Walk, why fly?

Indian mothers have a unique way of interpreting western nursery rhymes to their advantage.

Many many eons ago, my mother pioneered the anti-heights campaign in my head when she summed up Humpty Dumpty with a thought provoking question: Would he have had such a terrible fall had he been on the ground and not on a wall?

Jack & Jill with: Would they have come tumbling down had they not gone up there?

Really, would they have? I grew up wondering.

Much later when my Class Four B mate, little Krishnakumar, climbed the school’s imposing banyan tree only to fall and break his bones, I heard a little voice inside me resonate that logic: Why did he have to climb it?

(I tell you, such whispers of the mind are far louder than what the world would achieve, if it stood in a line and let out a chorus yell.)

My hatred for heights became full and complete that moment, that day.

From then on, Wuthering Heights became a haunted place to be in.

Headlines of falling meteors were read with a smug, “There, another one bites the dust!”

Superman became a bad example to crane our necks and look up to, especially because, by his own admission, he was neither a bird nor a plane.

Mountaineers standing triumphantly aloft conquered peaks seemed stupid, for I knew they would have smiled through whatever little face was visible, drunk some terrible coffee just because it was hot, huffed and puffed a bit, pottered around unsteadily, and not knowing what else to do, begun their less celebrated descend. Plain stupid.

My dislike for heights only grew in intensity as I watched people fall off stools, benches, ladders, cliffs, terraces, balconies, scaffoldings, stairs and pedestals.

Most kids learnt physics from it- centre of gravity, equilibrium, and all that.

I learnt biology from it- Unlike birds, we aren’t programmed for the skies. And, unlike our ancestors, we aren’t wired even for the trees.

Basically, the graffiti on the wall was, for once, legible- We are an altitude challenged race.

Our problems, unlike temperature and oxygen, are directly proportional to altitude, I concluded. I even had an explanation.

It is not by accident that our body parts with the least problems are the ones closest to the ground. Apart from an ingrown nail or a shoe bite, do we remember having any issues with our toes? Yes, toes? Okay, someone stepping on our toes, perhaps. But other than that? Nothing.

Now go higher. You will see problems increasing.

Aching knees.

Insatiable groins.

Rumbling stomach.

Above them, the heart. A web of complex emotional tangles, clogged arteries and choked veins.

And even higher, at the very top of it all, is the crown of all problems- our head. A beehive of noisy worries, polluted thoughts and a breeding pot of worries. They say, almost 90% of all the problems in our body originate here. I’d say, that of the world, too.

However, my attempts to turn this analogy into an ideology didn’t succeed beyond a few polite listeners.

Others were downright rude. They said I needed medical intervention.

My early signs of becoming a child-philosopher were dismissed by people with a heartless one-word diagnosis for it: “Vertigo!” said the doctors, and “Laziness!” said the elders.

Medication had no effect on me. And advice, I refused to swallow.

Simply because, most of these people who ask us not to fear heights, standing firmly on the ground below and encouraging us to climb higher and higher, are never there when we fall.

I have seen kids climb human pyramids until they stumble and fall, breaking their neck or spine. I have seen the people whipping up a frenzy until then, disperse in no time and go to the comfort of their homes while the poor kid gets wheeled into surgery.

Ditto with rising stars. Ditto with businesses. Ditto with relationships.

It’s never lonely at the top. It’s the fall that’s lonely.

Which is why, when my class was once asked what we would like to become when we grew up, thirteen said doctors; eight said engineers; five said army officers; two, teachers; two, cricketers; one, actor; one, scientist; and I said, “Nothing.”

In that year’s exam, to explain the theory of gravity, I wrote: “Not envious competitors or adverse circumstances, the biggest enemy of our soaring aspirations is the greatest force on earth- gravity. Nature won’t let us rise. Even apple wasn’t spared.”

(On hindsight, that bit on apple seems prophetic, considering even Nokia and Samsung are today falling.)

No surprises, I was “detained” in class VII.

On the very first day of the next year, I realised that the ground we stand on is no safe and stable heaven either. As I watched my old friends go to Class VIII, it seemed to give way to the hell below.

“Ramesh, yours is not a fear of heights, but a fear of failures.” I heard my old teacher say. “Always remember, those who have flown and fallen make far better human beings than those who simply stand and stare.”

I conceded defeat then and there.

That year, dreams and ambitions sprouted tiny wings inside me. They flapped and soared and took me along like a stork carries a baby. We hit air-pockets, we dipped, but we recovered and gained height again. Greed fueled the climb. Oneupmanship whirred to life, like turbo engines. Envy became its propellors. By 25, I was part of a rat race in the skies. Soon, the purpose and the destination of my life became the height- that which is higher than the rest.

I became a Humpty Dumpty with wings. An apple that defied Newton. A helium-swollen head that broke away from the part with the heart.

After almost 25 years of flying experience- the kind that would have made me an Air Commodore in the Indian Air Force- one day, I simply stopped flapping those wings. And had a free fall.

(Notice how a fall is always free?)

The thud on the ground wasn’t as bad as people had warned me about. Yes, there were mild bruises to the ego. Yes, there were a few broken expectations, but thankfully, no damage to the spine. Most hearteningly, the ground now seemed like the terra firma it was supposed to be, not a runway.

And, for the first time in my life, I discovered the joy of walking.

Unlike flying and running, walking doesn’t have an ambition, or a competitive edge to it. It’s a journey of self discovery, not a race.

No wonder even Johnnie turned a walker. After all, one can’t drink and drive, or fly, but can always walk. Well, at least, stagger, depending on how much one has had.

Flying gave me a flat, bird’s eye perspective of everything in life. Whereas walking offers a rich and varied topographical experience at every bend and turn. I see the insignificant snail crawling between blades of grass and the enormous mountains lining the horizon. I feel the vastness of the sea, the power of its tides and the little shells on the sands under my feet. All at the same time.

Walking has become the purpose and the destination.

There are times when I have missed a step, stumbled and fallen. But then, I have risen, dusted my back and continued to walk.

Mother was right, this fall can never be as terrible as the one from a wall or a hill.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Loved your thoughts and I look forward to reading more of them!

    Reply

  2. nice one !!

    Reply

  3. Let me make a confession. Whenever “Shit hits the Ceiling” something that is happening more often to me than not, I hit your blog on the keyboard hoping that there would be something that Ramesh would have written that will inspire me. Seriously your Walk Why Fly? is one of those pieces of wisdom that reminds me of how I have become a party to run the rat race without realizing that in the end no one actually wins that race.

    I try to find a way of releasing my pent up stress by doing swimming for 30 minutes every morning. There’s no one who hits the pool as early as me and I have discovered that my competition is only me. Have been doing it for 6 months now and the results show in a 34 waist and a 77 weight.

    Perhaps you should write on swimming next.

    LOL

    Kumar

    Reply

  4. So you are saying ‘swim, why walk’? Agree. Can’t argue with a leaner (and meaner?) Kumar 🙂

    Reply

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