Right there in front of my eyes does the light of my world keeps evolving into shades that I have always been left to register. I have found it tough to open up. As I hold on, shades vanish and hues devolve so as to match changed backgrounds. Honestly, on occasions I have felt abandoned and left to wonder if living in the world is akin to fighting a battle where one never belongs to an army or to a group where everybody else is ready to lay their lives for the slightest of cause that is dear to you. The army however, as it turns out, is always there for the opponent to support and the team, ever willing to ditch you on its promises. It is unacceptable to my humble spirit that a universe that promised sustenance to my existence could choose to be this partisan against my stakes. What is beautiful however in this injustice is the fact that unruliness does exhibit a pattern. I am not the only one. Millions others before me have and after me shall have to brazen it out, though not as successfully or terribly as I have. Things around me – squalid objects, toothless images and mobile technologies speak of a desire that makes them succeed in acquiring indispensability. I refuse to lend a ear and to learn. That’s what I have come out to be. I am no different!
As a little girl Ill at ease with the tenderness of her age ran across the road I saw in her running into me a rage of perplexity. A bag she carried clung to her frail bones, eyes had sunk deeper into the underfed face and the palms faced me in the crotch. Left to wonder if she was trying to avoid being run over or running into a stranger, I reciprocated with a gesture. The older woman behind her made note of the conversation and pretended being indifferent and preoccupied with her own errands she was out for.
I met the girl again later in the evening in my moment of recollecting all that had transpired through the day. She reappeared as the same malnourished bony creature bereft of a sense of health and affluence. This time around, her hair browning in the sun, the logo on the shirt she wore and the pleats on her skirt too rose in my thought. Mindless as it was thinking of her, I found myself ruminating aloud of education, abdication and adoption. What would the city, the school and the books do to her? Leave her alone or drag her into the grind. Will she be the older woman walking at ease behind her or will she grow into a caged sparrow always in need of unneeded attention and artificial affection?
It has been a while that I crossed a road. Had crossed a railway track as a child on my way to school. That was an initiation for me into the belief that one is ultimately left to fend for oneself. I wish to preach. Preach to the little girl. Preach health, reading and a lot of freedom. It would be difficult to find her at the moment. If I do later, I might just be busy crossing another path. Roads choking with vehicles are quite easy to walk through. Sparsely sprinkled with little girls are not. Vehicles don’t come home with you. Little girls do.
What happens to an epic such as Ramayana in the age of globalization and technology? We know well by now of the new lease of life that the epic received with its televised avatar in the 1980s. Shubha Vilas the author of this new series on the same epic seems as fascinated by the tale of Rama as so many other writers and artists. His project reminds me of the great works of Hindi novelists such as Narendra Kohli and of Amrit Lal Nagar. Going by the blurb of the book under review, the narration is that of the ‘riveting drama of Rama’s exile‘ and is aimed at teaching us ‘how to handle reversals positively‘. The book is a sequel and is the second part of a series that the author wishes to complete. The nine chapters of the book are organized according to the sequence of events as outlined in Valmiki’s Ramayana and other regionally popular versions such as Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas and the Kamba Ramayana.
The book makes for a not so smooth reading. Vilas writes while facing obvious difficulties of translation. His language in the book is colloquial and at times quite informal. Vilas seems to be in a hurry to address a modern audience that in his view does not care so much for the poetics and details of presentation as much it cares for the ultimate product that can be quickly read and done away with. Take for instance the scene from the first chapter where Dasaratha has had a bad dream. Vilas calls it a nightmare–
“Between his delusions and his consciousness, Dasaratha realized that he was in fact fighting two monsters- the monster within and the monster outside, Everything had become a big blur. Which of these two monsters was he fleeing from?“(p.2)
Another instance from the book dealing with the Kaikeyi-Manthara episode where he writes:
“Kaikeyi was disturbed by Manthara’s constant babbling. She said “Don’t go in circles or mince any words; just speak clearly, without fear. What’s on your mind?” (p. 86)
It is not that one gets merely a sense of ‘loss’ in this translation, one also gets a sense of an imposed contemporaneity as far as an attempt at adapting the text for a new age audience is concerned. It ends up sounding like a desperate bid to make the epic sound fashionable and hence marketable. Instances abound where the flow of sentences is interrupted by words and terms (read expletives) written in ‘quotes’ which do not add to the quality of the tone and tenor. Despite these weaknesses, the innocence and the personal attachment and admiration of the author for the epic is amply visible throughout the text. It would have turned out to be a much more enjoyable read had the author spent some more time reflecting on the readership that he wishes to generate. Ramayana in my opinion cannot merely be a new age self-help book bereft of its music. It has to necessarily have a magical rendition to it for there lies its real character. Reversals of fortune and ensuing problems in life may well be addressed by reading about monks who sell and do not sell their Ferraris. I don’t really know much about those things. Coming back to the question that I ask in the beginning I have this to say- what we have come to call the era of globalisation and of new technology, is an era where frivolity goes unnoticed. The epic is bound to lose out substantially on its aura and beauty!
As beings lacerated in thought, throwing up our judgments of the world at it, we can’t help seeming pitifully ridiculous. Our predecessors were content with a handful of what we have in gazillions. Intellectual achievements today are too many to be even bothered about. A Socrates grins in eternal sleep at the contagion he unleashed. It bites into the discontented soul and induces ugly utterances-the hyperbole as we shamelessly tag it today for matters of favour and convenience. I waste my acumen being ecumenical in ideas and belief. To my mind, life isn’t one truly lived if it does not aspire for the universe in its undecipherable oneness. To surrender to its easily graspable diversity is plain mediocrity. And that is to be merely very kind of me. Loathsome putrefaction of integral analysis may be checked for the universe to be regained. Quite a bit of it has been silently slipping away while we relax relieved of the burdensome reason that philosopher smiles about!
The common themes in both of these very well made Alexander Payne films are old age, the superficiality of human (read familial) relations and the ugliness that we have, bereft of options, increasingly come to celebrate as the ordinariness of everyday life. Payne brilliantly succeeds in unraveling the layers that comprise this ordinariness. Having watched these films, I found myself reflecting over the cinematic consequences of such an attempt. I am not sure if Payne intended to turn it sad and sour in the end. Despite being ‘light’ films, they end up leaving a very unpleasant taste. The images that persist are of sagging chins and balding heads, of jammed knees and of smelly underarms and of poor dinner tables and bland soup. The protagonists in both the films- Jack Nicholson as Schmidt and Bruce Dern as Woody deliver excellent performances and in doing so make us look inward into the crevices of our familial and professional lives. No prizes for guessing that we see only make do arrangements all over. What disturbs the most is the dumbness and the stupidity with which one goes about rejecting one permutation of sociality over other equally painful combinations. Be it divorce, moving away from parents or choosing a new lover, one is always face to face with hope and despair in equal measures. Roaming about the city and the urban neighborhoods in Omaha and Nebraska with these old men- sick of their wives and dim wit children and with a loathing of the treatment the world has meted out to them post retirement, we get to see the meaninglessness of self-imposed obligations that shape the entirety of our lives. Both the films have a number of characters that do little to repose our faith in the ideals of personal and social responsibility and in virtuous conduct. What guides their behavior is instead selfishness and a go with the flow attitude that is hilarious and yet extremely irritating. Mulroney’s act as the mediocre sales rep specially left me wondering about the trajectories that lives of people like him follow. Not that those of people like me would be any better. Overall, these powerful films leave their mark. They mirror very truthfully what and who we are today and force us to suspend judgment and go back to celebrating once again how ordinary have we all become. Watch them in a series if you haven’t already. They are very ordinarily impressive. Congratulations to Mr. Alexander Payne!