Thursday, July 31, 2008

Damage Control

Mark asked me a few days ago, "What's the one major way that your parents' divorce affected you?" I was a little bit stunned by that particular conversation-opening gambit, especially since over the last few months, Mark and I have pretty much drifted off each others' radars. But seeing how he's Mark, and that I'll always have a soft spot for him no matter what, I gave his question serious thought. I told him, "I think it's the inability to recognise, and thus retain, a solid romantic relationship." Even as I said it, i realised that I sounded like such a cliche! Seriously, divorced parents, damaged child? How long can that band play? But it got me thinking of the many ways that we are damaged over the duration of our lives.

The friendly man-servant who one day carries 7-year-old you into a small room, and gets so friendly he leaves you in tears. Your favorite sibling who finds your secret diary and reads it aloud to his laughing friends as you sit humiliated. The girlfriend who makes you choose between the love of your life and her friendship. The parent who dismisses you for the nth time or looks at you as if you were a stranger. The lover who proudly guarantees that he would never feel anything but lust for you, teaches you to wall off your emotions, and says, "Atleast I'm being honest" as if he expects a medal. The fiance who breaks your heart the day after proclaiming to all and sundry that "I may hurt myself, but I will never hurt her". The friend-turned-lover who stands you up several times with the excuse, "Oh shit, I forgot."

The list is never-ending, and not all of it serious, sure. After all, Life is the School of Hard Knocks. It makes you appreciate the good, and makes you a better, kinder, more trustworthy person. Yes, sometimes, some of it is true. But at what cost?

Two decades ago, I wrote this totally uninspired childish attempt at a short story that tells the tale of a fortress and how she sets up her defences against attacking hordes. Everytime her exteriors were breached, she would magically rebuild stronger than before (much like human bones actually). One day, a young soldier who'd heard of the unsurpassable fortress walls came by. It was a lovely crisp winter morning, seasonal flowers were out in full bloom, and the Fortress, liking the look of the bloke who didn't shoot cannons at her, let him in without any struggle. The Prince, unworthy as he is, robs her of her treasures, sells them off, gets drunk, invites random blokes from the nearby tavern to show off, creates a ruckus, breaking all the furniture, etc etc. The fortress, pissed off, throws him out, and shuts her doors forever.

So yes, it's an obvious story with somewhat of an obvious moral. But for me, the story, and my post, is not about the shrapnel from external sources and the holes in the exterior walls. It's about the real damage inflicted by people you trust, people you let in, people who became privy to your closest held secrets, people who treated that courtesy not as a privilege but as an opportunity.

Don't get me wrong. I do know that for every jackass out there, there are atleast 10 wonderful, warm, loving people living right under your nose. But herein lies the rub. When we're born, we carry this ball of light within us. It makes us laugh loudly and unselfconsciously, it makes our eyes shine brighter, it makes us adorable to everyone. We are innocent, taking for granted that we shall be loved always, that no one will deliberately harm us, that we shall always have friends, and there'll always be someone with an answer to our dumbest-brightest questions. So good people are expected. It's the betrayals that get our attention. Because they change us.

With every betrayal - small and large - the door of the fortress shuts a little bit, converting another fraction of the ball of light into lead. At some point, you make a choice between keeping the door open, and watching your life-source getting sucked into lead, or keeping what remains of the light and just shutting the fortress door saying, "Thanks, but no thanks. Who needs this shit!"

The good news is that the light inside grows. It replenishes. It shines out through the windows, and draws everyone to you. It makes you laugh again. But it doesn't obliterate the memory of how close you got to losing everything. It whispers continuously about how it's others like those out there who made you shut down to begin with. You have all the right reasons to stay where you are. Content. Happy.

So I suppose it's fair to say that the whole separation/ parents-hating-each-other/ divorce thing is just another betrayal (maybe the biggest) in a life full of them. By now, you have some amount of perspective. But as you look out through the windows of your self-constructed missile-proof super sonic shield, you can't help hoping that someone worthy would come by and ask you out to play again. And that it's before you've forgotten how to say yes.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

When in Doubt, turn to Poetry

Something has happened. Well, several things actually – I’ve just returned from what was supposed to be a relaxing two-week vacation (it wasn’t) in the UK, my film has finally been released after 3 years in the making (a middling success, I’m told by kind people) and I’m still financially stable (another first) despite having dug deep into my bank balance to fund my trip. And yet, amidst all these big moments, something fundamental has shifted in my life. And this time, I don’t think it’s got much to do with a man.

This time, I think it’s just me.

Just before I left, I was working on a project, my output on which left me convinced that I was a non-starter, creatively speaking. While usually, it’s just a periodic “I’m such crap, why do I bother anyway?” litany going on in my head, this time, I think I’d found a reason for the same – I have no memory for details, and memory is the one essential ingredient for a writer. It was no wonder then that I had nothing to put down on a page which didn’t boil down to worn, oft-repeated clich├ęs.

Contrary to what appears on paper, there is all around me a plethora of drama and humour always in evidence, unique in its own way. For instance, the undercurrents of a family of eight as they manoeuvre the explosive mines of 30 years of familial baggage while on an international vacation, the ineffectual tussle between two grown men as they stagger out of a pub, the cloying groping of a couple as they block my view of a concert. Even the details of simple things like describing the undulating landscape of the Highlands, the excitement of lying on the grass in Hyde Park, soaking in the Sun, the amazing concert where John Mayer, Sheryl Crow and Eric Clapton performed on stage together for a brief few minutes are blurry for me.

What I have come away with is that I love that city, and that it’s the only other city I know that has felt like home. I’ll be hard-pressed to describe the details of the walk through Notting Hill, the beautiful sculptures that seem scattered around the city or what the paid actors said to make “eerie London” come alive for me. But I can evoke the warmth of the sunshine as I sat in Trafalgar Square, stretching out a sore back, and the fear of spending my first five pounds on some trifle, as I quickly did the pound-rupee conversion. And I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of my experiences.

Nor am I inclined to… which is where the problem is, I think.

That city is a monument to achievement – literary, scientific, political and cultural. And amidst that whole barrage of stimuli and the accompanying discussion about their minutiae, I think I’ve realised that perhaps I won’t make it, that I don’t have it in me after all.

PS: I’d visited Lake District, home to William Wordsworth, where I'd picked up an anthology of his works. Sitting here, as I was listlessly going through it, wondering if I should delete this entire piece, something he wrote caught my eye.

He wrote, “Enough of science and of art, close up these barren leaves, come forth and bring with you a heart, that watches and receives.” This was a low self-esteem, self-pitying, pointless post, until Wordsworth saved it for me. There has to be a lesson in there somewhere, right?