Dec 21, 2011

As If ...

The only reading I’ve done this week is of tributes on and articles by Christopher Hitchens. One particular piece has stayed in mind. Almost everyone who knew Hitchens seems to unanimously nod their heads that the man was larger than life - everything about him vital, virile, articulate, bursting with energy, both pugnacious and kindly. That even esophageal cancer, one of the most painful forms of the disease, didn’t quite ‘do him in’ is a testament to the man and his almost God-like resilience. His literary output continued unabated, he attended parties (unless he was hospitalised) and till the end, he loved nothing more than a good conversation: "For me, to remember friendship is to recall those conversations that it seemed a sin to break off: the ones that made the sacrifice of the following day a trivial one." He also once said that smoking and drinking were stimulants in a conversation and he remained unapologetic till the end about both habits.

In one of his last columns Hitchens wrote, ‘Like health itself, the loss of such a thing can’t be imagined until it occurs.” Here he is talking about the loss of speech. When the radiation started, one day he discovered that his “voice suddenly rose to a childish (or perhaps piglet-like) piping squeak” and he was no longer “able to stop a New York cab at 30 paces” nor could it like before, “without the help of a microphone, reach the back row and gallery of a crowded debating hall.” Despite the casualness of his delivery, his words tear you.

I’ve been wondering, what made the man tick? Suddenly, two scenes came to mind: one from Polanski’s The Pianist and the other from Milos Foreman’s One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

One way of accepting life is to look upon it as a series of gains and losses: as Divine retribution and reward; sometimes deserved, often random. He didn’t really deserve to be kicked out of his job; she got what she deserved when she visited him; they really deserved to win the award - that kinda thing. What happens afterwards? What went on in Hitchens’ mind as the nurse left after injecting the last shot of the day, after the drapes had been pulled, and his last visitor left with hollow words of ‘let’s catch up soon’. How did he pull himself up, and fight his way to the table and struggle with the keypad to produce those glorious last articles? What stuff is man made of? I can’t presume what motivated him; such men are special. Genius always is. But for the rest, the antidote surely must be in a state of ‘As If’.

The people in the Kolkata hospital who went to get well and encountered a sickening reality, what must be going through the minds of their family? Life is not fair; that’s the single, indisputable reality of our lives. The world which we permeate has the power to shape us and unmake us. When this familiar, comforting world crumbles, all known edifices of honesty and kindness disappear. This is when it is important we create a state of As If: to believe that the number tattooed on your wrist, doesn’t make you any less human, any less an individual, than the German officer who looks at you coldly; to believe that the death of your child makes you no more responsible than God who didn’t listen to your prayers; to understand that irrespective of it being labeled a flower without roots, it did change you forever.

The two scenes below describe this state of As If. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve viewed these scenes over this year. Enjoy.



Anonymous said...

I haven't watched Pianist and as always your selection leaves me amazed. Do you always watch films with so much care?
I have been following his blog for a while, and loss and reminders of loss are clearly your forte. I find your writing deeply sad as also uplifting.


Shoumitro said...

I find my thoughts echoed in your blog... nobody could have put it in a better way.

drift wood said...

mh: Yes. Someone invested a lot of care in making these films, in playing these roles, right?

I really dunno what to say to the rest. I'm glad you find it uplifting...a lot of it is not really intended as sad, or's just life...your, mine, their. At least, i am not sad when i'm writing these. :)


Long time... Thanks.

vaidegi j said...

yes would have to say, youre writing is beautiful when filled with melancholy. You glide through those emotions flawlessly, capturing the essence perfectly.OR maybe it personally moves you more, that it overflows into your works. But come to think of it, you rule roost when emotions abound! And its like a beautiful symphony, what follows! :)

jd said...

my take :)

the irony is while there are many beings on earth practicsing sadhna to achieve a state of moksha(release from rebirth) this gentleman has attained it just by vocalizing his views about God and religion and at the end not blaming God for his demise! .

his soul at last is in peace.

drift wood said...


Tsk! I dont think CH would believe in moksha/salvation. That's the kind of faith he professed. :)
Yeah, i hope he's at peace.

drift wood said...


Just a lil mush here and a lil thought there and a comment from you, and it all falls into place :)