The Roman Holiday

“Can you believe we are going to roam around in Rome?” said the excited son. He was very proud of his homophone.

“Isn’t it funny? Roaming around in Rome?”

“Yes! You bobble head! I said it was funny the first time you said it.” said the teenaged daughter pulling an I-can’t believe-this little fellow face. I laughed, knowing this was only setting the stage for at least another 108 times we would have to endure the phrase in Rome, and I was not mistaken. The nourish-n-cherish household is proud of its jokes.

“Have you done your homework? Did you spend some time trying to figure out the places to see?”

The husband’s I-love-my-wife-but-I-know-what-she-doesn’t-do-well tone deepened.

Setting aside the dismal feeling of being caught in school, I told him (patiently),
“Relax – I got the itinerary from my colleague who went there for his honeymoon, and it has a pretty good list of things to do including details on where to catch a sunset.” I said winking. “I even prepared a doc and shared it with you.”

He looked surprised, but right enough, when he opened the doc, he discovered entries like:
Check out the colosseum, if there is enough time, also add Palantine hill, and the Piazza Navona.
On the way back,  spend some time on the Spanish steps, and near that is Trevi Fountain.

I am no trip advisor, and when I generally send people on their way, I give them a vague list like above, keeping a wide margin for ducking into random stores that attract one’s fancy, stopping at random spots that demand one’s attention, looking at people scurrying about their business, tucking in an extra gelato, dribbling along and finding a couple of boys play football – it is all good fun.


I like to blame my list-making on being one of those staunch believers in the super power of Serendipity, and the gift of winging it. For instance, the taxi driver the previous night told us not to miss the Piazza Venizia.  Piazza Venizia, as it turned out, was one of the most grandiose buildings I have seen. Built recently by Roman standards, it is only a century old among ruins millennia old, but the views from up above of the sprawling city of Rome,  Colisseum and the Palantine Hill were brilliant.


The Romans didn’t believe in skimping on the grandeur. Glancing skywards and finding flying chariots bearing regal men atop their chariots was so novel that we found ourselves gawking like fish seeing Poseidon’s horses swishing through the seas for the first time.
“Poseidon was a Greek God, his Roman equivalent, Neptune, wasn’t as powerful because the Roman Navy wasn’t very powerful then”, said the mythology expert, the teen- queen in her mythical world.

Rick Riordan has done a marvelous job in getting tens of thousands of teenagers interested in the Greek and Roman myths, and our tour guide at the Vatican, told us she wrote up a Percy Jackson tour that was hugely popular. I could well imagine it. The city burst with myths. Flying chariots, fountains of fortune, serpents of evil, winged harbingers of war or prosperity jostled along with busts of statues of philosophers, kings, and senators.

Bengt Nyman [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
It was also slightly disconcerting to read about the forms of entertainment in early Rome. We have heard stories of the slave, Androcles, who was not mauled by the hungry lion remembering a past kindness, seen movies of the era etc, but there is something disconcerting about standing amidst the ruins of the Coliseum and reading about the manslaughter, the barbaric practice of skinning people alive etc. A place where hundred of years ago,  people watched this gore as a form of entertainment raises goosebumps.


If that is the kind of evolution mankind has had to come through, we have come a long way, but we also still have several ways to go.

What was that poem about “Miles to go before I sleep” ? by Robert Frost.

Walking among the ruins, you are intensely aware of the fact that toga-clad Roman senators walked the same path 2000 years ago, and if you are even slightly distracted, there are thousands of tourists, their phones, and their respective tour guides to remind you of the significance. In spite of that, it felt strange to see the husband looking at the GPS to figure out directions beside a ruin that was literally thousand years old. What if a spirit from that age were to spring in our paths then and there?

Maybe one did, for the husband saw a chain lying across the road, and attempted his boyish skip across the chain. He underestimated its height and went sprawling face-down on the pavement. After the initial shock wore off, he started laughing, and the son said, “Appa tripped on the trip. Hey! Appa tripped on the trip while roaming around in Rome. Get it? Get it?”, and we all laughed.

Our jokes! Well, they need to evolve too.

Godly Superheroes or Super-Heroic Gods?

The clocks had been changed, and the evenings suddenly signaled the arrival of Winter. The stars shone, the moon beamed, and the crickets clicked much sooner than usual. I was pottering about the kitchen when I overheard an interesting conversation between brother and sister.

“What is the difference between a Super-Hero and a God? “

The question was obviously the son’s. The young fellow had a curious look on his face, and he wanted to learn the truth, and nothing but the truth from his older, wiser, newly minted teenage sister. His sister looked discomfited, and said, “Dude! Seriously?”

I tried my best to keep the stuffed frog look about me, and acted non-committal. A vitally important step if you want to see how the discussion proceeds.

The son is a great lover of mythological tales. Hanuman, the monkey god, who could jump across seas, carry mountains with one hand, and fly with the mountains is a positive hero. This is such a change in pace for us for the daughter was never one to ask for super-heroes or Indian mythological tales.

Her philosophy matches the Roman poet, Ovid’s, thoughts on God:

It is convenient that there be gods, and, as it is convenient, let us believe that there are.

“Hanuman is my favorite super-hero.” said the son. “Was Hanuman a super-hero?”

“Yes …. and … no. Well…Hanuman is a super hero, but he is also a God. Most Gods are also super-heroes, you know?”

This must’ve felt like a tantalizing puzzle to the fellow, for he continued with the quizzing.

“But not all super-heroes are Gods right? Superman is not a God. “

“Yes…he is not. Definitely not. Nor is Spider man, and Captain America and all the rest of the fellows you watch.”

The son gave a raucous peal of laughter at this. It amuses him that the super-heroes who mean so much to him, mean so little to his sister. He looked at her with that look artists paint on disciples waiting to hear some Saint giving life-advice.

“Well… Gods don’t die, but super heroes do.” She sounded tentative, quite unlike her usual self.

“But Rama died, and he is a God right?”


The daughter looked at me with pleading eyes, and I threw up my hands. This child asks the kind of questions that spiritual speaking the Dalai Lama could answer. Me? I sputter and stutter and look like a duck stuck with duct tape in her throat.

His world has super-heroes, and if in the olden days, they were Gods, they must have been the super-heroes of the day.

To ruminate consciously is a privilege: Who are our super-heroes today? Which ones will be the Gods and which ones the Demons?

P.S: I recently read a book titled The Delight of Being Ordinary by Roland Merullo. It is a book chronicling an unlikely trip taken by the Pope and the Dalai Lama together. It is an opportunity for them to escape the fanfare that is constantly around them, and delve into what their sub-conscious has been telling them. I don’t usually read forewords, but after reading this book, I felt happy enough to go back and read the foreword. The author said that the concept of having the two world’s most prominent religious leaders, who also have a wonderful sense of humor appealed to him, as so many leaders today are so devoid of this important ability to laugh and delight in little things.

Part 2: Incorporating Physics Into Myth

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