The timeless romantic

Ours is the land of unity in diversity. The only thing we agree upon is the general consensus that we will disagree. And most of the times it’s safe to leave it to the experts. In art, for instance, we may never be able to appreciate music as well as the classically trained, we may never realize the beauty of word choices in poetry and lyrics the way linguists do, and to be honest the rest of us don’t even care. But tell an Indian movie buff their opinion on Bollywood is crass and they’ll pin you to the wall and deliver two tight slaps. That’s how deeply we feel about our movies.  These movies have affected our lives in ways more than one. They have played a very formative role in our emotional development and have taught us things that we rarely credit to them. The 90s and the early 2000s were the era of romantic movies, and the era of the biggest seller that India has created – Shahrukh Khan.

His romantic roles have affected our lives more that one might notice. All of us were growing up when Rahul was dealing with a plethora of relationships problems in situations that appeared to be too dramatized but were very real problems nonetheless. He was falling in love with his friends, getting close to girls brought up in way too conservative families, dealing with the death of loved ones and what not. These situations and his responses have a huge imprint on the minds of a huge chunk of our society. The media dubbed him the King of Romance but to us, the nineties kids, he was much more than a movie figure.

Alright, perhaps not to all of us but a sizeable number, indeed, believes in the absolute timelessness of SRK’s performances and romantic roles. Even the ones who don’t, can’t deny the fact that he has taught the common man the art of romance and in doing so has united the largest section of our population in this cultural revolution. Critics of this theory do not realize that his movies were watched by my millions of people in India, and the effect of a cumulative change in the romantic mindset of the society affects everyone. Therefore, we shall and will continue to take Mr. Khan very seriously.

“You can love me or hate me. But you can’t ignore me.” – Shahrukh Khan

The closest parameter to judge the state of a society is by the study of its movies.

The ‘70s was the era that witnessed the birth of the biggest phenomena of Indian cinema, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, with his ‘Angry Young Man’ image. This was the time when the middle class, who had sacrificed much during the freedom struggle in the hope of a better tomorrow suffered a great deal. Mr. Bachchan voiced the true sentiments of the ‘janta’. Not everybody could choose or embrace the violent route to fixing things, but via Bachchan, they vicariously lived the joy of bashing away the ills that irked them day in and day out.

The ‘80s are considered to be the darkest era of Indian cinema. This was a period of confused transition, where fun and entertainment were expressed through weird fantasies. The romance of the 1960’s was replaced by sex and violence. Indira Gandhi’s reign motivated women’s empowerment to a considerable extent. Women were increasingly gaining strength in the scripts and acting as vigilantes who avenged crimes against themselves. Hema Malini, Sridevi, Rekha, and others often represented the fearless woman of substance, who ran the family and worked with the police with a mission to eradicate evils from the society. To move from this to a decade where gaining the attention of women formed a major section of most films was unforeseen.

Almost all nation’s movie industry has seen this transition but only in India we have a face that represents this change very closely. It could be said that our generation was conceived and brought up in the most romantically enlightened times we have ever seen.

The type of movie roles he started with and ended up mastering reflect a romantic rendition of the social intricacies surrounding love and relationships relevant to our country. In the process, Mr. Khan also succeeded in highlighting several glitches in the Indian society- the treatment and status of women in India, the taboo surrounding love marriages, the excessive authority that elders have on their daughters, etc. However unintentional, but he does deserve credit for at least giving the older generation their children’s perspective.

The entire generation that watched him during their formative years learned to handle their first experiences of affection with unseen passion. Unlike their predecessors, this generation would go on to add unprecedented excitement and fervor to one of the most important feelings of their lives, they will ever be grateful to Mr. Khan to subtly highlight the importance of the once unseemly feeling. A playful Raj teases his love-interest and makes fun of her but never does he let anything harm her. He puts up with her father’s stiff-necked pride, takes a beating for her and makes her feel like she is the most important thing to him in the world. And that is how every young girl wants to feel and be treated like. A college student Rahul wants attention and he appears to be the kind of guy who would never settle for a serious relationship but when he does fall in love it is with complete devotion and purity. Every time we watch the movie, his words, “Love is friendship” strike a chord with anyone who’s ever known what it feels like to lose a friend to love. And who can forget the image of a young man dancing to the beats of ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ atop an actual moving train singing about the wonders of love.

Watching his performances has conditioned our Hindustani minds to understand both infatuation and eternal love in the harmonies of the Mandolin or the Violin, in challenging a Sumo wrestler for a loved one without a second thought, in the dreaded love triangles between friends, in sizing up against a suitor more financially and socially well-off than yourself and many more. These nuances of a relationship have become the common language of romance right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

The very sight of mustard fields and multicolored friendship bands transport us back to rose-tinted memories and the ability to dissolve into television screens without much struggle. After two decades, his movies still have the fresh energy and heartfelt poignance. Every re-watch is a memory of a lesson learned, and a comparison created from where we stood the last time we watched it. He has taught an entire generation that it’s alright to be a little cynical about romance, to be hopelessly romantic about platonic love and that what matters, at the end of the day, is when a girl turns around to look at you and says –

Kuchh kuchh hota hai Rahul, tum nahi samjhoge.

Written in collaboration with Vashi Negi and Apoorva Agarwal.

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To feel what needs feeling

An enormous amount of trouble in life is caused by a peculiar phenomenon of our mind, a tendency to be out of touch with our true feelings. The idea at first sounds strange and equally insulting, how could I, who is, as seen from the outside, a single being with an intact sense of the conscience and the physical world, be detached from what I feel, how could I, a single organism, be so multiple and have secrets from my own self. Mostly we are satisfied by what we feel in a situation because it aligns with our sense of the moral compass that we have calibrated over the course of our lives. We have subconsciously programmed ourselves to know how to feel given a stimulus. As a result of years of subtle adjustment, we have instilled notions about what are and are not permissible things to experience. Traditionally, it is not okay for boys to cry when they feel utterly sad. And with innumerable experiences of not being able to show our true emotions we lose the ability to even acknowledge them at occasions we might want to.

There is a great deal of subconscious importance attached to being able to fit into the favorable category of a good person. When difficult experiences do tend to emerge we typically just look away rather than producing an honest account of feelings that we are having we adjust them to be acceptable to our calibrated moral compass first and also a little bit to the acceptable notions of the society. We might feel disgusted and morose when a friend scores better than us in a test but we know that we can’t, so in situations like these it gets painstakingly hard for us to explain our true emotions. Even we might not be in entire touch with what we feel. We might even get disgusted by ourselves for entertaining feelings that do not fulfill our sense of morality. This gap more often than not results in the development of a perpetual sense of self-unreliability and hatred. And this is a very dangerous notion.

Our need to feel love stems from the fact that we long to escape from ourselves into the embrace of someone who appears as beautiful, perfect and accomplished as we feel ourselves to be flawed, dumb and mediocre. So the deeply unnoticeable and subconscious feeling of self-hatred only intensifies this longing. But what if some day such a person would turn around and love us back, nothing could discredit them faster. How could they be as divine as we hoped for when they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us. It turns out that a central requirement of a good relationship is the degree of affection for ourselves built up over the years of being in touch with ourselves and acknowledging our true feelings and respecting them unbiasedly. Without a significant amount of self-love the feelings of another person will always seem sickening and misguided and we will unconsciously set out to repel them. If we are not truly convinced of the reliability of our own emotions, another person’s affection will always feel like an accomplishment or a prize that we never worked for.

Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”.

I have never been in a position in my life where I have been so connected with what I am truly experiencing and being satisfied by it. And I am so overwhelmed by this realisation that never in my life have I not needed someone else for the realisation of my presence to the degree that I don’t now. Not because of the fact that I have entirely filled the proverbial gap, but because I have begun to see literature like I have failed to for so long. And also because of the sheer reduction of the complexity of the experiences I go through. A good writer is someone who is uncommonly patient and curious about the less discussed and weirder things that float around in the human head. The power of literature lies in its ability to emulate emotionally tasking scenarios that one might have to pay heavily to find in real life. You are invited to go through a plethora of experiences and feel whatever you may about them without the fear of being judged, even by your own self. The world of fiction allows you the liberty to put down the moral compass and to feel what needs feeling.

Between nowhere and goodbye

It is 9:30 PM right now. So it’s about an hour a half until he comes through my door which I keep unlocked for him. I won’t say that he is my friend, but I am all he’s got and I am oddly attached to him, not just because I patch him up every night, prevent him from bleeding to death, but because being nice to him gives me the pseudo-humane satisfaction. And he bleeds, a lot. Every single night he comes to my door, bleeding profusely. Sometimes with broken ribs, swollen eyes, loose teeth, dislocated joints, ruthlessly beaten down. He drags himself up the stairs. He doesn’t use the lift. I am uncomfortably sure that he is fond of the pain; his constant denial to shield himself from it horrifies me. I don’t think he has anything inside him, you’d be sure of it if you look into his eyes once. He has the eyes of a dead man. But he comes to my door every night knowing that I would save him, he sometimes just sits right outside for hours without knocking. I know that he constantly wishes that one of these days I won’t be there or turn him away and he would die, soaked up in his blood. But I won’t turn him away, never.

There are a lot of stories about him; it is said that he has a PHD in psychology of some sorts. Nobody knows exactly. Neighbors say that he used to teach at a university and used to be a really good guy. He lives below me and his place is much better than mine. I have been there only once, though. While he was out, I used the spare key that he gave me some time ago. He told me to keep it and do whatever with it when he dies. The apartment is very well decorated and reflects good fortune. The only thing I found odd about the place was a small writing table in the corner, it really did not look like it belonged there. It gave the whole room a profound sense of discomfort. It was covered with letters; boxes filled with more were lying all around it. All of them looked the same. They were all stamped ‘Return to sender‘ and addressed to the same location. Someone out there really did not want any contact with this man.

He leaves early every day for his job which is to get beaten up by people for money. People who need to express their rage in form of violence, people who de-stress by hearing the crack of ribs, people who have been undone of all the civilization that has been fucked into them, people with their lives falling apart, people with mortgages, people with nagging wives, people with monstrous bosses, people who are bosses, people with any tiny excuse that would help them justify what they do to him. And people are ruthless. The fact that he does not hit back and does not even squeal motivates them to hit harder. Every night he comes back to my door broken down by the troubles of the entire world. As much as I am sure that he does not do it for the money, I am uncertain about the reason of him doing it. He never comes back with money, he collects it up and gives the bloody bills to the first homeless guy he bumps into. But he cannot stop charging them; or otherwise they would stop hitting him. Beating up some random guy for free, that would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

He never talks about his life at all or why he goes out every day for this monstrosity. He never talks about anything for that matter. After I patch him up, he just sits there for a while and leaves without a word. No thank you, no nothing. I offer him a beer once in a while and he takes it but he almost always leaves it untouched. This one time after I stitched his left eyelash, he looked at me with his good eye and started talking about how he loved carpentry and wanted to go the woods and find a place near a lake and build a cabin there. He said he would sit outside with his books and look at the lake and maybe even go fishing every once in a while. And how he would bake a lemon pie and share it with his dog. He said I was welcome to visit anytime I want and then he just stood up and left. Next time I saw him, his shoulder was dislocated and his nose was bleeding.

Well, it’s about 11. I should go and unlock the door…

 

It’s has been two days since I have seen the man. He did not turn up that day. Not even the day after. I went to his apartment; someone had slid a letter under his door. Marked ‘Return to sender’ like the rest of them. I read in the newspaper today that they had found a guy beaten to death in the streets, the identity of the person was unknown. So I went to the morgue entirely sure it was him but it wasn’t. It turned out that it was just some guy who had just been divorced and had lost his job…

He never came back after that. I really wish that there is a cabin far away, near a lake in the woods, which smells of pie. I truly wish that he found the place he was looking for somewhere between nowhere and goodbye.

What’s going on?

Have you heard that story about that man? Of course you haven’t.

A long time ago there was a man who worked at a graveyard. His job was to dig graves for incoming dead bodies. One day he got drunk and started digging up at the wrong spot. Not realising his mistake he went deeper and deeper until his spade struck a skull. Someone was already buried there. While examining the skull to check if he had damaged it he saw something strange. There were some markings on top of it. Engraving of some sorts. He thought something was written on it. Intrigued, he took the skull to his place and studied it more closely. He found out that there were numbers carved on it in an ancient script. Fascinated, he started wondering what they meant. After hours of study, he finally came to the conclusion that they were coordinates pointing to a place far away.Taking it as some kind of a sign from above he decided to uncover the mystery. He was engulfed by the prospect. He couldn’t sleep until he did. So he left his job, packed whatever little he had and started on a journey what he believed would be the adventure of his lifetime. He travelled for weeks on stretch until he finally reached the forecasted location. He found himself in the woods. Unsure of what to do next he waited there. Days passed uneventfully until one day he saw a little bird, it had it’s wings damaged and was unable to fly. Suddenly a snake slid towards her and ate her alive. Disturbed by what he saw and not knowing what to make of it, the man started wandering the valleys. One day he found a group of monks passing by. Still searching for answers he went with them. The monks took him to their ashram. So he lived with them, learned their ways and started studying to be one with them. He thought if he could gain all the knowledge they could offer he would be able to decipher what all of it meant. What his life meant. And what the universe wanted to communicate to him. Several years passed and one day he got a chance to meet the Acharya, the leader of the order. He narrated to him his tale…

“Acharya, does God want me to spread the message of love and non-violence?”

“Umm…” said the Acharya.

“Or should I be nice to everyone and spread goodwill?”

“Well, that couldn’t hurt.”

“But Acharya, shouldn’t it all have a higher meaning?”

“When the truth is found to be lies and all the hope within you dies. Then what?” asked the Acharya.

“I don’t understand.”

“George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John… umm… something these are the…”

“Beatles?” he completed.

“Yes.”

What’s going on?! That’s a stupid question that we keep asking the world when hit by any misfortune as if the world owes us an answer. The time we spend interpreting our sufferings is the time we throw away. As Woody Allen  said, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.

I do not totally agree about the full of misery, loneliness, and suffering part but it sure gets all over much too soon.

Then why do we have an innate desire to understand our misery when there is nothing to understand. We as people have defined life to be a set of equations, fixed upon set points and when these come undone which unforeseen circumstances are always threatening to do, the result is very traumatic and forces us to believe that it was something higher that wished that to happen for our own good. We reach out for anything that could unwind us of the responsibility. This precisely explains the appeal of religion.

Why is it necessary for us to assign great cosmic significance to every event in our life. Things just happen. The universe does not owe you an answer any more than you owe one to the ants whose home you just destroyed while walking in the park sipping your coffee. It’s just coincidence, laced by the choices we make, good or bad regardless. Consequence (and bad luck) is all there is. And not just of our actions but equally of our inactions too. People experience joy to varying degrees at various moments across their lives but everybody suffers. God would have played dice if there were any cosmic dice to play with or probably even the latter to play with them, for that matter.

The truth of our lives is devastatingly simple, there is no higher being, there is no objective or purpose for us. We exist for a short a short blip, crib about our problems and then cease to do so. How disappointing and oddly relieving is that.

 

 

Somewhere between not too long ago and yesterday

Somewhere between not too long ago and yesterday. A boy builder or a builder boy, both appropriately describing two aspects of our protagonist’s self, was looking for a potential client. His search, while proving mostly futile was a little too overly narrowed and particular. He wanted this to be his best work, a house so strong that it could stand the test of time and be privately admired by its envious audience. Naturally he wanted everything to be perfect. It had to fall adequate to his dreams. So he looked and looked, for the right one, the one.

As time passed he grew tired and exhausted by the constant failure. He decided to stop looking and let destiny play its part and bring the one to him.

Someone knocked. Excited and equally skeptical he welcomed the stranger. But she was looking for something else. A lamp, she wanted a lamp.

“Sorry I don’t deal in that.” he said.
“Oh, no worries.” she said and a spasm of an emotion as undecipherable as it was alien, passed over her face.
“Could I do something else for you,” he said deeply wanting an assertion.
“I don’t know.” she said with an air of confusion.
“Could I just linger around here for a while.” she added.
“Yes of course.” he replied so instantly that it surprised himself.
“Oh I shouldn’t.” she said alarmed.
“Oh you most definitely should.”
“Okay.” she said and stayed.

As he got to know her he realized she was nothing like the client he was looking for, infact she contradicted all the parameters of his search but she still managed to grab his attention and made it do peculiar things. He knew that there was something about her that he would never find again. Something so peculiar that it felt that this was exactly what he was looking for. At that moment, he knew she was the one.

“Let me build a house for you. It’ll be the greatest of all homes that you have ever seen”
“But I don’t think I need a house, also, I don’t have the money.” she said visibly intrigued by the idea.
“Oh it’ll be totally free, this is going to be my contribution to architecture. It is going to be my Sistine Chapel.” he said with an air of confidence.
“Okay.” she said taking his hand.

He started working with unprecedented dedication. Everything was aimed to be perfect in his eyes. Days were spent on even the tiniest details. Every parameter was intently calculated and aesthetically adjusted to suit his patronage. The house had to compliment her perfectly. They had to fit together like two mating jigsaw pieces. The house was going to be the unique solution to all her dubiety. And hence it was perfect but still incomplete

He brought her to see it, his tribute to her. She was the final piece. She loved it. It was more that she could imagine having wanted. Everything was in abundance. The gardens were greener than in her dreams and the doors more welcoming. She went inside and made herself at home. And time did what it did best, passed unnoticed.

“Open the folds I want to see more of the outside world.” she said one day visibly weary. Monotonicity had tired her. She had a good house but what else. Did she want that in the first place? It was nice and all but it wasn’t a lamp essentially. But she was happy, wasn’t she. The majority of other people were looking desperately for what she already had and looked at her house with visible jealousy even though it came to her with little or no effort. But didn’t they say that you have to, at least, struggle for getting things that you deserve.

He opened the blinds with a subtle display of distress. What was there outside that she wanted to see. All of the world’s comfort was accessible to her with just a lift of a finger here inside. So why couldn’t he spot the satisfaction in her eyes equal to what he had expected? She was happy, sure. But was she content? Only she could tell but she didn’t know. Was that possible or was he overthinking. He was probably overthinking this. He convinced himself that he was, after all, she would tell him if there was anything that might be troubling her, wouldn’t she?

After that she grew restless by the day, despising the house more with every breath that she took. However beautiful, it was restraining her after all. Her weariness and irritable nature did not go unnoticed, he grew more cautious. Thereby decorating the home with things that she liked, he showered her with comforts and goodwill, he essentially put his heart to it. It was no more just a home, it represented all that made him a builder. Any action of bitterness towards the structure was a blow to his faith. But his acts of kindness only made her more uneasy. Jail, that is what it was to her, even though she was afraid to acknowledge that herself. Did she deserve it all, was another question that she spent her days answering. What more was it than just bricks and mortar that prevented her from going to the wide world outside filled with thrills and joy and also sadness and hurt but which promised to be new. The prospects of these experiences lured her. Understandably so.

“I can not be here anymore.” she said a day adamantly.
“Everything is nice and all but I don’t think I do justice to this house or to you by staying here even though I don’t want to.”

He stood there trying to make peace with her words. It was so great a discredit that he could not even frame his thoughts much less say anything. So she unlocked the door and went away while her shoes were still untied. He went out after her but did not follow. She turned towards him and said, “Sorry, I did not mean to disrespect your art but it’s just not for me.”

He looked at the house, standing there wrapping the universe around it, his universe. It was just bricks and mortar without her. It was ripped off of all its beauty. She was the soul of it all, she was the last piece of the jigsaw that it represented, without her it was just a disgrace, a wholly hedious structure to say the least.

With a heavy heart, he took out a match, lighted it and gave it to her, it was the toughest set of actions that he had to do all his life. She knew instantly what she was expected to do.

To his little restitution, her hands trembled as she took the match.

Seems unreal? I love it.

Charlie Gordon, a 38 year old mentally disabled man who works a menial job at a bakery where his uncle set him up just so that he does not have to go to a mental institution, is a perfectly likable character. His true nature and childlike manner is immensely admirable. And you cannot help but pity his misfortune. And you begin to passionately loathe characters who make fun of him or try to take advantage off his disability. In essence, he is a pretty lovable character.

So why write about him? Good question. I just finished reading Flowers of Algernon by Daniel Keyes and it is easily one of the most thought-provoking books I have ever come across. Hence, the thoughts that were provoked.

So what happens is, Charlie gets an opportunity to undergo a surgical procedure that will dramatically increase his mental capabilities. The procedure has already been tested on a mouse Algernon, with favorable results and Charlie is to be the first human subject. Now always eager to learn and become smart to impress his ‘friends’. Charlie signs up. How cute! And eventually starts getting smarter by the day. The book is written in the form of a series of progress reports that Charlie is supposed to write to keep a check on his progress. So we get a first person account of what he is going through emotionally. Which is really amazing and exceedingly interesting because although Charlie starts getting smarter but his social intelligence only increases with the experiences and stimulus that he now starts to notice.

It is like looking into the mind of a child who is experiencing emotions for the first time. And as his character changed, I started developing a feeling of dislike towards him. But all that changed in him was just making him normal, like you and me. He became smart, started experiencing emotions, started understanding social structure and etiquettes, but I did not like him one bit. As he reached the peak of his growth (he as a matter of fact becomes a genius), I hated him. And interestingly he is not shown doing something that deserves that, apart from getting normal. Which got me to thinking, why do we hate characters that are closest to reality and are like normal real people. I could not spot anything that he did in those situations that I myself would do differently.

Let me give you another fictional character that no one can hate – Forrest Gump. He, like Charlie was, is mentally disabled and is extremely adorable and equally far from being a normal real person. And it’s not just the dumb ones. Think of any fictional character you love and try to place him in the real world around you and check if it is sustainable. I am sure you will find it difficult if not impossible. They always have at least one characteristic about them that is in excess and which you will struggle to find in the real world.

Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye) who is considered the most relatable character to teenagers is too damn impulsive, troubled and judgemental.

Hamlet – Too indecisive.

Macbeth – Too Ambitious.

Lord Eddard of the Winterfell – Excessive Pride.

Jay Gatsby – Obsessive and is fatally idealistic.

Augustus Waters (The fault in our stars) – Come on already!

As we love characters that are far from real humans we tend to hate characters that are actually closer to reality. In The great Gatsby, why do we so thoroughly abhor Daisy Buchanan (I am assuming that we all do). For me it’s her sense of entitlement, her inability to make difficult choices, her lack of empathy but these are the very things that make me unlikable. After all if you put yourself in her position, I don’t see what human virtue she failed to possess. The point if simply put being; we all would gladly cheat in exams for good marks but will still hate a fictional character who does the same, on accounts of morality.

If my characteristics were to be put as a character in a novel, I am sure that everyone will have nothing but intense distaste for him and will want to tear him up limb to limb at the first chance they got. Interestingly even I would have the same feelings for that character. But in reality, I am alive in one piece and some people do like me, making me at least an average likable person (I totally know I am above average on that).

A great thing about literature is that you get to see yourself as others see you and you see others as they see themselves.