Friday, 23 December 2016

Flying Under the Coathanger’s Arc

With the hands that I once wanted to write poetry for her every morning, I was made to write the draft of her wedding card. I took the dictation. Word by word. Every word I wrote, shook one brick of the wall behind which I had safely hidden my feelings, feelings that had not so long ago made her very happy. Not enough though to not have me write her wedding card. 

There were corrections too. Redrafts and more redrafts. All those phrases and metaphors seemingly made the match between her and her fiancĂ© more apparent, more visible to the invitees. In the end the card actually looked beautiful. And I say this without any prejudice or anger or any feeling of devastation. I told her father that it was the perfect wedding invitation. I wished his daughter, the best in life. But someone else also told him about the other stuff hidden behind the wall I just mentioned. 

Terrified about my kind of past and ten ways in which it may ruin her daughter's marriage, especially with the marriage only a month away, I was asked to leave. When I left, I went away without grudges. A part of me was happy that I was going away. As I was drifting, I didn’t turn like in the movies to catch a last fleeting glimpse of a soon to be bride, even though the face once moved my sun and stars.

They have been telling me since God -knows –when, that true love comes back and that if it is meant to come back it will and all that kind of stuff they invent out of nowhere. When I hear them say 'true love' I wonder how love cannot be true. I wonder how that version of love has ever worked for anyone. I have even read that love is like jumping off a cliff with hope that you’d land safely in the midst of overwhelming indications that you may not. I had jumped off my cliff a little before six months of her marriage. The funny part was that she’d asked me not to. I did nevertheless. And for reasons only known to her, she decided to join me. Once she jumped, we floated together. But the flight was terrible with her slipping away every time I tried to hold her. Something told me that she never wanted to be held in the first place. That the idea of floating excited her, apparently far more than my snug warm embrace. Maybe, the guy they gave her in marriage, tried to catch hold of her too. But what he did was even more stupid. The poor fellow tried to smash her onto himself. That was never meant to work. I read about the separation on a common friend’s wall. Sometimes those kinds of things are written there. They are trying to get her wed for the second time. I felt awful hearing that. I could not lie to myself that I’d begun to re-dream about us when I’d learnt about her being no more married. I know I just told you about how terrible it was.

But even the second time around, I’m poorer than ever. No engagement  I can show off as my 'worth'. But I do have a hundred poems now, all written while she was in Australia, living the days and nights of her newfound foreign life. But those words were never meant for price. Some months later, my poor words actually get lucky. An abrupt email out of the blue and within the next hour a series of exchanges tell me how lonely she is. I start to write poetry for her, every morning, mostly telling her how beautiful this world is with her around to which she always sent a very encouraging reply. The sunrise of hope was getting nearer and nearer. Till I got no more emails for a week. A rare week since we’d got in touch after her divorce. I was a little disturbed but not worried. How could I’ve guessed that my words were so poor that they couldn’t stop her from floating once again. Stretching her hands, as if to mimic the Coathanger above her head, she had let herself off the Harbour Bridge into the endless depths of Murray. 

'Poor Words' is fiction.

Saturday, 17 December 2016


The solitude and the crowd
The mellow evenings and this night's quiet
Everything carries me to you.
As if a soul I were, set upon
A tiny ferry
Given away to waves
That wash the shores of your island

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 Mitesh uncle turned startlingly adamant against permitting him to travel. My cousin kept asking ‘Why?’ to which Mitesh 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 Mitesh 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 afternoon. 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.” 

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 .