Sunday, November 22, 2015

Name a country in Europe

My son, Rahul, who was a toddler when I started this blog, is now 9 years old, loves live theatre and music, and cannot decide whether he wants to be a veterinarian (like his mother) or a musician (like his idol Paul McCartney) or both. [Word of advice from mom: Just focus on becoming Paul McCartney, kiddo!] 

But this fall he surprised himself and us all by writing comedy like his dad does. In fact, he went a step further than dad by actually enjoying being on stage. Here is the skit Rahul wrote and performed this week together with his theatre class, Act Two Comedy Troupe. His teacher, Tamara Kist, edited the skit big time and deserves credit for the final version, while dad, Melvin, gets some credit for helping with first draft.

Teacher: Class, today we're going to learn about Europe, where many of our ancestors came from.  Can anybody name a country in Europe?
[Noah raises his hand.] Yes, Noah?

Noah: Chicken. [Class giggles.]

Teacher: Chicken?! Oh, you mean Turkey?

Noah: Oh yes, Turkey. I knew it had something to do with lunch meat.

Teacher: Can anyone else name a country in Europe?
[Derek raises his hand.] Derek?
Derek: Ham?

Cole: That's a lunch meat, too! 

Teacher: Nice try, Derek. But there's no country called Ham.

Derek: But my grandfather says we came from some place that begins with the word Ham.

Teacher: Hamburg? That's a city in Germany.

Lamia: Is that where hamburgers come from?

Teacher: Actually, yes. Can anyone else name a country in Europe?

Cole: I know a country! I know one!

Teacher: Yes, Cole?

Cole: Australia!

Noah: That's a good one bro!

Cole: I know, right? That's a country, right Teach?

Teacher: Yes, it's a country. Unfortunately, it is not in Europe. 

Cole: Oh.

Rahul: Isn't that where they filmed the Sound of Music? All those rolling hills? Not that I've ever watched it or anything.

Teacher: You mean Austria. THAT is in Europe.
Lamia: Austria sounds a lot like a shortened version of Australia.

Teacher: I suppose so, Lamia.

Noah: Teacher?

Teacher: Yes, Noah?

Noah: Does Austria have short kangaroos?

Teacher: No Noah, it does not.
[Rahul raises his hand.] Yes, Rahul?

Rahul: Greece.

Teacher: Very good. Greece is a country in southeastern Europe.

Rahul: I knew that because they filmed Mama Mia there. Beaches, blue water, boats. Not that I have ever watched it.

Derek: Who would name a country grease? I hate grease with my food.

Cole: Hey, isn't that a movie with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta?

Rahul: Yes. They sing the song Summer Nights in that. Not that I've ever seen it.

Lamia: I'm Hungry.

Teacher: Is your family from Hungary, Lamia?

Lamia: No. My stomach is growling. Is it lunch time yet?

Teacher [looks at her watch]: I guess it is. You can go eat now.

Rahul: Yeah, I feel like some turkey.

Cole: You are a turkey.

Derek: Just no grease, OK?


Monday, February 16, 2015

Madhuri Shekhar's 'A Nice Indian Boy.'

Here is the best thing I can say about how good the play 'A Nice Indian Boy' was: that I went to see it twice. 

The first time, on Valentine's Day, on my own, because it was rated PG-13 and because we have no friends or babysitters here yet that we can request taking care of our kids while we take some time on our own -- like a normal, parental couple would. So Melvin's Valentine's Day gift for me was to drop me off at Victory Gardens, take the kids for a treat in a nearby bakery and pick me up again after the show.  So pushing the guilt aside, I grabbed a 'Mumbai mule' from the lovely bar downstairs at Victory Gardens and headed up to the show -- telling myself that I love live theatre and it keeps me sane and connected in my isolated 'all work and no play' (pun intended) world.

It was quickly obvious that the play's PG-13 rating does not apply to Melvin's or my values and sensibilities and that this could have been a family outing for us. Adding to my regret was the fact that another extended family in the audience had brought along some kids -- and at least two appeared to be of my girls' ages (pre-teens). Two more appeared to be in their teens. I texted to my family during intermission that we are coming back again. Together.  Melvin's response was 'huh?' 

So we went back again yesterday-- February 15th.  I gave a crash course to my kids on DDLJ (which is referred to quite a bit in some scenes), Mumbai's cosmopolitan Marathis, Ganesha, Indian stereotypes, parental magnanimity, sibling rivalry, sibling love and support, liberal values, first generation immigrant parents' idiosyncracies, second generation's insularity, first generation's expectations of second generation's behaviors towards them. And finally, the elephant in the room and it is what you think (if you clicked on the link above) but it is also not what you think.  It is not even Ganesha who as a deity has a huge presence in the play.  It is the Indian's expectations about who is a true or a good, natural-born Indian and this little-discussed -- perhaps light-hearted but perhaps not -- reverse "discrimination". I also told them not to be shy about a very explicit kissing scene, putting it in context thus: "I allow you to watch Western movies where men kill men with one fast-drawn gun. If you are allowed to watch that, you can see this without any doubt."  I warned them that on a couple occasions they will hear some swear words -- but nothing that they haven't already heard on their school grounds or from my mouth when I am really mad about something. (Yes, so I said it out loud and publicly. Now flog me.)  Whether the crash course helped or not, I cannot be sure; whether the kids followed every dialog or understood every issue, of that too I cannot be sure (my kids' ages range from 8 to 12). But of this I am sure: that the big-picture impact of this beautiful, sensitive, witty, clever play will only make them more self-assured Indian American children and better human beings overall. That the play emphasizes the triumph of love and mutual respect for all -- whether separated by race, community or sexual orientation -- and by all -- whether by parents or progeny; brown or white -- is what they would ultimately remember. Of that I am sure. 

The California-based playwright Madhuri Shekhar (Chennai roots) appears to be talented and extremely insightful. All the actors were amazing -- but Alka Nayyar and Kamal Hans, even more so. Perhaps, they were just a tad older and much more experienced as actors, but they commanded the stage, even more so than the actors who played the younger characters (Kaiser Ahmed, Riley McIlveen, Suzan Faycurry).  

If you have a chance to see this Rasaka Theatre production, please do so.  Or better still, perform this play in your local community.  It is a lovely, lovely play.  

Director, Anna Bahow, on the play and the playwright: 'A Nice Indian Boy' is a romantic comedy with familiar tropes -- that are anything but familiar when immigrant assimilation collides with the adoption of a foreign heritage. The play challenges our traditioal concepts of ethnicity ad marriage. Shekhar has such respect for her characters and the humor is generous to all.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Home Alone -- Canine Version

You think you will never lose your dog. Until the morning when you and the rest of your "loser" family jump into the van and take off in a hurry. For the next half-hour you don't even realize that your 100-lb dog is missing from her usual seat at the back of the van. When you eventually notice, you zip back through the morning traffic, only to find her curled up at the front door step of your home, waiting patiently, trustingly, but with a quizzical look on her face. And when you open the door of the van to tell her it's OK, she can climb in now, she jumps up and bounds towards you, happy to be part of the pack again. Even your youngest child has felt let down by you, and quite frightened, when you unexpectedly had to make your children wait in the after-school program one day. But your once-feral dog--she just accepts that, for whatever reason, the pack was separated, and that's the way tough life is. Why make it tougher? She just nuzzles up to you, the alpha member, touches you gently with her nose and reassures you that all is well that ends well.  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha!

As a painfully shy kid with no brothers or boy cousins and with little chance of meeting and interacting boys, as I had gone to an all-girls' school, I was both curious about boys and scared of them. They were aliens as far as I was concerned. So when I heard Cliff Richard's song 'Goodbye Sam, hello Samantha' in my teens in the '80s, I loved it! The song validated and put into perspective my own ignorance of matters of the opposite sex, albeit in a 180 degree manner.  I dug it up yesterday when my children -- two pre-teen girls and a boy -- were having a friendly girls vs. boys argument. As expected, there were giggles, incredulous looks, 'what? no waaayyyy!' type of protests. They are still at an age when it is hard to imagine that a member of the opposite sex will really, truly steal you away from everything that matters to you and your kind -- whatever that means in this somewhat (relatively speaking) post-gender segregation era. 

Then this afternoon, my husband got in on the family conversation, which by now is about the song itself rather than about the mysteries of the opposite sex. There is a lot of humor embedded in this song, is the obvious adult consensus. (Of course, the kids can't deny that either, as evidenced by the giggles of a particular eight-year old.) Additionally, my husband thinks it is a song that may have raised no eyebrows then, but perhaps would be considered as too earnest, too innocent, too cheesy, no street cred whatsoever.  It is so straightforward and simple in its innocence and therefore would not do an easy cakewalk in our more-cynical times. He may have a point. We came up with two more songs that sound like they will be subjected to some scrutiny in today's world, even though they are both full of light-hearted humor.  Here are those songs:

Abba's 'Does your mother know?' (which I love whole-heartedly). 

'Save all your kisses for me' by Brotherhood of man.