There was a time when limericks and humorous poetry made us laugh, when ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine!’ brought tears of merriment to multiple readers of Readers’ Digest, when PG Wodehouse was digested by youngsters by the dozen and when everyone loved a good laugh. There were no laughter clubs. There were no sleep clinics. There was spring and happiness and childhood…
That is how we grew up back in the 1970s and 1980s.
That was the time when bell bottoms were in fashion, people still listened to Beatles, Carpenters and Julio Iglesias; Agatha Christie and Perry Mason were mystery fare and people read only books with pages.
Then with internet revolution swinging into action, things changed. Things changed in a way that made living more challenging! On one hand communication was eased; on the other the tech savvy and the non-tech groups replaced simple divisions of caste and class. For some time, people could say what they liked across all borders drawn by mankind. And then power brokers made rules to regulate the flow of thought in the guise of curbing negative output online. Some of it was necessary, especially where people were inducing riots with Facebook exchanges, but some of it created borders in communicating ideas.
There were alternatives that crept up and people still found ways of communicating across borders with blogs and social media, though some governments banned even those. Voices were raised… but the tone had changed from one of happiness to one of darkness and challenge.
What was bad kept coming into focus over what was good. Laughter dissipated!
Limericks gave way to haikus reflecting the darkness of existence, which were rare earlier because people and ideas could not travel across borders easily long, long ago… fifty full years ago…
The span of time like our focus has shortened. Reading what others write has become a luxury. Writing what one has to say and publishing in social media has become the norm. Yet reading evidently creates an empathizing individual, an individual who can emote on behalf of others and spread kindness and smiles through the world. A research by Kingston University in London highlighted how readers make better and kinder friends. The report states: “Specifically, when broken down by genre, they (the researchers) saw that readers of comedy were the best at relating to people. Romance and drama lovers were the most empathetic and most skilled at seeing things through other’s eyes.”
Perhaps, dwelling on the results of the research, we should look for not stand-up comics on you tube but for books that make us laugh, whether in English or some other language. I still cannot stop laughing at the nonsense verse of Sukumar Ray ( film-maker and writer Satyajit Ray’s father) and those are verses I have been reading for the last forty years or limericks or stories by Wodehouse. And yet, they seem to be rather out of fashion now. In today’s world, we are all writers and readers in the landscape of social media. Presidents ‘tweet’ as do Prime Ministers and Ministers! Social media has gone viral as did American Idol and a bunch of programs that cropped up around it in the early 2000s.
An article in The Atlantic explains: “Yet in many ways Idol … was ahead of the pop-culture game. It was one of the first shows that understood both the emotional nerve that connects people to music, and people’s innate desire to see others succeed despite enormous odds. It excelled at creating a personal link between artists and viewers, compelling the latter to take action by calling in and voting…In this sense, Idol foreshadowed today’s social media-driven society, where fans have the power to mobilize and impact the pop-culture landscape…”. Huff post came up with the heading “American Idol Made Us All Critics”.
As I sped through the jungles of Amazonia, I could feel, hear and see the splash of grey green water on my face. My hair flew wildly in the breeze created by the speeding hydrofoil as blue, emerald and red parakeets flitted among the trees. The sky was almost invisible amidst the foliage. The creepers and huge palm like leaves on the banks of the river studded the bottom of the tall trees that sped past in a haze…Then I skidded down a long road with corn fields on both sides. It was a sunny day. The road was a blur of tar and white paint. The soil was brown and the corn, yellow. Could I have arrived at Peru? I had always want to go there to visit Machu Picchu, the amazing city of the Incas with wandering white Llamas…
And every time the monitors beeped me back to reality, to the fact that I was being revived after a surgery. Each time I came back to the reality of being on a bed and not a speedboat or a sleek race car. They anaesthetized me and later had me on a drip of morphine… which is why I had all these wonderful trips to places where I have never been and have always wanted to visit.
Doctors, dentists and nurses are nice to know socially… very kind, vivacious, people who can relate to all and sundry and all kinds of good things can be said of them… but at a professional level, I prefer giving them a wide berth. However, when I had this searing pain in my upper abdomen, I was rushed to the hospital. Then started the preparation for my imaginary trips to various places of interest.
First they put me on a drip. I had only had a toast with honey and chamomile tea at 6.30 in the morning. They wanted to do an ultrasound, they told me and I needed to be starved. I argued, I had ultrasounds through my pregnancies and had never been denied food. With a patient voice, the senior physician informed me that this time, it was the abdomen, the food churning machines, and therefore I had no choice. I was made to lie down.
An enterprising young man came and beat my hands till the veins started to show and then he jabbed. They put me on a saline solution so that I could starve without getting dehydrated. My stomach started craving for food. But I lay there still, on a drip.
Around noon, they let me walk with hands pierced by the drip needle to the radiologist. I was asked to lie down on a narrow shelf-like couch that seemed to grow out of the wall, only it had a soft rexine-like finish. It could barely accommodate my ample girth! Then she asked me to relax. They always do… is it not? To avoid plunging into the depths of an abysmal chasms of frozen fear, I recited Wordsworth’s Daffodils under my breath as her cold scanner smeared a colder gel on me. Then, with due apologies to the great poet, she scanned and scanned but little thought what curiosity in me it wrought, especially when she put me on hold and ran out to get a full abdomen scan order from the doctor. And then, she did her stuff and let me go. I was sent back to the drip.
Every now and then, the needle poking young male nurse ambled in to check on me and offered me pain-relieving injections, which I politely refused. What would be more painful, a needle or the pain I had?
I tried to converse with the young man but the conversation always reverted to poking needles or starving me… he seemed to be obsessed with jabs.
At last, the senior physician came and said, I needed to go for a CT scan with a dye injected in me… How comfortable does that sound on an empty, rumbling stomach?! This time they did not ask but put me on a wheel chair. Again I was made to lie down on a long, narrow, plank-like couch that would go into a circular tunnel. Then they warned, it might hurt and they put a drip of a brownish liquid. The radiologist told me I could relax then and breath in and out as the machine instructed. She made me wait ten long minutes with my needle poked hand positioned above my head savoring the brown fluid coursing through my veins. The machine started talking and asked me to hold my breath in and out as the plank on which I lay moved in and out of the tunnel. I felt like I was going through a futuristic process and wondered if the medical investigations in Star Wars or Agents of Shield would be as intimidating in reality.
At last around 6.30 pm, I was freed off machines and told that I could eat. But by then, I had lost my appetite. Remember, I had been starved for twelve hours. I found it difficult to eat. So, they continued me on the saline and would not let me go home till I had a hearty breakfast and they took me off the saline.
The doctor gave me a three-day break to ready myself for a surgery scheduled for that Saturday. He said as it was a major surgery, he wanted to be relaxed! So, it would have to be the weekend!
On Friday, I had to go to visit not just the doctor but also the phlebotomist. In case you are wondering what the latter is, they have the jobs of vampires, except the vampires draw blood for the selfish intent of consumption and the phlebotomists do it for the noble cause of medical investigations. The lady phlebotomist was nice. As she drew vial after vial of blood, we chatted about our lives’ works…
The next day was Saturday. I remember, going to the hospital, being visited by the anesthetist and the pain doctor who explained to me how to use the morphine shot that would be given to me after my surgery, saw my doctor and his team mate, another surgeon. The anesthetist was kind enough to say I had veins like a lady as he found them difficult to locate and then it all blanked out.
I lost a whole day and woke up in the evening with my family at the ledge of my bed, bringing me back to reality. I was strapped to all kinds of machines and could barely move!
I could not sleep well the whole night at the High Dependency Unit for the beep of monitors. When the anesthetist came in the morning and I complained of lack of sleep, he told me that I was not meant to sleep but to wake up. I still had the morphine drip and shot when I was wheeled into my room.
I lay in on my high-tech bed with drips dripping saline, morphine and medication. Though I was surrounded by friends and family, again I found my bed encapsulating me and whirling me into outer space. I flew among the stars in my white and blue space ship and the machine that massaged my legs to prevent thrombosis became the controls of my ship. As I glided noiselessly in a dark vacuum studded with stars, I was drawn back to reality with the look of concern and affection on a friend’s face by my bed.
Next day I was taken off the morphine and my journey towards heading home started.
Now, I sit at home recuperating and writing. I had always wondered how ST Coleridge could write a description of Xanadu without ever stepping into China… His Kubla Khan written under the influence of opium made me a fan of Kublai Khan. I not only read on him but lived in China for eight years and walked the Great Wall four times, only parts of it, not all of it.
Now I wonder if my trip through Amazonia and Peru on morphine will take me to the real Machu Picchu ever… or, perhaps, the Egyptian pyramids on camel back…or maybe, to Easter Island among those huge rocks where like a shaman or a druid of yore, I could feel the elements tear at me and wrap me with their mystery…
This is dedicated to all those who have sat and are likely to sit on a dentist’s chair, under the threat posed by drills, pliers, needles and jabs.
I have a friend who told me that she and her sister kicked dentists in terror of all the paraphernalia and the horror of being under the tooth doctor’s surveillance. In the last week, I too have had three sessions or three and a half hours of dental care. After the second session, I felt like wobbly jelly in a bowl till… I was advised by a co-sufferer to think happy thoughts. As I waited to be called for my third session, he suggested I think of floating or flying in the sky… I looked daggers at him…
However, when I sat on the chair, it started… I could not stop laughing while my mouth hung open in imitation of Edvard Munch’s Scream, my tongue stayed in place under a clamped rubber sheet, which under normal circumstances would have generated a fear of an asphyxiating death. As the dentist jabbed and drilled to her heart’s content, my stomach shook with laughter… and my throat gurgled in delight.
I was thinking what if Edvard Munch’s Scream screamed not for the angst in him but was holding his mouth open for a dental job… what if he floated up to the skies, as my messiah had suggested, and in a fit of dental angst doubled up with ‘laughing gas’, which is also a title by P.G.Wodehouse. Unfortunately, they do not use laughing gas on adults any more. My dentist said they use it only on children now.
As my stomach shook and I snorted masked and goggled on a chair, the dentist paused in concern, “Everything all right?” she asked in hesitation.
I struggled to keep my snort under control as I indicated all was fine. A1… as much as possible under a dentist’s drill.
Nowadays, they make the patient wear goggles while doing the job so that, they explained, the sprays of water etc do not go into their eyes or the bright lights disturb their introspective meditation of the toothy kind! My introspection took me deeper into the realms of uncontrollable mirth. I thought of what Wodehouse might say looking at all the paraphernalia, especially the x-rays. Those looked like equipment out of Star Wars or Agents of Shield. Maybe it was too post Wodehouse. But if the creator of Laughing Gas (the book, not the gas) had seen them, he would definitely have much to say. There was an x-ray machine where the doctor stuffed a film in a sharp plastic case in my mouth and told me to relax so that it would not hurt. How you relax with an object like that in your mouth held in place by knife like metal protrusions is a question only a dentist can answer if she undergoes a similar trial.
The other x-ray equipment looked intimidating. You stand with your hands on the machine and bite a plastic rod stuck to the structure as the x-ray camera revolves around your head on an extended white arm. You feel a bit like the solar system. You keep wondering if the equipment is going to smash your head as it draws menacingly closer and closer. The process continues for thirty long seconds after which the dental assistant comes cheerfully in and helps you out of the contraption. By then, you are hoping the most intimidating is over. And that happens in the first session.
In the second session, decked in sunglasses like Men in Black under the glare of bright lights as I sat with my mouth open in imitation of Edvard Munch’s painting, the dentist said, “ We need to use numbing.” Promptly, the nurse put a cooling gel and I thought, “Ah! Thank god… not a needle.”
Needless to say I am terrified of injections and stopped visiting dentists after the last one told me she needed to use an injection to numb my gums for further procedure. I gave dentists a break for half a decade but then, the pain started at the back again, a dull ache that persisted for days. So, I was compelled to amble into the dental clinic. This time the dentists said nothing about an injection till suddenly I felt a sharp jab hit my gum like a fat needle and it stayed on forever and ever. The nurse kept stroking my cheek with gauze and then my gums and cheek lost all sensations. I saw the dentist use something like a nail wrapped in some kind of sticky tape to jab my gums and pliers to pull them out…Thank God I had no sensation. That time, she was not using the rubber sheet so I could see her hands clearly and I did not have my messiah’s advise.
By the end of the session, I felt I must have spent a few decades on that chair and my left side where the jab had taken effect felt like a fat blob of quivering jelly! My whole being wobbled, shaken by the dental adventure.
That is why before the third session I was like a dish of green jello. Then under the guidance of my messiah, I found the best way to conquer fear is to laugh, to make fun of the situation, a bit like JK Rowling’s description of how to get rid of a bogart, a creature that takes the form of what you most fear. You make it look ludicrous by dressing it in funny gear and shouting out a spell that is a deviation on the word ridiculous! So, that is what you do at a dentist’s. Of course you do not shout it out loud or use a wand to wave around as they do in the movie, but you get the gist.
You sit and imagine… a bogart or Munch’s Scream with dental issues or Voldemort or Darth Vader or Jar Jar Binks on a dentist’s chair…
Now, I have conquered it all… and probably next time, not only will I be ready to battle a bogart in dentist’s garb but the real person… with my new found weapon.
During my younger son’s eighth grade graduation, the principal gave a fabulous speech. He asked the youngsters to dream big dreams, to reach for the moon and in case they missed landing on the moon, they would fall on the stars. He asked them to ignore laughter and taunts that might come in the way of realizing their dreams. I loved the speech… thought it was one of the most inspiring I had ever heard. It reminded me of something one of the biggest and most imaginative dreamers in the history of mankind, Albert Einstein, said,
“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”
I have always been a person who believes that having big dreams is the first step to realizing them. And to me the biggest tragedy is when a child or youngster says he or she has no dream. To dream, to believe in a dream is the first thing that I tried to inculcate in my children.
For us, it all started with stories. One of my sons wanted to fly like Peter Pan and have dustbin dump truck birthday cakes. Another wanted a sunshine cake on his birthday and to do so many things together… he is still trying to concretize his dream. My five-year-old niece believes I have fairies and a balloon tree in my house and I can make magic dust to fly to Never-Never Land… she even wants to know how many people I know in Never-Never Land. The little realist in her also longs to read because reading brings her closer to things of which she dreams… fairies, magic dust and happiness. She saw many books in her fourteen-year-old cousin’s room and said, “I cannot read all those now.” Her cousin, brought up to think that all dreams are achievable, told her, “But you can eventually…” And eventually she will realize her dream and pursue her passions. But the first step the little girl is taking towards growing up is to learn nothing is impossible. No dreams are too big. To dream or to find ones dream is the biggest adventure for a child. Their dreams will not just be a reality but something that will shape their lives, their existence. Of course, my niece will like my sons realise as she grows up, that Peter Pan is a myth but by then other dreams would have replaced the need to fly to Never-Never Land.
The thing we as parents need to do is to handle the transitioning of dreams with a light touch, with a sense of humor, and not get lost in the intensity and forced materialization of a dream. If a child wants to be an Olympic champion in swimming, but later wants to move on to being a businessman, we need to humor him till he has steadied his own mind and intent and is older. My elder son at a point wanted to be a neuro-surgeon, a space scientist and a bunch of other things… we humored him till he felt he found his dream… and now he pursues it with a passion… though there is still more of it to realize. The concretization started only when he was completing his teens! But he was allowed to dream and dream on the impossible…
As parents, many of us like to push our children towards pragmatic goals, the easily identified and achievable ends which will put bread and butter on the table and bring home enough cash. We urge them to give up their own dreams to come to terms with reality. Our parents might have told us the same when we were trying to find our dream. How many of us gave up our dreams, our romances to settle for the practical and we consider ourselves blessed and happy because we have the mundane; money, career, houses, cars…. or whatever it is that is important to you in your circle… could be clubs, travel, yatchs… However, these are what I would call ‘things’ as opposed to ‘ideas’. To me pursuing ‘ideas’ is more important because that is what makes mankind move forward towards civilization and progress. I would rather have an impractical dreamer who, as he grows up trying to materialize his dreams, moves towards a more pragmatic reality and blends his vision with the needs of mankind, to contribute to a more positive future.
If parents say their children have no dreams, no ambition except for playing online games or partying or watching YouTube videos, maybe they need to know their children better. Perhaps their children’s dreams lie wrapped in the things they are doing and the parents are too wary to acknowledge the unconventionality of their child’s dream. Some children also may take longer to materialize their dreams… but they all get there at some point if you let them be themselves and don’t impose your own fears and insecurities on them, including social acceptance… Of course, everyone will not be a star but at least let them try to be themselves, give them the tools to flourish but the blooming has to be theirs, not the parents…
Often parents talk of bringing up children with good values, make them focus on practicalities and destroy their dreams altogether and the children become part of the faceless workforce that live to earn and earn to live and accept anything that comes their way as long as they have their material comforts. Is this what we look forward to as a bright future? To me a bright future is not a life of ease and plenty but a future where a child feels fulfilled and happy, where a child will feel he has a purposeful life. To this end, it is important that the child pursue his own dreams and not that of his parents. Perhaps it is time to change our mindset, to start believing in the reality of dreaming and letting dreams exist. Perhaps we need to believe in what Einstein said,
“We cannot get to where we dream of being tomorrow unless we change our thinking today.”
When I was in my early twenties, my grandmother threw a gauntlet at me. She said, “You have grown so used to studying, working and being out that you will never be able to live as a fulltime homemaker or mom!” I was twenty-three then. A little over two and a half decades down the line that is who I am… a full time homemaker and mom.
As I review my life after completing more than half a century, I have no regrets over the choices I made.
Parenting has been the most daunting and challenging experience in my life and continues to be so. I grew up in a home where all the mothers had careers. My grandmother was my chief caregiver. She was the most unusual woman I have ever known. In the early twentieth century, she was a gold medalist in math and art, an unusual thing in our country then. She completed her schooling and then she married a man to who she remained devoted for life. My grandfather also loved her to distraction till he died. She said she could not die because I held her back by my needs. My sense of security and wellbeing was linked to her. And I think she died proud of me more than a decade ago, telling me, “You proved me wrong and I am happy to see you as a wife and mother.”
I had my children when I was touching the third decade and through my third decade. After more than two decades of parenting, I will say that this has been a more challenging and satisfying experience than interviewing miners in mafia areas in Bihar or winning awards or publishing books.
While I see young women around me revel in their careers and grow beyond the confines of their homes, I have a fleeting sense of regret for what they are missing out with the choices they make. Two decades ago when my friends and I were entering motherhood, we were jubilant about the babies we had. I have friends who were very successful professionals, like economists, teachers, journalists, engineers and management personnel, and opted to be full time mothers. For most of us, mothering meant a better future for our children. We were lucky to be married to men who supported our decision. Maybe, we would have been monetarily better off if we worked and had careers full time. But does money make love grow?
Does money make children grow?
To an extent money is necessary to put your children through a good education and a good life. But ‘how much’ is what parents get to define. How much money does fulfil your child’s needs and how much is used to fulfil your own needs? Do you need the kind of money and fame Bill Gates has to bring up a child well? As a parent, one has to put a hold on ones needs and discipline oneself before one starts to discipline a child.
My learning as a parent has been immense. My children have been my true educators. I found that I learnt to control my temper because my children were upset every time I got angry and shouted. They felt they did not want to see me demean myself. I have learnt to restrain my temper to some extent. They also taught me to be above biases. If I exhibited biases and made any statements that reeked of race, religion or nationality, they would be at my throat. Two huge learnings as an adult and for which, I am truly grateful to my two young men.
I had discovered parents need to work as a team through first hand experiences as a child. Otherwise, the child gets torn between the two. And it has served me well in my years as a parent. Though, I had a funny experience based on this learning. We had told my four-year-old son that his father’s word was the law in our home. One day he asked me, “When can I be a father?” I asked him why he wanted to be a father that early in life, and he replied, “Because fathers are most powerful.” Of course, there will be those who will refer to biases created about male domination but, to me, it was an effective tool for enforcing rules. As parents, one really needs to transcend the male- female battle. You could have mom laying the rules. In our home, daddy laid the laws after discussions with mamma; mamma and son followed the law. But the ultimate decision was basically based on our child’s welfare needs. It was easier this way because daddy was working and not around to discuss the rules with the child. Persuasions by the young gentlemen were pointless. Whereas mummy was always around and, therefore, more open to persuasion.
We also discovered as parents we had to do what we wanted our children to do or emulate. I learnt that my children loved to ape my husband or me. After all we are from the extended ape family! One day, my sons pointed out to me that as my husband and I had a sedentary life style, it was unfair to expect the two them to be into sports and have an active lifestyle. We tried to be more active after that but it was already too late, I felt. I have an Italian friend who wanted her sons to avoid fizzy drinks, sugared juices and alcohol! So, she and her spouse took to drinking only water at mealtimes. If you want teetotaler children, perhaps you need to lead by example…My friend firmly believed children learn by example, not by advice.
In my years as a mother bringing up her children in varied cultures and countries, every now and then a parent in my children’s schools would ask me, “ How is it your child loves to read and study on his own?” I would respond by shrugging and smiling to be polite and to avoid sounding didactic. But the reality was we tried to create an atmosphere conducive for studying and dreaming. And believe me the dreaming and playing part is very important. It develops the child’s ability to think for himself or herself, to learn by themselves. If you have tutored play, it develops a child’s ability to follow instructions but not his ability to think. Some amount of both is necessary.
To create an atmosphere conducive to studying, we read ourselves at home. We stayed home on weekends. Luckily, we all love reading and dreaming. We held ourselves responsible for what our children did, critiqued our own parenting and made sure that the environment at home was relaxed and happy. Working and studying were not relegated as chores to be completed but as a way of life to be enjoyed, a part of relaxation. This was something my helper could not be asked to do. We also stayed more at home to do things we liked. When we did travel once or twice a year, it was with children and most of the time, we tried to include activities of their interest.
Our children today do refer to us as supportive parents… to me that is a big praise. Of course in their more fun filled moments, they remind me that my personality type matches that of Hitler! But, I take it that they can make the comparison only because they feel free with me.
Earlier, when one spoke of tweets, one thought of colorful little birds frolicking on trees, gardens, flowers and nature. One visualized flowing rivers and meadows and picnics and walks…
Now when one talks of tweets, one thinks of Donald Trump, blue eye shadow and “ A Merry Christmas but a Happy New Year”. Social media has reduced the twittering of birds to twittering of words across electronic devices to connect or disconnect minds, great or small across the oceans and into the jungle of cities, wherever Internet has cast its intricate web.
I have never taken to tweeting because, one, I am not a bird and with my enormous weight cannot be mistaken for one. Also, I have a passion for words… many words not a few. I believe tweet was earlier limited to 140 characters. Last year, it was doubled to 280! Such succinct conversations leave the wordy speechless!
Talking of speechlessness, Instagram has altogether done away with words… unless it is the speech in videos. It was started to share photographs by what I have understood less than a decade ago. Last year, it stretched its limits to a ten-minute video. Again despite appreciating good photography, I have not had the pleasure of experimenting with this mode of social media. Many, I believe, cannot live without these… I still breath, eat and live happily.
And then there is of course the grandparent of all social media, Mark Zuckerburg’s baby, Facebook, which started in 2004 as a way to connect Harvard students. Fourteen years down the line, as of January 2018, it had 2.2 billion active users! The world population is 7.5 billion, of these some may not be able to read and some may have eluded the web woven by social media altogether as they might be living in areas beyond the reaches of internet transmission and hence have become non users of social media. Of course, there are certain adamant non-users who refuse to use social media despite having access to the internet. Some of my closest friends belong to this category, I discovered.
However, I joined the cadres of Facebook users to keep in touch with old schoolmates. That happened and more. Facebook keeps updating itself! There are some updates, which came as unwelcome surprises. One day, as one scrolled through the Facebook on ones mobiles, videos sprung to life. Imagine, how embarrassing it would have been if in the middle of a speech to keep oneself awake, one scrolled on the Facebook and it voiced out a puppy barking or a person singing or an advertisement for slimming pills or green coffee! People would turn around and stare. Of course one could have the alternative of turning your phone to silent and reducing the voice level to zero… but these are things that one thinks of in afterthought. Now, I know you can change settings so that the video does not start singing in the middle of a speech.
Then, there are those who regard the Facebook as a substitute for newspapers of the juicier kind… sometimes a new thing called ‘ fake news’ (a triumphing Trumpian term popularized by the current media) finds it’s way to the heart of Zuckerberg’s baby. Sometimes, people post content that one would rather not see… political rallies, violence, pictures of diseases, partisan information, hate videos… one can report them but why would you want to see them in the first place? A disconnect from negativity does help one’s peace of mind. Why would people share pictures of a diseased body or a malnourished child or a dog crushed by a car or a prejudiced, partisan banner or poster or video?
To maintain my peace of mind, I prefer taking a walk, reading, talking, playing a game of Sudoku or Scrabble now to surfing the Facebook. I have become vary of posts that create a sense of disharmony.
Then there are posts by women whose posed pictures on Facebook could put Elizabeth Taylor or Meena Kumari, two most beautiful actresses, to shame. That makes me wonder… how beautiful are we on the outside and inside? Is it enough to look beautiful in a picture? Some Facebook users have taken to sharing their children’s outstanding results in exams… perhaps for blessings from their friends but what about those whose kids or who themselves have not aced in exams? Perhaps, the FB posts by now would have desensitized them and helped them reconcile to a more philosophical approach.
Of late, Facebook seems to be evolving a life of it’s own! Not only has it opted to choose to turn on videos if you do not change your settings or suggest posts and FB friendship birthday videos (a concept that did not exist back in the good old Facebookless days), it also has taken to deciding firmly what photographs it will publish with your post. A blog with pictures linked to FB does not have the option of choosing which visual can go with the post. Facebook with it’s own mind decides on the picture. Even if the blogger wants to highlight another visual, Facebook in it’s unique style, decides what is good for the blog! This does sometimes cause distress among bloggers… but they are fewer in number than the majority and therefore not important.
While social media has taken over socializing across a coffee table, people in a metro, a party or a bus no longer chat. They sit with eyes glued to their devices, chatting only on social media or scrolling the Facebook and distributing their emotions online with emojis( which some fear will affect the use of language), likes, loves and hates!
Are we moving towards an impending reality of isolated existence? Will Asimov’s Solaris become a reality where there is no human interaction but only interaction through screens under robotic supervision and tweeting in dictionaries will first highlight social media and somewhere down the line, an archaic usage for bird calls…?
This could have been the day when Kumbhakarna of the Ramayana and Rip Van Winkle of the Sleepy Hollow might have been eulogized as role models had the movement started a couple of hundred years ago.
But the movement took off only in 2008.
Through this day, awareness for the necessity of sleep in our lives is said to be raised. Essays and papers have to be written beforehand. There might have been some whose nightly slumbers were interrupted due to the cogitations they faced while writing papers on sleep but they could not dose or indulge in what they wanted to recommend for others, as then their thesis would have gone unrecorded. My take on sleep has been written after a good night of somnambulant ramblings. I believe sleep deprivation has become a modern day syndrome because we have always regarded Kumbhakarna and Rip Van Winkle as eccentric personalities.
The thing to do now is to idolize these two characters.
If you fancy being Kumbhakarna, this is what you start doing. You sleep and you sleep…. but you cannot snore like he did because if you snore while sleeping, it is considered unhealthy. Perhaps a series of conferences to discuss how to sleep without snoring will be held soon. And then, a course to teach you to sleep without the interruption of snores will be started. Somebody posted on Facebook that three different kind of snores were being researched and the third one was life threatening. So, you could die snoring … perhaps they will harness the power of the deadly snore as a weapon eventually for wars between different powers, the little “guys” who like to shoot missiles hither and thither in playful abandon and the “not-so- fake” politicians who can press a button and annihilate a city between spoonfuls of chocolate cake with visiting dignitaries.
In my childhood, I had heard stories of Kumbhakarna’s snores while he slept. However, none of his snores were described as deadly but his appetite was! He was said to devour humankind by the dozens when he woke up from his six month long slumber, much like weapons do mankind. If you idolize Kumbhakarna, you can sleep for six months in a year and wake up when elephant hordes rumble over you. Outwitted by Saraswati, the goddess of learning and wisdom, Kumbhakarna asked Brahma the creator to grant him sleep instead of the ability to destroy the devas or the gods from Indian mythology. Perhaps he was wiser than we think… maybe he had the foresight to see that in the future mankind would suffer from sleep deprivation and he was not really tricked but actually, it was he who conned Indra, the king of the devas, and Swaraswati into thinking he had been outwitted! Kumbhakarna knew his day would come… and, perhaps, that is why the 32 nd highest peak in the world has been named after him. It lies in the vicinity of the Kanchenjunga. And is not an easy climb…
If, however, you want to follow in the footsteps of Rip Van Winkle, you need to sleep longer. He slept through the whole American Revolution under the influence of faerie liquor. To sleep through a whole revolution and beyond, for two whole decades without snoring (no one has said good old Rip was given to snoring), is a skill that victims of current day crisis would do well to imbibe. Maybe, if the victims who succumbed to bomb violence had slept peacefully without snoring all the while, they could not have been victimized, be it in towers, homes or villages. Of course, given the current invasive weaponry, they would have had to conduct their somnambulant venture inside a bomb shelter! However, they might have evaded all the controversy, displacement and violence and be still living as was good old Rip was in the Catskill mountain by the Sleepy Hollow. That time there was no weaponry to annihilate people by pressing buttons, shooting missiles and jumping with glee.
To celebrate their greatness we now we need to build monuments to these two giants, the two super sleepers. Hopefully, the construction of these will not start another raging controversy among adherents of the two different legendary sleepers.
The other thing that concerns me is the fate of one of my favorite songs…
“ Sleep, sleep! I couldn’t sleep tonight
Not for all the jewels in the crown…”
This song sung by the lovely Eliza Doolittle in My Fair lady of Hollywood make would perhaps have to belong to the restricted section of an audio library! Or, maybe, the lyrics could be altered from
“ I could have danced all night”
“ I could have slept all night…”
Or, could it be, horror of horrors, banned forever?
One of the things Preeti discovered early in her childhood is that cows that wear bells were rarer on streets as they belonged to someone. It was always the cows without bells that were an issue. They were the ones who stood munching on the open rubbish heaps and gazed menacingly at her when she walked past. One day as she gingerly skirted behind their flanks, one of them turned around and chased her! She ran screaming, “ bachao, bachao(save me, save me)… guy(cow in Hindi) guy…” but there was no one on the vacant street. A cyclist zoomed past looking amused and the cow, realizing probably that Preeti was not a competitor for the trash heap, went back to munching stale banana skins and vegetable trash… maybe paper, cloth and what not…
Unfortunately, when Preeti recounted the story to her family and friends they could not stop laughing. She added, the white cow had a hump and horns. By googling one can see such a species of cow exists… perhaps the Brahman cow. But her descriptions held everyone in throes of humor. A friend even punned on the word ‘guy’, saying no doubt the ‘guy’ found her very attractive and therefore chased her!
Preeti even googled the cow to prove to her friend that a cow could have humps and horns. She found the Brahman cow was exported from India to USA and mated with various species and is noted for it’s presence on dinner tables as a premier steak! Could it be that they found their way back to India… or was it an unlisted species? Preeti could not fathom. Cows were mysterious for her. Ironically, the Brahman cow, she found was named after the Hindu Brahmins. Perhaps, not unjustifiably as in the fourteenth century Marco Polo noted that in the kingdom of Bengal, people drank milk and ate flesh and rice and had bulls the size of elephants. Vedic lore also gives out…
“Fifteen in number, then, for me a score of bullocks they prepare,
And I devour the fat thereof: they fill my belly full with food. Supreme is Indra over all.”
— Rig Veda X. 86.14.
And there are many more hymns that talk of Hindus of all creeds and castes devouring meat and beef. Her friend, a ‘pure’ vegetarian, still persisted in humoring Preeti. Preeti often indulged in silent cogitations on bovine creatures for her abject fear of them and of being seen as a disbeliever in their divinity that put them beyond the reach of the dinner table. She often wondered and researched on these matters as she lived in an area where the fight for bovine rights consumes not only pages of print but also occasionally, human lives. By and large, she tried to give all bovine issues a wide berth, including the creatures themselves.
Her next encounter with a cow drove it literally to the doorstep of her grandparents’ home. She was visiting and volunteered to open the gate for her grandfather who had driven her in his car to buy some groceries. What she did not notice in her hurry to get to the gate was that there was another cow ruminating near the entrance to the garden. The minute the gate was open, the cow rushed in and Preeti rushed out screaming,” Bachao, bachao..guy guy…” .
This time her grandmother and the housekeeper chased the cow… but not before the divine bovine had managed to snack on a rare flower that bloomed once every three years to indulge it’s taste for gourmet fare!
Cows manifest themselves all over India, on roads, in homes, between traffic, near rubbish heaps, off dinner plates and on the plates as steak or the Keralite delicious spicy beef ularthiyathu or beef vindaloo. People worship them, people chase them out of their gardens, get chased by them as did Preeti. They occasionally block traffic by planting themselves in the middle of a congested or uncongested roads as do elephants and their calves in Kruger Park (South Africa) but the elephant is protected from the culinary designs of mankind by laws and the cow is not!
Oops! In India it is… by howling hordes… when they feel it infringes on their religious sentiments. They have such a penchant for saving the divine bovine that they can easily kill a boy or a girl or a child for it. After all they are not cannibals but merely passionate protesters who go scot-free by being a part of a maniacal mob.
Perhaps, cow protection by law will soon come into effect in India.
Preeti eventually moved out of India and lived in various lands where cows are only seen as part of dairy or edible products on supermarket shelves or in farms. They do not really roam streets or temple grounds anywhere else. She did once see tigers roaming temple grounds in Thailand but never cows. Their freedom is much curbed.
However, whenever Preeti visits India, she has a special encounter with them. The last she saw of them was in Lucknow, not just amidst crowds and cars but also from her five star hotel room. They seemed to drift out of a fog on the grounds of a temple near the hotel. Were they real…she wondered initially. But then, what she witnessed convinced her that they were not a figment of her imagination. She saw a cow chase from her room. Only this time she enjoyed it, as she was not the butt of the joke…
As the cows ambled on the temple grounds, one of them strayed near the gate and looked philosophically out. The person who could be dubbed the cow caretaker decided to enter the premises at this precise juncture. The bovine mind decided to make a bid for freedom and took the opportunity to run out of the gate. The caretaker started to wave and shut the gate and chased his errant charge into the receding mists of Oudh…
It was like an episode from a silent film, as she could not hear either the caretaker or the cows’ voices. She did not know if the ambling bovines were trying to call out to their galloping friend in different harmonies of cow song… But, this time, she enjoyed and laughed out loud at the cow chase.
Despite the smile that was brought to Preeti’s lips by the frolicsome cow, she has not been drawn back to her homeland but continues to roam the world where bovines are not worshipped and treated as divines but rather as veal cutlets and beef. She has friends from all over the world who indulge their palate with meats of the divine. Despite the sacrilege, she tolerates them, like the government of India, which is the largest exporter of beef (even if they are said to be mainly water buffaloes) and unlike the maniacal mobs who are intolerant of atrocities on cows but not on buffaloes, women, children and men. They can kill their own kind for desecrating cows! But do cows cry for the loss of their male counterparts? A difficult question to answer, I guess, seeing how their devotees adore and adorn them…
Meanwhile, while Nostradamus projected the future of all races, he left one page unturned, untouched… the development of bovine intelligence. The Greatest of Holies, Holycowbaba, has predicted that as the years move towards the annihilation of the universe, in the land of cow worshippers, the devout will have taken to defending the divine bovine with their lives and laws and the cows will dwell in peace and prosperity with their followers. Then, the prediction continues, the bovines will be so well looked after and protected that they will decide to repay man by taking take a leap of faith and trying to make true the projections in Mother Goose’s poem, Hey diddle, diddle. They will compete to create a world record and be the first cows to jump over the moon!
And when that happens, cows can be ridden to the moon. The race of cow worshippers will be the first settlers on moon.
One sunny day, we went to look for lions in Kruger National Park in South Africa. We spotted zebras, giraffes, a leopard, a rhinoceros, elephants, hippopotamuses, baboons, impalas, kudus, a variety of birds and more fawns and monkeys and even, warthogs and crocodiles…but not the elusive king of beasts.
We heard four lions had escaped from Kruger during our sojourn. But did we meet any of them?
I think I heard them at midnight as I woke up to the sounds of roars in my hotel room at Kruger gate.
My elder son and our guide heard them too around six in the morning when they were queuing up for tickets to enter Kruger. We had to buy a permit every time we went into Kruger. As lions are supposed to be more likely to be visible in the small hours of the morning, we decided to enter as soon as the gates opened at 6.30 am. The rangers had said the lions were at the bridge in the hedges.
We saw a lioness stalking her meal of water bucks around mid-day. Unfortunately, the waterbucks had sixth sense and walked gracefully to the other side of the waterhole, leaving the lioness hungry and lonely. She ultimately disappeared into the bushes.
On our last day, we saw three lionesses basking in the sun on a sand bank mid-morning. We were so excited that we got off the car and stood on the bridge watching them! Getting out of the vehicle is not something one does in Kruger for one could frighten the animals or become a prey to them incase they are hungry and starved, though they are supposed to be rather averse to human meat.
Impalas are popular on the menu for predators. We spotted a leopard stalking a herd of impalas. A drongo let out a warning cry and alerted the impalas. The males stood alert looking out in all directions for the leopard. The leopard was cornered. Our guide told us a leopard is wary of the male impala’s antlers, which could well injure them, thus, retarding their ability to hunt. And if they were not able to hunt, they would starve and die. The leopard tried to go into hiding in the bushes but the impalas got the better of him. Four males with big antlers stood facing him as at least twenty to thirty female and young impalas walked gracefully away… There was no running, no chasing, no roaring… none of the excitement we had thought would be a part of our jungle adventure.
Though we did not see predators chase preys, we did see impalas and wildebeests chase each other in play and we did get chased by angry elephants a couple of times.
Animals by and large liked to cross roads that were made for men to drive on in Kruger. We saw zebras crossing, impalas crossing, monkeys crossing, kudus crossing, wildebeests crossings rhino crossing… and, we thought, therefore, as a matter of course elephants crossing…
The first time the elephant that was headed for the road got angered when my thirteen-year-old shouted for excitement on seeing a bull come towards the road and the car. Our windows were open. His voice carried and the elephant headed for us and our guide started the car and headed for the far distant reaches…
The second time, we queued up with a number of cars to watch a herd cross the road. The big ones crossed. The little ones crossed. The medium ones crossed. But, the biggest one had yet to cross. We were all watching one young elephant that seemed to have turned berserk and rushed every now and then to the road and trumpeted. We wondered what was up? We also wondered what had happened to the biggest one till our guide saw a huge, angry elephant charging towards the car in his rear view mirror as the vehicle was in it’s path. The big bright red object was not an obstruction the giant elephant cared for and she would have it out of her way…Suddenly with a strange purr, the frightened red object ran off at full speed!
The elephant crossed the road and passing cars heaved a sigh of relief and congratulated us on our lucky escape!
Why this sole elephant decided to cross the road where we had parked is an issue on which we still need to ponder and wonder…
One of the best ways for spotting animals in Kruger is to stop where there is a crowd of cars. That is how we spotted our lions, the elephant herds, giraffes and zebras…and a number of other sightings. And our car started the crowding for the leopard that my husband had found stalking the impalas. Other cars followed to watch the drama. In Kruger, humans stay in car cages and view the animals that roam freely. Sometimes, the animals walk right by your car. Occasionally, they walk with your car. Birds hop by. Once a flock Guinea fowls crossing the road held up traffic! Sometimes, it is monkeys…I recall how vehicles containing humans drew to a halt when some baby monkeys decided to play a game of hopscotch in the middle of the road!
Another time, we paused as not only were elephants meandering all over but also a calf had decided to drink milk from his/her mamma in the middle of a jungle path. Cars waited patiently as the animal finished it’s feed and frisked off merrily behind his/her mother.
Though we spent two-and-a-half days looking for lions in Kruger, we saw very less of the park as it stretches over an area that could contain more than 27 Singapores, and beyond to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Limpopo river. We only saw the part around Sabi River and drove out ultimately through the South Gate, close to Nelspruit. The land rolled out for miles beckoning animal lovers. It was relaxing and entertaining to watch crocodiles with their mouth open, waiting for their dinner at the water holes, hippopotamuses stroll into a stream and giraffes munch leaves in the afternoon sun. We even caught two young hippos play and splash water at each other.
A variety of eagles, vultures and birds dotted the landscape. At lunch, we were surprised by a Cape glossy starling waiting for crumbs. At dinner, outside Kruger gate, we had a night visitor from the park, a bush baby. It created a stir among the tourists. It did a round of the Lapa barbecue area and we were all taking pictures of it. Cute would be the right word for this exhibitionist! The next day, we had a picnic breakfast at a hilltop in Kruger and had a yellow-billed hornbill visit us. It even posed for our cameras…
Cape glossy starling
Brown snake Eagle
Storks in a social weaver’s nest
There are many lakes, waterholes and hills. The part that edges Mozambique is very scenic. We saw the Orpen Dam with its lush vegetation, the South African blue crane, Egyptian geese, hippos and crocodiles. We watched the animal and bird life through binoculars as they were unreachable and far…
But we had still not seen a lion. The land with its unique vegetation and animal life concealed the king from us.
I was also wondering if humans had ever inhabited this vast landscape or had it always been home of only animals? There were no clear answers till I googled …The land had earlier belonged to the Tsonga people, who were evicted by Paul Kruger, the president of the Transvaal Republic between 1883 and 1900 and other nature park lovers. The first cars drove into Kruger in 1926. Paul Kruger played a heroic role in the Boer wars and left the country when the Boers faced defeat in the hands of the British in the 1900s. He died in 1904 and was brought back to South Africa to be given a hero’s funeral and buried in Pretoria.
I wonder what happened to the Tsonga people…Perhaps the lions that evaded us through our entire sojourn in Kruger could tell us…
Maybe the lions in Kruger National Park avoided us because we had seen a lion behind a caging of electric wires in the Lion Safari in Johannesburg. That time, we had got off the car on the way to the Cradle of Humankind and the lion was fenced…We did not explore the park as we wanted to experience the wilds in Kruger…instead we went to see the goldmines and were taken around by a Tsonga guide. She told us that her name meant ‘to give’ in Tsonga!
People started using a language to communicate at some point in history…They say about a 100000 years ago… could be more… some say 200,000 years ago… Intellectuals and scientists are still trying to figure out that one.
Linguists continue to cogitate and have agitated arguments over the issue of the evolution of the first language. But the point is, they can argue because language and words evolved and they exist. And it is a fact that language is what has separated humans from the birds, bees, lions, tigers, apes, fishes, crabs, whales, dolphins, elephants and Neanderthals. These creatures communicate too (or communicated too, in case of Neanderthals) with grunts, tunes, trills, gestures, dances and notes; but none of them can (or could) talk or communicate in ways as complex as humans.
Neanderthals evidently had the tools in them to talk, but were too primitive to develop speech, which ultimately fell into the forte of our ancestors, the homo sapiens, who evolved somewhere in Central Africa.
Sometimes, I wonder if the famed Ethiopian Lucy of the Australopithecus family called out to her beloved in words or grunts or notes? She has been much celebrated with words by not only intellectuals but also by songsters like Beatles and Elton John. And yet, perhaps 3.2 million years ago, did she speak? Would she be able to understand the serenades for her?
Would she be able to comprehend any of the modern languages we use today? Can you believe that currently there are more than 5,000 languages in the world?! It might seem an astounding figure, especially compared to Lucy’s times, but from a handful of people, the human family has to grown 7,500,000,000 large… quite a leap from Lucy’s lifetime, I believe!
At some point the first language must have started with grunts coming out of descendants of Lucy, the first men and women that lived in Africa and, eventually, in their progeny who walked out of Africa to create homes all over the world. We, the progeny of these walkers, now speak in complex sentences, using varied words in varied languages that probably our early ancestors would have found impossible to comprehend.
Languages, like their users, tend to run into each other. They share some words or some word roots in common. They could all exist in harmony and learn from each other if they did not join their users in a rat race to prove themselves superior or the most spoken. With a cutthroat cultural race among different nations and states, languages have become a commodity. Politicians use it to prove their prowess and power. Some languages have been wiped completely off from the surface of the Earth by invaders and rulers or sneers from people who considered them inferior. Some of the power brokers ironed out the differences among people who lived under their protection by ironing out their language and uniting them under the banner of one language that they called the national language.
Today, when a person speaks, he is immediately classified into a nationality, a class, a creed, a culture and a region. Henry Higgins of Pygmalion (play by G.B. Shaw, 1913) and My Fair Lady (Hollywood adaptation of Pygmalion) fame created more than a century ago made a pertinent observation on this issue. He says,
…an Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him: the moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him...
We can apply this well in the context of the spoken word, not just for English speakers or ‘an Englishman’ as he says, but for speakers of all languages. The minute we open our mouth, we are labeled.
There are people who frown on users of languages they consider spoken or used by hostile groups. But one just wonders, is it the fault of the language or the users? We associate the power of words with the negative impact the users have made on society…much like we associate the power of the atom with the devastation caused by the nuclear bomb.
Then, there is the case of mother tongue… when you do not speak, read or write it, people among your family and friends often frown… I have always wondered why? Perhaps, because of the theory that says language evolved from mother tongue, that is the sounds used by the mother to communicate with the baby… then it must have been in an arboreal environment… now, we do it in more than 5000 different ways! And yet, in this long linguistic list missing is the original mother tongue of all mother tongues that evolved in Africa 100,000 or 200,000 years ago! We do not even know what the language is…
Our research of speech starts with the written words. The oldest known written language is Egyptian or is it Sumerian…? I am confused! Logically, there must have been something they spoke before they built palaces and homes… and that would be the mother tongue of all the human race. That is what we all would be speaking if we went by tradition and culture…that is what our ancient ancestors spoke when they walked out to populate the beautiful green Earth. And that is what we have lost to the dusts of time…
Now the babel of more than 5000 languages have become sources of unhappy divisions instead of a means to communicate to make our own lives easier and happier. I wonder, how our great (to the power a hundred and twenty thousand generations or more) grandmother, the celebrated Lucy, would react to this medley of words …