Thursday, June 11, 2009

The nighttime people

Maybe it was the fact that Anna and I had met at night that made the nighttime so magic for us. Perhaps it was because the nighttime could be, and so often was, so surprising. The multitudes of sights and sounds of the daytime got down to manageable size at night. Things and sounds became separate at night; they didn't get muddled up with everything else; and things happened in the dark that couldn't possibly happen in the daylight. It's not impossible to have a conversation with a lamppost at night; do the same thing in the daylight and they would take you off in a padded van.

"The sun is nice," said Anna, "but it lights things up so much that you can't see very far."

I agreed that sometimes the sun was so dazzling that on occasions one was quite blinded. That wasn't what she meant.

"Your soul don't go very far in the daylight 'cos it stops where you can see."

"That supposed to make sense?" I asked.

"The nighttime is better. It stretches your soul right out to the stars. And that," she pronounced, "is a very long way. In the nighttime you don't have to stop going out. It's like your ears. In the daytime it's so noisy you can't hear. In the nighttime you can. The nighttime stretches you."

I wasn't going to argue with that one. The nighttime was the time for stretching, and we often stretched ourselves.

Mum never batted an eyelid over our nighttime rambles. Mum knew that stretching was important, and Mum had been a past master at the art of stretching. Given half a chance she'd have been with us. "Have a nice time," she'd say, "and don't get too lost." She didn't mean in the streets of London Town, she meant up among the stars. You didn't have to explain to Mum about getting lost among the stars. Mum reckoned that getting lost and finding your way were just different sides of the same coin. You couldn't have the one without the other.

Mum was something of a genius, certainly she was a mum in a million. "Why don't you go out," she used to say, "it's raining hard," or, "it's blowing a gale." Whatever mischief the weather was up to, Mum suggested that we go out, just for fun, just to see what it was all about. Outside in the streets windows were being flung open and other mums would be yelling for their various Freds and Berts, Bettys and Sadies to "come in outa that rain! You'll be soaked to the skin." Come storm or tempest, rain or snow, daytime or nighttime, we'd always be encouraged to go out and try it. Mum never protected us from God's works, as she called them. Mum protected us, for a while, from ourselves. She'd light up the big copper so that there was a good supply of hot water when we got home. She did it for years, until she figured we'd got enough sense to do it for ourselves; then she stopped.

Staying out all night was, for Mum, something not to be missed.

Most nighttime people were pretty wonderful people. Most nighttime people liked to talk. Those who thought we were mad or just plain stupid were in the minority. True, there were those who didn't hesitate to tell me exactly what they thought of me. "Fancy taking a child out at a time like this; you must be stark raving mad." "You ought to be home and in bed, you wouldn't get up to any mischief there." The assumption on the part of these people was that the nighttime was for mischief, for foul deeds, for getting up to no good. All God-fearing people went to their beds at night. The night was for the "nasties," for "beasties that go bump in the night," and for Old Nick. Perhaps we were lucky; all the times that we roamed the streets at night we never bumped into a nasty or a beasty, or even Old Nick, only nice people. At first we tried to explain that we wanted to be out, that we liked it, but this only confirmed some people in their suspicion that we were mad, so we gave up any attempt at an explanation and simply went out.

Parting from a little group of nighttime people on one of our walks, Anna remarked, "It's funny, Fynn, ain't it? All the nighttime people have got names."

It was true too. You'd bump into a group of nighttime people round a fire and before you could say "How's your father?" you'd be introduced all round. "That's Lil, she's a bit funny in the 'ead, but she's all right." "That's Old Flintlighter." His real name was Robert Somebody-or-other but everybody called him "Old Flintlighter."

Perhaps it was because the nighttime people had more time to talk to each other, or perhaps they were not overinvolved in "making it good." Whatever the reason, the nighttime people talked and talked and shared and shared.

From Mister God, This is Anna by Fynn. New York: Ballantine Books, 1974. Pages 145-147

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Cherish the aspiration

What we truly and earnestly aspire to be, that in some sense we are. The mere aspiration, by changing the frame of the mind, for the moment realizes itself.

Anna Brownell Jameson

PS: I received this in a mail from

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's love that is cooking

Since the food we prepare, touching it with our hands and our feelings, will go inside the bodies of our friends and loved ones, we should be aware that we are involved in a very delicate, subtle, yet powerful alchemical process. Cooking is not a secondary activity, something you do with one hand (while the other holds a cigarette), nor something you do with one eye (while the other is watching television). No. Cooking has to be recognized for what it is: a noble, loving, caring, alchemical activity, which can determine our physical, psychological and emotional health. Once you become aware of this, your attitude is bound to change. You realize how deeply you can heal (or poison) someone with your daily cooking. You see to the well-being of the people you are feeding, and accept that existence is all about nourishing the ones you love. You will be overwhelmed with gratitude and with the responsibility of such a blessing. And you will wish that you could nourish them better and better, for this will become your greatest joy in life, and you will not wish to spend a day without cooking for them.

And finally, after fifty years, I cannot keep the secret to myself any more. The greatest secret about the alchemical art of cooking is this: it's love that is cooking.

NOTE: This is from a wonderful book called Food is Home written by Sarjano who is from Italy. He was in charge of the kitchen at the Osho Ashram in Pune for over twenty years.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The beauty of doing nothing

This is a sweet expression. Bel far niente means "the beauty of doing nothing." Now listen--Italians have traditionally always been hard workers, especially those long-suffereing laborers known as braccianti (so called because they had nothing but the brute strength of their arms--braccie--to help them survive in this world). But even against that backdrop of hard work, bel far niente has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life's achievement. You don't necessarily need to be rich in order to experience this, either. There's another wonderful Italian expression: l'arte d'arrangiarsi--the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich.

From Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, published by Bloomsbury. Pg 64-65

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ma and God

God gave us fingers - Ma says, "Use your fork."
God gave us voices - Ma says, "Don't scream."
Ma says eat broccoli, cereal and carrots.
But God gave us tasteys for maple ice cream.

God gave us fingers - Ma says, "Use your hanky."
God gave us puddles - Ma says, "Don't splash."
Ma says, "Be quiet, your father is sleeping."
But God gave us garbage can covers to crash.

God gave us fingers - Ma says, "Put your gloves on."
God gave us raindrops - Ma says, "Don't get wet."
Ma says be careful, and don't get too near to
Those strange lovely dogs that God gave us to pet.

God gave us fingers - Ma says, "Go wash 'em."
But God gave us coal bins and nice dirty bodies.
And I ain't too smart, but there's one thing for certain -
Either Ma's wrong or else God is.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


This is something Lakshmi Chandra, a dear professor friend of mine sent as an SMS forward:
"When you are feeling stressed and about to break down, remember: STRESSED is just DESSERTS spelled backwards. It's a piece of cake!"

Writing for Children

“That, it seems to me, is the secret. You just indulge the pleasure of your heart. You write not for children but for yourself, and if, by good fortune, children enjoy what you enjoy, why then you are a writer of children’s books…No special credit to you, but simply thumping good luck. Every writer wants to have readers, and than children there are no better readers in the world.”
- Arthur Ransome