In a Room Elsewhere

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In winter, when evening came early, too early, before I closed the heavy curtains on my wide window, I could see lights on the hill opposite. Outside my window is a garden – rather unkempt. After the garden, tall trees. Beyond them, the ground slopes down. It rises up again to a hilltop in the distance. The hill is lined by roads, studded with houses. After dark, their lights glow all over the body of the hill. From my window, they look like hundreds of twinkling lamps. It was a warm sight on a cold evening.

Of course, in winter, the tall trees were all leafless. They stood with their bare arms raised in prayer to the sky. But the dark, bare trees made for a novel picture if I looked out of my window through the parting of my lighter, translucent, white curtains, over the dew dissolving on the panes.

The winter when I was here, it rained quite often. Many a night, I woke up in the small hours and could hear the wind whistling, the rain pouring and the trees swaying outside. It was strange but not fearful. Beautiful, maybe. I forget the date – but it was the threshold between two years, when I was completely alone in the house, and it rained heavily and the cold subsequently intensified. I made no attempt to go out. Public transport would have been too limited anyway. I sat alone in my room, alone in the house, most of the day listening to the rain and the wind.

Another sound is a part of the nights here. The rushing of the trains. There’s a bridge very nearby. All day long, I hear trains rushing by. They don’t stop to rest even when night falls. Where are they off to, I wonder. Who are the people travelling at this time of the night? Why not earlier? Why not tomorrow? What can’t wait till tomorrow? What kept them busy today? Where will they turn up? Will the station be small or large? Will there be anyone to receive them?

Now that it’s spring, the bare trees have all filled up with green foliage. (Prayers answered?) I can still see the hill in the distance, where the leaves have not closed the view, but the twinkling lamps rarely. It doesn’t get dark enough, I suppose. Usually, when I close my curtains, even if it is a late hour, some light from the sky lingers.

In the unkempt garden springs up flowers of their own accord. Daisies grow as easily as weeds here. Some larger ones are right outside my window. Farther away are roses. Something white, something lavender and something pink also appear. Squirrels keep visiting, with their fat, bushy tails and alert eyes. Magpies are very common. Seagulls come but not in large numbers. There’s no room above mine. I have seen from a different window that the roof is filled with pebbles and there’s a small and rusty birdbath on top, complete with a tiny metal bird. Sometimes seagulls or other birds land on that roof and make a noise among themselves with the help of the pebbles. I wonder what is going on upstairs.

And the seagulls can always be heard. Though, right now, I can hear other birds too. Unfortunately I don’t know them. But the shrill cries of the seagull are unmistakable. Very noisy birds, these, but also very lovely. Almost twice the size of a crow. Spotless white with a yellow beak and grey wings tipped with black, they are a trademark sign of this city, I think. I have seen them floating on the waves of the sea. They look peaceful as the green gentle waves rock them to and fro.

This country is so beautiful in spring mostly because of the profusion of flowers. Such large roses and bright lilac sprigs grow in the neighbours’ gardens. In one park, I photographed so many kinds of flowers that finding out all their names became quite a task. Daisies and daffodils are the commonest, I suppose. In another, I clicked some flowers which I recently realised to be narcissus. Lilacs, buttercups, tulips and periwinkles are a few of the rest.

(Image belongs to the writer.)

Sleeping with a Stranger

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Gone Girl

Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing in the morning of their fifth marriage anniversary. There’s an apparent crime scene in the drawing room, which, on closer inspection, seems to be a tad too neat. And then there are clues left behind by the victim… Treasure hunts used to be Amy’s favourite game, but this time, can they lead to her?

Close to interval, we get to know what really happened to Amy, and the film could have ended there. That the revelation does not make the second half at all superfluous is definitely credit to the storyteller(s). In fact, far from feeling a drag, as the film draws towards its end, the sensation of there being an activated time bomb somewhere on the premises grows stronger. The characters, instead of getting rid of the metaphorical bomb, have, for twisted reasons of their own, decided to keep it at home and are sitting on it, and who knows when will the thing go off and create a mess and of what proportions?

A word on the actors. Ben Affleck underplays Nick very effectively and makes him out to be a credible character. Neil Patrick Harris, in a much smaller but important role, makes a good effort, but the biggest thing holding him back must be the years of playing Barney Stinson. Someone somewhere must have been expecting him to throw off his intensity and exclaim, “Wait for it!”

And then there is the lovely, terrifying Rosamund Pike. It won’t be going too far to say that she owns the film. Her performance is the kind that kindles debates about whether it was the character which was more scarily fascinating or the actress, finally realising that it was both – each doing justice to the other.

But apart from being a gripping psychological thriller that you’ll need some time to get over, Gone Girl is a powerful statement about at least two important contemporary issues, and no, none of them is the fatal risks involved with getting married. One is the disgusting and ever increasing shallowness of media, the insatiable hunger for viewership that will not hesitate to hint at incestuous possibilities between a pair of twins for want of a new angle at any given moment.

And even more important than that is the question of self-image. Few people can be sure, at the end of the film, about how much they really understood of the two main characters, how much of their narratives were lies and how much truth, and even fewer will understand correctly. For in our anxiety to build and sustain a certain image, we are too often perfectly willing to lie not only to the world, not only to our near and dear ones, but also to ourselves. Gone Girl is (or at least, should be) a warning about becoming blind to the difference between what we really are and what we’d rather be, in a drive to become someone or something else – say, for instance, a perfect couple.

When you watch the film, it will not simply be Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike playing two parts, but Nick and Amy Dunne playing different parts as well. How do you decide which is the real them and which images are as carefully constructed as the Amazing Amy created by Amy’s mother based on her daughter – the one who’s always “one step ahead” of the real Amy? Social media demands that we put on a pretty face 24×365. That’s how a stranger, come to offer you condolences about your missing wife, can offer you a casserole and pose and ask you to smile and click a photo and share it with the world all in a few seconds, before you can think cheese and the next thing you know, you are that insensitive son of a whatnot who can’t stop grinning beside a hot chick even when your poor wife’s missing. What the heck am I talking about? If you watch the film, you may have some idea. Or you may become even more confused. But it’s not such a bad idea to think.

(Image borrowed from the internet: no copyright infringement intended.)

Last

The minutes rush – absolutely run for life – like a train on full speed, afraid to be stopped, afraid to be late, breathlessly fast. And I stand on one side, looking on in panic: it’s going away from me. And you sit on the other, relaxed, unworried, unaware. Not your train, not your concern. And though I try to ask in alarm why you wouldn’t notice what’s leaving us (what if it’s really forever?), you are on the other side of a rushing train and cannot see or at any rate cannot understand what I may be thinking. So the blur rushes out. Time for me to go. Dreading that you with impeccable politeness would suggest the exit, I rush towards the exit myself. I cannot see or hear or think anything anymore anyway.