The Fullness of a Bare Winter Scene

The past few weeks in California have been a pluviophile’s heaven. The atmospheric rivers bringing moisture to a state hardened by drought is very welcome.

I spent hours listening to the music of the rain, enjoying the gurgle of the water-butts, and the suction-like sound of the rain waters receding into the drains. We made paper boats and watched them gently sway along with the waters, we released driftwood stuck near drains, we empathized with fauna and realized what fragile creatures we are. These are the images of a happy childhood, and they warmed my soul as I shared these pleasures with the son.

rainriver

Out on a walk in the pouring rain one day, I felt at peace with the Earth around me. There were scarcely any humans about, and this in itself was refreshing. Without the banter of words, the language of Earth was so soothing. 

The river near our home has a name that invites teasing given the amount of water that usually flows in there. It is called the Niles river.

When one nears its banks, there is a sign warning folks against swimming, diving and fishing in the river. Only for almost the entire time we have been acquainted with the river, it has hardly boasted a flow enough to sustain more than a few paddling ducks and geese. Mostly the deer graze inside the riverbed, and its bed is home to many creatures: foxes, raccoons, deer, cats, water rats, squirrels and of course a whole multitude of birds: geese, avocets, gulls, grebes, ducks, herons, egrets. The trees nearby are home to California bluejays, thrushes, blackbirds, woodpeckers, hawks, owls and turkey vultures. 

I love our gentle stream that calls itself a river. But the past few weeks thanks to an uncharacteristic atmospheric river that bears moisture into the dry state of California, it had swollen into a respectable river and I found myself standing and gazing longingly at the waters moving towards the bay. The ducks seem to be enjoying themselves getting in with the drifts and floating along swiftly and then flying back several feet just to be able to do it all over again.

The deer seemed to be having a tougher time of it all. They are the ones who enjoyed the river-bed the most, and the swollen waters meant that their natural feeding grounds were no longer available for them. That afternoon in the pouring rain, the deer were on the trail since the riverbed they usually take refuge in was filled with water, and my heart went out to them. Luckily for them, the trail that is usually filed with humans was near empty. Like the children say, not everyone is kook-enough to walk in this storm. Slowly, but purposefully, I gave them the space on the trail so they may go towards a patch of greens nearby. The pouring rains did not seem to bother the creatures as much as it bothered us humans. 

deer_in_rain

All this musing brought back into sharp focus what nitpicking creatures we are. We are scared to step out without umbrellas, raincoats, shoes and socks. We need our body temperatures just within this particular narrow range (97 F (36.1 C) and 99 F (37.2 C) ). We need our food prepared just so, and our lives orchestrated just so, and in spite of it all, have managed to create lives that are just so-so. (It has been so long since I used this term) 

The trees around us with their bare branches (abscission as shedding leaves is known) still remind us that the wintering season is not over. This is still the time to rejuvenate ourselves and trim down our commitments so we may sprout forth in glory during spring. But human beings seem to march to a different rhythm – a rhythm driven by financial earnings reports, calendars, the vague baying drum of stock market indices that demand more, a sadistic and almost schadenfeudic clamoring for layoffs, incessant profits etc. 

A month into the new year, the world has marched on from one grim news to another.

My mind harked back to the statue in Athens. The busy man statue in Athens, created by artist Costas Varotsos , it is a fitting statue for our times.

Screen Shot 2023-01-28 at 10.48.51 AM

Our lives have become more like the running man depicted in Athens. Despite all the world philosophers practically giving the secret to happy living away for free (Buddha, Plato, Socrates) , we manage to avoid the difficult work of being at peace with ourselves and choose the easy world of busy work(including yours truly).

A rain droplet trickled on to my nose. I came back to the fullness of a bare winter surrounding me and I took in a deep gasp of air to savor these moments. 

deer_trail

Pluvial Pleasures

It had been one of those week-ends that started off with a weather report that issued a Hydrological warning.

The son & I exchanged looks. In the wake of a spelling bee at the son’s school, the word gave us no amount of pleasure. It must be exciting being a lexicologist.

Water bodies could swell? A torrent of moisture could swoop in? What magical things could a hydrological warning bring in its wake? Atmospheric rivers? Our own stream-like river could swell into a proper river?

river

“Hmm – maybe we should check out the riverbed nearby. And for good measure, I think I also shall take a bike ride and check out the dried out lake beds from a few weeks ago”, I said. 

The children shook their heads. 

“This! This is why people call you a nature kook, amma!” , said the son.

The daughter took a stronger stance:“No going biking in the rain Mother!”

“If you are going biking, try to be back by 3 p.m. – that’s when the rains are supposed to start. So, don’t go off all over the place, and forget the time. Watch the clock and get back!”, said the husband. 

Now there was a man who knew a lost cause when he saw one.

Accordingly, off I went. I whistled as I biked along the sparkling Earth. The birds stopped their squabbling and looked to see how an asthmathic milk-cooker took to biking (in my mind, I was whistling ‘These are a few of my favorite things’ song), and I smiled back at them. Wasted of course. Hydrological warning or not, geese do not smile, the wrens are joyous but don’t care much about you, the pelicans are barely curious. The wood ducks – they stop enough to see where you are going.This musing got me thinking about one little curious bird that we had seen on an off-roading adventure with the brother. I’d like to name the little thing, Birdingger Coothwart.

He (the brother I mean, not the bird) had jaunted us off to a hilltop somewhere south of Bangalore, and the world was soaking in freshly squeezed north-east monsoons. 

Now, there was a hydrological warning if ever there was one. Lakes overflowed, rivers leaped, streams gurgled, rivulets flowed, and the rains lashed down.

This little bird, no bigger than a wren, with a bright green and beige plumage followed the car. We had first noticed it as it swooped joyously over the tree-tops while his x cylinder, 4 tyre all-wheel drive terrain vehicle with XD pumps or whatever-it-is the nephew tells me about slowly muddled its way down the steep muddy grade. 

“Going down is harder than going up see?” , said the brother, and we nodded. None of us could drive that thing down that hill anyway, so what was the point in knowing how fast it could go, and long as it went?

The little birdie, however, wanted to know. It dived alongside the car peeking to see what kind of animal it was, and how it rumbled along on the road. Was it because this little one, whose flight range was probably far from the bustling city of Bangalore did not get many combustion engine visitors or was it because it craved the company of its occupants? Seeing that rhinoceroses were scant in this part of India, and there were no elephants in the vicinity the car must’ve been one of the largest moving things it had seen. 

As one can imagine, I had taken a dozen useless photographs with little luck. Ornithologists and bird photographers have my immense respect – for I got a great many pictures of boughs, (zoomed in, not zoomed in), tree trunks, branches, and even bushes, but not one of the little bird. I am not even aware of the kind of bird it is. Usually, I rely on Google’s image recognition software to help me with bird names (Those ML/AI engineers have no idea how much joy their little model brings me). But even Google draws a blank if you don’t have a picture. Maybe wildlife photographers in Bannerghetta region could help me out. At one point, seeing how persistent I was, the brother stopped the car and tumbled out himself to try to get a picture, but the bird had had enough. It was one thing to see a great big animal rumbling along peacefully, quite another to see other animals come out from this one, and it flew off. However, we caught sight of the little thing just a few hundred meters later. I swear there was a laughter in its flight, and I would like to be a bird like Birdingger Coothwart one day: joyous, free-spirited, curious, and prudent within limits.

These beautiful musings bought me to the dried lake beds on the opposite side of the Earth, and I was happy to see that the rains had at least filled one of the lake beds. 

vintage_point

I cycled back home, keeping a sharp eye on the clock, and I must say, had I not stopped to take that brilliant photograph of that tree, I might’ve made it before the rains started. As it was, I made it to the neighborhood and the sharp, pelting droplets as they plopped all over me really made admire those who predict the weather. I mean they said 3 p.m. the rains would come and one could’ve set their clock by their predictions. 

Hmm. In one bike ride, I’d wanted to be a bird, a whistler, an ornithologist, a wildlife photographer, a botanist, and a climatologist (or whoever predicts the weather). A day’s work done, I piled into the house. Birdingger Coothwart may not have craved tea, but I did after those vigorous musings, and the fresh, cold air against my face. 

The Artists at Paris

The husband planned a meticulous trip to Europe for the nourish-n-cherish household. Trips to Europe are rarely complete without museums and so, off we went with our admiring hats on. I do not know the different periods in European art, and after several trips find that I am astounded by how much there is to learn and appreciate.

I do not know why Claude Monet spent 30 years in his garden in France painting the lily pond. I am even less capable of recognizing a Monet from a Chagall. But I am glad that Monet’s masterpiece with the lily ponds in his estate in France have a home designed specifically to appreciate the art like he intended it to be (The Orangerie Museum: Musée de l’Orangerie). How many artists get to have that particular claim to fame?

lily_pond

After the Louvre, the Orangerie museum was a treat. The Orangerie museum was a beautiful little museum tucked away near the most historically magnificent palace grounds in Paris. (Fun fact: apparently,  the word orangery refers to a protected ground in large palaces in Europe :   a greenhouse for growing oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits in cool climates.)

IMG_1701

We each went our ways and did not have to worry about getting lost. It was a small, compact museum with works of a few artists, and it was all very done. Really – the way Europe reveres its artists and preserves its art history is admirable. In about 3 hours, we were done and ready to explore the rest of Paris by foot. As we walked on, we fell to discussing Art – the Renaissance, the rise of cubism, and all the rest of it. 

How some artists chose lighter subjects such as Auguste Renoir in these paintings of the girls bonding over music, or whispering a secret together.

Or the beautiful nature filled works of Sam Szafran where the human is but a tiny part of the intricate patterns of nature

IMG_1730-COLLAGE

As we trundled away from the Orangerie museum towards the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it was irresistible to stop and take a few pictures, very well knowing that I may never look at them again.

We ended up in due course, after our glacial progress through the streets of Paris, at the foothills of the Eiffel Tower. It was there that the many perspectives of Art we’d just learned about became apparent. The son tried taking pictures using the vertical panorama technique that I had shown him.

eiffel-1

He showed us cubism.

eiffel_cubism

We even have a picture of me pulling off the invisibility cloak after apparating to the foot of the Eiffel Tower. I wonder why these art forms do not deserve their place in museums of modern art.

eiffel-invisbility

How better for our artists to capture the true magic of a European vacation?

2022 Reading

It is that time of year when we

  1. cannot believe another year has gone by and
  2. simultaneously ponder on what a long year it was.

The quixotic nature of time – once again making a fool of us all.

It is also the time I look back fondly on the books that lit up my inner world, and take a moment or two to jot down all the notable titles, read other people’s lists, and make jolly to-read lists for the coming year, and so much more.

I thought I was scatter-brained, had a lot going on, and therefore, my reading took a hit. But it seemed to be the other way round. Reading, once again seemed to have worked its magic in helping me through 2022.

Non-Fiction

There were quite a few books in this genre. Only mentioning the ones that stood out in my mind for various reasons. (Not because of the content alone, but also time of year when it seemed to have been relevant, how much I managed to absorb of new ideas etc)

Fiction

  • The Alice Network – Kate Quinn (this one is a fictional account of real life events of female spies who used to smuggle messages across borders at considerable peril to themselves.) The daughter told me that Audrey Hepburn’s (Of Roman Holiday fame) was  also well known for her efforts during this period when she held underground ballet concerts and so on to help people during the miserable times of the Second World War, and many times risked being caught and hoping to get off easily because of her diminutive stature and size.
  • Women of Troy – Pat Barker
  • A Blizzard of Polar Bears – Alice Henderson (A good racing thriller for airport reading) 
  • Akimbo and the Elephant – Alexander McCall Smith 
  • The Blue Book of Nebo – Manon Steffan Ros (What happens after a nuclear war – I am sure many of us have pondered what the aftermath of an apolcalypse would be like. This book that does just that.)
  • Young Mozart – William Augel (hilarious! )
  • Plus my standard dose of R K Narayan, Miss Read & P G Wodehouse  whose wise and irreverent view of the world, I find refreshing and a regular tonic to life. 

Science Fiction:

  • Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir
  • Daughter of the Deep – Rick Riordan
  • Bewilderment – Richard Powers (This is one of the best books I’ve read – highly recommended. Stays with you for a long time)

Special Children’s Books:

Poetry:

How can there be no magic in the list?

Please share your reads with me. Would love to get started on my reading list for 2023.

Magique Français

There is a charm to traveling at this time of the year. We had decided on an Europe trip with 3 countries thrown in to the mix. Which is to say that the rest of the nourish-n-cherish household of spoilt folks enjoyed a trip planned meticulously by the husband. Left with all the rest of the work, I stood in front of my bookshelf dilly-dallying on the reading material. Finally, I chose Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, which was an excellent read. 

The whole way to the Airbnb from the Paris airport, the radio was on and the hosts chattered on in French. Considering that I was the only passenger in the car who had ‘learnt’ French, I must say I was aghast that I remembered almost nothing of the beautiful language (except for tidbits such as – one mustn’t pronounce the last consonant, unless the next word starts with a vowel, or the river is feminine while the museum is masculine) I have always been little lost with languages that attribute a gender to everything. 

Is a croissant masculine or feminine? I don’t know. 

Both Le Croissant and La croissant sound right to me, but DuoLingo assures me that croissants are masculine and therefore Le Croissant is correct. Sigh.

I must say languages and brains are curious things. I was sincere, if not successful, in my attempts to learn French in 11th and 12th grade. I would’ve thought that some things would surface through the foggy decades as I heard the spoken language, or saw the words written in the menu cards in the little French cafes. But nothing happened. I recognized ‘avec’, ‘le’, ‘la’, ‘and words that had a passing semblance to the English language and could thus be fathomed. As I stumbled my way through the language  I realized that I had never really spoken French, though I seemed confident enough to butcher the pronunciations. For instance, I confidently addressed the Louvre as the ‘Loo-v-rrrr’. 

Apparently, I had it all wrong. 

Humbled by this revelation of my poor French, one day on the metro, I was trying my best to listen to the announcements and map the name of the stations to the pronunciation. I can understand my not getting a name like Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau or Maisons-Alfort – Les Juilliottes, but I didn’t get Grands Boulevard. That hurt. Now see, I pronounce it is Grand-ss Boo-lay-vard (so no letter is offended or feels less important). But the French pronounce it as Gron Boolevaar. With the overhead crackling that is a requirement for most metro systems,  I heard it as ‘groan bole’, and was looking around at people before the husband said it was time for us to get out and hustled us out.  I leaped out before the doors closed behind me and was rattled till the sortie (exit).

The French trip you up in more ways than one. I trust it is their way of having fun with us poor sods who haven’t a clue about the language. For instance, there were so many names that sounded like food, it was astonishing. Who wouldn’t like to get out at Madeleine station? I found myself drooling a bit about the buttery m-s and missed Grands Boulevard. 

I remember the husband telling me for an entire hour that we had to go to Rue Ravioli. I thought to myself and smiled that I had never seen this many streets named after food in any other country. I mean how often have we seen a Hamburger boulevard, or a Tomato-Bisque Road? Even in countries that enjoy their foods so much like India, I had never seen a Roti Street or Dosa Boulevard.  As I was feeling cleverer and cleverer with the inspired line of thought, I found that the husband was truly hungry was all. It was Rue-de-Ravoli, not Rue-de-Ravioli (the cheese filled pasta).

Nevertheless, the names had a marvelous ring to them. 

Liberte

Bonne Nouvelle

Strasbourg – Saint-Denis (a big hyphen followed by a small hyphen)

I found myself nodding vigorously and agreeing vociferously (making the French doubt my capabilities even more) as I read Bill Bryson’s Neither here nor there: Travels in Europe.

Bill Bryson on French:

I took 3 years of French in school, but learned next to nothing. The problem was that the textbooks were so amazingly useless. 

They never told you any of the things you would need to know in France. They were always tediously occupied with classroom activities : hanging up coats, cleaning the blackboard, opening the window, setting out the day’s lessons. Even in seventh grade I could see that this sort of thing would be of limited utility in the years ahead. How often on a visit to France do you need to tell someone you want to clean a blackboard? How frequently do you wish to say: “It is winter. Soon it was will be spring. “

In my experience, people know this already.

Bill Bryson

But language has a way of morphing and conjoining, and by the end of the day, the daughter was speaking in lilting French accents, and I was very impressed with her, and unimpressed with myself for I understood next to nothing. Then, she chuckled and told me that she was just spinning her Spanish in French accents. I tell you! The nourish-n-cherish household really knows how to capture the magique francais.

As it was, so it shall be!

It was the day after the storm. The white and blue of the skies above belied the battering of the previous two days. The torrents of rain lashing down, and the dark clouds seemed like a dream.

As much as I love a rainy day adventure, the day after the rainy day has an appeal of its own. The world seems sparkling and clean, the air still has a lingering moisture in the air somehow making it smell fresher and sweeter. The glistening droplets on the flowers and treetops make for interesting interludes if they happen to drip on your upturned face, and the birds, oh the birds! They make up for everything. Their trilling is fuller, and richer – maybe they are relishing the sweet fresh Earth too.

This particular morning, I looked up at the blue skies with perfectly designed and placed fluffy clouds. There was even a Mickey Mouse shaped one to remind me to smile and think of the happiest place on earth (right then, it was there watching that cloud and taking in all the world around me).

My heart skipped along joyously when I was stopped my tracks by a California blue jay chipping away at the last remaining fruit in a fruit tree. 

I know this statement seems unremarkable. But when philosophers tell you savor every moment, I think they mean moments like this one. There was nothing special or remarkable about it. But it had that ethereal ability to capture the past, present and the future in one shining bubble.

All the leaves had fallen with the last storm, the bird was dry and trying to get at its food. This one poignant image sticks with me – of all the hundreds of photographs taken, this moment was one I did not capture. Yet, it seemed to hold the storm, life after the storm and hints of life during the storm in it.

As it was, so it shall be.

What does one say for moments such as this one? I don’t know. Maybe the reason I enjoyed the moment so much was because I had that childlike wonder of shoshin in me when I stepped out that morning, or maybe it was because the warmth of the sun after a cold, wet few days was striking. Regardless, there we are sloshing through life, and when we stop to admire a blue jay on a bright morning, it seems like all will be well.

The Gingko’s Wisdom

The gingko trees have all spoken to each other, and the lovely trees have shaken off their golden robes all at once. I passed the stark trees on my daily walk and stopped suddenly. I remember stopping to admire the fresh green gingko leaves as the year started out. 

One year. 

One paradoxical year.

One tumultuous year.

One <Please-fill-in-the-blanks> year.

Yet, the gingko trees went on as before. They grew leaves, they displayed them in their glorious green, and their resplendent golden yellows, till they went back to being stark stumps again. 

Another year. 

Another year of the unexpected?

Another year of surprises?

Another <Please-fill-in-the-blanks> year.

As I pulled the husband along on a cold, rainy walk, I told him that the same time last year when we stopped to consider the bare branches of the gingko tree, we had no idea what the year would bring. The same way that we don’t know what the year ahead would bring. I shuddered a little (I’d like to think it was the freezing winds of the storm). The young gingko nearby withstood the winds without a tremor.

“Well…”, I said, donning my philosophical face. “Whatever the new year brings, there is comfort in the fact that there is a constancy in nature. The gingko tree’s seasons.”

“Pesu (talk!)!” Said the husband and laughed looking at my sincere face. I joined him. It is so easy to say these things.  Why is it then so hard to practice?

Maybe we need the tree’s lessons to be more than philosophical. A little more neurological: Belonging with Trees.

Read also: The night of the Gingko : By Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker magazine.

Aphonia

I hadn’t met my siblings and siblings-in-law in 3 years and this unexpected trip to see them was rejuvenating. I found myself in a bit of a jitter as I boarded the airplane. My stellar siblings, nieces, nephews, parents and parents-in-law had all come to Bangalore to spend a few days with me, and I felt my heart bursting with gratitude and anticipation.

Covid travel made for strange times, and though I was enormously grateful for video calls, phone calls, and all the different modes of communication, the ability to see and be with those you love was going to be special. Accordingly, it was an excited  chronicler of lives who stepped out into Bangalore airport.

The next few days were a blur of activity. 

I felt myself talking so much my jaws hurt. One particular night when the chats went late into the night, I felt my voice crack. It just sort of gurgled and went hoarse. It had to – there is such a thing as too much talking. It was a malady that struck us all this week. I suppose it happens to those who talk or sing for a living. It was a curious phenomenon for me. 

a·pho·ni·a (Pronunciation: /āˈfōnēə,əˈfōnēə/)

loss of ability to speak

I was told by Dr Google about the causes for Aphonia, and I nodded along – that last part was the cause:

What causes aphonia? The main causes of voice loss are: Diseases of the respiratory system: a cold, laryngitis, cough, tonsillitis, nodules, allergies, throat cancer. Misuse of the voice: straining the voice too much or shouting.

Dr Google

The next day as I coughed my way into the morning, my voice refused to wake up – the teas, ginger-lemon hot waters, nothing seemed to work.  I was told (with some glee if I might add) that it might be a good idea to keep quiet. I nodded wondering how I was going to do that when in a few hours, I was going to see my sister after 3.5 years. 

I was correct in my apprehensions, for the next night went into the same mode. The sister and I had sore throats the next day. We croaked and moaned our way through the day, and still kept talking. It was as if a dam had broken loose and the word torrents wouldn’t stop. Finally, it had reached a point of hopeless whispering and we were still going strong.

I had a strange feeling wash over me the following day -maybe this is what a hangover feels like. Fits of good girl-i-ness overcame me and I said to the sister that, “I want to be serene and above mere emotions! You know? One of those strong and silent types who are able to convey emotions with a mere grunt and a nod. The populace listens, the masses oblige, and the powers that be execute.” 

She gave me one of her looks, and chuckled, “No you won’t! To say you want to speak less, you used 3 sentences. You’re not going to be the strong and silent type. Besides, we want this one – not a buddha who nods and sshhh-es!”

With that I had to be content. 

The author can be found sipping hot water and lemon teas with her heart full and throat sore for the next couple of days.

The Origin of Dreams

It was a mild day in Jaipur. This time of year means one can walk among the structures of the Jantar Mantar without being fried to a crisp. The guide was explaining the scientific relevance of the structures in front of us. He explained how the latitude and longitudes were determined by the astronomers of centuries ago. As we stood there calculating the angle of the sun and subtracting it from the Indian Standard Time and so on, I missed the son. This is a place that would have interested him enormously – his unswerving curiosity and awe about the cosmos and the nature of time notwithstanding, it was also a propitious time for such musings. 

Earlier that day, I had cheered along with him as we sat on opposite sides of the world and watching the Artemis 1 launch and take off to the moon. Every time the launch had been delayed, he had had a small pang of disappointment. But this time, his eyes shone: “Amma, even if you have a meeting, please just make sure that you watch it. It will be at …”, and he went ahead and calculated the local time for me. Accordingly, I sat in my room watching the launch and cheering with the fellow.

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-share-artemis-i-update-with-orion-at-farthest-point-from-earth

Image credit: Bill Ingalls: Image Source: https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/artemis-i-launch-0.html

His eyes shone, triumphant as he caught the excitement of the launch with periodic updates from NASA. I told him that I was going to a place that he would really like later that day and he asked me to enjoy it on his behalf. An astronomical marvel from centuries ago. A place where astronomers had mapped the skies with accuracy and skill. 

As I stood there watching the different structures and listening to our guide as he explained how each worked, I also derived small pleasures in seeing that his own narratives often confused astrology and astronomy. (Humans have always been wracked by problems: If, along the way, they tried to understand the sources of their trials and tribulations as something beyond them, who could blame them? ) Nevertheless, it was humbling to see how the astronomers of centuries ago had managed to get their recordings and data accurate to such a high degree. 

That rocket launch of a few hours ago was a cumulative building of dreams and imagining worlds beyond what is known to us. Dreams that started with the ancient homosapiens wondrously mapping the skies, and millennia of human evolutionary interest in the heavens. 

Carl Sagan quote :

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”

– Carl Sagan

How many such dreams are being hatched as we speak? I read a children’s book: Ara, The Dream Innovator – By Komal Singh, that tried to capture the importance of Dreams. It was business-oriented even for a children’s book. The startup language of funding and patents and all the rest of it somehow did not quite capture the magic of dreams, but it was a good book nevertheless. 

We do not know how many dreams are being hatched today that have the potential of being realized in the near or far future. So, I am all for going to places that nurture these fantastical sojourns into our dream consciousness.

To infinity and beyond!

The Writing Life

I took my book, Writing For Your Life by Anna Quindlen to a cafe to read. The essay I happened to be on at the time was about Narrative Medicine, and the benefits of writing the stresses and reflections of life from our often stressed and there-when-folks-are-most-vulnerable medical professionals. 

Dr Rita Charon started a program titled Parallel Charts wherein medical students wrote their own experiences and charted their days out with information that would not appear on a medical chart. For example there was one instance of a young resident who felt a stab of personal pain every time he walked into the room where the patient was suffering from pancreatic cancer. The patient reminded him too much of his deceased grandfather who had died from the same disease a few months earlier; or the nurse who wrote about her mind wandering at the delivery of a first-time mother: ‘it’s her first baby, it isn’t going to be a slip-and-slide’. 

This kind of narrative writing is crucial not just because we may lose such lucid moments to the passage of time, but also because we do get to cement our learnings and experience while writing it out. Our learnings for the future if you will. Unfortunately writing is not easy. It requires patience, steadfastness and an active determination to set your thoughts into words.

In the words of Anais Nin :


“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

Anais Nin

I have often written about what a lifesaver writing has been. I got to treasure the truly hilarious moments of life multiple times over and I am sure I would not have remembered half of it had I not written it all down. To think that I have only recorded a small measure of life continues to be a yearning. I can blame time, resource and ability and many more limitations. However, it is equally required to experience life in its fullest forms to be able to jot at least some of it down. And thus life goes on. Not writing half as much as I’d like, but writing enough to give me a hearty glimpse on times gone by and the many joys, triumphs, trials and tribulations that it bought along its wake. 

Note: I was humbled to read that many authors have a daily output of nearly 10000 words. Truly astounding. 

It is a pity that this exercise of Narrative Medicine is not more widely practiced in other areas of life. Any body who is in the position of guiding or caring for another human being – teachers, coaches, mentors, leaders, managers, nurses, doctors, therapists, counselors, lawyers, tax accountants, parents should all have this in their toolkit to cope, better ourselves and enjoy the passage of time. 

I am an engineering leader, and having had the benefit of being shaped as a leader by companies that had a human interest, means that I do take an active interest in the people on my teams – the ones I directly manage and the ones I interact with. 

This was often a refrain in my team meetings and I still think it is true: We may forget the actual work we did or how it was done, but we will never forget who we accomplished these things with! 

This is the human experience and to have leaders who are able to see us for who we are: human beings with potential to do good, is the best thing that can happen to us. I know many who would scoff at this and write this off as corporate humdrum, but I can vouch that when you know a team-mate’s visa is up, or their child is undergoing surgery, or their insurance running out means tumultuous times for their dependents, it only makes us grow as humans to see these situations and help manage through them.

If, at the end of the day, we do not remember the humans who helped shape our thoughts and feelings, we may as well be replaced by AI bots. 

After all, we are all broken in different places and as I glanced up at the board in the cafe that day, the clairvoyance of it in the context of narrative writing was unmistakable.

“Let my troubles be the cause of someone’s laugh, but let not my laugh be the source of someone’s troubles.” – there truly was a wise restaurateur at the helm.

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