31 January 2010

On Loss of a Phone

Directed at my long suffering grandparents, Babaji and Dadi


A mobile phone is a man’s best friend. In need, in deed, wherever he goes, high or low, lonely or in company, the faithful mobile is always there. You can talk, chat, message, read, listen to music, watch movies and just do about everything on a mobile. The mobile is the new dog.

So, alright. This will raise eyebrows. Mos, if she reads this, will want to remind me of the summer of 2007 when I made a considerable ruckus on being forced to acquire a mobile phone. Mobiles shackle you; they’re an impediment to freedom and activity, so I’d denounced. I had resisted parental attempts to give me a mobile; now I like paeans to them- some contradiction this!

Which, indeed, it is. One changes with time. I look back at my reluctance to be encumbered with a mobile and now at my dependence on it and yet see no great incongruity. I have changed. I need a mobile phone today.

To keep in touch. With friends and loved ones. The loved one. Why not? To live untouched by its charms is easy enough- as easy and as difficult as living without after once tasting the fruit. To introduce one to something and then to take it back, that is a cruel cut. To use it once and then to argue it’s useless is a bit difficult. Mobiles are useful and are required for a peaceful existence.

Not required, family will argue. All should be disciplined and in adequate measures; excess is sin. Using the phone’s alright, but one shouldn’t forget one has a family and responsibilities to it. Balance’s the word, balance’s the thing to look for.

Indeed it is. One must balance, one must readjust, must, measure by measure, make sure that the private does not overwhelm the public and that the two, at arms length, co-exist symbiotically with each other.

But what if the private storms up and gets exposed to new experiences? What if everything collapses and life has to be started anew? What if that which is public becomes so private that it ought to be public? The trials of youth, the passions of the heart- what when these are aroused? Earlier generations had letters and notes; we have our phones. Why then grudge us them? Why not let use and let live? Phones are necessary and to claim they’re unneeded is to be redundantly na├»ve.

But what when a phone is lost?

To lose a phone is a disaster, a catastrophe, more mental than economical. It is to lose one’s memories, to forget the past and let it be blurred in a haze of indistinct words and images. It is to feel naked, to have your deepest, inmost desires and fancies, your playful whims and innocent exaggerations, to have all your heart mocked by him, the strange unknown. One may relive those experiences to a degree, but what’s gone is gone- final and without cure. To lose a phone is to have one chapter finally closed, to have it erased almost forever. To lose a phone is to lose a part of oneself.

I have lost a phone. My phone.

23 January 2010

Reading Modernism


To Meenakshi Bhattacharya


“Hi! What’re you reading?”

“Hunh? Oh, hi…hullo…this? Oh, nothing…Lord Jim…”

“Okay…who’s it by?”

“Oh, the same as this one…Conrad…it’s horrible, quite, quite horrible…”

“Yeah, I know! I mean, he’s like so over my head! I don’t even get most of it!”


Modernism has that particular tinge, that quintessentially peculiar air which makes most of the texts belonging to the genre distinct. I mean, other canons too have something peculiar which makes them what they are, but with Modernism it’s something so very local and yet so universal that it’s hard to miss out. You cannot and yet can relate to these works and that’s the problem.

Take Conrad for example. The fellow’s so obscure and vague, so confoundedly uncertain about his language that you can easily read through Heart of Darkness and still not get what it’s about. The narrative seems specially constructed to confuse and bamboozle, to make the reader introspect, see within and yet be without. It’s a dialectic of dualities, light and darkness, man and beast, a spiralling tug-of-war where the forces of darkness seem destined to win…

‘Forces of darkness’. That’s another typically Modernist concern. At the heart of man lies impenetrable darkness, a central core of primeval brutality which remains unaffected by the paraphernalia of civilisation. Honour, fidelity, mercy, duty, all these morph into instinctive self-preservation and brutal self-gratification at the slightest sign of danger so that all we hold dear get reduced to fanciful chimeras. The world seems a hopeless place and man the most hopeless of hopeful animals in it. In this way Modernists seem incapable of dealing with disillusionment and transfer their own disappointments to humanity at large.

Indeed, traps abound, if not in the public world of politics then in the intensely private one of emotions. Whether or not class tensions of repressed Victorianism lead to it, it’s nonetheless remarkable that Modern man should suddenly discover at this time an incestuous desire for his mother. As if the world was not enough, one’s personal life too begins to dissolve into animality, a frustratingly debilitating sense of incompletion which threatens the very core of ‘civilised’ familial existence. Try as one might, one cannot get out of it and so must live doomed for no fault of one’s own a fallen angel.

Humanity faces, therefore, challenges from all quarters and it stands, in spite of itself, horribly alone in the confrontation. In and out, home and abroad, all around is such a net of drawbacks as will set all possible enterprise to a naught. The sanctity of the inner life, of faith and those personal beliefs which sustain the illusion of purpose, all these give way to a repetitive circle of self-defeating futility. In the ultimate analysis Modernism leaves one with a burning sense of despair, a desperation which soon transforms into impotent purposelessness in face of overwhelming change. Change itself becomes impossible so that all hope, in the present, for the future, all dissolves into nothingness. A despair beyond despair, a torture beyond torture.

The problem is not not getting it; no, instead it is in getting it.