There were three of us, the next biking champions. We were in the flow. Cool wind blowing through our tousled hair, raindrops hitting hard on our face and wheels hardly touching the ground. It was phenomenal fun. We screamed and laughed as we raced down the near empty roads. And then a steep curve and a CRASH!! It all came to a sudden halt. Wind, laughter and fun. It took a while for me to realize that my flight had landed and I was recovering from a black out. Then I saw a blob in the dark. It was a blurry face trying to shake me back into the real world. Soon I was able to gather my senses. I told him I was okay. I limped back wheeling my cycle. My poor friends were pale with fright and drenched in the rain. So, I let them go home for good.
I looked scary for next couple of weeks. I had got terrible grazes on knees, elbows and face. I still remember lying on bed with bandages that evening. My knees, elbows and face burning sharply and steadily due to iodine solution applied over them. The horrified look my class mates gave me when I entered the classroom was hilarious. But I was least bothered. I was still wallowing in hangover of wind, laughter and fun. These injuries were trophies for my adventure.
Those days, kids bagged several badges of honor while growing up. Grazes happened frequently and they didn’t stop them from playing in the dust and mud. Sprains appeared and disappeared. Numerous thorns and splinters were removed by grandmas using safety pins (please don’t do that). Episodes of sore throat, cough, blocked ears, stuffy nose, pink eyes, insect bites, rashes, fever, upset stomach, blisters, chipped finger nails and finger imprints on the plump cheeks were frequent happenings.
We as kids, didn’t even respect their presence and were proud of the crazy adventures associated with them. Fever was a welcomed break from school and the band-aids had cartoons printed on them. I was taken to hospital once or twice may be when things got really out of control. Other than that, nature and time did the healing.
But there was yet a particular tribe of children I started to encounter when I was in the medical college as as a budding doctor. The first of them was a seven years old boy who sincerely and dauntlessly greeted the doctors on rounds with a “Pranam sir”. He was posted for an abdominal surgery and had an age appropriate knowledge about what happens in a surgery. He was wheeled to the Operation Theater. He looked a little nervous. But that was about it.” Next day he lay bandaged but was unfettered. “Pranam sir” he greeted again, his voice crisp and hands folded. No crying. No cribbing. No panic. No clinging. I gulped. I got a hang of what the next level was like.
I kept coming across them. They scampered into the dreaded procedure room without company of their parents and pointed at their hands. “Doctor, just be a little gentle.” I got the Intravenous line in the third and fourth prick and they didn’t break into tears. They bravely refused sedation and gave a winning smile after getting the lumbar puncture done.
There were little kids who would huff and puff with breathlessness but never failed to cheer us up. They patiently held their nebulization chamber in front of their faces on their own. There were children with incurable chronic diseases who chatted with me about sunshine and balloons. There were those who would follow the prescriptions and strict diets meticulously without much parental supervision. There have been in-numerous prodigies I have fallen in love with. These are the little humans who transcended pain and suffering in their own ways and found strength.
But then it flipped. People from other end of spectrum flooded the scene. I encountered a never-ending obsession towards eliminating every bit of physical pain and suffering a child can encounter. There were parents operating on an absurd concept that it should be possible and sensible for doctors or anyone else to absolutely pain proof their children. Somehow they saw children as fragile beings without an immune system. They could collapse with a single spike of fever or cold and had to be rushed to ER at oddest hours.
They aggressively argued because we didn’t agree with them. They insisted that there HAD to be something dangerously wrong with a child because his cough is still there after four days of treatment. They wanted us to prescribe the magic pills we allegedly hid in our closets. They rolled their eyes with contempt when their children cried as we took blood samples or put intravenous catheters. They refused the necessary admission to save their kids from the discomfort of being in hospital. And then manipulated us to advise a lame, unnecessary hospital admission because of their own excessive and irrational anxiety. Their kids were covered from head to toe in Barbie dolls and toy cars. They looked cute, delicate, timid and scared. And were surrounded by obnoxious number of caretakers.
It indeed is absurd the way they panicked at the first sign of ill-health. The way they get annoyed and resentful to hear that there is really no magic potion. That is a terrible state of mind to be in. It hurts them and their kids eventually. Why I wonder!!! Are we doctors playing our part in enabling this obsession? Why are they so scared of letting the nature and time do the healing? Do they realize that their anxiety is disproportionate?
After a few conflicts, I took a back seat. We have more of provider-consumer relationship these days with patients. Try getting fanciful and you get it back in distasteful ways. After all, these are kids born of painless labor and elective cesarean sections. When parents have chosen to obsessively avoid pain even when pain comes as a part of a natural process, what else do we expect. Isn’t it expected that they can’t stand a little child being in pain or discomfort?
As I attend to a newborn born out of so called ‘painless’ labor. I hear the voice of my grandmother talking to me. “So, what!! It’s just for a day!!” This was her talking about labor pains. I was full term and had already been talked into anxiety by my peer group. “How a thousand knives would be cutting through your belly”. My grandmother agreed fullheartedly. “Your pelvic bones would break a thousand times.” But she couldn’t understand the reason behind me being worried at the idea of my pelvic bones being broken a thousand times. She frowned and looked confused. “So what!! It’s just for a day! When the baby comes into your arms, you will feel so full of love that you’ll forget every bit of pain” Oh my holy god. THAT, is called a generation gap!!
I was irked at how casually she dismissed my feelings. Despite being slightly angry, I found comfort in her nonchalance. Like there’s really nothing unusual about pain. Like pain is a small price to pay for something priceless. Like pain is part and parcel of life. Body heals and you have to endure while it heals , remodels and reconstructs. That pain will physically and psychologically build you up for the life to come.
These days, I am worried that my son doesn’t frequently get grazed knees and elbows. And when he does, he cries his head off. In these times, when we are slowly becoming slaves of medicated comfort, I miss the lazy nonchalance of old style parenting when grazed knees were indeed trophies for relentless adventures and runny noses needed nothing more than handkerchiefs.
You’ve spent your whole evening cleaning the car, and you are happy with the sparkle of it. You are about to break into a winning smile. Right then a vulture eyed being appears and immediately points out a tiny speck of dust resting on some remote corner. He walks away feeling like a winner and flashing his mean smile.
Compulsive Fault Finding Syndrome (CFFS)
Clashes are natural when individuality proliferates. Many a time, we need to just call it off and say. “I wouldn’t be able to change you, just like you wouldn’t be able to change me. But we can still be friends. And be part of the collective”
Squak and shriek and screech. “Rupu is hungry. Rupu is hungry”. He called out to his lords yet again. His mimicked voice was coy and flattering. But he screeched angrily after his recitation. As though yelling in his own lingo “You good for nothing fellas!! I AM SICK OF YOU! ”
He was eagerly waiting for his morning helping of sprouted grams and fresh fruits. Unlike the folklore, this one hated chilly. Aunty hustled to fill his little feeder with some sprouts and water. He munched greedily. I watched him as attentively as a child watching a colorful puppet show. Bright green plumes. Red beak curved into a smile. Perfectly designed claws to grip and to climb. And a smart ring around the neck. When I looked at his face from the front, it looked so narrow. “Did someone iron his head sideways?” I wondered. “How does his brain ever merge the two images coming from each eye placed on each side.? Does he see two totally different images at the same time?”
I wanted to poke him. But I knew Mister Parrot had a temper and a very strong ‘nut-cracker’ beak. You don’t mess with that. He would rip a piece of flesh off your finger.
To give their birdie a homely feel, our neighbors had hung the cage below a huge mango tree. He was calm provided he was fed well and fed in time. He could often be seen having a nap on his perch with his head tucked down and eyes closed. But something altered in him every day at the sunset time. Dusk saw his mates flying across the sky in flocks. They would squack and shriek as they flew by. And the caged one shrieked too!! Sometimes he would spread out his wings as much as he could in his small space. His loneliness was palpable. He wanted to talk to his mates. He yearned to fly.
“But I want one for me too!!” I cried. Dad finally bought me a parrot. He was little. I had plans for him. Bigger cage and loads of fresh fruits. But my bird was a different persona. Unlike the docile neighborhood parrot, my pet was as rebellious as its owner! He didn’t like the cage at all. He wanted to flyflyfly. He wanted to twist and turn the wire and break it. He slept, he fought the cage, ate and repeated the sequence. And now the neighbor’s parrot had an evening company. They would shriek together.
I was adamant to domesticate him. People said he would get used to the cage with time, so I waited. But one day he slept and refused to wake up. We took him out of cage and tried to give him water with a dropper. He fluttered and kicked his legs and then he died. He was free and I was shaken to the core. I wept. And never again dared to cage a parrot.
But I kept meeting him from time to time. He taught the kids to recognize the colour ‘green’. And he is also the ambassador of the alphabet ‘P’. He is the protagonist of the fable where he fooled the bird catcher and taught us how being clever can save our lives. He preaches the importance of being in a good company by mimicking a saint and a bandit. He can be seen in circus pushing a little cart or a cycle with his perfect grip and balance. He can be seen earning accolades with his smart mimicry. He still inspires artists and photographers who capture his bright colors. He befriended my fellow friends and stayed loyal without a cage. He always makes children jump with excitement as they catch a sight of him sitting on a treetop. Isn’t he is so very pretty and so very smart?
But, I always saw him quiet and caged in every neighborhood I ever lived in. I saw him caught and being sold in bird shops and fairs. I saw him waddling out of his cage to pick out a card from astrologers’ future telling stack. I saw him waddle back to the cage after the circus was over. His beauty always captivated the onlookers and he often ended up in captivation. Doomed to serve as an eye candy.
Beauty at times, robs us of our freedom. I muse. Meanwhile, a flock of parrots dart across the blue yonder, their bright-green streaking across. They squealed. And my son sprang up and beamed,“Mummy! Parrots!!”
I saw him again. I love him like that. Free in his flight. Like he was born to be.
I stood in scorching heat to chase their flock away from the sheet of wheat spread out to dry in the sun. One of them lost her way and flew into my home. She panicked and anxiously fluttered around wildly perching here and there. Agitated and desperately hoping to randomly hit an exit. I flung the windows wide open, switched off the light, closed rest of the doors and sat in an invisible corner. The open window popped into her view and she finally flied out swiftly into the trees.
Those were the days when you could scatter a handful of grains randomly on any piece of open land and they unfailingly appear out of nowhere. One by one in quick succession they flew in and formed a flock fondly pecking at the grains. They were a treat to watch!! How quick and precise their little movements were. A hop and a peck, a hop and a peck and a hopandapeck. It went on an on till every tiny grain was gone and every little sparrow flew away with a chirp.
They pecked in the backyard as I practiced my guitar. They pecked and hopped while I did my homework. They fluttered around while my grandmother oiled my hairs. They tweeted in the background as I mused and scribbled into my journal. They entertained me during boring history classes. And distracted me with their kohl black bibs while I was painting a dry picture of some broken pottery in the art class.
They would chirp and flutter around. And gather twigs and weave their nest on the conical hollow cup of the ceiling fan that covered it’s wires. They would be hiding in every nook and corner of buildings when it rained. Some would find a hiding spot after only after getting drenched. They sat gaping and wet and jittery and all fluffed up like a cotton balls.
As you churn out the memories, you sometimes shift your attention to the background music rather than the song. Like that strum of the guitar, fading and appearing, and giving your drab song a rustic and poetic texture. The musical strum fills your gaps and pauses beautifully. It weaves a cushion around you and impacts you in subtle ways in that you may not acknowledge.
Just like that raw, rustic music, sparrows tweeted and hopped as I scribbled my musings, brainstormed the calculus equations, chatted with friends, quarreled with my brother and had lazy Sunday meals .
As the time flowed I gradually disengaged from the backdrop. I never knew when they disappeared from it. I got so busy in my own pursuits that I never cared to throw a handful of grains for them while I sat in my balcony punching buttons on my computer. I don’t remember the day they stopped being the part of the backdrop. Slowly they faded away without me ever noticing.
In the bustling city, I can no longer see a sparrow. After years of indifference, my eyes have started to look out for them, I even scattered a handful of grains for them. But the little birds didn’t pay a visit. A pair of pigeon got interested after a long wait. A squirrel followed. But that’s about it.
Birds inspire flight. And I have always been fascinated by them.
I used to befriend them when I was a child. The onlookers would be surprised to see a mynah hopping on my lap or a crow taking food from my hand. My secret was to sit for hours at stretch without moving so that they slowly get out of their fear to come closer to me. It used to be my prized moment when the little creatures let me in their close circle after doing their bit of careful poking to check whether I was a predator in disguise
Today I no longer have time or patience for this activity. But, someday when I will hunt out a landscape full of birds again and will try out the childhood game. Hopefully it will still work. Despite me growing into a bigger and more intimidating version of me!
Will churn out some fond memories and some paintings related to birds in next few posts 🙂
Don’t fight with a pig. You get dirty. And the pig likes it!!
(Heard it somewhere)