01 July 2012

I’m just fine

“Since my birth, I have slept more than 10,000 times. But I have never dreamt of being able to fly like a bird.”
-Masa Nakamura, The Bird People in China

I am teaching people-skills to my daughter.
“How are you?” I ask.
“Fine,” she replies.
“Very Good,” I am overjoyed. “Now you ask me: How are you?”
“No. No. I will say fine. You ask: How are you?”
“No. You don’t get it. Just say, How are you?”
“How are you? How are you? H-O-W A-R-E Y-O-U?”
“Fine. Fine. Fine.”
“All right. Forget it. We’ll try it some other time.”

What am I doing?
When you have children at home, time flies. They grow so fast. It seems only yesterday, when I wrote my first (pseudo) memoir, in which I had announced to the world that I won’t be writing any such stuff in future. And yet, I am back with one more. This time with more lies and interesting stuff that really didn’t happen in my life. But time and again, my kind readers have forgiven me, tolerated my articles, knowing certainly, not everything is black and white. Like me, they are addicted. We are in this together.

Now though, I have a reason. A goal. Something to look forward. I hope my daughter reads these memoirs sometime in the future. Of course, she would realize right away everything is made-up. Hopefully, she would mine out the truths among the lies. A small dose of philosophy right there for you.  

Anyway, I am writing a memoir after a long time. Again and again, I come back to memoirs because my short stories either confuse the readers, or the readers understand more than what I write! In my last story, Beautiful Miss Iyer, a small boy gets infatuated with his teacher. Many of my readers thought it was my own story! Such a preposterousness!  Apparently, they think I am incapable of inventing such fiction. In a sense, I am doomed, since my readers believe each and everything I write. In fact many writers crave such readership. James Frey wrote A Million Little Pieces——a memoir; but readers found out right away it was all made up. Was there really a Bengal tiger in the lifeboat, in Life of Pi? Or is it just an allegory? Even Shantaram, which moved us so much, is just fiction, not memoir! Once you are a writer you cannot write true memoirs! It’s a paradox.  

At this point, I re-read whatever I wrote from the top, and found nothing significant! But I have a feeling you will continue reading; although, I must warn you, the interesting stuff is over.

A shot at learning
My daughter is already doing things which I was not doing at that age. Along with other things, she knows the first 3 letters of the alphabet. But she writes the letter ‘A’ upside down. That’s because she was on the other side of the writing pad, when I taught her that. What a blunder! I don’t know how to correct this mistake. She recites the days of the week; but always starting from Monday. If you ask from any other day, she would start from Monday anyway in her mind. You can see the lip movement and when she reaches the said day, she would say it louder.

Unlike computers, children learn many things on their own. This is a big plus. You don’t need to teach each and every thing. Without previous knowledge, a child can easily relate a trunk to an elephant. But a computer cannot do that. However, with the aid of artificial intelligence, a computer can do some kind of deductive logic to come to the correct conclusion faster than human beings. Computers are faster and they don’t get tired. A word-processor can do the spell check instantly. And, it can check the grammatical correctness almost as we place the period. But speed is not everything. A computer can’t write a poem——that way we are unique.

Whenever she does something new, I ask myself, Is she supposed to do this at this age? Am I putting pressure on her? In other words, am I becoming like my parents: expecting greatness from children, though they themselves are regular folks!  I hope she doesn’t become another me: reaching the destination before time, while missing the journey.

I also have the peer pressure. Other kids here are learning ballet, karate, Taekwan-Do, piano and swimming. How many times in real life you get to use your Taekwan-Do skills? Or How many people really watch ballet nowadays? All these questions swarm me.

Some of the kids here are into everything. They have a busier schedule than the celebrities. I didn’t learn any of these things in my time——and, I am doing okay! (Well, I write at least; you don’t! how about that?) I don’t know Taekwan-Do, but I never ended up in a situation where I had to resort for martial arts. You don’t pick fight with a 6 foot, 200+ pounds, silver back, alpha-male apish person!

I remember vaguely, I had shown some interest in karate during my schooldays. Mother vetoed it out right away. “You are such a threat to your siblings already, if you master the dreaded art of killing, God save the mortals,” she said.

“I won’t harm anyone,” I had said. “I want to defend myself, if the situation calls for it!”

She sized me up, top to bottom. I was already a last bencher in the class. And, in the prayer lines of assembly, I was farthest from the stage. “Believe me,” she said, “no one in his right mind would ever pick a fight with you.”

In my schooldays I fought only twice. These fights were brutal and merciless; Often, held after the class in a remote corner of the playground. I won both the times. I was never a bully, but occasionally after seeing a super- hero movie, a kid would get delusional——Thinks it could do anything. On such occasions, I have helped the blighter to keep the facts straight. Being bigger than my challengers, I was a true Goliath. But the kids were not Davids. In my Mother’s words, they were simply out of their minds!

Child’s play
Every kid with some talent makes my wife nervous. She fears whether she missed out anything for her daughter.

“May I interest you in a cup of coffee?” a kid asked us one time, when we visited his parents. Once the kid vanished into the kitchen with our order, my wife nudged me: “Did you notice that?”

“…notice what?”
“Such fine mannerism! We should inculcate such things in our daughter.”

“Let me tell you about this kid,” I said. “He is a perfect kid. He will always talk nicely. He will make into top lists. A front runner. A torch bearer. He will be number one in local Taekwan-Do meets. He’ll marry the perfect woman of his parents’ choice, ditching his school time love. He’ll lead a top post in his father-in-law’s firm. He will attend the right meetings; Laugh at the right time—— even for old jokes. He won’t read, One Hundred Years of Solitude. And one day in his old age, searching for meaning, he will ponder, if only he had built sand-castles in the backyard, instead of entertaining strangers with phony coffee requests——”

My wife cut me off with a wave of hand. “It is interesting how you figured it all out just from a coffee request!”

I feel——and this is my opinion——kids should just indulge in kid-stuff. There is a lot of time later in life, to chase phony goals. With this philosophy, I have taught my daughter simple pleasure giving activities: blowing bubbles while drinking from a straw; biting ears of unsuspecting victims, when asked for a kiss; rapid tongue flashing and simultaneous blinking in front of guests; repeating every word with elders.  

No video-games for her so far. I don’t know how long I can restrain her from the evil-toys. I belong to the time, where most of the games where played outside on the playground. Children were expected to round-up on the playground in the evenings or weekends, for an hour or two. And sometimes a few scratches here and there were expected. Occasionally, a cricket ball, hit by a future Gavaskar, would smash the neighbor’s window followed by sudden calmness. Sometimes a mad dog or a lost cow would barge into the ground, disrupting the play momentarily. Such wonderful days.

Long back at a cricket game, our fast-bowlers noticed a patch of grass on the pitch causing hindrance. It was decided to burn out the obstacle. I don’t know who came up with this idea——certainly not me! But I must say, at that time it looked like a brilliant idea. I remember suggesting circling the offending patch with green-branches; just for emergency. No one listened to me. Most of the players were taking a break——stretched out at the boundary line. Once the fire started, it not only burnt down the whole ground in moments, but also invaded the neighboring fields. Many people came running with buckets of water or whatever handy to put off the fire. A few players vanished. To this day no one knows who all were involved in the original team who came up with this indigenous idea. But everyone relates this incident to me. Because I was the one who went to Cecile-bai’s house to get the matchbox.

“What? Started smoking already?” she had said.
“Nope! Not my thing. Just a small patch of grass on the pitch needs to be cleared out. Batsmen are complaining about bodyline bowling.”
“In this sun you’ll scorch half of the village!”
“Don’t worry about it. We got it all covered. And, if you are concerned about your precious matchbox, let me assure you, it’ll be returned in its pristine condition barring only a few matchsticks.”

When the fire started, one of the first fire-fighters to rush to the scene was Cecile-bai herself. She probably had a vision of the Armageddon; but she was a bit late.  After the fire was put off, I met her among the ruins at a safe distance.
“You probably don’t care for your matchbox any more,” I said.

Anyway, I met her many years later. She still has the fond memories of the events that followed.

Good old days. No more such things. All those games you can now play sitting on the couch! Even the overfed kids——who were one time umpires, scorers, and water boys——are now great couch players. What a world!

One such overfed kid beat me mercilessly in a tennis match, on Wii. In the real court, I could beat this kid with my left hand. But on the couch, I could not manage the hand-eye coordination. I got confused. I thought: why should I bother with this pseudo pleasure, when I can play the real game?

So far I have managed to keep my daughter away from all these virtual games. Her favorite game, now, is one with the grocery bag. In this game you throw the empty plastic grocery-bag up in the air and enjoy its lazy parachute-like fall. That’s it. The unpredictability of the bag’s trail is what amuses her. It’s a Zen experience, if you ask me.

It has come to my attention, while indulging myself with the pleasures of this game, that no 2 trails are similar! There are millions of possibilities. If you wait for infinite amount of time, in stable atmospheric conditions, maybe, there could be 2 similar trails. But till now, no one has reported such findings. I might come up with some kind of formula to explain this theory.

Only small children, Zen monks, and mystics can truly enjoy this game at length. Not being any of these, this game is turning out to be immensely painful.

Every time I come down to Mangalore, I find something new. The city is ever-changing. Greek philosopher Heraclites maintained that world is continuously changing and in a constant state of conflict. He illustrated this by his famous saying: “You can never step into the same river twice!” Can you believe that? Do you have to be a philosopher to notice this simple (stupid!) fact?

Often, these philosophers and scientists discover the very things regular folks have known for years. For example: the moving ball continues to move till it hits the wall and when it does that it changes its direction. Is there anything new here? Duck soup! But apparently that’s Newton’s first law.

Hey you guys——you make me stray from my article. Back to my point: No two times you find the city similar. You take a bus from Mangalore to Udupi (Use the seat belt, don’t sit near the driver, make sure your life insurance policy is still valid, keep small prayer booklets of major religions in your breast-pocket because you don’t know which God will save you when the time comes! God has already confused us Mangaloreans so much. Thank you God.), while in Udupi treat yourself with a delicious Udupi-breakfast on a plantain leaf, and take the return bus to Mangalore. Voila! It’s a different city. The city surprises you all the time.

This time after landing at Bajpe, I had some idle time before the conveyor belt started rolling. I took a quick visit to the restroom and noticed for the first time that the bowls of urinals were not reachable, though I am 6 foot tall! Looks like they are made for giants! I had to use the ones for the kids. I was not much far from the flight, from which I had alighted only a few minutes ago; within such a short time, the city had managed to show me something new. It never ceases to amuse me.

The dogs and the pigeons
At my wife’s home, there are many pigeons. They live in small boxes arranged in rows one above the other, in a small room. During the day they fly away or linger on the rooftop waiting for the feed.

After I scatter the birdfeed on the patio, they patiently wait for me to vacate the place. Only when I leave they flock. But when my daughter tries to feed them, they surround her immediately. They try to eat from her hand. She warns them in her language and tries to shoo them away. But the birds are reckless.

There are two dogs: one old and one young. The young one is unruly. It is leashed to a tree at a distance, where it constantly struggles for freedom. And, it is my fear what would happen if it unleashes.

The old one doesn’t have a leash. It loiters on the porch all the time. It is my daughter’s playmate. One time I saw her trying to feed the dog. She was dangling a biscuit in front of it. I watched this scene with horror from a distant. The dog though was kind. It had handled children in the past; hence, it was in a position to skillfully accept the food without alarming the child. Sometimes, she treats the dog like a pillow; she lies on the ground with her head on the dog’s belly. Now and then she pulls the dog by its tail. But nothing can disturb the tranquility of the Zen-dog.

In my home there is no Zen stuff. My mother is a super practical person. The pets have strict tasks and tight deadlines. They are not there for cuteness. Mom expects the dogs to vigil the house at nights, while the masters are asleep. Her dogs are ferocious, violent, mean, and wild. True low-life characters. In the day time, they are latched inside the doghouse. One time, my daughter tried to unlatch them. After this near fatal incident we use locks for the doghouse.

“Why the locks?” a guest had asked.
“The dogs are precious!”
This is a believable answer than the explanation behind the real reason.

Another time, she tried to lift the kitten with its tail; the kitten somersaulted and scratched her. This sudden event raised a hell cry.  A desperate hunt was launched to find the kitten. It has vanished. The little-cat is stupid to do something like that to its future master.

Spice less life
One time, just for kicks, I dipped my finger in tea and placed a drop on her tongue; this experiment backfired. She got addicted to tea. She stopped all the good stuff: milk, fruit-juice etc. At 11 AM and in the evening, she demands tea. We are forced to be creative here. The tea which she drinks is light-brown in color but, it’s actually milk. Mine is the real tea.

Once she determined to drink what her dada drinks, I had to watch my diet. I discarded the Coke and Soda cans from the fridge. In the early months, babies don’t mind whatever you eat. But later they develop a keen sense of observation. They want to try all the new stuff.

Often, it’s a pain to feed my daughter: so much begging and cajoling. And the threats: if you don’t eat the doll will eat to become stronger!  

Now that she eats regular food, we had to reduce the spice level. The food now is bland and tasteless! Sometimes I hide in the kitchen and take an occasional sip of coke or eat something spicy.

And, there are races to finish the food. I am supposed to give a tough competition. But I can’t win. So I eat with the right pace. I am right there behind her. When she finishes the food, I have a few morsels left on my plate.

In the who-will-sleep-sooner race, often, I am the winner! One night, when I woke up suddenly, I saw her staring at me, in the night-lamp. (Night lamps are a pain. I can’t sleep when they are on. For more than 3 decades I hated them; never used one——till the daughter was born. She can’t sleep without one. I wonder what more sacrifices are in store for me in future.)

I signaled her to close the eyes; mama won’t like her awake this late. She did the same sign to me. And she whispered something. I have difficulties understanding her regular talk, much less whispering.
“What?” I asked.
She whispered something more, which could only mean, how could you not understand such a simple thing.
I gave up.
“Say it loudly,” I said.
“How are you?” she said.
That was fantastic. I struggled for words. Words fail me when I need them the most. I usually end up saying something plain and insignificant. “Well…,” I said, “I guess I am just fine.”


Note: The article was earlier published on www.daijiworld.com. Click here to see it on daiji.