Conforming to the norm

Today’s post is about something serious- philosophical, maybe. Inspired by the article from the Lancet, it talks about bringing about change. How apt- how coincidental. All my life has been about bringing change and at last someone is writing about it.

When family tells you, what you say is true but one person cannot bring about change,

When society tells you how futile it is to be different,

And how much more easy life is if only one would agree to fall within the normal curve for behavior or thoughts or actions,

Why, oh why, must you be different or be that agent of change when so many others, more powerful than you have thought, acted, fought and given up?

When an academic article is published, it follows a certain structure, and mostly only those studies that have positive results see the light of the day- the ones that show no effect or a negative effect are often thrown into the trash can or the dustbin as we say. Having a structure is good but having a non-structure is also good for it eased the monotony of a scientific article and brings interest into journal reading.

And who says, all reading has to come from articles or journals or research publications? Why not from our good old books? I was so happy to read this, being the book lover that I am- the paper book kind and not the Kindle kind. In science they say, for an item to enter a book it would take at least 10 years, meaning a book is at least 10 years behind scientific discoveries or publications.

Environmental injustice, I read, is the stories of women who have wanted change- who noticed things happening to their children, when rubbish was dumped near where they lived, who demanded clean water, food, safety for their families. It is about people who wanted change and who wanted freedom from injustices.

I come from a Christian college of South India- where Christianity is practiced in name and by and large. But if you would like to see Christianity practiced in the day to day observances of student or staff life, you would be hard pressed to see even a small something that would rekindle your faith in this religion or way of life. When new students are admitted to the college, the senior students take it upon them to “welcome” the newcomers into their fold by the very old tradition of “ragging”. Ragging they say is a way to break the newbies into the medical world which is tough and not for the faint of heart. But what goes on in the name of ragging is far, far away from Christian principles. And for those who dare to be different or who choose not to “rag”, the result is “ostracism”. Speaking out against atrocities committed in Christian colleges against Christian and non-Christian students is a struggle for any student who chooses to do so. Yet, my belief is they must persist, they must speak up, they must talk and somewhere, sometime someone will listen and help them change things.

Thank you for this great reference article, sent out by my professor to our class.

Recycling, Reusing & Reducing( not yet)

Part of my student curriculum is to do a project and my project is on Environmental Justice or I should say- environmental injustice. The story of how I got to this project is uninteresting but it all seems pre- planned. I knew I had to do a project for the Fall Semester and I didn’t know how to go about getting a project. And while I was at home during my 2-week vacation, I got an email asking us students to apply to Climate Change projects if we wished, and I did( not knowing any better) and got it.

Now I know better- about environmental justice I mean. I knew nothing when I started- either that or I am a slow learner or have not been keeping abreast of climate issues while at home- which is totally plausible. A research administrator does not often think of the environment.

A recycled student

Everyone here at the University is up in arms about every climate and environment issue. The bug has bitten me too now. During my team meetings, I used to show up as a dud, knowing nothing but now I do know something. I know about environmental injustice being closely connected to race issues and human rights issues and the protests that took place in North Carolina that spearheaded the current movement.?? And the CalEnvirscreening tool and the Washington State Environmental Justice Screening tool and so much more. I am still learning so I probably have not understood things exactly as they are.

Every time there is an event here, they serve food and graduate students turn up there in droves. And priority is given to those students who bring their own utensils and cutlery- they are served first. The first of these meetings I attended, I got to the food table last- after most of the tasty morsels had disappeared. Graduate students do get hungry and where there is free food, there they are. It is funny to see students with their plastic containers collecting food and eating from them- it is a good move I think and one which everyone should emulate. I haven’t still gotten to carry around my own lunch box but eventually I will- I feel embarrassed to tell the truth. That’s why the title of my post says- reducing( not yet).

The Medical Library where I sit for a long time every day, has a campaign going on about how old timers in the US were pioneers- not just in clearing lands and establishing themselves but also in recycling. There are posters from olden times here that show how Iowans ( did I get that right)- were adept at recycling. Here are a few pictures from those days, that I photographed.

Love the messages and the couple in these pictures. This post is dedicated to my friend – The Chicken Grandma– who has inspired me to write this post- Faye, this post is for you.

A day of apple picking

Saturday, the 21st of September, dawned nice and bright. It was a day for apple picking or so I was told- the leaves would be just turning they said and perhaps a cool breeze blowing.

In the midst of a lot of homework, I ran to the Phelps Gate from where our expedition was scheduled to start. Supposed to start by 9:15, I just about managed to reach the place before time. When you want it there was no shuttle to be seen and so my journey to the Gate was on foot. Clocking valuable steps on the watch, I did my bit.

A few willing drivers with cars were waiting all ready to take us to the Apple orchards.

All set- with apples in the background

I have never seen apple trees up close so this was a first experience for me.

A 30 minute car drive to the orchards and we were there.

A tree with very few applies, perhaps they’d already been picked.
Little Apples ? – No one knew what they were- until I asked if they might be crab apples-

Reading people’s blogs helped me identify these little ones- so like baby apples.

Honey crisp tree- just for the record
My bag of apples
The orchard in the mountains
The ” Apple” store
The crowds at the Apple store

” Fluff Ball” – Come back

Every time I look at the brown cat’s picture above, I am saddened. It is almost a year back, in November in fact, when I returned after a two week trip to find this almost permanent stray ( for 5 years’ at least) disappeared. We called her Fluff Ball. Surprisingly her litter sister, Brown, was still around. To our eyes, she looked lost and like she wanted to tell us something but we couldn’t figure out what it was. Almost a month later, the man who helps us with house cleaning, told us a group of stray cats were rounded up by the driver of a house outside our compound and taken far away from the area and dumped there as they were a nuisance. Fluff Ball was perhaps lost that way. Brown somehow escaped.

I am just back from attending Evensong at the Episcopal Church here. This church has been eluding me for a while now. I was unable to find its location for about a month or more. Finally I managed to find it and attended service there this evening. It is an old church built similar to the Westminister Abbey but on a smaller scale, narrower and smaller. It was great to listen to a service in the Anglican way after a long while. Most of the service was led by the School of Divinity students and interns. Amazing how gluten free bread and non- alcoholic wine were also offered for communion. Dinner was served after service. For graduate students, free food is a great plus to every thing, especially if the menu includes autumn squash soup, plenty of green salad and fresh fruit, not to mention sour dough bread.

The sermon was on the 100 sheep and the one who was lost. The speaker asked for show of hands about who among the congregation would go after the one lost sheep leaving the 99 alone. It was a 50-50 vote. Again surprised- I thought everyone would say they would go after the one lost sheep but no, here again, I was exposed to a new thought process. If we went after the one lost sheep, who would look after the 99? What if they got lost instead? Which was the greater loss- the one or the rest of the herd? Things to ponder on.

After church we had supper and the speaker sat with us at our table. And he explained why he asked the question and why some people answered they would prefer to stay with the 99 and not go after the one lost sheep. There are always two sides to any rhetorical question.

Having nearly lost two rings recently, I could only answer that I would go after the one lost sheep- no one knows except the shepherd how precious that one sheep was. Losing things takes a big toll on the person who loses the items. And so it must be in heaven. If even one is lost, there is great sorrow and the return of even one is celebrated. I wonder if there was anything I could have done about the one lost cat who was lost nearly a year back. Again at supper, there was a nearly blind man, Michael, who said, cats are never lost, they always come back. He talked about when he was a child and lost a cat called Misty. Misty was lost for almost two years, until the day Michael’s family moved to another house. There Misty was at the doorstep, as though asking them if they actually planned to go away without her. Cats are mysterious animals. This story gave me some hope. The sermon speaker, spoke up. He talked about his three childhood cats- Siamese, he said- two males and one female. The female always looked down upon the two males and hated them. She disappeared for about two days at a time regularly. One day, the speaker’s family decided to follow the cat to see where she went. Turns out the cat went to an elderly neighbour’s house through the fire escape and stayed there until she was let out again. The speaker’s family finally went to visit with that old lady and told her very politely to keep the cat if she liked her so much. The old lady said, ” Do you think I would stoop so low as to feed someone else’s cat ?”

The speaker’s family reassured her and said, by chance if the cat came to her house and by chance if she fed it, she could keep it as the cat was not very happy in the Speaker’s house. From that day, that girl cat didn’t come back to the Speaker’s house. She preferred living at the elderly neighbour’s house.

So many cat stories. Stories of loss and stories of hope and restoration. All I can say is “Fluff Ball, if you are alive- come back.”

The Fall Semester

The week after I returned from a very hot country, the temperatures dropped here in the South Eastern part of the US(?).

For a person acclimatized to extremely hot weather, it felt like freezing. My dorm room felt unusually cold, the window frames clattered and the door rattled- combined with my extreme reverse jet lag situation. I have always thought jet lag came to people when they travelled East wards. My body has proved that a reverse jet lag is a reality.

We go through a period of shopping for classes- we can attend different classes and see if we want to pursue those classes further. It is an interesting concept and something I wholeheartedly embraced until I found out that this shopping is not an enjoyable experience. Hopping from college to college in search of classes and trying to get into classes before time especially after having travelled across campus on a rattly old shuttle, it took all my sleep lagged eyes to keep them open even to find the classrooms. On the plus side, in spite of all this hope on hope off , I didn’t lose anything- given my past history, that is a big plus.

There are fewer butterflies now, though there is an odd small white butterfly fluttering around on a rare occasion. The noise from outside the dorm( from the streets) is astounding. How do Americans live with so much noise? The dorm borders a highway and there are noises of motorcycles skidding and driving very fast with police cars in hot pursuit, all accounting for a virtual medley of sounds that are not pleasing to the year. On the plus side, today I am going to take time to smell the roses – that is am going to listen to a soprano, who is enrolled in a course here and seems to be someone to watch out for.

Making a lot of steps per day is another achievement for me- a great change from a sedentary lifestyle from my past desk job. A borrowed laptop from the library is what is helping me with my computer needs- my own laptop has decided to take a break.

I am part of a group that is doing a project on Environmental Justice here- a new concept and project for me. The amount of papers the teachers give us to read before a class is amazing- there is literally no actual teaching and more of self study. So I took a class yesterday on note taking- and as this was in the Divinity School it was an added bonus. Getting to see so many students, much more than in the summer is surprising- I am not sure why I didn’t expect this to happen.

It is easier to call family back home using WhatsApp now that I am here. Food continues to be a problem- it is a change from being a cook to a situation similar to a hunter gatherer. 🙂

The lost rings

About a week into my vacation, I was in my married home at Kottayam. We had a family function and a couple of family events to attend. As the situation at home is precarious and it seems prudent to remove all valuables from our home in case of an unplanned evacuation, I brought a as much of my jewellery home that I could wear on my self. Included in this were three rings bought at different stages of my life in the past 15 years.

Added to my gold wedding band, I was wearing four rings on one ring finger.:)

On Sunday we had the family function after which there were some events that took a lot of our time. The time found me fingering the rings because they had gradually gotten tight over my finger, till I needed to remove at least two of them to give the finger breathing space.

I put them into the outside pocket of my handbag- with the hope of putting the rings on after the swelling of my fingers had reduced. Jet lag took over and I went into the land of Nod. I remember distinctly putting my hands into the handbag pocket and feeling the sharp edges of the rings. Reassured I went back to sleep leaving them there.

The next morning we drove to Kochi. Amidst the pouring rain, I ran my fingers down the pocket of the handbag. To my horror, both the rings were missing- absent- gone.

A 25th wedding anniversary ring is no small deal for people like me. It cost us a pretty penny plus it was a remembrance of hard times and how we came through them.

The other ring was my engagement ring. 27 years back when we set off on this journey, this was the ring that was put on my finger.

Both ” gone with the wind” so to say. I could not say a word to my husband knowing what would ensue- I had to find it on my own. I searched the car and my apartment at Kochi where I had been two days back( unlikely to be there, since I had removed the rings off my finger in Kottayam.

We returned to Kottayam and I kept searching for the lost rings- in the bedrooms, under mattresses, bed sheets, asking people who went in and out of our bedrooms- no one knew anything about it. Added to this were additional issues at home- I reached a stage of ” do not care less” though I wished the rings would come back.

Three days later I was again on the same car, travelling to another place. As a last resort I slipped my fingers through the seat of the car- it was an SUV with bucket seats. Wonder of wonders, I found my engagement ring. Unable to believe my luck, that no one else had found it or taken it, I decided to search the car thoroughly for the solitaire ring. When we could stop the car, the driver helped me remove the bucket seat and lo and behold, the solitaire sat there- alone in all her glory, unaware of the pain she had given her owner.

Both rings back and without a soul knowing about it, I sent a silent prayer to God thanking him for his great mercy.

Home again home again!

After a long 14 hour journey am back home for a short break. It has been a homecoming for me- seeing the airplane of the country’s airline all lined up at Boston was the first sign that home is near. The bus ride to Boston supposedly two hours long, took until 5 pm. The Bolt Bus came half an hour late. The start of the bus was further delayed when a passenger had an argument with the bus driver about the lateness of the bus and took a picture of his ID to report him. In his turn the driver walked inside the bus terminal and got two Amtrack policemen to get the man out the bus. The driver determined not to drive the bus with that passenger on board. Net Result- bus even later than ever.

My flight was at 11 pm so reaching Boston at 5 pm was ok. I had no idea how to reach Logan International Airport but the various boards showed me I must take a Silverline to the airport, which I did after duly purchasing a $2.90 ticket.

A smooth busride, no passengers rude or jittery- everyone was in a holiday mood and an errant suitcase down the aisle arose no comment other than” oh, he is in a big hurry to go places”.

The check in and verifications were over in a matter of minutes, the machine bleeped over me with my hands help up and then it was time for a manual body patting- which test also I passed Seemed like a day for tests- the morning I had completed a 3 hour Biostatistics test which was on a grade of 10 on a test severity scale.

I went to the lounge where I relaxed with food and hot chocolate- my latest favorite drink. Checked in through the Gold Member line and managed the 14 hour journey home without event- no passport or boarding pass lost, no spectacles or purses or bags lost. Seemed like all my wits were about me.

At the airport as usual, my husband and I missed seeing each other- so there was a hour’s delay at airport till I found my husband and we rode home together-HOME- to a tempestuous welcome from Sunshine.