The acceptance of who we are is a daunting task. So hung up are we on the flawlessness of existence, that we spend long hours ironing away the wrinkles. The political correctness of living consumes us early on in life.
I remember a class-fellow at school whose fastidious devotion to carving out an impeccable life was a little annoying. There was so much effort in preservation of life’s niceties that it seemed no less than a façade. From a glorious academic time-table to personal grooming, everything fell perfectly in place for her. In contrast, we were always struggling with one thing or the other. As a student ‘All is Well’ was just another spurious expression for me. It didn’t really exist. Or maybe it did, along with ‘All isn’t well’!
The pretence of my class-fellow continued to flummox me for quite some time until a Bollywood blockbuster came to my rescue. In 1994, I watched the popular Hindi film Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. We didn’t watch many movies back then because there was no OTT and of course the parental nod was hard to get. But a goody goody picture could easily make its way into our weekend schedule. For those of you who need to jog their memories about this Madhuri Dixit – Salman Khan starrer, it was about a huge family that lived together…well, happily! There were no fam-gangs and if at all a quirky case did spring up, it all made sense in the end. The movie appeared bizarre to me because in my opinion and from my experience of large families (and even small ones) I could say that they struggled with more than just one-odd case. Gossiping was a given, accompanied by regular issues of jealousy, betrayal, snobbery, comparisons and other minor lapses. So, what was this flick all about? In simple words, it was a cover-up for our duplicitous lives.
Everything is perfect, everything is nice! I could now correlate my class-fellow’s efforts and reasons for carving out a near-perfect persona of herself to the movie I had just watched. In a way I began to feel sorry for her. I realised, she had only been trying hard to fit into the mould.
The books I was reading were no different. Allegorical and didactic, they didn’t quite represent life’s struggles. Even if they did, it would all turn out fine in the end. Kiss the frog and discover the prince!
I had had enough of Santa’s tales. I began to look out for real stories. Tales of struggle, tales of strife. And I discovered quite a few. They were not a revelation for me as such, but certainly a depiction of something far more real and convincing. For now, I was sure that I wasn’t the only one.
Some of the books that came to my rescue included the story of ‘Annawadi’ that suggested poverty, hunger, violence, the fear of being rendered homeless ( Behind the Beautiful Forevers- Katherine Boo) ; or the tale of Celie (The Color Purple), so accepting of life’s misfortunes as if that’s how it’s supposed to be until she was shown the other side. I was comfortable comprehending Nihilism in The Waste Land or despondency in Plath’s The Bell Jar or even in Tagore’s Kabuliwallah. The immersive reading experience that these books offered was something I had been chasing for a long time.
Was I beginning to enjoy grief? That sounds so politically incorrect, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t want to put it that way. Let’s say instead, I was becoming more accepting of the shadows that surround us. I was no longer looking at exemplary existences and wondering if I was stranded on an island!
Which isn’t to say that I was averse to solutions or unaware of the fact that things do work out… but sometimes we must learn to live with them. I was keener to hear stories where people continued the journey regardless of…
Recently, I watched A Beautiful Mind, a second time, as part of Blogchatter’s initiative ‘The Creative Soul Club’. On a personal note, I would say, what makes the movie work is the fact that John Nash’s story continues despite the several interventions. The acceptance of an imperfect life can be way more encouraging for others than the story of a life lived to a T.
When I read Damyanti Biswas’ ‘You Beneath Your Skin’ in 2019, it was not just the ‘whodunnit’ factor that made me recommend it (I finished reading this heavy tome in record time and I’m not a fan of thrillers) but also the fact that the life of the protagonists did not end in a ‘happily ever after’! They found their way out of the maze, of course, but a closure which is the norm made way for a more plausible and workable (read believable) solution.
Over years and with flourishing quotients of happiness on social media, my admiration for imperfect lives and of the people who proudly display their jagged edges has grown manifolds. It takes strength to keep it all bottled up inside you but it takes greater courage to unveil your wounds.
Reading and appreciating real stories of grief and survival (sometimes not) doesn’t mean that I believe that happiness is non-existent. But I do believe that life isn’t all about saccharine smiles. It is far more real than the big, happy, Indian family saga of 1994. And you never know, your real story might just help someone heal.
What do you think? Are you comfortable talking about life’s misadventures? Which are the books or movies about real-life situations that have resonated with you? Do mention them in the comments below.