Thursday, July 26, 2007

A certain something between lovers

I saw them again last night. They were pushing a trolley near the frozen food section at Megamart in Juffair. She had an animated expression on her face as her fingers scrutinised the ice-cream containers while he looked on at her with sunken eyes and a wide grin that spoke volumes about his intentions than anything else.

Two days ago, I had spotted them walking near Pizza Hut, his hand resting on her buttocks while she clasped his belt and made feeble attempts to pull him closer. I was struck by how oblivious she was to the world around as her gaze remained fixed lovingly on his impassive eyes that scanned the road for potential voyeurs he could glare at.

It was the way they interacted that intrigued me, and so when I saw them again last night I was amused to see that not much had changed. He still had that detached look about him, which she didn't seem to notice or even care. It was, as if, her entire world was standing next to her, and nothing else mattered as long as she was held by this man who, she believed, would care for her till she was old and decrepit.

There was that particular glow on her face which I've seen in countless women who are absolutely sure about the man they are deeply in love with. A glow that in the company of a right man has the potential of making a woman feel really alive. But the same glow in the company of an uncaring and insensitive man often leaves a woman shattered to the very core of who she is, and crippling her natural instincts to love.

But looking at him, I couldn't see the same level of interest or even passion. He seemed delighted in her company, and this was quite clear with the way he squeezed her arms, played with her hair and pinched her nose and ears now and then. But his self-consciousness was, also, evident since he couldn't help himself from checking out if anyone was watching them. I just couldn't figure out why he was acting so wary, and giving his woman his undivided attention didn't seem as important as checking the reaction of people in the vicinity.

I'm sure there was more to this couple than meets the eye. One can never really know. The life of strangers is a story we can only assume and concoct with impunity. A story in whose outcome we have absolutely no emotional stakes, and therein lies the freedom to weave the plot in whatever direction. Be that as it may, I would still, nevertheless, be interested to know how this particular 'love story' eventually develops.

I'd be curious to know if the girl still retains her wide-eyed adulation for her man in the months to come, and ALSO, for men and relationships, in general, in the years to come. On the face of it, there are already so many clear indicators of a possible heart-break in the future, and yet it appears painfully clear that the only person who would be most devastated by a break-up has actually chosen to take that risk.

Of course, if one goes, once again, merely by face value, most people will have ready explanations as to why the two of them are together. Perhaps it's not love but a sense of resignation that pulls them together. Perhaps both of them thought of each other as the best possible 'catch' they could ever get in their lives and that it would be stupidity to allow something like common sense to ruin the formation of this match.

Perhaps it was the first time her heart was stirred by a man who was the very image of what, she thought, real men ought to be and was thrilled that such a man would choose to be with her. Perhaps he was relieved that he could still make someone so young and so nubile want to wake up with him each morning. Perhaps it was something as simple as an impulsive gesture where no thought was given to consequences but only satisfaction.

And by the way, did I mention that she was in her early 20s, oriental looking, very casually dressed, and if she was employed, didn't appear to be white collar? And him? He was a white caucasian male in his fifties, still handsome though slightly fading in that department, and yes, he was very much white-collar all the way.

Definitely a cliche couple. Definitely a couple with a sad ending just waiting to happen. An ending with potential of turning into a tragedy if she loses trust in love altogether -- even when someone sincere comes along, and is willing to shatter himself just to piece together her brokenness.

But will the story end that way?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Weird Tag

In all my years of blogging (which is not that long anyway but it's great to begin a paragraph this way), I've never been tagged by anyone before, and neither have I tried tagging any unsuspecting soul. But then, it finally happened and the person responsible was none other than Manju, my good friend and fellow batchmate from Indian School Bahrain. She was doing science while I was in the Commerce section, and it was in 1984 that we said goodbye to school-life. It was partly her initiative that brought the old gang together she and Jayant, her classmate in the science section, created a YahooGroup for our batch and we all began to re-connect once again. All of us scattered all over the world, and yet united by memories of wonderful times shared in school.

Coming back to the tag, for some strange reason, Manju, wants me to list six of the weirdest things about me. I find this a very difficult exercise because I'm sure there are more than six weird things, and am positive my friends can come up with many more.

Anyway, Manju, just for you, here are the six of the weirdest things (not in any particular order, ok)

1. If I'm drinking Pepsi, I like to use a red straw and if I'm drinking Coke I prefer a blue straw because I like a little bit of colour co-ordination.

2. I enjoy crushing dead leaves and enjoy the crunchy sound that follows.

3. Sometimes I like to mute the audio while watching news on television and play western classical music on the radio or wherever. Effect is usually cinematic.

4. I love to check all the free-to-air channels one by one... usually when I'm alone, obviously.

5. I don't throw plastic bags for environmental reasons, but have no clue what to do with them now that I've collected stacks of 'em.

6. And finally, as some friends would agree I tend to over-do certain things... won't elaborate more, but that will do on a public forum like this one ;)

There you go. Those are my Top Six (and not in any particular order), and yes, there are a lot more but I just don't remember them at the moment. And so, I guess, they aren't important enough... or weird enough.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Aesthetics of loneliness

I can't find the article on the web, and so I can't post the hyperlink here. It is a very inspiring article on 'The Spectacles of American Isolation' written by Mark Feeney and was reprinted in the Gulf News' Weekend Review. It's not included in the Review's web edition, and I guess, it could be partly because it's a syndicated article from the New York Times News Service.

The main focus of the article is an examination of Edward Hopper's paintings, and how he could be considered to be the Great American Artist. Fenney writes, 'the sources of his popular appeal are obvious enough: immediate accessibility; a subtle yet vivid colour sense; familiar, but not too familiar, subject matter; a fondness for picturesque settings such as New York, Maine and Cape Cod; even a whiff of prurience.'

However, he goes on to describe what he feels to be a "Hoppersque" quality, and calls it loneliness.

"That loneliness is both what is most and least American about Hopper. It is least so because loneliness is not exactly a selling word. In a society that proclaims all men are created equal, the individual's apartness indicts society. "America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy," John Updike once wrote. Loneliness foils the conspiracy.

"Of course, a nation that prides itself on rugged individualism has to keep a place of honour for solitude... what Hopper reflects is something quite different, the unheroic loneliness of everyday people, people like you and me: ushers, secretaries and apartment dwellers. The Hemingway hero, another paragon of American individualism, is in control of his apartness. Hopper's people are not. It is imposed on them by the circumstances of life. Their plight reminds us that individualism without ruggedness simply means being alone -- alone even when, as in Hopper's Room in New York someone else is there."

It would be easy to dismiss Fenney's observation and Hopper's paintings of lonely people as a purely American phenomenon, and Fenney does make his point rather persuasively especially when he states that "always, he locates his people in space (an unmistakably American space)... His friend, the artist Guy Pene du Bois, described Hopper's New York as "a noiseless architectural world." Rather than teem and roar, his city seems on the verge of evacuation."

From a purely Asian or even Middle-eastern perspective, such descriptions would lend credence to the more popular indictments we have about the west as a place that lacks familial relationships, and where individuals are left to fend for themselves without parental or any other support. Isolation as a cultural motif and not an exception to the general rule of social decorum.

However, Fenney's article made me wonder if this loneliness that he talks about -- so evident in Hopper's paintings -- is it purely an American (or western) phenomenon or is it global in anyway. Or to be precise, does it touch a familiar chord to those of us here?

It would be almost blasphemous to suggest that loneliness is a familiar pattern in our societies because we've been trained to acknowledge the supportive presence of family, tribe and community. Togetherness is, what we believe, to be the natural state of people in our communities, and individuals, if there be any, exist only in relation to someone else. Individuals cannot exist on their own, and if they do, then, there is something decidedly wrong with them. Wrong as in, morally wrong.

But the fact of the matter is, lonely people do exist in our societies, and their loneliness is made even more acute because no one expects them to be. Perhaps parallel could be drawn between Hopper's portraits because just like the supposed incongruity of those images neither does anyone expects painful isolation to be part of our social landscape.

I am not familiar with any artist from South Asia or Middle East who has managed to capture the loneliness that some people experience in our societies. I suppose, if examples are to be drawn, then, perhaps, Amitabh Bachchan's 'angry young man' could be one such character -- a loner whose isolation is a result of flaws in a supposedly paternalistic social structure, and who vents against a system that is supposed to protect but, instead, shuns the likes of him. It would be an interesting study to see why such a persona has achieved immense popularity throughout Asia, and why it has spawned countless poor imitations. Is it because we like to see him as an exception and comfort ourselves into thinking that such characters exist only in fiction? Is it because we find an emotional connection with the character because he expresses the frustrations that we find hard to verbalise? I am just guessing.

I wonder to what degree has present day consumerist culture and information technology has played a role in shaping a lonely landscape. Consumerism empowers individuals with the ability to acquire 'things', and these 'things', in turn, feed an assumption that one's self worth requires gadgets and goods for its justification. It is often a lonely road as the individual struggles to acquire these 'things', and I wonder, if this quest isolates him from his neighbour and friends.

Technology, too, has made social interaction redundant for those who choose not to meet any human beings. Instead of going to restaurants one can order a takeaway. Instead of going to the cinema with friends, one can watch films on a plasma screen enveloped by 5.1 surround sound. Instead of meeting people in clubs or at their homes, a webcam and an instant messenger or a Facebook account can take care of one's social life.

These are extreme examples, but these are not beyond the realm of the possible. And our Asian and Middle-eastern lives have been impacted by these forces. And one has to only take a walk in our streets to observe the social debris of these phenomena. I am tempted to give examples but I'll resist the urge to do so. Perhaps I'll save it for another post. It's not that I dont want to give examples, but I believe there are so many and it'd be hard to select the best of the lot.

But what puzzles me most is, what is so enchanting about loneliness that poets, artists, photographers, film-makers and writers have managed to create an impressive body of work on the subject? Why does painful isolation of certain individuals become so inspirational that it has steered discussions on the social condition of the human race?

But I'm sure there is more to it than meets the eye, and underneath all this philosophical jugglery lies a simple desire to make sense of a crazy world that does not operate the way we expect it to. Maybe it is this exception to the general rule of how we want our world to be that makes us aware of anomalies, and makes us equally determined to state that they are anomalies.

Maybe, but then, again, one never knows. It'd be best to find out, but question is, where do we begin, and how?