“It takes one to know one. The question is, do you have it what it takes to know me, whatever that means?”
Circa 2006. Bob Dylan is trying to speak some sense into me. He is advising me to stop being a rolling stone. The brightness of my computer monitor is screaming into my face. A dirty keyboard is resting on my lap, and I’m expecting it to turn into a grand piano any moment. Feeling hungry and blue. Hoping for a revolution, or at least a revelation; but expecting none. Maybe the pages that follow will grant my wish.
Before I let words start pouring out of my mouth like streaming bullets out of a Khalashnikov, let me provide a statutory warning. The piece that I have intended to write is my autobiography, though I would prefer to call it an anti-autobiography. This is because, it will contain my story without evidence to corroborate what I say. After all, it is my word against mine as long as I do the writing…and the thinking. However, do not have any grand illusions from the author ‘cos if ever there was a no one, then he is one. So if you are as jobless as the author is, you are advised to park your brain (size doesn’t matter) at the nearest kerb and start reading the crap that is about to follow. And if you are not, then kindly use your good sense and act accordingly.
I’ve always been me. Or so I was led to think by this god-damned mind of mine. But the truth might be a tad different. The single most potent truth is that my name happens to be Shubhajit Lahiri…oh well, screw it, who the hell cares!
Twenty-two years might seem a long time. Ask any captive and he’ll succinctly explain it to you. But it hasn’t seemed too long to me. Maybe it’s because I learnt to appreciate time much later by which time a significant portion of that time had passed. It’s a long time nonetheless.
1984. 2006. Take any calculator, and ya’ll know what I’m blabbering about. That’s twenty-two years for you. In the meantime Soviet Communism turned Chinese, Berlin Wall was breached, the twin WTC towers were grounded by a bunch of Afghani hooligans, a bald-headed guy headed twice and head-butted once while a buck-toothed fellah managed only the former sometime in between, India earned the dubious honour of being home to billion members of the human species…well, the list can go on for a couple of pages. Though thanks to a Bill Gates, there’s isn’t any dearth of space, but I’ll save you all the crap and come straight to the point – yours truly was born and has went on to spend a couple of (not very fruitful) decades on the planet often referred to as earth.
Since this is supposed to be my autobiography or something of that sort, I can’t expect others to do the dirty work for me – supplying dates and incidents to prove my credibility. Facts can often be boring, and I’m sure you won’t care any more than anyone else as to when I became a two-limbed creature from a four-limbed one or for that matter when I first learned to conjure up improbable situations and have a good time with myself. Truly speaking I couldn’t care any more than you about such trivial occurrences. So I’ll skip the details.
Sixteen years before the third millennium, sometime on the 28th of October, a cacophonic wailing was heard at a private nursing home, I presume, to the sheer delight of a lady and a man. Incidentally they are my parents, and only they’ll be able to explain the depth of their joy. I’d rather not play with your tear-buds by trying to explain what a memorable event this was. I was too small then to feel any joy. Consequently I don’t feel any sense of nostalgia either.
I won’t lie about my origins as I’ve nothing to hide. I’m a Hindu Brahmin, whatever that means and anyway I don’t give a horse’s arse as to what entails being a Brahmin. So, even though technically I am a Brahmin ‘cos I’ve had my sacred thread ceremony (for the uninitiated, that’s the Hindu equivalent of baptism for Christians, and well, circumcision for the Muslims), I never feel like one. As coincidence would have it, my mother tongue is Bengali, though I could easily have been French, Japanese or for that matter, Tamilian. Biologically speaking, I’m a male and I’m not open to any debate on that front. I’m not as farsighted as I should be (once again biologically speaking), so my specs act as crutch for me.
Though I’m now old enough to tell a mighty tale out of my sucker of an existence thus far, it was not always so. After all, one doesn’t just end up being twenty two out of nowhere. A time machine might have made matters much simpler. However I’m completely unaware if any mortal has been able to realize the dreams of Messrs. Wells and Einstein. On second thoughts it doesn’t even matter a freaking penny ‘cos I ain’t got enough printed paper to pay for such ostentatiousness. So, understandably, I had to endure (though some may prefer to go for ‘experience’) every moment that went on to be a part of the whole.
However before I manage to arrest anybody’s attention with my life story, though truly speaking it doesn’t have enough crap to really catch anyone by their lapels, let me first give a brief picture of myself to all those unfortunate people who never got to meet me in person. The first thing you’ll notice is that, well, I’m a guy, and I’m sure you won’t need to have x-ray vision of Mr. Clark Kent to realize that. The next thing you might notice is that I wear specs. Though I’m far from being blind as a bat, my normal vision will not earn me any kudos from the house physician. So I’m forced to employ my twin-lens as a two-legged crutch rather than a twin-engine chopper. I happen to be fair – not as in fair and lovely, but as in skin colour. However, let me refrain from going into any detail on that front lest any psychoanalyst misconstrue my statements and call me a racist.
I am moderately tall by Indian standards. I guess that can be extended to few other country standards as well. I am broad by, well, any standards. However, a surrealist would observe that the earth has greater attraction for me than many others ‘cos gravitational force (read – attraction) is explicitly related with weight. I have everything that any normal male belonging to human species would have, both external like fingers (yup, that one too), limbs and torso, and internal – though I wouldn’t be able to confirm that right now but I sure feel that I am not missing out on anything inside my skeleton. And if ever a poll is conducted to rate looks, I would get only as many votes as any Regular Joe would get. Even if that turns out to be a conservative analysis, I assure you I am not being modest. So people look at me only when they need to. After all only a blind or a hopelessly vain person would speak to you staring at the sky.
I’m sure you have understood by now that I ain’t no superhero (read freak) out of Marvel comic strip. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, ‘cos I am just another guy residing on this planet, or more specifically, in India. So if you had been patiently waiting to know more about some alter ego of mine, I am happy to disappoint you. And neither do you get any cookies if you had realized long back what I explicitly stated above.
Now let me tell you what I have learnt so far. Apart from the fact that India is a country and Pakistan is its neighbour (yeah I know, even at the risk of sounding overtly jingoistic, that was an age-old juxtaposition of good and evil), I have become aware of quite a few other things. In the same way that I didn’t have to consult the geography textbook used during my school days to know about India and Pakistan, I don’t need to read Kama Sutra to know what love, and well, sex means. There are certain things that one doesn’t need to be spoon fed.
Love, as abstract and unfathomable might the word sound, is as close to the proletariat as it is to the poet. Consequently a poet may compose a stirring ode to the bounties ushered by even the faintest brush of love, even someone belonging to the working class can appreciate and even detest the virtues and vagaries of love. I do not belong to either of the two groups ‘cos I lie sandwiched like a sausage somewhere in between. However, like any other fellow member of my species, I too know a thing or two about this famous and at times infamous four letter word.
I have had crushes; but somehow, despite not so valiant efforts by me, I also managed to remain healthy and uncrushed. And then I made the fatal error (figuratively speaking) of falling in love. There comes lot of times when odds are firmly against you and your agent would strongly advise you not to play into it. And you refrain from throwing in your hat ‘cos you know he is right. But then ask any poker player and you’ll know there also comes times, few as they might be, when one plays his card even though he knows that he is playing against the percentages. He does it not because he lost his rationale, but because he can’t help doing it. It’s like reaching a cul-de-sac and yet you aren’t allowed to turn back ‘cos there are bloodhounds waiting at the other end.
So I fell in love, and I fell hard. And know what, it wasn’t my ass that suffered because of that fall. Another place and another time, I might have shown better sense. But then, as I said, it was one of those times. It’s another matter that I still haven’t managed to climb my way up. I am thus like the chicken for slaughter who knows sooner or later its going to be his time. Or perhaps, returning back to the poker analogy, I’m like the player, who even though he has everything to lose, plays his last card and goes for broke; but he realizes a tad too late that his trump card was actually the weakest link in his armour. On second thoughts he could have played safe and escaped unhurt, but then in life, as in most things, second thoughts matter little after you have won it all or lost it all. I too played my card, and then I realized I wasn’t a poker player in the first place. But then, I guess, I’ll survive and hope I still have an ace (or two) up my sleeve.
Talking about love, I’m reminded of lust. Now lust is as interesting as love, though not as abstract. I happen to be a very ‘normal’ male, especially by Indian sensibilities. Consequently, you might find me happy at times, and sad at times; but I solemnly assure you, you’ll never find me ‘gay’. Now, once I start talking about lust, after a while I might start loosing control of my internal censor board and end up violating the Indecency Act of Indian Telecommunications. So I’ll save that part of me for a more appropriate time and place. A typed sheet written in legible English and observable to many is hardly one.
Friendship – that’s the final chapter of the trilogy of human relationships that are not tailor-made in advance, rather develop on the course of one’s journey that is life. We the humans deserted the jungles and started living in societies long back. At least I live in one ‘cos I ain’t no Robinson Crusoe. It’s another matter though that even Crusoe had his Man Friday. Acquaintances, thus, are inevitable; but friendship – not necessarily so. I too have made a large number of acquaintances and a few friends. I am not a very social creature, but I know a friend when I see one.
The most amazing part of this earth-bound bondage is that no two friendships are alike. There’s one person with whom I can share the intricacies of my personal love for female and films like with no other. There’s another person with whom I can speak and talk and chat without a care for time and space. There’s a third person who is such an uncomplicated being that I can inject humour in the simplest of activities and topics. There’s a fourth person who has such profound belief in me that makes me wonder at myself at times. There’s a fifth who is so close to me at times and so distant at others. Twenty years hence I do not know what friendship will mean to me even though I might still know the meaning of friendship (no pun intended). I only hope that at such a time I won’t have to taste bitter water in a smoky joint while admiring the design of the glass container all the time.
Now you might want to know which schools I attended and what all subjects I studied. You might also want to know what I learnt and what I did not. Statistics act as great levelers, but at the end of the day they hardly matter. So I’ll continue to abide by the rule that I formulated for this piece – I shall not bore you with facts even if you want to be. I am not much into rules and regulations, so I have decided to truly surprise myself on this present occasion.
I’ll say you this, I have had two alma maters so far. As a kid I did attend a third institution (that is figuratively speaking ‘cos literally speaking it was the first). But apart from its name and its interior design I don’t have much to remember it with. So I’ll stick to the following two that came chronologically one after the other – school and college. Names hardly matter; so I’ll stick with the general terms without illuminating your holiness with sugar-coated specifics.
I started attending school at a young age; though, as coincidence would have it, so did all my school mates, barring maybe a few exceptions. For a civil engineer our school might represent just another fine piece of construction. The owners of the school might have earned a few bucks (times a large factor), which I presume they still do. But the joys of life almost always lie in the small inconsequential details. Similarly, our school was more than a stone façade for me. Every single component – the class rooms, the blackboards, the playgrounds, the teachers, the students, and even the trigger happy principal – they all played enormous roles.
I was a naïve blue-eyed kiddo when I first stepped into the edifice. When I left through the gate for the final time, I was a matured young man. More than a decade passed in between. That’s hell of a long time. A few years here and there and you’ve got a life sentence in an Indian penitentiary. But the walls, however insurmountable, and the discipline, however unbearable, could never obliterate the simple truth that the school and the various ingredients that it comprised of made a lasting impression on me. These impressions are not visible on a mirror because even the ultimate Saint-Gobain mirror would never succeed in providing a reflection of our soles.
My college is as different from school as cheese is from chalk, though I choose not to opine as to which is what. To start with, more than a thousand kilometers separate the two. While the former took my forefinger and brought me closer to myself, the latter shook me by my sleeves and advised me to take a step or two away at times. And, in contrasting styles, both have captured a huge piece of my heart and a large chunk of my brain.
College life is as great as it differs from school life. The academics exist, so does the attendance. But the similarity ends there. For the first time in my life I was free of petty bondages. Living in hostel isn’t exactly living at home; but then, neither is the reverse true. Each resides at its place. College life didn’t just teach me new means of ‘bunking’ class and having fun (as in having fun, and not as in being on a high), it enabled me to have experiences – ranging from trivial to terrific – which are difficult for me to elaborate and impossible for you to comprehend. Neither one needs to be a religious symbologist nor a conspiracy theorist to know what I mean. The only prerequisite, I feel, is that he must not be an outright stupid. But then, as Forest Gump might have enlightened you, even fools have the ability to feel and treasure stuff. Who knows, I might just be another faceless fool in the teeming crowd or a joker in an amusement park. As Dylan once complained through a song of his, there’s a fool on your left and a joker to your right. You might recognize me if you bothered looking one way or the other.
You know by now, provided you had enough patience and ability to digest bull-shit, where I studied and what acquaintances I have made. So now you know how I got to be what I am. Well, if you indeed have, do send me a note ‘cos I myself haven’t managed to figure it out. However on second thoughts, don’t bother lifting your posterior up from the cushion beneath, as I seem to be better off not knowing stuff that I haven’t already. As some like-minded guy has said, where ignorance is bliss, better remain one.
How can this piece, if ever there was one, be complete without mentioning what I like and what I don’t. However since the latter would easily outweigh the former, I’ll stick to the liking part. But I won’t give myself carte blanche since there might be things which I might not want you to know…hell, which you too wouldn’t want to know. I’ll stick to things which will not titillate the high sense of ethics of the many moral polices (read constables) who reside in a country of exquisite morals and high ethics called India; people who have taken upon themselves the pious honour of undertaking a crusade against scum like me whose brains are far more polluted than the `holy’ water of the Ganges. It’s another matter though that given a gun, I would have blown their heads off without having to answer to my conscience as to the reasons for my committing such un-Indian acts.
Like a normal guy I like listening to music, watching movies and reading novels, though not necessarily in that order. On this present occasion, I have made this assumption that being normal entails that he is not deaf, blind or illiterate. The United Nations might beg to differ on my definition of a normal guy as it might put their noble acts in jeopardy, but right now I’m in no mood to be preached out of my seemingly Rightist stance (though I solemnly assure you I ain’t one) by any tough sun of a gun.
Talking about something as abstract as music is indeed a difficult task. I am no Tansen or Beethoven, so you might feel my words would lack credibility. But then, in all probability, so would yours. So let me not procrastinate and take the audacious plunge. I have ears, so I can hear sound. I also have a developed human brain as I’m led to believe, so I can discern between music and noise. I agree I am no connoisseur of any form of art, leave alone music, so I won’t wear the garb of one. But I’m entitled to my views and my right to opine, which the makers of the Constitution have bestowed on its hundred crore population.
I have far more respect for people who have the ability to put words on a blank sheet and then turn that into a music piece even though they might not be able to sing like a ‘nightingale’ (pun intended). So a songwriter is far more talented than a crooner who simply employs his (or her) vocal cords to make a song audible to everyone in the audience. Consequently, an Anjan Dutt or a Bob Dylan or a Paul Simon or a James Heitfield or the Lennon-McCartney duo, to me, represents music, while the Lata Mangeshkars of this world are no different from a postman, delivering an already composed piece to us. However that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t listen to a Frank Sinatra or a Manna Dey song being aired on the radio. I sure appreciate a mellifluous voice when I hear one. Anyway, just for the record, I like rock, metal, folk, folk/rock, ballads, country, jazz, soul, blues, acoustics, instrumentals, R&B, and a bit of heavy metal, pop, punk, hip hop, rap, retro, Latin, techno-fusion and western classical. I abhor acid because, like superman, my ears are not attuned shrill noise, and dislike Indian classical, as it has, with all due respect, the uncanny ability to lull me to sleep.
If I say I like cinema that would be an understatement. Apart from chick-flicks and soppy song-and-dance tear-jerkers a la Karan Johar, you give me anything and I’ll gobble it up. Yes, I’d unabashedly call myself a cineaste, even at the risk of being lampooned by the intellectuals, and a cinephile, at the risk of being lambasted by the conservative elders. Consequently Taxi Driver, Pulp Fiction, Casablanca, On the Waterfront, Fight Club, Gold Rush, Aranyer Din Ratri, Nayak, Calcutta ’71, Sholay et al have provided me with joy and wonder in equal proportions, while Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Veer Zara and the likes make me realize that the good, the bad and the ugly must all be allowed a place in the sun.
Once upon a time I was like the average movie-goer who watches movies to be entertained, for whom watching the movie is as enjoyable as a packet full of popcorns. And then, a single book, and a not too thick one at that, written by one of the great geniuses of this field – Satyajit Ray (who I like to call the single greatest genius of post-independent India), brought about a drastic transformation in my perspectives vis-à-vis the movies, in the process leaving a lasting impression in me. For me, cinema stopped being just a source of entertainment. It suddenly attained the ability to be called one of the two or three greatest forms of art. In fact, no other form of art has experienced such meteoric growth, has touched so many millions, has associated with it such a huge business, has necessitated so much labour and has incorporated so much science and technology as the medium called cinema. From the German Expressionism to the French Nouvelle Vague, from the Italian neo-realism to the American film noir, from the Soviet montage to the Danish Dogme 95, from the Bombay dream factory to the New York underground movement, from the arthouse and avant-garde to the mainstream, from Spielberg to Scorcese to Tarantino, cinema is one hell of an invention. And I, for one, am sure hooked onto it like wanderlust in the journey of a lifetime. Films have captured my heart and liberated my soul.
And, finally books, which completes my trilogy of arts. Incidentally, this happens to be the second, and fortunately final, trilogy of sorts being mentioned in this piece. Now I haven’t read Cervantes or Chaucer or Homer as yet. I’ve just about had glimpse of Shakespeare, Dickens and Tagore. So I’m sure you’ll agree, as I myself would, of the three arts books are the one I’m least qualified to blabber about. But I’ll blabber nonetheless.
I like reading. I have read trash and I have read some real classics, underrated though. In fact, my version of a classic would hardly make the list of “100 Greatest Books Ever Written”. But then I don’t read books that are usually employed to act as designer labels in one’s book-shelves – in the same capacity as the rich people use Armani and Omega to prove to their fellow human beings that they are indeed rich. Rather, I read books that I can personally relate to, books that act as a shadow of my life or that of my many alter-egos. I like books which are intense, I like books which are lyrical; but I don’t like books which try too hard to please me or try to titillate my tear buds. I’m not yet as unscrupulous with books as I’m with films; perhaps because unlike films, which I can watch objectively, more often than not I get subjectively involved while reading books. I’m not saying what I do is right; I’m saying that what I do isn’t wrong either. Maybe things ought to change, maybe they will, maybe they won’t, I am not promising anything – at least not to the bum typing this gibberish in the name of an autobiography. The crux of the matter is I like calling myself a bibliophile, irrespective of whether you qualify me as one.
I have told you more about myself than I ever intended to. In case you feel I haven’t told everything that is there to know or I haven’t been brutally honest, you are absolutely right. After all, where’s the fun in revealing everything? An air of mystery and darkness makes this effort of mine all the more worthwhile. I am all that I have told in the electronic pages above. But then, with all due respect, I’m much more than that – more than you will ever know, and perhaps I will ever tell you. And anyway, in life, as in many other things, the total is often greater than the sum of the parts. Sounds clichéd? The fact is I deliberately used an overtly hackneyed statement ‘cos at times an overused statement as that can be more eloquent than something that might otherwise seem more original.
But life, as they say, will go on – i.e., assuming I don’t get hit by a truck first thing tomorrow morning. I’m an atheist, so I won’t say “god forbid”; but I hope I end up living longer than that. I hope, by the time I start composing an obituary for myself, I succeed in forming views and opinions on more than just a few stray things here and there. It’s another matter that I don’t need to hope anything ‘cos if I live long enough, I’ll surely have formed opinions on various things to say the least. So wish me long life at your own risk. Either way, I’ll say “god bless you”; I was just speaking figuratively ‘cos I’m still an atheist.
Circa 2007. Silence pervades me. Deafening silence, as the famous oxymoron goes. The New Year had promised me lots. But that’s okay, ‘cos that’s one trend I’m completely used to. Simon and Garfunkel have just sung to me the sounds of silence. There’s an eerie tranquility in the air. And suddenly the combined team of Metallica has broken my peace. I have been caught by my collars and made to realize the ever-pervading necessity to turn the page whenever fate stops playing the harp of time, or my fingers rebel at the grand piano that is resting on my lap – the keyboard. So let me stop.
p.s. in case you managed to devour every syllable of this self proclaimed magnum opus of mine, I’m sure you’d have realized by now you’re none the wiser for it. And if you have skipped words and/or sentences while your fingers moved the scroll bar down, I must admit you are one hell of a smart ass. Just remember one thing, it’s either my way or the high way. And do me a favour, save your monologue about my alleged autobiography for some other time, unless of course you think it calls for verbal champagne. So amigos, goodbye, au revoir, adieu, adios, auf wiedersehen, tata, and my favourite of ‘em all, so long sucker. Meet you in hell ‘cos that’s where I’m headed to.