Moon Tiger

“On the bedside is a Moon Tiger. The Moon Tiger is a green coil IMG_20181211_082936 (1).jpgthat burns slowly all night, repelling mosquitoes, dropping away into lengths of green ash, its glowing red eye a companion of the hot insect-rasping darkness. She lies there thinking of nothing, simply being, her whole body content. Another inch of Moon Tiger feathers down into the saucer.”

When I read these words my eyes fell on the Good Knight coil by my bedside…and I looked at it with completely new eyes.  Imagine, this taken-for-granted necessity being described so eloquently. Even more interesting was the fact that this description refers to the period of the first World War II in Egypt when mosquito repellent coils were widely used and sold under the name of Moon Tiger. So much for my thinking that Good Knight was a very desi product of our times!

The revelation came as I was recently reading a book by the same name. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively was published in 1987 and won the Booker Prize that year.

Moon Tiger is the tale told by Claudia Hampton, a beautiful, once-famous writer of history books, who lies dying in hospital. As she lies there she is conjuring in her mind ‘a history of the world … and in the process, my own’. Gradually she re-creates the rich mosaic of her life and times peopled with those near and dear to her. In doing so she confronts her own, personal history, unearthing the passions and pains that have defined her life.

The most poignant of these is her memories of her time in Egypt as a war correspondent and her brief affair with her one great love, both found and lost in wartime Egypt. The description of the Moon Tiger that burns all night, slowly dropping its coil into ash, forms both the central image of the story and its structure.

Penelope Lively, an acclaimed novelist and children’s writer was herself born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1933 and brought up there. In this novel she weaves an exquisite mesh of memories, flashbacks and shifting voices, in a haunting story of loss and desire. Moon Tiger is also about the ways in which we are connected to people, places, and history.

I have always enjoyed reading Penelope Lively, but this book soars above them all in terms of the language, the flow and the sensitive journey through the landscape of the mind.  The title itself is ‘a metaphor for the persistence of some experiences and the burning present-ness of some memories’.

Coincidentally I discovered this book this year—2018—the same year that the Golden Man Booker list, which chose one book for each of the five decades that the Booker Prize has been running, announced that Moon Tiger was the chosen book for the decade of the 1980s.

–Mamata

Warp and Weft

I love textiles. Over the years I have enjoyed wearing, and finding out about fabrics, designs, and unique characteristics of these. Living in a country with its incredible and rich variety of textiles means that the journey of exploring and discovering never ends.

The journey has been further enriched in the past few years when I have had the opportunity to learn about the textile traditions of the Northeast of India. Weaving is such an integral and important part of every tribe here; each part of their life and culture is closely interwoven with the fabrics they weave. Traditionally every girl learnt how to weave as naturally as she learned to walk and talk and carry out the daily life functions. No house would be without a loom, and the women wove all the garments for the family. The threads were not just the intermeshing of warp and weft, but carried in them a wonderful repertoire of narratives.

The folklore of every tribe has a wealth of tales around weaving. A tale from one of the tribes in Assam relates this to the web-spinning spider.

Once upon a time, there was a competition between the women from heaven and the women from earth. The women from earth were very

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confident of their weaving skills, and accepted the challenge. When both the teams were ready, the women from heaven came down to the earth and the competition began. With their great wonderful skills, the women from earth won the contest. After weaving the fabric of required length, the Earth women began to fill bobbins by moving the spinning wheel and clearing the knots in between. The women from heaven could not accept their loss and cursed the ladies of the earth, “From now your life shall always be tangled between yarns and forever you shall be busy spinning them for yourself.” It is believed that as a result of this curse the ladies were transformed into spiders that keep weaving cobwebs around themselves.

Many of these tales are still passed on through the oral tradition, but there is an urgent need to document and share these before they are lost with the tradition of loom weaving itself. A recent book has done just this. Banyan Tree’s new book The World of the Weaver –Five Stories and a Prayer compiles some of the stories from different parts of the country. As the jacket says they are ‘Tales of imagination woven around the weaver’s looms. Though they are fables, the stories highlight the value of hand weaving in a harmonious society.’

The beautifully illustrated book is available in Hindi, English and Telugu. For more contact banyantreebookstore@gmail.com>

–Mamata

Toxic

The word of the year is Toxic! Crowned by the Oxford Dictionary this word was selected as the one “judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”

The claim to fame was gained by the word not only on the basis of the number of times it was searched, but more for the sheer variety of contexts in which it is being used today.  “Toxic” has been used to describe workplaces, schools, relationships, cultures, and most recently has become a keyword in the #MeToo movement.

My own association with the word dates back over 30 years when I started as an Environmental Educator. We used the word mainly in the context of something that poisoned the natural environment—air, water, flora and fauna. This was based on its dictionary definition as meaning ‘poisonous’, with its roots derived from the medieval Latin term toxicus, meaning poisoned or imbued with poison. Environmental Educators worldwide tried to create awareness about what makes things toxic and how this affects the environment—through ‘gloom and doom’ scenarios, through motivation and action, and even through humour!

An interesting example of the last one was a limerick competition run by the English newspaper The Observer in association with the Friends of the Earth inviting limericks that reflected the (then) toxic state of the environment. The competition was open to all, from ages 5 years and up!

Although this was almost 30 years ago, on revisiting these limericks, I felt that they are as relevant today (if not more, than ever before!) Here is a taste…

Said the seal to the salmon and otters,

Did God really design us as blotters,

To mop up the oil

From the sea and the soil

Spewed out by those corporate rotters?

 

When politicians say they are green

One wonders what they really mean,

For all their hot air

Only rises to share

In the Greenhouse Effect it would seem!

 

An ostrich from a tropical land

Once buried his head in the sand.

The move was a riot,

They all had to try it—

Evading the issue was grand!

Fast forward to 2018. Has anything changed? At least not for the better, alas! The word has simply exploded in scope and toxicity. As Oxford University Press’s president of dictionaries, said: “Reviewing this year in language, we repeatedly encountered the word ‘toxic’ being used to describe an increasing set of conditions that we’re all facing. Qualifying everything from the entrenched patriarchy to the constant blare of polarising political rhetoric, ‘toxic’ seems to reflect a growing sense of how extreme, and at times radioactive, we feel aspects of modern life have become.”

To sum up, cannot resist this one…

A girl with a problem was faced

Rushed off to her doctor in haste.

He said with a laugh

As she broke into half,

‘My dear, you’ve got toxic waist!’

–Mamata

 

Food Spy

It is said that America is a country of immigrants. Over the centuries people from all continents made their way to the ‘promised land’ and made it their home. Interestingly, a lot of the food that is today so much a part of the American diet, is also part of another immigration story. Quinoa, kale, avocado, nectarines, soya beans; even pineapples, oranges and lemons—just about 150 years ago, these were unseen and unheard of in America. Many of these were introduced to the country by a single man, David Fairchild, who called himself an agricultural explorer.

David Fairchild grew up in Kansas at the end of the 19th century, a time when the diet of his countrymen was made up primarily of bland meat, potatoes and cheese, and excluded vegetables and fruit. Fairchild was no gourmet himself, but he loved plants, and he loved travel, and he found a way to combine both into a job for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the age of 22, he created the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the USDA, and for the next 37 years, he travelled the world, visiting every continent except Antarctica, in search of useful plants to bring back to America. When he started out in his new job, with little knowledge or knowhow, he began by stealing seeds, but over time he learnt other strategies like talking to the local people, visiting local markets and observing what people were growing and eating. This also earned him the sobriquet of Food Spy!

With a combination of strategies, and often at the risk of his own life, Fairchild managed to send back seeds or cuttings of over 200,000 kinds of fruits, vegetable and grains. His department, the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction, researched these and distributed new crops to farmers around the states.

It was not an easy process, introducing new food crops. Farmers did not like to take risks, the general public was suspicious of new foods and fearful that the overseas immigrants would bring in tropical disease and insects. Even today there is a Quarantine Law which forbids anyone from bringing in agricultural material into the US. Uphill task though it was, Fairchild did succeed to a large extent, and managed to introduce mangoes, quinoa, dates, cotton, soybeans, bamboo, and even the flowering Japanese cherry trees that blossom all over Washington D.C. each spring.

In 1904 Fairchild was invited to speak at the National Geographic Society where he met the famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell who was the Society’s second president; years later Fairchild married Bell’s daughter.

Last week the National Geographic Society hosted a curated dinner where the menu featured some of the many foods—avocados, dates, and other that David Fairchild brought to the United States more than 100 years ago, thus changing the country’s culinary palate.

The story of this amazing food traveller is told in a book by Daniel Stone titled The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats.

 —Mamata

 

Hiss Gets Knotty

How Hiss hated his name! Every second snake in his class was called Hiss. Surely, his parents could have been in a little more imaginative!

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Now the only thing he could do was to get himself a prefix or suffix to his name. Like his cousin Happy Hiss, who got that name because he was always laughing and joking. Or his friend Speedy Hiss, who got that name because he was the fastest slitherer around! He was very envious of his senior Astro Hiss, who got his name because he knew the names of all the stars and constellations in the sky, and was forever looking through his telescope. And of course of the school captain Hero Hiss, who got his name because he was a whiz at all games and helped the school win every match and tournament.

But our Hiss didn’t have any special characteristics. He was just a normal little snake.

Secretly, Hiss’ ambition was to be called Naughty Hiss. It sounded such fun. But Hiss wasn’t naughty at all. He didn’t sneak into people’s houses just to scare them, like some of his friends. He didn’t hang upside down from trees by his tail as some of his cousins did, just to irritate their mothers. He didn’t participate in ‘curls’ where about 15-20 of his friends would curl themselves into a ball and roll pell-mell down slopes, giving old ladies the hysterics.  He didn’t like to do such things. He was really a very well-behaved and nice snake!

But still in his heart he longed to be called Naughty Hiss!

So he thought and he thought and he thought.

And one day, during his Scout class, when the teacher was teaching them to tie themselves up into knots, an idea struck him!

Why not be called Knotty Hiss? That sounded just like Naughty Hiss!

If he practiced and practiced his knots, he could be the best knotter around, and then he would be called Knotty Hiss!

So he secretly practiced and practiced tying himself up in to different kinds of knots, not just the ones his Scout Master taught him

He practiced his Reef Knot

And the Sheepshank

The Bowline

And the Timberhitch

And of course his favourite Constrictor Knot…after all, he was one!

And when he had practiced and practiced for many a day and many a night….

He was the best!

No one could tie themselves up into knots as quickly as our Hiss could.

And that is how Hiss got Knotty, for everyone started calling him Knotty Hiss.

He couldn’t have been more pleased!!!!

–Meena

Nom de Plume

My library has recently acquired the complete set of Agatha Christie novels in attractive new editions. They take up two long shelves and I was immediately drawn to them. As with most of my generation, Agatha Christie was a must read. We were intrigued and impressed by the eccentricities and grey cells of Hercule Poirot and the genteel but no-nonsense sharp mind of Miss Jane Marple.

Agatha Christie, the Queen of murder mysteries, outsold, it is said, only by the Bible and Shakespeare! The best-selling novelist of all time with her 66 detective novels and the world’s longest-running play The Mousetrap.

While I was browsing the shelves, I also saw books by the name Mary Westmacott alongside. And it is these that I decided to explore. These are the books that Agatha Christie wrote under the pen name or pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Why a pen name? Explaining this in a piece written for her centenary celebrations in 1990, Christie’s daughter wrote “As early as 1930, my mother wrote her first novel using the name Mary Westmacott. These novels, six in all, were a complete departure from the usual sphere of Agatha Christie Queen of Crime.” The novels explored human psychology and emotions and relationships that intrigued her, in a genre that was totally different from her murder mysteries, and writing under a different name freed her from the expectations of her mystery fans.

How did she choose the name? It seems that Mary was Agatha’s second name and Westmacott the name of some distant relatives. She succeeded in keeping her identity as Mary Westmacott unknown for nearly twenty years and the books, much to her pleasure, were modestly successful.

I have so far read two of her six Westmacott novels and am enjoying the language, style and substance greatly. They so sensitively capture what seem to be very contemporary intricacies of human psyches and complexities of relationships, even though they were written in the period of 1930s and 1940s. One of these, Absent in the Spring, was published in 1944. About this book Agatha/Mary wrote: “I wrote that book in three days flat…I went straight through…I don’t think I have ever been so tired…I didn’t want to change a word and although I don’t know myself of course what it is really like, it was written as I meant to write it, and that is the proudest joy and author can have.”

Using a nom de plume has been common throughout the history of literature. Authors have adopted pseudonyms for different reasons. Some to make their voice heard under authoritarian regimes; some to break the mould of what their readers expect from them, and, in some cases, women have used masculine noms de plume during times when men had an easier time getting published. While the phrase nom de plume means “pen name” in French, it doesn’t come from French speakers, but was coined in English, using French words.

An antithesis of Agatha Christie is JK Rowling, who after her huge success as the creator of Harry Potter, moved from Muggles and Magic, to murder and detective Cormoran, under the name Robert Galbraith. Her intention in taking on the nom de plume was for her crime fiction books to be judged on their own merit.

As for me, Christie or Rowling, by any other name, are favourite reads all the same!

–Mamata

 

My Gandhi Year

One of the first assignments that marked my transition from Environmental Educator to Editor-at-Large as it were, was to work on redoing an exhibition gallery at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. The Gallery aptly called My Life is My Message was a chronological walk-through of Gandhiji’s life. I had, long ago read Gandhi’s Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth. As a student of political science, I had also studied Gandhi’s role in making an independent India. Now I was excited to be a part of this project because I felt it would give me a better understanding of the entire life and thought of Mahatma Gandhi.

And it was indeed a year when I discovered the many many facets of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi!

These facets were revealed in Gandhi’s own words through the incredible collection of over 34,000 letters, articles and speeches, which have been complied in 100 volumes titled Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG). They have also been published in Hindi as Sampurna Gandhi Vanghmay and Gujarati as Gandhijino Akshardeh.

As fascinating as the contents, is the process that culminated in the volumes.

The mammoth project on translating and compiling all of Gandhi’s writings and speeches covering the period from 1884-1948, and almost 60 years of very active public life, in South Africa, England and India, was launched in 1956 by the Government of India under the supervision of a one-time advisory board formed of Gandhi’s closest associates. Most of the works were collected between 1960 and 1994 under the chief editor the late K. Swaminathan—who started the project when he himself was 64 years old. He continued on the project till he lost his eyesight when he was in his early 90s. The English CWMG project closed in 1994 with the publication of the 100th volume.

Gandhi wrote and spoke in three languages—English, Gujarati and Hindi. So the project involved not just collecting but also translating from the original to the other two languages. The compilation was to be published in all three languages. For each individual version there was a 25-35 member team including proof readers, translators and editors carefully handpicked for their knowledge of world literature, world religions and world history besides their professional expertise. They took around 40 years to translate the collected material.

The arrangement of materials is chronological with all items of a particular date, whether article, speech or letter being placed together. This gives the reader a picture of how Gandhi functioned and how he dealt with issues as they came up—dealing on the same day with matters of great public importance as well as concerning himself with intimate personal problems of individuals.

It is also astounding to find what a prolific writer Gandhi was, and how much writing he could manage in a tightly-packed day. For a great period of his life he did not take the assistance of any stenographer or typist and used to write in his own hand. When he was physically unable to write with his right hand he trained himself to write also with his left hand.

The 100 volumes of the English edition run into more than 50,000 pages; and CWMG has long been recognised as one of the finest examples of editorial and translation work undertaken anywhere in the world.

I had the incredible experience of working with the tireless and dedicated team in the Archives at Sabarmati Ashram, to track what Gandhi did, said and wrote day after day, through the original editions of the CWMG. To flip through the fragile yellowing pages and to read about the amazing variety of topics that Gandhi could think over, and write about, on any single day was uplifting and at the same time humbling. (We who feel so smug at turning out a 500 word piece in a day!).

It was the year I discovered Gandhi—a friend to children and the challenger to the Raj; the gentle nurse and the Satyagraha planner; the nature cure experimenter and the shrewd negotiator….and so much more.

Today this awe-inspiring treasure is available at the touch of a button through the Gandhi Heritage Portal—a digital platform that hosts the all the works of Gandhi, writings on Gandhi by other authors including books, tributes, journals and other media such as videos, photos, among others in 28 different languages from across the globe.

This in itself is a project that is as big in scale as the original compilation. Take a look at the world’s largest digital repository on Mahatma Gandhi www.gandhiheritageportal.org

–Mamata

Bapu

While Gandhiji was the Father of the nation to millions, he was simply Bapu to the many children to whom he was friend, philosopher and guide. Many of these were the children of inmates of the Ashrams that Gandhji lived and worked from. Bapu always had time for the children—they would accompany him on his daily tasks, and he in turn would take them to task! Nothing was too trivial or beneath notice. Even when he was away from the Ashram, Bapu would include letters to the children, individual as well as collective, as part of his voluminous daily correspondence. No letter went unanswered, and every lack of response from a child was duly noted!

Here are just a few of the hundreds of letters that he wrote while he was detained in Yeravda jail in Pune in 1932, which reveal another side of Bapu as he fondly scolds, cajoles and motivates.

Dear Boys and Girls,

…Most of you cannot think what to write in a letter. …You should overcome this weakness. So many things happen every day around you that, if you properly observe them, you would be able to write enough to fill pages.  Why then should you be unable to think of anything to write about when you sit down to write to me? One can write all that one did or saw and thought during a day. You can say in the letter why you felt happy or unhappy on that day as the case may be. You may also say what good or bad thoughts came to you on that day.  It is possible that you are not sure whether you can write about these things in a letter. If so let me tell you that you need have no such doubts. You can write just as you would talk to me.      Blessings from Bapu.

[Letter to Ashram Boys and Girls      February 13, 1932]

 

Dear Boys and Girls,

All or most of you write to me on sheets taken out from exercise books. That is not right. It means waste of paper and slovenliness. You should use writing paper. …Those of you who feel sleepy during prayers should stand up without feeling shy. Even if you do a few pranayamas sitting down the sleepiness will go. One cannot sleep while doing pranayama. …A child may learn to read and write and still remain mentally dull. If you do not understand this fully ask me to explain again. Use your intelligence in doing everything you are asked to do. Even cleaning a lavatory requires intelligence. If you do not know how ask me.  Bapu

[Letter to Ashram Boys and Girls   June 24, 1932]

 

Chi Manu,
I got your letter. Your handwriting is improving now. For increasing your weight you should do exercise in open air and include sufficient milk and ghee in your diet. How much milk do you get? If I can say everything I wish to in a short letter why should I write a long one?     Bapu

[Letter to Mahendra V Desai   June 24 1932]

 

Dear Boys and Girls

…It seems that you have not still understood one special feature of the Ashram. It is that farm work, carpentry etc. are part of your education, and develop your intellect and some of the bodily senses.  If these crafts are taught as part of your education they would do more good, as I have already explained in one of my previous letters to the Ashram than a purely literal education does.  If you have forgotten what I said in that letter or cannot find that letter, let me know and I will write to you again about it, for the point deserves to be understood by all. Do not think that I say this because I wish to run down book learning. I fully understand its value. You will not come across many men who put such knowledge to better use than I do.  My purpose in saying this is to put training in crafts on the same footing as education in letters. …If you understand this fully, all of you will be ready to take out the cattle for grazing.  Bapu

[Letter to Ashram Boys and Girls   December 17, 1932]

[Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi]

On a more personal note. On reading these letters I discovered that I myself had met some of of Bapu’s children, (as friends and relatives of my parents) when I was much younger, and they were much older. They have since, joined their Bapu, but it gives me a frisson of excitement to feel a tiny link to Bapu today!

–Mamata

The Race to be Wise: A Ganesha Tale

With Ganesh Chaturthi wishes!

‘Narada is here, Narada is here’, called Murugan to his elder brother Ganesha.5F27BFBF-2569-4CCB-9260-42B589B98DF0Narada’s visits were always exciting.  He travelled all over the three worlds and he had a nose for gossip and scandal.  He picked up news from here and there, and made sure people at the next stop got to know it.  He spoke so wittily, and sang and joked…there was never a dull moment when he was around.  And he brought such interesting gifts too!

Ganesha and six-headed Murugan rushed over to the main reception hall, where their parents Shiva and Parvati were receiving Narada.  The first greetings and exchanges were already over when the two boys arrived, and they could do their share of talking and asking and answering.

When the excitement and the decibel level had come down a little, Murugan the impulsive one asked Narada: ‘Narada, have you got anything for us?  Any new toy? Any wondrous weapon?  An interesting book?  A playful pet?’

‘Oh! I had almost forgotten!’ said the mischievous Narada, who had probably been waiting to be asked.  ‘Of course, I have something for you!  Something rare and precious, one of its kind’.

‘What, What?  Tell me quickly.  Is it for me or for everyone?  Must I share it with Brother?  Tell me!’ implored Murugan.

‘Well, I don’t know whom it is for.  There is but one piece.  I shall give it to your parents and they must decide as they think fit’, said Narada, looking forward to the trouble this was going to lead to.  He handed over a luscious, rich yellow-orange mango to Parvati.  The fruit was obviously no ordinary mango–it shone with the lustre of gold and smelt divine.

A mango?  Is it a very sweet one? Asked Ganesha, a little confused.

‘Not only the sweetest, tastiest and most flavoursome mango in the world, it is also the fruit of wisdom.  He who eats it will be the wisest among gods and humans,’ said Narada.  ‘It is indeed a special fruit, for there is no other like it in the world.  So I thought, who else to give it to but Shiva and Parvati?’

Murugan got down to business.  ‘Ma, I think you should give me the fruit, I am the youngest and so I must get it, if there is only one.  Anyway, you always give Ganesha everything.

‘That is not true Kartikeya’ said Shiva.  ‘You get an equal share of everything–often more, for you throw such tantrums.’

‘I do NOT throw tantrums’, said Murugan, promptly losing his temper.  ‘Ma always favours Ganesha.  She is always making modaks and laddus for him.  For me, nothing.  And you also.. you always praise him for being intelligent and for knowing the scriptures.’

‘Enough Subramania.  You know both of you are equally dear to me–my two eyes.  Vinayaka is the older, so he gets more of some things.  But you are the younger, so you get the preference in certain other things.  That is how it has to be ‘, said Parvati.  ‘But in this case, I am not sure who should get the fruit.  You are both brave boys, intent on doing good in the world, proud and intelligent.  The wisdom this fruit will give you, I know both of you will put to good use.  What shall we do?  Let your father and I have a talk so we can decide.’

Shiva and Parvati conferred while everyone waited, impatient but silent. Murugan paced up and down, while Ganesha sat quietly by, playing with his pet, vehicle and companion, the shrew.

At last Shiva spoke: ‘We have decided to set a test for the two brothers, to see who deserves the sweet fruit of wisdom.  Both brothers shall set out immediately, and he who circles the world three times and comes back here first, shall get the fruit.  Is that agreeable with you, Kartikeya, Ganesha?

Murugan was quite happy.  He knew he was much faster and more skilled at physical activities than his brother.  The test was set up so that he could win! ‘ Its fine by me.  How can I have a problem when my parents have decided?’ he said.

Ganesha smiled his slow smile.  ‘I agree‘ he said. ‘My wise mother and father have decided it is to be so.  I know that it must be the right way.’

Murugan went into a flurry of preparations.  He called his trusted peacock who flew faster than the winds.  He sharpened his spear and unfurled his flag.  Ganesha stood quietly, a thoughtful look on his face.

’Come Brother, get on with your preparations.  Nothing ventured, nothing won,’ called out Subramania, just a little mockingly.

‘I will see you off, little brother, before I leave on my journey.  A minute here or there will not make a difference to me,’ said Ganesha calmly.

‘Yes, that is true.  Well, I am off now.’  Kartikeya mounted his peacock, and in a flurry of flapping wings, he was off.

Hours later, weary and sweaty, dusty and damp, but sure that he had won the competition, he approached Mount Kailash.  He could see the crowd of people gathered there, looking up at him.  He could see his mother and father, Narada, all the minor gods, courtiers. But what was this?  Sitting at his parents’ feet … could it be Ganesha?

There was no way he could have come back ahead of him! His peacock had flown faster than ever before.  The winds had aided him.  He had used all his skills to steer the easiest path.  No, it just was not possible that Ganesha could have been faster than him.  Then what was it? Had he not gone at all, knowing that he would not be able to beat his younger brother?  No, that could surely not be true.. his brother would not give up without even trying.  Confused, Kartikeya landed back.

‘Welcome, my son.  We are glad to see you back safely,’ said his father as he rose to greet him. ‘And you have really been fast.’

Shiva turned to the waiting people.  ‘Now the time comes to declare the winner,’ he said.

Subramania was still confused.  What was going on?  Ganesha looked so calm and tranquil, he could make out nothing from his face.

‘I congratulate both of you, my sons.  Subramania has performed a wondrous physical feat.  He has gone around the world three times, faster than any God, human or demon has ever till date.  He is indeed incomparable.  I wish I could give him the fruit, but I cannot.’

‘Why,  why? You said I was the fastest,’ said Murugan, turning in confusion to his father.

‘Because my son, your brother went around the world much faster.  No, not the globe, not the physical world,’ explained Shiva.  ‘He went around us, his parents, three times, and it took him but a moment.’

‘I don’t understand.  What is this all about?’  Subramania was vexed and perplexed.  Was it some kind of a joke?

‘I will explain, little brother, why I did that.  For dutiful children, their parents are the world.  Moreover, with parents like ours, the mighty Shiva and Parvati, they are the greatest of Gods, they are indeed the world.  They are the repositories of all knowledge, all wisdom, all power.  What need is there to go any further?  If I go around them, I have gone around the world.’ said Ganesha.

The crowds cheered.  For indeed, was there a world without Shiva and Parvati?  Was there a world beside Shiva and Parvati?  Ganesha was indeed wise and deserved the fruit of wisdom.  Even Subramania was convinced. He could win any race against his brother, but when it came to racing minds, it was another matter!

And so Ganesha became the wisest of the Gods.

–Meena

From ‘Elephantasy’. Centre for Environment Education.

In a Word

When we were in school we were told that the Eskimos have a hundred or more words for Snow and forest-dwelling indigenous people have a multitude of words for Green. In recent years this information has been debunked by many linguists. While the numbers are not that important, to my mind this example is still meaningful as it draws attention to the fact that every culture and language has its own vocabulary to describe the nuances of a phenomenon or event or feeling.

In the past few years I have come across some really evocative words which I love to share.

Tsundoku A Japanese word which refers to the habit of accumulating books with the intention of reading them by and by, as opposed to obsessively collecting books just for the sake of having them. This word apparently has been used for over a century, and a person with a large collection of unread books was called a tsundoku sensei. This is something I have always done, and I was so happy to find a respectable name for the same!

Komorebi Another Japanese word for the delicate interplay of light and leaves when sunlight filters through the foliage of trees. How often we have been touched by this delicate and fleeting moment. Artists and photographers have tried to capture this, but this single word perfectly paints the picture.

Shinrin-yoku If you want to prolong the moment and immerse yourself in the experience—the Japanese have a word for that too. This word means ‘forest bathing’, a practice that includes mindfully experiencing the beauty of the komorebi while breathing the cool fresh air and hearing the leaves rustle in the gentle breeze.

Waldeinsamkeit If you were German and enjoying Shirin-yoku, a feeling of solitude, and a connectedness to nature, this is the perfect word to describe how you feel!

Mångata If you lingered long enough for the sunlight to be replaced by moonlight, this is what you would also see. A Swedish word for the glimmering, road-like reflection that the moon creates on water. Another luminescent word that paints a perfect picture.

Hygge Back home after a rejuvenating walk in the woods, what could be better that to curl up with a book from your tsundoku and get lost in the wonderful world of words! The Swedish have the perfect word for just such cosy comfort and contentment!

If only, we may say, our life could be a series of shinrin-yoku and hygge! The Japanese say that there is no reason why it cannot be. After all, is it not a lot about how you approach life? It is all about having a sense of purpose and meaning and a feeling of wellbeing–essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’, and to see the sunlight rather the clouds. They call it Ikigai.

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According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. We just have to find our own.

–Mamata