Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Acting like Segrid

In my younger days, I was an avid reader of comics. Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Tintin, Asterix, Archie, Richie Rich, Superman and other super-heroes . . . I would be excited about all sorts of facts in them - the 3rd Phantom was Juliet in Shakespeare's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre; Mandrake's arch enemy, The Cobra was actually Luciphor, Theron's oldest son and, thus, Mandrake's half-brother; Tintin's perennial antagonist. Roberto Rastapopoulos. . . .

My cousin had several comics bound into two thick volumes. Every summer and winter vacations (whenever I had not gone to Kerala), I would go to his house, bring the two volumes and read them frequently. I would repeat this practice during the next vacation and the next. . . I would have read them more often than any other book. 

Speaking of comics, I am reminded of a character in Mandrake comics. Mandrake had a girlfriend called Narda who is Princess of the European nation Cockaigne, ruled by her brother Segrid. Whenever Segrid felt ill, he would do his exercises more vigorously and show himself to be very active. He said that the reason he did this was because he had many enemies around who were constantly monitoring him for any sign of weakness and use it as an excuse to depose him. This made him act as if he had more physical vigour than what he actually felt so that they would be deterred from taking such an action.

Even though I don’t have any enemies around, I sometimes resort to the Segrid manoeuvre. Sometimes, I will feel a bit under the weather and will feel like lying down quietly without the TV being switched on. This will make everyone think that I have some major health issue. Jaya will check my temperature and B.P. I may be asked whether a doctor should be called. In order to avoid all this hullabaloo, I will keep quiet about bodily discomforts that I think are minor. I would switch on the TV or sit in front of the computer as usual but I would actually not be doing anything so nobody will suspect anything out of the ordinary. 

Even other apes seem to indulge in this kind of play act. In The Bonobo and the Atheist, Edward Sloan Wilson writes about a large, male bonobo that had recently died. He was a leader with a pleasant disposition, never overly aggressive yet supremely self-confident during his heyday. His  postmortem showed that he had several cancerous growths in addition to a hugely enlarged liver. Even though his condition must have been building for years, he had acted normally until his end. He must have felt miserable for months, but any sign of vulnerability would have meant loss of status. Chimps seem to realize this. 

Wilson also mentions a limping male chimp in the wild who was seen to isolate himself for weeks to nurse his injuries. But he would show up now and then in the midst of his community to give a charging display full of vigour and strength, after which he’d withdraw again. That way his status would be safe and no one would get any ideas of challenging him.

This brings to mind a 'Segrid manoeuvre' that I had to do in my teens. I was hit in my private parts while battling and was moving with a pronounced limp because of pain. (We usually played cricket with a hard ball so the blow was quite painful.) After play, I limped back home. As soon as I came near my house, I tried my best to walk normally. I was afraid that if my parents saw me limping, they would not allow me to play the next day. I knew that the pain would disappear by the next day and playing would not be a problem. 

When I reached my house, my mother told me to go to a market around a kilometre away and buy some vegetables. I was in a fix - I usually agreed to such a request so if I showed any reluctance this time, she might ask some uncomfortable questions; on the other hand, walking that distance was not going to be fun. I decided to go to the market and began limping down the stairs - my house was on the third floor and there was no lift. 

When I emerged out of the apartment, I started walking normally. When I was out of sight of my house, I began limping again. I limped to the market, bought the vegetables, and limped back. When I was within sight of my house, I started walking normally. I reached my house, gave the vegetables to my mother, grabbed my books and sat on a chair from which I did not move for a couple of hours. By that time, my pain had reduced so the rest of the evening passed off uneventfully. 

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