The Book of Kells

I was intrigued to see the book that Dublin is so proud of, and I wasn’t disappointed. Walking through the rain-washed squares of Trinity College, past all the students and tourists milling about the campus, I walked into the Trinity College Old Library to see the much talked about Book of Kells. Written about 800 years ago by at least 6 different scribes, it is reputedly the oldest book in existence in its original format. It was probably written at a monastery similar to the one below by monks.


I was all agog to see the Book of Kells, rose early and off I went with nothing but 3 eggs, 2 pieces of toast with butter and blackberry currants jam, 3 cups of tea, some fruit, a spot of yogurt and some freshly squeezed fruit smoothie in me. (European hotels really do have the best continental breakfasts in the world. Try as I might, I could not get them to feed me less. Please can I have just 1 egg, nothing else, I’d say. “Just a leetel beet of vegetables on the side.” they’d say, and soon a tray bearing a couple of fried eggs, mushrooms, spinach, baked beans and toasts accompanying the eggs appeared behind a tottering waiter with a benevolent smile.)


Anyway, the Book of Kells has scholars poring over its pages, art historians and critics study the dyes used for the illustrations in the book, and the book does look elegant. The letters were different, probably Celtic letters at the time, and the lettering had a calligraphic touch to it that we seem to have lost in the world of keyboards. What the book is about is, I guessed, derived more from the artful illustrations rather than the prose.

While it was inspiring to see writing as early as all that, I was not wholly prepared for how it made me feel later on.

Days later while walking down the streets, I’d recognize some rune from the Book of Kells or something similar looking displayed on the shop fronts, and feel a little strange. How ephemeral are our lives and its influences? Even the greatest works of the times, mean so little now. And only one book survived the times. What about the rest of the books written at that time?

So many languages fade away taking with it, another chunk of literary history forever with it. The thirukkurals in Tamil have had a good run so far.


What writing will stand the tests of time, and which ones would not? What does it say about the writer who started with the intention of writing about the lofty Books of Kells and wrote instead of the fantastic breakfast she tucked into her stomach? Given how ephemeral even our inscribed works are, shouldn’t we have a little less ego, a little less lust for power, and little more acceptance of our state of being?

I mused on our social media presences. The place most avid users go to share our thoughts and feelings. Maybe we are subconsciously evaluating every thought that flits in like fluffy clouds on a bright day, taking a pulse of our feelings.  What of thoughts not shared, and if thoughts trigger feelings, will the absence of thought then remove suffering, but then what is the state of being?

Maybe that is why the old Eastern philosophers taught us to calm our minds. Ursula Le Guin’s quote comes to mind:

“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

I like my spot of writing even if sometimes I have muddled things up a little more by the end of it all.

The Elephant Keeper 

I had been on a short trip to a Green island staying at a Purple hotel with White Christmas decorations in a city center. While there, I decided to make the most of it, and hopped on a tour bus to take in the sights of Ireland. It had been a dry few months in … Continue reading “The Elephant Keeper “

I had been on a short trip to a Green island staying at a Purple hotel with White Christmas decorations in a city center. While there, I decided to make the most of it, and hopped on a tour bus to take in the sights of Ireland.

It has been a while since I went meandering off on my own. As I boarded the day trip for Wicklow mountains and Glendalough lakes, that wily Master of Doubt was trying to work his way into the old brain stand, and I was becoming a little unsure. Most people had come with at least 1 travel companion. I saw the knots of people comfortable in their own little groups as we waited for the bus to come and pick us up.  I wondered whether I shall be alone. Not that it mattered much since I had a book about a jolly esoteric family to keep me company on the trip.

Sitting tentatively in the van, I was reading The Garden of the Gods by Gerald Durrell on the kindle. I giggled before I could help it. I was peeking out at the passing scenery every now and then, and imagining the little household at Corfu. The author, Gerald Durrell, then a boy, lived with his ‘Family and Other Animals’ in the island of Corfu. A budding naturalist, his boyhood is a most interesting one in which no living creature escapes his admiration. His bedroom plays hosts to barn owls, field rats, bats, along with the more traditional form of pets such as cats and dogs. He also has a donkey named Sally, and I could not help laughing at the resulting antics this menagerie produced with his esoteric family.


The Corfu Trilogy is set in the island of Corfu, and since I read each book in the series a few months apart, it was most satisfying.

I could barely believe that it was possible for somebody to live the way he described it. The Universe is not always kind to doubting dunlins, but this time it was.  Within the hour, I was to meet someone whose life was remarkably like the one I had just read about.

The tour bus dropped the folks who had opted to spend time at a Garden. Only two of us had opted for a hike instead of an amble around the Gardens to the dismay of the tour guide. The look we exchanged affirmed that we would be far happier being buffeted by the roaring winds, and gazing longingly at the rolling hills around us. I recognized a kindred nature loving spirit in her, and soon we got walking and talking.

As we loped up the trail with an enthusiastic whoop, she told me a little bit about herself, and I was so glad she did. She loved animals, she said, and lived in a home teeming with pets. I truly did not believe that Gerald Durrell’s family was possible, much as I loved reading his books. But her answer astounded me. She said they had a donkey, 2 geese, 2 cats, 2 dogs and 12 hens. Her business trip was the most interesting one I have heard to date. She worked as an Elephant Keeper in a Zoo in Holland. She was here, she said, on an week-long program to work at the Dublin zoo’s Elephant department, but would be going back to her own zoo at the end of the week.


I told her that the children would love to meet her, and she nodded understandingly. Looking at the excitement of their mother, she very kindly sent me some pictures and videos of the animals she worked with in her work spot.  She too had come alone, and the pair of us spent the whole day together – on windy hillsides, amidst towers and remnants of castles looking like giant rooks and bishops on a chess board.


I was so glad that my earlier doubts had not stopped me from having a wonderful day: the serendipity of finding companionship, the beauty of learning of another way of life, and above all, the opportunity of shaking oneself out of the familiar and the tried and tested.

The universe finds a way of showing us the rainbow if only we stick with the rain.

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