Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sounds from a window

For slightly over two weeks, I have been hearing a man's voice from my bathroom window. It comes from some floor below, and is desperate. For the first few days, all I heard was his pleas to open the door - presumably to his family. At first, I thought I had imagined it. I was alone at home for a few days, and in such times the senses become extra-perceptive to imagined danger.
However, after a while, I could also hear the sounds of pounding on the door. It was certain that the man was caught in a room for more than a few days. I tried to imagine what could have happened. Was he accidentally locked inside the house? But then why did he call out to his family if he knew they were not there? Why does he not phone someone? Perhaps some kids from his family play a prank on him repeatedly and lock him in his room. But how could he fall for it over and over again unless he was very old and the kids very cruel? Of course, amidst all this - there was the most dominant explanation that the family had deliberately locked him in. And if so, there could be only one reason for it - mental instability. If that was true, was it not unsafe to have a potential lunatic living in the building where I spend a lot of time alone in my apartment?
No matter which scenario I expected, there was no excuse for my inaction. Upon confirming with my husband that it was not just me hearing those voices, we notified the guard. His response was equally inactive - he gave us his cell number and asked to be called when we heard the voice again. I have to admit that I did hear these voices again a couple of times, but it happened in the mornings when I was usually running for work, and I did not bother to call the guard. I was more and more convinced that the man hadn't got accidentally stuck in, and that to me diminished the emergency of the situation.
However today, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when the pleas rose again - we called the building supervisor, who seemed as disinterested as the guard. He showed surprise, made some right sounds, and asked us to call the guard on duty. When we spoke with the guard, this one more knowledgeable than the other one - he confirmed what I had suspected all along. Just in the flat below mine, a family had moved in with a mentally unstable old man. This man sometimes ran down, shouted at people, picked up sticks and threatened to beat people up. The guards particularly had had a rough time with him. To avoid this, the family often locked him up in a room.
Of course to hear all this was not pleasant. I felt a strong anger at the family who had decided to bring a madman amongst us. They could never be the right judge of how dangerous this man could get. There would be a high probability that they did not even take him for an examination regularly. Perhaps not in many years. I was also mad at the building society for allowing such a man to live in the building without properly warning the residents. When I rented the place, I had to register myself in the police station and get a clean chit before shifting in. I thought of all my single friends who have the hardest time finding a place in the city which finds their single-dom too risky, and yet doesn't seem to mind madness. Isn't it illegal to keep such a man in a residential building without professional supervision? Is he not supposed to be in a medical asylum?
Apparently not. I still do not know whether there are laws in India pertaining to the mentally ill and the risk they pose to society. What I do know is that keeping these patients at home, often unsupervised, is a regular phenomenon. One of my uncles was a mental patient and he spent far fewer days in the hospital than he ought to have. Another cousin of my grandfather too was 'a bit off' as we called him, but the family's response to him was mostly to ignore him while the kids tried to remain as far away from him as possible. I still remember with dread the few times when these people would visit our place and I would be too scared to open my mouth.
Despite of familiar experiences, or may be because of them, the danger of this man living downstairs feels real. Though I am not worried about him getting homicidal and running after people with an axe (God forbid) - I shudder to imagine running into him in a small space like a lift. Or open the door sometime to him without knowing.
Sometimes, the 'chalta hai' spirit of the city wears me down to no extent. Especially when I realize that I am becoming a compatible specimen.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Reindeer Section - Where I Fall

Gary Lightbody's beautiful voice again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Good Girl

Many times, a good Sunday is all about stumbling on a good movie playing on TV. Especially so if it is a movie you have never heard of. (Which also brings to mind the perils of depending too much on IMDB for movie recommendations. You end up missing some worth-a-watch movies that have not caught the user base’s fancy, or are not great enough to make into an elite must-watch list.)

My lazy Sunday yesterday became better with one such movie: The Good Girl (2002), where Jennifer Aniston plays a bored retail store clerk Justine. Justine has the trapped life synonymous with most of working class – an arid job which she has had for many years, and an indifferent husband Phil, who spends most of his time stoned on the couch, watching TV with his friend Bubba. Because she is bored, she craves for the opposite of her dull life. Thus the entry of a slightly eccentric and aloof ‘Holden’ as a new cashier in the store sparks her interest. Both characters are unhappy with the world, and this unhappiness brings them closer. Justine wants to conveniently keep this friendship as a mild distraction, but Holden is passionate, and insistent – and a flattered Justine gives in. They spend most of the relationship having passionate sex in a seedy motel. However, soon there are whispers in the store, and the Justine who is used to a quiet life, gets unsettled. Holden becomes more mercurial and demanding, sulking terribly when refused one of their secret trysts. To add to the misery, Bubba (Phil’s friend) sees the two of them going into the motel, and blackmails Justine into sleeping with him.
It is a rather well-knit story, in which Aniston slides in perfectly. It is hard to not sympathize with a girl who seems to walk limply beneath her unhappiness. She wants to escape her life, and you can see why. You can’t possibly grudge her this little romance, especially since you sympathized with a far less traumatized Laura in Brief Encounter. But at the same time, she is scared of Holden’s volatility, his youthful irrationality and even more of having to let go of Phil’s indifferent dependability. (He fixes her TV for her, holds her hand when a colleague dies – all the little things that seem to make many indifferent marriages work)
The movie is a work of contempt. Arteta/White (Director/Writer) do not seem sympathetic of the working class – they say as much in the stray characters, be it the Bible-reader Cornie, or the very-perked up Gwen, or the cretin Bubba. They even seem to regard Justine’s boredom and her distraction with contempt, looking at her as a sort of predator on Holden’s youthful passion. Yet, they depict her as a real person, and Aniston makes this person believable – regretful, indecisive, even a little evil and artful. A person, who sometimes, moved by a desire for freshness, is willing to blur moral boundaries. Arteta/White have also managed to get a comic touch in this otherwise depressive story of reality: through Cornie who curses non-believers with hellfire and the weird Cheryl, who is really ingenious in her marketing skills, but mostly with Justine's attempts to control the situation.
If you think Aniston can best portray only the spoilt and fashionable Rachel Green, this movie will certainly surprise you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Proust so amazing! I wonder what took me so long to start reading him. Although the idea of reading all seven volumes is intimidating, I think I will certainly enjoy the dips in memories. Remembrance of things past is not only a remarkable account of remembered life, it also a catalyst for revisiting old memories. Reading Swann's Way (part one) takes me back to some moments from my own life, forcing me to release those memories, churn them and work out what they effected. How they fitted into my child's perception. Perhaps a meaningless exercise, but dusting of some incidents is interesting.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Questions of Travel

Recently read a beautiful poem by Elizabeth Bishop at Five Branch Tree. I share part of it here:

Is it right to be watching strangers in a play in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life in our bodies, we
are determined to rush to see the sun the other way around?

The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?

To stare at some inexplicable old stonework, inexplicable and impenetrable, at any view, instantly seen and always, always delightful?

Oh, must we dream our dreams and have them, too?

And have we room for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity not to have seen the trees along this road, really exaggerated in their beauty,

not to have seen them gesturing like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard the sad, two-noted, wooden tune of
disparate wooden clogs carelessly clacking over a grease-stained filling-station

(In another country the clogs would all be tested. Each pair there would
have identical pitch.)

A pity not to have heard the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird who sings above the broken gasoline pump in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque: three towers, five silver crosses.

Yes, a pity not to have pondered, blurr'dly and inconclusively, on what connection can exist for centuries between the crudest wooden footwear and, careful and finicky, the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear and, careful and finicky, the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
Never to have studied history in the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
And never to have had to listen to rain so much like politicians' speeches: two hours of unrelenting oratory and then a sudden golden silence in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come to imagined places, not just stay at home? Or could Pascal have been not entirely right about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society: the choice is never wide and never free. And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home, wherever that may be?"

The entire poem can be found here.
What is it that drives our wanderlust? Why do we rush from the sea of our city, to enjoy the waves of one 3000 miles away? Or gaze out to the horizon to wonder what lies at the other end? Or even enjoy to just drive out a 100 kilometer and feel respite. Is it simply fickleness? An inability to be part of a constant scheme?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Recapturing the past

I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognized their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life.
And so it is with our own past. It is a labor in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.

- Marcel Proust, Remembrance of things past, Swann's Way