Abosheshey, a film review

Kolkata shudhu shohor noye. Kolkata holo jibon bodh. (Kolkata is not just a city. It is a lifestyle.) It grows on you like a being.”

This is the dialogue by Suchishmita Roy, played by Roopa Ganguly that summarizes Aditi Roy’s directorial debut Abosheshey. The Bengali word Abosheshey literally translates to ‘finally’ in English. This film explores a mother’s wait for her child, the eternal bond between the life giver and the progeny, the matir-taan (the pull of one’s roots) and Kolkata as a city with its own heartbeat.

Partha and Suchishmita both have the same surname- Roy and share a child- Shomya. But their thought processes are vastly different. Partha, who exists only as a ghost figure never to be seen by the audience, is ready to leave his father and his city to earn riches in the States. Suchishmita, on the other hand, refuses to uproot herself from her city, friends and family to settle in a foreign land. As a result, Shomya grows up in the company of his father and step-mother never to know his mother. For him, San Francisco is home and Kolkata, only a name on his passport. After Suchishmita’s death, Shomya is forced to come to Kolkata to settle his birth mother’s affairs and finds himself in a city familiarly foreign to him.

This is the story of a son’s quest to know his mother and his city. Shomya discovers his mother from her letter to him, from the testimony of her neighbor and all those people who were dear to her. Suchishmita is the personification of Kolkata.

She is the quintessential mother figure who gives life and holds on to the memory of her boy for twenty years despite not having heard from him. She believes in the nabhir-taan (pull of the womb) and knows for a fact that her son will be back some day. Abosheshey (finally) he comes home only to discover his mother through other people.

Kolkata is an ailing city. It is often called the city of old people; a place where people come to retire. Roy has managed to make this sentiment of Bengalis towards Kolkata clear through the testimony of a random guy in the bar where Shomya drinks. This nameless character is a frustrated Bengali who knows that the city and the race have gone to the dogs. This man, a Bengali himself, claims to be from Bombay and condemns the Bengali race as a lazy group of people who only talk big and do nothing.

Suchishmita, much like Kolkata, survives on memory alone and a hope that her child will come back to her someday. She is a woman who is adept in the arts- she paints and sings Rabindra sangeet- and is stubborn to the point of insolence. In all her splendor, she is free thinking and a peculiar kind of modern. She embraces modernity at a surface level but remains traditional in her thought process.

Such is Kolkata. Any Bengali who sees this film will relate to it. When I finished watching it, I was left with a taste of nostalgia on my tongue. The familiar sight of Howrah Bridge, Princep Ghat, College Street and Gariahat filled me with longing. In the same breath, I felt suffocated. I knew I would never go back. I would only love my city from a distance.

The film is extremely slow. There were places I found myself yawning and wondering why the narrative was so lazy and haphazard. The answer is probably in understanding the essence of the movie. It talks about a city where everything is so slow and confused that even the rooster takes an afternoon nap. What better way to put that point across but to slow down the pace of the film.

There are some places in the film which are surreal in nature. The film reminded me of the work of Paulo Coelho called The Witch of Portobello. This has the same structure. Suchishmita is seen from the eyes of different characters. She is never given a chance to tell her own story. Such a narrative can be confusing for someone who is trying to make sense of her. But maybe that is the point of the story.

We never try to know people beyond the relationship they share with us. This story challenges that. After all, what can be more intriguing than a son getting to know his mother through the eyes of her cook?

 

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Train of life

Death. The final destination. Baba had once told me that we are on a train. This train has a start and a stop. At the start is a lot of pain, a lot of blood and a scream. We begin with denial. The screaming infant wants to go back where it came from. It doesn’t want to be born.

As we get used to the train’s motion, the tire jerks on a stone and for a moment our world goes upside down and then it’s back to normal again. When we start to enjoy the journey and get used to the sounds and smells in the train, we are thrust out into a platform we had no idea existed.

We are in denial at the end of the track too. We are dead. We don’t want to go where we are taken. We like the train now. But no one listens. We extend a hand seeking help, run towards the moving train, scream for it to stop, but all of that is in our minds. No one can hear us. We are dead.

Death. The final station.

In between the start and the stop comes unexpected halts where other people, whom we have grown quite fond of, deboard. That is when we see death consciously for the first time. The cold hard rubber like skin and the smell of rotting flesh subjected to the mighty fire that rises high into the sky comes first. Follows it is its old friend disgust.

When I saw the lifeless body of my father, I couldn’t recognise him. The mount of flesh that lay on the slab was not him. It didn’t even look like him. It was without essence, without his poise and without character. It was dead. It wasn’t him.

He disembarked and I kept going. After touching death and setting it on fire, I know where I am headed. All I wonder now is when?

My Father

My father is a man of few words. Words matter to him and he uses them wisely. For the last three months, he has not uttered or typed a single one. I don’t think he will do so for a while atleast.

My father has a round face. If I stand beside him and remove the top half of my hair and cut the bottom half extremely short, you will probably not be able to differentiate me from him. I hope the next time I see him, he has hair on his head like he does in the black and white photo in front of me.

My father tells me that he sees himself in me. He will succeed when I do and he would finally have lived a full life. I have 7000 bucks in my bank account as off today. It would suffice to say that he has a lot more to wait for.

My father hugs me tight whenever i get angry. He repeats ‘all iz well’ in my ears till I calm down. He hasn’t done that in a while. But I have a feeling he will need to do that soon.

My father likes history. He tells me of Genghis Khan and Alexander; of Gandhi and of Mandela; of Nizams and of their servants. He has become a bit slow off late but soon all he will do is tell me stories.

My father writes e-mails to me. He writes better than he speaks. He claims to have a monotonous and off putting voice. So he avoids the telephone and sticks to the written word. He hasn’t e-mailed me in a while. But soon he will.

My father is a favourite among his students. He is a hard task master for me though. He never ceases to  point out that unnecessary adjective that I use against my noun. Off late he has been correcting me telepathically.

My father is dead for the world. But isn’t it a happy fact that I don’t fall into that group?

The clock and the black hole

I have a black hole and its name is X!

 

The night of 28 April, 2017 was spent walking from the living room where the body lay to the master bedroom where I was asked to get some rest. Much like today, every time I saw the watch the hands seemed to be getting slower and more sluggish with each passing moment. Time had become lazy.

Tick tock, tiicckk toocckk, ttiiiccckkk ttoooccckkk,….

It went on and on. The sun seemed to be taking an extended lunch break and the moon seemed quite happy and reluctant to move from where it was.

Sometimes I wonder what I thought then, at that very slowly passing moment. But all I remember is the clock and it’s hand. The rest is blank.

It is 1:40 am, 17 June, 2017. The clock has stopped. I wonder what it could be that made it stop. The battery? The temperature, global warming, apocalypse or just grief?

Maybe not grief. Maybe just a big slice of blank, emotionless space that has dominated my mind off late. Maybe it is the black hole. Maybe it is post traumatic stress. Maybe shock, maybe denial, or maybe nothing.

I asked the ether a question today, a quite serious one and quite seriously too,- what does death mean to the person who hasn’t died?

The ether remained silent. I asked again, and again, and again till my ears became deaf with the silence.

Then I had a sip of my whisky and I turned within and I questioned. The black hole told me- go to sleep, you don’t want to know.

I took another sip and I asked again. This time the answer came louder- Go sleep you moron. You do NOT want to know.

A third sip and the same question lead to a louder, much filthy version of the same answer.

Many sips and same questions later the answer was weaker, quieter- it means grief.

What does that mean?- I asked again.

Look in the mirror. What do you see?- the answer challenged.

I did as I was asked. I saw nothing. There was emptiness where I should have been.

I still don’t get it and I hope at least a minute has passed since!

The clock is still stuck at 1:40 am. I am not too sure of the date and day. All I know is- I need another glass and then hopefully I can sleep!

Just another incomplete story!

Today I woke up early. I felt the numbness suppress the morning trying to ring in my ear. My brain told me that it was just another day- another day of pretension and yet another day of sadism.

I looked in the mirror and saw a face yearning to wake up and a smile that seemed forced. The toothpaste was almost over and the bristles on the brush were pitiable. They were tired too. The watch ticked away as if enjoying the misery it caused to the still groggy soul.

Fragments of last night came back in bits and pieces- the fallen confetti and the half eaten cake. Another year gone by; another champagne bottle opened and another cake cut.

‘What do you want for your birthday?’

A question everybody asked. If only I could have what I wanted!

How did ‘my life back’ sound to them, I wondered.

Could a person be alive on memories alone and not want more?

Well I was late for class and thinking, in my opinion, just led to disaster.

Mrs. Ahluwalia was out and about as usual with her dog Goudi. She looked the same everyday: pink tracks, a white tee shirt that clung to her 50 something sagging body and a smile plastered to her wrinkled face.

“How was last night?” she asked like a good neighbour.

I would generally have engaged in civil conversation, but not today. I felt like shutting her out and moving forward. She didn’t seem to mind. It was just another part of her everyday routine.

The bus was stuck in traffic as usual, moving at snail’s pace and breaking like staccato. Everything was as it should have been. Just with a new number on the calendar.

But I had to see something different, do something out of the mundane. This was not how i planned it to be.

I got off the bus and started to walk- trot actually.

 

 

(…to be continued)

To the little girl who was afraid of the sea

When you were six, you hardly ever spoke. When in the company of strangers, you would hide behind my back and hold on to my shirt. When you were eleven we went to the sea and you were scared of how the waves splashed against the shore. You were terrified of the sound and smell of the water. You held on to my hand and refused to go anywhere near the it.

When you were five, we went on our first flight together. You were so shy that whenever any passer by tried to talk to you, you would squeeze my hand in a death grip. The nights they fought, we would lie close together on the bed holding each other while we shed tears.

Now you have grown up and I know are a strong independent woman. You were always the brains of the family and you always tried to do good by everyone. You are my little over achiever who aims to please. But amidst the world of thick books and medals, I hope you don’t leave your childhood behind.

Don’t make the same mistake I made at your age. Do not aim to please. Enjoy the sunshine after sleepless nights of hanging out with friends; enjoy the hangovers and the love pangs; enjoy the school dramas and the world of movies. Get your fill of sleep because after eighteen, you can bid goodbye to that. Get your fill of your family because people grow old and apart with age. Explore territories that you haven’t before. Fail once, fail twice and fail again because failure is a better teacher than success.

Dream a dream and then change that dream the next day because now is when the possibilities are most. Fall in love and realise the difference between love and infatuation. Get a job at McDonalds and understand that there is a lot of value in the smile of the boy who is given a happy meal by his father.

Join a cause and fight for it because if not now, when? When they ask you, “what do you want to be?” tell them that you want to be happy. When they ask which university, tell them the name of all possible ones because there is no end to learning.

Learn that experience is more valued than mugging up facts and that you can always change what you want. There is always a new dawn after a bad day.

Dear kid, don’t be sorry for not knowing what you want to do and for wanting something no one wants to give. It is okay. You will fail. You must fail. But you will come out of it shining, just like the time you boarded the plane on your own and made friends with the other passengers.

If a shy little kid could become a confident woman, there is nothing in this world you can’t do. I wish you knew how proud I was of you and I wish I could be the one you had your first smoke with and told all your secrets to.

But alas! It is what it is. All I know for a fact is that I will always watch over you even if it is from behind a screen.

Could you?

Could you live with the night in your sunny universe?

Could you accommodate a tear in your vast smile?

Could you stay awake when all you needed was sleep?

Could you fool yourself in thinking everything was fine?

Could you carry the burden of the past knowing it wasn’t one of yours?

Could you be fine for you and i both?

Could you desire when i had lost hope?

Could you hope when i despaired?

Could you be ruined for the sake of my reputation?

Could you replace your warmth with my chill?

Could you truly make me yours when i’m not even mine anymore?

Could you feel when I went numb?

Could you live with knowing that it was a path of thorns you were walking on?

Could you spin poetry from the unwritten prose i served you?

Could you?

Could you?