September 19, 2011
I live in a place where it snows half the year. The winter here is so cold it is like living in the refrigerator. In fact the fridge is warmer. Whenever the temperature drops sharply - I leave the fridge door open. Rest of the year, weather is unpredictable: Rain, blizzards, tornados, hailstones - sometimes all these in a single day. People bet on weather and lose - weather wins always.
Some nights it snows so much, I can’t locate my car in the morning. The snow mounds over the car, hiding it completely. Once I find it, I cannot open the frozen door or if I open it, the car won’t start; once started it skids and swerves all over the road. Life is rough.
Here, we have a short summer. Last year, after months of snow, we were all geared up for the sun, when it suddenly started next year’s snow. Summer had come and gone - just like that.
In Kinnigoli, the place where I come from, everyday is a summer day. One or two times in the year, it rains for a week continuously, as if someone at the top had forgotten to turn off the tap - but once the flood is over it’s all summer.
In these harsh weathers, my daughter - 18 months now - was forced to stay inside; being confined to the four walls, she was vulnerable to develop a frog-in-the-well vision of the world. To avoid this, this summer, I took her to as many outdoor places as possible. These outings would have continued, God knows how long, had I not met the 3 naked men. That incident kind of put a stop to my wild road trips. We have some time before we come to that incident.
Candies from heaven
On her first outing - a sky diving event - a diver was supposed to drop chocolates as he descended with a parachute. Many children were gathered. Babies, and kids too small to run around, were held by parents. I was one of them.
At the appointed time, the light-aircraft circled a couple of rounds above our heads. Eventually, a parachute was dropped, that swayed lazily from one end to other, making it difficult for the children to pinpoint the landing. Children ran all over the place for the promised candies - that were not dropped! Obviously the diver forgot.
He had forgotten the whole purpose of the event. The kids were deeply disappointed by this negligence. Unaware, subconsciously, they learned the lesson: Life is not fair. For myself, having learned that lesson long back, I learned a new one this time: People when at Top, often, forget the people at bottom - the very ones who sent them up.
Once safely on the terra firma, the diver - wearing one of those shiny glasses where you could see yourself, comb hair if needed - waved at imaginary friends in the crowd. And then, a woman, with shortest possible skirt, ran to him, and melted in his arms. They kissed passionately.
She was probably a tennis player, or in her hurry to meet the friend from the skies, she must have mistakenly slid into her kid-sister’s skirt. In their passion the couple had forgotten the kids looking longingly at the heavens - for the promised candies. Some of the nearby children were shorter than the hem of the woman’s skirt; thus they were alarmingly close to a shocking-revelation unsuitable for their age.
Luckily, I had bought some candies at the gas station; though, I was not expecting this fiasco, I wanted to avoid competing with children for the falling candies. This foresight saved me. I gave a candy to my daughter. Instantly, her face brightened; she forgot everything else. In the end, it turned out to be a good day, after all.
One more time
All right guys, I am going to do this one more time. New writers start with memoirs, and gradually move on to fiction. All my past attempts at this transition have failed, miserably. As a result, my memoirs are turning into more and more fictitious.
The CIA, now, has a file on me. They are mystified about the person who has so many curious stories to tell. How can so many crazy things happen in one person’s life? They wonder. My reasoning: these are not my stories. These are your stories. Or at least these are as much your stories as they are mine. This statement sounds Kahlil Gibranish: mystic, confusing and makes no sense.
I have written so much about my personal life, not only I don’t have anything new to say, but also, in retrospect, whatever I had said in the past might not be entirely accurate. Now don’t get me wrong; the things I had said in the past are not lies, but facts have been craftily altered, events have been fabricated, truths have been diluted, literary license has been used generously. In short - you cannot sue me. Still, even after my open acceptance, readers prefer these pseudo memoirs over my short stories. I have never seen a writer doomed with such worse luck.
The good thing about memoirs is they don’t have to be real! I can talk to my readers, casually, as I am doing now; tell them irrelevant and unbelievable stories. Somewhere at the end of this article, I am going to tell you an unbelievable story of 3 naked men. It is funny, but nowhere related to this article!
Short story is a different animal. You can not crack jokes or narrate irrelevant anecdotes. Everything needs to be focused and related. Hence, they are boring. Even editors at Daiji are skeptic and reluctant: “Do we really have to publish this?” They wonder on receiving my story.
After considerable delay, when one such story finally gets published, I get around 20 hate mails. This one I received for my last story - I know, you haven’t read it - Monster: “Where is the ending of this story?”
On seeing this mail, I wondered, Is this a rhetoric question or a metaphysical one? Something like, what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Where were we before birth and where do we go after death? Is this an infinite cycle of birth, death, and re-birth; and, in the same line of thoughts the ultimate question: where is the ending of this story?
After the last fiasco, I am back to my memoirs. But this is probably my last pseudo memoir. I need to seriously concentrate on fiction. After this article, I am going to write a short story: Bona and right after that I will write one-more short story: The right man. I am skeptic though. The names don’t carry much promise. I may have to write one more, final, last-last, I-swear-I-won’t-do-it-again, This Is It - memoir. We will see.
Other time, I took my daughter to a kids’ party. We were given identical hand bands. This was to tag the kids to the right parents. “Don’t lose the band,” the girl at the counter had said. The warning made me so much conscious, I missed the fun, missed the party. While returning, to my horror, I noticed my daughter had lost the band.
“I need to call the manager,” said the girl at the exit.
“Wait a minute now,” I said, “No need to get panic. If you look at us, you will notice an uncanny resemblance.”
“That is not a proof that you’re the father.”
No matter how I begged, I couldn’t convince her. Later, two men with dark glasses took me too an adjacent small room. My identity was verified by drivers’ license. I had to provide my home address. Many questions were asked: Grandmother’s middle name; the street name where I was born; Formula to find the radius of a circle; my first girlfriend’s name (Here I gave my wife’s name); and, finally, my “real” first girlfriend’s name.
Things are lot different back in Kinnigoli. A few years ago, I went to the local bank to open an NRI account. I filled the form and gave it to the woman at the counter.
“Wait for few minutes,” she said, “I will give you the cheque book and documents.”
“Don’t you want to see my passport for identity proof?”
She gave me a mean look. “Are you not Mable’s son?”
“Of course you are. I know Mable. During her delivery, our Bijju was in the next room. Your father was not around - gone for a smoke. God! What a family! Guess, who took care of you in the initial hours?”
“You?” I said skeptically.
“That’s right! Do you know what you did?”
“You wet my sari.” She continued, “Today you are a big shot. You fancy long hair like a woman of questionable character. Your half shirt is in and other half out. (I promptly tucked in). Standing here, with the air of the person who owns this bank-building, you have the nerve to show me a piece of paper for identity proof. I know your whole family. Your grandfather, a fine gentleman, in his younger days, I must say, was considerate about my feelings-”
I got alarmed: where is this leading to?
“Do we need to go into all that, now?” I said, cautiously.
“You started all this - wait a minute,” She seemed to recollect something, “Are you not the one who was arrested?”
“No. That was not me.”
“But the police did come to your home?”
“You can say that-”
“But they didn’t do an arrest?”
“It was all confusion,” I explained, “They came for something else at the neighbor’s. But one of them wanted to use the restroom. And, finally at the time of return they didn’t know the way back, so I jumped into the front seat of the police jeep; and you know people-”
“How nice - Looks like a cinema-story.”
This went on for sometime. But I got my work done. I am from a small town. You don’t need a document or id card; people know each other for generations.
A Nobel candidate
Another time, at a party, the music was so loud and the flashing lights created such a confusing atmosphere, it scared my daughter. She had not seen human beings in such exhilarated states. Eventually, the host noticed this and we were gently led to a small room.
In the room I met other Fathers tending children at various stages: sleeping, soon to wake up, indifferent, and some were hyper - they must have had one too many chocolates. The room looked like a concentration-camp and the occupants looked like aliens. Prior to my daughter, though I had a substantial share of wild parties, I had never noticed such a room.
I took a corner seat. The person next to me had two children: One was about to sleep. And, the other - sleeping - was showing signs of waking up. (No two siblings sleep at the same time! There must be some scientific explanation for this - but times are not ripe yet for that breakthrough.) Anyway, I was talking about the person next to me. He looked as if he had lost interest in the whole world. In him, I saw my future.
But soon I realized I was wrong: the guy was quite smart. He talked about energy, mass equivalence and some obscure scientific concepts; while talking these things, he seemed strangely possessed and became as excited and energetic as the people dancing outside. Of course, much of the mumbo-jumbo went over my head. “Exactly, what is your domain?” I asked him.
“Theoretical Physics,” he said, “I was writing a white paper to prove E is NOT equal to MC square.”
Oh my god! I don’t know much about Physics - abandoned that muck right after college - but I know this, the moment one disproves the energy mass equivalence, you will get a long-distance call from the Nobel committee. Apparently, this guy had not received such a call.
“Then what happened? Did you realize the falsity in your silly presumptions?” I must say there was a touch of sarcasm in my voice. (The same kind, my critics assume, while finding faults in my articles.)
“No No” he said, “I was very near to success.”
“My wife got pregnant…” he waited searching for words, “The twins take all the time - ”
All my life I had wondered why my parents or grandparents - intelligent people - didn’t invent anything significant. My parents and grandparents share 19 children (As of the publishing of this article) and uncountable grandchildren. Every time, I make an effort to draw the family tree, somewhere down the line I need to start over again, because of the fresh branches! I don’t know how many cousins I have. As I write this, somebody is pregnant. And some of them I have met so seldom - I have seen Halley Comet more often.
Parents with single child are holy people. And, those with more than one child are saints. They deserve an award. Someone should distribute discount coupons or some such stuff to keep up the moral. Once you have children it becomes increasingly difficult (read impossible) to achieve your goals; unless you have goals like watching the sunrise, waving at school buses, enjoying the clouds, observing the growing grass, listening the birds and smelling roses. Considering the fact that we all die one day, these goals are not that bad; I might try them myself, someday.
A peek at heaven
My daughter babbles a few words now. The first word she said was - NO. (Not being mama had supremely upset her mother.) We didn’t teach her that word; she learned that on her own. Now she says NO to everything. To derive a positive response from her, I need to phrase my questions in double negatives: Do you NOT want to eat No mum-mum?
Seasoned writers avoid double negatives - they are confusing. The person who uses double negatives frequently is an amateur - or Shakespeare, who got away with almost everything. In the absence of a good dependable dictionary (or thesaurus), the bard had made up his own words; thus he contributed a sizable chunk of words to the English language. Who else could have come up with the line, ‘where art thou, Romeo?’ that didn’t really mean ‘where are you, Romeo?’
I am amazed to discover, how washing machines, car rides and vacuum cleaners put babies to sleep. (In my school days, I always used to spell the word VACUUM incorrectly. Why two Us? I also used to spell the word incorrectly - incorrectly! That was because I was regularly-irregular to my classes. Ok, let’s stop this thing.) One would wonder - logically - babies would prefer silence over these noisy alternatives. But looks like these very alternatives soothe them with the warmth of mama’s tummy.
One time, police stopped my car at 2 AM in the morning. When they stop a car at that time, they are very cautious. They take a long time to check the license plate and verify your records. Meanwhile a backup car with lights turned off quietly makes a presence in the adjacent street.
“Have you been drinking?” asked the cop, finally made a presence.
“I am a teetotaler,” I said.
“Never mind. Being a writer, I sometime tend to be a bit articulate. In short, I don’t drink.”
“But your red-eyes tell a different story.”
“I am sleep deprived.” Then I pointed to my daughter in the child-seat. That cleared all the confusion. The cop had gone through that stage himself.
Other times, when she doesn’t sleep, I take her to Wal-Mart, which is open 24 hours. Usually, in the wee hours, it is empty - unless another parent is making rounds, like me. I have acquainted a few such parents; when we meet at these unholy hours we usually check notes and discus baby stuff: diaper rashes, milk bottles, baby food etc.
My daughter is quite attached to me. She takes all my time. This whole article is written while she was sleeping. Whenever she sleeps, I run to my computer and type a few sentences.
Hiding behind the front door, she eagerly waits for my return from office. I need to practice utmost care while opening the door. (I can’t make sudden entries like Kramer). Once inside, I need to pick her up first thing - I can not remove shoes or do some other thing. I did that once, and she started a wailing and ruckus; she thought I was ignoring her and giving more importance to mundane things.
No one had shown so much attention to me, ever - not even when I was a baby. In fact people ignored me to such an extent, I used to scribble my ideas on paper and one fine day realized that there are kind people willing to publish whatever I write - I became a writer.
Having a child around is a great learning experience. You learn new things, everyday. For e.g. Baby soap, when applied to eyes doesn’t cause burning. Baby toothpaste can be actually swallowed - I use it as a cheese spread. I found many long-lost interesting things under the couches and dining tables - some of them are so tasty! Gripe Water has such low percentages of alcohol it is actually safe for adults. Many a nights, tired from office work, I consume a small peg (30 ml) of Gripe Water before drifting into sound sleep.
Young men from Texas
All these baby-outings stopped or at least reduced drastically after the last trip. We had covered all the neighboring locations and were driving aimlessly in an unexplored distant place. I stopped the car at the signal for 3 young men to cross the road; they stopped in the middle of the road and gave a dramatic bow. And then suddenly - God, why didn’t You warn me? - they dropped their pants. This is America: anything is possible here. The town being new to me, I thought, this could be some kind of local custom of welcoming-the-guests. Different places in the world have different and unique ways of receiving guests.
Only later, I realized that the show was for the convertible next to mine, full of teenage girls. The girls giggled. (Young men had mistakenly assumed that nudity arouses women. It will take them years to digest the myth. What women like is not naked men, but a man who is an un-intrusive listener, who derives no logical conclusions from her talk.)
Throwing a second and final side-glance at them, I had concluded, correctly, that these young men were from no other place but Texas. In my younger days, I would have totally approved their gesture - possibly joined the welcome party myself. But days have changed - I am no more the wild and adventurous person that I was once. I pitied these men. And, wholeheartedly wished that they realize the wrong path they were treading and prayed to God to give them enough sense to make a U-turn at the earliest.
In my heart of hearts, I am really scared. The world is becoming dumber every day. The things that were unheard a few years back are norms now. Where is this leading? I get terrified when I think about the children not yet born - what is in store for them?
Once again, I am drifting into one of my dark moods. Let’s not delay a bit; let’s jump to the end-part right away - before I screw up this whole article. (Thank you though, for hanging around till now. I am sure many have already left. I think I should stop this incurable habit of talking to my readers inside brackets.)
Another premature ending
I remember like yesterday, the day my daughter was born. Being inside the labor room, I was one of the firsts to welcome her to this world. In my anxiety, I had counted 19 fingers and toes; and the nurse had suggested for a re-count starting from one - instead of zero. When I saw her first time, I was surprised to notice that she didn’t look like my wife, but I knew she was looking like someone in the Family - from Father’s side. I had struggled and failed to recollect that person. Only, in the parking lot, when we were taking her home, I had seen myself in the rear-view mirror and suddenly it dawned on me that the baby looked like me. She is miniature me. It is like re-living my life: replay! This is super-cool. (I know, I just used a worst modifier; but please, let’s leave it like that for once.)
A few days back someone stopped my wife at the department store.
“Are you Lobo’s wife?” he asked.
“Well, yes. Do I know you?” she said.
“No you don’t,” the stranger said, “I saw the child. She looks like Lobo. And I thought - ”
It’s a beautiful life.
Ravi Lobo - Archives:
- Everyday is a Miracle...
- Short Story : The New Tenants...
- The Long Wait
- Good News...
- A Fast Train to Virar...
- After the storm
- Mangalore days
- My Wedding and Related Incidents
- Grandpa and Grandson...
- My world
- Forgive me Father
- City by the sea
- A simple life
- Last in the boat race
- An affair to remember
- All about Life Cycle - its Faces and Phases