Thursday, February 23, 2006

Her name was Sunshine

Her name was Sunshine. Or, at least, that's the name she gave herself because she thought it sounded cute and made her seem a little more attractive. She enjoyed all the attention it gave her and the way it made men and women bask in the warmth of her presence. There was a spunkiness about her that made her stand out in a group, and often drew people towards her. She enjoyed it and revelled in the adulation that followed.

I thought she was nice, intelligent and a pleasant company for conversation. I had known her for only two years and during that time had grown to like her as a person because she was always full of interesting anecdotes whenever I had a chance to talk with her. She, also, had a very engaging style of talking that made one feel that she actually cared what the other person was saying.

Perhaps it was her profession that made her a good conversationalist or maybe it was natural curiosity that made her talk with such deep insight. An HR professional for many years and a trained counsellor, she had taken a break from the rat-race and was now involved in training youngsters for call-centre jobs. She loved interacting with these young men and women, and often told me that this work gave her the kind of fulfillment that her previous day-jobs lacked. Determined to carve out her own niche in the new corporate India on her own terms, she was confident that her experience, qualifications and personality were sufficient ingredients for success.

A widely travelled person, she had developed an eclectic taste in the fine arts and was seriously involved in theatre. Literature, arts, theatre and cinema were one of our favourite topics of discussion, and she could talk for hours and hours about new genres and new theatrical experiments and new books. She was so full of information that it was, always, fascinating to sit and talk with her.

But sometime last week, she disappointed me.

We were talking about the cartoon controversy, and for the first time we talked about the role of Muslims in the body politic and her voice slowly hardened as she began to explain her opinions. The kind and genial person I knew disappeared, and in its place a rabid right-wing monster took over and shocked me with her worldview. Her views would have easily matched Hitler's in passion and ferocity because she suggested, more or less, the same solutions.

I was surprised how a person with her supposedly liberal background could have developed such regressive views. I didn't expect her to agree with Islam or count Muslims as her favourite people and it would be ridiculous to have such expectations anyway. Disagreement and acceptance of those we disagree with is the stuff modern society is made of, and if it isn't, then, it better be. But to suggest ethnic cleansing for a group of people you disagree with is a different matter altogether. It comes from a warped mind that stubbornly insists that Hitler's 'final solution' was the best way to score debating points.

How could I have not sensed that this warm person was, also, a dangerous racist? Swayed by her talk on culture, literature and theatre, I assumed that she could never be a reactionary. It didn't seem to be the right chemical mixture to have gone in the making of a person like "Sunshine". Racists, I imagined, were made out of a different mould. Stern faced, without humour, dull, spartan and very unattractive. Popular perception has created this repulsive image of racists that our internal radar fails to detect racism if it comes in the guise of a person just like us. We like to believe that people like us are people like us in every possible way. It's a comforting thought because it makes us feel secure about the world in which we live and thrive. It makes us confident that the people who surround us are incapable of murder, mayhem and hate crimes. Such things, we are sure, are done by others who live on the fringes of our society. Not ours. Definitely not ours. But reality is rarely the way we imagine and when we get to see the real picture we are left dumbfounded with shock and disbelief just the way I was when I spoke with Sunshine.

I would have liked to talk with Sunshine again, and find out why she held such narrow views and what forced her to adopt such rigid stance. It would have satisfied my curiosity to know how an ethnic cleanser's mental clockwork operated but, sadly, I cannot find out any longer.

As soon as I switched off the phone, I deleted her number from my contact list and now I'll never find out. But strangely, I doubt if I'll ever miss her.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lump-in-the-Throat List

Goodbye, Mr Chips... especially the scene when he is promoted as school headmaster and his students congratulate him without knowing that he had just received news that his wife has died. I have seen both versions of the movie - the old Robert Donat and the Peter O'Toole musical version, and both films are able to give that 'lumpy' feeling in THAT scene.

David Copperfield... especially that scene when his stepfather beats him up, and the other scene when his mother dies.

The Passion of the Christ
... the torture and crucifixon scence always give me the goosebumps and lumps in full force.

Charlie Chaplin's The Kid
... don't know which part of the movie should be highlighted as ultra lumpy because the entire movie is one long kleenex moment. But hey, I love it all the same because Chaplin has shown tremendous talent in making us lauugh and cry at the same time.

... yes, it's Chaplin again, but it's hard not to feel lumpy when the blind girl recovers her sight and does not recognise the Tramp as her real benefactor.

Anand... the scene where Rajesh Khanna's character has just died and his recorded voice is heard reciting a poem or something.

Love Story... hate to admit this but this movie has to be there in my lump list because of the effect of the soundtrack and the performances by Ali MacGraw, Ray Milland and, ok, Ryan O'Neil.

Schindler's List
... most of the holocaust based movies make me go all lumpy but this movie certainly comes on the top of that list.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Inheritors of the Earth

This is a short video that I made out of photographs I had taken during my trip to India in 2004. It's the faces of these people that grabbed my attention and reminded me of the words of Jesus: "blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth."

I'm quite pleased to see that GoogleVideo is providing this cool option of allowing us to embed videos on websites... and on blogs! I'll try and make more videos and upload them here. Maybe turn this into a vblog?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Art in these times of conflict

Let me think aloud for a little bit...

What do understand by literary criticism? Is it a posh way of slamming someone down or does it have a higher motive? Most of us pass comments, suggestions and critiques on poems and prose passages posted here and on other boards but what really goes through our mind when we write down those words? Are we moved by a sense of the aesthetic? Are we startled by the theme and concepts presented? Are we satisfied with the marriage of form and content? Or are we just responding to words that simply delight us?

Delight is a nasty little word that has bothered philosophers down the ages. Some regard 'delight' to be the most necessary component in 'appreciating' a work of art. And there are some who insist that this 'delight' must arise from appreciating 'art for arts sake'. But some of us will agree that understanding 'aesthetics' cannot be simplified in an easy-to-understand box like that. There are other extraneous elements that must be considered as well. Sometimes it is these elements that provide colour, texture and meaning to a work of art that would easily escape those who rely on seeing things only in terms of 'art for arts' sake'.

The Danish cartoon controversy is a classic example where those who follow 'art for arts' sake' failed to see the bigger picture, that is, the social and cultural milieu where their art was placed. While there has been an obvious collision of two different perceptions and worldviews, nevertheless, the root cause of the problem is the obstinate orthodoxy of two entrenched positions that refuse to give way to the middle ground.While there may be good reason to argue against reaching for the middle ground because it would be seen as a compromise, and no one likes to be accused of having compromised on some core values and rightly so. Some values are worth dying for and must be defended till the last man down.

But... are we aware of the bigger picture? Do we see a work of art, poetry or prose passage in the wider social and cultural context? Do we insist on seeing these artistic and literary works individually and ignore - rather naively - the impact a work may have in the society in which it will be received?

Of course, the way we appreciate poetry and prose passages here on some of the literary forums differs greatly from what we see taking place in the world around us. In such places we meet, hopefully, to support and encourage one another to be better writers but how we go about doing it will finally determine how we grow as writers and critics.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Christina's World

I want to write about that summer with Christina but I cannot. Words fly away like a summer breeze and refuse to cage themselves into sentences and paragraphs. I want to write but I am wordless. I want to talk about it and tell as many people as possible what Christina meant to me and how that summer will remain the happiest in my life but I feel strangely muted. It’s as if my mouth has lost the power of making any intelligent sound and, hence, I sit here and try to make sense of the incoherent gasps that escape my lips.

But I want to talk about her and I refuse to accept this muted state that I am in at this moment. I know it cannot last long and, someday, the words will come forth from my mouth like the rush of a waterfall but it is not today. Today is the day for incomprehension, today is the day for grieving without the crutches of language, today is the day for seeking explanations that will never come.

It’s futile, I know. I should simply accept the finality of her passing, and the obvious death of all things that I held to be truly joyous. She will never come back and I am not going to laugh ever again in my life. It’s not easy to accept loss with such certainty but I have to, they tell me and I tend to agree rather meekly, because it’s therapeutic.

I close my eyes and the summer returns with its radiance but, then, I open my eyes again, very quickly, and a white shroud covers my world with its icy clutches. I am living in these two worlds and I like the former because in that world she is still there with me. I have to only allow my eyelids to drop a little and I see her, once again, running in the fields till her feet ache. My ears resound with her laughter and with that of the birds chirping away singing their summer song. I smile again as I see her resting and pondering whether or not she has the stamina to dart towards the barn and come back to where I am.

“Run”, I tell her, “follow the wind and let it take you where it will.”

And so she did. She ran and ran and ran, and did not see the truck speeding in her direction. I open my eyes with a start to shake away the memory of that event. I can only call it an ‘event’ because using any other words would simply signify acceptance of a certain fact that I wish to ignore as much as I possibly can.

There are those who might think that I am running away from the issue and not tackling it head on. They feel that I am committing grave injustice and blaming myself for something that’s not my fault. They believe that I need to accept the reality of the situation and move on with my life. They might just be right in their various assertions but I cannot accept it.

It’s not that I want to wallow in my misery but I don’t see any other alternative. How can I? Christina was my only daughter and my only link with her mother who passed away in childbirth many summers ago. I always thought that it would be Christina who would bury me in my old age and not… what eventually happened.

I want to write and talk about her and somehow bring her back onto the pages of my memories. But human language is so futile because it can never really explain how I can ever live the rest of my life with the shame of having buried my only child.

Christina's World was painted by American artist Andrew Wyeth (1917 - 1948). This story was inspired by that painting and was written as part of a writing exercise on Shakespeare and Company, a writers forum part of