Monday, July 27, 2015

Let's all be the boys we (once) were

Some boys barely talk. Others talk all the time. Both like to talk what they know and for this reason there's engagement with what's being discussed. There's no small talk, in other words. No gossip. Only an examination of topic and debate. Part of the reason is that kids are honest. They never if at all stray into what they don't know, and when they do they never plead ignorance reluctantly. They plead it. At once. 

There's one boy I know who doesn't talk. He's “smart” but not in a way that word is applied to kids his age. His grades are high but not that high. He is consistent in opinion, maintains argument, and constructively engages with opponent. Rare, especially for a 12-year-old. Not everyone talks to him the way they do with each other but that doesn't ruffle his feathers.

I'll call him Navindu.

I met him sometime back. He was one of a kind. In what he talked about, the positions he held, and the interests he pursued, there was something which put him at odds with the rest of his classmates. He was ignored. For the most. This is not to say he was outlawed or `teased, but others rarely brought him into conversation. Wasn't because they preferred others or had cliques which excluded him, but because talking with him was so heady that you needed to know what he knew to enjoy conversation.

He loved Sherlock Holmes, for instance. Who wouldn't? But he loved it on another plane. He loved deducing. Most boys I know read detective fiction to get to the outcome, to savour the twist whenever they reflect back on the mystery being investigated. But this one was different. He didn't just want to savour. He wanted to rationalise. In story after story, he'd analyse the reasoning and logic behind outcome and twist. Not many like that, after all. They'd prefer the ending and resolution. Nothing else.

There were other interests of course. But these alone weren't what set him apart. He also held on to opinion. He believed for one thing that reflections on mirrors were real and were living entities. He'd seen a movie which reflected (no pun intended) this and had got around believing it for some time. Ridiculous, yes, but the way he explained story-line and after-effect was mesmerising. He didn't just recount plot. He explained it, piece by piece. Not everyone could do that, certainly not as patiently and painstakingly as he did. Having got around to how he slept uneasily that night he watched it, he concluded with a flourish: "Reflections don't live, but they don't lie either." Deep.

Now relating anecdotes is easy. Being honest when doing so isn't. Naturally enough, we tend to add, subtract, and in other ways modify to suit the listener's palate when retelling. This boy wasn't like that. He told the story as it was, free of frill. That didn't lose effect, moreover. Coupled with his penchant for being amazed at the simplest things in life (a quality which evades us at that age, to be honest), he was a superb storyteller. The qualities he symbolised: patience, self-restraint, honesty, and a willingness to contend with the fantastic and question it without being gullible.

And in a way, that's what we should have done and should have been. Come to think of it, we too have a penchant to disbelieve, question, and resolve. But as we age, there's a corresponding habit to frill, succumb to authority, and accept without inquiry. Ironic, considering how from our young(er) days we're taught to do just the opposite. We're taught patience but rarely wait. We're taught to go through everything but tend to skip. We're taught to be genuine but have a penchant for copying (and stealing, please note).

Navindu's still a boy. He'll always be, I suspect. Yes, he'll grow up. Yes, he'll learn the ways of life and how unforgiving they can get. But he'll remember who he (once) was. That won't take away from him. That’ll add to his understanding of the very same things which can, with you or me, change us into people who don't have the time to recount everything, question nothing, and accept without authority. Good for him (and us), certainly.

Let's all be like him. Let’s all be little Navindus.

Written for: The Nation JEANS, July 25 2015