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On MODIfying, Developing and Changing INDIA

There was a country, a country of spirited and adept men, finding itself in the path of recovery from the heavy blows of imperialistic pas...

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Even after many years I could feel her; her skin, her touch, the smell of her fragrance. 

I scolded myself; she is someone else’s wife. But does love, a wild force, a thoughtless emotion, bend to the beatings of reason or rationality?  No, it doesn't. 
If it did and if it can be manipulated and controlled, it is not love.

Love in its truest form stays the same, sometimes it even breaks, but it never bends.

These were lines from a story I wrote recently. Though the story is about letting go of the past, redemption and forgiveness, it might deceive you and to clear the air let me pronounce out loud that the story is not at all about forbidden love. 

But guess what, this post is.

Call it co-incidence or fate I have been treated to this theme of forbidden love through books and movies I acquainted myself with of late. Should I be blamed, or my choice of books, movies or the creations themselves I don't know, the point is, it convinced me that it deserved a blog post when I have been skeptic about blogging owing to various time/ other constraints. The idea was to share a Face book status as usual but I watched a movie and reiteration of the same theme pushed me to blog this. More than that, I wanted to record my notions, my perspectives on this. 

Besides, photographers and painters are not the only people who could capture moments; writers too could, in fact in more than imaginable degrees. :P

The movie which resuscitated the curiosity and made the shelved thoughts on this subject to blossom and flourish was Mr & Mrs.Iyer(2002). (Well, this is not a movie review so let me skip the plot details, if you wish you could Google it or even better, see the movie for yourself: P). This movie has a rather odd but beautiful portrayal of a muted, underplayed romance between two passengers(Konkana Sen Sharma, Rahul Bose, Take a bow !), a stranger and a married woman with a kid on a bus journey, who are caught in the midst of a communal riot (which was the main theme of the movie actually). I was supposed to grimace at the idea of that kind of romance but I didn't, you know why? It is because, as I said, the string of movies and books, which are all supposed to be classics and critically acclaimed, had kinda prepared me for this. And in fact this is least of the movies and last of the portrayals I could grimace at comparing others. Really? Let's see.

I would like to begin with The English patient(1996) which portrays the teenage like blind but true love between its protagonist and its lead lady who is already married. Though it doesn't glorify or justify a relationship of that sort the movie in a way revels in portraying their forbidden romance where the protagonist is certain of himself and his love to the extent that during a war he goes on to betray a country for the woman. In those defining moments of his love for the lead lady the protagonist takes what was supposed to be an affair into something more, akin to what poets and artists try to define as love.

Then there is L.A confidential(1997), one of my all time favorites, which portrays a stirring love between a cop and a prostitute. Smitten by a woman whom he later finds is a prostitute the protagonist is torn between his feelings and her despicable profession. He insults her and leaves when he finds that but she senses the undercurrents of their feelings for each other. Unable to exorcise her, he watches her every day parking his car few blocks away from her house. One day it gets the better of him and he knocks the door. 

She opens the door, she has a word, and she looks into eyes. She takes him to her bedroom, not the one she has reserved for her work and for her clients but the one where she really sleeps. He asks, why? meaning why she brought him there, why she chose him to be the special person. She says, “I don’t know” with held up tears.Creativity wise nothing can be as novel, as imaginative and as touching. The journey of these two characters through this crime, thriller flick is replete with such novel, highly imaginative and hear touching scenes fathoming their unbridled love for each other.

If there are bizarre love angles like LA then there are realistic, painful angles too. The Descendants (2011) portrays one such. A husband finds that his dying wife had been cheating on him when she enters coma due to an accident.  Suddenly he sees that he is left with a dying wife, a broken marriage and a disintegrating family that comprises two daughters.  A rather gloomy, artistic movie that focuses on infidelity, its effect on a family and forgiveness couldn’t have been any better. The painted Veil(2006) is also a movie on those lines of infidelity and forgiveness.

If there were films that handled these tricky subjects sensibly then there are some which unabashedly portrayed them in a way what one would call desperates. American beauty (1999) is one such where a father gets infatuated over a friend of his daughter. It almost borders on perversion (at least premise wise) yet one could feel that the portrayal knew its limit, brilliant, poetic at some portions and even kinda portrays the urban life brilliantly when you have finished watching this movie. The reader(2008) too is one such movie where the premise borders on perversion (this movie with its strong sexual content earned lot of criticism for its portrayal from critics) and which has its moment of asking bigger questions of life.

If The English patient treated what is really an act of infidelity casual, if the movies came up with debatable portrayals then the next one in the line, a book, The god of small things, sort of endorsed an outright, unthinkable taboo. An otherwise splendid, engrossing, unparalleled novel (No… No... it's not a novel, it's actually a 300 page poem..) almost earned a rebuke from me just in a matter of page where the protagonists, the twin brother and sister, share an intimate moment at the end of the novel  when they unite after their life shattering childhood ordeal. 

However artistic it was, however cathartic it was dubbed, however redeeming it was portrayed the basic idea certainly made me puke despite the arguments, the arguments that one could come up with like "Love as an emotion has no definition" which also happens to be the central idea of the book. In fact the book enunciates it openly at some point as follows “It really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much. The Laws that make grandmothers grandmothers, uncles uncles, mothers mothers, cousins cousins, jam jam, and jelly jelly".

Nothing could sum up the subject as crisply as this argument and here arises the much thought over question? 

Is this whole idea not a shame, a shameful crime to be precise?  Don’t these ideas  jeopardize civilization as an ideal, as a practice and as an accepted reality?  

The love, we have been taught, on certain people can be of certain kind only and these ideas of mistaken, forbidden love are in stark contrast to them.Isn’t there a natural order, a settled harmony to this world which would be disturbed? 

Or is that we are missing a point and we are overlooking something? 

What about love, the sanctified, idealized of all the human emotions, which is dubbed as universal and beyond definition?  Is love not universal, definition-less as it is portrayed despite where and between whom it blossoms  or is it just another impulsive, wild human emotion wrongly sanctified and celebrated, which should be controlled, ruled by rationality and which should bend to the rules and laws laid down by the culture?

How much of the theories about love we have made holds true really?

 Have we idealized love distorting from what it truly is?  Have we consecrated love as we idolize everything we do not understand? 

There are no concrete answers; it is a never ending duel between laws, rules, ethics, cultures and individual's choices which makes one wonder whether laws exists for the people or people exist for the laws. 

More on those lines, what’s more  noticeable in the examples above are the questions of infidelity, taboo, right-and-wrong is thrown out the window and what takes center stage is individuality; an individual's aspirations, wants, desires, emotions and feelings. They convey the idea that love takes center stage in life and codes, ethics doesn’t which should actually be the case but which is contradictory to the reality as we know. 

In a way everything is made simple in them, in those invented fictions, which in real life is not because of the complex, intangible pressure exerted on individuals by culture, laws, values ,society and civilization: the guy loves her, the woman loves him and they enter in a relationship, the twins with a broken mind, fractured emotions and wounded self slip into a moment of passion, it doesn't matter she is married, it doesn't matter they are brother and sister, it doesn't matter the relationship bears the tags of infidelity, adultery, it doesn't matter they are breaking the barriers of a bond, the characters behave as though they act for themselves and their actions are not a result of pressures exerted by the man made factors, not to escape what-others-think disease as in real life. They behave as though individuals take precedence over rules and ethics. Aren’t individuals made and driven by the laid down rules without putting their rationality to use asking what is what in real life?

Could it be that the characters behave the way they do just because they are a figment of imagination and not flesh and blood individuals in the reality landscape? If it is so, why the heck are they made that way?

And this brings the next question: If reality and our culture aren't made that way why the hell on earth do writers write such stuff and most importantly why does our righteous, straight thinking world celebrate those creations? (The English patient as a book received a Booker and as a film swept the year's Academy awards with 9 wins, The god of small things was a Booker prize winner as well and of global unanimous repute and if you say these are the perversions of modern writers then there is the evergreen classic like Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina which deals with this theme). Are these creations result of writer’s gratification to write differently, the thrill they get in breaking the norms, foraying into the forbidden challenging their borders? Is it the natural affinity, their defining DNA, common to humans, that is always attracted to the forbidden, that always want to trespass into the restricted? 

Or are they being simply perverts giving catharsis to their repressed perversion in the name of art? Or is it a genuine effort to explore things as they are, open up the eyes closed by the lids of ignorance? What drives them to write that way? What on earth?

Questions abound but answers are scant.  But it is important to get an answer, the actual answer or a constructed one at least for the time being if the answers are not that simple. So what’s the answer or the made up one I have constructed for myself? (Well it may not be definitive; it may not be clear or let me confess it may not even make sense just like my untraceable thoughts jumping over the trail of each other’s frenzied drifts.)

Well, the central dilemma here is that the culture says few things are not to be tampered with, few things are considered taboo and love as an idealized feeling says otherwise. Let’s take a closer look at both. 

First what’s love? In its true sense, in the height of rationality it could be defined as a human emotion, a raw, strong, and very much innate just like the knowledge of swimming to a new born fish.  In an emotional point of view, no one knows what it is and hence it is definition- less. Is it sacred, is it to be worshipped or is it to be made the way of life and pursued relentlessly? It depends on the beliefs of the individual.

And, what is culture? (Well, this one is easy) Culture is set of accepted customs, accepted way of life in a group. Nothing more, and nothing less. In simple terms, Culture is you-should-wear-a-saree in India, you-should-bury-yourself-inside-a-burqa in Saudi Arabia and it is you-can-wear-a-bikini-or–even-roam-naked-if-you-wish in America.Unlike love, culture isn’t universal (may be Moral is, not culture, which says it is better to cover oneself by a piece of cloth. But sadly moral doesn’t care whether it is burqa or saree or whatever or even whether it is forced upon or not). 

Culture isn’t sacred, culture is not compassionate, not like love. Culture could sometimes say a woman should deprive her life herself if her husband dies, it could cut limbs for as much as thievery, it could stone a victim of rape, it could rob books, arts, music from an entire community. Culture often is the vice of society, culture in practice could be flawed and culture is parochial eight out of ten times if looked in a broader perspective.

In short, love is blind,a natural blind, by no fault of its own and culture despite having eyes, lacks vision.

And as for the writers and creations writing in certain way, I think some do use those themes to lure the crowd, to sound different while others genuinely try to open the lid of ignorance or understand whether our eyes are closed by those lids. It would be a grave mistake, it would be ridiculous to interpret such writers and creations in wrong light as if the writers are perverts who propose lets-go-back-to-stone-age and sleep-with-anyone-as-we-like times. Whether we see or not, whether we accept or not, there are people who do ask those greater questions of life making us to doubt what is taboo and what is accepted. 

For instance a portrayal like LA confidential directly asks what bearing does sexual intimacy has on love. Indeed, that is a worthy question to be asked. How much an act of carnality corrupt love as culture says when it glorifies epics that tell the story of a wife who had five husbands? If I'm not wrong,aren’t those same characters worshiped as chaste woman? How much of the-physical-love-sense holds valid there? Or is it that culture has become the vehicle for hypocrites to deviate the ancient’s forward thinking, “Chastity is never physical and love has got nothing to do with physical intimacy.” 

What is accepted then? What is a taboo then? 

I think it is time we apprise things as they are and think things with our own logic, ask our own questions, have our own counter arguments and get our own answers than surrendering ourselves to the blind, vision lacking culture, ethics et al. Especially this is essential in times where people still get killed simply for their choice of marriage by few other people (I’m talking about the tragic outcome of inter-community love marriage which shook TN recently).

And as I referred, universality-and-boundlessness-of-love hypothesis doesn’t mean to propose lets-go-back-to-stone-age theory, but it is an opportunity to look at things as they are. It is not taking sides, it is not glorifying or debasing things blindly, it is simply a question put forth that asks whether love can be manipulated, controlled and regulated.  As simple as that.

P.S: I started reading, And the mountains echoed by khaled Hosseini and guess what? This also deals with a similar theme at least in a part. :P

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

There are books that clasp your fingers, grab your senses and have your attention on its leash when you take them up in your hands; they call it the page-turners. There are some books that are heavy not so much in terms of its girth and weight but in terms of the facets it explores, in terms of the impact it leaves in a readers mind. These books are delicately subtle, profoundly beautiful, and unbelievably chimerical in terms of their form and their very make. They are like a cool breeze whose touch is felt even after they have left long ago. 

Then there are some other books that are like an evening cup of coffee, you like it when you drink but as soon as you put down the cup you don’t remember it. They are not tongue burning, neither the treat of the life, they are usual; these are what they call a good-read. And there is another kind which you and I won’t like spending time to discuss about; they usually call it waste-of-time.

And before you ask, what’s all this piece-of-wisdom on books about let me tell you that this post is about a book that I read of late. To make myself clear, this isn't exactly a review but just my thoughts on a read-worthy book, An Excursion of Insight, written by my friend, Harsh Agarwal.  Plus, more than anything I wanted to give him comments for a change (Just kidding: P).


Sonam Dorji is a simple, less endowed man from Bhutan who has his feet firm in Buddhism.  He lands in Meghalaya: with eyes full of dreams to study in college, with an obligation towards his motherland and with an innocent belief that India is what they show in Bollywood movies. He has responsibilities and he knows that better than anyone else yet he falls in love with a classmate, Sarika; a beautiful girl with whom Sonam’s chemistry works out in the chemistry lab. While their chemistry mix up in test tubes like salts with diluted acid and  warmed in Bunsen burner flames effervescing uncontrollably, Sonam is pulled into the smothering current of the academic twirl on the other hand.  The Indian Educational system that crushes spirits, sucks confidence out of student’s life leaves its trademark effect on Sonam too who is new to this rat race. He is haunted to a level that everything he held close to his heart shatters in a matter of days. What does the shaken Buddhist do, what happens to him forms the story.

About the book:

Of the three types of books I referred earlier, this book falls in the spectrum of second type of books in terms of its content and presentation.

It is beautiful when it effortlessly paint the maiden green landscape of Meghalaya. It is subtle when it exactly captures the craziness of student’s life, college years and the suicidal stress at times. It is delicate when it reflects the pristine beauty of Sarika, her every fiber, every contour like that of a mirror.  It does leave the feel even after you have closed the book.

Though the main premise has been love it is not a love story. The tapestry of themes that are handled augurs more depth and complexity to the book. Indian educational system, religion, belief, friendship, a foreigner’s view on India, suicides are few of which that are being tackled throughout.

“The shining India” bit had been exploited very well in Sonam’s early scenes. The approach of giving a realistic view on normal engineering life is appreciable without adding what they call it “spice”.


Another striking feature of the book is the characterization especially that of Sonam, the protagonist’s. Him being a Buddhist, his innocent nature and the setting he lands in gives a perfect natural conflict needed for the story. His inner struggle that whispers “Desire is the cause of suffering” every time he lifts his feet off Buddhism because of the circumstances has come out well.

Sarika’s characterization was good in terms of her detailed extraneous portrayal.Though I felt that her character arc was abrupt but that’s my impression. It could have been consciously left such so that the character doesn't turn out flat, stereotypical. Salil, Sonam's friend, character has come out well.

Having said everything personally I felt that the book could have delved bit deeper in some places to give a wholesome, more gripping feel as the themes were complicated in nature and because the style was literary. I felt the story to be consciously restricted and compressed at times. As a reader perhaps I am greedy, I always want more.

The style of writing also makes a big difference. But for the quality text, it would have been a good-read, another sparkling campus story with different ending. The style, the text and the writer’s sheer ability to spruce up words into places, persons and emotions had made all the difference. And having known Harsh for sometime this isn't a surprise. In fact there is more to him and this excursion is clearly a jolly ride he has taken. I am certain he is capable of taking it to whole another level when he means business.

Over all if you are a reader who wants your creative senses to be tickled, who cherish the beauty of writing, not entertainment and not only the adrenaline factor attached with page turners then this is a recommended read.

 To Take the Excursion: An Excursion of insight
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