My cousin Shivani is one of those people who many describe as ‘a big bang in a tiny package’. She has read literature at Oxford, been a Teach for India fellow, helped put together and manage a movement to teach school kids science through play, and she is just 26 years old. All of 5 feet and a few inches, this little parcel of energy is right now off to Darjeeling doing a month long mountaineering course.
This week, the two of us decided to collaborate on a post. She wrote this piece just a few days before she left. I promised to add my two penny bit and write the ending. However when I read it I found that what she has written makes me want to sit up and smile… and keep smiling. I have nothing to add. So much for the collaboration! So, here goes, straight from the life of Shivani Singhal...
I have realised there is one thing that I am very good at. This talent was revealed early on in life. Most kids start off being very good, but quickly get worse. I, however, have managed to retain it untainted. So what is it, I hear you ask? Well, I am awesome at falling over!!
A video of me at three, shows me trying to pick up a few papers from the ground. Each time, I approached the papers, circled around them, eyeing them, as if they were the ill-fated prey of an agile lion, slowly bent forward, stretching my arms out. Bam! Straight into the ground. And peals of laughter echoed around the room. This, as I am often told by my family, was not an isolated occurrence.
A few years later, I found myself at the top of a steep hill. And on my feet, to my dismay, were rollerblades. Slopes with shoes were enough to send me tumbling, but wheels- disaster for sure! But there was a hill to my left, and to my right. Houses behind me. No choice but to GO! And I went. I stayed upright for a few wonderful seconds, and then, the splits- one leg fled to the right and the other as far as it could in the opposite direction. They would have moved further apart, but they were connected to my body, and so I slid down the slope, grazing my bums all the way down. Yet another fall!
More recently, in a moment of madness, I decided to learn to skateboard (a longstanding childhood ambition).Clearly all the years of falling have not helped me realise that I have no balance! I headed down to a local skate park full of enthusiastic optimism and visions of myself flying along the ramps. And attempted to push off. Bam! Shivani meets the floor. And again. Left foot planted purposefully on the centre of the board. Right foot on the ground. A tentative shove. Some movement forwards. Followed by a rapid descent. I'm down again! You can imagine the rest...
I do wonder at times, how I have made it through alive. And how my parents have not torn all their hair out. Also why I haven't stopped doing any of these mad things! I thought back to the moments just after these falls (and many others I won't bore you with).
The reaction I got each time might seem surprising. “When are you trying again?", “What will you do differently?", “What went wrong?" were my parents’ questions. Every time. Sometimes after they had checked that my limbs were still attached, and that I wouldn't bleed to death, but quite often right as I was falling.
After the rollerblading fiasco, I wasn't too keen on wearing those darned things again. (If you are not sure why, imagine sitting on a hard wooden school chair with a large graze across your bums!) My mother, however, took no excuses- I was out again the very next evening. On flat ground to my relative relief. And a few days later, atop the same hill. The rollerblades had to be faced. And conquered. Falls could not be the source of fear.
Watching my twenty month old niece fall makes me flinch. Sometimes it is hilarious. Sometimes it is scary. Every time. I want to jump in, give her a hug and protect her. Every time. My instinct is to try and keep her safe. But then I remember the power my parents have given me- the power to fall. I stop myself from reaching out to pick her up, instead responding with my own “Now what?" And she, as all children do, surveys the ground with a reproachful look, looks at us, sees us laughing, and continues on her way.
My parents' reaction to every kind of fall, whether a scraped knee, a failed test or a fight with friends was always the same- “What next? What will you change on the next try?". I didn't even realise that there could be any option other than getting back up and falling better.
And so, slowly but surely, I became world class at falling! Not a very useful skill, it could be said. But to do that, I have also had to become pretty decent at getting back up again…