First, came this (on Highway). Then, we read this (on Nebraska). And now, this new post – another film, another personal connect, and another journey. This time it’s about Vikas Bahl’s Queen and why Svetlana Naudiyal could find a personal resonance with it. As the saying goes, Not all those who wander are lost. Read on.
I don’t remember being so happy after watching a Hindi film in a long time. It’s as though I am few beers down. I saw it yesterday, and the smile refuses to leave my face.
Her cardigan, her fading Mehndi, her awkward dance moves…the flashbacks…the dancing like crazy but carefully tucking the cardigan in her handbag…the gradual changes in body language…the Alice in Wonderland pullover…Golgappe, Salt and Pepper, Hostel, irrelevance of languages…the list can go on. The several little things, and the lovely whole.
Life needn’t always be particularly traumatizing. You might not have a rich, cold, cruel family; you might never have a heartbreak that turns into Rockstar-dom. It’s easier to tell the black to white story of a somewhat melodramatically traumatized/damaged character, and difficult to go wrong there. But some films still do. It’s not that easy to tell the story of a very ordinary girl from your neighborhood, it’s not easy to catch the greys. There’s a doting happy family, a comfortable life, and you know for a fact that the heartbreak can soon be forgotten. Eventually a new proposal will step in, and the bygones will be bygones, like it happens in real life. Queen’s situation is barely a speck in the universe of the so called Emotional Crises of the International Concern. Internal conflicts of the unconscious mind, particularly those of an unremarkable, ordinary person, are the least appetizing of all stories.
For telling the story of the internal misgivings, and telling it so well – seemingly insignificant, seemingly simple, a king-sized hat tip to Queen!
I am nobody like her but there’s so much of me, and many others I know, in her story. What do we call it – The unsaid understanding of the lone travelers?
For the last few hours, I’ve been sifting through my own photos, scribbles, email drafts from the trips. If there’s any poetry or meaning in life, it’s traveling. That’s it.
Salinas Drive, Cebu, Philippines. I was inhabited by the chaos of that street. And I loved it. In that chaos, all my noisy selves came to the fore, talking, asserting their presence. Nothing under the sun could stop them anymore.
For very long, of the several people I was and I could be, I was just being this one person. I was clueless, lacked confidence, suffered from low self-esteem, sought approval from everyone but myself, and to top it up – I was confused (which is an alright state to be in otherwise but not in combination with the aforementioned symptoms). I was stuck in a Mangrove swamp and had no strength to realize and admit that I was. All this when all my life, prior to this particular phase, I had been a strong, independent person.
To put it simply – my brain was a mess. I was not even the protagonist of my own life. I didn’t like myself and instead of acknowledging it, I would go overboard with pretending to be fine, sorted and in complete control of what I was doing. I believe staying away from home teaches you that – ‘How to pretend that everything is alright or will be alright soon’. Folks call and you tell them everything is good. (It’s been a decade away from home and I must admit that at this kind of lying, I can quite often defy the mommy sensor!)
Friends could see the mess, but my pretense confused them as well and in turn no one raised an alarm or even a question for that matter.
It was nothing short of a miracle that Philippines happened, and saved me. Through some odd coincidences, I got a freelance assignment at a first time documentary festival in a city called Cebu, that required me to be there for 6 weeks.
I can confess this now, perhaps. And I hope my parents won’t be reading this. Until I reached Cebu, I had no clue what the job entailed. Broadly speaking, and this was the story I told everyone, including my parents – I was supposed to help set up the festival, programme and also take a short course on organizing/setting-up festivals with a batch of film-making students. I didn’t even know if I was appropriate for the job but for once in life, I gathered all my selfishness and jumped at the opportunity headlong.
The organizer person I was interacting with seemed shady, neurotic and hyper, which I later discovered wasn’t an exactly incorrect observation. Her ex-associate on the project – an Indian, was shadier – she had conceived and subsequently abandoned the project, was constantly unavailable or lying about her whereabouts, her work. The organizer inviting me was facing allegations of intellectual infringement on the event concept. Google told me all this and i didn’t even bother to crosscheck with the organizer. My travel, stay, food was on them, and I thought that was enough. I was also promised an alright remuneration too, which was never paid on arrival. And well, not even on departure.
Just a month before leaving, I landed myself a nice job which would eventually entail travel. So actually, there was no urgent need to go to a far flung third world country for a something-fishy assignment. Of course, I didn’t think twice, I was already too much into the plan. Well, actually, in a corner of my mind, I think I told myself – “when you can, for no substantial reason, have faith in some really assholish people, why not take the chance of having faith in humanity”
I don’t know if some friends would remember this. I called up people to say, “bye, I’m leaving for so and so thing in a few days..” I made it point to call everyone I could recall, people I was fond of or cared for. Because I honestly thought what if this job is really some shady thing, what if I do get into some kind of trouble and never return!
(Work there is another story, maybe for another time)
Being removed from your context is an inexplicable relief. Like some plants that find a sudden rush for life in unfamiliar soil. Some adorable new people, a few very discomforting ones. I was as much a stranger to all of them, as I was to me. We were even.
Looking back, I wish I was more disconnected from the world I belonged to. Some transformations would perhaps been faster. There are way too many connecting roads – Whatsapp, Viber, Twitter, Facebook, Skype.. I wish I had some clue, how switching off would/could help me. But again, back then, I hadn’t even acknowledged that I was messed up.
In the sifting, came across something I scribbled back then. Like it happens in movies, everything makes sense in flashback.
“I feel like a familiar stranger to me. There is this sudden feeling of being in love and I don’t even know with what….There’s very little money that I have and that’s depleting quite steadily. I am slightly clueless if this organization is going to pay me at all. And I am barely worried about being absolutely broke when I return. I keep claiming that I am worried but deep inside I’m not. I amble around religiously even though the streets aren’t particularly safe. I tell myself, I’m from India, it’s as bad there. There’s this very silly and surprising joy in being an outsider, a foreigner. I stare at the books, at web-pages, flip through films but it’s walking unfamiliar streets that feels like reading poems. I am engulfed by a comforting loneliness, wordlessness, even the occasional footsteps feel silent. There’s no sun in sight, yet there’s a lingering feeling that the haze will vanish…eventually… hopefully…”
Towards the end of my stay at Cebu, I took a dive safari trip. It was living with a group of strangers on a boat and scuba diving that brought out a little-bit of the person I once used to be – someone who wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable with herself. Overcame my fear of water bodies, forgot that I didn’t know how to swim and let a dive instructor be the master of my life. Picked a bikini and soaked up the sun. It didn’t even cross my mind that how flabby my tummy was, or that the love handles were on display. It was the long-forgotten-least-bothered me, back in form, again! Of course, I figured this out only in hindsight. I didn’t give a damn, nobody gave a damn. There’s a strange freedom from yourself, when you’re not a ‘body’ for people around. Thin, fit, flabby? Nobody cares.
The strength to reclaim my own life, didn’t come back that easily upon return. All I had was a vague blueprint of what I wanted to fix, with a little hopscotch here and there, and somehow managed to do it, eventually.
Friends heaved a collective sigh of relief. So did I.
Post that, it took two more trips and lone-time in different cities, where I went for work, that finally got my head (with self-esteem and sense) back in place. While limping around with a broken foot, in a fast paced first world city. In striking a friendship over ducks & parables, the old-fashioned way, where you meet people in real life first. In a long heart to heart chitchat with a German cabbie who could only speak, what he said was small-English, and I could only speak small-German.
With sharing this, I leave my story on the wall, at least one of the several circles has finally come full circle.
Almost a year after my return from Philippines, I got paid by the organizers. That too without asking for it. #Win!
p.s. I think, I can safely say that through primary, secondary and tertiary experiences, I have a PhD in the Vijay types, by now. Dear Women, for the love of yourself, recognize the ones in your lives, if any, (there are way too many in the world and they needn’t always appear as boyfriends)…take a lone trip to somewhere or not, but run run run, run far away from those.
p.p.s. Oh, and I love you Kangana! Hug!