To see a world in a single word

The Japanese word komorebi does not have a direct English equivalent. It refers to the interplay between light and leaves when sunlight filters through trees. 

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Magical komorebi in Otford, NSW

komorebiHow beautifully specific and eloquent.
The closest we have in English is perhaps ‘dappled sunlight’ but isn’t it wonderful to have one word that holds so much within itself? 

Komorebi is made up of three characters –
tree + escape/leaking through + light/sun.

So:
♥ light, leaking through the trees
♥ the sun, escaping from a tree
♥ sunshine playing with leaves

There is so much poetry in nature.

 

©2020 Seetha Nambiar Dodd
Ps. New header image for 3 little birds created by Nikhita Dodd. 

Literature in the time of Quarantine

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Kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

The following sentences were not written for the Coronavirus pandemic (and therefore have been taken completely out of context), but seem to fit our current condition.

I’ve been struggling to write. But reading helps. So today, other people’s words.

On waiting

“Now all you can do is wait. It must be hard for you, but there is a right time for everything. Like the ebb and flow of tides. No one can do anything to change them. When it is time to wait, you must wait.” – Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

On loneliness

“There is a loneliness that only exists in one’s mind. The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

On confusion

“I am besieged by such strange thoughts, such dark sensations, such obscure questions, which still crowd my mind and somehow I have neither the strength nor the desire to resolve them. It is not for me to resolve all this!” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights.

On peace

“Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms.” – Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

On hope

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” – Roald Dahl, The Minpins

“The taste of things recovered is the sweetest honey we will ever know.” – Paulo Coelho, The Zahir

©2020 Seetha Nambiar Dodd, well, curated by

 

 

Oh, that’s clever!

I noticed an advertisement at my local bus stop the other day that made me smile. It was a NESCAFÉ ad for its Blend 43 Black Roast.

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Their ‘most intense coffee ever’ has a terrifically clever tagline. ‘EATS OTHER COFFEE FOR BREAKFAST.’ It’s bold. Menacing, almost. And so is the typeset. A little research into this ad campaign reveals more clever copy in the print ad: ‘…a true blend of strength, because mornings are no time for weakness,’ and ‘all in the name of full on taste.’

I don’t usually drink instant coffee (oh dear, that sounds like I’m a coffee snob) but I might have to give this one a try. All because it claims to be Rich, Dark and Bold and I like coffee with a bit of attitude.

Some ads are so clever they make me want to be a copywriter. Just as watching L.A. Law made me want to be a lawyer. Or watching the movie Nadia about Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci when I was a kid led to repurposing the arm of our sofa as a balance beam and the corners of the carpet for final poses (minus the multiple backflips). Gymnastics and law were obviously short-lived dreams – my flexibility is restricted to bending my thumbs backwards and I find that slamming my hand on the table and shouting ‘Objection!’ doesn’t have quite the same effect as when Jimmy Smits did it in court. But copywriting, there may be life in that dream yet….

The best ads are memorable. The ones that have carved their way into my Advertisement Hall of Fame include:

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1. WORDPLAY: Vidal Sassoon’s 1980s slogan “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.” A simple play on words that worked for the haircare industry. The models looked good, because supposedly they used Vidal Sassoon haircare products. So the company looked good, because they’ve created products that work, can be trusted, and have an invested interest in you looking good. Simple and so effective.

 

 

 

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2. DIVERSITY: United Colors of Benetton‘s billboards and posters with models of varying ethnicities and skin tones wearing bright, colourful clothes.

Memorable because it was very rare in Malaysia in the 1980s or 90s to see darker-skinned models featured in local advertising, despite the make-up of the local population.

A welcome respite from all those Fair & Lovely commercials, these Benetton ads appealed to me even if no one really wore sweaters in 33°C Kuala Lumpur heat.

3. SHOCK: Pathway Project, a UK-based charity that supports adults and children affected by domestic violence, released an image that quickly went viral on social media just before the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It wasn’t pleasant, but it stuck. abuse

The statistic was based on a 2013 study by Lancashire University, looking at the number of domestic abuse incidents reported to the Lancashire police force over three World Cup tournaments from 2002 to 2010. The authors of the study called it ‘relatively small’. But still disturbing, and I was curious about the rest of the study.

When England lost: domestic abuse rates were 38% higher (than on tournament days when England were not playing).

When England won or drew a match: domestic abuse rates were still 26% higher. I hated the stats, but I loved this ad, and I hoped it had a positive effect.

Which ads, current or past, stick in your head?

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Eight ways to lose yourself in a bookstore

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One. Walk around aimlessly. Soak in the atmosphere of your favourite place to while away a few, blissful hours. Grab the first book you see on the New Releases shelf, sit on the cosy armchair in the corner and lose yourself in another world.

Two. Pick up the latest bestselling picture book, flick through it, laugh out loud, and then kick yourself for not thinking of that clever idea first. Of course farts are funny. Remind yourself to pay attention the next time your five-year-old laughs. Not for a story idea, but because his laugh is the best sound you’ve ever heard.

Three. Browse through the children’s section. Note that the famous cowboy and his astronaut buddy are still doing well on the shelves. Wonder if there will be another instalment to the series. Remember the day your daughter graduated to chapter books. Remind yourself to always read just one more story at bedtime.

Four. Before you know it, you’re in the Young Adults aisle. Suddenly your world is a supernatural, science fiction fantasy with a dash of romance. Potentially with vampires. Lose yourself in a parallel universe. Wonder why you never wore black lipstick as a teenager. Recall fondly that your father would have been amused, but secretly concerned.

Five. Time for a fully-fledged Romance. Greedily devour romance novels with impossibly attractive covers. Remember sneaking a peek at the Mills and Boon on your mother’s bookshelf. Remember the soft flutter of young love. Remember turning the pages of your own love story. 

Six. Right next to Romance is Music. Wonder why there are so many songs about broken hearts. Then find the books that tell the stories behind the songs. Remind yourself to listen to more songs about broken hearts, as well as songs about mended ones.

Seven. Head to the Travel section. Close your eyes and point to something. Open your eyes and smile. It is the city of your childhood. Decide this is a sign to visit the stories of your past, and the people who helped you shape your present.

Eight. Marvel that there are so many books on Parenting. Wonder if your mother ever had this much advice at her fingertips. Know for a fact that your grandmother didn’t, but they both survived motherhood, and so will you.

Look up from your New Release. Look down and be amazed at the contrast between the beige carpet and the colourful, stimulating worlds held together within the pages of the books that have absorbed you.

Know that it is possible to lose yourself and find yourself at the same time.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

The Grieve Project 2019

Thank you, Hunter Writers Centre for the honour of being published in this year’s Grieve anthology.

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My Grandmother, searching for words

For Muthashi

She is searching for words set within a square grid in a book of puzzles. There is a list, next to the grid, of all the hidden words that need to be found. She circles each word as she finds it, ticks it off the list and smiles at me. ‘Never give up,’ she says. The words are all there, waiting to be found.

She is struggling to see the words as her eyesight worsens, so we get large-print puzzle books, and she continues searching. Despite this not being her first language, she does not give up until she finds the words. The words are all there, waiting to be found.

She is losing words. I know this is normal, because they warned me of her decline, but I am not prepared for the day I visit, and she has lost my name, and suddenly I am lost, floating in the confusion of her memory, drifting in the swirls of her mind. She is my base, my headquarters, my mothership. If she does not know who I am, who am I? Still, she doesn’t give up. I remind her, she nods, she forgets. The words are there, and we find them together.

She is no longer searching for words, but this is not because she has given up. She is fighting, and the fight consumes all her strength. The words are still there, but we know she can’t find them. Slowly, she slips away, and then the words are lost forever. Along with the words I wish I’d heard, and the words I wish I’d said.

Now it is up to us to search for the words. The soft, gentle words to inform family and friends of her passing. The correct, respectful words to write in her obituary. The weighty, healing words that fall from our hearts onto paper. The rich, evocative words to remember an entire life. We search for these words. There is no grid to contain the search. There is no list of all the hidden words that need to be found. There is no guide for grief. But we try. We don’t give up. We find the words.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Lessons from my Grandmother

This article was published in The Star Malaysia’s Heart and Soul column on 1 July.
My grandmother, the original Wonder Woman, who gave the best Dunlopillo hugs. 

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*****
“My grandmother didn’t tell me how to live. She lived, and let me watch her do it.”

I am paraphrasing a quote by American writer Bud Kelland, but it is so apt that I had to borrow it.

My grandmother glided through life effortlessly – and always with a smile that radiated from her heart and twinkled out of her eyes. She faced every challenge with strength. She embraced every moment with love. And her chicken curry was legendary.

These are some of the lessons I learned through watching her:

Always maintain a sense of humour. Laugh often, and loudly. Your enthusiasm will be infectious. Your smile can spread through oceans of despair, over mountains of troubles, and soften even the hardest heart.

Get on with it. Complaining is a waste of precious time. If you have a job to do, do it with grace and courage. Be grateful for your responsibilities – not everyone is so lucky.

Chill out. Getting angry or upset is hazardous to your health. A calm approach based on compassion and common sense will do everyone good, especially yourself. As will a hot cup of chaaya tea.

Hugs are underrated. Never underestimate the power of a genuine, warm embrace. It can melt away fear, tension and sadness in the young, the old, and everyone in between. Hold close the people you love. Hold them until you feel their pain evaporating. Don’t be the first to break away. If a child tells you, mid-hug, that you are as soft as a pillow, take it as a compliment.

Stay curious. You’re never too old to learn something new, be it a language, a card game, a skill or an idea. In an ever-changing world, adapting your mindset without compromising your values shows self-awareness and self-preservation. Also, being interested makes you interesting.

Get stuck in! Your appetite for food mirrors your appetite for life. Savour every moment. Lick your fingers. When you cook for others, cook with love in your heart, for this is the secret ingredient, in food and in life.

Rest in Peace, Muthashi.

(Sarada Menon passed away peacefully on April 11, at the age of 95.)

*****

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Muthashi

mutchI recently made two short trips to Malaysia in the space of about six weeks. The first, in March, to spend a few days with my grandmother, who had not been well.

The flight out was delayed due to a thunderstorm in Sydney. So the four-day trip would be cut short to three. Waiting at the airport for information, frustrated at the thought of one less day with my grandmother, I contemplated cancelling the trip and rebooking for another weekend.

I’m glad I didn’t. Because the second trip I made to Malaysia, in April, was for the religious ceremony that would mark her passing. Those three days in March ended up being my last moments with someone whose impact and influence on my life cannot be measured.

To help with the healing, I wrote an article about my grandmother. As I typed, in Microsoft Word, the spell-check decided to call out the word Muthashi, as it did not recognise the Malayalam word for grandmother. One of the options it suggested was Mothership.

Mothership, noun.
– A spacecraft or ship from which smaller craft are launched or maintained.
– A place regarded as a base, source, or headquarters.

I usually get annoyed at the ridiculous suggestions offered by spell-check.

But this time, I had to agree.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Let’s talk about Love.

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I meant to write this post for Valentine’s Day. But life, like love, is unpredictable. So on the last day of February, I tell myself it is still Valentine’s Month and therefore this post is still highly topical, suitably timely and massively interesting. My blog, my rules, my denial. Especially as it’s now the 1st of March.

Psychologist Robert Johnson thinks we don’t have enough words to describe our feelings of love. He wrote about the lack of ‘awareness and emphasis that we give to the realm of feeling’, and says the English language is partly to blame. His analysis is intriguing – “Sanskrit has ninety-six words for love; ancient Persian has eighty, Greek three and English only one.”

Johnson draws a clever comparison between our “poverty-stricken vocabulary” and the fact that Eskimos have 30 words for snow because it is so important to them. Each ‘snow’ word has a different nuance, a precision of description. I researched (Googled) this fact and it seems there are actually over 50 words for snow in the various Eskimo languages (including Inuit and Yupik dialects). They have different words for the snow that is safe to walk across, the snow that is like powder, wet snow, softly falling snow, the snow that is good for driving a sled over.

This is important because snow is all around them, is intrinsically linked to everything they do, and is fundamental to their existence. And we have only one word for love.

We use the same word (love) in all situations: for family, a lover, a hobby, a coffee. I love you. I love that idea! I love dancing. I’d love a coffee. Yet, we have so many different words for coffee: cappuccino, latte, flat white, piccolo, espresso. So many words for getting drunk: wasted, bladdered, sozzled, plastered, sloshed, legless. So many words for being angry: pissed off, livid, mad, raging, fuming. But just one word for love.

So. What is love? I suppose it depends on who you ask. Since the internet was somewhat disappointing, I asked a few young and innocent (and non-jaded) children what they thought about love. Here’s what they told me:

How can you tell that two people are married?
♥ “You could see their ring if you were close-up. They would probably be talking about their kids.” (C, aged 7)
♥ “If you’ve been to their wedding.” (N, aged 10)

How would you choose a boyfriend or girlfriend?
♥ “I would write down some cateristiks that I want and then see if they have those cateristiks. If they don’t then I would move on to the next person.” (C, aged 7)
♥ “Someone who is smart and doesn’t eat that much candy.” (R, aged 6)
♥ “I’d want him to be honest and not act differently to me than he normally would. I’d want him to be like daddy.” (M, aged 10)
♥ “I already have one. She tells me funny jokes.” (D, aged 5, I repeat, aged 5)

How would you show love?
By going to a movie with them even if you’ve already seen it.” (M, aged 10)
♥ “Don’t take anything out of her lunchbox. And definitely don’t wrestle her.” (D, aged 5)
♥ “When my brother is scared at night, I tell him there are no monsters, even if I’m a bit scared too.” (J, aged 8)
♥ “Not go to a football match on their birthday.” (J, aged 8)
♥ “Make sacrifices to show the other person they are more important than what you really, really want.” (N, aged 10)

And just when I thought I would finish on that deep and profound note, I received a message from my sister that couldn’t not be included in a post about Love:

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©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

A Wilde Weekend – Act III

The Wilde Weekend was 72 hours long. If you thought I had forgotten about Sunday, the final 24 hours of debauchery well-earned indulgence, I don’t blame you. This weekend took place in June 2018 and we are already at the end of January, with no sign of Act III until now. There is a limit on how long one can draw out a single weekend as blog fodder. But one will do one’s best.

(If you missed it, or need a refresher, this was Friday and this was Saturday)

Sunday
After all that delicious dancing, we have an even more delicious lie-in which is necessary to replenish depleted energy and aid muscle recovery. It was not just dancing, after all. It was a full-blown workout of cardio+strength+style. So we sleep.

“In England people actually try to be brilliant at breakfast. That is so dreadful of them! Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.”
Upon waking, we whip up and devour scrambled eggs and avocado. As we are now well-fed and more likely to partake in brilliant conversation, we head to the Putney Tavern to watch the football, the sport that launches many a brilliant conversation.

“Football is all very well as a game for rough girls, but it is hardly suitable for delicate boys.”
It is England vs Panama in the Group stages of the World Cup. Some interesting manoeuvres to get a G&T safely from the bar to our prime vantage point, some rowdy fans, and thank God for an English win. It is a 6-1 thrashing and (most) people cheer Panama’s lone goal with the generosity of those who know they are still comfortably superior.

Time for refuelling at Wagamama, then a spot of shopping in Putney. We head home and make a decision to end this weekend in the manner to which we have become accustomed: in style. My sister has found the perfect activity to close this weekend – Gatsby Immersive Theatre.

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.”
We dress to theme and step into the 1920s. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s world of decadence, champagne and sparkle is brought to life by a cast of talented actors who take us through The Great Gatsby in a unique and fun production. The characters mingle with the audience (my sister and I are welcomed by the Nick Carraway character loudly proclaiming that he is ‘SO pleased we could make it!’), have impromptu conversations that become part of the show, and we even get a dance lesson – the quirky Charleston. It is the perfect way to end our weekend.

My sister tells me I am ‘fun in London’ and I have been striving ever since to channel some of that London vibe and make it a part of everyday life. Full immersion. Sequins and feathers optional.

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©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

 

A Wilde Weekend – Act II

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In an earlier post, Oscar and I illustrated the first 24 hours of the Wilde Weekend in London. If you thought my sister and I may have used up all our energy on eating, drinking, shopping and comedy-ing, you would be right. We went to bed exhausted. But nothing that a 7-hour sleep didn’t cure.

Saturday
If laughter is the best medicine, a cooked English breakfast comes a close second. Better yet when cooked at home and washed down with copious mugs of hot tea.

Later, we take a walk along Putney High Street, but this is not a stroll without purpose. It includes a stop at Putney Market where a delightful Malaysian bakery sets up a stall every other Saturday.

“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”
Agreed, Oscar. But you have not tried these pineapple tarts. Or these peanut cookies. This is not just happiness. This is bliss. The cookies are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The pineapple tart is love at first bite. When the buttery exterior gives way to the generous filling,  I am transported to my Malaysian childhood where jars of these tarts are abundant at Chinese New Year. Oh, Pandan Bakery, there was not enough time or belly space for all your deliciousness, and don’t get me started on those spicy sardine curry puffs which are a true triumph of pastry over perception. [Photos from Pandan Bakery’s website]

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Are you drooling yet?

The sardine-pineapple snack will tide us over till dinner. It is now time for the man himself. We head to the Vaudeville Theatre for a masterclass in quick-witted dialogue. The play is ‘An Ideal Husband’ – a study of moral flexibility, forgiveness and class hypocrisy, all wrapped up in a fun, theatrical package. Wilde’s genius lies in, among other things, his use of paradox to comic effect. His humour is unexpected: “I like looking at geniuses, and listening to beautiful people.” He combines ideas that shouldn’t go together, but somehow, do: “When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” A bit like sardines and pineapple. The play was a real treat.

“I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.”
Not wanting to be shallow, we have already planned our next gastronomical adventure. My sister has an immensely talented friend who has set up a Malaysian Supper Club (hosted at different venues around London) called Wild Serai. The menu is clever, the ingredients are authentic, the labour is clearly one of love, and the result is pure pleasure on a plate. Nasi lemak with chilli crab. Never have 5 words held so much history, mystery and delight. And just when I thought it could not get any better, we sample the best ikan bakar (literal translation: burned fish) I have ever tasted outside of Malaysia. This is stingray, barbecued to perfection and served with a tamarind-chilli dip. We are in the middle of Soho but my taste buds are in a hawker stall in Petaling Jaya, and my appetite is suddenly teenage. Yolanda, terima kasih!

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Fish with attitude. 

While the appetite is teenage, the metabolism is not. There is now an undeniable need to burn some calories. We head home, and for a brief moment, contemplate pyjamas and channel-surfing. But this weekend is a rare one, and not meant for sitting on the sofa. So we get changed and head to a local Putney bar.

“She wore far too much rouge last night, and not quite enough clothes.”
Oscar wrote this in 1895. In many ways, still relevant today but certainly a matter of opinion. And anyway, in the words of Taylor Swift, haters gonna hate (hate*4). May as well wear whatever you like. We have opted for flat shoes so we dance till closing time. This bar is cool, friendly and unpretentious, and they play Blackstreet’s No Diggity, which is my yardstick for a good time on the dance floor.

Putney, I like the way you work it.

©2018 Seetha Nambiar Dodd