Monday, January 17, 2011

Mockingbird, Mockingbird, I miss thee.

Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom.
(To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960, Harper Lee)

Perhaps we all have a Boo Radley in our childhood. Part-real, part-imagined, part-longed for. I had mine too. So reading To Kill a Mocking-Bird when the adolescence was drawing to a close, leaving only rusty images behind, was a walk down memory lane of sorts.

Nineteen years ago, there were four of us, and a friendly welcoming neighbourhood. I would hold my grandmother’s fingers and totter along the road to reach the place where the rest of my friends stayed. We had a meeting-place assigned beneath a large tree (or maybe not so large. Object size is inversely proportional to age. Or so I think). We never ventured out to check on that pristine-white abandoned mansion at night. The scare the sight of it would elicit in broad daylight was enough to convince us to stay away from it for a week, till, bored, we would challenge ourselves again to run and hit the window facing the crossroads, and come back.

“People said he existed but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was high, and peeped in at windows.”

People said many things about the “bhoot” (ghost) at the “bhooter bari” (haunted house). Secretly, my three-year old self was relieved to see their fear because it gave me a sense of solidarity; when the elders believe in your childish ghostly fantasies, you are assured of the latter’s existence, and find a bulwark in their fear. I did the same. It was only when I read that book at nineteen, did I realize how the elders too had played along with us those many summers back. When Boo Radley ceased to be Boo and suddenly became Arthur, I shed copious tears along with Scout. 

 Curiously, nineteen years after I have quit banging that window, and four years after I have read the book, I feel an unbearable longing to go back and check that haunted mansion. A part of me is scared to be disappointed, and fears the mutilation of childhood memories; the inquisitive part wants to take the next flight out of the Blessed Isles to walk that walk down the memory lane. Sadly, I do not even remember the names of my childhood playmates, and have no idea of their whereabouts. If that is called growing-up, then it is a cruel serenade indeed.

My mind is a jumble of paradoxes. It obsessively strives to find a structure in its strain of thought; while it stays up during the hours of reason, studying and applauding the work of the Post-structuralists. It has come back to work again as it decides to label a reason for my writing this post. I attribute it to my last post (again); to R and T, for visiting me yesterday when I wasn’t home, and lovingly leaving a chocolate for me; to T’s frantic waving at me on her way back from school; and to the lines “She seemed glad to see me when I appeared in the kitchen, and by watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl” which instantly sprang to my mind when I partly woke up in the morning today and sleep-walked to the kitchen door, in an attempt to look for some tea. Later when I rediscovered sense and solace in my over-sized, colourful coffee-mug which holds only tea, my mind performed some frantic and desperate drill to locate the origin of those lines, and I unearthed my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

At best, I guess I woke up on a fungus morning, and as I watched the evening eat the tail of the day gone by, and the boisterous voices of the children outside my window fade, I decided to write about the people who dwell (as Virginia Woolf says in Orlando), in “the fields of asphodel”. I didn’t end up writing about the people much, but I have definitely coaxed some memories out of their slumber.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them." - Sylvia Plath

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Reappearance of Innocence

There’s R and his sister T.

And then, there’s Me.

I dislike kids in general. There, I said it. Now judge me if you want. But I really dislike children. I do not know what to say to them or what to do with them. They make me feel clumsier still, and ancient; and they make it a point to remind me that I was born at a wrong time in a wrong planet, when children-of-the-world got busy with all those complex technological things I can never get a hang of, and used them as substitutes for books and dolls and a sundry other things that I had always associated with childhood.

Of course, it goes without saying, that the feeling is mutual.

I am very friendly with RG, R and T’s mother, and could well have been their ‘Aunty’. Nevertheless, exciting though it seems, the kids wouldn’t have it. So I have been elevated to being their Didi, as if being 13 and 15 years older to them (respectively), I could easily pass off as their older sister. Needless to say, I have never been very excited about R and T. Though of course, T did have my sympathies, but I was never remotely interested in their pursuits.

It was R’s birthday, and I didn’t know about it. When I accidentally did, I was amused to see that he shared my repulsion towards birthdays. Looking very much in pain wearing those colourful, comically-conical birthday hats, he won my heart that night, putting up a brave front and cutting the chocolate cake. On being asked what would his ideal birthday present be, he replied, “I love reading books”. Finding the right Enid Blyton for him has been an adventure, and so has watching his little fingers open the wrapping paper, and his expression change to that of utter thrill on holding the pages; waving back to T and answering her high-pitched, loud call when I come home every evening, is an epiphany in itself; and watching R read the year old resolution I had pasted on my favourite book-cupboard (“I will not let a bunch of s-e-x-u-a-…”) my biggest laugh. Since then, T’s shy imploring of her mother to be allowed to drop into my house makes me feel important and loved.

I had moved to this new neighbourhood from the old one. They showed me around, their house, the neighbours, their playground, their games. They introduced me to their friends. I watched them play, I heard them sing, I saw them dance. They listened to my English, my German, my Bengali, my broken French. They heard snippets about my shoddy plans. They asked questions, I answered. They played, they waved, they burst crackers, they watched TV, we shared chocolates. “Time went by, time flew and everything seemed so easy, so simple, so free, so new, so unique.” They laughed, they cried, I read out, sometimes for no reason, or for a reason. Yes, sometimes for a reason. I brought them home, I studied for my exams, I listened to their hobbies, to their aims, to their interests. They listened to mine. We were close, so close, ever so close. They played, sometimes for a reason and sometimes without. Time went by, time flew. I brought them home, I studied for my exams. They played, sometimes for a reason. Time went by for no reason. They played for no reason. I studied for my exams, my exams, my exams. Time went by, they played, they played, they played. I watched movies.

Then there’s a movie, Children of Heaven (1998). In Ali’s large eyes lies R’s innocence. In Zahra’s love for Ali, lies T’s affection for R. Childhood is sacred and lonely. R and T haven't changed my notions about children in general, but they have certainly changed my feelings towards them. It has been ages since I returned their waves and goodbyes when they come home from school. Guess I’ll surprise them with a visit tomorrow. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Arity of the Hearth

When Toto had returned after a stint in the army, struck by the change in his home-town, he had wandered aimlessly across the once-familiar streets, disappointed to see the ravages of time at play with the images he had called “home”. Later, Alfredo had told Toto (in a defining moment which would seal his way to finally become ‘Salvatore’),
“Living here day by day, you think it's the center of the world. You believe nothing will ever change. Then you leave: a year, two years. When you come back, everything's changed. The thread's broken. What you came to find isn't there. What was yours is gone. You have to go away for a long time... many years... before you can come back and find your people. The land where you were born. But now, no. It's not possible. Right now you're blinder than I am.”   (Cinema Paradiso -1988)

It is perhaps necessary to find the courage to move away and watch oneself change for the better (or for the worse), alongside one’s past crumbling into dust.  Salvatore had never come back, never written, never inquired, until thirty years later, to attend the funeral of his beloved Alfredo. It was then, as he flâneured the streets of his childhood, could he reconcile the change with the constant. In travelling the newly-built bridges and witnessing the razing to the ground of the Cinema Paradiso, did he meet the people from the life left behind.

This post on a rather warm and sunny winter morning, takes me back to my last post on the constructs of home. In the problematic relativity of the term and in the necessity to carry it within oneself, lies the sad truth that what we leave behind ceases to remain in stasis -- until one is ready to come back and find it as it was, and as it should have been. Salvatore came back only after many years to reclaim the hypostatic abstraction of the lost corners. Till we all reach that stage of what Fredric Jameson would call 'nostalgic postmodernism', to incorporate within us the 'pragmaticism' (as Pierce called it), and poignancy of the temps perdu (that Salvatore had carefully inculcated), we are as blind as Alfredo.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Hearth and The Heart

It is the season of home-comings. For the past one month she’s been observing people come home or go back home, and this has of course set Esther thinking, and she concludes by finding complexities in the construct of ‘home’.

For one who has been perpetually displaced, ‘coming home’ can be a very problematic phrase. I spent a large chunk of my life in a small town, waking up to familiar noises and smells. However, when I came to the city, the romantic notion of this place that I carried here with me, was in a desperate bid to prove true, and instead of feeling nostalgic as my other friends coming from far-away places and fondly speaking of “home” did, I fell unabashedly in love with this city, the quaint charm of the trams, and the flâneuring through the roads. I always had a habit of discovering favourite corners in the house, and keeping them off-limits from imaginary infiltrators, till my English teacher once said, “One should have as many favourite corners in one’s house as possible.” I had returned home that day from school to find only three, and instead of embarking on the quest of discovering still more, I retired to my most favourite corner to read Hardy’s Imaginative Woman.

The urge to retire to a favourite corner has remained, but having changed ‘homes’ four times in the city itself, the favourite corners too got continually displaced, till they couldn’t be located at all. Esther decided to find a way out. For a neurotic, who is in the continual fear of losing her beloved belongings, the obvious respite came in carrying her home with her where-ever she went. I have always looked at life as Mary Poppins’ carpet bag, where everything would fit, and I would not have to worry about leaving anything behind. However, now the worry manifests itself in yet another way, when I feel sure that whenever I leave a place, a part of me is left behind there. So now I’m worried I have a part of me perched at the ledge of the last glass window at the British Council Library, where the shelves are full of books on women’s studies, and the window overlooks the Victoria lake... I fear I would be cold there now… Another part of me worries for the part I left behind at the seat fixed to the wall at the security terminal of the airport where I was sitting before hopping onto the flight that took me to a different “home”. Some scattered parts are sitting in the lone seat at the Metro rail, some at the corner bench of my class at the university, some at the last chair placed at Goethe Institut’s smoking zone.

A favourite quote from one of my favourite films said, “We are the real countries, not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men… That's all I've wanted — to walk in such a place with you, with friends, on earth, without maps”. When the objective is walking on Earth without maps, with people one loves best, it is only natural that the person will carry their worlds with them. My world comprises everything I could take home with me – which is itself mobile, and hence all this mobility makes its identity all the more complicated and in a state of constant flux. 

Esther has always carried her “home” (and hence her baggage) with her; and the next time a friend laments of suffering from the pangs of homesickness, and confides in her, Esther remains confused, and her emotions, dubious. Then she remembers that one of her favourite writers said, “You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right”, and she is reassured.

The First Gait

It is strange to open a new blog when one already has an existing one is tow, especially since I vehemently refuse to believe that I have been suffering from a writer's block (even though my last post was written over eight months ago). So when there is a change, there must be a good reason for it; since I thoroughly dislike changes, be it a particular arrangement of flowers on my bed-side vase, or a different proportion of milk-and-sugar-to-my-perfect-coffee (I could have been Renée French without knowing it), or even to the random changing of blog addresses.

It might as well have been part of my now-already-extinguished-enthusiasm for my New Year resolutions to make things different. The electrocution days are over, and I needed to change my immediate surroundings to manifest the belief within, that though the "stasis in darkness" is right around the corner, it will take some effort to settle on me this time. 

Esther has decided to look beyond the pains of being electrocuted. Blogging anew, was one of the primary steps she took.

Yet, lest she gives in to her almost-pathological tendency to let things be and return into her shell, she pastes her previous address here as a reminder to the spaces she lingered in and emerged (if not triumphant), but at least, alive.