Jan 30, 2011

Notes on Ghare Baire

Watched Ghare Baire with  A today. It isn't one of Ray's most acclaimed films or amongst Tagore's best works but works just fine for me. Must've seen it some 10 times & each time i'm more amazed than before how Tagore could even begin to envisage, let alone draw a man like Nikhil in that era. At the risk of scathing comments, i must say that nobody in india possessed the imagination (which comes from true enlightenment) that the Bongs did. That is why Rammohan Roy, Tagore, Shyama Prosad Mujherjee and Vivekananda are greater heroes for me than Bankim Chandra or Sardar Patel or Nehru. There is a funny comment  i've often heard from several women over the years:"Yaar bengali men dont know how to stand up to their women!" Earlier i'd argue that our men believed, much before it became fashionable or common to do so, that women were no less than them for staying indoors and bearing children.

Noble is the single word that comes to mind when describing Nikhil. There's such a telling scene when mastermoshai (his old school master) exhorts him to take strict action against Sandip before it is too late and asks why he indulges Sandip so much. Nikhil's reply is a bemused, "But i did not think he had changed so much. I think his desperation stems from a series of failures he has faced in life. Truly speaking, i feel bad  that despite so many outstanding qualities, Sandip couldn't get anywhere in life." These are the words he speaks about his old school mate, a rank opportunist, an immoral, pleasure seeking, insolent rogue of the worst kind who ultimately Nikhil's wife Bimala. This is Nikhil's problem - his essential charity, his ability to distance passion from facts and take a neutral standpoint. Qualities which cost him dear.

This film is also memorable because it clearly demonstrates the difference between Tagore's version of the Swadeshi Andolan and Congress stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi. Nikhil is the voice of reason, of prudence and true patriotism; a voice which rightly says that swadeshi is for the rich, not the poor who are dying of hunger anyway. It is easy to rouse passions and motivate a mob during times of crisis (Lord Curzon's partition of Bengal, opposing the Nano plant or the Sardar Sarovar dam). Sandip and many like him continue to do so even today in the name of serving others and patriotism. But, the truth is that patriotism is a label like everything else and often meaningless. 

I'm going to start buying Ray's films now. It's strange that i don't have many of them. Let me see if i can find 'mahanogor' or 'agantuk' next. 

The act of healing others is a sacred one - with great power comes great responsibility. The thing with doctors and lovers is that both possess this singular power. You vest both with your boundless faith and are sometimes rewarded, sometimes not. The smarties advise that proper background checks are imperative and reveal much about a person. Where does innate faith exist then, if nothing can be taken at face value? Why believe in God too? 

Jan 14, 2011

Words, Wide Night

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.

This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say 
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.

La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you

and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

by Carol Ann Duffy

Jan 10, 2011

Thoughts on Who Killed Jessica

There is a scene in Jessica which says it all – it tells us why we will always remain begging for justice, why the manu sharmas of the world will rule over us, why to expect any better is not to be defeatist but realistic. This scene is an enactment of the true episode which transpired. Manu Sharmas parents pay a visit to Jessica’s home in Delhi to offer condolences. They carry a funeral wreath of white flowers. Jessica’s mother is too distraught to talk to them or react in any coherent fashion. Since her daughter’s death, she has been enveloped in a cocoon of gloom and silence from which only death will release her. As is to be expected, Jessica’s father is taken aback when he opens the door and finds the two outside. He lets them inside and waits for a few seconds in obvious anguish and discomfort for them to break the silence. When no one seems to have anything to say, he offers hesitantly, “Chai lenge?” There is nothing more moving in the entire film than this short 5-min scene – so full of defeat, of poignancy, of suffering. As I watched the scene, I wanted to scream, to shake the old man and make him understand that he was still abiding by a set of obsolete rules that could never guarantee victory. These rules which we, the salaried education-thumping middle class abide by, have no place in the world we are fated to operate in. Yet, this knowledge doesn’t bring any relief or redemption because as Franzen’s wonderful book shows, in life there are few opportunities for correction. We try and build our lives along these rules which were taught to us in school and later pass on the same to our children. But these rules completely castrate us of any real chance to succeed in the world and instead hand over the platter to the Nanu Sharmas. And even as we stand robbed of everything that mattered to us, we cannot unlearn those rules which unmade us. That’s the tragedy.

It's interesting that i read STPs wonderful poem on a day when these dark thoughts about what people do and how they are paid back or often not, occupied my thoughts. Both the film and the poem evoke a manic laughter. This is the laughter of the ever-faithful Job, this is the laughter of the diligent Sisyphus, this must have been the laughter of Galileo.

Jan 3, 2011

Notes on Philip Larkin’s Letters to Monica

Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d be poring over this book at the beginning of the year. I was well into Jonathan Franzen’s acclaimed ‘Corrections’ when fate dropped Letters to Monica (LTM) on my lap and I was hooked. Read it non-stop for two days & here I am trying to key my thoughts.

I can’t say it’s very enjoyable reading; that’s chiefly because I’m a fiction digger. I rarely enjoy non-fiction as much. Also, there are traces of the arrogance, callousness and male disregard for feminine sensibilities that footnotes most love stories. Yet, this is an important book. It is important not only for a better understanding of the sense of failure that runs through most of Larkin’s poetry, as also a deeper understanding of what constitutes meaningful companionship.

Theirs was an unusual affair, with occasional animosity (chiefly from his side) and humdrum sex – yet one which lasted until 35 years or till ‘death do us apart’. Philip Larkin took up with Monica Jones, a lecturer in English who wore tartan and velvet finish pants, low-cut tops and large pieces of jewellery, in autumn 1946, when they were both 24. She also had a loud voice that grated and offended Larkin’s courtly laid-back sensibilities. In one of the letters in October, 1952  he writes, “It's simply that in my view you would do much better to revise, drastically, the amount you say and the intensity with which you say it . . . I do want to urge you, with all love & kindness, to think about how much you say & how you say it. I'd even go so far as to make 3 rules: One, Never say more than two sentences, or very rarely three, without waiting for an answer or comment from whoever you're talking to; Two, abandon altogether your harsh didactic voice, & use only the soft musical one (except in special cases); & Three, don't do more than glance at your interlocutor (wrong word?) once or twice while speaking. You're getting a habit of boring your face up or round into the features of your listener – don't do it! It's most trying."’’

I found this particular letter disturbing for despite my attempts to assign the most benign intentions to Larkin, one cant help but notice the air of trying patience and embarrassment that he harbours every time she opens her mouth. Though he is not exactly malicious or snide, you can tell that he wants to change something vital and essential about her; he is intolerant of something that is (though unpleasant) as much a part of her as was his tremendous inertia and resistance of any decisive action. That he was dating someone he was embarrassed about, kind of upsets the sacred cart of love. It is also no secret that Larkin openly corresponded and discussed with Kingsley Amis about Monica in a most unflattering way. Yet, she stuck to him.

Perhaps the most important facet of any longstanding relationship has to be the state of comfort with which we can exhibit our most unflattering sides to the other. Put our worst foot forward so to speak. As I read the 12-odd letters full of whining, misery, endless complaints ("No, I really can't do anything at all – it really is disgusting, I feel tearful with rage – why must [the landlady] leave her door open so that her filthy radio floods the whole house?), I felt Larkin stayed with Jones because in her he found someone who accepted him without expressing any overt desire to change him or make him adapt to the ways of the world. She was the perfect foil to his Hamlet-like fear of action and did not resent his deep melancholia & misanthropy. Perhaps it helped that they lived apart!

While the book covers Larkin’s side of the correspondence, we do make out that Jones was no doormat to be crushed underfoot by this whiny, self-centred man. Some parts of her correspondence have been included as well to shed light on particular incidents. Despite her formidable academic credentials and obvious emotional independence, you can’t fail to notice some of that emotional fragility that haunts all women. She seeks assurance from this commitmentphobe and he replies. “I don't mean, of course, that I don't like making love with you.” I smiled as I read this for it is so typically male. In another letter she accuses him of turning chilly after a successful tryst with her as if to re-establish distance once again. Nevertheless, she accepted the man for the way he was, but was a lot more demanding of the poet and didn’t hand over empty platitudes.

One also suspects that for a man of Larkin’s emotional fragility, she played another important role – she kept the demons at bay. Larkin knew that he was a failure in life and this sense of failure, of lost ways and opportunities, bereft of the hope of new beginnings,  forms the core of some of his best poetry. To put it simply, this was not a forward-looking man and needed a woman of extraordinary intuitiveness and gentleness. He wasn’t particularly good company and he knew it, yet this was the company that he bestowed on Jones uninhibitedly, holding back nothing.

In a really moving extract of 1962 she writes, “I accept, don't I, and without private reservation or grudge that you don't like me enough to marry me." I don’t know why but I was aware of a deep anger welling within me as I read this line. Soon anger gave way to sadness. The idea that life can sometimes take a turn when you are happy with so little, that you’re willing to make do with such meagre offerings, was deeply unsettling. I’m afraid my reading of LTM is not particularly unbiased & I couldn’t help judging the relationship outside the prism of archetypal male-female roles.

If you’re the kind of wordy person like me, this book will appeal to you. The thing is – Larkin loved writing to her. For this odd, reclusive man, this was the only way of meaningfully connecting with his soulmate. Probably this gave him the opportunity to be himself because this was essentially a one-way medium and didn’t encourage immediate interactivity. I don’t think he’d have enjoyed writing to Jones as much if gmail or FB were around. In 1982 after suffering a nasty fall, Jones moved in with him. There is again something poignant about their eventual, forced union after years of voluntary separation. He laments that he hadn’t written to her since they have been together and the anguish is apparent. It is as if the only true connection between them had been severed. Strangely though, this made sense -the ache of separation is sometimes more appealing than the comfort of forced intimacy.

Finally, it is gratifying to see how this matronly, verbose and forceful woman managed to anchor this deeply insecure and self-doubting man. Even genius needs assurance and that is what she provided, “I am sure you are the one of this generation. I like your poetry better than any that I ever see – oh, I am sure you will make yr name! yr mark, do I mean – really be a real poet, I feel more sure of it than ever before, it is you who are the one.”