His Own Fan: Review of SRK’s Fan

SRK has done it all — especially where double roles are concerned. He’s done the normal bread-and-butter ones. He’s done double role with reincarnation. He’s done a “not a double role” double role, where his character fakes a double role that his (character’s) wife falls for. But in Fan, he’s gone and surpassed it all. His character plays his (SRKs) own double role, and another character plays that character’s double role. And what’s more, one character loves the other character!

Okay, don’t get me wrong. I’m not panning the movie. Not yet. In fact, given his recent woeful run of “I’m a star so I’ll prove I can get away with anything” movies (two with Rohit Shetty, one with Farah Khan), I’m glad he picked up a script that’s not juvenile to begin with. It’s another matter that … Like I said, I’m not panning the movie. Yet.

 

 

What I’m going to do here is to review two halves. This is a double-role of a review.

Role 1:

First half. Gaurav Chanda, a Delhi boy — just like his God, the actor Aryan Khanna (the double role of real life SRK, who’s also a Delhi boy) — is known in his  mohalla for playing “Junior” AK (Aryan Khanna, not Arvind Kejriwal, although I’m not sure the choice of initials was accidental)  in yearly mohalla competition, which interestingly, seems to have the budget of whole ward completely assigned to it (AK?) for their annual talent competition. In the part time that he gets between watching AK movies, collecting his memorabilia,  he runs a cyber-cafe. Okay, runs is too generous. But still.

The year in question, he again wins the competition, and gets twenty thousand cash prize for it, with with he decides to visit his object of affection, to present his trophy as B’day present to Aryan Khanna. Predictably he doesn’t get to meet him. Just in time, for him, comes a AK’s spat with a rising star. And he decides to switch to next level of fanaticism, to meet AK. It turns all bad for him, with Aryan breaking his heart.

Again, I’m not panning the movie. This part is actually quite good. SRK as Gaurav is quite a performance. A bit over the top, but intended, and carried out well. The story is almost all believable till this point. Execution is tight. Excellent buildup, to interval. Maybe 7/10 all combined. And for SRK movie, coming from me, that’s seriously lot. And I had begun to feel hopeful.

Role 2:

Post interval, we start an year later, for some reason. That gap has changed Gaurav. No one has bothered to give us a peek into this transformation (except for the dramatic exchange pre-interval), from a broken, dejected, angry fan to a revenge machine. Not that it’s hard to extrapolate the emotional leap, but more importantly, a not-so-bright, starry-eyed, mumma’s boy turning into a very competent (in the dark sense, but still), at home in the foreign land (yes, we move out of India for some reason), smooth operator. No questions should be asked. This is Bollywood after all. You see, you got the warning as Gaurav mouths Aryan/SRK line: the real drama will start now. And so it does. As a catch-me-if-you-can saga starts, you even get a literal taste of it, for what seems like an eternity of a running chase, as the script decides to trade action for everything else. There is just not enough content to give justice to the build-up of the first half. And Fan falters, and runs around like a chicken with its head cut. Finally ending on a predictable note — the way most of the negative protagonist stories do.

As tight the first half is, the second is a contrast. It’s well paced, I give you that. But it’s vacuous. Show-offish. And ultimately underwhelming. Nothing much believable happens. We move from one foreign location to another. The story never catches up.

I’d give this half 4/10. And I’m really being generous here. Because there were no songs.

*

It’s a brave effort, though, all said and done.

Going without a song/dance/humor. Trying to stick to a semblance of a story-line, which is missing in the big star movies lately. Something that no StarKhan looked likely to bite at, given present 300 Cr race. For that I really want to applaud SRK.

But, if you really look closely, it is an SRK showcase, literally (consider this: the film has really no other actor with any meaningful role). Not just of his talent, but of his achievements from past, his legend, his “I’m the king” persona off screen. In a scene, in the second half, his manager/assistant/whatever tells Aryan, “woh (Gaurav) sanki hai”. He looks almost hurt. “Phir mein kya hoon?” he asks. Reminding us of SRK who has boasted in past of his pathani temper. You gotta take him as he is. Just as you gotta take Aryan as he is. Just you have to take lot of idiotic stuff in the second half.

Fan is SRK’s love affair with himself. Or SRK’s love affair with his own stardom. But for a king of romance, it’s hardly a tribute to his best. It’s just canonization of SRK the super-star/super-hero/super-ego. Through Aryan Khanna. It’s a triple role, if you see it from a certain vantage point.

Verdict: Worth a watch, for the first half. But nothing you’d regret for having missed.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Elasticity of Memories

We all love to tell stories. And by that I don’t mean to speak on behalf of the writers, clandestinely smuggling myself into the group. On the contrary, I’m speaking on behalf of us non-writers, wanna-be-writers, poseur writers — everyone who does not seem to have a blanket license to tell stories. Irrespective of such a license, if there were one, we all love to tell stories to right people, and sometimes to the wrong people, much to a mutual displeasure. Still, that urge to tell stories is one of the things that makes us human.

But what separates those who just tell stories from those who narrate, who mesmerize us with their accounts of everyday banality, who make us listen spellbound, who make us laugh out loud, who make us cry, who make us want to say: if only I could tell a story like that?

Do those who reuse their memories, their experiences — in their writings, or in conversations over coffee, or with friends/family, or during random encounters on long distance trains, or just to kill time while waiting at a queue — color their memories with different palettes? Are we, the others, mostly bad painters who can’t for their life find the right colors, the right contrasts, the right textures? Or are our memories dull to being with? Are they colorless, and what is needed is not faithful rendering of those grey memories, but a keen sense of coloring, of dressing up the ordinary.

Does it mean, then, that the honest story tellers are bad story tellers (unless they’re blessed/cursed with very colorful memories)? Of course, I don’t want to accuse the masters of being dishonest, but maybe they are a little generous with the shade card of truth. However tempting it is to use that accusation, though, when we look at our own stories that we tell, again and again, over months and years, we’d probably see ample evidence of that same generosity on our parts. Art of story telling is the art of ever-so-subtly changing the details, of making memories more interesting than they are.

A man can tell a thousand lies
I’ve learned my lesson well
Hope I live to tell
The secret I have learned, ’till then
It will burn inside of me [1]

Is that deliberate? Or is that automatic? And like a story changes when it moves from one narrator to another, over endless replays of the game of Chinese Whispers, doesn’t it also change when it moves from one audience to another, even with the same narrator? Is it because our memories are elastic, and we make out of them what we want to, without even being aware of that distortion — an act of a subconscious will? Or is it that our memories are so fragile that to arrive in one piece they have to patch and re-patch themselves, like the poor people have to patch their clothes, all the times, to stop them from opening at seams, and elsewhere?

It is not like it’s only an individual memory that suffers (or shares) this fate. Even collective memories are just a common denominator of our changing, elastic, individual memories, already morphed into a reality-inspired-fiction. The thing is, our childhood memories are folk lores that we collectively chose to retell, subtly manipulated by the keepers of those lores. The keepers who, thanks to their unquestioning love, typically are biased towards re-tellings that shield us. Try telling your mom that her  memory of some instance in your childhood is not faithful, and you’ll see a sanctimonious hurt that will be hard to heal. But what is a faithful memory? Is there such a thing? And if there is one, is it an exception or a norm?

I tell stories from my past, often. And I’m sure if someone recorded and replayed them to me, I’d barely recognize the recorded memories.  But a retelling is not necessarily a better telling. It’s a telling that may show you in a better light, at the cost of the story that is too monochromatic. Do those who master the art of re-vitalizing memories put their stories before themselves? Does that selfless, and yet very selfish at the same time, act liberate their stories, and make them more charismatic, more alive? They probably do.

Meanwhile, those of us, who do not have that license to tell stories, must struggle with the banality of our retelling, and futility of our instincts for both authenticity and self-importance.  Like those wandering dervishes, we need to be the story we want to tell. Our memories are elastic enough to allow for that.


[1] Snippets from lyrics of Madonna’s Live to Tell.

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Meditations on Love, and Love Stories

Yes, love can die. it’s more fragile than hate which can survive a lot more. Unlike hate, which has got allies, love has to survive on its own. Especially love in real life, involving real people. The reel love is, at best, a harmless prank.

Unlike those love stories where we’ve to trust a stranger telling us that they lived happily ever after — always they, always ever after — as if, that moment, when the evil villain was defeated, and the prince charming and his beautiful princes took their vows, will last forever, no questions asked; unlike those love stories, that stop inexplicably when cohabitation begins, between two madly in love. Stop being told, that is, not being. In real life, love doesn’t come with an autopilot mode.

Or unlike those truly timeless love stories where, love becomes immortal by the virtue of being unrequited, because the evil villain wins, or because it’s cut short by untimely actions of time, real life love doesn’t have a ghost mode.

The fact of the matter is that very few love stories delve into love, fulfilled over days, months, years, even a lifetime, surviving everyday the banal, the routine, the grotesque, the frustrating: the bad hair days, the mad days, the sad days, the days when words don’t come easily, the days when words won’t stop, when they should. Hurting words, only partly unintended. The sick days; the hectic days when sacrifices are tiny, too tiny to stroke your ego, too frequent for the ego miss, too insignificant to birth a martyrdom, too “on the line” to identify a martyr; days that fly by in a cluster; days when nothing seems to go your way, when no answers are forthcoming. No relief. No real escape.

Love, real life love, has to survive in the interstices between these mundane and crazy moments. It has to find a way to reinvent itself, creating an illusion of a timeless continuum. It has to find a way to grow, to strengthen its roots, to aspire for skies, to liberate, yet to be latched, by choice.

No wonder many love stories only survive when love is interrupted, or never has to face the test of life almost ordinary on average. Almost ordinary, but for the magical moments, like those fleeting sightings of the fireflies, on a dark night. But isn’t that dream — that impossible and yet entirely plausible dream — that makes love special? Maybe waking life is an illusion. Maybe we’re meant to be the dream.

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The Revolution Will be Tweeted

The revolution will be tweeted
quoted, retweeted
bookmarked, pocketed
plastered on the wall
liked, shared, pinned

No, you can’t
dislike
the revolution
not now
but it could be
upvoted or downvoted
questioned, and answered

The revolution will be trended
will be #foodporn’ed
#hashtagged
filtered
curated

The revolution will have
its fifteen minutes
of fame
and if lucky,
it will survive
as a buzzfed

The revolution will be whatsapped
it will bring a smile
to your otherwise dull day
a chuckle, or a shudder
if you are an intellectual
but it sure will be forwarded

No the revolution
cannot be deleted
once it is,
it is forever
relegated to obscurity
after the few hours of fame
there will be no epitaph
no grave, just a timestamp
revolution will live on
unfetched

The revolution will not be attended
it will be delivered to you
in any way you choose
push or pull, even digested
it will bother you
as a notification
in the right hand upper corner
till you’ll take a look
do the needful
without taking a step

The revolution will be branded
angel funded
Revolution will be irresistible
festive, unprecedented
it will be your last chance
while the stocks last
and if it doesn’t suit you
it can be refunded
hassle free

Yes,
the revolution will be monetized
valuated
taken over
restructured
patented

Yes,
the revolution will be changed

No,
it won’t be the change
it will just be
commented upon …

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The Illusive Cordon of Excellence

 

As an aspiring writer, your relationship with words is like a marriage struggling to keep itself afloat. There are good days, far and few between, long streaks of dismal days when you don’t trust the other. Although, in this case, one party can’t even claim sentience, the distrust seems mutual. And you tend, like in any strained relationship, to see yourself as the injured party, almost always. After all, words may not be sentient beings, but they hold an age whenever there is a conflict.

Sometimes I believe we kid ourselves that we choose words. If you look at evidence without the bias that comes with being human, you could quite easily argue that it’s the words who choose us. In his phenomenal work, the Selfish Gene, Dawkins puts forward a gene centric model to explain evolution better. Any meme could be seen as choosing the vehicles for their propagation.  The words choose us. We set arbitrary, and not so arbitrary (according to some of us, anyway) rules to restrict freedom of words. We believe we are enhancing the life of words. But more often than not, those rules end up hurting words. And then words revolt. They choose those who can break the rules, or choose rules that help them. Those who swear by rules are relegated to the forgotten footnotes of existence. While the words live on, way longer than any of us.

We live in a make believe word where writing can be taught. And yet, those who teach writing are struggling with it, just like the one who is learning. Maybe there isn’t anything more to it than practice, practice, practice. Then again, it’s not even remotely sufficient, just necessary. Or neither necessary nor sufficient. If we knew, all would be doing one thing. Thank heavens we don’t know!

Excellence, I sometimes think, is about hitting the target more often than others. Even masters come up with banal, awkward, even downright bad writing. And that assuming literary quality (and by extension, any artistic quality) is measurable, even partially objective.

The difference between good and bad writing — let me rephrase — the difference between good and the best of the bad writing, is tiny. To use a sports analogy, it’s the difference between good and bad timing. Between touching a line and missing a line. The masters seem to make the lines more often.

And yet, there is an endless playing field for those who can’t make those percentage, those cuts. Sometime, right in the middle of a mediocre field, one steps into the zone. Maybe by pure accident. Maybe, that day, the words decide to drop their defenses.  Even a strained relationship has its moments. That’s why we go on.

My Father’s Jukebox: Memories of Mohd. Rafi

My memories of my childhood are almost all tragic. Don’t get me wrong. I had a perfectly healthy, normal — a bit too normal for my taste in films and literature — childhood, when I think about it rationally. It’s just that I am programmed to recall anxious moments, mishaps, tragedies, and the likes. For the happier memories, which are plentiful, even majority, I have to consciously recall them. Except, when they involve music.

I grew up in a family where music — just plain listening, no performance, although to be fair, there was no dearth of talent in that department in the family — was a constant companion. And when I say family, I mean a full extended family from father’s side, my four uncles, three aunts, and multiple cousins … It was hard not to get initiated into music. From natya-sangeet and abhangs that my grandfather would listen to, to predominantly hindi-film music that my father was into, to English pop, rock, and classical music that I my cousin in Mumbai introduced me to, much of my music ear was trained in the family.

These days, I listen to lot of Jazz, some western and Indian classical music, but even today, when some Bollywood oldies are playing, they take me back to memories of early years at my then home. My father has always been a huge fan of Mohd. Rafi. Growing up, I listened to a lot of Rafi, curated by my father and a cousin who used to live with us in those days. My father is methodical when it comes to his music. Days would be spent to decide “order” of songs on a cassette — the moods, the tempos. Then these lists would be taken to shops where you could get them recorded on your own, predominantly SONY, cassettes. Yes piracy in the days before torrents.

Then the cassette(s) would be assigned to cassette boxes, which my father, who owned a small carpentry shop, would have hand made,  from wood, plywood, with individual compartments for each cassette, each compartment covered with a think blue/green flannel cloth (leftover from school noticeboards and the likes) such that no cassette will ever touch a hard surface, or be exposed to dust. A mono tape recorder would be similarly preserved in a flannel cloth, all the time when it was not being used, survives till date.

One such cassette, of Rafi’s sad songs, was one of my favorite “mixes” of those days. And it wasn’t even a mix, the way know mix now. Sadly, my dad’s business friend loaned it one day to make a copy and never returned it. My father lamented about it for years, too tired by then to recreate from memory that list, understandably. I forgot about it much faster, as I was moving away into different musical genres, from pop to rock to classical, not necessarily in linear manner.

Twenty years down the line, with youtube becoming an easy enough hunting ground for the lost treasures of yonder, I started with a Mohd. Rafi playlist to try and capture some of those songs, although definitely not in that order. I realize, that with changed tastes, some of the songs are too melodramatic for me (and probably for many of you as well). But nostalgia isn’t derived from “pain” for no reason. Here then are a few of the songs from my dad’s Rafi juekbox. What better day than Rafi’s birthday to post about it?

Note: I’m sure some of the songs here were not there in the cassette, and some I’ve missed.

Kabhi Khud Pe:

Definitely the starting song on side A. This surely is a tone setter.

Koi Sagar Dil Ko Bahelata Nahin:

I mean how much more melodramatic can a movie name get? This song from dil Diya Dard Liya, otherwise forgettable/typical Dilip Kumar melodrama of the era, is technically a ghazal. And Rafi had a great sense of ghazal rendition. This one is no exception:

 

Saathi na ko manzil

This lovely slow paced song is not that well known, but a real gem with some lovely lyrics:

patthar ke aashna mile/patthar ke devata mile/shiseh ka dile liye/jaaon kahaan ..

Jaane kya dhoondti rehti hai yeh aankhen

Another song made for Rafi, this slow paced song is still one of my favorite Rafi songs. The lyrics by Kaifi Azmi may seem little too maudlin today (raakh barbaad mohobbat ki bacha rakhi hai, baar baar isko jo cheda to bikhar jaayegi) however the last couplet, sung in a more defiant style than the rest, delivered more like a prose, sure packs a punch:

kaise baazar ka dastoor tumhe samjhaaon\ bik gaya jo woh kharidar nahin ho sakta …

 

Chirag dil ka jalao bahot andhera hai

Rafi and Madan Mohan was a cracking combination. This gem from the pair, though is a little not too well known gem, an ode that epitomizes romanticism …

kahan se laaoon woh rangat gayi bahaaron ki\ tumhare saath gayi roshani nazaaron ki \ mujhe bhi paas bulao \ bahot andhera hai …

 

Aapke pahelu me aake ro diye

Rafi-Madan Mohan again, this song from Mera Saya is well known, well loved. I am mesmerized by both of them. Madan Mohan has that keen sense of complimenting a singer, not overpowering him, the music never threatens to submerge the song, but uses the spaces fantastically.

 

Akele hain chale aao

Kalyanji-Anandji this time.

 

Dil jo na kah saka

One has to endure some terrible on screen personas with Rafi song. Here it’s the great Pradeep Kumar. Well, don’t look, just listen.

 

Happy Birthday Rafiji, you’ll live on …

You can check out the playlist here:

 

Numero Zero: End of Conspiracies

“Everything always fits with everything else,” says Braggadocio, an outlandish conspiracy theorist, and a fellow journalist of the novel’s narrator and central character, a self-declared loser, ghost writer of third-rate novels, Colonna, “you just have to know how to read the coffee grounds”

Eco, the wicked story teller with seemingly inexhaustible source of conspiracy theories, I seem to recall, had declared the Prague Cemetery as his final fictional work. I guess, the temptation of conspiracies is too much even for someone so well versed with them.

“There are many small conspiracies, and most of them are exposed,” Prof. Eco says in an interview after writing The Prague Cemetery. “But the paranoia of the universal conspiracy is more powerful because it is everlasting. You can never discover it because you don’t know who is there. It is a psychological temptation of our species”

In Numero Uno, while still continuing his long lasting love affair with conspiracies, Eco also goes a step further. He creates a conspiracy that’s sounds like the most outlandish conspiracy, when it’s probably not even a conspiracy.

As Braggadocio again — while defending a charge of looking for conspiracies where none exists — says:

Look at the court cases, it is all there, provided you’re able to find your way around the archives. The trouble is, facts get lost between one piece of news and another.

But a little bit of context first. Numero Uno is about a private newspaper that Colona, Braggadocio, and Colona’s love interest Maia, are working for, for one Mr. Simei. The newspaper, named Domani (Tomorrow), is not meant to be widely circulated, and will have “zero” editions (0/1, 0/2 …) to be published over a year, with news that’s based on facts, but with a handsome spin doctoring. Domani, then, is a newspaper that could have been: a conspiracy of a newspaper (again, as Braggadocio says somewhere else in the novel: “The point is that newspapers are not there for spreading news but for covering it up.”), meant to scare someone in power to get an entry for someone into some elite circle of power. Colona has been trusted with this information, and asked to be the editor, while Braggadocio, with a keen eye for conspiracy has half guessed it, with Maia and others completely unaware of it.

numero_zeroWhile working for stories for the paper, Braggadocio approaches Colona with the story of an elaborate conspiracy, folding piecemeal, involving a right-wing secret terror group/army, and an alternate end for Mussolini, among other things.

Much of Eco’s fictional work centers around losers being obsessed with crackpot/conspiracy theories of one kind or another, and losing track of reality. What rare female characters are there in his novels, typically see through this muddle, but the men are not ready to let go their obsession, even when sensible alternative explanations are put forward, sometimes at terrible cost to themselves, and others. In that sense, Numero Uno is no different, either.

But while Belbo of Foucalt’s Pendulum finally sees the truth when it’s too late, here, there is a sweet twist at the end. Maybe because, Prof. Eco really is tired of writing novels, and wants stop with an end to all controversies (Indeed, the Novel, short in length, does seem hurried and abrupt in the end, and could have been much more riveting, and substantive, had Eco been Eco of few years back. Still, it has its moments, and a typical Eco charm in parts. Also given that it’s his shortest novel, it’s not anywhere near as taxing as his earlier works, so ROI is probably not bad, for the effort. That said, give me Foucalt’s Pendulum any day over this). In the words of Maia, then:

“This truth will make every other revelation seem like a lie. […] As of tomorrow, you can go around saying that the pope slits the throats of babies and eats them, or that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was the one who put the bomb on the Munich train, and people will say, ‘Oh, really? Interesting,’ and they’ll turn around and get on with what they were doing”

When a conspiracy turns out to be true, the truth can become a conspiracy. And people stop caring about either, if they ever did care. In that, somewhat carelessly tossed, stratagem lies the redemption of Numero Uno, despite being less than impressive by Eco’s standard.

 

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Paris, Mumbai, and the Rest of the World

Sometimes I feel words fail us more often than they help us. Then again, when words fail us, the shock makes us remember. So our counting isn’t exactly faithful. We need words to tell us that words have failed us.
 
#ParisAttack seems like a distant echo of what happened in Mumbai, circa 2008. In 12 days it would be a seven year anniversary of those dastardly attacks. Last Saturday, I was in Mumbai, at Gateway of India, opposite the iconic Taj, one of the prime sites of the 2008 attacks. It was the first time after the 2008 attacks which left Taj burning for hours, and those images haunting us for days, that I was there. Standing there, between the sea, and the heritage building, what struck me was that the world hasn’t changed much.
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Mumbai, for sure hasn’t. The freeway, the flyovers, and the metro notwithstanding. I got a mochi to sew my floaters for mere 10 rupees (15 cents?). When I handed him a twenty, still a pittance, he looked at me wearily, nodded, and put the money in his pockets. I thanked him for not thanking me and moved on.

Mumbai is a microcosm of our world. Living shoulder to shoulder are richest and poorest people, plush office spaces and slums. You look outta window of your upper middle class friend’s place to see a row of makeshift houses. You take a ride on the new Eastern Freeway, and see dilapidated housing colonies, a reminder of Mumbai that was, that is.

I’ve never been to Paris. But Paris, people who have been there, seems to touch them in some ways. Especially the young ones. Strike that. The young parts of everyone. There is something intoxicating about a city with never ending night life, art, high culture, and a beacon of intellectualism — whatever the philosophies. Just like Mumbai.

And yet, there isn’t one Mumbai, one Paris. Mumbai has burned due to religious riots many times before 2008. Paris has had it’s share of race riots. They both have their de-facto ghettos. They both are microcosms of our world — opening up at seams to show an underbelly that’s not in line with the romanticism of the privileged. Blast or no blasts. Attacks or no attacks.

The fact is, the world is being hurt everyday on a scale not very different from from happened to Mumbai in 2008, or Paris today. Beirut, Baghdad, just today, for instance. They don’t move us the way a Paris does, a New York does, a London does, a Mumbai does. There is a point to ponder there.

Mumbai bleeds everyday. More people die of preventable diseases everyday, than terrorism on worst days. Our response to terrorism wouldn’t be effective till we let the world let itself down, every day. Day after day. And it doesn’t move us the way the prime time images of a terrorist attack do. No this is not about whataboutery.

In such times, the social networks light up. Out comes analysis. Out come the daggers. Cheap points are scored over corpses not even buried, or burnt.

We let the words let us down. We let the words let the world down.

May we learn to use worlds to heal. We owe that to the world.

We are the word. We are the world.

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Of Slowness, in the Fast World

When someone says about a book or movie that it was too slow, I’m tempted to ask: compared to what? Is there a gold standard of pace for a book, or a movie?

“It is too slow” could well be a judgement on the one passing that judgement. It could just hint at our inability to concentrate, of our lack of patience, our fast shrinking attention spans. Stories have their own pace. Not all can be rushed. Fast paced isn’t necessarily good. Not all subjects can be handled at fast paced. Not many, even. Quickies may have their use, but to recall a controversial ad, asli maza instant nahin hota (the real pleasure is never instant).

No I don’t endorse slowness for the sake of it (although, neither do I criticize it). I’m not saying everything slow is wonderful. But what I am doing is questioning our collective clamoring for everything fast paced. We are, it seems, too bored of nuances. We have no interest in stories that one can’t “tell (it) and get over with, already”.

Long back, the Pune Times supplement of Times of India used to carry a small column by someone (okay hint, he was a bong), I’ve entirely forgotten about, but who I used to enjoy reading, once in a while. Incidentally, it wasn’t slow (who has time and space for slow column in, essentially, an ad supplement). And there is one particular piece of his that I still remember, or in any case the gist of it. He talked about how he noticed a road one fine day, in a way he hadn’t noticed before.

Our lives, rushed and busy as they are, don’t leave us with enough time, it seems, to notice the scenery. So much so that, you could be driving on the most beautiful road, with your spouse, out to celebrate your first anniversary, and all that, and a slow driver in front, slowing you down would make you angry.

Move on, already.

We can’t live in a moment. When a beautiful moment is being extended by traffic, we see traffic, not the moment.

Milan Kundera in his comparatively less well known book, Slowness, serenades with this theme: slowness and memory. He deliberates on the issues of slowness, and speed, coincidentally, using the metaphor of driving.

[T]he man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present instant of his flight; he is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future; he is wrenched from the continuity of time; he is ousted time; in other words, he is in a state of ecstasy[…]

Speed is a form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed on man.  As opposed to a motorcyclist, the runner is always present in his body, forever required to think about his blisters, his exhaustion; when he runs he feels his weight, his age, more conscious than ever of himself and of his time of life.  This all changes when man delegates the faculty of speed to a machine: from then on, his own body is outside the process, and he gives over to a speed that is noncorporeal, non-material, pure speed, speed itself, ecstasy speed.

Have we, then, delegated the faculty of speed to a machine: the big bad machine that we’re part of, the modern living — career, and the monotony of fast-paced living? Kundera laments the loss of slowness:

Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared? Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song, those  vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars?  Have they vanished along with footpaths, with grasslands and clearings, with nature? There is a Czech proverb that describes their easy indolence by a metaphor:  “They are gazing at God’s windows.” A person gazing at God’s windows is not  bored; he is happy. In our world, indolence has turned into having nothing to do,  which is a completely different thing: a person with nothing to do is frustrated,  bored, is constantly searching for the activity he lacks.

When we read a slow book, do we have nothing (better) to do? Do we perceive the slowness because we have lost the art of gazing at God’s window?

And more in the context of the current post:

There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting.

A man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down.

Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.

In existential mathematics that experience takes the form of two basic equations: The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.

This whole chain of thought started because of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. As I deliberated whether to pick it up, I chanced upon a review on goodreads. The reviewer said she was contemplating dropping the book just thirty odd pages into it because the narration was “unbearably slow” (her words, not mine). She ended up giving the book five stars and a stellar review. 

While reading it, myself, I kept on recalling Kundera’s words about speed and memory. Remains of the Day is a recollection of a bygone era. And how do you make someone remember a lost era, really remember, and cherish, and let it live as a ghost that much longer, unless one slows it down to a whisper, or its equivalent in speed. When a child throws a tantrum, we tell him/her that when you shout, you get attention of everyone for a moment, but no one remembers what you said, because it will be lost before you could even speak. When you whisper, by contrast, you may not get the attention of everyone, but those who will listen to you will listen to you with rapt attention till you’ve said what you wanted to.

When you tell a story slowly, unfold it gently, let it seep in into the very being of the listener, let it hang in the air, for the air is heavier than the pace of the narration, when you let it germinate in the mind of the reader … well, it seems you could lose a lot of readers. But whoever hangs around past those thirty odd pages, you’ve got them hooked. Invested in your painstakingly painted world. Spellbound. Enthralled. Mesmerized.

Ishiguro has managed that with The Remains of the Day. Maybe, like the bygone era that it depicts, where life wasn’t so fast, after all, was destined to be relegated to such memories, and that too, meant only for “those few amblers of yesteryear, those loafing heroes of folk song, those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars”, as Kundera puts it.

Those who don’t mind “gazing at God’s windows”. Those with nothing better to do.

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It’s Never Too Late

Sometimes you know you’ve been sitting on an apology for too long. You know it’s futile to even attempt one, beyond a point. Still, it’s important to apologize at a moment when you have the chance, when you have the required courage. You owe it to yourself. Apology is never futile.

It’s never too late for an apology, felt from heart.

Still, don’t wait for the never. It’s never too early, either.