Why Did You Fall?

I’ve got the theory nailed. I’ve seen it dozens of times in Indian movies and Tamil TV serials. You are meant to be well dressed, like you are attending a wedding or seated at a high tea, and then you feel dizzy. At this point, you clutch your head a little dramatically with perfectly manicured hands and then proceed to fall gently like a leaf fluttering gracefully to the top of the pile of leaves below.

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Leaves fluttering gracefully to Earth (Source: https://giphy.com/)

A minute later, if the accompanying background music and screams from those nearby fail to wake you up, you are splashed urgently with cold water, and you swoon. Now you can sit up looking sprightly, divine, and beautiful with the glistening drops on your face, and ask somewhat stupidly, “Where am I?”

Reality is where the universe sees the comedy of existence.

I found to my utter dismay that I was not a leaf who fluttered gracefully, but rather a tree that crashed brusquely and clattered quite noisily on its way down. To make sure that the fall was as far off from the Tamil TV serial falls as possible, I was dressed in a down-to-earth cotton night-suit, and landed up toootling up to the hospital in less than glamorous attires.  There were no beautiful glistening drops when I came to, so I could look angelic and ask ‘Where-am-I?’

While convalescing afterward, the loving family propped me up in front of the television and used the opportunity to get me to watch some of the movies they have been trying to get me to watch over the past few months. I started off with Lego Marvel Superheroes (Ultron Mind-controlling Iron-Man with Yellow-Hammer’s help. That is the whole movie right there.)

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This movie was accompanied by an excited commentary and almost verbatim dialogue deliveries by the elementary school going son who was anxious that I like his Lego super-hero movies. Some of the moves in that movie – Good Lord! If I broke and tore things in my body with a simple fall on the way to the bathroom, I cannot imagine how those Lego characters stick together, they should be in boxes waiting to be reassembled, I said.

The husband stuck his oar in, “Wait till you see what I have for you. This is Lego – I have gangster vs police movies, mythological wonder-movies and so much more. Real people in flesh and blood.”

It wasn’t an empty boast. The husband’s movies – shudder, gulp, diddle-gee-bumps. The first one, was supposedly mythological, so I suppose I could forgive the hero for throwing fully grown bulls charging at him mid stride, and proceeding to obliterate an army single handedly.

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The next one  had gangsters hitting each other with an intensity that should have broken not just the beaten man’s bones, but the beater’s bones as well, but nothing seemed to happen to these supermen. After one particular gentleman was slammed across a tin shed and rammed repeatedly against a wall at the rate of 45 mph, he proceeded to wipe a smear of blood away and then laughed before delivering punch dialogues.

When Ernest Hemingway said: The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places , I don’t think this is what he meant.

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I fell, once, on the way to the bathroom inside the house 10 days ago: Still convalescing. Not kidding.

I begged for a reprieve from this action-packed couch-existence and stepped outside for a walk. I was besieged with well meaning questions by friends and neighbors. It always heartens me to live in a community that cares. Never is that more apparent than when children of all ages gather round you and ask if you are okay in their own individual ways.

I was amused to see that the questions posed by the preschoolers were the toughest to answer:
How did you fall? (Umm…..I am sorry buddy, much as I’d like to show you, my doctor thinks it unwise to demonstrate.)

To this philosophical question, however, I still do not have an answer: Why did you fall?

Oscar Nominations for Dumb-Charades

There are many games that appeal to people of all age groups, but our favorite by far is Dumb-Charades.  This stellar game asks for nothing other than enacting the title out. The grandparents are given movie names in Tamil to enact, the children are given children’s books and movies, and a good time is had by all.

Usually, one of us gives the movie name to mime, and that person refrains from guessing the title.

We started off with Disney Pixar titles for the elementary school aged son. I have noticed how boys in that age group generally play the game.  Never mind if the movie was called ‘Slumbering Sloths’. If in the movie, there was a 5 second scene showing the sloths thundering against each other and charging, that is what they would mime. Most trying on the audience the whole thing is.

We all suffered in the same keen way when the son started miming. To make matters worse,  he said he would select a movie on his own (I will think of a movie in my mind by myself). This meant that there was not a single other person in the room who knew what the movie title was.

I would have liked to capture the whole thing on video, but we were so mystified and desperate to find the real name, that it hardly occurred to any of us to tape the thing. He ran around the living room that had a clunky tea table in the center and tumbled out of sight.

We looked at each other quizzically. Spiderman?
He shook his head, smiled and ran fast around the table again before tumbling out of sight.

Superman!
No! He looked crestfallen that his superb miming was getting him nowhere. He pointed at his chest and ran fast and tumbled again. If not for the carpet, the child might’ve hurt himself. Usually, his sister comes to our rescue for the pair of them flit between each other’s imaginary worlds quite easily, but this time she too looked perplexed.

“Try something different this time.”, she told him. He perked up at this suggestion and ran around the table once again and tumbled thrice before sitting up beaming.

The psyche of the group by this time was worth noting. The actor was fatigued and wondering whether the audience, much as he loved them, had any dramatic sense at all. Might a few broad hints help to prod the dim group along?

The spot under the table looked spotless now, and we were no closer to guessing the movie name. The audience was insistent on not letting Superheroes rest. Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, Batman, Transformers, Flash (from Incredibles) had all come and gone.

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“No Superheroes!”, he said finally speaking up, and thus leaving us completely clueless. With superheroes, there was a chance we could find the right fellow eventually, but this was like being told there are no oases in the desert. None.

We looked imploringly at the daughter, and she finally asked him to confide the title in her, so she could help him out. Clearly, we weren’t quite up to par in the brain department. He agreed, pulled her out of the room in exaggerated gestures, and told her the title. She came back laughing to split, and said she was going to have some more fun watching us figure this one out, now that she knew how easy it was.

Now Really!

You think you’d get a break given all that we do for these children. I gave her a disappointed look, and she said, ‘Believe me, you will like my sense of humor once you find out the name of the movie.”

After 2 more attempts, she relented seeing the looks of dumb anguish on our faces, and told him, “Bobbicles, do what we talked about inside.”
The little fellow looked stung. “But, I told you! They don’t do that in the movies.”
“I know, I know. But they may guess the actual word at least even if they do not do that in the movies.”
“Fine! “, said the artiste making it plain that he usually did not dilute his high standards for the sake of the audience, but was doing so this time. .

He put on a face that showed so much disappointment that we felt quite cowed. Finally, he used his hands to mime a steering wheel of a car.

Cars!” we yelled.
“No!” he said.

The daughter was clutching her sides and cackling with laughter and said, “Stop! Stop! It is Cars….but what Cars?”

Cars 2?
No
Cars 3?
YES! said the little fellow wiping his brow.

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We asked him why he simply did not show the steering wheel to start with, to which he said, “But in the Cars movies, they don’t use the steering wheels to drive!  They just drive. I was showing you how Lightning McQueen races around the track, and then has an akiscent (accident) and tumbles! Amma – you should know that. Remember you said, Oh! Poor Lightning! when we were watching the movie?”

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—-
He showed us his Mappy face, which is a sort of grimace containing both mad and happy expressions rolled into one. I took my reprimand with grace, high-fived the fellow and instituted a new rule: One cannot think of their own titles to mime. At least one other person in the room should be able to help if need be.

Madagascar”, I whispered to the daughter when it was her turn. Laughing at us for Cars 3 are we? That should fix her.

“Oh come on! I expected Appa to give me something like that. Not you!” she said pulling an emotional toss with ease.

She tried waddling like Penguins and everyone shouted ‘Emperor Penguins!” to which she glared and showed, “1 word!”
Finally, she split the word into 3 portions:
For the 3rd part, she pointed to her brother, ran around the table and tried tumbling out of sight.
Cars! The triumphant audience yelled.
Mimed a fart for gas (really sometimes I wish these children would be a tad bit more classy)
Gas!
Her brother’s mappy (mad+happy) face
Mad?
Madagascar?

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Car & Gas indeed!
“No more Oscar nominations tonight!” we said. I don’t think we could have handled anymore.

 

Mum At Mafia

As the sun set, and the frogs came leaping out in the wilderness, a cabin in Mt Shasta was feeling the throb of excitement. Frogs leapt outside, people leapt inside. Frogs croaked outside, people sang inside. The grandfather, Thaatha, and grandmother, Paati, were told that they do not get to watch their Tamil television that night, and to set aside the time for games. All drama tonight was to be live.

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The family was sitting around the dinner table and feverishly discussing the evening game session. No trip is complete without game nights, and a sense of thrill rent the air. Ice-cream had been bought and stowed away for a mid-game snack, post-dinner cleaning activities were looked upon as if it was normal for everyone to pitch in, so we could all start playing. (Maybe I should introduce game nights on a regular basis to get such willing help.)

The topic under discussion was the best game to lead with.
Monopoly? (Groan from me)
Uno? (Groan from the girls)
Chess? (Only 2 players)
Puzzle? (Groan from everyone)

“Keep eating and talking so that we can get a move on.”, I said, and everyone sincerely spooned some food into their mouths.

The father-in-law, meanwhile, was communicating with the love of his life (not the iPad, his wife). He looked like he was attempting the mamba dance without music or footwork, and we looked on curiously knowing fully well what was going to happen.

He pointed vigorously at the rice and then at his plate. The rice and the plate. The love of his life burst forth and said, “Why don’t you use your god-given tongue? Why point at the rice?! What if I don’t see? Next time, I am going to take my plate and sit outside on the porch, let’s see what you will do then!”
The son said, “There are frogs outside now Paati.”
The whole table burst out laughing, and the little fellow did not understand why his technically correct statement was this funny. His loving older sister patted his head and said, “Oh! Bobbicles! Bobbicles!”
The father-in-law was still pointing at the r, and the p.
To my mind, what was more telling was the fact that he was pointing at the rice, and then at his plate, as if the rice has been deposited elsewhere before, but we do not delve into their romantic demons, and I passed him the rice.

“Why not start the game session with Dumb-charades?”, I said. “It is a game your grandfather will excel at because he talks so little, and we can all have a good time.”

There was a lot of enthusiastic nodding for Dumb-C when the daughter and husband said together, “Or how about Mafia?”

A thumping approval met with this suggestion, and the rules of the game were being explained to the grandparents in a flow of fluent Tamil & English. (“Tell panna koodathu. Find pannanum. Save pannanum. Who is the mafia find pannanum.”) The Tamglish Grammar rules is a blog post that is simply waiting to be done in the Indian-American context.

We sat around with cards explaining the role of the Investigator, the Civilians, the Mafia & the Angel. In larger groups, this gets harder to do, but in our group size, there was only 1 designated Mafia.
The rules we used were simple:

  • The Mafia chooses one person to kill.
  • The Angel is given a chance to save one person.
  • The Investigator tries to find who the Mafia is.
  • The rest are Civilians.
  • If the Mafia is caught or if the Angel saved the killed person, the person identified by the Mafia continues to live.

No words are spoken, people open their eyes when called upon and point fingers to identify who is who.

“Thaatha is going to ace the game! Finally a game where he doesn’t have to speak, and be happy about it!” said the grandchildren, and their grandfather gave them one of his coy smiles and settled down in his armchair.

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With me so far? Good. No speaking.

I got to tell you, just when you tell folks not to do something, they find the overwhelming need to do exactly that.

The daughter was the Narrator, and she started the proceedings with Tamil sErial style background music.

Investigator, open your eyes.” The Investigator did.
Mafia, open your eyes.” The father-in-law was the Mafia.
Who would you like to kill?
“I will kill your Paati. “ he said using the voice that should’ve helped him get the rice without any tension if he had simply used it then.
“Everyone open your eyes! Thaatha! You want to kill your wife, this is your chance to do it quietly. Not tell everyone!” said the granddaughter giving him marital advice with glee.

The laughter ricocheted around the room, and a few frogs outside leapt away from the window. From them on, every time you expected Thaatha to keep mum during Mafia, he was listening to his wife’s advice on using his tongue, and it provided for great hilarity.

Coming up next: Dumb-Charades.

Magic of Zen

“Chitthi, you should read this book for sure. I am sure you will like it.”, said the niece, holding up some teen fiction. She has been reading what she calls Dystopian Fiction and some of her stories tend to mistake my blood for milk set out to curdle. I looked skeptical.
The daughter joined in the conversation with another book suggestion. “Adults won’t enjoy it, but I am sure you will Amma.” she said.
I donned an amused expression. That I should be pegged for having a child’s capacity made me feel truly honored.

Like Ursula K Le Guin, the famous fantasy author said, ‘The creative adult is the child who survived.’

“I mean of course you are an adult and stuff, but … well you know what we mean.” The girls rushed on almost immediately, “This is the good stuff – you will love it.”

The book recommendations discussion was happening before our trip to Mt Shasta, and I was deciding what should be taken along for reading.

After a little deliberation, I picked out Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin. A better book for the wilderness could not have been chosen if I had researched the thing for weeks. Earthsea is a mythical archipelago where wizardry is not uncommon. This book contained tales from Earthsea set in various points in time. The stories are set in beautiful islands amidst forests and meadows and was the perfect read at Shasta.

One fine early morning, on a hike in the forests of Shasta, I chose a spot in which to slowdown and take in the surroundings just like the characters do in the Grove. I sat myself on a rock, and looked out upon miles of trees and forest cover. Sitting there, I noticed how the leaves were shaped against the blue skies, the clear, sharp shapes rising up against the sky, looking majestic and beautiful. Why is it, that nothing man made can even hope to compete with the magnificence of a leaf, tree, forest or mountain? It was a biomimicry moment.

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With the forest around me and Mt Shasta in the background, Nature helped still and quiet my senses so much that I felt strange. The incessant chatter of inner turmoil quiet, the constant rippling of life’s waves smoothened, the distant and affectionate view of my own foibles on Earth. In only a few moments of this relative calming of the senses I could feel every observation keenly as though the distant telescopes were adjusted better to give a clairvoyant view into life.

To hear, one must be silent.
Ursula K. Le Guin

I resolved to take the children on a hike that very evening. The evening hike was just as splendid. It hugged a coastline on a lake, and the evening sun transformed a normal forest setting into a magical one. We trudged up the mountain path chattering happily and gaining altitude. A number of meandering trails and paths criss-crossed the ones we were taking as we hiked on.

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As we were hiking, I told my daughter about the moment of Zen that I felt during the morning hike, and she said she would try it too. I looked up surprised, but noticed that a while later, she sought out a rock and sat there just drinking in the scenery. I hope she felt the same sense of quiet.

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As we made our way back, the sun had started to set and colored the sky with patches of radiant pink, purple and orange. It was then that we realized that we may have lost our way. I remember going left from this mountain peak, but that trail up there also goes there, how about this one? Every one was sure we had come up by a completely different path. The daughter was unusually quiet and then she exclaimed thoroughly proud of herself, “This is it! I know now. This is it. This is the way to go!” and she was perfectly right.

Days later, when we were discussing the concept of magic, I went all Ursula Le Guin on her and said, “You know? That day, on the hike, you were so much in tune with nature that you were the one who found the way back. You know how appalling you are usually when it comes to directions, but that day because you loved the hike so much, the forest revealed its magic to you.” She rolled her eyes, but the joy in her eyes was unmistakable.

Le Guin writes of magic in a way that is manifest in our daily lives without us ever stopping thinking of them as magic. It is neither wand waving nor dramatic, but it is spectacular. It is in the unique talents we each have, and just like any other talent needs nurturing and nourishing to develop to its full potential.

The Author’s work has the influence of Tao-ist philosophies, that help us tap into the ageless wisdom of generations. The books talk of listening to the Earth as a means to understanding the greater forces at play, the ability to gauge what is to happen, but have the sagacity to neither judge nor criticize its actors unduly. In short, it is life cloaked in the glamorous garbs of magic.

Lao Tzu Tao – Ursula Le Guin