VOID

He lay back on the bed, his big belly protruding rather vulgarly into the space around him, looking outside the window at the garbage dump nearby. He wished the window had shades so he could avoid looking at the scene outside but rains had covered the glass with fog and it was getting thicker and denser by the minute. He let out another cloud of chemical smoke from his mouth and let his large body stretch and relax. A lot had happened in the life of the towns’ richest businessman in the last few months and he had managed to remain in the news quite frequently.

On the floor sat Rosy (what a cliché name, he always thought), the Eunuch hooker to whom the room belonged, she sat there reading a children’s book about alphabets though she was about 25 herself (Rosy preferred the female pronoun. Being a male meant less business). He was one of the few who actually knew where she lived, he was a frequent customer after all ,and one who did not want to be seen anywhere around the Red Light District.

‘You shouldn’t be sitting with a children’s book, it’s a turn off.’ He said with evident displeasure in his voice.

‘I am all but trying to learn how to read.’

He chuckled. ‘And what do you plan to read?’

‘Rene Descartes to begin with, maybe some Baruch Spinoza and some Voltaire as well. But they are the first ones to come to mind, I have a lot of other works on my wish list as well.’

He was dumbfounded. ‘What does any of that mean anything to you?’

‘It means a lot to all of us.’

‘Why should their thoughts mean anything to a lowly street whore?’

‘Ah, it is simply a matter of interest.’

He chuckled again. ‘And what interested you in them?’

‘A man. He would come here very often, the only other person who knew where I live.’

‘He came here to talk about that?’

‘He came here to talk about a lot of things. You see he was a man full of doubts, and this was his safe space.’

‘Quite a place he chose.’

‘I went to him first, to meet him when I first came to this area.’ She continued, ignoring him, ’I was going through hell and the brothel business was a nightmare. I felt disgraceful, dirty, and imprisoned. But I remember what he said to me after listening calmly to my grievances, words nobody had ever uttered before ‘you live and work in an island where you’re not bound by the chains of morality or expectations, you have the privilege to see the true side of humans on a daily basis, the side nobody reveals in public. You might be confined by your physical environment but you are truly free in thought and in word. Nothing you ever say or think will be blasphemous or judged. You are the symbol of depravity and that in itself means liberation. In thought and in word you are the freest soul.’’

‘That’s an interesting way to look at things’ he remarked.

‘Yes.’ Rosy said. ‘He asked me for my address and I at once gave it to him. He would come here very often and talk to me about the doubts that his life brought to his mind. Grave existential thoughts, the kind of doubts that might have had him removed from society and incurred the wrath of people.’

‘What? Why would that happen?’

‘He was a priest.’

He stared back with widened eyes.

‘Stuck in the wrong profession’ Rosy continued. ‘He had read Nietzsche and Voltaire and Spinoza and knew at once what he should have realized a long time ago. ‘A brothel might be a moral graveyard’ he would say, ‘but religion is an intellectual one.’ He lamented over the fact that people came to him to solve the riddles that troubled them, but his was a troubled soul that never could decide if it could continue living the way it did.’

‘That’s horrible.’

‘Indeed. He would talk to me about a lot of things, about society and its people. He was an intelligent man. He would come to share his feelings, never once did he even touch me. He spoke of you once, too.’

‘What did he say?’ He asked, sitting upright in a matter of seconds.

‘He told me about your recent marriage, that you had married the woman you had been cheating on your first wife with. He predicted the new marriage would fail as well, and as luck would have it, that’s when you started coming here.’ She smiled.

‘Ho…how did know that?’ He asked with a frown.

‘’What do you think makes the mistress so appealing?’ he asked me once and upon my admittance of ignorance he said ‘it’s the fact that she is the forbidden fruit. It is only desirable when it is sinful, the moment the wife is gone and the mistress is yours legally and morally, the pleasure disappears as well.’ When I told him you had started visiting me he had said ‘let’s hope he isn’t foolish enough to marry you as well’’

‘Does he still come here?’ He asked after a few moments of silence.

‘He died two weeks ago…’

‘What happened?’

‘…I was present at his funeral, but I left as soon as people started pouring in.’ she continued.

‘I don’t think anyone would have known you.’

‘I still remember the last time he came here’ again, ignoring him completely, ‘I had told him about all the pondering I had done over his words, about my life and my state of liberation. ‘Good’ he had said ‘contemplation is the beginning of any intellectual journey and also what keeps it alive’. I had remarked how glad I was that God made me this way because I wasn’t confined by gender roles either. He gave me a weak smile, but then his face turned grave and serious and for the first time I noticed how old he had become. ‘I don’t think God cares.’ He had said. And then he left, forever.’

 

 

Giving Voices To The Voiceless: Why Tragedies Should Be Given The Cultural Significance They Demand

I remember the first time I listened to Metallica’s ‘One’ from their 1988 classic album ‘…And Justice For All’ when I was 14 years old. It was slightly different from the usual testosterone-pumped hyper aggressive and abrasive music that I was so used to listening from the Thrash Metal stalwarts. This particular song had an atmosphere that was somber and serious and spoke of great pain and tragedy. The song, inspired by Dalton Trumbo’s 1971 anti-war drama ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ chronicles the pain a soldier goes through after being seriously injured when he gets hit by an artillery shell during World War I and ends up as a quadruple amputee with no arms, legs, eyes, ears or mouth.With no senses left in his body, Johnny is left alone with his thoughts as his life flashes in his mind and he reminisces life spent with his loved ones.

Fed through the tube that sticks in me
Just like a wartime novelty
Tied to machines that make me be
Cut this life off from me

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, wake me

-Lyrics from ‘One’ by Metallica

Years have passed since I last saw the music video for the song but I see images of the video flash in my dreams ever so often. The song and its imagery have left a very deep impact on my brain. Which had me pondering, why would Metallica (or Trumbo, for that matter) create something so tragic and disturbing in nature? The answer, I have realized after years of subjecting myself to tragic tales, is to generate that one emotion humanity needs the most: empathy.

Along similar lines is the Japanese animation film ‘Grave Of The Fireflies’ which follows the journey of two infantile siblings- a brother about 8 years old, and his baby sister- as they try to survive in a village devastated by American bombers during WW2 after both their parents are killed and the other relatives become hostile towards them. Tales such as these force you to see things from the perspective of those who we would never hear from. They put you in the shoes of the innocent lives who are destroyed because of no fault of theirs. Yes,they are tear jerkers and are extremely difficult to watch but the experience is always a rewarding one. I paused Grave Of The Fireflies more than 5 times because some of the scenes were too emotionally overwhelming, but the film gave me a new found sea of emotions about the World War and war in general. This is the kind of art that screams for peace by subjecting you to the agony of characters stripped bare of any melodrama, glitz or glam. The deliberate portrayal of characters belonging to middle class families and who lack any interesting personality quirks is a pattern I have noticed in many tragedies. Why so?

By portraying them as normal individuals who let us in on their psyche only through their interactions with others onscreen, we as the audience are left with no choice but to see a reflection of ourselves in them. By making the characters as relatable as possible and not going to great lengths to define them in any way- politically or religiously, for example- you end up making them far more universal. Tales like these make the underlying morals and the overarching story lines their protagonists, and not the characters themselves. As a result, you see yourself in the story. Tragedies thrive on empathy.

The very purpose of any art is to give its audience perspective.It carves out windows in our brick houses and allows us to have a view outside our cocooned lives. The best way to make an anti-war statement is to subject the viewer to the horrors of war faced by its victims.

The film focuses its attention almost entirely on the personal tragedies that war gives rise to, rather than seeking to glamorize it as a heroic struggle between competing ideologies. It emphasizes that war is society’s failure to perform its most important duty to protect its own people.

An excerpt from Grave Of The Fireflies Wikipedia page.

Immortal Technique’s Dance With The Devil from his 2001 album Revolutionary Vol.1 is another masterpiece that comes to my mind. The song speaks of a black/latino character named William. Raised by a single mother who works very hard late into the night to ensure her son gets a proper education and a respectful career, William eventually succumbs to pressures of the Ghetto lifestyle and chooses a life of crime instead. To seal a spot among fellow gangsters, he decides to showcase his skills as a cold hearted criminal and plans to gang rape a woman he and some men find walking alone down a street at night. An intoxicated William covers the womans face with a shirt from behind and beats her up brutally and then proceeds to violently rape her with his comrades. When they finish, it is up to him to decide what happens to the woman who is a witness of the crime and he chooses to kill her. With a gun in his hand and a smile on his face he pulls back the shirt covering her face only to realize that the woman they raped was his own mother.

She looked back at him and cried, ’cause he had forsaken her
She cried more painfully, than when they were raping her
His whole world stopped, he couldn’t even contemplate
His corruption had successfully changed his fate
And he remembered how his mom used to come home late
Working hard for nothing, ’cause now what was he worth
He turned away from the woman that had once given him birth
And crying out to the sky ’cause he was lonely and scared
But only the devil responded, ’cause god wasn’t there
And right then he knew what it was to be empty and cold
And so he jumped off the roof and died with no soul
They say death takes you to a better place but I doubt it
After that they killed his mother, and never spoke about it

(Excerpt from the song ‘Dance With The Devil’ by Immortal Technique)

The song, with its beautiful poetry and raw language can send shivers down the spine of any listener. Immortal Technique then proceeds to deliver some of the most beautiful lines of poetry I have ever come across:

The devil grows inside the hearts of the selfish and wicked
White, brown, yellow and black color is not restricted
You have a self-destructive destiny when you’re inflicted
And you’ll be one of god’s children that fell from the top
There’s no diversity because we’re burning in the melting pot
So when the devil wants to dance with you, you better say never
Because a dance with the devil might last you forever

The lyrics not only highlight the horrors of rape and intoxication but also the sorry plight of Ghettos and the African American and Latino American communities. The song also hits a philosophical and moral note by speaking of the ills of taking ‘shorcuts’ to success.

I feel tragedies are underrated by society and many people actually look down upon them. Be it Darren Aronofskys Requiem For A Dream which chronicles the descent into oblivion of 4 lives when all of them become drug addicts or Lars Von Trier’s Breaking The Waves which shows a mentally handicapped woman struggling to find acceptance in society or Eminem’s song ‘Stan’ from his album ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ which tells the story of a fan who is so obsessed with his music that he ends up killing his pregnant girlfriend after Eminem fails to answer his fan letters (inspired by Eminem’s well documented hatred towards his wife who apparently cheated on him) or Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday, about the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts which captures in the most brilliant way the anger of both the communities and the resulting bloodshed; well executed tragedies always manage to leave a lasting impact and give the audience enough fodder to empathize with the marginalized and the wronged and quite possibly alter the viewer/listener/readers perspectives about society. It comes as no surprise that the Nobel Prize for literature this year was awarded to an individual who spent most of her life documenting the pain and horror of war and its impact on humanity.

Regrets

I was standing near my room

Early morning, looking for you

We had had a fight the previous night

I wanted to say sorry to you

It was still your fault

But now it just seemed too trivial

There were people in the hallway

Standing in groups and talking

In a mumbled buzz

It was 3 am

And my head was swirling

I just wanted to find you

Hold you and take you back with me

So I took off from the hotel

There were people in groups everywhere

I didn’t approach them

You were the only thing on my mind

Finally I reached the beach

More people here, more groups

And a louder buzz

My head began to ache

There was panic in my heart

I paced to the shore still pretty drowsy

That’s when I saw you

Lying on the beach

People all around you

They pulled the white cloth off your face

You had the same clothes you wore last night

Someone said

‘So sad, wonder why she did it’

‘Someone heard her quarreling last night’

I collapsed with a thousand thoughts swirling in my head

Wishing all this were a dream

A bad dream on a beautiful beach

Walk Through A Park

He stood on the pathway
And glanced as far as he could
Happy people, happy children
Playing in the wood
Dressed in a long coat
A hat and a scarf
His face was concealed
Leaving only his eyes
He looked at the children
Laughing, running, playing
Their laughs won’t last long
He saw adults
He saw poison in their smiles
Dirt in their thoughts
Human termites
He walked on
Every step bringing him closer
To the world that had discarded him
They had scarred him
And now they stared
Long stares
Not concealing their discomfort
They threw him out of their perfect world
And now looked him down
The loner, the recluse
They had scarred him
He saw two kids fighting
Their parents trying to stop it
No use
They’ll be fighting the rest of their lives
Against the very world they were born in
The world that will reject them
And then scar them
He didn’t remember much of his childhood
Except for hiding from people
Trying to conceal his ugly
They had scarred him
The park was to make him feel good
But it reminded him of misery
Of hollowness and hypocrisy
Of dark thoughts behind fake smiles
Of people who live happy…
Tears in his eyes
They scarred him
A girl stopped by
She saw his face
Her eyes bulged
‘How did you get those scars?’
He walked away

The Stranger

I was sitting in a room
Alone, and it was raining
The mood was melancholic
Sitting quietly in my bed
Feeling sick of being depressed
I looked up and saw a stranger
An old man, sitting on my bed
He was pale and ugly
And dressed in filthy rags
His face spoke of frustration
His eyes of cynicism 
His head was an abyss
Full of darkness and depression
Arsenic thoughts and cyanide emotions
The apocalypse was his fantasy
Humans he despised
He spoke only of misery
Anger, rejection and lies
As I stared at this abysmal creature
I felt disgusted yet attracted
He was sucking me into emptiness
He seemed strangely familiar
I felt dreary…

A moment of happiness
A lovely memory stopped by
Or a loved one’s call
And I was distracted
A smile broke across my face
I glanced back at the edge of my bed
The stranger was there no more
All I could see instead
Was my reflection…