Feb 7, 2013

'Iron' tokens and dated ring-tones

A few reminders today of my age and stage in life.
Age = 41.
Stage = harried mom who is recovering her footing and self.

The Twilight Zone theme song
               Squished together with a fellow commuter on my 8 am train to Boston, the haunting theme from the '70s show 'The Twilight Zone' snaked gently into the air. As I peeled off my gloves and  plugged in ear-phones in preparation for my ritual morning TED Talk on the iPhone, I mulled a little anxiously over whether the music was issuing from another commuter's portable device (playing an episode of the show perhaps?) or if it was some sort of bizarre supernatural occurence. Thank you, Sri, by the way, for planting spine chills and unlikely thrills in my sub-consciousness as I surfed your blog at 11 pm last night. The sleep I was trying to seduce with a little soothing reading beat a hasty retreat but I'm not blaming you. Not entirely. :-)   My carefully nurtured rationalist alter-ego must have leapt at the chance for a quick vacation overnight as your very effective word pictures stimluated my already over-active imagination, and with lasting effect.
                Slightly embarassed that I was even THINKING this way, I asked the gentleman next to me - who was already gallantly scrunched up in his overstuffed winter coat to offer me a few extra cubic inches of personal space - if he could hear it too. Well, what I actually said was 'Is that the "Twilight zone" theme?' with a carefully arranged nonchalant expression on my face. He shrugged as well as he possibly could in his awkward position and replied 'Ring tone'.
              Ah. Such an easy explanation. Less sensational perhaps than if I'd actually heard a ghostly tune that no-one else could but as my freinds well know, I'm all for less sensationalism and have very little need for ghosts in my life. The bizarreness of our regular lives and of those around us seem to provide quite enough fodder for thought and reaction, thank you. Anyway, my last fleeting thought as I settled in to watch Alison Gopnik explain on TED what babies think was not that I was an unpardonable idiot for indulging in the adolescent thrill of goosebumps, but that I was undeniably old for knowing what 'The Twilight zone' theme song sounded like. (And yes, my rationalist self is back but I'll probably still surf Sri's fun ghost stories to indulge in the improbably delicious chills of the paranormal.)

Monopoly is replacing the iron token with a frigging cat!
            The masses have spoken and Hasbro has heard them. Along with a loud 'ka-ching!'. Or is that a 'Ping'? Cash registers 'aint what they used to be either and neither is commerce in this age of online shopping. So, the iron token is passe and a cat is apparently more relatable to the demographic that currently plays the game. That is, when they can tear themselves away from the luscious details of the virtual reality in their gaming systems. Something tells me that it's their parents who are breaking out the old Monopoly board for a desperate attempt at family time. That or I underestimate the universal appeal of a household cat in modern American life.
           I'm not even going to delve into what blended fabrics and the 'wrinkle-free' cycle on dryers  have done to the ironing habits of this generation. The more likely truth is that mine is one of the last few generations to have practised their cursive writing (also rapidly becoming obsolete) with their moms' gently hissing iron playing in the background, smoothing out wrinkles from cotton school clothes that SHE had picked out for us to wear the next day.
           Our family Monopoly board still has a slightly wiggly crease-line running from the 'Go' box, diagonally across to the 'Jail' box. I know this because I put it there with the pointed tip of the 'iron' token that represented my presence in the property war that was Monopoly. I must have been 4 or 5 and remember sitting on our dining room table in Nairobi to play with the family. Not yet having learnt how to lose graciously, or to even have caught on that 4 year olds cannot reasonably expect to win at Monopoly, I frequently threw tantrums during and after the game. Small wonder my parents had the forbearance to even let me in the game (I would'nt). Not to mention the generosity of my older brother who in all his 9 year old wisdom, let a pesky little ball of fury and tears haunt him repeatedly. Because of course, parental discipline being what it was in the 1970s, the only person I was able to direct my angst at was my older brother. Not with impunity, I might add: I distinctly remember being banished from the game after chucking my boot token at him when he fined me for landing on a Park Street home he owned (or something).  The crease in the board was the result of my wordless fury on another such occasion of hapless loss when I can only imagine that I pulled a 'Go to jail' card and mumbled 'I'll show THEM "Go to jail"!'. Or the 4 year old equivalent of that.
               I learnt over time how to lose with a bit more grace but will always remember the way that little iron token felt in my hand, how satisfying it was to gouge a deep crease on that board to forever express my impotent frustration. I can't imagine what kind of catharsis a kitty token might have provided. So yes, I will feel a slight pang of loss at that archaic symbol of grooming and domesticity and at my memories of it's sharp and pointy tip.

Trying to conduct my son's social life
           At lunch with a few girlfreinds from work, we found ourselves expressing with quiet horror that we were oh-so-predictably morphing into our mothers. Like most new parents we had crossed our hearts over fervently muttered resolutions to bring up independant children with freinds for parents, instead of meddling old fuddy-duddies. It's an easy enough resolution to take when your most pressing concern is whether Huggies really is a better brand of diaper than Pampers. Different story (for me at least) now that 'baby' is 6 years old and showing alarmingly rapid growth of his social circle which now comprises kids (and associated families) from school whom I have neither known or vetted. Yes, I just used the word 'vetted' in relation to his freinds. I could probably rest my case right here.
            But here's the thing; he could be exposed to values that confuse him! Or behaviour that tempts him down the wrong path! Or his psyche might implode from the tussle between his fledgling beliefs and peer-pressure and, and, and..........!!!! A million other over-protective rationales spring to mind, all of which I've volubly rebelled against in childhood.
            And all this because he was playing with a pal, a lovely little boy of solid values whom I have seen in action, and they enacted a scene where a bomb blew up some parents. It's unclear if the parents were hypothetical or had real identities. Oyon's story is that his freind did the enacting while Oyon repeatedly protested against the nasty theme. When ignored, he quietly withdrew for some companionable parallel play as he was unwilling to fully abandon his freind. (This is typical Oyon, who has been known to find a lonely kid in the cafeteria to sit next to at lunch time even when his gang of pals is yelling for him to join them just because he wants the loner to have some company.) I only found out about the blow-up incident because another child who witnessed this was deeply upset at the implied violence and told on O and his pal to the teacher. This sensitive soul is also a good freind and corroborated Oyon's tale of abstinence so my fears for him were less deep in that moment. But the 'I-am-becoming-my-mother' moment surfaced when I found myself hesitate to set up a playdate with Freind A of the parent-bombing-scenario. For the record, this child is stunningly selfless, helpful and generous as well as being an alpha-male type who can whoop it up with the rest of them. I have volunteered in class and spent time after school on the playground so have a number of anecdotes to back me up on this. Yet this paragon of virtues chose to enact blowing up parents during free play. What on earth am I supposed to do with that?!!!
             So I took the path of least resistance and temporarily morphed into a '70s parent who defaults to letting their kid play only with the 'good kids'. At least SOME parents were like that in the '70s. Still are perhaps? The situation was NOT helped last weekend (the above incident was about 2 weeks ago) when I walked in on a tableau Oyon had set up where a Clone LEGO ship (from a Star Wars LEGO set) was parked next to a ring of 3 Star Wars characters, little toy guns drawn, with a felled LEGO person on the ground in front of them. Stunned at the violence implicit in the scene, I ripped the toy guns out of the little plastic hands and headed to the trash can while exclaiming at (DEclaiming) how Oyon could possibly enact a scene of such sadness and violence. (Background: Like most kids, Oyon is a little sensitive to bad news and routinely reacts with dismay to other peoples' suffering. In other words, there is no precedent for this.) He burst into tears saying that the gun toting figures were the baddies and that he was just about to take them to jail and the victim to the hospital before I put the kaibosh on his schemes. He did have a LEGO police car clutched in one hand as he sobbed out his piece so I bought it. He seemed a little distraught at the violence he'd unwittingly unleashed ('I did'nt mean to hurt the good guy but they just did it!!') but was significantly more upset that I was trashing his guns because 'Now how will I ever play rescue again?'. There's always drama and unexpected smiles involved with dealing with 6 year olds, isn't there? :-)
                 I found a compelling resemblance to the parent-blow-up scenario from a few weeks ago when Oyon's warnings were similarly unheeded and with unpleasant results (he and his pal were told off, though very mildly as the teachers are a whole lot more sensible than reactive parents like myself). His pretend play so far - and he does A LOT of it - has always been about rescues and helping people/animals. Though explosions, accidents and natural disasters loom prominently in many stories, never before has he deliberately staged senseless human suffering before. He shows enough signs of being an empathetic person to preclude any real concerns on my part (or my husband's). I suppose he's just processing the world around him through play, as he always has done, and reconciling good and evil by working through scenarios for himself. We discuss news headlines with him honestly (though we have been known to do some minor editing for the particularly gory bits) and anyway, he lives in a world where even Elementary School kids are not out of the cross-hairs and information trickles in from sources some of which we will never even identify, leave alone be able to control.
              The end of this confusing tale is that I am about to schedule a play date with Freind A and with little anxiety (though the first few are likely to be at our place where we can supervise from afar).  There's also this: I know I could do a lot worse than turning into my mother, who spared no thought or effort to nurture my mind as well as person, even when it came at the cost of her own mental peace.

Enough said.
A LOT said.
Brevity is a goal that I can only catch glimpses of from very far away.
But it will be mine some day.

Oyon-isms (6 yrs):
This plane (a lego creation of his own with bizarre parts and dials and gauges in the oddest places) is a rescue vehicle that can land on water or ice. It's also a taxi. The guy in the back operates the air-conditioning in case they have to cross a desert. Other times, he just watches shows. The driver has flashy flowers on top for emergencies." Picture to follow.


  1. Yes, a LOT said. :P But it all made sense. Fun read. And as for the twilight zone series, you managed to bring out nostalgia. It used to be my favorite series back in the day. That and the x-files (before david and gilian turned into some sort of zombies themselves, when they agreed to go on the big screen).

    Yep. Am gonna return for more. :)

  2. Yes, I thought 'twilight zone' might be up your alley but had forgotten X files. MY maa called them 'Mully and Scully'. Lol! All that romantic tension amidst ridiculous yet spine tingling plots. Yes, they were caricatures in the movies. Have u read Satyajit Ray's short story collections in English? Such great paranormal n psychological themes and told in the same concise yet vivid way that he 'told' his films. Do check them out (if u haven't): the ones I have are 'Indigo' and 'Stranger'.
    Glad you will visit back here. Also glad a man is not stymied by my tomes! I know your blog is now bookmarked.

  3. No, haven't. I guess the closest I came to Ray was when I watched 'Gupi gayen baaga bayen' and 'feluda' - the former had ghostly overtones, but comically so. I've no knowledge of the aforementioned Indigo and Stranger. Will check out. More recently, there's been another bangla movie I've been wanting to catch up on - bhooter bhobishyat. heard? It's about how a colony of ghosts residing in an old building face the music when they hear the building's gonna be razed for a mall. Howzzat?

    Yes, your tome's readable, very much so. This despite the fact that I myself travel light mostly (as you've seen from my prose). But hey, good writing is good writing, huh? :)


    PS: Oh, one more thing. My stories are soon coming out in print. Here's my post about it - http://imsri.blogspot.in/2012/09/the-spook-spreads.html.

    1. Bhooter Bhobhisot is side splitting, satirical and thoroughly worth watching. And you would really enjoy the Ray shorts too. Gald you think this is 'good writing' and not the verbal vomit that I secretly know it to be. All hail the unbridled power of the internet (and free blog hosting) to bring mediocrity to the masses :-) But there is honest writing to be found even here. I hope I'm one of that kind as you seem to be too. Some wonderful bloggers in India whom I've been following lately. Will try to score a copy of your book (good on you!). I'm curious though: i understood that blog publishing fiction meant you couldn't copyright it or sell it as hardcopy anymore. I've seen non-fiction blogs hit the shelves before (Julie powell and David Ranney are favorites) but did'nt think fiction worked that way. Glad to know it does. Please keep visiting and chiming in.

  4. blogger doesn't take any money from me (personally) to put up my posts. I'm just using space. So there isn't really any copyright to it. Plus, I am making use of my own work and putting it some place else. Intellectual property rights etc might've kicked in had it been someone else plagiarizing my work. Yes, sometimes, and this differs from publisher to publisher - some publishers would prefer to have manuscripts that haven't appeared anyplace else before, even in a blog. But that's only 'cause the publisher is not big enough to be able to cover costs in case the book doesn't sell on account of people already having read the work. But it's really moot. I mean, compared to readers outside of cyber-space, how many really read a blog? I might be having, with great difficulty, say - 50? or ok, let me be a little more optimistic - a 100? That enough? A printed book sells in thousands, hundreds of thousands even. So, there you have it.

    But maybe once I copyright it as a published work, like in a book, I might have to take it off the blog. So it's the other way round actually.

    Yes, honesty is what works best in writing. Yours definitely is..keep at it. :) I'm glad you found my work interesting. 'Ta.