Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The necessary titillations

The basic instincts..
The price we pay for being civilized, orderly, and decent and law abiding members of society is that we have stopped doing several things. We don’t go around carrying axes, spears and clubs beating each other to pulp for flimsiest of reasons; we don’t steal each other wives or husbands because we desire them physically, we don’t migrate from territory to territory scourging for food and water; we don’t give into our instincts that are essentially mammalian and sometimes carnivorous, and dutifully yield to rules that we don’t necessarily agree with but nevertheless abide by; we exercise our appetites to the extent that it doesn’t infringe on our neighbors freedom, taste and preferences - I can keep racking up a thousand things that we all love to do, but do not , for the simple reason that for us to live together we have imposed upon ourselves certain restraints for common good. I am in perfect agreement with this arrangement, until we realize that as Human organisms we are driven by needs shaped over millennium, and there has to be adequate substitution or transference of instinctual and encoded behavior taken away from us by our laws and regulations, and that we need to give vent to pent up forces through some means if sanity needs to prevail in society. It is that simple. Greeks and Romans invented games (sometime bloody) only to channelize this raw pent up physical energy that would otherwise flare up as violence and anarchy (Read Anthony Burgess’s “the clockwork orange” for what happens when moral barricades break down and violent erupts), and similarly there was never a period in recorded history when mankind did not have some kind of graphic props to bolster his sexual appetites. If both these appetites are not in some way satisfied, appeased or reconciled – then let me tell you, we are in some trouble.
Now let me talk a little about sex. It is a very basic instinct, embedded deep within our genetic codes, whether we like it or not (chances are very high that we like it...) And if is not allowed to exercise its natural libidinous license in the way it should be, then at the very least we must provide for alternate avenues, less predatory and intrusive – for it be dissipated. Otherwise it would end up creating havoc within. This was precisely Freud’s stunning discovery at the turn of the last century. Every documented age in history had its Vatsyana’s and books and manuals of conjugal bliss. Thank god for it!!! because, If not for their palliative influence, most of mankind would be running around half mad, possessed by this bubbling desire that stirs within an adult breast at certain age of physical maturity, and runs unabated until the body reaches decrepitude. No matter how hard we try (as a society) to push it undercover for whatever reason we chose to, there is nothing in this wide world that can completely obliterate it from our bodily life. This is the stark truth. And any kind of sexual stimulant that aids in its non- intrusive consummation is good. And as long one uses and enjoys its liberating intoxication within the confines of one’s walls – I don’t think anyone should have a problem with it. Also I do not believe anyone who takes the moral high ground and claims that they are never sexually aroused when they see a physically attractive fellow human being (I include all kinds of sexual proclivities in this generalization). It is either a downright lie, or they are ashamed to admit so in public. The second reason is more probable and all of us know why ( rigorous indoctrination of right and wrong, good and evil) ; and it is precisely because of this immaturity that as a civilization we are so closed and prudish about sexual attitudes.
I am not an advocate of pornography, but I cannot unequivocally dismiss it as morally reprehensible either. It has its uses. The question is: are we mature enough to understand its proper place in our lives? Where we look at picture in a magazine and ogle over it, or watch two bodies gyrate sensually to a rhythm on screens, or read a book that explicitly describes sexual maneuvering - what is that we are triggering or attempting to achieve by these titillation. Only a harmless fulfillment of a bodily need that cannot be satiated otherwise in organized society. Literature abounds with works that reflect double standards we set ourselves on this important and indispensable need. I was recently reading Nabokov’s path breaking work of fiction “Lolita”, which if not for his peerless and ecstatic language could easily be classified as porn (In fact, many still believe it is porn). Humbert Humbert’s pain, frustration at not being able to ravish his young “nymphet” Lolita strikes a faint resonance in all who reads his confession; and so would DH Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s lover” evoke in us a sense of forbidden love and illegitimate physical union. And what is “fifty shades of grey” all about, if not a blatant acceptance of modern day flippancy on sexual trends. It has sold more number of copies then dickens and Jane Austen. My point is this: Pornography becomes a matter of concern only when regular channels of appeasement are closed and one starts depending upon it for survival. And like anything else, there is an inner discipline that should tell us at what point the fantasy world of Porn begins and reality halts. There is every chance that a few will misuse it, and will go astray invariably crossing that thin boundary between acceptable and intrusive. But that shouldn’t become the benchmark for judgement for and against it. The other day, I was flipping an old copy of Kamasutra that I happened to buy in a second hand store; an admirable translation by Richard Francis Burton. What a magnificent read. The language, prose and intense sensuality of his rendering elevates the art of love making to mystical heights. I wish every porn aid is made in that tenor and intent. Well, that is wishful thinking, but nonetheless worth aspiring.
The reason that triggered this essay is that in the recent past, the Indian government toyed with the idea of prohibiting pornography over cyberspace; only to quickly realize that such an act is nothing short of foolhardiness in a technological enlightened society. I am not sure what the government was thinking when they decided to impose this rule. Over the last year or so, the newly formed legislature seems intent of focusing on issues that seems least important to me. In my class this week, an American colleague asked me “Hey Bala, don’t you think India has bigger problems than dealing with Porn?”… I could only say “Yes” and nothing more. America has legalized Porn. It does not seem everyone tunes into it studiously every day evening as entertainment. Democracy is a difficult experiment, and India needs to understand that sooner than later. With increased globalization of work place, Young Men and Women are returning to India questioning a lot of traditional values and boundaries, and unless as a nation we start accommodate them in all embracing manner, there would be increasing uneasiness and distrust. I am not sure if such flimsy announcements are part of larger dogmatic religious Agenda, or is it just one of those odd things that someone cooked up all of a sudden. Whatever the cause, I am glad that the Government withdrew this prohibition quickly enough.
Some things in life cannot be controlled by laws and decrees. And sex and violence are two of them. If laws were all that were needed, then we would have achieved utopia right long time ago. History vindicates that at best, we can legislate to provide barricades or scaffolding, but it is up to the individual to rise above primal instincts and evolve into his full potential as a reasonable Human being.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

"A Single Man" - the loneliness of separation



"A Single Man" - the loneliness of separation
In the annals of Gay relationships in twentieth century, none had more transcendental quality, artistic flamboyance, endurance and perfect affinity than the celebrated romance between Novelist Christopher Isherwood (1904 -1986) and painter Don Bachardy. They met memorably for the first time on a moonlit evening in 1953, on the pristine beaches of Santa Monica, California. It was coincidentally Valentine’s Day as well; Isherwood was then 48 years old- a celebrated author, poet and a renowned translator of Indian spiritual texts; and Don was an 18 year old boy, fragile, lonely with mellow green eyes studying to be a painter. The fire that crackled between them on that cool windy night was never doused for the next 32 years. It physical, emotional and intellectual heat abated only when Isherwood (86 years) died in Don’s arms in 1986, after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer, and the embers of those last few months were immortalized by Don through his unbelievably poignant, candid and solemn sketches of an aging and dying Isherwood. Don continues to live and work from their house in Santa Monica even today. What makes this relationship so special was its endurance amidst grave turbulence. Isherwood was already a celebrity when this relationship began. Not only was he a peerless novelist with works like “Berlin stories” and” Prater violet” among others critically acclaimed and well received; he was also well known in Hollywood as a literary collaborator; and more interestingly Isherwood was an ardent advocate, evangelist of Vedanta (Non-dualist Philosophy). His translation of the Bhagavad gita and other major Indian spiritual texts, biographies of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda did as much to bring east to the west as much as his close friend Aldous Huxley’s books did. Don, on the other hand was nobody when he met Isherwood. All that he possessed was tender heart, a painter’s eye and a deep emotional connect with his elder friend. Despite the yawning difference in age, the two men found solace in each other’s company. Their days together was perhaps the finest example of how two individuals, no matter what sex they were, can bring out the very best in each other. Isherwood continued to produce some of his finest work during this period, and Don blossomed as an artist in his own right. They lived, fought, cried, danced, studied, slept and grew successful together as only two Humans beings deeply in love and respectful to each other can.
In 1964, Isherwood published what perhaps is his best novel- “A single Man”. It is his shortest piece of work. The book is about a single day in the life of an English professor (George) in Los Angeles, who contemplates suicide, unable to come to terms with the untimely accident and death of his friend and lover eight months earlier. He is pictured as an intelligent man, well settled, highly respected teacher, who had spent the last sixteen years of his life in intimate companionship with his Male Architect friend. It is not mere physical intimacy that bound them together, but something beyond it. Intellectually, emotionally - both of them were at peace with themselves and the world outside. It was, in a sense, an idealistic love that transcended gender. And with his sudden death, a void, a meaninglessness sets into George’s life. And exasperated with loneliness and self-pity, he loads his gun in preparation to shoot himself after bidding necessary adieus. Isherwood’s writing achieves an incandescence when he describes the inner life of George. The terrible pain and weight of depression as George prods through the day jumping in and out of present and past, slipping into a stream of consciousness that struggles hard to make sense of each sensory perception unfolding during the day, bringing himself to believe that life is not worth living without Jim (his deceased friend), and descending into pessimism that penetrates the veneer of sophistication - Isherwood, it would seem was writing about his own predicament. In fact years after the book was published Don mentioned during an interview that Isherwood conceived this story and wrote it at one go, after a domestic feud between himself and Isherwood, and what he wished to achieve in this novel to was to find out what it would mean to live without Don.
I spent the last two paragraphs setting the context only to talk about a wonderful film adaption of this book made in 2009, featuring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. The film was directed by Tom ford - a reputed fashion designer for the house of Gucci, Perry Ellis – and this was first directorial venture as a movie maker. It is quite unbelievable that Tom chose this book and its theme for his debut. Greater directors would have floundered or would have thought twice before touching a subject of such sensitivity and inner depth. The entire movie was filmed in Los Angeles in twenty one days. And this was possible only because the movie only needed actors with prodigious talent and a director with inner eye of perceptivity. The film had both in abundance. I couldn’t have imagined anybody else in the role of melancholy George than Colin firth. Movie aficionados need no introduction to his ability. In the first ten minutes of the film, when George receives a phone call announcing the death of his friend, and the caller politely informs him that he is not invited to the Funeral service (for reasons all of us know), Colin Firth displays a sadness, an overwhelming pain bursting through fa├žade of dignity, finding words difficult to come by, tears welling up but not willing to roll down - yet maintaining composure and poise till the end of call, before he dissolves into uncontrollable pangs of sorrow, runs frantically in his night gown with rain lashing down and gusts of wind blowing against his face, knocking at the door of his longtime friend Rebecca (played by Julianne Moore) and collapsing into her arms in remorseful abandonment. This scene alone was enough to convince us of a genius at work. In every frame, Colin firth maintains a dignified, well-groomed poise carrying immense burden and disillusionment within. One feels sorry for him. And also, in an amazingly sensitive manner he brings out the tenderness, intellectual ripeness and emotional stability that a relationship can give, and what happens to an individual when such solid props are all of sudden taken away. It is a performance that earned Colin Firth an Oscar nomination. Tom ford, as a director and script writer took some liberties with the novel; but did not allow those changes to corrupt the essence of the story - in fact, his deft touches enhanced it great degree. Juliana Moore as Charley, George’s longtime friend has a minor, yet significant part to play. And, as usual, Ms. Moore elevates her little supporting role to a high pedestal.
The other important of this film was it incredible background score. The fact that this movie was able to reach an emotional depth that it did is largely due to the haunting strains of music composed by the Polish Composer Abel Korzeniowski. In fact, at some point during the film, I found myself listening more to ebbs and flows of violins, flute and Cello so meticulously arranged and executed than the action on screen. Abel’s orchestration often starts with a few strains of violins playing a low note, and then slowly picking up tempo to reach a crescendo and harmonic synthesis with the emotion enacted on screen. His musical score reminded me of Philip Glass’s magnificent effort in “The hours”. Both of them have a unique blend of classicism that lends itself to a variety of interesting interpretations.
“A single man” then, in my opinion, is a confluence of various aspects: A beautiful true relationship between two individuals, a lovely novel, great artists, and above all - a mirror that reflects human society in its various manifestations. Like any great piece of art, the movie is sprinkled with existential questions and no answers traded. Art is always open ended. It has to be, otherwise it is just temporary intoxication with no lasting value or transformation. It has to provoke the beholder to reach an interpretation that matches ones intellectual maturity. And a true classic will always keep throwing up new angles, fresher ways of looking at life- and therein lies the difference between commercialism and sublimity.
Watch this movie, if you care for art…
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala