Published in Mai Life Magazine - Mai Word with J.S. Bhagwan - July, 2010
There are people who confess to not having a creative bone in their body. They’re right – creativity is a muscle not a bone, it is often connected to the funny bone, the spine and the teeth (why not!) although not in any particular order.
The creative failures are found in the media, the art, music, fashion, “archie-tekchair”, gastronomy and countless other fields. Many try to be creative but fail, sometimes dramatically, but more often than not, just like a little plop of pooh in the loo – after much struggle and with little effect.
However there is one area in which we as a human race have hardwired, DNA bonded creativity: Making Up Excuses. In fact we are so good at making up excuses that there are an abundance of websites dedicated to excuses for avoiding work, marriage, paying one’s share of the tab etc. I am of the view that these websites should not be used just to find useable excuses (that’s just making an excuse to not make your own excuse) but to find out what excuses not to use (because they are so well known).
The fruit of my loins (better to use this term than “the weeds of my discontent”) are proof that the apple... or in our context – the coconut... doesn’t fall far from the tree. My nearly 6 year-old son FX and heir to the throne (in the bathroom), has developed the skill of falling asleep whenever anyone begins to ask him to do something. “Francisco-Xavier, can you please...” “Zzzzzzzzzz...” Four and half year-old sister, Princess Antonia currently uses the “My leg is sore,” excuse for anything – developing a five-minute limp. This excuse has added to her arsenal of excuses which includes the phrase, “There’s no such thing as...” which has been applied to the police, water for bathing, smacks and even butter.
FX’s excuses have even gotten spiritual, such as: “Satan tempted me,” “The Devil put the thought in my mind,” and “It’s somewhere in the Bible Daddy!” These three age-old excuses work in most cases except the last, which definitely does not apply to eating all the chocolate that Aunty Sharon brought back from her latest trip (as in travelling somewhere for peace-building ...not as in munchies from the nearby store). There was a phase of “I’m dead” as an excuse, but that disappeared once FX realised that dead people could not go to the play-centre, enjoy happy-meals or watch cartoons.
“Sick leave” is perhaps the most widely utilised leave in Fiji, and for this reason, sickness as an excuse for not going to work, school, church, putting out the rubbish, visiting one’s in-laws or generally answering various calls of duty. Bird flu, typhoid, leptospirosis, and even swine flu (which according to one “patient” was passed on when someone referred to him as “You swine!”) have been used to good effect, especially as the symptoms of the “flues” are the same as any other “flu”. However some have been caught out by mistakenly thinking that the Asian Bird Flu (Avian Flu) resulted in the infected person speaking with an Asian accent; that the only cure for swine flu was to eat more pork; or by confusing H1N1 with F1J1, or their car registration, flight number: “Boss, I can’t come to work because I got FJ411 / EX342.” Fiji may also be the only place on the planet where the 24-hour flu lasts anywhere between 36 and 48 hours!
Given that the extended family system still exists in Fiji society, the death of a loved one is another well-utilised excuse. I recall back in my radio days, one co-worker buried approximately 3mothers, 2 fathers, and about half a dozen grandparents of different ethnicities within the space of 2 years! One must be careful in using this excuse to prevent it getting to a point where it seems like you are resurrecting the dead only to kill them off again. Also one needs to be mindful of the fact that in a small country such as Fiji, we tend to be related to half the country and married into the other half: “Dear Sir, I write to request leave to attend the funeral of my mother’s-brother’s- daughters-husband’s- cousin’s sister’s uncle....”
Then, there are the many, many, many excuses we come up with to do things that we would otherwise not be allowed. “I smoke suki (local “legal” tobacco) because according to my great-grandmother it’s good for my gums.” “I can eat pizza because the Coke-Light cancels out the calories.” “Kava is a natural and cheaper alternative to prescription sedatives.” “I can’t hear myself think so I better go to my friend’s place so that they can help me hear myself,” (complicated enough to get you out the door, but you may have to renegotiate re-entry). “My friend is really depressed and I am going to help (counsel/provide moral support/save) him (by talking meaningfully over a carton or a kilo or two of waka).
In the final analysis though, your best excuse is always 99% truth with 1% exaggeration (stretched or re-envisioned truth); the longer the better.
“Dear editor, I’m sorry this article was late but I had to attend the funeral gathering of my wife’s mother’s sister’s husband’s cousin’s nephew’s mother. On my way back I got caught in a traffic jam, the taxi I was in was involved in a robbery, then an accident, the driver was arrested and coughed on me giving me the LTA virus. As I recovered I heard of a prophecy about the tsunami hitting Fiji so decided to wait and see if I died before writing the article.”
A sunbaked, self-confessed Jesus-freak, Padre James Bhagwan spends his time between doing laps in the pool, lecturing at Davuilevu Theological College, preaching at Dudley Methodist Church, playing with his children and driving his wife around the bend.