Saturday, 29 September 2012

Love Stories

I pointed out The Bridges of Madison County to my friend at the bookshop.

Friend: "What's it about?"

Me: "It's a love story."

Friend: "Why bother?"

Me: "It's a love story that doesn't work out."

Friend: "Why bother?"

He didn't say it because he didn't care. He said it because he did bother, that too, too much. I remembered vividly the sense of helplessness and melancholy that the book had left me with.

Why bother, really.

One can perhaps answer  the question in a hundred different ways. But my favourite is one that I had read long back, written by a woman whose wisdom I've come to appreciate fully as I have grown up.

Because to write a love story requires a special kind of bravery. At least to write one that is any good. You make two people meet, you make them love each other, then you make them laugh or cry, depending upon how your mood is. And it all get read by people, who can, with exceptions, be categorized into two groups.

One are those who have, or have had, their own love stories. You embellish your story, make the couple go through everything from disapproving parents to an alien attack and let them live happily ever after. Or you make a grocery list of all the ways they are perfect for each other, and then let last year's stock markets keep them apart till the next lifetime comes around.
But whatever you do, nothing impresses these people. For them, it is always their own that was the most beautiful. It's no use arguing. When you see their faces when they tell you their story, you know that they are right too, yours is no match. Every single time.

The other group, the polar opposite, are the ones who haven't had their own stories yet. And guess what, you can't impress them either. No matter how mundane, how "life-like" or how "based on a true story" you make it, even the simplest descriptions will look over-dramatic to them.
Again, it's no use arguing. You ask them to tell them the biggest thing that has happened to them. Then, if you have a love story, compare that theirs. You'll see that they are right too, yours is too dramatic. And from their view point, too dramatic to be true. Love always is. Every single time.

Perhaps that is why we bother to read a love story, specially those of us who fall in the first group. Because we know the pitfalls of one. Because it lets us validate our own. Because one can never write a love story. One can only live it, for a day or a lifetime.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Reading a Hemingway


 Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." 
-For Whom the Bells Toll

My first brush with Hemingway came before it should have. I picked up The Old Man and the Sea from the old neighbourhood bookshop (the kind that still wraps them up in brown paper). I was ten. Fair enough, I understood very little. But there was a haunting sense of melancholy that did make a lasting impression on me.

My next was For Whom the Bells Toll. I was more matured and more receptive when I read it, and boy, did I love it! I loved the fragmented style of narration, which jelled so well with my own thoughts. I loved how there was a certain kind of innocence juxtaposed with violence. And I loved how you could live a lifetime in three days.

Another was Indian Camp. Short, simple, and again the juxtaposition of innocence and violence.

The latest is A Farewell  to Arms. Brutal, realistic, tragic. It has the lyrical quality that life achieves without needing music and rhyming words.

The reason I keep re-reading Hemingway is the way he portrays everything without either sugar-coating or demonizing them. He doesn't need to. He stays true to the colours. He calls the bluff on hypocrisy and lets mundane things show their grandeur through mundaneness itself.

People are battered, broken, destroyed. And yet they move on, they survive, they allow their cynical selves to hope again. And that, is life in its full glory.

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