Friday, April 25, 2008

In the mood for Love

This is the first Wong Kar Wai movie that I have watched (except for an abortive attempt at 'Happy Together', where the graphic homosexual love scene in the beginning surprised my expectations of a romantic movie), and it left me very impressed. And though I am a little ashamed to admit - moved.

It is a story of a man and woman living in adjacent quarters who discover that their spouses are having an affair with each other. Jarred with this discovery and loneliness, they try to playact the relationship of the other couple, to understand the relationship, and become attached to each other.

It is a sad and dark movie, exceptional in its technique and appears very ethereal, as both characters look untouchable, going on with their lonely routines. Even when they begin to talk to each other, their conversation is like the conversation in Last year at Marienbad, disjointed and repetitive. In a few places, through repetitive scenes, the fleetingness becomes more pronounced and depressive.

What I loved about the movie is the idea of playacting. The movie tries to put the two characters at superior moral grounds to their spouses - since they are the ones abandoned, and are still trying to stay loyal to their marriages. However, the whole idea of play-acting, meeting in secret, hiding in a room, etc is very sinister, and not as innocent as it appears from looking at both of them. And I eventually was puzzled by this need for repression and the obligation to stay committed to their marriages which were already void. Why would you stay tied to a communion where the other half has flown away, other than to prove a point and appear superior. Which, to me, is more vulgar than following instincts.

The movie is quite full of art, specially supported by its background score. It is artful in the use of different camera angles, a diffusing light, repetition of sequences, and putting together of different shots together to make it appear like one scene (which is one thing I had really liked about Marienbad - I think Wong Kar Wai must have been inspired by the French movie, though I did not come across any mention of this fact)

It was however the last scene of the movie that really made it my favorite and is responsible for the 'moved' bit - when the man goes and buries his secrets in a hole in some ruins of Cambodia. He looks so incredibly lonely and isolated in that scene, and you just feel sorry for all the waste.
I think moral uprightness is highly overrated.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Readings

I have been inactive on the blog for a long spell now. Part of it was boredom, part laziness. Have not been doing much in the last few days except for a couple of trips here and there, the latest one being Nepal, which was quite remarkable even though very different from what I was expecting. In the last couple of days have also been remarkably busy with my new iphone, which has kept me jumping and busy. (Oh it is the coolest device to have ever come out!). It is on this new lease of life that my enthusiasm has returned and I am back to blogging.

Amidst all this activity, have managed to read a few books that I found quite interesting and others which were really the greatest contributor to my ennui. Some from my reading list:

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin: It is a story of homosexual love, but more than that, is a truly artful narration of guilt, selfishness and the absolute freedom of being in a foreign land. I loved the language and the frankness of the writer, his ability to draw the perceptive feel of Paris which is both dear and alien to the narrator. Even in the few pages of it, you feel the darkness and sourness of Giovanni's room - which lives with you for sometime.

Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Sagan: Both Giovanni's room and Bonjour Tristesse are part of the Great Love series by Penguin, which seems like a very promising series - though equally elusive, since I have been unable to find the remaining books, except Seducer's diary which for some vague reason I have not been inclined to pick up. Anyways, I quite liked this slim novel, again for its clarity, frankness and captivating depiction of the life of hedonistic boredom. I was unable to quite see the parts in it that shocked France. Most likely it was the youth of the writer, combined with the surprising clarity with which she deals with the vanity of her age. But still shock is too strong an emotion for a country that I associated with hedonism.

Dead Souls by Gogol: This is part of my Russian Literature education series :) I don't think Russian literature can even begin to emerge without the reading of this book, which was just brilliant. I haven't read Pushkin, and this is the oldest I have ventured in the genre, but I can already see in this book the formation of the unique narrative style of Russian masters, which is not found in any other literature. They talk you through the characters and the story, never themselves vanishing from the work or working behind the curtains. Dead souls is very critical of the Russian and Russia, and is also replete with a characteristic humor. I totally loved it, especially the first part. In the second part, the script gaps were a little disconcerting, but it was easy to see where the story was going. I think I should regress to Pushkin now - specially since Gogol was so enamored with him.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: This is another great classic. I had started it two years ago and left it mid-way, and now on reading it again, am quite unsure as to why I did that. It is certainly engrossing. Even though it is a tale of misery, and reminded me terribly of 'How green was my valley' (Incidentally Ford has made very good adaptations of both works), I liked it for its transient nature and mobility. In every moment of reading it I felt the sense of impending doom, so much so that when the doom did come, I was left a bit unsatisfied with its stature. Despite all the despair in the story and the lives of the Joad family, there is a ring of resilience and stubborn hope which keeps the work alive.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth: I think I am quite sick of the American song and its much emphasized much hyphenated dream. As if Hollywood has not given this abhorrent self-love and self-glory enough stage, there are writers like Mr. Roth who want to underline it again. I hated the drama and the filmy story. The characters were inconsistent, and Roth did not quite know if he wanted to make this into a tear-jerking soap or a serious novel. Anyways he hung in between and managed to annoy me quite substantially. I was disappointed because this book was in the Critics list of Modern library, and I had not had yet come across complete disasters from that list. There is always a first time.

The Gathering by Anne Enright: I think the Booker has gone overboard in rewarding the absurd this year. I simply hated it - so much self-love and drama that is fit only for the room of a therapist. It is from works like these that you can learn how to make the most ordinary childhoods abused and the most normal families dysfunctional. Going by this yardstick, every person I know is likely to end down a river. The language was good - but what are good words placed in a poor context?

I am also reading Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain off an on. It is slightly of the style of Sebald's Rings of Saturn and Chatwin's In Patagonia. I am taking it very slow, because it is quiet and lazy, and relates Xingjian's travels through the mountains and villages in search of the mountain of soul.Unlike the other two who travel alone and meet ghosts and people, Xingjian has created his own companions - a 'you' and a 'she', sometimes a 'he' joins them too on their long journey, and the effect is interesting. A lone traveler can only have thoughts, but a traveler with companions can tell stories, pose questions, delve into memories, relate to the places, tease, dramatize and make the place come alive.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ennui

Going through infinite sheets of boredom where almost nothing seems to be interesting. Have shelved the books I am reading, after futile attempts to sieve through more than 5 pages of them at a time. All movies seem to be either utterly dramatic or utterly cliche.
Even tried watching a TV series - having faith in their complete mindlessness in general - but the overkill of ideas in 'Triangle' did almost nothing to help.
May be it is the approaching summer. Or may be it is the continuous playing of No Ceiling in the background. Either way, I am desperately seeking ideas to get back on my 'occupied' existence.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Across the other world

In general - I hate flights. The more I am dependent on them for the evil reasons of work and the affinity to travel, the more they horrify me for their crummy, crammed, loud, uncomfortable and disturbing demeanor.

This weekend, hoping to cure myself of this distaste, I decided to travel aboard the much advertised A380. As I got in, it did look promising - a little more space and a much bigger and brighter screen. I threw a customary glance across at my neighbors. No kids in the closest 2-3 rows. Thank God! It seemed like a good start - at least not a positively bad one. (Don't get me wrong, it's not like I hate kids. If people could keep them at home, absolutely steered clear of my vicinity, I think kids would be lovely. I could also perhaps occasionally tolerate them if they were muted and did not put on their smart, cute or the perennial-apple-of-the-eye acts).

However, as I looked at the immediate next seat, a small wrinkle did appear on my forehead. For sitting there was a Pakistani couple. The husband looked alright, but the wife just seemed eager to break into an endless torrent of conversation at the slightest chance. I immediately took my seat and immersed myself in a thick Gogol. Thankfully, it seemed, the husband was sitting in the middle seat and I was thus relatively stacked away at a safe distance.

Within a couple of minutes, it was obvious that my concerns were not in the least unfounded. At some moment, the well made-up wife opened her mouth, and absolutely forgot to close it thereafter. Come to think of it, it is a miracle that her mouth should have been closed up till that point. The husband, who seemed much older than his wife, added to the woes by replying to her torrent very occasionally with a heavily accented Oh yeah!'s, Awright' s and Thasite Mite's (It took me a while to figure out that he was trying to say 'That's right mate' with the last one). I tried hard to concentrate on the book, and absolutely resolved to not look into that direction and make even the slightest eye contact, for that could be fatal. But the couple was seriously loud, as most people from our side of the world are wont to do - and try as I might, I could not escape her enthusiasm about Sydney (from where she was coming), her complete disapproval of the husband's friends, even her concerns about whether her husband will bring her back to Sydney or leave her in Pakistan yet again! Mixed with all this was their constant bickering, her dislike for the flight food, their loud laughters over the hindi movie Dhamal, and her strong objections to the husband looking askance at the flight attendants every once in a while.

I was just hanging between that acute annoyance and a slight gratefulness for the buffer of the husband, when suddenly things took a morbid turn. The husband decided to answer an ill-timed call from nature. As he left, I held the book with a stronger clasp - but as I rose up to let him pass, a flicker of my glance did somehow meet hers, and I knew I had opened the gates. I immersed myself in that heavy tome, even though it was not particularly interesting at just that point, but it turned out to be a useless defense. Immediately the words were spoken that would dislodge my isolation for the rest of the journey: where are you going? That's how it began. That's how it always begins, and then goes on endlessly to traverse an unwanted, partially predictable territory.

Within a minute of the conversation, she had already asked me why I did not have kids and was horrified at the idea that it could be a voluntary choice to not have them, told me how desperately she wanted children, especially since her husband already had a son from his previous marriage and she had lost a child to jaundice, and how every child in the cabin was so adorable and cute - especially the Chinese one. Before I knew it the conversation (which was remarkably a monologue, filled in sporadically by my polite nods) turned into an autobiography, a travelogue of Sydney, a shopping report, and a round of twenty questions - all in one! I desperately waited for the husband's return - but there was no escaping this friendly chat. The woman so enamored with a different ear, nudged the husband to the window seat and thrust herself in the middle seat. And launched again. Sometimes, I tried to escape by hiding myself in the book, but each time she canceled that effort with a cutely posed : 'Aap novel padh rahe ho?', looking a little hurt and then trying to connect her next sentence haphazardly to my meekly worded 'Yes'.

But in a little while of actual listening, I realized how naive this woman was.Naive for having spent so much of her life in a restrictive small town where no one spoke English unless they were very rich (as she told me), for getting on a plane for this first time in her life, for meeting different kind of people, for seeing a new place where no woman covered her head. She wondrously kept referring to the Australian women who could walk around the beach carelessly in bikinis, and was even a little awed with me for being a career woman. With a transparency that I could never adopt - she chatted about her insecurity over her husband who was foretold to have three marriages and she was only his second wife, and about her strict mother in law with whom she was going to stay now - afraid that the husband will leave her in Pakistan to attend to the mother and return to Sydney alone.
I can't say I began to like her, but was a little touched by this benign banter that was devoid of malice. For the rest of the journey, I gave up my resistance and did contribute to the conversation beyond the nods, and she seemed to be pleased no end with it. As the plane descended, she became a little sad and disappointed that we had to part - almost like a child who hates to part with a fish aquarium he has only recently come upon. I bade her goodbye and walked away smiling at the child-like innocence.
She lives perhaps less than 3000 km away from me, and yet my life seems far less in common with her than the lives of women who live continents away. The distance between us, perhaps is not that of kilometers but of times, and that, surely is a much wider gulf to fill.