Way to go?
Can you believe it or what… My dad held back on me. Now stay with me on this. As some of you may have guessed, I am my dad’s son. (Nice work, Sherlock). This entitles me to a certain level of genetic inheritance as far as talent and capabilities are concerned.
Dad’s genetic cocktail consists of, but is not limited to, flair for music, penchant for drawing and painting, mesmerizing oratory skills, unrestrained vocal agility, towering imagination, high aptitude for most new things (except possibly the computer…), creative writing, design, and photography. The only other person I know who has a similarly lengthy resume in talents and interests is my friend, the indomitable Ashika Sharma, whose skills in painting, dancing, paragliding, trekking, canoeing and marrying Roshans are second to no one.
With such a wide portfolio, I guess it’s natural for a lot to get diluted when they are passed on through the heredity channel. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop cribbing about it. But then again, I am thankful that I did inherit some part of each element. I may not be able to make Simon Caldwell give a standing ovation and smother me with praises, but I can sing simple songs without scaring civilians. I may not have the discipline to learn the guitar effectively enough to replace Slash, but I can play “Country Roads” without instilling in my friends a deep desire to plunge a screwdriver in their ears. So it’s not a complete loss… I’ve been able to salvage bits and pieces of the genetic soup… except for the sense of direction. That’s one of the key areas where dad held back.
I remember an old episode of Home Improvement, where one of the characters rattles off a theory that people have tiny iron deposits in their noses, and that makes them able to judge direction; like a human compass, and that since men pack more iron than women, they are comparatively more reluctant to ask for directions.
If there’s anything to that theory, then my dad’s nose must be so stuffed with iron I’m surprised he can breathe OK. I can’t recall an instance when dad has ever lost his way. He may be visiting some old town after a couple of decades, but he’d just drive along like he built the town himself. He was always confident. And he was confident because he was always right.
Except for this ONE incident… I don’t remember how long ago this was. It was back in the days when I was thin, so… very long ago indeed. We were returning from a pretty long drive, halfway home, when dad said “Hey, Franklin lives around here. What do you say we drop in and say hi?”. Mom didn’t have any objection. So in one deft move, dad swung left, and we were off to see dad’s old friend, whom I’ve named Franklin for the purpose of this article cos I’m quite handicapped when it comes to remembering names. It was quite a distance away from the highway, and full of twists and turns in narrow spaces. Dad didn’t fumble for a second. He rode the streets whistling an old tune like he grew up there. But we were quite used to such situations. We continued to just talk about this and that (Mom talked about this; I talked about that)
And then, suddenly, the car stopped. Dad had a puzzled expression on his face. He looked confused… lost. We got spooked…. Dead silence in the car. This was brand new territory for us. Dad got out of the car and started looking around, still wearing the dazed and confused look on his face. He finally stopped one of the local residents…
“There used to be a tree around here somewhere. A giant dark banyan tree with a large tree hollow…”
“Well, yeah… I remember that. But they cut it years ago… See that podium over there? The tree used to stand there”
This was all dad needed to hear. The d. and c. look vanished from his face and he was back to his carefree whistling old self as we resumed our mazed journey to Franklin’s place. I know… It seems quite normal for people to get confused with directions after a long time, particularly with part of the landscape missing, but when that ‘people’ is dad, it’s not quite that normal either.
“So, dad… you got confused back there…”
“Oh, yeah… It’s funny. I really expected that tree to show up on the left. I thought maybe we missed it.”
“Oh? Hmm… Ok. Well, I would have thought you’d remember some other stuff around that place that could have helped you… I mean, I’ve never seen you confused like that before… Exactly how long has it been since you’ve come around here?”
“Huh? Come thi… ? Oh, no, Hammy. I’ve never been here before”
Oh, yes. Dad was driving through that country maze using oral instructions he got from Franklin over a decade ago. I for one, am still unnerved. If Christopher Columbus had dad for a navigator, he’d have reached India as planned and kept America hidden for a while longer.
And here I am, with approximately the same directional sense as a mummified lemur. And I am equally bad at giving directions as well… There has been an infamous incident in 2002, when I, with the purest of intentions, drew a very detailed map to my house so that my friends could visit me. It was a simple map giving directions from the bus terminal in Cochin to my home in Cochin, all within a city I had lived in all my life (yes, Cochin… You’re on a roll, Sherlock). This map was given with explicit instructions, given to the best of my ability, to a group of five friends. They’re probably still wandering around my little city, clutching a worn out piece of paper, swearing that if they ever find me, they’ll take turns bashing my head in with a jackhammer.
But let’s forget that, shall we? They’re never going to find a jackhammer in Cochin anyway. One of my friends had recently gone for a vacation and left me with a scooter, temporarily making me a menace to pedestrians. So yesterday, I offered one of my colleagues a ride home. I had a general, but vague idea about where her home was. She herself only had a vague idea about the way, and usually relied on the taxi driver to figure it out. Usually, in situations like these, I’d keep asking every third person I see for directions until they file in a suit for harassment; but this time, I somehow felt confident… felt like maybe I should try to be my dad for a change.
So off we went, taking all the left turns and right turns following nothing but my gut instincts. It was a novel experience. Usually, the only decision I rely on my gut for is “Chinese or Italian?” So I zigged and I zagged without asking for directions. My colleague kept insisting that we stop and check whether we are going the right way. But why would I listen to her? How could I go wong? I was a navigational wizard, a directional guru, the master tracker, supremely confident … until I reached a dead end.
I stopped and asked myself – “What would dad do?”… I don’t know. I don’t know how he does what he does. Then I remembered all that iron stuffed up my nose. I raised my head high, lifting my nose up as far as possible and… well, ok… what do I do now? How do you use your nose for a compass?
Sniff…(?) Sniff sniff sniff…
Ok, Stop that, Hammy. You’re not a dog. Sit! Stay!
So I retreated. I backtracked for a while and tried a new route, with my newfound confidence dampened by a mere notch or two.
Three dead ends later, I threw in the towel. I started asking for directions and finally got her home. I offered some vague excuse for getting lost like that… I don’t even remember which one I used.
“It’s the humidity in the air. It screwed up all the iron in my nose”
“You remember that stupid truck that blocked our way a few lanes back? It just got me confused”
“There was that taxi parked right in the middle of the correct lane. It got me thinking that it was probably a dead end.”
Of course, none of that is true. The truth is… I got confused because I couldn’t find a giant dark banyan tree with a large tree hollow.