. It is an old joke between us: we both know he is no poet, I am no queen, and so it goes. 

I needn’t have worried though. If ever the man is discomfited, it is but a fleeting sensation. For he leaps into problem solving mode almost instantly. A few minutes later, the cocky fellow strode into the room looking pleased with himself. 

“Check your WhatsApp messages!”, he said. 

I did, and burst out laughing. He had done it. He had sent me a horrendous poem full of lines from 1980’s Hallmark cards, all culled together.

“Oh my goodness! Did you search up the first “romantic poem for my wife” and send it? I asked. I was laughing now, and he disappeared again looking even more pleased, and a sentence thrown to the winds, “The poem doesn’t speak of your particular gifts you are right. One minute.”

Then. A few minutes of deep thinking could be heard – the brain whirring probably and he said: “Check now!” 

I must say it was much more than I expected. After seeing the previous attempt, I braced for a cheesy omelet. 

My love, my life, my wife,

You are a woman of many talents

You are funny and witty.

And your writing is wonderful

The “poem “ went on in this vein for 3 more paragraphs.“Really?! You wrote this? I didn’t quite slot you as a loquacious poet, but good job! “ I said. The husband puffed out his chest and looked proud of himself. Too proud in fact, and that gave me pause. I narrowed my eyes x-raying the man’s soul and saw all. The twitching of the smile that gave it away, the hearty thanks, and I said incredulous, “Oh my goodness! Did you use ChatGPT for these?”

He nodded looking so proud of himself that I clutched my sides laughing barely able to breathe.

“Pretty good right? I asked it to write a poem for a loving wife who is also a funny writer.”, he said.

I beamed at the problem solver. I suppose all poetically challenged lovers can now relax. They can get help. 

We had been talking about the ways in which this new technology can change things for us. Just as with every new piece of technology, there are pros and cons. I had been reading two books simultaneously :

  1. The Age of AI and Our Human Future: By Eric Schmidt, Henry Kissinger and Daniel Huttenlocher 
  2. Impromptu: Amplifying Our Humanity Through AI : By Reid Hoffman

Excerpt from Impromptu:

“Mintz immediately integrated the new tool into his decades-old teaching methods. Within months of ChatGPT becoming public, Mintz started requiring his seminar students to write their essays collaboratively with the new tool. As homework, they bring the ChatGPT prompts they tried and the responses they received for class discussion. They must turn in their final papers with a log of changes to the machine’s output.

As a great teacher, Mintz chose to use ChatGPT not as a source of answers and authority, nor as a replacement of his or his students’ work, but as a tool to help his students learn individually and together.”

ChatGPT: Threat or Menace?: By Prof Steven Mintz

Steven Mintz is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.

The book goes on to compare the use of calculators in Mathematics teaching a few decades ago:

“In 1970, the typical calculator was too pricey for wide- spread use in schools, but they hit a tipping point in the mid- 1970s. Many parents and teachers were alarmed at the influx of new tools; they worried that math skills would atrophy and students would simply cheat. 

By 1980, however, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommended that “mathematics programs [should] take full advantage of calculators . . . at all grade levels.” Today, most math instructors consider calculators to be a critical part of math instruction, and many states mandate calculator use with certain tests. “

It is curious to see how human intellect is ever ready to thrive and adapt and hopefully stay abreast of these. There are now jobs being created for Prompters for those who can get the ChatGPT/ OpenAI platforms to coax the AI platform into  answering particular queries.

There are cautionary stances to be taken and our laws may not always evolve fast enough to keep abreast of technology. The buzz of AI is the most fascinating challenge thus far, and I am rooting for our species to master its use as humanely as is possible. Use it for the good of the world – climate, healthcare  (physical and mental), food production, education and so much more.

But now, I am going to savor the husband’s poem. After all, it did say:

Thank you for being you.
You make the world a better place.

Professor Mintz would’ve been proud of the poem 🙄

🪷An Anthophile’s Angst🪷

The Earth in spring is filled with ephemeral beauty. If only there was a way for us to shore up these stores of promise and beauty to dip into on long, drab days when hope isn’t shining out of every pore, life would be set. 

Last week-end, one of my best friends whisked us from our homes to a place where Earth, as Ralph Emerson Waldo, so clairvoyantly says, laughs in flowers. I had seen pictures of tulips from Netherlands, and from Oregon and Washington states as well. It is hard to miss these photographs on social media. But it has helped build the yearning to visit these flower fields in the peak of spring. Who says dreams do not come true? They do, and often, in ways you do not expect, adding a delicious twist of serendipity to the experience. For this time, it came in the form of a girls’ trip to one of my best friends’ home. The exemplary hostess that she is, we came back feeling like queens, glowing in the warmth of laughter and love she enveloped us in, and smiling secret smiles filled with tulips, daffodils, fields, lakes, clouds and the sound of the twinkling camaraderie between friends.

Walking in and out of these flower fields, I stopped to see the different ways in which we sought to preserve these memories for ourselves. The photographs were fast and furious. Some folks, like ourselves, tried silly photographs, and some others were trying their best to obscure the pictures and their angles so as remove the other people around them. I quite understood the yearning, but also felt a bit cheated (though I was guilty of the same thing). You see? I had expected to see endless fields of tulips stretching far into the horizon as far as the eye could see. What I saw instead was a finite field of flowers. They were brilliant, but not endless. The angle of photography can be misleading indeed.

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The ones most appreciative among us were a couple of dogs that stopped to sniff the blossoms reminding me of the dog in Mary Oliver’s poem that loved to sniff flowers.

“I had a dog
who loved flowers.…

she adored
every blossom

not in the serious
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom

the way we praise or don’t praise –
the way we love
or don’t love –
but the way

we long to be –
that happy
in the heaven of earth –
that wild, that loving.”

Mary Oliver

Maybe the dog caught a whiff for their sense of smell is far sharper than ours, but we shall never know what the dog smelled. I shall however remember the satisfied contented look in its eyes. There was another child who sniffed at the tulips and looked up questioningly. I understood the confusion in the child’s face for it mirrored mine from a few moments ago: the tulips weren’t fragrant exactly  – they simply had no smell. 

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As I stood there surrounded by tulips first and then daffodils in another farm, I thought longingly of the patch in my front garden. For two years now, I have been trying to get it to bloom. But like a trichologist (Trichology is the scientific study of hair) battling a particularly persistent bald man’s patch, it has so far resisted. A shining bald patch in the middle of the yard, simply refusing to burst forth and shine in the spring time. How these horticulturists managed to get this many plants to bloom altogether, and not one of them a dud, is beyond me. #EarthMagicians.

In any case, I thought to myself as I sniffed a flower, I take inspiration from the dogs in spring time bounding about with energy and a bubbling happiness trying to capture infinity in flowers. An anthophile’s (lover of flowers) angst is easily remedied in the ephemeral beauty of every blossom. No rose stops to think of its purpose in life does it?

“Wild roses,” I said to them one morning.
“Do you have the answers? And if you do,
would you tell me?”
The roses laughed softly. “Forgive us,”
they said. “But as you can see, we are
just now entirely busy being roses.”
– Mary Oliver , Roses

🪷🍁🍀🍇🌴The Power of Plants🪷🍁🍀🍇🌴

Around the World in 80 Plants – Jonathan Drori Illustrated by Lucille Clere

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Reading about plants and how they shaped our lives is a fascinating endeavor. How little we stop to think when we sprinkle turmeric, or asafoetida in our foods? Turmeric and Asafoetida by themselves are used so ubiquitously in Indian cooking that we quite forget the journeys from farm to consumption.

Starting off with plants that I have heard of in the magical context such as Myrtle, Wormwood, Clovers, Mandrakes, the book makes its way through plants that influenced our  civilizations in different parts of the world. 

The amount of information packed into a 200-page book is amazing and warrants a place in the reference section. 

We are mostly aware of the fact that we have not even scratched the surface when it comes to the potential of plants and their medicinal uses. There are around 380,000 plant species in the world, and we do not know how many are not catalogued yet. Even the ones in popular use, we do not yet know their potential. Take the Mexican Yam for the instance. It grows like a vine and produces its tubers.  

Yet, when I read about the Mexican Yams (Dioscorea Mexicana), I was blown away. The humble vegetable has a substance called diosgenin. Diosgenin, it turns out, is a vital starting ingredient for the manufacturing of steroids. Steroids are used to treat asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases. 

“The use of steroids expanded in the 1940s, but the drugs, derived from animals and even humans, were hideously expensive. At one time, it took forty oxen to provide the cortisone to treat one arthritic patient for a day. “

– Around the World in 80 Plants – Jonathan Drori

How many times have I applied the cortisone ointments to relieve eczema for the children, without considering how we came by it?

As if this weren’t enough, they are also used in the production of sex hormones progesterone and testosterone. 

“The biggest boom of all came from the use of yam-derived progesterone and other hormones to trick a woman’s body into acting as if it was pregnant thereby inhibiting ovulation. The contraceptive pill was born.”

– Around the World in 80 Plants – Jonathan Drori

Our lives as we know it today, have been forever changed thanks to this humble vegetable. 

“It is fitting that a plant with splendidly heart-shaped leaves should have had such a profound effect on the well-being and love lives of millions of people.”

– Around the World in 80 Plants – Jonathan Drori

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Spring in the Sierra Nevada

The yearning for adventure was astir. Yodeling by the river was not enough, huffing and puffing like penguins in the Atlantis marathon was not enough. Luckily, spring time in California never disappoints the strider in the hills. So, off we went traveling to the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

Driving up to the mountains, we passed by the green hills, greener pastures, and entire meadows, and hillsides covered in lupines, daisies, poppies, milkweed, and little yellow flowers (So many varieties!). If ever any one needs their worries and woes to flee, a drive like this is all it would take.

“In every wood, in every spring, there is a different green.” – J R R Tolkien

 Yosemite National Park is probably one of the most explored parks in the world. 

🪨Every major boulder is given an impressive (sometimes humorous) name: El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks. 

💦Every major perennial waterfall carefully charted – yet every year in spring with the snow melt, the number of little creeks and waterfalls that arrive and vanish before the summer’s heat is like trying to estimate how many chips a kid would eat out of a fresh packet. 

🏞 Every picturesque spot named – there is even a week dedicated to photographing a waterfall – that week the rays of the sun at sunset make the waterfall look like a volcanic lava flow. Photographers spend hours waiting for that wondrous shot.

Of course in spite of everything been catalogued and charted, nature finds a way to impress and astonish. High up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, we expected to be cold.

But, Spring in the Sierra Nevadas felt like winter left in a huff one evening. No lingering farewells, no tears, no gloom, no fussing. Just packed its bags and left.

Spring pranced in, as though waiting back-stage secretly shooing winter off for a bit of shine in the spotlight,  and all the world suddenly brightened and lit up in the sunshine. We were so shocked to have two days without needing thermals, or jackets and just listening to the snow melt from the peaks whooshing down the rivers.

As we walked through the forests of Yosemite, poetic phrases bubbled up. Why oh why does this happen, and how oh how does the world know April is Poetry Month?

So we bubbled along, squirting out our little phrases. The ones that came and the ones we contrived to fit the ones that came.

  • Earth, River, Forest, Light
  • Green, Blue, Brown, Yellow
  • Pristine ponds reflecting these sights.
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  • River rapids, 
  • Birds chitter, 
  • Breeze mellow.
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  • Pine wood, 
  • Gnarled roots, 
  • Bulky boulders.
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  • Puddles in the middle
  • Rugged rocky cliff faces
  • Moss clinging to these spaces.
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This has probably been the most generous winter I have witnessed in the past two decades in California. I felt bad for the number of trees that were felled due to the extraordinary winds and rains coming after years of near-drought, but overall, I was grateful. 

Wherever we turned in the massive valley – rivers and waterfalls surrounded us. It is truly a beautiful time. When the power of Earth makes you feel humbled, grateful, and joyous, is there a better retreat? 

yosemite

Lessons in Spring Time

I sat one spring morning feeling a kinship that felt very Wind in the Willows, Frog & Toad, or any other sweet animal story that comes to mind. I thought fondly of the animal characters in my Festivals in the Jungle series (My own characters Oby Elephant, Jenny Rat, Biso Bison et al ). 

Spring in the world means that a whole world sits up and takes notice. At least schools still honor this joyous season with a Spring Break. I am happy (and just a little jealous) to see the story book tucked under the son’s arm as he nestles into his reading nook in the mid-morning with his City Spies book, followed by a vigorous hour of television watching on the couch.

While most white-collar job humans have created have schedules and tasks quite divorced from the natural world outside, the bulk of the creatures that we share our planet with, have not fallen to this folly. 

So, it is with glee that I stop typing to peer outside the window to see a bunch of squirrels fooling about and squealing – having fun while chasing each other and gearing up for the year ahead. It is with a surge of protectiveness that I look at the thrushes who are building and fortifying their nest in our patio. It is with pride that I look up and see a crow carry a long string in its beak for its own nest. It is with joy that I wait for the ducklings and goslings to hatch so I may see these stellar parents at work showing us a thing or two about parenting.  

The other day, the husband & I went on a hike nearby – out on the rolling hills. Hearts a-flutter, toes a-flying, spirits a-singing, water-bottles a-swinging. We prattled on as we ascended the green hills bursting with wildflowers an all sides. The misty air was enhanced by the scents of eucalyptus and pine. The cows and calves grazing in the hillsides are always a joy to watch in spring time. As we neared one particularly narrow path in the trail, a large cow – or rather an extra-large cow obstructed our path. If I had been in the sub-Saharan areas of Africa instead of the lush green hills of California, I might’ve mistaken it for a hippopotamus. Gentle creature as it was, the husband and I exchanged quizzical looks and waited patiently. The poor animals seemed to have an itch and, having no other option, had scrambled up some steep hillsides to get to the fallen tree by the wayside and was scratching itself against the trunk. 

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We waited. The cow scratched.

We waited some more. The cow turned and scratched some more.

After some more minutes of this thrilling action, we decided to give the poor animal some space and started walking away the way we came. 

Had this not happened to us, I might never have believed. But within a few steps of us going in the opposite direction, the cow called out to us. As if to say, “I am almost done. You can come along now.” Some more quizzical looks later, we doubled back. Right enough, the cow turned to look at us, and then ambled away. Slowly on the path, body language saying- come along now, don’t be silly. Of course you can carry on in your little amble beside me.

One time, I remember, a cow calling out to her calf in unmistakable tones of warning as it came close to us. The calf, like most little ones, was curious to see what was happening. The mother gave a warning, and some time later, as more people ambled up the path, called out, “Come here!” – Not in English of course, but in Moo-in-ese, and the calf thought about ignoring her, but then acquiesced, and agreeably went back to its mother only to get a gentle reward of some suckling. 

The language of understanding is so marvelous to behold. The world in the spring-time is a place to soak in all these lessons with a beginners mind #Shoshin. 

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

Spring Yodelers

It was a beautiful spring day and the senses were rebelling against the small act of staying indoors. So, I took myself to the seat by the window and lifted the windows. A slight chill came in – like a little river of spring amidst the cozy indoor air. But along with that something else came in too – I call it Spring Yodeling and I smiled despite myself. There, in the park nearby, sat a man who couldn’t stop himself singing at the top of his voice – bass tones and high spirits make for an enjoyable combination. I’ve heard of bards mention ‘song bursting forth’ and have heard the robins bursting with song on a spring morning and all that, but witnessing it is a whole lot better. It was joyous to behold.

If I knew the song, I would’ve joined in – but alas I did not.

I might’ve written it off as exuberant spring spirits, if it weren’t for the fact that I got to listen to another yodeler the same day while on an evening walk. It was a cold day with a promise of the rain and the clouds scudding obligingly to make way for some rays of the setting sun. I was walking along a river bed, and on the opposite side was a yodeler, this time with a high pitch and a wobbly track, but spring yodeling nonetheless.

When two spring yodelers show you how it’s done, a little spring humming cannot be far behind can it? And so, it was, that the son and I hummed to a tune, (completely out of tune obviously but joy and music-correctness are two different things). Afterward, after several glances to ensure no human company was nearby and inviting honks from the geese, we yodeled too. It was out of tune, true, but joyous and glorious all the same. We even got a rainbow to peek out at us at the very end. That must count for something right?!

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Of course, as I sat by the window ledge writing out this piece, I looked for suitable quotes and this one tickled my musical fancy:

“Blessed are those who yodel – for they shall never be troubled by offers of work.” 

Billy Connolly, Windswept & Interesting: My Autobiography

I threw my head back and laughed – yes, the hummers of that Spring evening shall not be troubled by offers of work in that department, and didn’t that make it all the more enjoyable?

The Swoosh of Poetry

Walking in the evening the other day awakened all things magic. The son was on about some hilarious anecdote from school. I forget the exact nature of the story itself, for the torrents of the fast flowing river kept up with his words and they were equally joyful to witness and experience. But I seem to have neither held the river waters, nor the words – just the joy of the torrents washing over me feeling a little poetic. 

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We’d done things like this before. Try out haikus on a walk. Or a bit of poetry hammered out when the words swoop in – not ready, not formed, but just swooshing out like a long held breath.  So, I lost myself in my own river of thoughts.

Our gentle stream / river was flowing full yet again 

Feeling gratitude for the rain

The pattering sounds of it against the far-off whistle of the train


Little eddies of currents swirled and twirled 

Making the geese and the wood ducks little dancers

The deer in the watery meadow opposite prancers

 

The little blackbirds skimming the waters joyously were swoopers 

The pelican pods commanders and troopers 

The great white heron’s feathers in the winds aflutter (Nah - that doesn’t go well - but just see how the white feathers trail away like a bridal veil I thought and chuckled)

“Don’t you think that sounds like a great idea?”, said the fellow obviously commandeering his imaginary troops towards his latest escapade and I nodded. 

He looked at me, and said sincerely, “So, what were you imaginating about when I told you my story?”

I looked sheepish and somewhat aghast at being caught like that. I mean I had been nodding along hadn’t I?

“How?!” I sputtered.

“Amma! I know! I imaginate all the time. I saw your dreamy look!” He chuckled good-naturedly. I looked at him – grateful to have his companionship. A fellow imaginator on magical  walks in nature makes life’s stresses melt away.

We chuckled at the feeble attempts of poetry and I told him about the way poetry was woven into the book written by that mastermind of unicorn stories, Peter S Beagle. In the book, In Calabria. In the book,  a farmer writes poems and reads poetry (not his own but famous poets) out to his goats and cows.

In Calabria

“Claudio bianchi did write poetry, at highly irregular intervals during his solitary daily life as a farmer in the toe of the Italian boot.”

One beautiful day, he notices that a unicorn has come to grace his farm and the poetry he feels comes tumbling out into the page. While I have not read much about the process of poetry, I imagine it is as varied as the words and thoughts themselves. For some, it is a flash of inspiration that is then poured out onto the pages. For others, it is a torturous play and replay with the words to capture the exact temperament.

“He never thought of his poems as being about anything: they came when they came, sometimes resembling what he saw and touched and thought all day-sometimes, to his surprise, becoming visions of what his fathers days and nights might have been like, or Romano’s, or even those of Cianellis aging bull. ….They came when they came and when they were finished, he knew.”

– Peter S Beagle – In Calabria

I told the son about my poem and he said, “Yeah – I think there are bits that need work. But I read in Time for Kids, that ChatGPT is doing writing for us too. So, you may not have to worry about it.”

Just like that, our conversation had meandered away from rivers and birds to technologies and their intended/unintended impacts and we navigated a different world in seconds. 

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