It is habitual for my speculative ponderings to move beyond the close quarters of a book, but seldom do these contemplations seek out characters beyond the fluttering scripted pages, prompting a vague attempt to affiliate the wonders of fiction to factual generalities. Life is betwixt and between the diametrical parallels of birth and death. The commonality of the ‘act of living’ is magnified through the eventful narratives of the people and by the people. The allegorical metaphors laced among the fabricated world of a novella resting on symbolic characterization similitude denoting that indeed living is the most laborious, a battle against myriad unforeseeable forces and yet it is promising, a hope lurking through the dream of a beautiful future. The nonsensical plan of seeking the presence of a silhouette amongst the animated mass of people came to a standstill when the disorderly traffic overwhelmed my irrationalities. Why was I keen on finding the presence of Arzee on the streets of Mumbai? The image of a man who walked through the lanes of Grant Road encumbered by the pessimism of his reality and the optimism of an impending future. A man who stood atop the Grant Road Bridge looking down as the Virar train came into the platform, the sea of little figurines alighting from its compartment , wondering if the morning buzz of the railway station was akin to a movie scene being played. For a couple of nights, at the slight echo of the radio humming , why did I ponder whether amidst the serpentine line of parked taxis, was there someone similar to Dashrath penning the dialogues for a Bhojpuri movie or scripting a poem underneath the flickering street light to the warm sips of a‘cutting’ chai? Dreams waft through the scalding roads of Mumbai , the rays of hope colliding with the sun, the broken dreams of the past soaring into the humid skies beckoning an allure of a bright future, while the man walks in the present in the sweltering heat.“What I’m thinking is, do we live the life that’s given to us, or,’ said Dashrath, lifting his saucer up into saucer-skies, ‘do we really live a kind of dream life? We are to be found in the present, yes – walking, sleeping, working. But all the while, aren’t we really living in the past and the future?…”
Ergo, do we truly dwell in the ‘dream life’ or the expectation of a ‘dream life’? The life bestowed to us either by birth or circumstances, may take root in its mediocrity but living is neither simple nor easy. We stand firm, dance through the processions of troubles, are at loggerheads with our own convictions and our own impediments. Imagining our own future victories, we industriously strive through the present trying to achieve lost dreams of the past and create even better ones in the future.
The forlorn heart embarks on a flight of fancy oblivious to the old fears dwelling within it, the chimerical world leisurely shaping up the mental imagery. The proverbial castles in the air may not find a standing beyond the realms of its momentary pledges, still, the resourcefulness of a fantasy breathes vivacity within a humdrum life even if sways on the slippery perils. The deserving belief leans upon obscure laurels of deciphered mystical signs, taking a last chance on hope. The dream of his daughter’s wedding gives an optimistic father the vigour to go on working into his twilight years. The vision of his daughter decked up in an elegant wedding trousseau makes him forget the wretchedness of his depleted two room home in the corridors of the dusty chawl housing. The singleness of its purpose keeps Phiroz K. imagining his own little victories in the thick of the stuffy projectionist room. The aspiring thought of an imminent work promotion motivates Arzee to diligently walk towards the grandeur of the Noor. To face his fragilities when school children cross his path and on those disturbing days when Arzee knows he is much closer to the earth, the stench of a tar road reaching towards him sooner than the person walking next to him. Imagination gifts a sense of hope to the hopeless. It unshackles an individual from the woes of gulping the bitter pill of reality. Notwithstanding the risk of seizing the freedom from concocted illusion, the adorned metaphorical rose-tinted glasses seduces the lucid intervals of a rational mind, the doleful heart sheltered in its rosy shed of comfort.
“That’s right. Man is in chains everywhere!’ ……….‘The only thing that keeps him alive is his imagination. His feet are always shackled to the earth, yet he flies on the wings of his imagination. He is convicted by reality, and pardoned by the imagination.”
Proficiently, Choudhury underlines the essence of ‘imagination’ coupled with its consequential conundrum, generating a chain reaction to the vacillating dispositional idiosyncrasies. Imagination, as Dashrath asserts, is indeed wonderful, possessing the might of an exhausting mind, the waves of glittering hope navigating an ocean of emptiness. Still and all, when the rosy lens refuses to let go of its alluring abode, it shackles it creator, caged away from the winds of change, a diabolical tormentor. And, when finally the fated chains come off, does it set a man free or misplaces the sanctity of his sanity? Imagination then becomes a wonderful deceiver. Amid a modifying present, when the past becomes more powerful than the future, Man and his thoughts are stuck in the prism of time. The charms of the new avenues nauseate those left behind by the changing world. Arzee solely cared for the Noor Cinema; he did not care if everything else around him altered as long as the fate of Noor remained unaltered. The majestic Noor, becomes the ultimate symbol and a victim of a changing world and its citizens.
“My secret life grows bigger by the day, like a shadow in which I lie concealed. Ah, Noor! It was a great wall protecting me from abjectness, indignity – from the scraps thrown by the rest of the world. Let this night not end – let the day never come! But I know it will.”
For Arzee, Noor Cinema was a world within a world. Noor with its Noorian quirks sheltered Arzee from all the worldly vulnerabilities, all his inbred bitterness towards life; the agony of a questionable love; it was a home away from home. In an enigmatic celluloid world of Noor auditorium, Arzee towered all mortals. It is here that Arzee looks down upon his audience with contentment. He no longer needs to stretch his neck to see another face in the crowd. The metaphorical world of Noor makes Arzee taller. It is here in the two weeks of Arzee’s journey, where I find my answer to my search of Arzee’s silhouette among the swarming morning Mumbai streets. Aren’t we all in search for a world of our own? A world where we won’t be subjected to the prejudicial reality; where our vulnerabilities won’t be our sole liabilities, don’t we yearn to take refuge in such figurative world, ephemerally? Dashrath found solace in his penned words, Phiroz and Arzee had Noor and as for me it is the world of books, the realms of literature.
Here and there, on a few odd occasions, a book from the domains of Indian literature grapple my reading faculties holding me under a spell of engrossing thoughts and indulging in cerebral speculations, making me a sitting duck to my own sensibilities. To say that Chandrahas Choudhury pens an edifying erudition of Arzee and the people around the said protagonist thriving amid unruly, undisciplined world of Mumbai, would be an understatement, indubitably. Choudhury ups the quotient of this novel by rewarding the unassuming commonplace life with the caricatures of audacious and promising characters with a touch of dark humour. .. He Saw this life was to be a journey and that there was no home for him anywhere except in the hut of his own crooked self”….. ‘Living’ as it is known, likely encounters the risk of an insipid journey steadily culminating into a null and void hollow journey. It is the people who make every effort betting upon the odds of a possible far-fetched dream and the probability of dreams crumbling into the vicissitudes of life; impart the momentous eminence to the magnitude of subsistence. The ambiguity of life edged on a fateful coin flip, a fair shake on one’s livelihood brimming with memories and taking fighting chances on facts of life being stripped of all illusions.
Of course, he was still small – that he could never do anything about. But…he wanted people to always find themselves up against that ‘but’ when they thought of him
Being small, a dwarf, was Arzee’s biggest burden. Its weighty multitudes surpassing Arzee’s three-foot-five humble stature. Arzee yearned to be bigger, taller, amassing odds and ends, paraphernalia of life emancipating him from the societal trappings. In a prejudicial world, Arzee longed for normalcy, a sense of self-confidence diminishing all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ thrown in his way. In the quest of no more being labelled as an ‘outsider’, Arzee relentlessly explored ways and means to be like everyone else; to amalgamate into the gigantic sea of people. Along the periphery of a world where gradations of physical traits equates the measures of normalcy, the fractional chalk talk established on commonness uniformity, Arzee may be lone wolf. But when viewed beyond this myopic palpable flippancy, Arzee was no different from any man, any individual walking on the streets of Mumbai, who is convicted by reality and pardoned by imagination; desiring a paradise of a requited love. Arzee in some admirable way represented every man and yet, sadly, he was singular in his status quo.