Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On Falling

This past week alone, I witnessed three minor mishaps that involved motorbikers skidding on roads, and falling. In all these instances, what was striking was how urgently they picked themselves up, avoided looking at anyone around, kicked the bikes with all their might, and sped away. Having had more than my share of such falls, I think I know how it might have felt. We feel there is something so hugely embarrassing about falling when others are watching, that we will even amble on a broken ankle to make them believe that we are alright, we are very dignified. I remember, I once kick-started my bike with a bleeding foot, rode away, and stopped a few streets away to examine the damage.

Is there such shame in falling? I wonder if we feel similarly about other kinds of falling too -- failure, being slandered, losing power, money, social capital, etc. When all the inspiration mantras of the age are about valorously picking oneself up after a fall and charging ahead, what is the space where the fall itself could be acknowledged with dignity and respect? It seems that in popular consciousness it is only the quickness of the rise after the fall, the nanosecond bounce-back, which accords any respect to the fall at all. If you ever fall at a colossal scale, you either better have a great, noble story behind that, or work towards becoming a success story by springing back to action ASAP!

Of course, no one in their right minds would romanticize falling this way. But what is it that associates such shame to that instance? Just half an hour spent watching a TV show on allegedly funny videos from across the world shows that an accidental fall appears to provide for great entertainment and laughter. You are thought to be of good cheer if you can crack a joke about your own fall and laugh it off. Sometimes we are so scared of becoming objects of such mirth that we try to pre-empt it with a forced joke.

The anxiety is about how we look in other people's eyes when we thus fall. We could be perfect nobodys prior to that moment, not even noticed as we ride our wheezing two-wheelers, trying to avoid a crazy 90degree turn that only an autorickshaw can do. We might think of ourselves as having merged with the thronging masses on the roads. And then a fall makes us visible. Not a great moment to have the spotlight on us; agreed. But it brings alive everyone around us, too. In just a moment, it turns some people into Good Samaritans; from some others, it elicits a profound comment about how all that young people today want is speed, speed speed...; it also draws, for just a flicker of a moment, outrage about poor civic maintenance and puddles on the road.

A fall, whoever’s it is, seems to be a very dramatic moment. Everyone witnessing it feels compelled to take a position in relation to that event. Something has to be done; at least a gesture of wanting to help. Something has to be said, even if it is to this other perfect stranger walking next to you. It is a very human moment. So we don't have to feel so bad after all. Everyone knows how it feels to fall. If they act like they don't, they have perhaps just forgotten.


Anonymous said...

so true!

-- d

Paddu said...

I am guilty of doing it myself.....I call it the "Phoenix Complex".... an overwhelming compulsion to rise above the ashes. I think we do it because of the value society places in overcoming our problems and standing tall inspire of it.

Gopalan said...

Ani. I've long felt that is the grace and dignity of the fall rather than the exhilaration and beauty of the soaring flight that marks the true measure of a man (or woman, or...). It was good to see you write so thoughtfully about the subject. Gopa