IMPERFECT LIVES

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.   

25 thoughts on “IMPERFECT LIVES”

  1. So true Sonia. I always thrive to create a meaningful life with greater purpose for the mankind. This is how I accept all my flaws and imperfections and I strongly believe, imperfections make us more beautiful. I am a huge fan of books and movies that speak life!

  2. So true, Sonia. Life is never perfect. When it comes to books, I do prefer the more realistic ones than rainbows and unicorns. But it is definitely not because I am a masochist who enjoys reading about pain and suffering.

  3. While I do like light-hearted and humorous stories, I don’t tend to like anything too sappy. I don’t enjoy the company of people or characters who are too perfect. Perhaps it’s because I’m such a mess myself, but I just don’t feel comfortable around them.

  4. I really like books and movies that talk about realities of life. The Color Purple and The Bell Jar are two of my favourites in that matter. Since they are creative pieces, they sure helped me understand on a deeper level grief and ultimately the role of hope in life 🙂

  5. How beautifully you write Sonia… I loved every line of this post. Yes, we are so hung up on that portrayal of ‘everything’s perfect ‘ in our lives to “others” that even to write or tell that we do relate and connect with imperfection itself needs some courage these days.

    A Beautiful Mind is a wonderful movie and Kabuliwallah has always been one of my favourite stories since childhood. Somehow I never loved these movies which tried to spread ‘perfection’ and ‘All is well’ syndromes. I have always fallen for the characters who portray imperfection and are fighting to accept that unapologetically like ‘Dominique’ in Ayn Rand’s Book. I even love Khaled Hussaini’s and Mitch Albom books that’s why and the characters they portray and the narrations that do not speak of perfect lives.

    1. Thankyou Ellora. I had so many of them on the list. Khaled Hosseini has brought grief and realism closer home. I’ve loved every work of his. Mitch Albom, for me had been realism and a greater understanding of life together in one place.

  6. I find this need of people to show perfection a little annoying. I know it is none of my business but yes, sometimes it gets to me and then it kind of makes me question myself. Am I doing okay? Am I doing enough? Somehow, I think there is no such thing as perfection. There are flaws and I try to accept them as best as I can. I have read Kabuliwala, the color purple, the bell jar, and I understand what you mean. It is unnerving at times. Last year I read Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee. the book comes to mind right now, because it was an autobiography so exhaustive, so moving that one cannot help but go back to it again and again. The trauma, the grief, the real-life experiences, oh they compel you to ask questions that we might never have otherwise. Reading her works after that gave me a different perspective altogether.

    1. Thankyou Moushmi for adding the biography of Virginia Woolf to this list. I read A Room of One’s Own and have always used it as a point of reference. Thankyou for this.

  7. Real life is beyond the perfection of the reel life. For what is a perfect life or perfect relationship or perfect anything for that matter. What we perceive as perfect, often times hides a ghastly truth beneath its veneer. And yes, to those who aspire to achieve that perfect sweet spot, the result does not necessarily bring the satisfaction they hoped for.

    Your post struck a chord as I witness a friend’s struggle to keep up the perfect façade in face of financial ruin. Its heartbreaking to see how the notion of happiness is entwined with images of designer tags and upmarket acquisitions, when in truth, all that one needs is a good dose of sunshine, work for the hands, a productive thought to mull over and a friend to laugh with.

    As for life’s misadventures… we all have our fair share, don’t we? Sometimes its easy to talk about them. Sometimes laugh over them. But more often, it is wise to just let memory fade. Last night, saw a movie called Sylvie’s love. A very ordinary tale of love n longing. What struck me, and which is why I mention it here, is the absolute lack of melodrama, and an acceptance of life’s misadventures rather stoically. Even when the protagonists make a move to change their life, the effort is not to achieve perfection… but simply to move towards a different outcome. In a way, it reminded me of La La Land.

  8. A Beautiful Mind was a great watch. Also loved Gone with the Wind where the heroine fights gender stereotyping to redifine the role of women in face of war and uncertainty. Then there was the Shawshank Redemption – an unforgettable experience watching that movie.

  9. What stuck me was these lines “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.” Do people really want to hear the ugly part of someones life. Back in 2018 in my A2Z I wrote a fictionalised version of the ugly truth of betrayal…I converted it to a book even …I know its not greatest piece of work but the story was all about that girl and how she stood it ..didn’t give up .

    1. Wow Ruchi. I personally feel it takes guts to talk about the ugly side of life but once you overcome the fear of judgement, it liberates you from the habit of holding back.

  10. I came up during the Gritty Realism era of fiction-writing, so yes, I’m all about life’s misfortunes. In grad school, a classmate and I had a competition going for whose characters could out-pathetic the other.

  11. Beautiful….
    Our Imperfections actually give a real look or a perfect look to our lives… Anything absolutely perfect doesn’t considered normal… But it’s my opinion…. I don’t expect same from everyone… Such a beautiful piece of writing… 👍

  12. There are so many posts on being imperfect and taking it in stride but with yours I was taken by the choice of your words. Lovely read.
    Just today I was discussing Tribhanga and though I liked the premise of the movie because a lot of uncomfortable topics were now up for discussion, what I hold against it is that there was an oversimplification at the end. With the massive build up they left the viewer disappointed and made it look like a minor bump that was all smoothened up to suit a happy ending.

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