Shinrin-yoku: Forest Bathing

International Day of Forests is marked on 21 March every year to highlight the importance and significance of forests and raise awareness about forest restoration. Much has been written about the ecosystem services that forests provide. They purify the water, clean the air, protect the soil, help sequester carbon to fight climate change, and provide food and medicines. Healthy forests are vital for all aspects of a healthy planet, from livelihoods and nutrition to biodiversity and the environment.

Every year the United Nations declares a theme for the International Day of Forests that addresses one of these many aspects of the important role of forests. The theme for 2023 is Forests and Health. This highlights the many connections between human health and forests—from providing food and other life-sustaining resources, including life-saving medicines. 

The contribution of forests on physical health have been well documented, but perhaps not as well-known are the therapeutic effects on mental health. This area has been the field of study of Dr Qing Li who has researched and documented what intuition and common sense have long believed: that being among trees is healthy; it can have positive effects on sleep, energy levels, immune function, and cardiovascular and metabolic health.

This research is well known in Japan and the idea has become popular under the name Shinrin-yoku or Forest bathing.  Forest Bathing is described as the art of plunging oneself in nature to revitalise and enliven the mind, body, energy and to trigger the therapeutic elements of nature.

Forest bathing or therapy originated in Japan in 1980s. Dr. Qing Li is considered to be the founder of this therapy. Dr Qing Li was born in a small village in China and grew up surrounded by nature. He came to Japan in 1988 to study advanced medicine where he was focusing on the effects of environmental chemicals, stress, and lifestyle on immune function and human health. During this period he spent a week camping on a thickly wooded island with his friends. This visit had a profound impact on him, not just personally, but also changing the direction of his professional life.

Experiencing the feeling of well-being amidst the trees, and since it is well-known that stress inhibits immune function, Dr Qing Li developed the hypothesis that immersion in the forest may have a beneficial effect on the immune system by reducing stress. He tested this hypothesis by conducting many experiments on patients with physical as well as mental health issues. He looked at the effects of walking in forests and of phytoncides (the scents that trees give off) on immune cells, stress hormones, blood pressure and heart rate. He compared the effects on mood and mental state (anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion) of walking in forests versus walking on treeless city streets.

He focussed his research on what he calls ‘forest medicine’. As he describes this: Some people study medicine, some people study forests; I study forest medicine to find out all the ways in which walking in the forest can improve our well-being.

Forest medicine which encompasses the effects of forest environments on human health is recognized as a new interdisciplinary science, belonging to the categories of alternative medicine, environmental medicine, and preventive medicine.

The terms Shinrin-yoku (literally Forest (Shinrin) bathing (yoku) in English) were first defined in a paper he wrote in 2007.

In his research, Qing Li has found that forest bathing had a healing effect on the mind as well as the body. It reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, improved mood, increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD, accelerated recovery from surgery or illness, increased energy level, improved sleep, boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.

As an outcome of Dr Qing Li’s research, the government of Japan established Shinrin-yoku as a formal practice. This was not only to encourage city-dwelling people to connect with nature. The idea was also part of a campaign to protect the forests: If people were encouraged to visit forests for their health, they would be more likely to want to protect and look after them. The Japanese government invested a lot of money in forest bathing with the goals of protecting the forests, promoting human health, and preventing lifestyle-related diseases.

So what exactly is Forest bathing? This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, moving slowly, and connecting with it through all our senses: sight (colours), hearing (forest sounds), taste (fruits and herbs), smell (fragrances from different plants) and touch (feeling textures of leaves and barks). So Shinrin-yokuis the entire experience of immersion in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through all our senses.

The idea behind Shinrin-yoku is very simple: it is the belief that if a person visits a natural area and explores it in a relaxed way, they can achieve physical and mental benefits that are healthy and restorative. It is a form of preventative health care that can be incorporated in nature settings anywhere. You don’t necessarily have to travel to a forest to experience the effects of Shinrin-yoku. Even half an hour in a small park can work its magic. As Dr Li reminds us:

The best way to deal with stress at work is to go for a forest bath. I go for shinrin-yoku every lunchtime. You don’t need a forest; any small green space will do. Leave your cup of coffee and your phone behind and just walk slowly. You don’t need to exercise, you just need to open your senses to nature. It will improve your mood, reduce tension and anxiety, and help you focus and concentrate for the rest of the day.

Today, world over, we have become an increasingly urban and indoor species, focussing solely on screens for a large part of our waking hours. All aspects of our life and lifestyles have led to an escalation of stress, anxiety and depression. Before we sink further into these morasses, let’s take a few minutes to heal ourselves in nature.   

Forests and Health: the theme of International Day of Forests this year is best captured in the words of the guru of Shinrin-yoku:

Forests reduce our stress, boost our immune system and help us to live longer, better and happier lives. Our health and the health of the forest go hand in hand. When trees die, we die. If our forests are unhealthy, then so are we. You can’t have a healthy population without healthy forests.


Bangarpet? Chaat?

What is the connection between the two?

If you live in Bangalore, you wouldn’t ask that question, because every other chaat-cart and every third chaat-shop labels itself as a purveyor of Bangarpet Chaats.

Seems a bit unlikely when we all know that chaats, especially gol-guppas (or pani-puris or puchkas) are not part of the street-food tradition of South India. Tradition places the origin of gol-gappas squarely in North India—most probably Uttar Pradesh.

It is a dish of ancient origins, though how old is of course difficult to say, given our mix of mythology, history and folk tales. According to an interesting Mahabharata-linked story,  Kunti wanted to give Draupadi a test when she first came home. To check whether the new princess-bride would be able to cope with the family circumstance—they were then living in exile in the forests—she gave her some leftover vegetable dishes and enough dough to make one puri. She asked her to cook something for the whole family with this. Draupadi came out with a brilliant innovation, the pani-puri! Kunti was very happy and blessed her. And she also blessed the dish with immortality! (Definitely not fair that Kunti should give her a test, but the usually spunky Draupadi does not seem to have protested. Imagine if Meghan Markle had been in Draupadi’s place—how many TV shows and books would this incident have been worth!).

More historical accounts are divided between two origins—either the Mughals brought the dish with them, or it was made in ancient times in temples as a prasad (I like this God!).

Whether Kunti’s blessing or some other factor, I for one am so grateful that pani-puris in all their variations are ubiquitous today.

Which brings us back to the Bangarpet Chaats and pani puris. Bangarpet is a town in the Kolar district of Karnataka, which came into existence because it was at a useful junction between the Kolar gold fields and the city of Bangalore. It has a population of about 45,000. But for the Bangarpet chaat, the town would be one more obscure dot on the map.

So what is special about the chaats from here? The ‘pani’ of the ‘pani-puri’.  Pani-puris from here are called white pani-puris, for the colour of the water. Usually, the pani is a brown-green, thanks to tamarind and pudina being major ingredients. The Bangarpet pani is not so much white as clear. The secret is not different ingredients, but rather that many of the usual ingredients–cumin, green chillies, ginger, lemon etc.–are all ground together and steeped in the water. The resultant water is then  trained leaving behind a tangy, spicy clear liquid. The innovation came from the heir of a chaat shop. R. Panduranga Setty had been running a chaat shop for many years. When his son Ramesh took over, he wanted to give his own special signature twist, and after much experimentation, came out with this variation which become very popular very quickly. Ramesh Chit Chat at Bangarpet still serves the best version of these, though the popularity has spread far and wide, and we can see Bangarpet chaat shops all over South India—each one asserting that it is the original!

But honestly, who cares where the dish originated? As long as I get my fix of this and all the other variations!


Surprise Sighting: Indian Grey Hornbill

As part of a recent project I have been reading about the different species of hornbills in Arunachal Pradesh. These birds are characterized by their magnificent beaks and colourful plumage, with variations among the different species. Living right across the country in the arid city of Ahmedabad, far away from the verdant forests of Northeast India, it was a delightful surprise to spot a pair of hornbills amongst a cluster of trees amidst the concrete jungle. These were not the eye-catching ones but their less conspicuous cousins, the Indian grey hornbills.

Among all the hornbill species in India, the Indian grey hornbill is the most widely distributed and can be found across most parts of the subcontinent. Unlike the other forest-loving hornbills this species prefers dry plains, foothills, and open habitats. It can be seen in deciduous forests, orchards, thorny scrub jungles, gardens, and, as it did for me, even surprise with sightings in the middle of a busy city. 

Hornbills belong to the family Bucerotidae, characterised by the casque or protuberance on their beaks. These birds are usually large, with a long and downward curving beak sporting an elaborate casque, and colourful bare skin around the head

The Indian grey hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) belongs to the genus Ocyceros, which literally means ‘pointed horn’. The species name birostris means ‘two beaks’. This hornbill has a long, curved ivory-coloured beak that blackish at the base, and has a sharp, narrow protruding casque. Male and female birds look very similar, though the female is slightly smaller and has a less prominent casque. These hornbills are also smaller than the other hornbill species, growing up to half a metre in length.

Unlike the other colourful hornbill species found in India, the Indian grey hornbill, as its name indicates, is not brightly coloured. Instead, it has an ashy, silvery-grey body, with long tail feathers that end in a band of white. Adults have red eyes and the skin around the eyes is grey, while juveniles have brown-orange eyes with reddish-orange skin around; and beautiful eyelashes.

The Indian grey hornbill is primarily an arboreal bird. It flies with a rapid beating of its wings followed by a short glide. The pale edges on the wings and tail, and its long central tail feathers are noticeable when it is in flight. As they fly they give a series of short “kek-kek-kek” calls, and when they perch on trees they make a high-pitched squealing sound. The birds are usually seen in pairs or small groups. They feed mainly in canopies, but descend to the ground only to dust bathe, pick up mud pellets to seal their nest cavity, to pick up fallen fruit, or to hunt insects or reptiles.

The birds are fruit lovers, with fleshy figs and berries topping their list. They also feed on jamun, ber and neem fruits. A fruiting ficus tree is a popular partying spot for small flocks of grey hornbills. This love for fruits makes these birds important seed dispersers. Their diet also includes insects, reptiles, frogs and mice which they actively hunt. Some even feed on poisonous animals such as scorpions and snakes.

It is this adaptability in diet, as compared with other hornbills that are specialist feeders, that has enabled the Indian grey hornbill to inhabit a variety of landscapes, even close to human habitation.

The fruit-eating habit of hornbills is an important contributor to seed dispersal. Seed dispersal is vital as it ensures the propagation of trees. It also enables the trees to occupy new areas, thereby increasing green cover.

Hornbills are among the very few birds that can feed on fruits with large seeds. They digest only the fleshy parts of fruits that they swallow and then regurgitate the seeds, spitting them out, or defecating the seeds intact. As the hornbill flies from tree to tree, or during the nesting season flies back and forth over long distances to search for and carry food for its mate, the regurgitated cleaned seeds are dropped far and wide, enabling them to grow into trees far from the original trees from which they originated.  

Thus hornbills are important in keeping the forest alive. If we lose hornbills, many forest trees that depend on them to spread their seeds may eventually disappear from the forest too. Hornbills symbolise not only the health of a forest, but also a key to their continued survival.

All hornbills are cavity nesters. While they cannot build their own nests or dig cavities, they use existing holes in a variety of trees to make their nest. What makes all hornbills distinct is their unique nesting behaviour. The process begins during a month-long courtship when the male presents the female with food. As they embark on playful behaviour the pair also check out tree cavities to select their nesting site. Having done this, the two prepare the nest by cleaning it, creating the wall lining, and undertaking repair work. Once the nest is ready, the female prepares to confine herself in the nest while the male continues to prove his ability to provide for her needs by bringing food and nesting material. The female then seals the nest entrance with her own faeces, food and bark fragments, and mud pellets brought by the male. Only her beak protrudes out from the sealed nest. This helps to protect the eggs and chicks from predators. She lays her clutch of between two and five eggs and incubates them for over 20 days. Throughout this period the male diligently flies back and forth, feeding his mate through her protruding beak. While confined in the cavity the female moults all her feathers. The mother emerges from the nest shortly before the chicks themselves are ready to fly, and the chicks once again seal the nest from the inside, even as they continue to be fed. Now both the parents share in providing food and caring for the chicks. One of Nature’s many marvellous examples of nurturing the young.

This unique nesting habit of hornbills has also, in recent times, become a threat to the very existence of all species of hornbills. The fact that they use the same nests over the years makes it imperative to protect that their nesting trees, and the habitats where they grow. In the forests of northeast India the one of the biggest threats to these birds has been the destruction of this habitat by fragmentation, deforestation and clearance of forest regions for agriculture and dams. 

As the forests are being denuded, the hornbills are losing not just places to nest and breed; the loss of native trees also affects their diet, posing a significant threat to their survival.

A unique community-based initiative to protect nesting trees of hornbills is the Hornbill Nest Adoption Programme spearheaded by the Nyishi tribe in the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. The tribe which traditionally hunted hornbills for their casque which were a symbol of their tribal identity have become active partners in protecting and conserving the hornbill nesting areas. The programme invites donors across the world to become ‘hornbill parents’ by adopting hornbill nests. The donations help pay salaries to the local community nest protectors who patrol the area, and ensure that the habitat continues to invite these birds. What an appropriate way to celebrate a bird that is, in its unique way, a diligent nest protector and parent.


International Day of Action for Rivers: A Detour to Dawki

Pollution, mining, deforestation, physical impediments created by man—a host of challenges confront India’s rivers. But a bright spot in all this is the Dawki or Umngot River in Megalaya. In the 2021 listing of the cleanest rivers of the world, Dawki made it to Number 4, behind only the Thames (England), Tara River (Montenegro-Bosnia Herzegovina), and St. Croix (USA). An incredible achievement by any standards.

Dawki river

I had the good fortune to visit Megalaya recently and Dawki was an essential part of the itinerary. Reality is not far from the numerous idyllic pictures on the internet (one from the Meghalaya Tourism site reproduced here!). It is indeed glass-like, a clear green to greeny-blue, with visibility right to the bottom of the river, going down to about 50 feet in parts. The boat-ride on the river was one of the most soothing experiences.


Much of what is good in the Northeast, including how well the Dawki is maintained, can be attributed to community participation in the safegaurding and nurture of community resources. If only these mindsets and practices could be replicated in other parts of the country! (But actually, I am more worried about the wrong mindsets and practices from other parts of the country reaching the Northeast!).

An interesting part of the experience was that the ghat from where one takes the boat-ride is bang on the Indo- Bangladesh border. In fact, only a line of small stones separates the two countries! There is active commerce between the two sides, with hands reaching out to take goods and receive money (Indian currency acceptable). I tasted a number of pickles from a vendor on the other side. And of course the photo-op of the place is pics of people straddling the border or line of stones! The border is manned by the BSF on our side, who keep a sharp lookout  for cross-border movement especially as evening falls.

But getting back to rivers and river quality.  Water quality can be defined as the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water. Parameters that are frequently sampled or monitored for water quality include temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, Oxidation-Reduction Potential, and turbidity.

Of these, dissolved oxygen or DO is considered the most important indicator of water quality of rivers, lakes etc. The higher the DO, the better the water quality. Lower Dissolved Oxygen means that there is not enough oxygen in the water to support fish and other aquatic life. Low DO is a result of excess growth of algae in water. Such growth happens where there is an excess of phosphorus and nitrogen going into the water. These chemicals come into the waterbodies through discharges from wastewater treatment, agricultural run-off (from the use of pesticides and fertilizers) and storm water runoff.

Rivers are our lifelines, and quality of the waters in our rivers is an area of major concern both in India and across the world. It is to focus attention on this that an International Day of Action for Rivers was declared in 1997. This was at the initiative of International Rivers Network, Narmada Bachao Andolan (India), and Biobio Action Group (Chile), and is marked on March 14 every year.

On this day dedicated to saving, celebrating, and creating awareness about the importance of rivers, let’s think about our rivers and how our actions impact them. What will it take to have some more Indian rivers join a lonely Dawki on the list of the cleanest rivers of the world?


Early Feminist: Mary Wollstonecraft

Earlier this week Meena wrote about the characteristics of ‘good girls’ that include: fear of disappointing others, fear of speaking out for fear of hurting others, need to always excel, avoid conflict, obey rules.

Good girls make up the majority in every generation. And certainly they are no less in any way than the others. But it is the few in each generation, who due to a combination of inbuilt traits, circumstances, passion and perseverance defy these norms. It is these path breakers who open up previously untrodden terrain, and clear the path for their contemporaries, and the generation to follow.

Today it is fashionable to be a ‘feminist’ and women are fighting for “more”. More avenues for better education and employment, more freedom of choice, more say in their own life and matters. This is a good time to remember that this “more” is a luxury compared with a generation of women who did not even have “basic” access to any of these things. And that it is women who have fought hard battles to achieve what we take for granted today.

Mary Wollstonecraft was one of these women.

Mary Wollstonecraft was born April 27, 1759, in London in a family that had once been prosperous but had been reduced in circumstances. While her elder brother, and the favoured child received a proper ‘gentleman’s education’, Mary had only a basic formal education when she learned to read and write. This was probably the root of her life-long battle for equal educational opportunities for women. In the meanwhile Mary taught herself a number of languages and spent considerable time exploring a library that one of her friends had. Through these friends, she met Fanny Blood, two years older and skilled at sewing, painting, and the piano. She inspired Mary to take initiative in cultivating her mind.

The financial situation of her family necessitated that Mary find some form of employment. In those days, opportunities for girls from this background were limited to teaching, needlecraft, and being a lady’s companion. At 19 Mary got a job as a live-in helper for a wealthy widow. She could not take it for more than a year. Her independent mind and belief in a girl’s right to a good education led her to found a small girl’s school in London in 1784, with her sister Eliza and friend Fanny Blood. The school closed two years later but this period served as the starting point for Mary’s radical ideas about the necessary equality of female and male education, and belief that the government was responsible for making this happen. She expressed these strong views in her book Thoughts on the Education of Daughters which was published by the radical publisher Joseph Johnson in 1786.

In the meanwhile Mary also made the radical decision to support herself as a professional writer, something very few women of the time could do without an aristocratic sponsor. Settling in London to pursue this new career, she did translations from French and German, read widely, and wrote reviews. She became a regular contributor to Johnson’s new literary magazine, the Analytical Review . During this period she was also introduced to such radical freethinkers as Thomas Paine and William Godwin, and she thrived in this intellectual circle.

In Western Europe during the late 18th century, single women had little protection under the law and married women lost their legal identity. Women couldn’t retain a lawyer, sign a contract, inherit property, vote, or have rights over their children. Mary’s career choice, and especially her decision to write about political and philosophical issues, was not merely unconventional, it was perceived as ‘unwomanly’ and ‘unnatural’. But as she reflected “I am then going to be the first of a new genus”. It was a harsh struggle every step of the way, but Mary continued to pursue her beliefs, and further develop her ideas. Based on her own experience of denial of education, and building upon the thinking in her earlier book, Mary argued that the educational system deliberately trained women to be frivolous and incapable and that if girls were allowed the same advantages as boys, women would be not only exceptional wives and mothers but individuals who could contribute better to society. She declared that both women and men were human beings endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To suggest women were equal to men was close to blasphemy at the time.

Mary grew up in England during the Enlightenment, an intellectual period that advocated for the use of reason to obtain objective truths. It is this very advocacy for reason that was the guiding principle for her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792. The book argued that because women share the gift of reason and have the same innate human value as men, both women and men should be educated rationally, allowed to exercise their natural abilities, and held to the same reasonable standards of behaviour. In order to contribute at the same level as men, women must be educated equally to men. If women were not afforded this opportunity, social and intellectual progress would come to a halt. As she wrote in the introduction to the book: My main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue. 

The trailblazing book went a step ahead of education for girls. It argued that girls and boys should be co-educated, and that women and men should share parental responsibilities. It also insisted that women should be free to enter business, pursue professional careers, and vote if they wished.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman sold out within a year, and Johnson issued a second edition. An American edition and translations into French and German followed.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s personal life was equally unconventional for the time. While in France she fell in love with an unscrupulous American businessman and had a child with him. He abandoned both mother and child. Mary was heartbroken and even attempted suicide. Later she was in a relationship with William Godwin and when she was carrying his child, the two married but maintained separate domestic establishments. On 30 August 1797 Mary went into labour and after about 18 hours she gave birth to a daughter, also named Mary. Thereafter she had postpartum complications, and died eleven days later at the age of 38.

Her daughter, who grew up to be Mary Shelley the author of the book Frankenstein, never knew her mother in life, but only through her writing. Mary Wollstonecraft had been working on a novel when she died. In this she wrote, almost as if addressing her daughter: Always appear what you are, and you will not pass through existence without enjoying its genuine blessings, love and respect.

Mary Wollstonecraft lived boldly, and died young. But her ideas went way beyond her own time and life. They planted the seed which eventually led to the Suffrage Movement in the early 20th century. Her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is considered the earliest and most important treatise advocating equality for women. This essay is often seen a classic of rationalist feminism that laid the foundation of modern women’s rights movements in the Western world.


Getting Over the Good Girl Syndrome: On the Occasion of International Women’s Day

For many years now, I have spoken at women forums, mentored and taught young women, and have had several women as part of my team.

The one message I try to give has been ‘don’t be a good girl’. What I meant was: don’t be confined by what your family and society expect of you; don’t do things just because someone thinks you should; you don’t have to be obedient; do think things out for yourself and rebel, disobey and question when you are convinced that is the right thing for you.

But I could never articulate it right. It often came out as if I was asking girls to be ‘bad girls’ or to be defiant just for the sake of being defiant! And I began to think maybe that is not what I should be telling them.

Till recently, when I started coming across the term ‘good girl syndrome’. I have been trying to read up a bit on this, and have discovered that it is not only a ‘thing’, but that it has been the subject of some (though not too much) academic interest.

Beverly Engel’s 2011 book ‘The Nice Girl Syndrome’ is a break-through book in this area, and I would rather quote her than try to define and explain the term myself:

‘A Nice Girl is more concerned about what others think of her than she is about what she thinks of herself. Being a Nice means that a woman is more concerned about other people’s feelings than she is about her own.’

‘Nice girls are compliant: they do what they are told. They’ve learned that it is easier to just do what someone asks than to risk an argument. Nice girls are passive; they let things happen. They are often too afraid to stand up for themselves… Nice girls are wishy-washy. ..They want to please everyone all the time…Because they are afraid of telling other how they feel, Nice Girls can be phony; they pretend a lot.’

From The Nice Girl Syndrome: Beverly Engel. (2011)

Characteristics of ‘good girls’ include: fear of disappointing others, fear of speaking out for fear of hurting others, need to always excel, avoid conflict, obey rules. They also find it difficult to refuse to do what they are asked.

I don’t know if it is true, but I find the need to conform and to be good girls is actually increasing. For women born in the sixties like me, any of us worth our salt did defy curfew times; did fight with mothers about dressing and hairstyles; did assert ourselves to pursue professional education and careers; did sometimes have to go on the warpath about when and whom to marry; and fight for space in the marriage to define ourselves. And each of those arguments made us stronger. And we emerged as strong women, who carved our own paths.

We of course stood on the shoulders of the women of the forties and fifties—they were pioneers: the early engineers, the early doctors, the women who defied purdah, the women who travelled alone, the women who fought family and society to create their own paths. We were not half as brave, but we did advance the agenda a bit.

Today, many of these things are taken for granted, and the girls don’t seem to be fighting any new battles. They in fact don’t seem to have as strong a sense of self as we did. I see them treading the path that society expects them. The paths that we trod and that they are treading look the same. But the difference is it is now the beaten path. We were bad girls when we trod this path, but now it is the norm, and good girls are expected to tread them and they are doing it! I would have thought they would go further, branch out, breach new barriers, reach new heights.

But maybe it is the world’s oldest story–one generation cribbing about the next!


At any rate, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, here is to BAD GIRLS. They are the ones who change the world!


It Begins With an Idea

It began with an idea. Meena mailed to say “why don’t we start a blog?” I was all agog, but cautious. “A blog? What do we know about blogging?”  We were two people who shied away from anything “too techy”, and equally from opening up our thoughts and broadcasting them far and wide. How would we deal with a new medium of communication, and more important, what would we communicate? And why would anyone be interested in what we had to say? But somewhere the spark was kindled. After all we had been writing partners for decades. We had written as part of our work as environmental educators, then, while we had some freedom about how to write something, the “what to write” was often a given. But that had been a while ago.

“Let’s think about it” I countered. “We need time to get our act together, as they say.” But Meena said, “No if we procrastinate, it won’t happen. It is Women’s Day next week, a perfect day to launch into a new space for a new time”. And before we could retreat, the die was cast. And so it was that the Millennial Matriarchs joined the blogosphere!

With the flurry of writing and posting our first pieces, came the panic. We had, in our enthusiasm, decided that each of us would write two pieces a week. But before we wrote anything, we needed to have something to write about! There began the continuous challenge of getting “ideas” for what to write about.

That took us back to the very notion of an idea. There are plural definitions of idea: Any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity. A thought, conception, or notion. An impression. An opinion, view, or belief. A plan of action; an intention. A groundless supposition or fantasy.

These opened up a broader canvas for us. This was reflected in the sub title: Musings on Life and Times: Views, Reviews, Previews, Interviews…and Advice.

Indeed that became our guiding spirit, week after week. We discovered, day-after-day that ideas for writing lurked everywhere—newspaper items, things around us, books that we read, people we met, places we visited, conversations we had, birds and animals, changing seasons, history, folklore, festivals, and sometimes just a flight of fantasy! These had always been there, now we were more finely tuned to the potential and possibilities of pulling these out, looking deeper into them, making connections, and putting these in words. And every time this happened, it was an Aha Moment!

An idea comes, and you see it, and you hear it, and you know it…Ideas are beautiful gifts. And if you catch an idea that you love, that’s a beautiful day. And you write that idea down so you won’t forget it. And that idea that you caught might just be a fragment of the whole. Thinking about that small fragment will bring in more, and they’ll come in and they’ll hook on. And more and more come in, and pretty soon you might have a script. (David Lynch)

 We were looking at the world around us with a different lens. Even as the seasons changed, or we heard about an encounter or event, we were subconsciously filing away the raw material. The great fun then was the process of researching the topic or theme, compiling possibly useful information and then, making the connections. These were skills to be developed and honed. 

A book titled A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young published in 1939 discussed how the highest importance in the production of ideas involves developing a habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts.  

Every really good creative person…whom I have ever known has always had two noticeable characteristics. First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested — from, say, Egyptian burial customs to modern art. Every facet of life had fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information.

Gathering raw material in a real way is not as simple as it sounds. It is such a terrible chore that we are constantly trying to dodge it. The time that ought to be spent in material gathering is spent in wool gathering. Instead of working systematically at the job of gathering raw material we sit around hoping for inspiration to strike us. When we do that we are trying to get the mind to take the fourth step in the idea-producing process while we dodge the preceding steps.

The book lays down some principles: The first principle is that an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements. The second important principle involved is that the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships. To some minds each fact is a separate bit of knowledge. To others it is a link in a chain of knowledge. It has relationships and similarities. It is not so much a fact as it is an illustration of a general law applying to a whole series of facts.

What you do is to take the different bits of material which you have gathered and feel them all over, as it were, with the tentacles of the mind. You take one fact, turn it this way and that, look at it in different lights, and feel for the meaning of it. You bring two facts together and see how they fit. What you are seeking now is the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination, like a jig-saw puzzle.

In many ways this process has gradually become a habit of mind for us. It has fine-tuned our antennae to try and catch any “idea” that can transform into a piece, and to put it through the permutations and combinations, to twirl the bits in the kaleidoscope as we watch them form and re-form new patterns and. Oliver Wendell Holmes said: A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension. We are grateful for this opportunity to continuously explore and discover, and, we hope, to share some of that excitement.

This week, as we complete five uninterrupted years of Millennial Matriarchs (two pieces every week) we feel that we are at the third stage of what Arthur C. Clark wrote: New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!

But even a good idea cannot survive in a vacuum. The writer cannot do it alone. The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it alive: a live thing, a story. (Ursula K le Guinn)

This is with gratitude to all our readers who have been gracious enough to join us on our journey, and who have shared our ideas.  

P.S. Coincidentally, while we began this blog as a celebration to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we find that this month is significant for another reason. March is celebrated as International Ideas Month! This month is all about realizing the value of an idea, no matter how fantastical or far-fetched it may seem at first. As the founders urge: If there is something you have been mulling over for a while, an idea you have not really thought of making it a reality, then this month is the time to get it rolling!

–Mamata and Meena