Stephen Curry Comes To Play

T’was the NBA finals – San Francisco Giants vs Cleveland Rainbows or something. There was much excitement in the neighborhood, entire families were agog watching the match. Pizzas were ordered in, for though the athletes themselves had to keep fit, there were no such demands on the audience. Some Indian neighborhoods went all out and had samosas, chaat and tea for basketball viewing. Living in California, I could take a walk, far from television, and still figure out the direction of the match when I took a walk. Loud cheers meant SF Giants basketed a ball, and moans meant the C Rainbows did the same.

The last few minutes of the match was tense judging by the tension emanating from the Television areas to the street. Right enough, I headed home to find a certain clamoring for my presence. The children’s faces were shining with excitement and so it was that I got to watch the final 5 minutes of the match. What with the replays and the fouls and the drama and the penalties, the final 5 minutes took a goodish twenty minutes to watch.

After the match was done with, commentators tripped over each other in rehashing the match, the personalities that drove the players, the flaws that seemed to have surfaced. I moved off towards more pressing demands on my time like watering the garden, getting dinner going etc, musing all the while on the whole game viewing experience.

I was never one who enjoyed being plopped passively in front of the television, and spent a good part of my childhood not knowing the difference between a 4 and a 6 in Cricket. Blasphemy. I know. All I knew was that there was a major din every time there was a 4 or a 6, and since this happened multiple times during the day, and for several days at once, I did not really see the point. The brother did his best, since he spent many mornings lovingly polishing his cricket bat. He shook his head at my cricket-ry ignorance, but loved me all the same. What is with boys and cricket?

The basketball match seems to have left a mark on the toddler in the house too. After the match was done, there he was, using his blue football and trying his best to throw it into the clothes hamper. Not just that, I noticed a certain skip in his step, and every move was complicated by the ducking and falling in vague angles that seemed critical to the ball-into-hamper process. The commentators seemed to have made an imprint too. For there was a live commentary going on, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Stephen Curry, far from calling it a night after an exhausting match came to the old home to play with the son.

basketball

When Stephen Curry passed the ball, the son took it and on the way to the clothes hamper skirted a chair, deftly avoided me walking to the kitchen, dunked the ball into the hamper and then fell spectacularly.

His doting grandmother congratulated him on scoring a goal.

“You don’t score a goal in basketball Paati. “ he said shaking his head at such foolishness as he picked up his blue football again.

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An Email About Plants On Mars

Weekday nights, apart from startling Californian flora and fauna out of their wits with the chaos and noise in the home, also means that the old father is busy. A note about the pater’s emailing habits. He settles down with a serious look on his face, a glass of warm water by his side, and corresponds with his trader in the Indian Stock Exchange. From 10 p.m to well past midnight, he is the paragon of efficiency. He painstakingly types out instructions, his tongue peeking out with concentration, leaning forward in his chair, his browser tabs opened to Gmail & Economic Times. His mind composes the shortest possible sentence before he starts typing, since he has to spend some time finding the right alphabets on the keyboard. Once a teacher, always a teacher, and he insists on using the right punctuation: commas, spaces, periods and semi-colons. Sometimes, he hits tabs for the extra space, and that lands up sending the email instead of moving the cursor, and then he starts over. The wonderful lady on the other side turns an indulgent eye on the septuagenarian’s emails, and sends him trade notifications and acknowledgements to the correct email.

Friday nights are different. The Indian Stock Market is closed, schools and offices in the USA are closed on Saturday. So the couch is cluttered with cushions, throws and comforters from the bedrooms, and the old television settles down to air a movie or television show down to the audience. Friday nights at the home always contain a general air of excitement. One would think that through the week, the children work 16 hours a day, with sparse meals and little fun, the way they whoop at the Friday evening fun. Entertainment choices are always a bit tricky given the age groups the television has to cater to at once. The son and daughter want different things. Throw the grandparents into the mix and it becomes a telling lesson in democracy. Sometimes, the choices made by popular votes turn out to be so bad that the voting audience clamors for a change midway through and the process begins again.One does not need to follow #Brexit and #Bremain for democratic ulcers.

One night we settled on The Martian. The budding toddler astronomer in our family agreed that he liked to go to Mars one day as a Space Racer, and helpfully showed us a rocket lift-off. (Space Racers is an animated television series. The main characters—Eagle, Hawk, Robyn, Starling and Raven—are cadets at the Stardust Bay Space Academy. The cadets spend each episode traveling through outer space) The old pater shelved his urgent emailing needs and settled in to watch. The rocket made a spectacular landing on the grandfather-tummy-airfield, and the audience quietened down to watch the movie.

Every time I watch a movie, I am amazed how clipped and to the point people speak. No rambling on the way we do, no unnecessary smiles. Maybe if we edited our speech thus, we would be as impressive. Meaningful glances that seal the decision of landing, curt nods that signal victory,  measured smiles that indicate tension. Waah Waah!

For those of you who have not watched The Martian, it involves an expedition to Mars going awry and people having to take off from Mars earlier than planned, thus clipping their mission short. One of the crew, Matt Damon, is left behind on Mars, and the story revolves around what he does on Mars instead of twiddling his thumbs and waiting for a slow, painful death.

Communication channels are broken, Mars looks unforgiving. Matt Damon is very sad, wondering what to do, when the pater piped up,  “If I was there, I would send an email to NASA and go to bed. “

A few scenes on, Matt Damon is growing potatoes on Mars. I know.

Martian

“What do you think happened to those organic vegetables that we planted ma? “ asked the father showing off rare horticultural curiosity.

The garden looks ready for a visit by the gardener every few months. That sturdy son of the soil comes over, sets the place to rights in an hour, and leaves after a tooth-ful smile. Last time in preparation for the gardener, the father and husband had picked up from Costco, some oddly shaped packets that looked like seed bombs to be dropped into the ground. Lo and behold, we were told, we should soon be playing host to some luscious, organic vegetables.

Anyway, it had been a few weeks since the planting of the seeds, and though the summer flowers were thriving, there did not seem to be much happening on the vegetable front. I looked forlorn: We seem incapable of growing potatoes on Earth, imagine doing it on Mars?

The toddler piped up and said he knew how to grow vegetables on Mars, since he had seen a program in which the Space Racers grew them on Mars. If I am stranded on Mars with these two, one can grow food, and the other can email NASA. It was a comforting thought to head to bed with.

Mockery Bird In Zenkali

I sat in the garden in my backyard, relishing the mild breeze after a hot day. I looked up to see that my fruit trees looked green, and played host to plenty of animals still, but the fruits were no longer there. Could the trees have lived past their prime? I do not know. My botanical knowledge is excruciatingly narrow for one who enjoys nature so much. I watched squirrels scurry up and down on the very trees I was looking at, with a sense of purpose. How sincere, how single minded in their pursuit and yet, how completely at ease on the trees they were and how beautifully they fit into the complex pattern of life and their place in the food chain?

Colors

As I looked at the little creature who was mildly peeved at finding me in my own backyard, I realized with a shock that in spirit he knows and accesses the fruit trees far more than I do, and he probably helps the trees in my backyard by seeding them elsewhere.  Then I think about how little I do know about the complex interdependencies of species. We all learn, while young, about the food chain and all that, but we need something to remind us about these marvels every now and then.

Sometimes that gentle reminder comes in the form of a marvelous book. Every once in a while you stumble upon a book that you wish you can thrust upon everybody and have them read it. But they don’t.  Do you give up? No! You write about it, you read snippets out to them in the hope that they will relent and read the book.

TheMockeryBird

Image: First Edition Cover Art by Hanife Hassan

There is nothing quite so lovely as observing nature and seeing how we are all interdependent species within this planet. Mockery Bird by Gerald Durrell is one of the most endearing books I have ever read. It is a beautiful tale of man’s ignorance and greed. Set in the picturesque fictional island of Zenkali, the book is humorous and satirical to the point of wanting to read it back to back again. It shows us how we are all part of an ecosystem – trees, flowers, insects, birds and man.

In The Mockery Bird, I sat amongst the Ombu & Amela trees, and took in the exotic scents of the tropical island, immersed in the world of Kingy, Peter Foxglove, the tribes, the side sweeps at religion, the absurdity of greed, and the twisted aims and means of the media. The book sparkled with laugh out loud moments. Like the one and only newspaper of the Island run by Damiens, that contains so many typesetting errors, it is a beauty it functions at all.

“Poor old Damiens is like that. he threw the nursing fraternity into a rare state of confusion some time ago with his article on Florence Nightingale entitled ‘The Lady with the Lump’.”

The Mockery Bird, became extinct due to the culinary prowess of the invading French colonies some years prior. The Mockery Bird is the God to one of the tribes on the island, and obviously they were not happy with the extinction of the bird. It turns out that the Ombu trees survived only because the Mockery Birds ate the fruit of the Ombu tree and not being able to digest the seed, germinated them elsewhere. Now with the Mockery Birds gone, there was only one surviving Ombu tree on the island. Plans to have an ugly airstrip through the dense forests in the island are thwarted when Peter and Damien’s daughter accidentally see that 30 Mockery birds are still alive deep in the forest amongst a long lost patch of Ombu trees. This throws the island into a state of chaos, and the ruler, Kingy, is stretched to find a solution that satisfies the international community, the locals and the environment.

Zenkali

Does anyone remember Lorax? Written by Dr Seuss, in which he shows us what greed and ignorance can do, and made into a lovely movie? Now imagine a similar theme, written with endearing characters, a brilliant sense of humor and an exceptional setting? That is Mockery Bird.

It is a pity this book was not made into a movie. If you can read the book, please do.

S’mores by the Russian River

We’d been up to the Russian River for a spot of camping and the children were obviously enamored by the flowing water. It was a  lovely river and the day was even better: Cloudy and just warm enough to not make it uncomfortable. The river was teeming with people – some canoeing, some kayaking, some paddle-boating, some just wading in the waters. There was some sort of boat race, and the local canoeing club was obviously busy with its river rentals and before we knew it, we had saddled ourselves with three canoes, a paddle boat and a highly enthusiastic bunch of children.

The whole experience brought good memories of reading Three Men In a Boat and I found myself looking at the book longingly again. It was time for a re-read.

The daughter and her friends teamed up to canoe out on their own, and made a lot of noise about girl power. They got themselves into the canoe, looking spruce and fit in their life jackets and picked up their oars. They looked ebullient at this new-found independence and pride at having been allowed to strike out on their own.

“Go Girls!” they screamed, but of course nothing happened till the local nib who rented us the canoes untied the thing and pushed it mid-stream.

The toddler son looked forlorn at not being chosen first by his sister to get on the boat. He was usually chosen, why not now? Was it because he could not row? Well, if that was the case, he was going to show her that he could. Yes he was. 

A few minutes later, all the boats had pushed off like drunken lads swaggering from a pub, and only the youngest boys were left behind by their doting sisters.

The boys looked solemn: If their sisters decided to strike out as Four Little Women In A Boat, then they would do their best to be Two Little Men Without A Boat. They found themselves a paddle each and spent the entire hour paddling standing firmly in the water. They took Jerome K Jerome’s words to heart:

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“Life was not an idle dream to be gaped and yawned through, but a noble task, full of duty and stern work. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

They found themselves going forward 5 steps and then being yanked back by 3 steps.

It was later that we learned that the girls performed in much the same way downstream when they had difficulty maneuvering their canoe. At first, they resolutely declined help from the men, and preferred to get down themselves to push the boat out again. The river was shallow enough even in the middle of the river bed for the girls to stand and push.

As they sailed into harbor, they were soaking wet and remarkably happy at being able to jump into the water.

The burgers, salads and s’mores after a day like that, were especially welcome to the children.

“We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach.  Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care and judgment. ”

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

Braving The Himalayan Cold

Uncles-in-law, aunts-in-law and friends-in-law headed over to take in a spot of the Californian sun from the hot plains of Chennai, India. During the rare glimpses of television time that we get when the house is full of visitors, the husband picked out a 5 minute segment of folks climbing Mt Everest, and wanted me to watch it. That poor optimist.

I don’t know whether the husband has thought about a role of a shepherd actively before this, but I think he now appreciates their task. Fluffy lambs, obstinate rams and flighty sheep are all fine by themselves. Put them together and try giving directions, and that is when things fall apart.

It is somewhat a situation like this that faced the husband.

After a half a dozen explanations and as many jump starts, he got the program going.

“Everest Base Camp: The weather on the mountain can take a life of its own”, says the sharp voice in the commentary, when Maama #2 asks, “What is this?”

Pause Program.

Explanation: Showing a documentary on climbing the Everest and it will only take 5 minutes. You can also watch.

Play

Maama#2 feels that his friend, Maama#1, would like the program since he once went to the Himalayas. The husband nods politely, intensely aware that Maama#1’s Himalayan visit, starting from Chennai Central Railway Station with puliodare & curd rice (with lime pickle) packets in tow, is not in the same league as the poor mountaineers trying to summit the Everest, but he gallantly refrains from saying anything.

Himalayas

Maama#1 saunters to the TV, and the Play button is pressed, when Maama#1 feels that Maami#2 would like the program since she has heard so much about Maama#1’s trip to the Himalayas.

Maama#1 hollers to Maami #1, “Are you coming? Himalaya on TV.”

Protocol demands that Maama#1 does not holler for Maami#2.

Pause Program while Maami#1 finishes her task with the laundry (drying her sarees outside because the washer and dryer do not do a good job with sarees) and comes to watch.

Explanation: Showing a documentary on climbing the Everest – these people have to take their own supplies and go up the steep inclines. You can also watch.

Play

Maami #1 hollers to Maami#2, “Everest-aan! Come and watch – your Maama will like it.” i.e, Maami #2’s husband will like it, so the protocol demands that Maama#1 calls out dearly to his wife, Maami#1. Maami#1 hollers to Maami#2, who then bellows the message to her husband, Maama#2. But Maama#2 is already there watching the program, so there is a side-show wherein communication channels are halted all around to ensure everybody understands everybody else and whoever is interested in watching the segment gathers.

This goes on for about 10 minutes, before the husband shows signs of impatience. He nudges me to watch intently, only to find that I have fluttered away to the sink to do a spot of washing while the tedious interruptions and explanations were being done with. For some reason, the husband is upset by this and just to mollify the shepherd in him, I head back filled with docility and plant myself on the sofa to watch.

Thirty seconds into the clip, two of the team slip on a crevice and go crashing down, trying to jam their pickaxes into the snow to break their descent. It is a tense moment, and the cameras do a good job of capturing the bitterly cold winds on the unforgiving mountain. I have always looked at the mountains with awe, respect and fear. At 28000 ft, how quickly a good expedition can turn into a scary and savage one?

Maami#2 interrupts : “Weren’t you saying that when you went also, the Himalayas were extremely cold, and that you could not sleep at night even with 20 blankets, and the room heater switched on?”

Maami#1 glories in her adventure and launches on an explanation of the wicked Himalayan cold, and the effect on her arthritic limbs at 5000 ft.

I don’t know whether the poor sods in the documentary made it up to the Summit, they didn’t on our Television.

P.S: Artistic licenses invoked.

Baboons In An Orchestra Aid Bold-And-Beautiful Actress

We played host to a few relatives from Tamil Nadu, India lately. Uncles-in-law & aunts-in-law have been taking in a spot of the Californian sun and we added ourselves a few pounds of weight with all the cooking and eating that ensues. In all the hustle and bustle that visiting folks entail, I was not entirely surprised to see that Tamil TV serials reared their ugly heads in the television too.

Before I start, I want you to imagine a cage with a baboon waiting to get near an orchestra of badly tuned musical instruments nearby. Bear with me, I shall explain why a baboon is caged nearby.

I was cleaning up in the kitchen after an impressive sort of meal while the visiting folk switched on the Tamil serials. I need not have worried that I had not been following the serial for the past year and a half. In ten minutes, I knew the whole plot: Rohit and his father were bad, bad men and bold-actress-with-lots-of-make-up, had filed a police complaint against Rohit. Bad Rohit’s bad father clutched his heart when his Rohit was arrested and was carted off to the hospital with a weak heart. Rohit’s mother came to plead with bold-and beautiful actress with lots of make up, who was sitting at home and reading a magazine, to take back the case, and cried a river. All with me so far? Good. For it is here, that we wade into murky waters.

Bold-and-beautiful actress said she could withdraw the complaint but she had one condition.

The baboon breaks out of his cage and is now letting loose on a harmonium, while thumping his feet on the drums and the horrendous background music prepares everyone in our house, and the neighbor’s house too, that impressive stuff is about to happen.

B-and-B actress goes to visit ailing father in hospital and tells him her conditions for withdrawing the police complaint. Baboon is warming up now and lets you know that. Apparently, reprehensive Rohit had raped poor Divya, gotten her pregnant and not only had he abandoned her, but bad Rohit and his bad father then tried their best to get poor Divya killed.

The baboon now tries a windpipe sort of instrument that makes one forlorn and wane.

The B-and-B actress sets forth her condition: Rohit must marry Divya.

The baboon bangs, clangs and deafens one with the din on an impressive scale.

baboon

There are loud murmurs of approval from the audience, and I am shocked. I should know better than to expect anything else from a TV serial, but I still am shocked. I mean to condemn that poor girl Divya with a rascal of a husband is nothing short of criminal. She could have carved out a life for herself (and her baby if she wanted to keep the baby that is) with dignity and self-respect. Who wants her to be saddled with the rapist for life?

The maudlin entertainment pulled my attention when the parents or parents-in-law were here several times previously. There the heroine is:  impeccably groomed, dressed like she is going for a party, to receive her abusive husband or to confront angry relatives. She babbles on paying no heed to the social cues, and pretty soon, there is an explosion of sorts and everything thuds to a stop with a slap on her face. The glycerine acts immediately and there are tears and dubious sentiments on culture and I gag (once again) in the confines of my home.

For all our efforts at education, social reform and trying to open the mind to gender equalization, I think we have an epic fail with the Television serials. The producers may say that in the end, good triumphs, and after three years of bearing abuse, the emancipated young lady defies that kind of ill-treatment in the last one week of the television show and their souls are salvaged.

But where is my apology? Where is the apology to the audience? For three years, you send misogynistic messages every evening to the audience – an audience comprised of young, impressionable children, parents of married daughters, parents of daughters-of-marriageable-age, parents of young sons,  parents of sons who are married, not to mention every human-being, who actively seeks or passively receives the entertainment. What is the social message you are sending them? There is no subtlety there – the socially disgusting messages are there in Techni-color with dialogues.

Like my young daughter says, “Oh. In Tamil TV, everybody slaps the women when they don’t want to talk about something anymore. They never just walk away!”

That feels like a slap. Let loose baboons on drum now.