Mary Poppins 2.0

Remember the loveable character of Mary Poppins who could fix messes in homes and families? Don’t we all sometimes wish that Mary Poppins would fly into our lives and set things straight? Someone who could discipline us to set ourselves in order? Believe it or not there is a real new-age Mary Poppins, and her name is Marie Kondo!clutter.jpg

Who is this new Marie and what does she do? Marie Kondo is a Japanese “tidying expert!” She helps people to clear up the clutter in their homes, and guides them towards creating spaces of order and serenity.

Marie was born in Japan in a culture which celebrates beauty in simplicity. Marie grew up with the ingenious origami art of folding, artistic ikebana, beautifully orchestrated tea ceremonies, and the art of creating minimalistic but serene surroundings, as well as an inborn gift for creating order out of chaos. She added to this, a canny entrepreneurial spirit when she started her “tidying consultant” business as a 19-year old university student in Tokyo. Realising the immense need and scope of “tidiness consulting” in an age when people lives were ‘cluttered’ in every which way, she went on to write a best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

Where Mary Poppins created magic with the wave of her umbrella and a catchy tune on her lips, Marie Kondo starts her process of transformation in a more oriental style by making her clients calmly meditate on how their space is special to them, and to give thanks for this. She then proceeds to gently but firmly get them to review all their possessions, and let go whatever does not “spark joy” in them, after thanking these for their service! She then advises on how to rearrange and reorganise the remaining belongings by category, following the KonMari Method.

Today Marie is a global expert with her own Netflix’s hit show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, and founder of KonMari Media Inc.

I admire this young woman who has found herself a natty niche, and is smart enough to make a successful enterprise out of it. But I cannot but help thinking of the generations of homemakers who have kept beautifully organised and managed homes with limited resources, but much hard work, care and creativity. For them it was a way of life, into which they were oriented by mothers and mothers-in-law. Today when we have much more of everything, except time and patience, voila, Marie Kondo is at your service!

–Mamata

Celebrating the Teacher

September 5–Teacher’s Day in India is marked by awards, articles, and essays  remembering and honouring those who instruct and inspire.  Across the world, and across generations, there have been many who have left behind their legacy on the young minds and lives. Films and books have tried to capture some of this in their own small way.

A film that I saw recently was a new addition to this list of ‘must watch and must read’. Freedom Writers  tells the story of an idealistic young teacher confronted with the challenge of teaching ‘unteachable, at-risk’ students, and her non-conformist attempts at making meaningful connections.

The movie is based on the real experiences of Erin Gruwell that she documented in a book titled The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. The book was published in 1999.

Erin was a 23-year-old white American when she stepped into her classroom of a motley group of African American and Latino teenagers coming from a world of broken homes, violence, and every form of social, cultural and economic discrimination. Instead of giving up, and simply labelling her charges as ‘unteachable’, Erin realised that these young people were deprived of exposure, attention and respect. One way to open up their vision and world was to introduce them to writings that shared similar histories of discrimination, beginning with The Diary of Anne Frank, and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo, and including a visit to the Holocaust Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Despite initial resistance, the students began to see the parallels between these books and events in history, and their own lives; they realised that they were not alone in their struggles. Erin then moved on to encouraging every student to keep a journal in which they recorded their thoughts and feelings about their past, present and future.

The students were so inspired by Anne Frank’s story that they organised a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance” and collected funds to invite Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who sheltered Anne Frank’s family, to visit them in California during the 1994/1995 school year. Miep declared that Erin Gruwell’s students were “the real heroes”. As a testament to Erin’s dauntless efforts, all 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and many went on to attend college—a hitherto unachieved triumph.

The book The Freedom Writers Diary is a compilation of the journals kept by these students. Its title The Freedom Writers is a tribute to the name of the 1960s US civil rights group called Freedom Riders. Erin’s book was a huge success. She went on to set up The Freedom Writers Foundation, which functions to promote Erin’s successful teaching methods.

The film brought to mind another path-breaking movie To Sir, With Love. Released in 1967, this is also based on an autobiographical novel by E.R. Braithwaite which recounts his experiences as a teacher in London. In this case, it was the challenge of a teacher of colour teaching a class of white, economically and socially-deprived teenagers in a working-class area of London. Facing similar challenges of teaching a set curriculum to semi-literate and disinterested, hostile students, Braithwaite took on the challenge by switching to unconventional teaching methods including visits to museums, and allowing students to discuss what was meaningful to them, in the class. Like Erin, he broke through the barriers, and succeeded where others had thrown up their hands in despair.

Inspiring films both. Also a reminder that, in any time and place, a single individual can make a big difference. A tribute to every teacher, who in his or her own way, touches countless minds and hearts, and changes lives.

–Mamata

 

Green Amber Red

Imagine that you are cruising along a highway; enjoying the smooth flow and passage of time and miles. On the other hand, imagine you are in a city, driving at the required speed, eagerly crossing the green lights, slowing at the amber, and every now and then, stopping at the red light. There is a sense in both the experiences; in both cases, a different kind of pace is set.

The act of writing could perhaps be compared to this. Every writer sets their own pace and rhythm of how the words flow. For some the long uninterrupted cruise is the mode of choice; others prefer the ordered structure of breaking the flow, sometimes with a pause and sometimes with a longer halt—from green to amber to red. It is the punctuation marks that represent these traffic lights.

Many writers have expressed their thoughts on these—essential parts of tImage result for image punctuation marks cartoonhe tools of their trade. Some have celebrated punctuation as the friendly spirits whose bodiless presence nourishes the body of language”,  while another believes that each writer has a lifetime quota of them, to be used judiciously. I myself have always enjoyed the mental exercise of fixing the appropriate place for the appropriate mark, and am always attracted by how authors perceive and practice the use of punctuation marks.

I recently read a delightful articulation of this in an article which had excerpts from an essay titled Notes on Punctuation by Lewis Thomas. Thomas was an American physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, researcher and teacher. Amidst his serious research and writing, Thomas applied equal affectionate attention to the traffic signals, giving each one a distinct character and identity.

Sharing some in his own words.

, The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows into all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.

; I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.

: Colons are a lot less attractive, for several reasons: firstly, they give you the feeling of being rather ordered around, or at least having your nose pointed in a direction you might not be inclined to take if left to yourself, and, secondly, you suspect you’re in for one of those sentences that will be labeling the points to be made: firstly, secondly and so forth, with the implication that you haven’t sense enough to keep track of a sequence of notions without having them numbered.

!!! Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!

As for me, I do so love the comma, and simply cannot resist the !!!

–Mamata

 

 

Ode to the Saree

It is the day of tributes and nationalistic fervour. The news is replete IMG_20190815_101428069.jpgwith people sharing thoughts and feelings about what India means to them. This is my small paean to what, for me, represents the essence of India. It is an ode to the saree!

I wore my first formal saree when I was 16 years old. I still remember it—a magenta-pink Venkatagiri brought by my friend’s mother from Chennai. And I fell in love with sarees. Not just the finished draped version but simply this seemingly endless flow of fabric, with its mind-blowing variety of textures, weaves, designs, and colours. It was the start of an enchanting journey of discovery—learning, over the years, about the unique features of sarees from every part of India. Luckily for me it was the period of rediscovery of the rich heritage of our textiles which manifested in national handloom exhibitions where weavers displayed their wondrous skills. Oh the excitement of adding, one by one, traditional sarees of different states—the stunning kanjeevarams; the intricate ikats; the rustling golden tussars; the vibrant bandhanis and patolas; the summery kotas, and the sturdy handlooms. With every piece was the attempt to know more about the place and people who wove the masterpieces, the dyes and the motifs, the warp and the weft. It was an exploration of my country—its geography and history, culture and tradition, and craft and craftsmanship.

I was already part of a committed saree-wearing cadre when I started my career as an environmental educator. To my delight, one of the early statements by my Director Kartikeya Sarabhai, beautifully summed up the very special features of the saree. “The saree is a designed piece of clothing worn all over India. Over the years very beautiful designs, patterns and textures have been printed and woven into the Indian saree and yet, several thousand years of Indian history has not tried to stitch the saree. It is worn in many ways and fits all sizes. It is equally good for working, dressing up or sleeping in. The final effect is the combined effort of the person who designs the cloth and the person who wears it—of the designer and the user. This is a very different concept from that of designing, say, a well-stitched dress. The garment either fits or doesn’t fit, and where it fits, leaves very little room for the wearer to be innovative in its use.”

I have worn a saree every day of my working life. I have looked forward to choosing the one for the day, and it has become the symbol of my identity. I have worn my saree at home and at work; while travelling and sleeping; rain and shine. I have experienced the joys of putting together my own collection of the multitude of woven flavours of this wonderful country, and revelling in the rich bequest that is ours to savour and share

I am saddened at the ebbing of the saree today. Appalled that it has been reduced to a hashtag; that sarees have become exclusive “designer outfits” with tips on outre ways of draping a saree or, even worse, the stitched saree! I am amused when people think I am an ‘amma from the days of yore’ when I am the only one in a large gathering wearing a saree.  I am disturbed that in our race for globalisation and international Brands, we seem to be losing a crucial common thread of identity.

For me the saree represents the essential spirit of my country—the heritage and the history; the multiplicity and the uniqueness; the weaving of warp and weft to create a strong resilient fabric. It represents a unique common identity which subsumes the incredible diversity of textures and motifs. It represents the magic of being a seamless length of fabric that takes on the individual character of its wearer.

I may not wear my patriotism on my sleeve, but every time I wear my saree I celebrate the wonder that is India!

–Mamata

Two Sides of the Mirror

Time was, not so long ago, when photo albums were treasured family heirlooms.  Looking at old photos was one of the shared activities at a family get-together, with the elders pleasurably sinking into nostalgia, and youngsters playing guessing games at identifying the people in the pictures. There was a special excitement in flipping through the pages and sharing a laugh at “how much hair dear uncle had”, as compared with his bald pate today; or comparing the picture of the slim young girl with the comfortably chubby aunt today!

Photographs recorded the phases of life—the baby pictures taken by fond parents to record milestones; the awkward and self-conscious pictures of the gawky teenage years; the fancy wedding photo album; and the next cycle of young parents, their babies and doting grandparents.

There was a certain charm in seeing these transitions through the captured images. There was also a certain ceremony attached to the process of documenting. In the early years, this took the form of special posed pictures taken by professional photographers. With cameras becoming more user-friendly and available, it brought the process closer to home, but there was still the waiting period between the giving of the film for developing and getting back the prints and the negatives to discover what they revealed! Over time the technology and format of film, cameras and processing changed. The Polaroid camera was magic in a box—click, and voila the photo appears. …And then came the mobile phones with the ease of capturing images in an instant; along with all the many many Apps to do what you wish with the image. And everyone went crazy…every second of every day to be not only recorded, but immediately shared. Followed by the anxiety of how many views and how many likes. A deluge of images, sweeping across the screen of life, fleeting, momentary and, alas not as magical as turning the pages of an album to peruse history.

And now the new rage—FaceApp! The wand that reveals what you will look like when you are OLD! Celebrities across the world are posting pictures of what technology turns them into, projecting into the future. Of course every one of them looks suitably dignified and gracefully old, and feels reassured that “I am going to age well.”

Even more thought provoking is the news that this may also be used for not-as-legit facial recognition purposes. This makes me wonder. One the one hand, for millions of millennials, self-esteem and self- image hinge on being, at all times, visible on social media and “liked”. Then how can this be selective?

I am totally flummoxed by this. Here is a generation of self-obsessed young people living in an age where Image matters most. Here are the celebrities who spend millions on “looking young”. Here are the people who believe that life is in the here and now. Here is the technology which allows you to Photoshop away every trace of wrinkle or sagging skin, every blemish or hint of the passage of time. And yet these same people are clambering on the new high of “looking old.” Sadly, if only they stopped to think, life is more complex than an App, and who can tell what traces the ravages of time and experience will leave on our visage.

As for me, I would rather browse through the passage of time from my photo albums, than fast forward to the future!

–Mamata

It’s Not Easy…Being Parents

This piece is continuing Meena’s recent angst about parenting.

Indeed, parents need counselling more than the children. In many ways it seems that children today are more the receptacles of the parents’ own aspirations and, yes, peer pressures. How does the parent participate in conversations which centre around–What school does your child go to; what does she/he excel at; where did you go for your last family holiday; which are the different types of special coaching your child has… and so on. So the child has to live up to the expectations of not only the parents, but the social circles that they move in. And somewhere in all this circle of “well-meaning concern” the child begins to feel inadequate and undeserving, and there starts slow seeping of confidence, which sadly may end in extreme consequences.

At another level is the insidious guilt of the parents—for being so busy with their work and leisure; for delegating a lot of the traditional parenting tasks to external help; for not giving what they feel may be adequate time and attention; for not giving the child “the best that money can buy, after all what are we working so hard for?” This manifests in the over-concern, over indulgence and over coddling by parents; and a sense of birth right to privilege, self-centredness, and “my parents can set it right for me” on the part of the child. This too may have disastrous consequences should the well-planned map of “how we see our life” go awry.

Every generation of parents feels that the times that they live in are the most challenging, and that they require bespoke answers to child raising.

Interestingly, over 80 years ago, my grandfather Gijubhai Badheka, wrote several volumes on the challenges of parenting, with the apt title It Is Not Easy…Being Parents.  Gijubhai was not trained in child psychology; but his deep concern for the welfare of the child led him to observe, reflect, and note his thoughts. He described the dilemmas faced by both parents, as well as by children, and explored possibilities of how these could be handled.

For me, these simple yet profound notings are as fundamental and relevant even today. Sharing a few excerpts, translated by me from the original in Gujarati.

The young boy strenuously clambers up two rungs of the ladder. As he raises his foot to reach the third rung, the father says, “Come down; you are too young to climb ladders. If you fall you will break your bones.”

The young girl carefully wields a knife to chop vegetables or to sharpen a pencil. The mother scolds, “Put down that knife; you will cut yourself.”

The daughter wants to put the pan of dal on the gas stove. Mother says, “You will get scalded.”

The daughter says “Can I carry the glass of water for the guest?” Mother says, “You will spill it.”

The adults are trying to solve a problem. As they discuss the child offers some suggestions. All say, “Now you don’t try to act too big for your boots.”

Every day in innumerable situations we react in this fashion, unknowingly squashing the confidence of our children. Every time it takes up a task, it hears echoes of its parents’ cautionary warnings, and drops it forthwith, overcome by the fear that it will not be able to successfully accomplish the task. If someone asks it to climb up, carry something or use a tool, it may refuse, or if forced to do so, ends up falling or spilling or hurting itself. The child ends up even more ashamed at its own inadequacy to carry out the task.

By corroding our children’s confidence, we truly do make them unable to perform. In some ways our lack of confidence and trust in our children is a reflection of our own lack of confidence.

We need to have the strength to have confidence in our children. Encouraged by that trust, our children will prove themselves more than worthy of what we have bestowed. A child is human, a human striving to grow. We must enable this growth, the blossoming of its personality.

Removed from all the outer trappings of “success,” ultimately what do we, as parents, wish for our children? I think it should be “the confidence and courage to take on life!”

–Mamata

 

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

On 20 May this year the definition of kilogram changed. The new definition fits in with the modern definitions for the units of time (second) and distance (metre).

weights

Most of us grew up using the metric system which is an internationally recognised decimalised system of measurement used to measure everyday things such as the mass of a sack of rice, the height of a person, the speed of a car, and the volume of fuel in its tank.

It is interesting to go into the history of this system. The metric system was introduced by the French after the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, at a time when there was a chaotic state of thousands of traditional units of measurement in use. Twelve scientists were appointed to organise a universal and accurate system of measurement. They chose ‘metre’ after the Greek word for measure ‘metron’; and for simplicity of multiplying and dividing they decided to base it on the number ‘ten.’ One metre was to be one-tenth millionth of one quarter of the circumference of the Earth, measured from the Pole to the Equator.

By 1795 all metric units were derived from the metre, including the gram for weight and the litre for capacity. At first people were reluctant to accept the new measures but in 1840 they were legally enforced and there were punishments for those who refused to use the metric system.

The history of the predecessor to the Kilometre—the Mile, can be traced back to the Romans who invented a way of measuring distance in footsteps. A Mile was a thousand footsteps. The Romans marked their miles with special stones called Milestones.

Measuring land was difficult in olden days. Sometimes fields were measured according to how much land could be ploughed by a pair of oxen in one day.  In an unusual way of measuring land—if someone wanted to buy land, coins were put around the edges of the piece of land with all the coins touching each other. The cost of the land was said to be the number of coins that it took to surround it.

Today the global standards for measurement are set by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures which is located in Sevres near Paris. It is this international laboratory where international standards are kept; national standard copies inspected, and metrological research is conducted. The General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM), with diplomatic representatives of some 40 countries, meets every six years to consider reform. The conference selects 18 scientists who form the International Committee for Weights and Measures that governs the bureau.

As science advances so does precision, and today measurements are finely honed towards a hundred per cent accuracy. Thankfully, for most of us laymen this fine tuning does not mean too much change. News reports assured us that the ‘new improved’ kilogram would not impact weight watchers or grocery shoppers.

–Mamata

 

 

Aspirations

The last few weeks, my newspapers have been full of news about newly-crowned Queens. There is a Miss World, and a Miss Universe, and numerous other regal titles bestowed on young girls. So far so good.

As a passive observer peeping through the window of the pages of my newspaper, over the years I have been noticing how the run-up to such pageants is becoming more and more elaborate and ostentatious. Qualifying rounds are held in different cities, in the most luxurious hotels. Several glossy pages of the paper feature spreads of photographs of the pretty young ladies going through a variety of activities in different settings, clad to the nines in appropriate designer wear. There is an ever-growing list of event partners—dress designers, hair stylists, skin gurus, make-up magicians, tutors to (re)teach the girls how to walk and talk, and so forth. And, of course how can all this work without the sponsors? So you have sponsors for everything from the eyes to the toes–Miss Expressive Eyes, Miss Dazzling Teeth, Miss Scintillating Smile, Miss Satin Skin, Miss Shining Hair—and on till there is nothing left to miss!

Possibly thousands of girls apply for these pageants with these very visions becoming the stuff of their dreams. I suspect that even as they start the process, so much time and hard-earned money is spent in preparing the portfolios to enter the race. For those “lucky” ones who make it through the various rounds, the metamorphosis begins as they are taken through the paces. But behind the scenes? A bunch of still naive girls living in close proximity, in a fiercely competitive environment–I cannot begin to imagine what the atmosphere will be like—the anxieties, the hostilities, the petty politics, the pressures. As murky as the intrigues in the court of a royal family!

The newspapers kindly give us ‘”the underprivileged outsiders” glimpses into the culminating moments of the qualifying events. The full spread pictures of an array of pretty girls with similar hairstyles, smiles and dresses makes it difficult to tell the difference between them. Until voila—we have the coronation of the Queens. Usually the brouhaha ends there. This year there has been a follow up. We also had the privilege of following the Queens as they visited their “native places”—the town or village that their family hailed from. We saw pictures of cheering crowds, motor cavalcades, cameramen and interviews and family and village elders welcoming their local girl who became Queen.

And I think—Is this the role model for all the young girls in the small towns and villages? Is this what it means to have “arrived?” Is this what parents dream of for their daughters from the day that they are born? Aspirations!

It is a very worrying trend. One observes young girls (almost children) being accompanied to beauty parlours for a host of grooming and beauty treatments. Parents spend much money on consulting nutritionists and dieticians, trainers and gyms, and of course the latest fashion in clothes. “Looking good” becomes the end all and be all. Aspirations!

An even more frightening extension of this is the pushing of young children into the numerous reality shows. I am appalled at the occasional glimpse of children cavorting to Bollywood numbers dressed in vulgar outfits and plastered with make-up. A recent piece about a five-year old girl who won a dance show talked about her childhood in a slum of Kolkata, and how she has made her parents so proud. Her dream is to live in all all-pink fairy tale house. Aspirations!

How disturbing. How sad that in a country where we are still talking about Save Our Daughters, Educate Our Daughters, we seem to be building aspirations that promote superficial showmanship, branding, and objectification of our daughters.

–Mamata

Nature Deficit Disorder

Among the many new medical disorders that have entered into our consciousness and everyday vocabulary in the last decade or so, a new one was added in 2005— Nature Deficit Disorder. The term was coined by Richard Louv as a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.

As we live in our concrete jungles, increasingly cut off from the sight, sound and feel of Nature, these senses are steadily diminishing. Increasingly medical research is now proving that our sedentary lifestyles or “epidemic of inactivity” is the cause of a host of appropriately-called ‘lifestyle diseases.”

Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder expressed his apprehension at the growing phenomenon of alienation from Nature, and built a case for consciously building closer links between young children and Nature, through opportunities to go outside, be in Nature, and learn from Nature.

Times have changed—and not for the better. Almost fifteen years after Louv articulated his concern, the “wave from the West” has reached our homes in India, as it has most parts of the world. Children don’t seem to get as much opportunity to play outdoors and explore and discover independently anymore; meeting friends is usually organised and supervised in “play dates” rather than children spontaneously getting together and simply “mucking and mooching around!” Yes, there are genuine issues—safe spaces, security and time; but this over-protectiveness can actually be detrimental to children’s health, if they don’t get enough outdoor time and experiences. Difficult though it is, while we as parents, leave no stone unturned to give our children the best opportunities that money can buy for their all-round development, are we giving them enough exposure to the outdoors? For children and their development Nature is not “optional”, it is as essential as a healthy diet for growing up.

I do believe that the same formula applies equally to adults. Nature and the outdoors are vital for our physical and emotional development and well-being; it is only here that can we encounter all four non-negotiable sources for self-development: freedom, immediacy, resistance and relatedness (connection). In fact, it is for us to take the lead.

An even more alarming trend has been towards the gradual deficit of Nature, even in our language. Since 2007 the Oxford Children’s Dictionary has been dropping words related to nature to replace them with words that they felt better represented the present day and age. Acorn, Buttercup, Conker gave way to Attachment, Blog, and Cut-and-Paste. In 2015, some of the world’s most prominent authors composed an open letter of protest and alarm at this impoverishment of children’s vocabulary by replacement with words “associated with the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today,” and its consequent diminishment of children’s belonging to and with the natural world. A frightening manifestation of Nature Deficit Disorder. The authors expressed their distress that such culling of words would “deny children a store of words that is marvellous for its own sake, but also a vital means of connection and understanding.”

As one of the authors said, “If you can’t name things, how can you love them?”

–Mamata

crabs claw close 2.jpg
A flower by any other name…Crab’s Claw 

On Time

“Time you old gypsy man, will you not stay? Put up your caravan just for one day?

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Source: Google

These lines from a poem learnt by rote in school, still remembered. Time had a different connotation when one was just fifteen. It was more about the “present”, and something one needed to cram in all the activities of teenage life.  Today with several decades behind one, Time is more about looking back, while Time the old gypsy man seems to be flashing past at the speed of light.

Today we live “by the clock”. Not only are our daily activities monitored by the clock, we depend on Apps to remind us to get up, to drink water, and to call our friends. Interestingly, the regular linear time line, cut up into days and weeks, is barely two and a half centuries old. In ancient times, time-keeping was more of an art than a science. People in most old civilizations relied on natural events–the turn of the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon as some ways to measure time.  Different cultures had their own ways of measuring time.

The concept of time has always been relative and contextual. An essay that I read explores these dimensions of time through different cultures and history. Titled Cartographies of Time, the two-part essay by authors Jonny Miller and Dorothy Sanders is fascinating reading. Sharing some excerpts.

In Madagascar if you asked how long something was going to take, you might be told it would be “the time of rice cooking (about half an hour) or “the frying of a locust” (a few minutes).

For monks in Burma there is no need for alarm clocks. They know when it is time to get up when “there is enough light to see the veins on their hand.”

The Andamanese, a tribe that lives on the Andaman Islands have constructed an annual calendar built around the sequence of dominant smells of trees and flowers in their environment. Instead of living by a calendar, this tribe “simply smell the odours outside their door.’

The Amondawa tribe that lives in the Amazon Rainforest have no specific word in their language for ‘time’ nor do they determine any discrete periods of time such as a month or a year. They only have divisions for night and day, and rainy and dry seasons. Even more intriguing is that nobody in the community has an age. Instead they change their names to reflect their stage of life and position within the community. What a wonderful way to go through life, rather than our obsession with the number of candles on a birthday cake!

The fact remains that time, at least the way we understand it today, is always passing. But what we make of it, is entirely up to us.

As the Dalai Lama has said: “Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend, or a meaningful day.”

–Mamata