Saturday, May 21, 2011

Conquering fear

"Faith, indeed, has up to the present not been able to move real mountains... But it can put mountains where there are none."
~ Neitzche

Tonight as I fumbled my way through butchering a chicken, my very first, my eyes feverishly trailed the blood and sinew till they could no more tell which was what. Despite the plethora of recipes and my reputation as a cook (okay, I can't help but be a narcissist here!), I had never ever dared touching raw flesh. That was always Sam's job. But tonight I had to, for the husband was 'busy'. Making my way through the wobbly carcass, I realised it's no big deal. What was I so afraid of? It's just meat and it's dead. There!

And so sprung up a string of incidents that have remained singularly unforgettable in my inconsequential life thus far...

I was barely ten then, when I had once returned home from my regular evening recreation before the helplessness of 'homework time' would kick in. How I had straight gone into the bathroom to hide the gaping wound on my thigh that had resulted from a bad bicycle fall. Lest the parents see it and give me a good piece of their mind, which I was anyway quite used to in those days. Lest I am rushed to the hospital for that much dreaded shot. But like all mothers do, mine too discovered the wound after a day or so and what followed should better be left out. Let's just say the lesson thrived well inside me, for years. Because the next time I had tumbled off and bruised myself, I had just cycled on briskly with a bleeding knee to the hospital. Shot time!

Three winters back during a rafting adventure, when almost drowning in the glacial waters of the Teesta, I had seen it looming large like a green monster. Fear. Little did I know that the life jacket would fail me when the then daredevil in me had decided to take an impulsive plunge into the tempting Himalayan waters. I was already doing the goodbyes in my mind, and all this when I was just a month-old newly wed. How supremely unreal the moment felt! Suddenly, something inside me had silenced the howling tears and strangled that sneering monster. And there I was, streamlined (what if a creature from the deep pulled me into the fathomless depths!), holding on to the boat and actually using my head. Of course, I was rescued back into the boat. Of course I cried, wailed in fact, but not before I was snug and secure in one of the changing huts.

One afternoon, when words had been whispered and blames had been hurled inside closed doors. When judgement was sung callously, the notes of which still ring deep in my ears. When I learnt that it takes only a handful of days for some people to stab you right in the heart. Just like a spell, the mirror of illusions had broken. And how I was reborn, stripped of doubts and fear. And a little respect, too. Fate lets you have only one choice (which I proudly have) and keeps the rest for herself - perhaps the most important of all lessons I've learnt.

It starts from some point. How we carry some fears with us all along and then one day we just drop it, like clothes from a tired body. One fine day, just nothing matters. Absolutely nothing.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Books that make you think

There are books that make you think, and there are books that make you think till it starts to hurt and open wounds unknown to you before. Plagued by images and insomnia, I cannot help being pensive about the fabricated yet mind-numbingly real worlds of Ian McEwan's Atonement and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. The power of good books being such, I am in a mood of denial. Of the reality. Of the world around me that whirls like a possessed dervish. Of my own meaningless existence. Thanks to my wise enrollment in the Contemporary British Fiction course from the University of Oxford, without which I probably wouldn't have been introduced to such achingly beautiful reads. And I see the world with a new pair of hollow eyes - hollow, because they've emptied themselves of the pestering wants. At least for now. Let the eyes be.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

It is an unusually hot English summer of the 1930s. The looming inertia and ugly stoniness of the Tallis estate lend character to the mounting sultriness. A thirteen year old Briony Tallis is like any other child at her age - curious, immature and impatient to understand the complicated world of adults. Harbouring a feverish passion for a literary career, she loves imagining stories and giving them shape with words whose paramount importance is the moral they convey. Amidst the clutter of her castles in air, lies her twisted reality - an absent father, a detached mother, a philandering elder brother (Leon), and a confused elder sister (Cecilia). Then there are the visitors - the cousins from the north, Lola and her twin brothers, who must stay with the Tallises till 'the Parents' sort out the nasty business of divorce; and Paul Marshall, a foppish rich friend of Leon's.

Despite the smothering heat, silence and hushed up family secrets, blossoms a surprising romance between Cecila and Robbie, the charlady's son who has been friends with the Tallis children since forever. With so much oh her platter and an imagination that already runs wild even when leashed, Briony weaves truths of her own. And when she stumbles upon her sister and Robbie caught up in a passionate moment which is ominously followed by Lola's rape, Briony cannot wait to give a conquering pattern to her story. Seizing the moment and impatient to cross the threshold of childhood, Briony's prejudiced testimony sends the wrong man to prison. Sixty years later, a famous writer, she writes a novel to atone for that one sin - to rectify her mistakes via her characters and give them another chance. Is she forgiven? On the canvas of a dysfunctional family, British class system and World War II, McEwan paints a haunting picture of love, longing and loss.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Nestled in the picturesque English countryside is the prestigious school of Hailsham, where the students are exceptionally well taken care of - weekly medical check-ups, no unhealthy teenage habits and an abnormal emphasis on art and poetry by the 'guardians' (yes, not teachers). This is the story of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy - three best friends who grow up together in this idyllic setting and fall into the ruts of the inevitable love triangle. Through Kathy's take-me-with-you narration, we at once become a part of their cloistered, yet happy lives. Almost after you are there, drawn in by her nostalgia, you wonder why these children are never let out? Who and where are there parents? Why this almost fetish-like obsession with health? And then, amidst flickering flashes of fear and discovery, it strikes you on the face - they are clones who are being reared in isolation and are perfected for their future as 'donors'. Their lives are mapped out even before they are created. But what is surprising and heartbreaking at the same time is how normal these children are - they fight and fuss, they listen to music and draw pictures, they fall in love - everything that the ordinary humans do.

Once they are adults they begin donating their organs till they just 'complete' (that's the word). Then there are the nurse-like 'carers' who take care of the donors during and after their extraction surgeries. All the while we keep asking - why this mute resignation to a horrible fate? Why the lack of rebellion? Riddled with euphemisms and a compelling narration that resembles a teenager's diary, Ishiguro slowly but steadily pushes us to an edge from where there is no escape. Dancing on tumultuous undercurrents the narration sails through friendship, love and sacrifice. And all this while death is just out there, lurking around the corner like a giant phantom beast. What option does one have on the face of absolute powerlessness? To go on living and loving, or to just wait for it?

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