Omafeit – Amsterdam Fietsen (Bikes)

After that hectic trip to Europe, we came back happy and content with all the marvelous experiences we had the opportunity to take in, and also intensely happy to be back to our suburban heaven in California. It was a beautiful rainy day when we landed and the day after, an even more beautiful sunny day. So, off the son & I went on a bike ride through the beautiful trails by the swollen creek that we can now call a river. It was as we were happily talking to each other and biking that we took to discussing the bikes of Amsterdam. The beautiful, haphazard bikes by the canal.

bikes

There are images, and there are special ones. The ones that you have no time to take, but remain imprinted on your brain. The whizzing fleeting ones that sear themselves in some cozy part of the brain, associating with some feeling or aroma or words. The mystical ones.

“Remember that man with his kid on his shoulders riding the bike?”

“Oh- and that lady who had a cabin baggage sized suitcase hanging from her handlebar as she biked off to catch her train or plane!”

“Oh – that grandpa with his suit and lovely grand-daughter sitting in a basket seat in the front dressed like a princess tootling off for a Christmas service or lunch somewhere!”

biking_amsterdam

While walking by the canal in Amsterdam on Christmas Eve can be an experience in itself, it doesn’t quite prepare you for the chaotic beauty that is Amsterdam. I’ve heard folks talk about Amsterdam not being like other European cities. I’ve seen pictures of bikes by the canal on social media. But I was truly taken aback by the sheer joy and the haphazard manner in which the bikes were strewn against the canal as folks went about their business. There was a hustle and bustle, a gaiety, a chaotic joy to the whole atmosphere that was wholly unique to Amsterdam. It seemed like everything was possible with a bike. What an empowering sensation that must be! 

We were besotted by the warmth and quirks of the locals, and fellow gawkers such as ourselves alike.

The markets! The open air market near LinderGracht was a charm. Nowhere had I seen such a jolly throng of folks.About the only orderly thing is the statue of Dutch writer and educator Theo Thijssen, teaching one of his pupils.  The son & I chuckled as we made our way on a cold morning walk the next day and saw a bike propped against the statue as if the student was in a rush to get to his master, and had to get there on bike and dash it by the statue.

bike_market

This was Christmas morning, and many folks seemed to be making their way to church or for a meal with friends and family on their bikes, and we wished them all a merry Christmas as they biked past. The fact that they all waved back, returned the greeting or said something clever and witty tickled us to no end.

“You know I understand now what my colleagues meant when they said they missed the biking of Amsterdam when they moved to the US!”, said the husband as he watched a father and son whiz past us to somewhere. The baby sat safe and content in the front basket, while the father biked him to where he needed to be, while the wind whipped their faces with holiday cheer. “This is a whole different level of mobility and swift action.” 

A dozen geese squawking overhead flicked me back from Christmas time in Amsterdam to a cold January day in California in a jiffy. Who said we haven’t invented time travel and wormholes?

“Isn’t it so much easier to bike here on the trail though?” said the son as another biker courteously informed us that he was approaching us on the left, and sped past us with a wave of his hand as moved out of his way.

I agreed. 

ca_bike

While it was enchanting to watch all these bikers wiggle their way through the crowds, it takes a certain debonair attitude I think to be able to bike suavely in Amsterdam, and for that they had our admiration. We amateurs were safer on a biking trail for now. 

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. 

Philhellenism – the love of Greek culture

After the freezing days of Paris, as we were bundling ourselves up in layers (yet again) , I said somewhat severely to the husband. “I think I’ve had enough of European vacations. After a few museums, a half a dozen cathedrals, and a few hundred pieces of art, I am done.”

The husband smiled one of his crafty smiles and agreed, for he knew that I will be the one craving a European vacation first. He just had to sit by, observe, and make bets with the children on the timing.

So, it was that we boarded our flight to Athens. Athens, the weather app promised us ,would be warmer, but still cold. It was expected to be between 40F & 65F (a difference of almost 15 degrees).

It was like every mile added not just warmth, but a different tinge to the culture. We had no idea on what to expect in Greece. It was our first time. A destination chosen by popular vote since the children are great fans of greek myths and have devoured all the books by Rick Riordan multiple times over. The husband had even booked a mythological tour to surprise them. But apart from this, our idea of Greece was based on A Big Fat Greek Wedding, Greek Myths by DeLaurailes, Gerald Durrell’s Corfu trilogy: My Family and Other Animals, Farther Afield by Miss Read, and all the different tidbits we knew about Greek philosophers, and mathematicians through the ages. 

As you can see, we had no idea, which was marvelous, for we were thoroughly unprepared for what happened next. We fell in love! In love with the city of Athens, the country of Greece, and the Greeks themselves.

After the professional intellectualism of Paris, Athens was like walking into a theme park – here you can have philosophy, art, literature and all the little marvels of the mind, but only if you agree to lighten up, have fun, and stay curious. The gentle humor and warmth with which the Greeks speak to each other and to the tourists is to be seen to be believed. They are a fun-loving, smart, and kind people. It is no wonder that this small country tucked away in the Mediterranean Sea gave us so much of the foundations of Western philosophy and culture. If Democracy had not been chanced upon here, I doubt it would’ve survived or chanced upon at all. As it is, it has so many assaults on it, it is fragile enough that we protect it. Greece is like the Disneyland of Europe. It reminds you of life as it should be: ambitious and lofty in our goals, but reminding us at every turn with their jolly, vivacious myths, of our humanity, our sense of community, and the importance of humility. 

I hung out of the window in the chill morning peering at the Acropolis. Those buildings were from the 5th century BC. Athens (the Greek call their beloved city, Athina after the goddess Athena) has been continuously populated over the past 6000 years. This showed up in little things such as drainage systems, rebuilding efforts and such (we found to our surprise that toilet paper cannot be flushed in Greece, and water bidets are not installed everywhere either).

It is hard to not get up in the morning and think that you are but a butterfly in the passage of time. On the mythological tour, Denai (our mythological tour guide) was informative and thoroughly impressed with the son’s knowledge of the Greek myths. I strutted along ( a proud parent) and learning so much of the mythologies that helped shape our way of the world, that I must say the cold forgot to bother me.

Who cannot be awed by the story of the Temple of Zeus being destroyed multiple times in history and the latest one by lightning? If that was not a sign from Zeus – the god of lightning himself, the Greeks did not know what was.

Or that wonderful story about how the city of Athens got its name. Apparently, it was such a popular place that even the Gods fought for the place. So Zeus tired of this bickering asked Poseidon & Athena to decide via a popular vote. Each had to give a gift to the populace and the people could decide.

  1. Poseidon – the god of the oceans, gave them water, signifying naval power and thus prosperity as a port city. This gift appealed to the men of the land.
  • Athena – the goddess of wisdom and strategy, gave them the olive tree, signifying the change from hunter-gatherer mode to prosperity from the land. The women liked all the different uses from the olive tree (olives, light from the lamps lit using olive oil, the wood etc).

The citizens chose Athena’s gifts – for  according to myth, women outnumbered men at the time of the vote and Athena won. This made Poseidon angry and to mollify him, the temple of Poseidon overlooks the city of Athens, while Athena’s temple overlooks the oceans. It was also why women were not allowed to vote from then on (again a myth, since it was never obvious that women had the vote in Greece. According to wikipedia – women gained the vote in Greece as late as 1952. But it was a crafty way to deny women their voting rights and have a story around it.

In the parliament square, the temple of Athena stood alongside that of Hephaestus, signifying that intellectual work was just as important as physical work. This was the place the philosophers gathered alongside the farmers to decide, debate and vote on the important matters of the day. Both types of people had to be in harmony for a prosperous society.

Thus it went in Greece. Wherever you went, there was a little story, involving the mighty gods, and their follies, all narrated by the populace with gentle humor.

And yet. While the myths are everywhere, there is a surprising and thoroughly lovable lack of reverence to these gods. They are gods – sure. But they have flaws – big ones. Much bigger than our own flaws since they are so much more popular and powerful.

I think it has to do with the complete dissociation of religion from the mythology. Indian mythology is just as broad, diverse and intricate – but since it is intertwined with Hinduism, good luck trying to be flippant about any aspect of it no matter how justified.

“Next time we come to Europe, we must stay longer in Greece, so we can go to the countryside and visit the little villages that dot Greece, maybe visit the island of Crete and Corfu.”, I said at the end of the glorious day in which we had eaten far too much delicious food, enjoyed far too many myths, and been far too enamored by the music and language of the greeks.

“Twenty-four hours!”, said the husband exchanging knowing winks with the children. They all guffawed.

“Amma – you said – No more Europe! Africa calls, and Australia sings and all that, 24 hours ago!”

What was there to say?  That’s how people fall in love with a country. It is no wonder they have a word for it. Philhellenism – a love of Greek culture!

Froide a Paris avec Gezellig

The husband planned a meticulous trip to 3 different countries in Europe for the nourish—n-cherish household. 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.

Neither here nor there: Travels in Europe by [Bill Bryson]

Bill Bryson started off his travels with catching the Northern lights in Norway. We chose France. But believe me, by the time we landed and made our way to the Airbnb , I felt like I was at the North Pole. The high temperatures of the day were 32F or OC. One night while standing by the Seine river watching the Eiffel Tower from a distance, I was so cold, I may have seen the aurora borealis over Jupiter. The daughter’s eyelashes froze, the son with no extra fat reserves froze too. The Seine miraculously flowed on.

Luckily, T’was the most wonderful time of the year!

This feels the time when overuse of the word , “T’was” is a requirement. Europe in Christmas time is a joy. The store fronts in tourist locations have marvelous decorations put up for Christmas and we couldn’t stop admiring the many ways in which people think to spread cheer. It was irresistible to stop and take a few pictures, very well knowing that I may never look at them again.

xmas_decor

Cities in Europe have a charm to Christmas time that is hard to capture. There is music in the air, there are musicians in subway stations, lights strung up everywhere in artistic and beautiful garlands like little bubbles of joy through the cold winter scene outside. Finally, there is a purposeful stride to people as they walk swiftly in their heavy coats looking sprightly, even though we seemed to feel lumberous with all the layers of thermal wear.

Our warm flight attendant on the KLM flight told us that the Dutch have a word similar to Hygge for this particular feeling:

It is called Gezellig.

She said the word was not easily translated, as it encompasses all warm feelings associated with the yuletide spirit (but is not restricted to Christmas or winter imagery) – just read the link above, will ya?

Every now and then, we would encounter a quiet fascinating residential street with plenty of trees. On one such charming street that windy day, the last few leaves from the trees above floated down and I went chasing after them in glee. No surer way to lift one’s spirits or body temperatures in my books!

The ones who impressed us the most though , were the relentless joggers of Paris. In case, any of you missed the gist thus far – Paris – beautiful but biting cold in winter. Yet, here they were, zipping through the streets in shorts and light jackets. I ain’t going to lie : that takes a special sort of determination and dedication and I would’ve taken my hat off to them if I didn’t think my brain would freeze.

Walking past a little pond that had frozen over, we stopped to watch the ducks standing on the frozen waters. Had their other duck friends flown onto warmer climes in Africa or Argentina, while these poor ducks were stuck here? I thought of that passage by Bill Bryson on his winter trip to Oslo to see the aurora borealis: I suppose this was one of those times when I truly felt grateful to be a visitor and not have to live there. I could already feel my feet freeze through the thick boots, and woollen socks, and couldn’t wait to get back to the room to take a warm shower. How were these poor birds standing on frozen water without socks, coats or caps? Yet, they seemed peaceful enough. They did not seem to be anticipating the World Cup Football Finals match later that evening, they did not seem to think anything of the rain forecast later that night.

frozen_ducks

“Are you coming or not? Freezing here – let’s get to a warm restaurant for the match!” , said the husband and I hurried along tucking away my little interlude with the ducks of France. It was time to cheer with the people of France for the football World Cup. France Vs Argentina.

After the freezing days of Paris, as we were bundling ourselves up in layers (yet again) for our small foray to find food, I said somewhat severely to the husband. “I think I’ve had enough of European vacations. Next time, we explore other places – Africa, South America, Australia: so many continents to explore! After a few museums, a half a dozen cathedrals, and a few hundred pieces of art, I am done.”

The husband smiled one of his crafty smiles and agreed, for he knew that I will be the one craving a European vacation first. He just had to sit by, observe, and make bets with the children on the timing. Much like watching a football game.

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.

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!

Psst – Read the BG

The daughter was probably five or six years old at the time. and the morning school going routine was enough to make athletes and event organizers shudder. 

  • Was the cereal done? 
  • Where’s the homework?
  • The shoes – don’t forget to wear shoes to school

One such morning, the husband saw her dawdle with her cereal and bowl of milk. His own sharp eye was on the clock, and he was trying to move her along without flustering her. He asked her if he can help her with the milk, but the already-too-big-to-ask-for-help daughter said no in a saucy voice and then proceeded to take the bowl and drink the milk from it with her lips on the upper side of the bowl.

Even without the grand influences of gravity that would have had an interesting outcome. With gravity, it meant that the milk poured like a beautiful white waterfall onto her light pink pants (her favorite at the time). 

Now, this set off an interesting train of events in the household. The husband saw that one word or raised voice would lead to a bigger drama and they would probably not make it to school on time. So, he pursed his lips and tut-tutted emitting a sound that sounded like (Pssskkk). He then charged upstairs, found another pair of pants, while I got her out of her dripping milky ones, and gave her a quick wash/wipedown. He threw the pants, I caught it, dressed her, and bundled her off to the car. The background music was now at a high octave and reaching a crescendo. If the signal is green they’d make it. If not, well….

A few minutes later, the husband enters looking like a warrior who’d won the latest war and beamed that they made it on time. We high-fived each other and on that high note of victory went about our day.

However, in the evening when the daughter saw us, her eyes brimmed with tears as she sat on her grandfathers lap. “You almost looked like you were going to yell at me. You said “PPSSSK” – waaah! “ 

The poor husband looked on helplessly as tears filled her eyes, and he almost looked like he was sorry for saying “PPSSKK!”

It has since become a joke in the house. You said “Pppssskkk! ” or “You looked like you were almost going to yell!” 

Where am I going with all this you ask. Bear with me.

I have a reasonable tsundoku pile as any book-lover would. The physical pile gives me a deploring look every now and then, and when particularly powerful, I yield. But there is another pile that is online, and that never gives me dirty looks. This pile, of course, is relegated to the let’s-see-when-we-travel lot.  Post-Covid – this pile has been particularly neglected. 

So, one day, a good friend of mine, was Bhagawad Gita-ing, and I asked in all humility whether I may borrow a copy of the book. A pained response came from him. 

He almost looked like he was going to say “PPPssskkkkk!” Waah waah! This poor friend had gifted me a copy of the book last year in the Kindle, and I had downloaded it dutifully. 

So, you ask what I have been doing. Remembering the almost-going-to-say-pppsssskkk look and reading the book.

I must say – it all seems simple enough in theory. Do your duty and leave the rest to the Universe. #Bhagwad Gita

It seems a good lesson in the current times of economic turmoil and companies announcing layoffs etc.

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 47

I am glad my friend almost looked like he was going to say “PPSSKK” for thinking of one’s duty and not its results seems like good advice for a week like this.

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