Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Silhouette of Our Lives


Many of us often confront the crushing realization that our lives do not turn out to be what we want. There is this ever present, invisible wrench of some powerful force, quietly moulding the course of things. And often the influence that the force wields on our journey is inescapable. We are, in reality, no masters of our fates. We do not, cannot control it. The truth is that in all the wholesome determining of life and its path, there is already a plot, to which one has no choice but to fit in. My endorsement of fate's authority should not have anyone perceive me as superstitious. A believer of fate is not necessarily superstitious. Superstition involves expectation of a definite result in a certain situation but fate alters and varies and remains unpredictable, free from all kinds of comprehension as to the manner of its progression and immune to predictability, working per a higher scheme; while superstition breeds fear, belief in fate is known to inspire humility.

As it turns out, fate has always sketched the silhouette of man’s life. I am not saying that men are born bereft of independence or that free will is a myth. We do own our wills. But there is only an extent to which we actually exercise it. Conceding to my lack of competence to eloquently explain the co relation, I’ll borrow Pandit Nehru’s words, the ones he memorably told Norman Cousins, the doyen of American journalists who once put to Nehru ‘How do you reconcile free will and destiny?’ Nehru answered, ‘Both have a place in our life. The best analogy one can think of is to compare life with a game of bridge. The cards dealt to you are out of your control, but the way you play your hand is your free will. Given a good hand, you can still mess up the game and vice versa’ Even Shakespeare has proclaimed through Hamlet how God has a plan for us as much as we might criticize it, protest against it, or try to dodge it. He writes:

 there’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
                rough - hew them how we will’

I derive a great deal of comfort from Hamlet's lines when I'm in distress.

It is said that when Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the then President of India was a Professor, many years before he became President, Cheiro had predicted upon reading his palm lines that he would become head of state. What was winked at as a family joke at the time came true to the last word. Many of us, I’m sure, have had a similar chance to experience the extraordinary actually occurring by stroke of something unknowable. Let me share a personal experience to illustrate it.    

My cousin often joins his friends on road trips . Everytime he starts, invariably, almost like a ritual, my aunt tries to stop him and doles out an annoying list of what could happen etc etc in unsupervised trips. But my cousin enjoys the tacit support of his father, my uncle, who never prohibits him from having fun . There was this one occasion however when uncle turned startlingly adamant against permitting him to travel. My cousin kept asking ‘Why?’ to which uncle only said ‘You are not going anywhere today’. Regardless of no concrete reasoning my cousin was prevented from making the trip. It was an unusual scenario. As I said uncle is usually soft with him, but that day he was someone else. I watched his demeanour change as if he was possessed. Like some third person was controlling his actions. The same evening news of the car crash in which my brother’s friends made that journey shook us to our core, particularly the four of us who had been part of the debate that afetrnoon. One of his friends had died on the spot and the rest had landed in hospital with grave injuries. I shiver as I recall the proceedings of the day, projecting in my head scary images of what could have happened.

What could possibly explain my uncle’s stubbornness that afternoon? Providence, according to me was at work to save my brother. I never asked my uncle what made him stop his son. No one asked. As though we had already in our minds bowed before the powers which took hold of his will that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if after all this time uncle still has no idea what compelled him to change his stance. I understand it too well why he may not have an idea about it. It is natural to not grasp the conjuring of fate.   

I have often encountered disagreement of peers against my perception of destiny and its role in our lives. They find it imaginary, intangible, and hypothetical. But aren’t there enough things in this world that subsist beyond our knowing, invisible to our eyes, immune to our skills of comprehension? Their presence is felt only by the undeniable persuasion they play their hands with, in moments when it matters, just like what happened with my cousin.

Trusting in fate or not is entirely upto us. We may choose to or not to. But, sooner than later, we all arrive at circumstances where we are swayed to spare a thought in favour of its existence. Perhaps what I have shared has been suitably put in words by Dr. Johnson in The Oxford Book of The Supernatural. He writes “all argument is against it, but all belief is for it.” 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Games We Don't Forget

You know when I learnt to play scrabble?

It was in the June of my seventh grade. I had been to spend my holidays with my favourite Gita aunt, my father’s only sister. It was supposed to be the first time I was going to be away from my mother’s shielding view for so long. A month to be precise. But it all turned out fine by the end of the first week. She got comfortable about the whole thing when aunt convinced her that I was under no less care and protection with her. After all she was there by her side when I was born. They shared the whole stretch of protective emotions for me. Aunt's only son Sourav, my cousin, was in the third standard then. But it wasn’t he who taught me scrabble. 

On a Wednesday that was incredibly hot but somehow in tune with my expectations from evenings, Sourav asked me to accompany him to Jatin's place, to return those Archies and Tintins he’d borrowed from him. When we opened the gates and entered their little lawn I saw Ashwini wearing a yellow dress which ran all the way to her knees. She was Jatin’s elder sister, almost of my age. She was sitting on the swing, slowly moving it back and forth by the stroke of her slender feet, nibbling the top of her index, engrossed in what looked like a board chequered with squares and little things printed on them and blocks of plastic cubes arranged horizontally and vertically on some of those squares. When I moved closer I realized they were all letters and words. Spread out on the board in picture perfect symmetry. 

"Want to join?' she asked with a formal smile. She looked even prettier from such close distance. Her eyes were happy and her wrists seemed very delicate. She wore a golden pendant hanging in the middle of a very thin necklace which shone every time its surface caught the glowing street light looking over their bungalow’s fence.   
‘I don’t know how to play?’ I said.
‘It’s alright. I’ll teach you’ she smiled a little more. So I settled in front of her on the swing. That was the evening, in whose melting softness and pleasant breeze I played the game for the first time. 

I went nowhere else on holidays. Vacations and breaks meant ending up at Gita aunt's home and spending the evenings in long games of scrabble with Ashwini. And when it would get over and I had to come back, the world with all its colours and frolics and games of cricket and tennis would bore me. Maybe because none of them meant hearing Ashwini’s playful voice and her gentle laughter on winning and her nervous silence before losing to me. Besides occasionally walking to the colony park whenever we met, we played the game, all through High School and College and thanks to the internet we played online scrabble even when she was doing her MBA living in some far away hostel.  It's been a while. Four years to be specific, since we last talked, actually it was a childish squabble over the authenticity of a word I wanted to use in the game.

As I stand in the middle of this thick crowd today, I recall the delight of our companionship that faded with passage of time. In my hand I’m holding a tiny relic of that era in a small, obscure packet. When I look at it I experience a sense of loneliness. ‘Never mind’ I say to myself and begin to walk. Ashwini’s face is like sunrise when she sees me. Perhaps she wants to yell with joy. It’s visible. But she holds back her elation. When I give her my gift, she opens it and turns expressionless. First her eyes brighten and then they glisten up. She hugs me. She smells like rose. Her scent does things to my head. It’s an embrace of longing. I know that in my gift I’ve given her a memory. One which I had preserved without any idea that one day I’ll forever return it to her. She remembers. I can feel it from the manner of her hug. The quiver of her hands on my back gives me a strange relief. Maybe because I’m assured of how similarly she feels. It also leaves within me a pang of regret. Should I ask? Take my chance? It's never too late they say. The slight twitching of her fingers encourages me.  She lets go of her hold and squeezes my cheek and says she wants to kiss it out of thankfulness but there are many people who wouldn't understand why she did that. They would mix things up and it won't be good. I walk back, recede into the crowd. 

From a distance I notice how fondly she's protecting my gift in her right hand, that old pocket board of scrabble on which we used to arrange all those words. I remember a few and break into a smile. I quickly resume my face though. No, she didn't see my stupid giggle. My gift. It is neither dazzling nor near as costly as the other stuff that people present to her all through the evening. But she holds on to it. For as long as I sit on one of the front row seats, lost in her absolute beauty, gathering and releasing hopes within the dazzle of her flowing red bridal gown.  


'Games We Don't Forget' is a work of fiction.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Arrival - A Stunning Probe Into Elements of Humanity

A linguist with the weapon (ability) of seeing the future knows that she will marry the man who stood by her in her quest to cohere two civilizations that are light years apart, to preempt the world community from making history’s greatest error of judgment and to finally bind them in unity for posterity. She knows that he will father her daughter who is going to leave them prematurely as she would helplessly sleep holding her dying body as she slips away bit by bit from her grip. She knows that when she will predict to him about that loss, he’ll walk out on her, telling her that she made a wrong choice (in everything). Still, when she'd be proposed by him, she’d agree regardless. A heartbreaking personal price that Arrival’s protagonist has to pay for the ability to gift humanity a historic makeover. Suffice this should to underline the human element within the science fiction that ‘Arrival’ purports to be.

Intricate emotional layers aside, the story of “Arrival” is lucid — aliens arrive and then we contact them and whatever follows, follows. Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist who is called in by the U.S. government when the arrival happens. One sliced egg shaped UFO above the grasslands of Montana, and eleven more descend at other locations around the globe. Louise, along with a physicist (played by Jeremy Renner), is tasked with establishing contact with the visitors from far space and decode why they are here. They meet their hosts, two giant, squid-like beings that float on the other side of a see-through barricade. Verbal communication attempts yield complex outcomes, but written words and images bring promising results. Communication with the creatures moves slowly, but it at least begins to move.

But here is the challenge. If we are trying to understand a culture fundamentally different from our own we could not simply gather statistics, analyze grammar, and make conclusions. We’d have to absorb a different way of seeing. We'd have to find out how words are being attached to meaning. It is here that the movie makes us realize that language isn’t just about understanding how to say things to someone and ascribe meaning to what comes back. It tells us language has deeper roots in civilizations and the way they flourish and grow rather than just being a mode of communication. 

The film is replete with flow of intricacy which keeps you dangling on the verge of guessing and taking back those guesses about the possibilities that those seem to be opening. Toying with the danger of drowning the viewers in enigma, Villeneuve challenges himself as a storyteller/filmmaker and he comes out with flying colours by dosing the audience with crucial, orienting pieces of information without any ground shattering violence or action. And a part of the movie’s stunning brilliance must have to do with Ted Chiang’s spectacular short fiction ‘Story of Your Life’, published almost a decade ago, of which the movie is an adaptation. Right from the moment the opening scene plays, it’s clear that we’re in for a reflective expedition through memory, time and crushing grief. Die hard sci-fi admirers may not soon understand the import of such a premise in an alien invasion movie. But the story has criss-cross layers to make you hold on despite a very slow progress and the absence of the entire over the top stuff we have come to expect from science fiction features. The seminal subject of fate, loss and the meaning of love are so smartly interwoven with science that the film’s grip over you never loosens inspite of the so called slow progress. The director’s courage in not sacrificing narrative for entertainment is amply rewarded when the crafted pieces of his art suddenly come together to make sense. As one leading journal has written, the film is a profound example of how the best movies are those that allow the narrative and entertainment to coexist in unforced, tolerant balance. 

Imagine the conundrum which the protagonist has to deal with. To know that if she creates a life, it’s going to end prematurely, brutally and dissolve the cohesion of the most priceless bonds. Yet, she embraces that future. Yet, she chooses to bring that life into existence. Watch it grow, smile with it, play with it, and sleep with it on the same bed, helplessly witness it wilt abruptly and die. The question you cannot help asking yourself in that moment is should we meddle with future if we are able to foresee it? Beyond the sci-fi narrative ‘Arrival’ makes this tantalizing probe. But by the time you arrive at that point you’d have already lived a brilliant unfolding of a never before experienced story about human alien relationship. One that is far from being gory or from being driven by a motive to annihilate or dominate. When the decisive rendezvous happens, contrary to accumulated expectations, it turns out to be meaningful instead of menacing, meditative instead of adverse and peaceful instead of violent. You cannot help but admire with a smile the clever use of restraint with which you have are made to experience a genre of storytelling often characterized by conflicts of colossal proportions. 

Arrival, is as has been aptly put, a stunning science fiction drama about linguistics, aliens, and how we live today. Chances are that after watching it you’ll come out of the theater with a lump in your throat besides the feeling of having been overwhelmed by a rainbow of feelings .

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

We're all walking
Through the desert of our dreams
Afraid to wake up

Friday, 18 November 2016

Is Poetry Twilight

Why is poetry born? 
Does its womb in darkness churn?
Or is its river reason?
Where are its verses meant to reach
The heart in which a corner we crave
Or the home we left behind 
At the end of an old path of trust bereft.
Is poetry merry, singable, is it a song
Or is its verse only a whisper
Like the cry waves leave by their shore
In an ageless error of love.
When we write poetry
Are we answering or asking
Is poetry confluence of our humble sides
And with melody must it be sewn
Or is it the dissent of sore tides.
Able at performing within silent strides.
Is our poem a halt for someone's timeless wander
To hear which the wait has been suffered.
Are words of your poetry
Better guarantors 
At negotiating our differences
That stone walls cover.
I know that by poetry we undress
And cover the frayed flesh of our tattered soul.
Our poems are our window to the world
And the world's peek into the depths that we fall.
Where should we hide poetry
If it goes unheard
Why should we write poetry
If nothing it alters that it must
Burning, aflame
Consumed in fire and dust of hopes
Is poetry meant to die and be reborn
In paper or transcend boundaries that guns draw.
If it is meant to be the song of ages
Why poetry must be written by poets alone
Strange - poetry is immortal
When the hands that write it aren't
They call poetry abstract, figment, feetless walk
And the labour of a mind swimming among islands.
And to find a answer I yet must write another one
What do I know of poems and poetry
Or of their power and shelter
For I have only always crawled to poetry
To conceal the sky of my losses under its wings
To be able to go on, 
To breathe by my poem's shadowy side
To cry what I need and miss
To sing what I believe, 
I write those poems 
When truth and times force me 
To the twilight of my dreams