18. Playing the Autism Anthem

“Playing the Autism Anthem”

I was going to write something profound this week, but since I am losing my marbles, maybe it isn’t the best idea. We have been on an endless, completely fake road trip, you see. And I am bringing you with us, dear reader. If I have to watch my marbles roll away, so do you. It’s only fair.

Where are we going? Well, we are in an RV, and Shahrukh Khan is driving. Beside him sits a fakir* in simple robes, his hair all matted, and they are singing. I think you know where we are–in the movie “Swades,” specifically the song “Yun hi Chala Chal Rahi.” I tried to come up with a poetic translation for the song title, and all I can come up with is “just rolling along**,” because I am running low on marbles and the song is playing for the 50th time today. I am not joking even a little bit.

Every few months, A becomes obsessed anew with this song, and watches it on YouTube till he moves onto something else, and we are speechless with stupefaction. Both are a condition of moving past the song. I’ve come to the conclusion that he turns to it whenever something is not quite right in his routine and he is seeking some kind of comforting repetition. Right now, the something that is off is that it’s summer, and he doesn’t get why things slow down and people expect him to do what they call leisure. Even summer school doesn’t move along at the same satisfying clip as the academic year does; all those field trips and playground sessions! So he Yun hi Chala’s on, and we all have to pile in for the ride. When I stopped the song once so that I could do our evening prayers without distraction, it caused a huge outburst, with A trying desperately to find exactly where the song had stopped, and not being able to, and then I ended up taking away his iPad and sending him to bed because I was fantasizing about sitting in the car to eat my dinner, which is a sign of impending mom meltdown. It was a night of roaring and raging, and the next morning, A came downstairs and opened his YouTube app, snuck a peek at me, smiled hopefully, and turned on the song…again. What’s a mom to do except roll along once more. Eventually Shahrukh Khan will stop driving all over Uttar Pradesh and let us off. Right?

As with any song that is all around you all of the time, the lyrics have permeated my brain. A laughs, plays, screeches, supervises the family, hugs, and makes bathroom trips, all to the accompaniment of this song. We all dance around the house to the rhythm, chop vegetables in time to it, and generally surrender to its constant presence. I am amused at how I find myself mulling over the imagery and letting the nuggets of truth pelt me repeatedly.

In the song, Shahrukh Khan is road tripping it to a village, and he picks up a fakir hitchhiker (played by Makarand Deshpande) who seems flexible about his destination. They both break into lyrical musings about how the RV represents life, the wheels are the movement of time, and the ups and downs are what make the journey rich and meaningful. Shahrukh Khan’s character thrills in how, as he leaves the cares of his daily life further behind him, he feels cleansed, as if he has bathed in the Ganga river. In an endearing way, the fakir comes to represent the spiritual charioteer, guiding a stressed out modern Everyman to stop the goalsetting, and to take the time to absorb the big picture. Ironically, fakirji does lead the RV to the correct road, so hey, there’s a plan even when we seem to be meandering. The whole tableau is a gentle and sweetly comical reintroduction to the different pace of rural India for SRK’s character, who has been living in the US for many years.

As an anthem for an autistic guy, “Yun hi Chala” is sort of perfect. On the surface, what better stimming fodder than a vehicle moving through a whole song. It’s inspired A to ask for more car rides too; he’s so unjaded about letting fiction and reality blend together. Plus, it’s an aspirational anthem! A isn’t even remotely near the point of letting things flow along, hah, but he can place himself in the story and imagine himself cutting loose. What’s not to love. In his own way, though, he’s our miniature, brightly dressed sadhu, coaxing us all to slow down and smell the cow dung. He notices the little details and through him, we notice them too.

He probably imagines himself as Shahrukh Khan, let’s face it. The one who has control of the RV, and who dresses in sensorily satisfying denim. Aren’t we always the heroes in our movie fantasies?

There are surely many ways to wean A off this obsession, but experience has taught us that if we roll along with some modicum of acceptance, it dissipates without ceremony. Till then, the door to the RV is open, and I’m taking you all hostage. GET IN. It’s going to be a bumpy and repetitive ride.


*Fakir: a religious ascetic

**Yun hi Chala Chal Rahi: I wandered without any precise destination (thank you, Shivani Rai).


Swades. Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker. Perf. Shahrukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi. UTV Motion Pictures, 2004. DVD.

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