Storytelling 

It’s 8 degrees here in Sierra Nevada and I’m shivering in bed, unable to sleep. Perhaps it’s the cold; perhaps it’s the 4-hour long siesta I had in the afternoon. Either way, my brain is producing words faster than I can comprehend. So write, I shall.

But where do I start?

As I sift through the pictures on my phone to find a good story to narrate, I come across three interesting ones I took in the evening today.

Wondering why they’re interesting?

OK, let’s go back to my school days, especially the geography lessons I was taught. Hidden amongst the whole lot of text, I remember studying about how geography changes from place to place. The biggest notable factor for this is weather. And by just looking around, you can see the tell tale signs of the weather patterns expected in the area around you.

Notice the sloping roofs, the covered garbage can and the thick cone-shaped shrubs.

Can you guess what these point towards?

Here’s how the landscape looks like, if you want some more help:

Answer: Snow!

The sloping roof helps the snow to fall down to the ground and not accumulate much on the roof. The shrubs need to be thick to withstand the cold weather and be cone-shaped to shed snow. And well, the garbage can needs protection too. Else, it would be overflowing with snow and not garbage. Of course, there’s also the danger of the snow water and moisture degrading the garbage. Hence the cover, one that slopes too!

Had it been a rainy area, sloping roofs could have been replaced by efficient plumbing that gathers the water from the rooftop and takes it to the ground. But that can’t be the solution for snow. Hence the slope.

Even the vegetation in the area show all the signs of being in a snowy place.

And it’s amazing that my education enabled me to observe these facets of nature. To the curious, even a meagre education can work wonders.

So all those who crib about the uselessness of the subjects in school, reconsider. Our education, at best, imbibes in us the art of scientific thinking. Yes, I call it an art because science helps me look at how artful nature and life is.

It feels like everything around us is telling its story. Like this worm that ate the small leaf, but left the veins exposed.

Or these trees that announce the change in the sun’s direction of movement—the reds and yellows narrating the story of the change in seasons. 

Of course, it’s not yet autumn in Granada, where these flowers continue to bloom in full rigor. 

Or notice how this harmless snail wants to be left alone, contemplating it’s own existence. It’s shell, thus, a beautiful match with its surroundings. 

And then, you marvel at the beautiful creations around us; at nature’s perfection:

Just like the snail with its perfect Spiral, the goat manages to blend seamlessly in the background. 

I’m lucky. I’ve been blessed with teachers who helped me see that science is nothing but a language that equips you to see the stories being told around you, stories by every living organism or even a supposedly non-living object (like the flysch as below). 

And I’m lucky to appreciate at least some of the myriad stories around us. 

If you only open your eyes, ears, nose, and other senses!

Bonus pictures: This gorgeous sunset in Sierra Nevada, when the drowning sun played hide and seek with the clouds. 

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The physics of modern life: 5 things I learnt last week

  1. There are thinkers and there are doers. Just like you can’t observe both the momentum as well as the position of quantum particles—the focus is too narrow—similarly, you can either think or do.
  2. Drama in itself is fake. But there is a certain kind of drama that we call ‘animation’. An animated body is like an excited atom or electron. The body makes large movements that are otherwise absent in normal life. This drama is true. Fake drama just seems to be Force that aims to move something or achieve something.
  3. Noble elements are stable. They neither give off or accept electrons. Instability causes change. This often leads to growth. A single atom grows into a molecule. There has to be an exodus or influx of new electrons. Similar, we as people need change to grow. Same applies for cities—and by that virtue, a country—needs immigrants to grow. In fact, research suggests that the moment a city’s native population exceeds 55%, it ceases to grow. Immigrants bring along with them the winds of change through new ideas and perspectives.
  4. Our brain breaks down stimuli like we break down chemicals to an atomic level. It stores memories in units. Meaning, a memory of say a lovely evening with friends at 6pm at Mumbai’s latest pub (& other details) is first broken into units and then stored. While recalling a memory, the brain then puts these units together into a sequence and then relays it in a picture/thought/word/emotion format. This could be why we often get certain details, and not whole memories, wrong. You are most likely to miss a few details (or units) of the memory because the brain may have confused similar sequences.
  5. A relationship is akin to the formation of a molecule. You give and take a few electrons to form a bond. Some bonds are very stable, some require minimal catalysts to break. Then there’s the matter of too little or too much space. In the case of limited space, the positive charges in the nuclei repel, pushing the atoms away. In the case of too much space, the attractive forces holding the bond together can weaken, eventually causing the molecule to break.

What do you think?

What’s your Life word? 

It all started when I read a book review. Or rather, it reached a culmination. 

The review talked about this new book called ‘Grief is a Thing with Feathers’ by Max Porter. A description in it set off my musings. Or more specifically, a word did. 

Distill. 

I learnt this word in school in Science class. Distillation, the teacher and textbooks explained, was a process of letting water evaporate so that it leaves behind its impurities. Back then, the impurity in question was Salt. 

Funny how I did not know back then that it would become a dominating theme of my life. My life with Words. Yes, with the capital W. A proper noun. 

The review spoke about how the book “distilled a grieving family’s expression of loss”. Immediately, it painted a picture of a white bowl full of non-abstract grief (gaseous liquid. Something like JK Rowling’s Pensieve). Slowly over time, the bowl gets distilled to leave behind a few words in the bowl (think cereal or Kelloggs). 

It sounds stupid when you describe the imagination, but I realized this: Quite well, the brain does this every waking moment of the day. Of course, it does this in reverse order. The brain takes words, actions and other stimuli, and distills the meaning to leave behind feelings and emotions. 

Think about your favorite song or book or movie—it must evoke some feeling in you, touch some raw nerve. So much that the first thing your brain recollects is the emotion being evoked. Then and only then does the brain put together other information—like a Lego tower slowly being built with detail pieces. 

This also sounds similar to that Masterchef episode I watched a long time back. The three four contestants had to create this intricate dish (as always!), the centrepiece of which was a clear broth. 

It fascinated me to no end. The ability to take in all the flavors of the ingredients and distill it into water, whose quantity was probably just 10% of the quantity of all the raw ingredients put together. Like this:

I find this incredible! 

This reminds me of the part in Eat. Pray. Love. Julia Roberts’ character (I watched  the movie, didn’t read the book) came across this concept in Italy about ‘A Single Word or Phrase’ that describes the person’s life. It essentially ‘distills’ the whole life story. 

As a writer, especially one taught to appreciate and follow Brevity, this caught my attention. Immediately, I started thinking: what would my Word be? 

Many fiction stories too deal with this concept. They call it the ‘True Name’, which can give a person power over that individual. It sounds different, and yet (to me) quite similar too. 

Anyway, I wrecked my mind. I thought and thought and thought. What would my Word or Phrase be? 

The saga continued until two conversations with my colleagues. (Side note : these are people I look up to, who I’ve identified as teachers and mentors). 

The conversations were about Ambition. My whole life, I’ve been conscious about ‘not getting stagnant’. (Not always consciously, though). So it scared me when I was faced with the possibility that between ‘ambition’ and ‘comfortable work-life balance’, I’d choose the latter. The implication was that I wouldn’t grow; that I’d become stagnant. 

Long story short, my colleague made me realise that ambition can be many things. It’s not one-dimensional about being the first in your career or field of work. 

The more interesting part about this conversation, my key takeaway from it was this: I love dance. I love studying. I love food. I love traveling. I love math and science. But the one thing that trumps it all—the live wire of my existence—is writing. It’s Words.  

That moment, I realized, if my perspective were to be reconstructed on a Matrix screen, everything would be built by words. The foundation of the entire world in my head is a combination of Words. 

That was just the first step of my self-realisation. The last leg of the journey happened yesterday. 

I was retelling my travel experience in Turkey. At the end, moved by my description, my colleague commented: “What are you doing with your life?! You should be in Travel. You should be a Travel writer. You have a way of painting pictures with your words.”

Initially, I felt flattered and genuinely considered the possibility. 

Later, though, I realized that I can do the same, that I light up and become animated about other subjects too. Things that I love or that which fascinate me. 
No, the thing drawing the connections is different. 

That’s when my brain finally connected the dots. 

If I had to distill myself, ‘Words’ would be my choice of description. 

Yep. I search for Words everywhere. I breathe Words. I write and speak Words. More importantly, I attach Words to abstract things in life. Body language, experiences, meaning, emotions—anything and everything. 

My favorite pass-time is to take synonyms; play and feel the texture of the Words; dissect them, and find the difference between the Words. 

Words even leave a taste and feel in my mouth, as if they are a morsel of food I’m tasting. They’re that real for me. 

I’m pretty sure that when I die,  you’d see invisible words evaporating from my body and soul. Much like the Kingfisher bird in the movie, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’. 

What about you?