Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Smorgasbord: Ismat Chughtai, Come Here, Dead Ends

Last year I had decided to incorporate the works of eminent female authors of Indian origin into my reading list, the ones beside the predictable list of Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and Kiran Desai that my generation identifies with. I started with the novels and memoirs of Kamala Das and Indira Goswami. I began 2013 with the short stories of Ismat Chughtai. They are unabashed, titillating, disturbing, provoking; they tell about the underbelly of conservative and orthodox households, about lost loves, about the lives of women from various nooks of the Indian society, and about the relationship dynamics in large households. In the anthology I had bought, there were stories about a dejected wife who embraces the devotion of the female servant whose rough hands massages her creamy white back and legs, and lets the servant do questionable things to her under the dark cover of a quilt every night; about a rogue Englishman, with  a glass eye, who stayed back even after India gained independence and tentatively tried to start a family with his Indian maid, under the mocking eyes of the very people he ruled; about an adolescent widow outcast from the household when the heir of the family impregnated her; about the lost years and love of two passionate individuals who never gathered the courage to confess their feelings; about the a pampered daughter-in-law plagued with the grief of serial miscarriages and the fear of her husband's remarriage, witnessing the ease of birth of a child in a moving train; about how the craving for restless soul soured once it was possessed and tamed; about a tortured painter's obsession with the thin line between pure innocence and veiled provocation of his subject. Ismat Chughtai is unconventional, hence unputdownable.


Love songs crowd the playlists on my phone and iPod. But the one I always return to sometime in the course of the day, is Kath Bloom's 'Come here'. There is a scene in the movie 'Before Sunrise' when Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are in the listening booth of a music store, and this song starts, the words of which says what remains unsaid between them, and the subtle longing in their stares, and the wondering in their hearts, and the anticipation of what is to come. The palpable thrill of the unsaid. I'll never tire of this beautiful song.


When you take the open road towards the unknown, with nothing but naked hope, you are wary of taking more than a few hesitant steps each day. When the sun shines on you and the fog around that obscure destination clears up a little, your gypsy feet tread with joy. But sometimes you wake up to an unfamiliar and hostile terrain surrounding you. Reason tells you to turn back before it's too late, and you stand awkwardly, helplessly, not knowing what to do. The worst nightmare is to realize that you had been walking towards a dead end. You cry not for the lost time or the lost hope; but because walking back on your now weary feet would take so much longer. 

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