Ides to Ideas

Beware the Ides of March! Perhaps never in the living memory of humankind, has this dire and gloomy prophecy proved so true. It is in this month that the world has been brought to its knees by an invisible force that seems to have united all of humanity in facing a common enemy.

The world, and way of life as we know, have overnight, changed beyond our wildest imagination, and no soothsayer can foretell what lies ahead, in the near and distant future. From now on, the month of March will be marked as the month that changed the world.

But before all this began, March had been designated as the International Ideas Month.

Ideas–our brain is churning out ideas all the time; even though we may not consciously register these. From small ideas about routine matters, ideas.jpgto Eureka moments, ideas keep our little grey cells ticking away. Sometimes we let these slip away because we are preoccupied with what we feel are more serious or important matters, and sometimes because we feel that the ideas is too inane to pursue.

International Ideas Month is meant to celebrate the value of ideas. And an encouragement to get one’s ideas rolling—no matter how silly, or profound they may seem.

Ideas spring from imagination, and imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. And yet in these times when even creativity is measured by its market price, or ideas that help make large profits; imagination is seen as the indulgence of children and dreamers, writers and painters.

In the words of American author Ursula K. Le Guin “Imagination is not a means of making money. It has no place in the vocabulary of profit-making. It is not a weapon, though all weapons originate from it, and their use, or non-use, depends on it, as with all tools and their uses. The imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human. …Like any tool, the imagination requires that we first learn how to use it or, rather, that we unlearn how to squander it. Children have imagination to start with, but as we grow, we tend to put aside imagination as an indulgence. All human beings need exercises in imagination as they need exercise in all the basic skills of life, bodily and mental: for growth, for health, for competence, for joy. This need continues as long as the mind is alive.”

One way to nurture imagination is to give the time and space that ideas need to take root and grow. This garden cannot be meticulously planned, pruned and scheduled. Ideas turn up anytime, anywhere—on a morning walk, at the kitchen sink, in the shower, and in the middle of the night.

Because Ideas do not have a fixed time and place to appear, it is important not to let them slip away. Grab them, capture them on paper, take your time and mull over them, incubate them, or put them into practice right away!

The right time and space is now–when we are in a physical lockdown. While we cannot physically wander far and wide, when we seem to suddenly have time on our hands–What better time to unlock and unleash all those ideas that have been hibernating or aestivating in our minds.

Turn the Ides of March into the Ideas of March.

–Mamata

 

Colour Me Blue

As we celebrate Holi, the Festival of Colours, here is a piece on the hues that brighten our lives.

And, in keeping with the mood of International Women’s Day, it references M.S. Subbulakshmi, doyenne of Carnatic music, and a path breaker.

Happy Holi, Happy IWD!

Last week I was reading an old-fashioned novel, where the hero’s sidekick was wearing a taupe coloured suit. Not being quite sure what ‘taupe’ was, I looked it up, and learnt that it is a dark brown colour between brown and grey and that the name originates from the French taupe meaning mole (the animal).  The name originally referred to the average colour of the French mole, but since the 1940s, its usage has expanded and blurred to mean anything greyish brown or brownish grey.

Names of many colours are derived from nature. Fuchsia was named for the colour of the flowers on the fuchsia plant, itself named for Leonard Fuchs, a 16th-century botanist. The word orange comes from the Old French orange, from the old term for the fruit pomme d’orange. The French word, in turn, comes from the Italian arancia, based on Arabic nāranj, derived from the Sanskrit nāraṅga. An inter-connected world indeed!!!!

Teal is a bluegreen colour whose name comes from that of a bird—the common teal (Anas crecca)—which presents a similarly coloured stripe on its head.

‘Puce’ is also one of the nature-colour names, but with a particularly yucky background. Puce is the French word for flea. The colour is said to be the colour of bloodstains on linen or bedsheets, even after being laundered, from a flea’s droppings, or after a flea has been crushed. Strangely it was one of Marie Antoinette’s favourite colours!

People too have lent their names to colours.

‘Mountbatten Pink’ is a naval camouflage colour close to greyish mauve. It was first used by Lord Mountbatten during World War II. When he noticed a liner ship of the colour seeming to disappear from view in the early morning light, he felt it was a good colour for naval ships to render them difficult to see at dusk and dawn, and so started applying them to his naval ships.

‘Alice Blue’ is a pale shade of azure blue, much liked by Alice Roosevelt daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, which sparked a fashion sensation in the United States.

MSBut for a South Indian like me, the most important person-colour association has of course to be ‘MS Blue’, said to be a favourite of legendary singer M.S. Subbalakshmi.  This colour became synonymous with her after she started wearing Kanchipuram silk saris of this shade at her concerts. These were specially made for her by Muthu Chettiar, a weaver from Madurai. The savvy businessman that he was, he carefully regulated supplies to ensure enduring demand from Madras high society ladies!  It has been clarified that MS Blue is not peacock blue but ‘mid-sea blue’.

Continuing on the theme of blue, the colour of 2020 (Yes, they announce a colour for every year! A good source of income for the interior design and fashion industries) is PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue whose properties include instilling ‘calm, confidence, and connection’. Additionally, it is claimed that ‘this enduring blue hue highlights our desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era’.

Another interesting fact I learnt was that research by several academics including linguists Brent Berlin and Paul Kay has revealed that if a language had only two terms for colours, they were always black and white; if there was a third, it was red; the fourth and fifth were always green and yellow (in either order); the sixth was blue; the seventh was brown; and so on.

–Meena

Fatso

Fatso! The word always reminds of the storybooks we read in which the

garfield fat.jpg
Source: Pintrest.com

chubby baby with pink cheeks grew into a rotund schoolboy or roly-poly schoolgirl who was the butt of many jokes and cruel teasing. For many children who were actually on the plump side, it was a real-life experience that followed them through the years of teenage and adulthood. Fat characters depicted in books, movies and television are usually the bumbling comic ones, designed to raise a laugh. The simple three letter word ‘fat’ is, more often than not, used as an adjective that is derisive and pejorative.

The history of the word in the English language reveals that this was not always the case. In the late 1300s, fertile and abundant land was described as ‘fat land.’ In the 1600s, a wealthy or affluent person was described as a ‘fat’ person. This was a period when the general population suffered from poverty and food shortages, and anyone with excess body fat was recognised as being prosperous. Paintings of the Renaissance period in Europe depicted full-figured people. This was also the case in several other parts of the world, including India, where chubbiness was extolled when admiring “healthy” babies, and a skinny child would always be asked “does your mother not give you food?” In women of a marriageable age, a well-rounded body structure was desirable as it was considered suitable for future child bearing.

Changing times brought changing trends. In the 19th and 20th centuries, in the West, technology and industry made food production more stable, cheaper, and more widely available; it also introduced the wave of processed food. This, along with a rise in the overall standard of living, and more sedentary lifestyles, created new concerns, and perceptions, about weight. By the 1940–50s, ‘thinness’ became the new ideal for health and beauty. As early as March 1954, Life magazine featured an article, “The Plague of Overweight,” which characterized obesity as “the most serious health problem today.” “The uncompromising truth,” it went on, “is that obesity is caused by gluttony.” At that time, around three percent of Americans were considered obese. In 2015-2016 the prevalence of obesity in American adults was 39.8%. Today India is one of the countries in which obesity has reached almost epidemic proportions.

As medical science produces numerous reports on the health impacts of obesity, the popular culture has climbed on to the merry-go-round slogan of ‘fat is evil’. This has manifested itself in wave after wave of money-minting slimming coaches, new-fangled fad diets, and lose-weight mantras.

The social fall-out of this has been the culture of ‘fat shaming.’ Responses to this have been varied. The 1960s saw the rise of the movement of ‘body positivity’ to raise awareness of the barriers faced by fat people and highlighted the need for human rights for bigger bodies. As far back as 1969, a civil rights organisation was founded in the United States, The National Association of Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) which works to eliminate discrimination based on body size, through advocacy, public education and support.

Today there is a Fat Acceptance Movement, with Fat Activists, which is working to challenge bias against fat people and end discrimination against them, especially in work places.

At the other end of the cultural spectrum, in several parts of the world, “fat is indeed beautiful.” Heavier girls and women are viewed as beautiful, wealthy and socially-accepted.  As they believe, if you are fat, people respect you; people honour you. Wherever you go, they say, “Your husband feed you fine.” In Mauritania, it is believed that a woman’s size indicates the amount of space she occupies in her husband’s heart!

Even today, in many tribes in Africa, a woman’s attractiveness is measured by her obesity, and a young woman is prepared for marriage in ways guaranteed to ˜fatten her up.” Traditionally brides-to-be would be confined to a hut where they would be fed and fed and fed on high calorie foods until they achieved the desirable size and shape.  Even today, in some places women go to fattening centres, just as in others they go on a slimming programme, before their wedding.

The Fat vs Healthy debate rages on. Every day, through every media, we are besieged by confusing and contradictory messages. Beneath all this, science seems to suggest that that body size is the result of a complex web of factors, including social and economic influences, genetics, food production and availability, urban design, land use, and advertising.

Fatso, or beanpole, beauty, it seems, is in the eyes of the beholder!

–Mamata

 

 

From A to …?

Imagine an alphabet that ended questionably with a Y? rather than a reassuring Z! Well there was actually a time when this familiar tailender was removed from the alphabet!

The English alphabet we know today took its modern 26-letter shape in the 16th century. But the origins of most letters of the English alphabet can be traced back to Egyptian hieroglyph symbols of 4,000 years ago, with a sprinkling of Semitic, Phoenician, Greek and Roman influences thrown in.

As with many letters of the English alphabet, Z also has an interesting history. Three-thousand years ago the Phoenicians used a letter called ‘zayin’, meaning ‘ax.’ It was in the form of a vertical line, with horizontal lines at the top and bottom–like an uppercase ‘I’.

The Greeks adopted it as ‘zeta’ around 800 BC. By this time the vertical line had become slanted, and the top and bottom lines had become elongated. Zeta took on the shape that we know as Z today.

But around 300 BC, the Roman Censor Appius Claudius Caecus felt that this letter was not being used frequently and decided that it had become archaic, and this letter was removed from the alphabet. According to some biographers he simply did not like the sound of the letter, and felt that when it is pronounced by pulling the lips over the teeth, the speaker looked like a smiling corpse!

Two hundred years later, Z was reintroduced to the Latin alphabet. At the time, it was used only in words taken from Greek. Because of its absence and reintroduction, zeta is one of the only two letters to enter the Latin alphabet directly from Greek.

So Z returned to the 26th place, but it was not always the last. For years, the ‘&’ symbol (now known as the ampersand) was the final letter. The symbol was pronounced as “and” but always used together with the Latin ‘per se’ meaning ‘by itself.’ So when rattling off the letters  “X Y Z and per se“ these rolled into being recited as ”X, Y, Z, ampersand.”

Early English did not have a Z, but used S for both the sibilant sounds. Even today the letter is relatively less used in ‘British English’ spellings as compared with ‘American’ English; (it is sometimes an irritant to find all these words underlined by Spellcheck if spelled with an S!)

It is also interesting to browse through the Z letters in tz cartoon.jpghe English dictionary and discover that the majority of the words listed there have their origins in a variety of other languages and cultures. Who would have thought that “ze leetle zee” would have such had such an adventurous history!

I for one enjoy the letter Z. It’s zippy, zappy, full of zest, and helps to create the right buzz!

–Mamata

OK Boomer!

It is the story over generations—the older generation that cannot help lapsing into the “when I was your age…” line, and the younger generation with their hidden smirks and “here they go again” line. This year there are two words that sum up the feelings—OK Boomer!

Who or what are boomers? This is the name that was given to the generation that was born between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s. This was the period marked by a baby boom following World War II. In several parts of the world this generation also enjoyed higher incomes and standards of living as compared to their parents. It was a generation that also had some surplus from their hard earned income to spur a surge in consumerism.

Following the baby boomers was Gen X, the generation that was born in the period between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s. Gen Xers as they were called sometimes called the “latchkey” generation, where both parents either worked, or children of single parents as  more and more women joined the workforce. This generation was perceived by the boomers as being cynical, slackers and drifters.

Then came Gen Y, also called the millennials–a phrase used to generally describe a person who reached adulthood in the early 21st century, and covers the generation of people born between 1980 and 2000.

Now we have Gen Z the generation reaching adulthood in the second decade of the 21st century; in other words those born in the 2000s. A generation also described as iGeneration (iGen), Gen Tech, Gen Wii, Net Gen, Digital Natives, and Plurals.

Today, we often have all the four generations in coexistence and interaction, each with their very distinct histories, experiences and perceptions about life and times. No surprise then that each generation perceives the other very differently, each one articulating the issues of the ‘generation gap’ in their own way. For Gen Z, anyone not in their teens are simply relics from the age of the dinosaurs. For the dinosaurs, the young twenty-somethings are a species apart. The war of opinions and words about the ‘appropriateness’ of attitudes are lifestyles is articulated by the elders in long lectures. But the new Gen needs only two words to sum up their take on this—OK Boomer!  Younger people are calling older people (or anyone who disagrees with their beliefs or are deemed uncool) boomers.

The term “boomer” now represents older people from a different generation that just don’t get it, or anyone who disagrees with their beliefs, or are deemed uncool. A boomer is someone who is intolerant to new ideas and who is ignorant to new ideas.

The term originated as a meme on the social media platform TikTok, and gained popularity throughout 2019. The OK Boomer meme really started out as a fun, light-hearted joke,but soon became viral and was used generally in a humorous and ironic way to describe or dismiss out-of-touch or close-minded opinions associated with the baby boomer generation and older people.

So the next time someone from any Gen preceding Gen Z dares to express concern about the up-and-coming generation as inexperienced or naive, be prepared to have an “OK Boomer” coming at them. And remember that the OK isn’t an endorsement, but just the opposite that means Not OK! Till the next gen takes over!

–Mamata

Harvest Season

This is thanksgiving week in many parts of India. A week of festivals marked with celebration and gratitude for nature’s bounty that feeds and sustains us. With the winter season drawing to a close, it is time to reap the harvest of the long months of labour and prayers. Lohri in north India, Pongal in south India, Makar Sankranti in the west, and Magh Bihu in the northeast of the country celebrate the harvest with joy, festivities, and food.

Interestingly, in many other parts of the world, it is autumn, before the winter sets in, that is the season of harvests.  In America Thanksgiving weekend is marked by families joining hands in gratitude over sumptuous meals; in Japan generations of poets and painters have tried to capture the spirit of the annual cycle of seasons in Haikus and brush strokes. Other parts of the world have their traditional ways of marking the cycle of sowing and reaping. Increasingly, as more of the world’s population moves from direct links with the soil to urban life, we seem to revel more in the food and festivities related to these festivals, often forgetting these very elements of nature—sunlight, air, water and soil–that make all life possible.

This week also marks the start of a new calendar year, and the start of the period when the sun begins its northward journey. A good time to give thanks for what has made all this possible, and a reminder to value and cherish every new morning.

This poem by Mary Oliver captures the sentiment beautifully.

 Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Mary Oliver was an acclaimed and award-winning American poet whose work reflects a deep communion with the natural world in an age of excesses of modern civilization. She died, almost exactly a year ago, on 17 January 2019, at the age of 83.

–Mamata

The Shortest Day

The days grow shorter, and darkness is longer than light. It is winter in the Northern hemisphere, and nearing the time when the year takes its final bow with the Winter Solstice. The date is 21/22 December, the day when the path of the sun in the sky is farthest south in the Northern Hemisphere and the Sun travels the shortest path through the sky marking the twenty four hour period with the fewest daylight hours of the year. That is why it is known as the shortest day or longest night of the year. Though the winter solstice itself lasts only a moment in time, it is also popularly used to refer to the day on which it takes place.

Today, we know that the solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the sun. Because Earth doesn’t orbit upright, but is instead tilted on its axis by 23 1/2 degrees, Earth’s Northern and Southern Hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly. The tilt of the Earth – not our distance from the sun – is what causes winter and summer. At the December solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning most away from the sun for the year.

While 21 December marks the winter solstice for the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere marks the same day in the year as its summer solstice, and sees its longest day and shortest night.

The word Solstice itself is rooted in sol, the Latin word for ‘sun’. The ancients added  stit (meaning ‘standing’) to sol and came up with solstitium. Middle English speakers shortened solstitium to solstice in the 13th century. Translated literally it indicated the ‘standing still of the sun’ which was so perceived because at the solstices, the Sun’s declination appears to “stand still”; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) stops at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction

But centuries before the science was explained, cultures around the world lived and marked time by the movement of the sun and the moon. Time was governed by the patterns of light and darkness, warmth and cold. For the ancient people living in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, the period of the seeming death of light, and harsh conditions of the long winter months which made survival a challenge, the winter solstice was a significant event signalling the start of the change of seasons; and symbolising the transition from the cold and dark to the renewal of light. This regeneration of the source of light and life was marked by rites and celebrations to welcome back the light, and celebrate the rebirth of life.

“So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.”  (Susan Cooper The Shortest Day)

Today this day is marked on calenders, largely without rituals and celebrations, as an astronomical event. But as we roll towards the end of yet anotsolstice.jpgher revolution of the earth around the sun, it may be a good time to use the longest night of the year to reflect on the year that was, and give thanks for the warmth and light that we have begun to take for granted. In the dark and chilling times that we live in (literally and metaphorically) it may be wise to remember the ancient reverence, and celebration, of the renewal of light, hope and faith.

“As never before, our world needs warmth in its cold, metallic heart, warmth to go on and face what has been made of human life, warmth to remain humane and kind.” Henry Beston

–Mamata

Words of Warning

As an environmental educator, one that did not academically have a ‘science’ background, my own ‘learn as you teach’ education included the building up of a glossary of environment-related terms. As environmental educators, our learning needed to be well-grounded; we had to correctly, but creatively communicate the concepts related to the words. In the early 1990s one of these terms was the Hole in the Ozone Layer. We developed an information and activity package to share the causes and consequences of this aberration to Nature’s way of protecting life on earth.

Over the decades that followed, the same exercise was carried out to communicate the issues of global warming, carbon footprint, unsustainability, and other words and concepts that held within them the frightening story of how humankind, in its race for technological and lifestyle progress was carelessly and callously destroying the very foundations of a sustainable life for all living things on earth.

While we struggled as educators to reach out, speci

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https://www.cathywilcox.com.au/

ally to the younger generation with the plea to tread lightly on the earth, the world galloped ahead—consuming more, wasting more, and damaging more, in the race to becoming faster, bigger, and stronger. Nature, overwhelmed, responded with increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters. And scientists introduced, what soon became the ubiquitous  term Climate Change.  This became the blanket word describing the frightening state of the world we live in; the core of international conferences and agreements, and the harbinger of the worse that was still to come. Millions of words were written and spoken on the subject, paying lip service to the concerns about climate change, while actions demonstrated the very opposite.

One way to mark this year that has seen probably the direst impacts of climate change, is the selection of Climate Emergency as the Oxford Word of the Year.  This has been defined as ”a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.”

The annual Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that has attracted a great deal of interest over the past 12 months. Every year, this word is selected from a list as the one that best reflects the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year, and is perceived to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance. Surprisingly this year the shortlist was dominated by words related to the environment including ‘climate action’, ‘climate denial’, ‘eco-anxiety’, ‘extinction’ and ‘flight shame’. But the term Climate Emergency stood out like a flashing danger signal.

Interestingly, last year, climate did not feature in the top words typically used in the context of ‘emergency’ which is generally associated with human health, hospital, and family emergencies. The attachment of the word Emergency with Climate reflects, for the first time, the fact that the health of the environment is being viewed with the same sense of urgency as the health of humans. As the editor-in-chief of The Guardian said: ‘We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue. The phrase “climate change”, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.’

Climate Emergency–Words that warn of impending cataclysm, even as nations and leaders talk and talk at the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference COP 25. Hopefully there will be some words, (and more actions) of wisdom as a fragile world teeters into a new decade.

–Mamata

 

Timekeepers to the Nation

For most of us growing up in India in the 1970s and 80s thIMG_20191202_114741.jpge passage of time was marked by the HMT watch!  One’s first watch, the graduation watch, the watch that one was gifted, or gifted for a wedding—all these came in the form of an HMT watch.

It was the bond that was also marked by a sense of national pride in wearing something of world class quality that was totally indigenously manufactured. The news of the shutdown of the HMT factory in 2016 saddened many faithful users and supporters.

A recent visit to the HMT Heritage Centre and Museum in Bengaluru was like a travel back in time, reviving many memories. Set in the verdant grounds of the HMT Township, and housed in a lovely old two-storied bungalow that was once the residence of the Chairman, the exhibits trace the history of Hindustan Machine Tools Limited (HMT), the country’s first machine manufacturing company, set up by the Indian government in 1953. While HMT is usually synonymous with watches, it was a company manufacturing a number of other products including tractors, bulbs, machine parts, printing units and defence equipment. The museum includes exhibits of the great variety of these products, and traces their history, along with interesting facts and figures. For example it is interesting to note that there was a time when most of the factories in India had at least one HMT machine and every household had at least one HMT product.

The display starts with a pictorial chronology of the history of the company, and how it marked its presence in different parts of India. Then, of course, are the watches—over 2000 of them mounted on wooden blocks which are recycled from benches, windows and doors from the school and employee quarters that HMT once used to run in the vicinity. From the first watch presented to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962 till the 100 millionth watch manufactured and gifted in 2000 to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee—the array boasts several other landmark models—Braille watches, India’s first Day-Date quartz and Ana-Digi watches, watches that were used as fashion accessories, and even the Nurse Watch that nurses who could pin upside down on their uniform for quick viewing. Models named Archana, Sujata, Abhishek, Kanchan, Sona and Lalit became part of millions of families across the country, as did Janata—the common man’s watch. Walking through this section one could nostalgically identify the models that one’s own family members wore.

The next section provides a peep inside the casings to reveal the cogs and wheels that made these time pieces go tick-tock; and the sequence of putting these different parts together. Magnifying glasses and microscopes help to look closely at some of these minute parts. One can only marvel at the meticulous care with these were assembled.

Moving on to the next large and well-lit space we see some of the other machines and printing equipment that was also manufactured by HMT. To get a real feel of walking onto a factory floor, is the time clock which the workers used to punch in their arrival by pushing down a lever. This is operational still, and one can punch and print the time of one’s visit on a card. The display of a variety of machines is impressive indeed. Imagine a company producing everything indigenously, from a part the size of a pin head to giant tractors!

The first-floor documents the range of machine tools manufactured by the company since its inception, along with a world map that indicates their collaborators from across the world. An AV room plays a video that shares HMT’s history, and its different units. The last section explains the origin and development of the HMT tractor, along with its functioning parts. There is also an operational tractor on which one can take a ride!

And while one is still lost in memories of the times that were, one walks out into the fresh air and greenery to a shop that sells some of the remaining pieces of HMT watches. A perfect souvenir of a legacy that we are all proud to be a part of.

–Mamata

https://www.hmtwatches.in/