March 13, 2011

A lesson from Thompson - Life should be more like a musical

I have a very good friend from Nepal. He and I were lovingly called Thompson and Thomson by our friends - the two twin detectives in the Tintin cartoon. I think they called us that because we would constantly hang out together and investigate seemingly useless issues (such as evolution and the various shapes of noses); some times we defended the other's bizarre thoughts against STPs (shallow thinking people), other times we would engage in heated bickering.

Thompson and Thomson

One of Thompson's specialties was useless jokes and riddles. One day he came up with a puzzle:

A man is walking down a street and a huge, barking dog comes up and bites him. Instead of crying out his agony, the man starts to laugh. Why?
I couldn't for the life of me think of a fitting answer. Thompson beamed with great satisfaction and glee: Because the dog was old and toothless, so the bite produced a tickling sensation as the gums rubbed against the man's leg!

Even eating together while discussing was so satisfying that when we did not eat together we both felt like the food lacked salt. It was a delightful friendship.

My friend Thompson (with a P) loves to sing and dance. His favorite song from his student years was Muna Madan, a song adapted from the tragic story about a man, Madan, who leaves Kathmandu because he and his wife, Muna, are living in dire poverty. He travels to Lhasa (Tibet) where he knows that there are greater opportunities. However, as Madan returns home with a bag of gold he has earned in Lhasa, he finds that Muna has passed away. He is grief struck:

"Bags of gold are like the dirt of your hands
What can be done with wealth?
Better to eat only nettles and greens
With happiness in your heart."

          - Muna Madan by Laxmi Prasad Devkota

When I was in college, Thompson told me, I could sing this song so beautifully that my professor would cry. It even happened one evening that he visited me in my dorm room, asking me to sing Muna Madan to him. I was enthralled, to think of a situation where you would be visited in your dorm room by your professor who wanted to hear you sing a song of tragedy! It hardly ever happened in Norway.

I brought Thomposon to visit my grandmother, along with some other Nepali friends. He had rehearsed a few lines in Norwegian and delivered them with great perfection. My grandmother was astonished. His Norwegian is perfect, she looked at me. I am sure he must be a great singer. I was surprised; I knew he was a great singer, but how could she tell? Oh, she said, it is just like that. People who are great singers also are good with languages. Another sharp observer. She was 80 years old, but full of vigor and a house full of projects. When we came to visit she was quite satisfied with her latest accomplishment. One day as she sat in the kitchen she thought to herself that the door between the living room and the kitchen was opening the wrong way. She decided then and there to change it around. She got out her toolbox and a few hours later the door was opening the other way. Thompson almost fell down from his chair in admiration. In the car on our way back from my grandmother Thompson said: If I were older, I would really propose marriage to her.

When I was visiting Thompson during his MSc fieldwork in the mountains of Nepal a decade ago, he would frequently gather with the local people in tea shops and around fire places to exchange stories; usually the exchanging of stories would break into a song and some times a dance sequence. These sessions would just erupt spontaneously, making most gatherings very lively. His data collection method was highly unorthodox. I devoured it with all my heart. These things hardly ever happen in Norway. Life felt so wide and interesting in a place where discussions could break into song, dance, and happy faces.

Yet, Thompson was divided on the issue of song and dance. He would sigh when confronted with Bollywood movies. I tell you, he threw his index finger around in the air, our area of the world will not develop until they stop singing and dancing in movies! I was nonplussed. Thompson had created his own indicator for development.

Thompson eventually obtained his PhD in the United States. During his studies, we were still in communication from time to time. One day he sighed Thomson, this PhD makes my head full of thoughts! I answered, Thompson, of course - PhD stands for Permanent Head Damage! Oh, he whimpered - not even singing is the same anymore. I know I will probably sing when I go back to the mountains again, but the problem is that now I think while I'm singing!! It is terrible!!

Now, my friends - I think Som has taught me a good lesson. Thinking should be balanced by a healthy amount of singing and dancing. I have another friend, Benjamin, here in Norway. Some times when I call him he is catching his breath. Did you run to catch the phone, I ask him. No, no, he says - I was only dancing. Benjamin's favorite movie is Chicago (he saw it at least five times) and Annie (he tries to see it annually). He is a musical fan. I remember when we walked out from the cinema hall after seeing Moulin Rouge, his first words were: That is what I've always said - Life should be like a musical.

One of my most exciting musical memories is watching Sound of Music with my father in a large cinema in Oslo as a kid. I was absorbed with the Maria character, and my favorite song was How do you solve a problem like Maria? I was the wandering catastrophe of the family, always getting into trouble and accidents and doing inappropriate things.  I didn't plan for mischief, it just always seemed to happen to me. I so identified with Maria that I felt some hope that even my miserable story could have a happy ending.
       So, from my favorite musical, here comes the video of the day, sent by one of my readers. A flashmob erupts into dancing Do Re Mi in a train station in Antwerpen. Unbeknownst to the onlookers this was planned and choreographed. As one of the commenters said below the video, in the spirit of Benjamin: Things like this should happen all the time!
     As to Thompson and his theory of movies and development, after his PhD diet of information and analysis, I wonder if he has changed his mind. I think I can promise to come back to you with more news from Thompson in some later entries here on this blog.

PS. As I was googling musicals, I found that there actually is a Facebook group called Life Should Be a Musical. There are only 12 members as I looked last. Unfortunately yours truly is not on Facebook, so those of you with a Facebook account and who are tired of your PhDs (Permanently Damaged Heads due to excessive thinking) should sign up. Let the dancing and singing begin, quite spontaneously!

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