Saturday, March 28, 2009

Boring Uncle

Here's the piece that wrote after taking Abhi to Bhrikuti Mandap. It is a bit hurried, and doesn't give itself enough space to talk about the really important stuff: how an uncle is usually also the first corrupter, spoiling a boy with gifts and amusements of the sorts too-fussy parents would never allow. I wanted to focus on Stefan also, because I saw in them a kindred naivety at times, a bond of wonderment and yelping joy. Not to suggest Stefan is a kid: quite the opposite.

I have sent the accompanying photo to TKP to go with the article; it is likely the picture will also be on the paper.


Boring Uncle

Nothing more loved than the daze of early mornings—the lulled hour before awaking; loved cocoon of one's own warmth and smell of night dripping away to the pillow and billowing outward from armpit or dear crotch; the toes keeping squiggly rhythm with sunny thoughts; the gentle intrusion of an unvaried rhythm of a neighborhood discovering itself at the gates of the most ordinary of wonders: a new day. And, nothing more cruel than to have that bit of luxury and languor snatched away by a shrill, flapping, pecking annoyance: the seven-year old nephew!

Nothing worse, then, to be awoken to a new accusation: “Boring uncle!” Come here, kid, look into my eyes, look past them with that apricot-sized brain, and try to find the edges of my mind. See if you can call me boring then. How rude is this new chant? Swami Ramdev's erratic left eyelid comes to my mind, and the reason why it should tug at my attention just then appears absurd until I realize it is to remind me that I am angry at the situation, and a tick of the face of a clownish voice would perhaps help dissipate the unfocussed, undirected anger. A few songs, a complete news broadcast, a stretch of the limbs and a regressive curl into the blanket still fail to chase away the rancor that has filmed my tongue and befouled the mood. Boring uncle, the twerp has the nerve! I shall have my revenge!

I ask Stefan, Zen monk and friend visiting Kathmandu, new subject in nephew's land of childlike abuse, if it would be interesting to take Abhi, aforementioned nephew, menace superior, agent of destruction of stuff and sleep alike, to a day out in our very public, very own amusement park in Bhrikuti Mandap. “Um,” he replies, “I am easygoing, so I am okay with whatever you decide.” I wonder if there is a special percept he must abide by that forbids him to be decisive and direct. “I don't want to go to the part,” Abhi says, folding his hands across his chest, thrusting his tongue through a gap in his teeth.

“Park, with a kay, not part,” Stefan enunciates to Abhi. “Would you like to come with us to the park? Would that be something you would like to be doing?” Although his speech is peppered with California fillers, like, umm and like and you-know, Stefan speaks almost like an Indian bureaucrat, as he is usually preferring the present continuous over other tenses. I laugh out aloud at the idea of an American monk in orange robes and a seven year old running through the paltry fares of the amusement park.

“No,” he says. “I rode the duck in the zoo.” He looks at me. “It was boring.” Meaningful pause—a threat, actually, that something more ominous or hurtful is about to follow. “You are boring. You always sit on your chair and take the remote. And you don't shave.”

Who wasn't seven years old once if he is no longer that age? It isn't his bratty and dismissive haughtiness or even the sort of unspoiled innocence that allows him to imagine the world as completely fenced by his experiences that abrades my patience: it is the fact that he makes me appear positively ancient, my own childhood fossilized into an exhibit of boring, my adventures through the fields and forests around the village when I was seven a feeble shadow compared against his great and Quixotic errands of the mind as he sits fixed and rapt before a television screen.

He has never climbed a tree, if he doesn't count the time I showed him how to climb a five-foot stump in Ranibari. Has he found eggs in high nests? Stolen fruits? Dressed himself with bows and arrows and grouped with rivals to play out the greatest war ever fought? Has he been so hypnotized by pine needles that he climbed up a slippery hill, covered in nettle and thorns, to bring back a brush with which to gently touch the skin of his friends? Do those years, where experience was fenced by the innocence created by the condition around, where stealing with friends was a major thrill, where at any slight provocation each child picked a stone to defend his stand, amount to nothing now? Must I compete with Powerpuff Girls and Ninja Hatori to impress a boy and prove I was once almost as interesting and smart as he is?

I am not a kind man, and this pill of hurt flowers in my heart a cunning conceit bordering on evil: I'll show this kid a thing or two, make him squeal like a little girl. Stefan watches as I fatten him on sugar first, to give him the hyperactive frenzy that prepares him for any kind of daredevil. At the very last row of the ride they call Columbus, essentially a boat-swing so massive that it can be sent swinging to give the rider a near one-eighty displacement, I put my arm around Abhi and teach him the essentials: grab the handlebar with both hands. Close your eyes. Scream, like a little girl, if you get scared.

Stefan is also diligently following the instructions. Soon the sky rushes to meet the face, or the ground tips to bare the patch of works underneath the ride. Everybody is screaming—some in delight, most in unadulterated fright. Abhi's arms go tense, small knuckles white with the sort of strength that a child shouldn't possess. I imagine the sensations in his stomach as he gets pushed against the seat and raised in a high arc, or when he experiences the beguiling queasiness of a split-second free-fall, a sensation for which the human brain is not originally equipped. I feel the satisfaction an uncle should feel in helping with the slow erosion of the original innocence, putting a new shine of experience atop his notion of the world, tearing a breach into the continuous fence around his imagined world to pour in a threat that will perhaps make him equally as boring as myself someday, with not much but a colorful mind to show for the damage. Stefan looks at me, and perhaps sees the wide, satisfied grin, and looks at Abhi instead: they are kindred for those three minutes, equally scared, equally hoarse with their screams that sound increasingly like that of a five year old girl. There, nephew. There.


  1. Dai, I liked this article most of all, among the ones that have been published in TKP...Maybe that was because I understood ALL of it...SO...It was very nice, basically

  2. urs is the most non informing, nearly uselss article in tKP. and also the one i read first and foremost, and regularly. your writing style, is very lyrical and sometimes there are very good social commentaries on it. writing can be a useless thing aniways. but ur articles near art, tentatively licking its boundaries. this articles is also good, although it kinda gets a little boring in the later middle part.

  3. "urs is the most non informing, nearly uselss article in tKP."


    Thank you!


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