Friday, 11 September 2009

The Good Daughter

When people timidly proffered banal opinions about good and evil. Sometimes gathering enough courage to quote from Richard Bach or Reader's Digest. Expounding more clich├ęs than one’s brain can consume in a lifetime. A cacophony of mindlessly droning human voices going on and on about nothing. In that summer before our last year in college you gifted me ‘Summer in Algiers’ by Albert Camus. You said I’d like it. I knew about Camus, had read about Camus but had never felt it essential to read a single word of what he wrote. But that is what after school education does to you in India. You know everything related to the subject except the subject itself.

And you were correct. I loved the essay. I loved the vivid description of the people and the place, almost real, mostly nostalgic like some faded Polaroid. For days I ruminated over, “…Algiers (together with certain other privileged places such as cities on the sea) opens to the sky like a mouth or a wound. In Algiers one loves the commonplace: the sea at the end of the street, a certain volume of sunlight, the beauty of the race. And, as always, in that unashamed offering there is a secret fragrance. In Paris it is possible to be homesick for space and a beating of wings. Here, at least, man is gratified in every wish and, sure of his desires, can at last measure his possessions.” And I ruminated over what it was like to know. To have knowledge that comes from direct experience, knowledge that is ‘sure of its desire’, and knowledge that is lucid - self-expressed.

Just like today I ruminate over you and the books and thoughts we shared. And wonder how you are. Hoping you have managed to come away unscathed with your intellect preserved. Though somewhere in my mind a tiny voice offers some nameless misgivings. And when I look back to that and other such terrible summers in Delhi I can’t help but wonder how did you manage it even then. You, who could quote from Plato and Nietzsche, stuck in a quagmire of familial ambitions squeezing every last bit of oxygen; making all the books and quotes fall lifeless. Become meaningless. Feel homesick for space and a beating of wings.

Could we have known it then? Do you know it now? You could have been an artist, an intellectual, anything you desired if only you had not chosen to be the good daughter.

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