image from grooveking
Hanuman is the guy you ask for help when you need to get out of an impossible situation. He’s an ideas man/monkey and he knows the fastest way between two points often involves a bit of swinging from branches and scaling up buildings. “What idiot invented stairs anyway?” he says, “ Must have been a bureaucrat.” Hanuman has always been one of my favorite Gods. He occupies the liminal space between man and monkey, and as such, manages to solve problems without many of the constraints that human’s face. He is innovative (can’t find the right herb to save Laxman’s life? Why not bring him the whole mountain), mischievous (set my tail on fire? I’ll set your city on fire suckers), and the best of friends (sure I’ll fly over and find your woman, calm her down and tell her you’re coming to get her). So it isn’t all that surprising to discover that he’s the one (or rather his descendants) who inspired David Belle, an French guy “finding himself” in India, to invent a revolutionary sport called parkour.
image from here
Parkour, a made-up word, cousin to the French parcours, which means “route,” is a quasi commando system of leaps, vaults, rolls, and landings designed to help a person avoid or surmount whatever lies in his path—a vocabulary, that is, to be employed in finding one’s way among obstacles. Parkour goes over walls, not around them; it takes the stair rail, not the stairs. (I found a lot of references from the Great Ganesha. So check his site to read more)
It’s becoming a huge fad sport internationally, and has the appeal of being something that anyone, of any economic class can practice, given some patience and a good set of running shoes. A number of Indian kids are putting up clips on youtube and though some of their moves are a bit basic, they require a lot of strength to do and its cool that they’re starting out. A Desi Parkour group called “Team Mutants” has actually begun to master some more difficult moves and is worth checking out.
You can use trees, buildings, shopping mall interiors; basically any space you can get away with transforming into a gymnastic jungle. It appeals to me for reasons that and have to do with a crazy taxi cab driver I once knew in Pennsylvania, named Jimmy. Jimmy was actually a bit of a loon but like most loons he actually spoke a fair bit of sense if you could interpret his metaphors. He had become obsessed with traffic signals, signs, painted zebra crossings and codes of traffic conduct. He would say to me “You see that? See that? Its all about staying in the lines! The lines, man!” And for him, every u-turn, every highway, every instance on the road was a metaphor for how “the man” controls your movements through space.
image from road rage
Years later, standing in line at a multiplex cinema in Mumbai, I lean against a rail while waiting for a movie to start. A security guard swiftly approaches me waggling his finger “no. you aren’t allowed to lean on rails surrounding trees.” So I look for another perch; perhaps the cement space between two shop display windows. He chases me again “nope. Not allowed to lean there either.” Eventually I get so tired that I find a spot out of the way and squat on my haunches, like a good fisher-woman. “Nope!” comes the waggling finger. “You aren’t allowed to squat like a fisher-woman in upper middle class zones.” Hmmm…
Suddenly I’m feeling a bit less relaxed and a little more hostile towards the cinema. I pay good money to come to see a movie and yet not only do they expect my cash, fail to provide me with a place to sit and wait, but also hire this guy to chase me around in case I should happen to lean against their precious cement walls or rails. I feel kind of bad for the guard, in any case. It’s a job for him. And I can’t blame him for working for “the man.” I work for “the man” as well. And he must have to deal with a lot of irritated people every day, who always take out their anger on the messenger of the law.
But I digress. So I find something really appealing about the idea of a bunch of kids getting together to just jump over railings, do somersaults off of cement walls and scale multiplexes…because they can and because they’re fast enough to get away with it. It’s a sort of spatial revolt against the bureaucrat. It’s the body claiming space for itself and resisting becoming square shaped, like the little cement boxes that house us. Me likes.
Here’s an inspiring video of David Belle, the inventor of Parkour. He knows no gravity.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview with David Belle-talking about monkey inspiration. The rest is here.
I asked David why he had gone to India, and he said that he had friends there.
“How did you pass the time?”
“I just kept training,” he said. “I was training in the trees.” Jeff handed me a scrapbook with a photograph of David leaping from the limb of one tree to another. He was stretched flat out, horizontal to the ground, like Superman.
“I was at a waterfall one day,” David went on, “and there were huge trees all around, and in the trees were monkeys. There were fences and barriers around them, so they couldn’t get out, but I went around the barriers and played with the monkeys. After that, I watched them all the time, learning how they climbed. All the techniques in parkour are from watching the monkeys.”
He then showed us, on a computer, a documentary called “Warriors of the Monkey God.” It was about a tribe of monkeys who live on the rooftops of Jodhpur. The people regard the monkeys as holy. We watched them leaping from rooftop to rooftop and through the trees. The scene that made David smile was one in which numbers of them leaped onto, then off, a piece of corrugated tin that was loosely attached as a roof to some stakes. Their landings made the tin shake. Some of the monkeys were leaping from the ground, turning on their sides in the air, landing on the stakes and shoving off from them—a tic-tac.
Watching the movie, which was about forty-five minutes long, took only about fifteen minutes, because David kept advancing it to scenes of the monkeys in flight, looking exactly like traceurs. When it was finished, he said that after coming home he had just continued perfecting what he had learned from the monkeys. He had plans, he said, to make a movie with them.
image from accidentalblogger
I suppose what’s interesting is that the monkeys who live on rooftops in Jodhpur are respected as living incarnations of Hanuman, so perhaps they are given a little bit of space to swing their tails. In Delhi, although monkeys are the living gargoyles that populated old monuments and ruins, they are getting slowly chased out of parts of town where they used to hang from the trees and people used to drive by with bananas for them. I guess India “shining” doesn’t envisage a world with monkeys hanging about. We’ll have to dispose of the monkeys, the slums, the street vendors, etc., until one day we all wake up in glistening high rise buildings with glass exteriors and temperature controlled rooms filled with robot servants, pets, children and spouses. Ultimately humans will become a totally outdated phenomenon; a creature that was really far better suited to living in trees. Just a bunch of monkeys who forgot to jump, and who became inevitably outsourced by robots with better hygiene.
image of monkey toy robot from hasbro.com
But I really have nothing against robots, especially monkey robots, or robots that do kung fu or Parkour. Anyway, I’m probably completely romanticizing the whole phenomenon and its just like some kind of time pass that guys use to show off their skills to chicks. Or perhaps its the real deal. Either way, I like to daydream of small ruptures and revolts in monkey form.
image from air massive