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.

2022 Phrase of the Year: Let’s See!

I was watching a movie the other day, and the word ‘bigotry’ came up. I went for almost 4 decades without ever hearing that word, and then all of a sudden, the word was everywhere. In news articles, movie dialogues, forwarded WhatsApp messages. I had read history books, had read many books about World War II, and was always reasonably interested in new words. Yet – here it was. When I found out the meaning, I felt a bit silly for not knowing the word. Suddenly, I could label many thinking patterns (and people) as bigoted, where previously I’d gone without labeling them. (Was that a good thing, a bad thing or not a thing at all?)

Then a few days later, I heard that the word of the year in 2022 was ‘Gaslighting‘. Another term that I had never heard of growing up, and yet, here it was – annoyingly present and able to pinpoint a particular trait.

Astounding.

That got me thinking about the words I’d probably used the most this year, and it was not a word that came to mind, but a phrase.

A phrase that I’d used over and over again in my professional capacity, or while describing the uncertainties of our world: “Let’s see!”

I remember the old pater using a Tamil word, Paappom (paarpom) – meaning “Let’s see! “ – shortened from பார்க்கலாம்





Paappom annoyed us. It usually meant we did not get a ‘Yes’, and every child knows that not getting a ‘Yes’ immediately meant that reason could swoop in, and could sway our ask toward ’No’, which was unacceptable of course. I mean, why would you want to think about taking us out for an ice-cream? That only meant the rains could come, someone could catch a cold, or the interest to go to the ice-cream store could wane.
Paappom indeed.

Paappom was also an ambiguity. A pendulum that could swing between this-and-that and you never knew where it could stop at decision-time.
Paappom could bring about positive outcomes but that required waiting and delayed gratification.

So, paappom was a true mystifier.

Yet, this year, I found myself using Paappom’s English equivalent, “Let’s see!”, so often, I felt like a bit of a pendulum myself.

It meant, I wasn’t sure of the next step: should I take a next step, should I wait? What if something changed, that I had not anticipated? If ever there was a year encompassing all these qualities, it was this one. So, I paappom-ed. A lot.

As life goes on, I find myself ‘paappom’-ing more and more often, with my touching faith in luck and providence that time will sort things out (especially unpleasant situations – but I can assure you that seldom happens.)

Anyway, 2022 being a ‘Let’s see!” Year means that we do have to see what 2023 looks like.

A colleague once told me that their family thinks of words to live by in the upcoming year during Christmas holidays. If they chose, “Excellent!”, they answered everyone who asked them how they were with ‘Excellent’ for the next year. Isn’t that an excellent idea?

I asked the children for possible words the year I heard this, and promptly abandoned the exercise, for the words that came up were horrendous, cringe-worthy and frankly ridiculous. (The nourish-n-cherish household, I tell you!)

Anyway, what words would you like to choose for 2023?

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 Wonder of Sonder

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

 Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad / Roughing It

I found myself reveling in this quote as I traveled recently to the opposite side of the globe.  I had been to Jaipur, India. It was a part of India that we normally do not visit on our little family trips, and was thus a novel, beautiful experience for me. Truly, Incredible India has many surprises up its sleeve. UNESCO sites dotted the place, the vibrant active city co-mingling easily amidst centuries of history was more heartwarming than ever. 

We had visited the Amer Fort near Jaipur and our guide’s narrative views on the socio-economic views of those who had lived in the fort were well worth mulling over.

It was while we were discussing the flow of information that I got to musing on the nature of truth. There was a version of events presented to us over time. There was a version of these events that people lived through. The victors and the vanquished of all those battles, I am sure there were spies, untruths, noise, and chatter back in the days of royalty as well. Human beings have always been a complicated species, and the abilities to sort through what is right, what is factual and what needs benefit-of-doubt and so on have been questions that have wracked generations. More so, in ours, thanks to the speed and efficiency of information spread. 

To have a conversation about Twitter in the palace of the Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Jai Singh, was both amusing and exotic.

While, ancient ruins do have an appeal of its own, a thriving populace right alongside all of these historical sights makes for an even more interesting narrative in our heads. Just imagine the number of people who’d walked past this very strip of land: kings, queens, princesses, princes, soldiers, charioteers, jutka-pullers, robe-makers, royal jewelers, sculptors, artists, musicians, dancers, ministers, priests, philosophers, poets, maids, chefs, dhobis, plumbers, architects, animal trainers, army generals, court jesters, astrologers, astronomers, physicians, scientists, software engineers, surgeons, guides, shopkeepers, memorabilia makers and sellers, mobile phone operators, tuk-tuk drivers, bus drivers, journalists, advertisers, local influencers, and social media influencers.

How many more new professions would get to traipse along these very sands as they try to take in the long and incredibly short history of homosapiens? It is all highly fascinating when we stop to think of these things amidst all the noise and chaos that surrounds us. That is what I did that day:  imagined one of those fast-forward sequences with all the different folks who make up our society as they navigated life in this city over the past 295 years. 

Not unlike one of those sudden disorienting sensations that the persons we see going past us are just the same as we are: All people with bursts and spurts of emotions surging, thoughts swirling, ambitions burning, life calling, livelihood beckoning, creativity surging, peace loving, adventure liking, love yearning souls straddling the demands of life on the sands of time. 

There is a word for that.

Sonder — noun. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”

So, there you have it. I had a moment of sonder on the other side of the globe that really we are one, and the wonder of that unifying feeling was one of the many many revelations of travel.

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.

Royalty – No Thanks! RoyalTea Please!

I had the opportunity of visiting Jaipur and while there, a friend was kind enough to take me to the Ajmer Fort. It was a beautiful day for the fort and after the initial haggling and nuisance of guide badgering, we managed to find a guide who could explain things in English to us. 

The visit was a welcome one. For all of us are mired in our daily lives, our problems looming large over the horizon, sometimes enveloping us. However, a short sojourn into the lives of those who lived a couple of centuries ago is revelatory. A spot of time travel is all it takes: Our problems do not go away but something shifts in our perspective to handle them. 

Standing there, atop a hillside and looking down at the Queen’s palaces, the guide told us about the political rivalry between the queens themselves. The king, he was telling us about, had 12 queens. Each queen had her own staff (each had at least 38 maids according to the maids quarters), and obviously had diplomatic relations with her fellow queens. A delicate balance of power, respect, and information exchange ought to have existed in these very spaces. The queens were leaders in their domains: their aristocratic birth and training only able to account for their fate till they got to become queens of the raja. After that, they had to keep up their image, fight their own battles, live with the fact that they could lose their sons & husbands to war anytime, and figure out a method of survival or not if they found themselves at the mercy of the invading army. 

I suddenly felt overwhelmed at the problems of their day. I am sure they received the best guidance available to them at the time, but nevertheless, they lived hard, admirable lives. To ensure that one received the right amount of attention from their king was part of the puzzle. How could you be just enticing enough for the king, and continue to be liked by the other queens? Budgets, staff management, administrative duties, leadership training for the young princes’ and princess’s . 

As we stood there taking in the stories of the guide, I felt a shift in perspective with respect to my own career. It is life after all. Every one had trials and tribulations to carry on. I understood vaguely what people meant when they said that each life is an illusion (not that we suffer any less because people tell us this).

As our guide marched on through the palace quarters, he told us about various aspects of royal life. The scented waters, the mechanisms used to keep cool in a desert, the entertainment choices, the staff who protected them and finally the baths where they could relax and rejuvenate. As I peered into the bath-tub of centuries ago, I could imagine them being waited on by their female attendants, and getting dressed with 42 different pieces of jewellery, before they could present themselves in public. 

That evening, when I stepped into the shower for a quick rinse off, I felt a wave of gratitude. The water was hot, and the plumbing perfect. The clothing I had ensured I made it for dinner downstairs in the hotel in 10 minutes. What’s more? There were no diplomatic connotations to the color of the jeans I wore.

I felt an enormous sense of how far we’d come! Royalty may have been all well, but I think we have it better. My Royal Tea awaited downstairs and I bounded downstairs with no queenly dignity.

Rustic Rumblings

I hadn’t met my siblings and siblings-in-law in 3 years and this unexpected trip to see them was rejuvenating. They had all taken a week-day off to spend the day with me, and had traveled hundreds of miles to see me. I was already on cloud nine and chittering happily when the brother added the icing on the cake: he was going to take the sister, nephew, pater and yours truly, on one of his legendary off-roading trips. As his car nosed its way past the city limits into rural Karnataka, a serenity seemed to descend amongst its occupants too. 

It was a day on which the North West monsoons were in zest. The riversides and little lakes the brother drove us through were swollen with the recent rains. He nosed the car towards lesser known off-roading trails. They seemed to beckon him through slippery slush and muddy muck. His staunch car wheeled and plunged into the side roads with gusto.

The old pater, not usually invited along to adventures in off-roading, had consented to come, and he ticked the brother off for needless adrenaline. 

“It is all your fault!”, said the brother chuckling at the far away memory of 3 decades ago when the pater would pile the three of us on his scooter and take to the steep roads of the Nilgiri Hills

The little brother,( then knee-high) would stand in front between his father’s arms peering out at the road ahead over the handlebars, myself (waist-high) between the sister and the father in the back seat looking sideways, and off we’d go on our school holidays. (The pater was a school teacher and enjoyed the same vacation schedule as we did.) As we reminisced about the good old days, the nephew pointed to a little girl clutching on to her father on a scooter nearby and asked if I was that girl. We all laughed. Yes I was. She even had her hair tightly plaited the same way, and had a maroon sweater on. More than that, she had joy writ large on her face as she felt the wind on her face. I felt like a little girl on an adventurous ride with her father again. (With the tens of pictures I clicked during that off-roading trip, the image that I retain the most vividly is this one and I did not click a picture. So much for visual diaries!) 

The number of waterfalls, steep hillsides and hamlets we’ve passed are too many to count.  We’d stop in small villages for a cup of tea amidst hospitable villagers in the tiny tea shops and learn of the local life. Grandmothers and mothers were present during the days, the men worked locally, and somehow every seemingly tiny village bustled with life. 

“So much has changed, hasn’t it?”, I said. We were out on a weekday too, but the work spots nearer the city were bustling. “I wonder whether the villages would look deserted. That would be so sad!” I said ever the nostalgic

The brother gave me an amused grin and said we’d soon find out as he had not gone out driving through these villages on a weekday either. The trail he was taking us on, apparently weaved through an extremely small village street – right through the main artery of the village – “almost like you’re driving through someone’s house” –  as he put it. 

I took pictures of bright little temples nestled under large banyan trees, cows, goats, and birds as they flitted in and out of the fields and wet trees. A little way off, we arrived at the village he was speaking of. 

As we inched our way past the narrow village street, we stopped. His car was not made for these streets. There was a bike parked on one side and it proved to be too narrow for the car to pass through. While the issue was being sorted out, I waved out of the car at the ladies sitting on their verandahs nearby. They smiled back even though they seemed to be sharing an internal joke as to why people needed such fat cars. My heart warmed to the gentle laughter and kind smiles flashed back at us. This village was not deserted at all. The mothers, grandmothers were all in attendance. The men too seemed to be at work in the local fields and the scene heart-warming. I asked them in my broken Kannada if I could take pictures, and they smiled and said ‘yes’.  

It was then a girl asked us in Kannada whether we’d like to stop and have some coffee. We thanked her and said we should be getting on our way, but such hospitality is the charm of rural India.

We fell to discussing similar stories of hospitality extended in various parts of India. The brother spoke of a time when he landed up haggard and dust-beaten at a restaurant on a bike trip of hundreds of miles in Northern India hoping for some food, but found out that the venue was closed off for external visitors as it was hosting a wedding that day. As he sheepishly apologized and tried to leave, the hosts would hear nothing of it. How could a guest leave hungry? Not only did they take in their dusty wedding guest heartily, but also gave him the full wedding meal planned for the family and friends in the village. 

The sister told us similar stories in Africa when she’d traveled on business years ago. 

I am not sure how this charm can be held as we swell in population and crowd together more closely. For I found myself wondering that the cities do seem to have lost this particular sense on more than one occasion. But if we do, then I am sure we shall bumble along with that undefinable quality of humaneness and humanity in spite of all our avarice and problems. 

“For though we may come from different places, our hearts beat as one.”

Albus Dumbledore – in the movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

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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