Sunday, November 14, 2010

Seattle, Are You Ready?

“Seattle, are you ready?” is a question Mr. Palash Sen, the lead singer of the band Euphoria, asked all evening long. Ready for what, Mr. Sen? And if we are not ready yet, then what state were we in when you asked the same question three songs back? Aah, well. Such was the nature of the concert, entertaining and in part, mystifying. The venue was King Cat theater in Seattle, and I was positioned in an aisle seat all by myself in the balcony section. With a two year old, you either have the option of hiring a baby-sitter, a practice we are not yet bought into, or taking turns to either the same movie or picking entertainment events suited more to one person. The third option, which would involve taking the kid to the concert, is a no-go. The music can almost make you deaf, and if Aarush wants to avoid listening to us, I am not going to give him a handy excuse. He is more likely to end up attending classical concerts first, perhaps someone with an extended name like Madurai Thirumalai Nambi Seshagopalan. The only way he is getting out is he pronounces the name right, to our satisfaction.

However, I digress. Euphoria’s strength has been their ability to do Hindi Rock well, if there is such a genre. Their songs are tinged with folk tunes and their lyrics are easy on the ear. No wonder, the crowd was able to sing along their hit songs. Which brings me to the mystical part of the evening. Where exactly were the Euphoria songs? Yes, they did their usual hits from Dhoom Pichak to Mehfuz, which I really liked, but a large part of their show was peppered with Hindi film numbers and other oddities ranging from ‘Dhagala laagli kala’ to ‘Another brick in the wall’. I would have imagined that they would not need to resort to these options if their repertoire was strong enough. Then maybe, it isn’t.

I guess the restorative point of the concert was the main man himself. I did not have much expectations from Palash Sen as a performer (you have to know that I HAVE seen Filhaal), but he was very good on stage. His energy levels through the concert, his interactions with the crowd, his on stage rock star moves (quite manufactured) and his unfailing ability to ask us if we are ready carried the concert. I don’t think anyone is under any misconceptions about his ability as a singer. He isn’t Sonu Nigam, but he doesn’t need to be. His insistence that everyone needs to be on the dance floor was irritating though. I had expensive tickets specifically because the cheaper tickets had dance on the title. Its alright. I maybe of the arthritic crowd, as Mr. Sen mentioned, but that didn't stop me from stomping my feet and clapping when it appealed to me. I found Mr. Sen's ability to jump up and down and still continue singing without a hiccup fairly impressive. The jumping was a criticial tool he used to engage the crowd. It would also have helped to overcome the limitations of the sound system, where the mixing and the volume left a lot to be desired.

Lastly though, mention must be made about the volunteers from AID who put this together. Or for that matter, volunteers of CRY or Ekal or other NGOs whose chapters I have interacted with. Planning this kind of event takes a lot of time and effort, and for the most part, the people who are doing this are salaried folks who have a family to attend to. You have to be fairly passionate about your charity to invest the kind of time that goes into it. If by chance, an AID volunteer reads this, pat yourself on the back for today’s work.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Terrific Twos

My son is fast approaching his second birthday. The one whose lifting of his little finger seemed like the high point of activity when he was born, is a tall lean force of nature who is incessant through the day and restive through the night. The first words that come out of his mouth every morning give great insight into what he was dreaming about. Like the pants that always seem to be getting shorter and a vocabulary that always seems to be extending, the past two years have been the perfect metaphor for change being constant. Here’s an attempt to arrest those thoughts and capture them.

Terrible twos?
I had not heard the expression terrible twos before children started appearing left, right and center in my social circle. My first instinct was that it must refer to the second year of the child’s existence. That surely must be a banshee that gets banished when the child blows the candles on his second birthday. Turns out I was a little off. Maybe by a year. Surely then, my child must be precocious, even if relates to being his own man at a little under two. If the terrible (oops, terrific) twos aren’t meant to end by the time they are two, there are contingencies that I must conjure up for the upcoming year.

Ever heard the same song 25 times in a row or gone up and down the elevators 30 times and not complain about it? Well, then you must be a parent. You may love your spouse to death, but there is little chance you will put ‘Re mama re mama re’ on a loop and listen to it over and over again for their pleasure. What’s more, you’ll smile each time the child smiles at a particular phrase that he or she finds funny or beam at their attempt to sing along, as the seven notes ease their way out of the little bodies in a mellifluous voice.

This is a tricky one. You see, I am a Gujarati. My wife is Tamilian. We speak English and Hindi at home, but my son speaks American. In the midst of this Tower of Babel comes the thorny and tricky question of how and what languages to teach. Do you confuse the living daylights out of the child by teaching him what “spectacles“ are called in four different languages or do you secretly rejoice at the fact that he has caught on to words like “khallas”? Do you go against your intuition and trust the research that says that it is ok to expose children to multiple languages at a young age or do you trust that somewhere in those billion synapses, the right connections are being formed? In the midst of all this, as the words come by – first in a trickle and then in a rush, you will be filled with so much enjoyment at the ease of communication that comes with it. The sight of your child beaming with joy because he just uttered a new word and that you understood it is priceless. An additional thing is that their mis-pronounciations are way cooler than the correct words. I never want to say hippopotamus now that I have heard my son say “popopus” or “baak” for bike. Eight hours of the day at the daycare also ensure the emergence of an American accent; the one dreaded by the grandmothers!

Little man
Did I say I have a two year old child? I must have forgotten to mention that he is a little man. One capable of looking you in the eye with defiance and saying “No”. One growing into a phase where he realizes that he is an individual by himself; not attached to his parents. Independence comes with a streak of rebellion, a bag of opinions, and the will to test out what his limits are. Oh I get it, that’s why they say toddlers are hard to manage. It is also fascinating to see them want to do everything that others are doing. The new-found confidence in the use of their faculties makes them want to ride a car and jump from the sofa and generally do six things out of ten that the parents don’t want them to. If you thought David versus Goliath was a fable, come to my house. I should also add that David has more tricks up his sleeve, including such “astras” as tantrums, tears, puppy eyes and a sweet imploring voice. Goliath needs to be very resolute to survive the attack.

Fresh Perspective
I had heard a botanist once say that his best time in the trade was when he was one; where he would be on his all fours in the lawn, noticing everything from the minutest of leaves to the giant trees. The infinite curiosity rubs onto the parents. You start looking at world through fresh eyes - notice everything they notice. I should also note that the kids also notice everything you do, so watch out.

Teaching life's lessons
You suddenly have a captive audience and you are expected to deliver – trigger their curiosity, teach them good habits, inculcate good values. You are handed life’s biggest job without a driving license. You suddenly discover you have something to offer, and also realize that you don't have everything to offer either. Surely your child is a progidy, but you are not tapping into their potential. There is so much you may not be doing right and there is a chance that your child will turn out right despite you, not because of you.

The chauffer and the cleaner
This will be your job for life, especially if you are a parent in the US with no support system. As early as six months, the cycle of classes, birthday parties etc. starts. The car is your means to an end and good music a life saver. Life goes on a timetable like never before, but you’ll thank all the classes you are putting your child into, because you really need to find ways to redirect their boundless energies. It is also a projection of one’s inabilities – in my case, my inability to swim, which prompts the parents to make sure their children start early enough.

Parents of toddlers
I have to have a section on the parents of toddlers (actually, parents of young kids in general), a difficult breed to which I belong. Ever seen a conversation between two sets of parents? It is like watching a tennis match. Each statement is accompanied by a counter statement from the other parent. If one comments on their son’s sleeping habit, the other follows up with what’s going on with their daughter’s nighttime activity. It is a cross between insecurity and pride about kids that gets them to behave that way. Parents really have it both ways: they love the kid and nobelize the responsibility. They complain about not having the freedom and feel guilt when they do take it up. They are the sole entities that they child looks upto and yet they need to figure a way for the child to look and learn from beyond. Another role that these parents have to play is of translators. Children are cute, but they sure aren’t easy to understand when they are trying to learn new words. Without the parents translating, that “wolly” stands for Diwali, you are not getting anywhere. However, their biggest task is accepting compliments on the cuteness of their little one. What a hard job it is!