Begin Again

No it’s not a post about blogging — as has become the habit of the blog writer here –although the title would have been very apt for a post like that. Too perfect, in fact. It’s been dormant (again) for a while.

The post is about this charming movie, a feel-good movie about music, and relationships, flirting with the usual Hollywood fetishes such as redemption, with a generous dosage of cliches and archetypal characters (remember the once-famous, fallen-from grace, turned loser of a mid-aged man, hit rock-bottom, so only way to go is up, or a love-lorn, and believing in authenticity and something for-the-sake-of-it — as only young would —  hence struggling to take the world as it is, romantic at heart girl), and still managing to tell a story of all that your typical Hollywood drama is all about — in a way that would make you want to willfully go along with the characters, because despite being archetypal,  they’re still real, and lovable.

Begin Again, is a story of Gretta (Keira Knightly), a singer/song-writer who comes to New York, tagging along, as she says, with her singer boyfriend who’s just got a deal with a major record label, and Dan (Mark Ruffalo) a now wasted record-label exec with broken family, who come to a stage where he’s about to end it all. Gretta’s boyfriend is sucked into the big bag world of music industry, has an affair, and heartbroken she’s considering moving back to her hometown when her friend makes her sing in front of a small club crowd, one of who is Dan having possibly the worst day of his life. Dan, few drinks too many in his system, listens to Gretta with violins, and drums, etc. added in his head, hearing her music as it could sound, believes he’s found the “voice” again after all these years, offers to pitch for her with his, now ex, records label, with predictable results.

What happens next is pure Hollywood magic, where two struggling souls help each other turn a (rather unpleasant) page in their life, and be connected in the process, not in the romantic sense. The chemistry between the lead actors is lovely. Both really bring their otherwise typical characters to life with contrasting styles, one with grace, the other with cool underplay. The side characters are obviously much less developed, and pretty much are there for the benefit of the rather linear and simple story.

And still, I enjoyed it immensely. The music, the love affair with the city, and delightful on-screen chemistry of the lead actors lift the movie into a dreamy league where you just want to hang around. Be there. And that it’s done with no melodrama, but a rather subdued treatment does play a large part in it. Worth a watch, but not at the cost of the Birdmans of the world. Not by a stretch.

Why Are You So …

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Why are you so offensive?
Why are you so stubborn?
Why are you so angry?
Why are you so emotional?
Why are you so intellectual?
Why are you so restless?
Why are you so sulky?
Why are you so verbal?
Why are you so silent?
Why are you so sarcastic?
Why are you so cynical?
Why are you so trusting?
Why are you so self-satisfied?
Why are you so unconcerned?
Why are you so concerned?

Why are you?

Condescendingly Yours

Language is not just a tool of communication and thoughts. It’s also a record of prevalent attitudes of society. Recently, after years of deliberation, I picked  up Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The decision seems vindicated, about three fourths into the book, but that’s a different subject than what I had in mind while starting this post (not blog — as rightly condescended (sic) by Atul in his blog-post Mind the gap). The subject is the word condescending itself.

Back to Pride and Prejudice — one of Ms. Austen’s character Mr. Collins repeatedly compliments another character, one  Lady Catherine De Bourgh for her “affability and condescension”. Not many modern speakers of English, will use these two words in the same sentence, except when trying to be ironic, maybe. And yet, Ms. Austen (actually just her character) seems to have been using the word condescend in borderline — if not completely — positive sense. So I decided to go after the other or older meanings of the word.

After all, I’m sure Jane Austen is no Humpty Dumpty saying ‘when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean’

So here is its etymology from: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/condescend#English

From Middle English condescenden, from Old French condescendre, from Late Latin condescendere (to let one’s self down, stoop, condescend), from Latin com-(together) + descendere (to come down); see descend.

There is one clue, alright. For you really have to believe that some people are above others for them to descend down to their level — for if the former is believed, then the latter would be indeed a noble, and laudable act! So in post-liberal world (yes, the irony is intended, but we’d let it go at that) it’s no wonder that the word has lost its positive connotation. And it’s equally less surprising that in the 19th Century’s class conscious English society, it had a positive connotation indeed.

And while I was looking for these things, I hit upon another post which pretty much talks of the same thing: http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2010/05/lady-catherines-condescension.html. Funny thing is, the author says “By its very nature, condescension now implies that the recipient is inferior and is being patronized” — probably not realizing that patronize might well have gone through same fate!

Then again, another thing that strikes me is that Ms. Austen has only Mr. Collins use the word at all, and for a character who is shown to be vein, patronizing and overbearing, and not really respected much by the central character, with whom, we can safely assume, lie the author’s sympathies and sensibilities. So I guess even in early nineteenth society the word and the attitudes had started losing their sheen? I don’t know if Ms. Austen was ahead of her time, or behind, or with the times, but it looks like for a Victorian novel, the book has many modern ethos, even borderline feminist themes. So all in all, usage of one word cannot be made a complete guide to times. What it can do, is to get you thinking about them. That’s half the battle won, right?

Unbidden We Live On

Unbidden we live on
seeking beauty
meaning
belonging
achievement
containtement
happiness
connection
comfort
power
glory

we pick an excuse
and then another,
sometimes
just serendipitously,
sometimes doggedly,
because it seems
impossible
to live on
without one

yet
when we look back
we see
we can go on living
without this, or that,
or all of
this and that, even

and we question
if it was really
unbidden —
the living on

Ethics of Unhappiness – Part I

She looked at him with exasperation. He was not childlike — as she used to believe, in the early days of their courtship, with the conviction that only those  who have just fallen in love seem to find a way to muster — but rather a complete child. How can he be happy about that, she wondered.

She could never be happy about such things, she knew. Was it her conscience? That cliched concept — invented and abused by society, which was responsible for banalities like “being able to look at oneself in the mirror” — was that the source of all this unhappiness she was carrying around? Unlike him, who could be shamelessly happy?

Was it better to be a good person and be unhappy, or be a horrible person and be happy?

“You can’t be happy if you’re not at peace with yourself”, she had tried to console herself with the pop wisdom many a times. Yet that peace was just peace with one’s conscience. But wasn’t this conscience itself cultivated? Or was it programmed?

As a child, she could remember being cruel,and happy. She remembered how she used to severe legs of ants, till they couldn’t walk, and would leave them out in the sun, till they died a painful death. Was she unaware of the pain? On the contrary, she was well  aware it. In fact, that pain was the leitmotif of the exercise. She never really believed in the mythical innocence of kids. Kids were cruel and happy. Just as he was (maybe, that ability to be naturally cruel was innocence, she wondered at times).

So was it better to be a good person and be unhappy or a bad person and be happy?

That bloody conscience, she thought. Should people who have an underdeveloped conscience actually bother developing it? What was the point, if unhappiness was all they could expect as the result of that development? If he were to be a better person, more circumspect, more aware of the moral context of his action, would he be childishly happy, like he is? And yet, was this shallow happiness really happiness? And who was she to judge?

Is conscience just a way for societies, and religions (or societies through religion), to make people conform to an idea of goodness? For societies won’t function without such a concept internalized by most members.

And what about the defaulters?

“What are you thinking”? he asked, as he lit a cigarette as they lay in the bed.

She hated that. She hated him smoking anywhere in the house, but she positively loathed it when he smoked in the bedroom. He, on the other hand, loved to smoke in bed — especially after sex. It was a kind of romanticism for him. It’s genesis, no doubt, was in teenage impressions; something he had watched his one time favorite Hollywood actor do in some movie. He had even offered her a smoke the first time they made love, knowing fully well she didn’t just not smoke, but hated smoking — the very idea of smoking.

In those early days of their relationship, he had stopped doing that when she told him how much it bothered her. He did not do it because he really cared about the fact that it bothered her, but because the fact that it bothered her killed all the romanticism of that imitation.

Now, however, it was the barometer of the health of their relationship — his doing or not doing it. Like today, for instance, it was so bad, that he needed to take refuge in his pulp romanticism.

“Nothing”, she said.

“You’re always thinking of nothing these days”, he said, trying to humor her in his post-coitus high. Something he didn’t bother with, anymore, otherwise.

“Well it’s better than thinking about some things”, she retorted, regretting it instantly. It sounded childish. And she had no wish to compete with him on that front, of all things.

She hated how he could always bring out the worst in her these days. But then had he ever really brought out the best in her? Even at the very beginning, she wondered, was it him, or was it her habit of living up to the best in her.

Whatever it was, it couldn’t be sustained for long. And now even she had resigned to the decay.

Maybe, I need the worst in me — it may let me be happy, she thought, turning her back on him — literally.

Ides of November

In a sense, this post is a #I_better_start_writing_again post. Actually that’s all it is, whom am I kidding, anyway. It started with a FB post about (not) judging women over their choices regarding career vs parenting. A friend, who only knew of my KandaBatata blog said it deserved a blog of its own, a non-KBNN blog. I don’t quite agree there, but that reminded me of this (sort of) abandoned blog. This year, I’ve written on average a post every two months — poetry, prose, reviews included.

Some years are gap years (in one respect or another, but sometimes in more respects than you care to be reminded of). Not in the well understood sense of the word, where you choose them to be such. They just happen to be such. They come and go. And as you look at them, like you look at the train you took a tad too long to get onto, and now have to watch the last few coaches whizzing past you at a speed too much to hop onto one. And too slow to feel the urgency of loss to register right then and there.

You look at such years, only in those slipping moments, when they’re almost a past, but not quite, trying to take stock of the unrealized plans. And sometimes, years like these pass, even without plans, without bucket lists, forty-three things, resolutions. Not because you’re too busy (which you probably aren’t) to make plans, or create those lists. Not because you’re too lazy (which you probably are, but not because you are). Not even because you were depressed, unhappy, stagnated, frustrated, or a million other variations of it. But just because it never occurred to you to make those plans, create those lists, make those promises to yourself.

Sure you had wishes. Sure you had hazy ideas about the year, and what you would like it to be, and no premonition that it would be anything but that — just a gap year, a lost year, a year that passed, adding a count to your age, and a few questions, and a few regrets. No not regrets. That would be too melodramatic. Regret presupposes a “I wish I would have done it differently” feeling. That’s not it at all. You know you couldn’t have done it differently, because you know that the gap year may not have been planned that way, but you signed up for it alright, and kept at it. You even ought to have lived it like that to really appreciate what could have been if you had seriously wanted it that way. If you had seriously thought it, willed it. You didn’t, because maybe you didn’t want it that way, really. Not deep within. Not at the price you may have had to pay.

And so in the fag end of the year you start looking back. And looking ahead, trying to amend in few days what never seriously occurred to you in all those preceding months. And back again to find the sliver linings. And ahead in desperation, knowing full well the futility of trying to change it. Trying to come to terms with the reality. Or the reasonability, probability, practicality.

Back to front. Front to back.

The silver linings light up the possibilities. The dark clouds hover around, with a pretense of omnipotence, in all reality hard to contest.

We try to fill in the gaps with things, and thoughts, and achievements. Things animate and inanimate. Victories. Joys. We let the luster of the silver linings illuminate those, making them look brighter, happier.

And then, reasonably, we start looking ahead, beyond the coaches, into the distance, for the signs of the next train. Promising oneself, I will not miss this one.

All while the last coaches are still moving past you, not too fast, not too slow.

 

 

 

First Is Just the Name of the Street

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As a child, I remember being encouraged to stay in the academic race by my mom, mostly. The rest of the family was kind of unconcerned about it. My father, who would have been hard-pressed to know which standard I’m in, rarely bothered with my progress, or progress card. I had to bother him, rather, when the progress card had to be returned to the school signed by a parent — which, an unwritten law seemed to imply, meant father. The irony of my father  — who never had any scholastic ambitions himself, or from both his kids — having to sign the card that meant hardly anything to him was lost on me then. But then, at least that unwritten law meant my father had to glance at the report card every once in a while, and nod “good” or “nice” or “well done”. The thing is my sister and I rarely gave him any cause of concern, being there in the top whatever percentage of class that used to be considered adequate. 

But for my mother, who had been a good student in her time, and had missed opportunities by a narrow margin, adequate wasn’t a word that meant much. And for years, she would tutor me and my sister. And in return, she expected that we were up there, on the podium, so to speak. The top position, that only one in the class can have. My sister used to oblige more often than not. I stuck to number two, till my mother persisted with the “studies” — which would probably have been forever, if not for my sudden realization that I didn’t really need anyone to “prepare” me for exams, and my new-found belligerence to say that out loud and clear. The confidence was of course misplaced, as I realized soon after pretty much shutting her out of my studies. For my rank kept falling down and down, although still well within the adequate range. But I didn’t care. I felt free, and in control of my own life. That was before I knew about existentialism, of course.

Today, with a 5 year old kid, the questions that I could answer for myself when the time came seem so much more difficult to answer as a parent. Although it’s still early days, but when I look at the landscape, it scares the shit out of me. I see people whom I knew as basically sane beings go pretty much insane with the kids education thingy. I see schools going crazy, in turn driving parents crazy, who are in turn accused of forcing schools to go crazy in the first place. It’s like sanity has just flushed its identity papers down some plane toilet and taken a refuge info some godforsaken country with no name. Because it’s hard to find her anymore in day to day dealings where kids are involved. 

When I try to look at the data from my past, that podium which my mom coveted so much for her kids, seems such an absolutely useless predictor of success, even the ordinary, practical, professional success — the criteria that most middle class parents had in mind when they pushed their children that little harder. I’d be very curious to know if that pattern holds up in larger data sets, but I suspect it would, for scholastic success demanded so little imagination, out-of-box thinking, even reasoning or logical abilities, that it would be a miracle if it were to have a strong relation to success later in the life (and I’m not even talking of countless other criteria to measure success). There may be a possible benefit of the so called scholar kids having a better belief in themselves due to early successes, but even that is debatable, as that can be a two edged sword. And the immense stress some of them have to go through to basically just follow patterns set by somebody, has its own cost.

And yet the frenzy all around is unnerving. Plus it will, in all probability, only get worse. To bet one’s child’s future over an alternative worldview requires a lot more guts than to bet one’s own future.  What if First, Second, and Third are more than street names, after all? Will my child forgive me for giving him a stratagem that’s at best escapist? Will I? 

 

 

The Mythical Closure

Maybe I’m a sucker for closure. Maybe everyone is. But on those days when I’m feeling particularly peeved by lack of closure in past relationships (no I’m not talking about romantic relationships alone), I wonder if it isn’t true. Maybe it’s just me, and a few more. But probably not everyone gets so hung up about closure. If they did, we would see so much being written about it. Then again, maybe, I’m reading all wrong sources.

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Whatever the case, the fact remains that I’m a sucker for closure. It hurts me, the ‘not knowing’ why some relationships went the way they did. I’ve had, in past, probably been responsible for being on the other end of this — causing similar reactions in others to whom closure matters as much, or more. But I hope rarely. And never intentionally. I wouldn’t wish it on my friends, ex-friends, friends turned foes, even.

Especially the last, as I don’t believe in that category’s existence. For me, friends stay friends. They may even, at worst, stop being friends. Drifting apart is part of growing independently, at times. And sometimes the gulf is so much that it’s hard to connect over it, meaningfully. But being a foe is something very different. I don’t believe my friends are capable of going through such a transformation. They may consider me as a foe, but I will not. At least, haven’t in the 20 odd conscientious years of my life, since I really started thinking about relationships, not just being in them. Or sleepwalking through them.

A drifting apart, over the years, is easy to handle. Probably because it’s a very natural progression for relationships. Very few relationships, not involving blood relations — which have an element of non-choice (although not absolute, and not in the coercive sense) — really stand the test of time. There is so much changing around us, that it’s only logical that we change.

I’ve heard that lament often. He’s changed. She’s changed. If we value somebody, would we really want them not to change? However good/perfect they are — for let’s face it, when we say someone’s good or perfect, or whatever, what we’re essentially saying is that they’re good for us — not necessarily in the materialistic sense, just in the sense of the overall sense of well-being they contribute to. But it’s an arbitrary criteria. It’s a shackle. It restricts person’s natural growth.

Then again, growth is unpredictable. Growth could destroy status quo. To expect that someone grows within the bounds of our expectations is to turn the person into a bonsai. I don’t want to wish that on my friends, especially.

How is it all related to closure? It isn’t, probably, now you ask it that way. The thing is, when we miss closure, it typically signifies that the other person doesn’t really care for the formalities of farewell. That s/he has moved so far away, that the gap is not bridgeable — and to bridge it just to say goodbye is meaningless sentimentality.

But there is another type of unfinished goodbyes. Sometimes there is an element of serendipity, although the word is rarely used in this sense, rather the opposite. Sometimes, the distance isn’t so bad that the other person is not ready to travel a few steps back to leave you in a home territory. The only thing that stops them from it is the the fear of getting pulled back in. In case of such fear, it’s logical to walk away swiftly. People do, secretly hoping that they would finish the formalities of farewell later, when the fear is dead and buried across the distance they’re travelling. But then a wave sweeps them away to another shore from where they can’t wave goodbyes. And the guilt mounts, to the extent where, if they happen to come back to these shores, they cannot muster the courage to cross that bridge — not afraid now of being stuck, but afraid of walking the distance just to find a wreck there.

I guess I’ve done it too. That is why I understand it. But that understanding doesn’t give me any respite from the meaningless sentimentality. If you valued the relationship so much at one time, says the voice in my head, how could you not complete the formalities of farewell? Doesn’t the relationship deserve a proper burial, and a mourning?

Maybe I’m a sucker for closure because I believe that. But that’s a circular argument. Burial/mourning is just another name for closure.

 

The Oracle

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And when I finally found the Oracle, and asked him to advice me, he, without even looking at me, said this:

“There are three rules of advice that you should know:

One: Never ask Oracle for advice, for the omniscient is impotent to change the course of future.

Two: Never base any decisions in your life on anyone’s advice

Three: Never trust anything that an Oracle says, for if he is indeed an Oracle, he won’t care for what he tells you, for he knows future won’t change no matter what he tells you. And if he isn’t, why are you even asking him?”

But, this is so contradictory, I said.

“And you think life isn’t? ” asked he, waving his hand in a gesture of dismissal. When Oracles ask questions, they’re rhetorical by definition.