Monday, October 17, 2011

Hills

“Mod”, the movie I watched this weekend. I had always been a Nagesh Kukunoor fan, enraptured by his simple storytelling in Dor and Hyderabad Blues.

Loopholes and unwanted subplots abound; there is an unimaginative “Mod” (turn) in the story, and few sequences were rushed and repetitive. But I didn’t want it to end.

I wanted to keep watching the sun peeping through the misty mornings of the charming hill town of Ganga, waking up to steaming cups of coffee, the unhurried existence, rides up the winding mountain roads in an old bike, the quaint clock repair shop, the delightful “Kishore Kumar fan” father, the fun and assertive aunt, the girl wooed by poems and poetry and the tender love story bloom. The movie had so many elements that I liked and wanted to see more of, but sadly they reached a plateau a bit too soon and got lost in the cacophony of the titular “Mod”.

But I would watch this poetic fable again, despite shortcomings, for it’s a Kukunoor film and he delivers some of the charming elements I looked forward to. Just like I would keep returning to every Pamuk novel, even if certain pages get tedious, because of the familiarity of prose that speak directly to me; I would return to “Mod” again.

The hills did it for me.

I explored another small hill town, Shillong, in the book I had been reading in stolen pockets of time over the past fortnight. Shillong had always been a favorite weekend getaway, owing to its proximity to Guwahati. The unruly rain that disobeyed all weather forecasts, tree-lined paths, frosty mornings, the old world charm of cottages and churches, the buzz of the market selling shoes a size too small for me, the cafes and eateries with impromptu performances, the rock music fans, the kwai chewing gentle souls, the undulating hills, waterfalls and brooks veiled in lush greenery; I had been a good tourist and fell in love with all these long ago. I never gave much thought what it would be like to live in Shillong, the town that held strawberry pie bake-offs, skinny dipping contests on New Year’s Eve, and has created generations of people who breathed music and religiously held Dylan concerts. I never wondered what it’d feel like waking up to the cold, invigorating air and a foggy breath every morning of my life. Or what it would be like to walk the rain-washed, grey pavements on a regular basis; will the rain depress me? Will the pine trees smell equally enticing after I rest under their shade for the fiftieth time?

I had been born and raised in the plains, where the pollution and dust to greenery ratio escalated every year. I need a Shillong break every year, but will the small town charm captivate me for a longer period?

I found answers in Anjum Hasan’s “Lunatic in my Head”. The book had piqued my interest because of the author’s origins in North-East India. The prose is subtle, poetic and rich. It follows the lives of three individuals who are strangers yet are bound to each other through acquaintances, circumstances and destinies. They lead parallel lives with events ranging from joyous to that of disgust, occurring almost simultaneously. The central protagonist is the small town of Shillong, how it binds them, shapes their destinies, creates in them a desire to escape and finally their reconciliation to their place of existence.

There is Firadaus, a thirty something lecturer who is entangled in her world of completing a PhD thesis on Jane Austen’s work, a young Manipuri boyfriend, an orthodox grandfather and submission to living her entire life in Shillong. The second character is Aman, an IAS aspirant, who feels Roger Waters writes songs inspired by his letters to him, and has a group of rock enthusiasts for friends. He loves a Khasi girl for whom Pink Floyd is just another band and this depresses him, along with his IAS preparation, his aloof parents and his own timidity. And there is eight year old Sophie who loves to smile when her parents smile, and convinces herself that she must have been adopted. Her world is about a mother who was pregnant a for a tad too long, a father who hopes for a job to fall into his lap, a kind Khasi landlady and her disturbingly provocative son, her school and the constant need to please Miss Wilson, her novels and the character of Anna.

These three lives are entwined subtly, each individual unaware of each other’s presence till they intersect for a brief moment once. The narrative is compelling and experimental, and the characters and subplots are well sketched out.

Nothing extraordinary happens in small towns, cocooned from the rest of the world, moving in their own unhurried pace. This happens in Shillong too. This happens to Firadaus, Aman and Sophie too. Nothing extraordinary happens, there are no twists and turns. The monotonous existence, the claustrophobia that brings about a longing to escape, the love of familiarity and fear of unknown that binds the residents of such towns to it; all such emotions are well-depicted in the book. Emotions, landscapes, individuals all come to life in Hasan’s vibrant prose. The melancholy of this small town that tourists overlook is palpable throughout the narrative.

I loved the book and highly recommend ' Lunatic in my head'. The hills had done it for me again.