Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sickness, Blues and All That - consummatum est

Or so I hope.
When he came back from the States after the exchange program got over, due to the unhealthy lifestyle he had indulged in the past six weeks (or so he told me), this acquaintance of mine fell grievously sick. Days of horrendous pain, and medical tests later, he was informed that he had a problem in his gall bladder (he did tell me what the exact problem was, but my memory has been failing me) and that he would have to do without the organ. He was also told that the operation would take place the very next day. When we made our first acquaintance one year and three months later, I inevitably ended up talking about my favourite books during our very first conversation. Nothing like books to fill up the awkward pauses, nothing like 'em to judge the other person. I still remember the thread of our conversation. When I began talking about the last book I had read (Doris Lessing's The Grass is Singing), he began, "Well, I'm not much of a reader of fiction. But the last book I read was Camus's The Outsider.

-- Oh, I read Camus on the 18th of September, 2008. The book kept me up all night. 

[I have an uncanny habit of remembering the precise date, time and circumstances of every affecting book that I read for the first time, or hear a moving piece of music, or watch a brilliant movie.]

-- Hey, you read the book on my 21st birthday!

-- Hey, I read the book on the eve of MY 20th birthday!

-- Some coincidence, sharing birthdays, considering we bumped into each other in the class only a couple of weeks ago, and this is our first proper conversation... Anyway, I read the book on the eve of my operation.

-- What operation?

-- Gall bladder. Had to get it removed. Thanks to a diet solely composed of burgers and beer.

-- You do not have your gall bladder? Doesn't it affect you?

-- Well, I'm supposed to lead a comparatively austere life than the one I'm leading now... Anyway, you deviate. So, I go to the OT, having read Camus's Outsider, and not having slept a wink. And then, halfway through the operation, I wake up and feel the pain!

-- WHAT?

-- Yes, apparently, the anaesthetics didn't work. ** I woke up during my numbness and I felt the pain of an operation. To be specific, I felt what it feels when someone penetrates four metal rods into your otherwise benign and barren stomach. It was like the beeps of some meters. I could hear the voices of the doctors. I could feel the pain. It was more like the infinite roots of a sinusoidal curve with the x-axis and the pain points are the roots. I felt I was dead where all that I could think of was Nothing Else Matters. I really aint no Shelley and hence this was the best way I could describe my experience in brevity. I tried to console myself with the saying that “the pain of the mind is much more intense than the pain of the body” and since I experienced the former the latter was just a passé in that very mind of mine. But all in all I am repentant for not remembering the integral part of the eternal sunshine of my otherwise spotless mind, Let it Be…

[** Here, I admit, I have forgotten the exact words A told me. So I have lifted from his blog, from the entry when he had blogged about the experience (for obvious privacy reasons I'm not pasting the link to his blog here). Hence, the authenticity remains.]

For the past three weeks (gosh, it's been three weeks already?) since I’ve been sick, this conversation has been coming back to my mind, though it has been nearly two years since it first commenced. I try to imagine how A must have felt when he woke up to that sensation, Camus's Outsider brandishing in his mind. What I would like to think about A, would be that he finally took stock of his situation, relating the episodic significance of waking up at the middle of an operation to the trials and misses of his life. Although, once released into the bright flippant world outside, he did not take long to go back into his former flippant lifestyle, I wouldn't grudge him this much glory of finally acknowledging responsibility for his own life.
I couldn't read much during my indisposition. So, I propped my laptop on my bed, switched on the player, and listened to Maggie Gyllenhall reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Having fed myself on all the available videos of Sylvia Plath reading her poems (check out Youtube pronto, if you haven't heard these yet!) as well as her interviews, I found it difficult to relate to Maggie's voice as Esther (she says, 'Ester!' ). Nevertheless, I rose and fell, cried and smiled as the words rolled on, became chapters, and reached the end. 

With great sorrow I discovered that I didn't have any P.G. Wodehouse audiobooks (having always disappoved of the idea, believing that books ought only to be read, just as music ought to be listened and films to be watched). The Vicar of Dibley proved an indelible companion during the recuperation, and through my dazed mornings, A's preoccupations with Meursault occupied my mind as much as Geraldine Granger ("I am not a lunatic. I have the psychiatric report to prove it. A slender majority of the panel decided in my favour").

Having resumed my classes at the university since, I am desperate to venture back to the "normal" life again, sans waking up to pains in the middle of the night. Need more Wodehouse and a large box of Belgian chocolates before that (notwithstanding that doctor's advice on abstaining from the latter, please).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sickness, Blues and All That - II

Ach. (Err... that is the Deutsch way of saying 'Ah', as in 'Ach so' is a knowing 'oh, ok'.)

I should have known that when I started blogging on being sick, I would continue doing so, until I actually became better. So I have come back with a second installment on being sick, being blue (I'm not supposed to be pink, what with all the pain and all. How unfair!), and all the others. This morning, as I was ruminating on bed with the pain, I thought, why not map the entire pain-process, with all its pros and cons (or cons, mostly. I would need a lot of imagination to talk at length on the pros, though).

1. The first thing that this pain is making me forgo - and making me hate it all the more - is my missing out on all the bada khana. A kiddo from the para has his birthday, the son of another acquaintance has his thread ceremony, and I'm missing out on all that, because I'm lying in bed with pain, and being fed on second-hand stories of how exotic the food was. humph.

2. The book on the shelf beside my bed is making mad gestures to attract my attention. I make an effort, get up, clutch it, mouth-watering, lie down, flip open, and there, all's over. The letters get up from the pages and start a savage dance, so much so that, not only can I not make out a single word, but I am rather flummoxed by the moves. I quickly shut it close.

3. I absolutely cannot sit down to watch the telly. The most engaging of movies are failing to prolong their effect on me, and I have to close the window of the player even though I see Jeanne Moreau provocatively jumping into a lake late at night while returning from a play by Strindberg; or rapidly click 'pause' while watching a pair of glasses made to dance magically by the wind on a tablecloth in a restaurant terrace. How tragic.

4. I cannot use the head-phone while lying sideways on bed, so my favourite music has to be played out loud, and at the mercy of the whole family. For example, after I had listened to Vai Vedrai, and was lying rather listlessly in bed, I decided to croon the Italian lyrics, especially the lines, "Follia/ Del uomo senza driturra vai/ Follia/ Del guerrier senza paura vai", when I lingered on the third Follia (it's more like fohl-llea. Oh and listen to the song by Cirque du Soleil if you haven't already. Highly recommended.) the family came running, sure that I was wailing in pain. So much for my privacy.

5. I'm missing out on most of the exciting online action, because the pain isn't allowing me to sit with my lappy for a longer time.

6. My cell-phone is in the silent mode and lying somewhere in the room. Once during the day, I get up and retrieve it, and discover scores of missed calls from unknown numbers. I'm sure the callers are all my secret admirers who are worried about me after having heard about my present state. I am heart-broken that I have missed all the calls, and I know not (yet) the identity of the callers.

7. The pain gives me a vivid imagination - sometimes too vivid to be entirely intelligible by the family. When the worst spasm that I've had till now suddenly ceased, I felt this calm around me, which seemed entirely orgasmic (now I know that it is a paradox. See, I cannot possibly explain what it feels like when the pain gives a respite). I realised, I just had to explain the family - who were poring all over me, as if I were a specimen - how it felt now. So I said, "It's over. It's stopped. ha ha! Just like it happened in Berlin. When the Russian tanks came in. When it was all over. When the continuous grenade and bombing during the last days had become a way of life, like they showed in Der Untergang, and then when it stopped and there was this sudden infernal silence all around. It feels just like that." For a split second I do not understand why the family isn't smiling or nodding their heads in unison. Then suddenly the octogenarian grandmother says, "Oh my God! The pain has affected her head!" I lie down. Back in the bed. In utter exasperation.

8. By a curious grown-up understanding, my dog is not with me now, and when the pain gets unbearable, I close my eyes and imagine what she would have done had she been around. Of course she would have cried buckets. But she wouldn't have left my side thinking that if she did, I would pop off that very instant. I'm sure she's confident by now, that when she comes back home, she'll find everyone mourning over my dead body. Ah, I miss my dog.

9. By a curious understanding, my pain has given everyone the license to discuss in details and with great seriousness my toilet habits. Of course they have no spark, and though the idea of peeing out a stone seems exciting enough, and the fact that the pain won't subside until the stone has actually made up his mind (of course it's a him! Why else is it such a sadist?!) on coming out into the big bad world, no one is really dwelling on the inconvenience all this is causing to the "patient".

10. To divert my mind, I'm thinking up hilarious incidents relating to my friends or my dog, and narrating them to the family. The mother is scandalised, and she says, "What is wrong with you? Only just now did you have that terrible spasm, and now you're joking about so-and-so?" I turn to her and say, "La dolce Vita, Maa. La Dolce Vita."

Ok, I have used up my entire spasm-and-pain-free break blogging, with frequent break-within-breaks to rest still more. I intend to hit the bed soon, before the pain gets the better of me. Till I feel like coming back to the virtual world again, au revoir.

Before I go, I need to say this. Yesterday I read only a part of this brilliant essay, and I hope to go back to it once I feel better. A phrase from it, however, has stuck out to me from all the jumble of words, and it reads "being loved". Now that there are so many people out there who are drenching me in love, this time I have finally begun to realise and appreciate it - from the Mother, who is feeding me, to the anxious Father, who is trying his best to look calm, to the dog, who is kept a couple of kilometers away, and is crying buckets for her sick mommy, to the best friend who is phoning and texting regularly, to all the acquaintances dropping a message or sparing a moment to think about me. If the pain has made me realise and appreciate the love, then I guess, I'm grateful for it.

Oh, and the patient would be really glad if (many typos notwithstanding) this blog induced some laughter into your day. La Dolce Vita, remember?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sickness, Blues and All That - I

The Particular Girl is grievously sick, and too weak to blog. And to add insult to serious injury, she has NOT lost her mind and sense of humour despite the atrocious pain, while the people all around seemingly have, while they are fretting over her. Now, when will people learn to appreciate the little things of life even in the midst of crisis? Just yesterday, as I was limping to get my USG done (another horrendous experience, and the doctor had absolutely NO imagination, and sense of humour whatsoever), I couldn't help but marvel at the wonderfully glorious sunshine outside, and the quiet of the afternoon. Of course, no one else seemed to notice, and I was about to swerve and say, "Hello? Now who's in pain here, huh?" But I saved it all for a later time, when I would doubtless feel more laconic.

The unimaginative doctor tells me to drink "6-7 liters of water". How preposterous is that! Currently I am dousing myself in hundreds of medicines, one post-lunch, two post-dinner, a half post-reverie, a quarter post-semi-drowsy-state, three-at-a-go before formally hitting the bed, and two more if "the-patient-has-been-mischievous-enough-to-skip-a-dose-or-postpone-the-meal-or-delay-the-rest." Well then, you get the general picture.

One consolation comes from the revelation that beer is supposedly an "excellent diuretic" or so the boring doctor says without the slightest spark in his voice (really!). While I hail "Das Bier" in the cheeriest possible tones, the mother looks disapprovingly, the father apologetically, and the doctor crossly, further clarifying, "That also doesn't happen to be our culture. So you just have to drink gallons of water." I was about to thrust my tongue out to him in vengeance, but checked myself just in time for a sudden spasm. Nevertheless, the vindictive bitch got into work, manipulating the emotions of the father in her favour, narrating how das Bier is cheaper than packaged drinking water in Deutschland, how it had replaced water during an epidemic hundreds of years ago, how a "good" (read: Deutschen brand) Bier would do her much better than gallons of boring water, and voila, the father is swayed! Waiting for the first crate to reach home soon. (hic! Or no hic!)

I have been changing my posture continuously in the hope of finding a more congenial one, where the pain will be lesser, but apparently that isn't helping much. Guess I just have to lie straight in bed. Boring as that may sound, I am trying to make the best out of it, in terms of the care and concern that friends and family are oozing over me (truth be told, I could do without the sympathy, though, and all that, "You can't live alone like this! See? This is what happens" crap). A bit of compromise for the greater good, eh? Till I make a full recovery and come back hale, hearty and wiser, I proclaim my intense and utter revulsion towards stones of all kinds - and I could employ the choicest cuss-words before you could say the s-word.

Ahh, that's what medicines do to one. No offense meant! Au revoir, and hey, pray for me!

Friday, March 4, 2011

To Dream and to Write

Hanif Kureishi's excellent article on being an author in the Zeitgeist, writing for a living, and footing bills with the commission! One of the best reads I've had today (notwithstanding the fact that all that I did read today was Dryden's Essay on Dramatic Poesy and few very sensational news items from a newspaper which makes a living out of sensationalism). To know what Kureishi thinks comprises the "art" of writing, one has to access The Independent Books website from this link, published at a day when Kureishi confesses (in another place) how he has enjoyed the performance of his My Beautiful Laundrette at the Stag in Victoria, London.

Gosh, I sound like a reporter now! Have to work on that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eternity and a Day and Lightness

Every year, when the air is drenching of love, and red hearts seem to be nearly everyone’s favourite motif; when people are busy professing their love or breathing a sigh of relief at not having to buy another mindless expensive gift for the betrothed; or a certain breed of people complain both at the show of love, as well as the lack of it; I stand up and tell my acquaintances (or whoever cares to listen, in a true-blue Joel Barish style), “This is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people like us feel like crap. I do not believe in Valentine’s Day.”

By an inane mechanism of my mind, I can never isolate Valentine’s Day from this film.  The action of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind takes place around this time - agreed, but it has little to do with this day in particular, and in retrospect, the first time I watched it was not on Valentine’s Day, but on a rather dreary December night. It had promptly blown away the detritus of a rather dull evening and I couldn’t sleep a wink. I got up the next morning only to watch the film again, and get lost in the labyrinth of neorealism and memory/imagination/erasure that this film takes you into. Having watched the film so many times since then, over the years, and quoted, requoted and misquoted it, writing a “review” for it now would be laughably absurd. So let’s just say, that having watched it for the umpteenth time this Valentine’s Day, and letting my mind go rococo with it (yet again), I decided to finally let go of myself (and though a fortnight has passed since the hullabaloo), write about it (though about what precisely – about the film, or my experiences on watching the film, or uncannily relating it to St. Valentine’s Day, I know not yet). 

Strangely, I know that, I can never re-attach the broken pieces of a vintage vase and pretend that it never broke, but I find myself unable to throw it away either. It lies somewhere in the corner of my house, and I run into it from time to time - much like the memories Joel and Clementine share of one another. An acquaintance of mine had once quoted (while we were walking along the footpath of Shakespeare Sarani, discussing the film and suddenly discovering ourselves in front of the Sri Aurobindo house), “All problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony.” As I looked up to the leader’s formidable poster looming down upon us, I wondered, can a spotless mind ever stay eternally bright? Without any warning, it had promptly begun raining then, and in the rush to find a shelter, I relegated the question to the back of my mind. It came back to me late that night, when I contemplated that the kaleidoscopic walk through the various stages of romance and reality that this film takes one into, only proves the existence of the film’s emotional core, and the truth of this statement. 

My newest friend, Friedrich Nietzsche, whom I have brought tiptoe from my German library to my personal study-table, features prominently in the film. Mary (Kristen Dunst) quotes from her Bartlett, the quintessential Nietzschean quote, which forms the basis of the film. “Blessed are the forgetful for they get the better even of their blunders” suggests the importance of the idea to affirm one’s life even in the face of great difficulty. Having found my way through the maze that calls itself ‘memory’ and ‘mind’ in this film, I could finally point out the four affirmation theses derived from Nietzsche’s writings and employed in the film - affirming one’s life necessarily involves denying and forgetting certain aspects of life and of reality more generally; when one can, one ought to affirm even the painful aspects of one’s life, for denying reality is a sign of weakness; to affirm certain moments in one’s life is to affirm the whole life; one ought to affirm life as it is lived in the present, and resist the temptation to evaluate the moment with reference to some general standard derived from either the past or the future. Though it bears the tendency to be irrevocably verbose, the four theses capture provocative but nonetheless genuine insights about the importance of affirmation in life and love. The fourth thesis contains a recommendation from Nietzsche that we resist the natural and strong urge to impose such a framework on either our lives or our philosophical thought. Resonating with Emerson’s notion, the film shows the multiple ways in which Clementine (and sometimes Joel) embodies this call to resist consistency and embrace the present moment. Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence presents a model of affirmation which surfaces in the film through the affirmations we see in the “okays” exchanged by Joel and Clementine in the final moments of the film.
Joel: I don't see anything I don't like about you.
Clementine: But you will! But you will, and I'll get bored with you and feel trapped, because that's what happens with me.
Joel: Okay.
Clementine: Okay… Okay….
The couple’s readiness to say “okay” in light of the knowledge that any attempt at a new relationship is surely doomed, is a testament to their courage, their wisdom and their love. Such a miserable outcome for the couple is wholly compatible with their final affirmation, made while aware of the dark future that lay before them, provides a joyous finale to what becomes one of the greatest romantic movies ever made.  

I can perhaps never talk about love and eternal recurrence without Milan Kundera prodding me at the back of my mind. What Identity explores, is the question of human identity and whether it is possible for lovers to understand each other in a world that is forever trapped on the level of the physical and the shallow. Joel and Clementine’s predicament can be relegated to quite the same emotions. However, The Unbearable Lightness of Being challenges Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence, positing the alternative, that each person has only one life to live, and that which occurs in life occurs only once and never again — thus the “lightness” of being. In contrast, the concept of eternal recurrence imposes a “heaviness” on our lives and on the decisions we make (to borrow from Nietzsche's metaphor, it gives them "weight".) Nietzsche believed this heaviness could be either a tremendous burden or great benefit depending on the individual's perspective. When Einmal ist keinmal (once is nothing), encapsulating “lightness,” the concept is well expressed in what Kundera writes in the book: “what happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all.” Following this logic, life is insignificant, and decisions do not matter, and are thus rendered light, because they do not cause personal suffering. Yet the insignificance of decisions — our being — causes us great suffering, perceived as the unbearable lightness of being consequent to one’s awareness of life occurring once and never again; thus no one person’s actions are universally significant. This insignificance is existentially unbearable when it is considered that people want their lives to have a transcendent meaning. 

Somewhere deep inside I know that the predicament faced by Joel-Clementine and Tomáš-Tereza are quite similar, but their outlooks are the opposite. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a perfect movie about love’s inevitable perfections, and even someone as pessimistic as me doesn’t see Joel and Clementine as repeating the same mistake again and again. Optimism is justified because the couple’s memories of each other went deeper than Lacuna could ever reach, and thus, post-erasure, they are still in a position to genuinely benefit from their shared past and some knowledge of their previous mistakes. However, hope is warranted primarily because of a beneficial therapeutic transformation achieved in the course of Joel (self-consciously) undergoing the memory-erasure procedure. In other words, the unusual opportunity offered to him to relive and rework the past puts him in a better position to recognise both Clementine’s actual worth and the reasons why his own psychic limitations had previously led him to distort her nature and her importance to him. Joel’s conscious absorption into Lacuna’s process of erasure and the trip to the past it allows, gets him to see that Clementine’s real aid comes in the form of a partner who can help mend him rather than simply to inject the much-needed sunshine. As they go through the assorted memories of both their relationship and his childhood, we see her as teacher and guide, directing him to adopt a healthier and more mature perspective on his life, his limitations and his love for her. The significance of it all lies only in their personal lives, and in their being. In their life-times they get another chance to verbessern (make better) the mistakes that they had made. If only Tomáš had not been obsessed with the vertigo he describes as “the desire to fall”, against which "terrified" he continuously defends himself, he would definitely have stumbled upon the “metaphor” of love. Just as Kundera writes, "Two people in love, alone, isolated from the world, that's beautiful." And that alone is important.

I’m quite sure by now that I wouldn’t have referred to Kundera at all this evening, if my father wouldn’t have called me up and brought up the sudden discussion on The Unbearable Lightness of Being. A post on love by an acquaintance, my toying with Eternal Sunshine and an animated telephonic conversation later, comes this bizarre post. It is surprising enough that a staunch cynic like me is ranting about love. I guess I’ll just go back to my Lolita now.