Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sleepless

He stands in front of the windows, looking down at the sprawling city.

It's three in the morning. The rain had woken him up, the drizzle easing itself in through the windows. Sliding off the bed, he'd staggered to the windows and shut them forcefully. By the time he trudged back to bed, sleep had left him stranded; incomplete dreams rapidly shrinking behind his eyelids.

He stands in front of the windows, curtains drawn apart and peers into the night, past the pattering rain, at the glistening road twenty floors beneath, at the occasional traffic slithering into the distance. He's grateful he can't hear the noise up here.

He looks up, his gaze sweeping across the sleeping city, his eyes moving from window frame to window frame. Neon landmarks punctuate the dark landscape; the lights ghostly and electric in the rain. Concrete spires reach into the sky in search of a capitalist God, one who will reward ambition and achievement. Office lights flicker in the distance all around him. Dish antennas mark the terrain; milestones marking individual progress.

The city never ceases to amaze him. Another symbol of a civilization's narcissism, an offspring of its obsession with itself, with the ideas of optimism and progress. He's never comprehended these concepts completely but he likes being here. Likes the anonymity that shrouds his existence here. Likes the relief that comes from realizing that he did not have to hang on to his identity. Likes discovering himself without any biases. Unlike a few other people, he relished his rootlessness, this sense of drifting that comes from living in a city and letting its routine overwhelm you.

The city somehow encouraged him to have a certain bent of personality. It fed and nurtured in him a set of virtues that permitted him to thrive here. The ones who flourished here, he often thought, were those who seemed comfortable with these ideas of rootlessness and anonymity, accepted them without questions, people who inculcated a self that sought itself in everything that it came across, people who were cool with the concept of an identity that is as much gushing sewer as it is languid shoreline. In that sense, a city was an evolutionary culmination as far as civilizational constructs went, a compromise between between complexity and utility.

MS distracts him as her voice rises above his thoughts. Kurai ondrum illai plays softly on his laptop, the blue glow from the screen lighting the walls of his apartment. He should switch the monitor off, save energy, be a conscious citizen, stop global warming, but he lets it be for now and listens to the song, paying attention to the lyrics, sleep slipping away into the distance ... Kurai Ondrum Illai ... his life has been like that for sometime now, without complaint. More importantly, without being conscious of the need for complaint. He smiles as he wonders why anyone would want to thank the Lord for that. But then he would take anything as long as it was sung by MS.

A plane sweeps in from the north. He watches it descend slowly. Again, he can't hear anything. Just the muted experience of watching a plane sans its defining sound. What is it about identity, about personalities, that makes people cling to them? He watches the plane circle the city. The rain must be making it hard. Must be a long night at the control centre. Control. Chaos. A city, he thinks, is man's best attempt at the impossible -- large scale chaos control. Every council regulation is ostensibly to control, but then it is a desperate attempt to accommodate more deviation. The framework keeps bulging as a city grows. And as cities evolve, this framework of rules and control dissolves into a polite, gentle anarchy that everyone learns to live with.

The rain gets heavier. He draws the curtains shut, walks away from the windows and settles down on the bed. The city will soon awaken and he tries to get some sleep. But then his thoughts claim him again. A city also represents that ultimate challenge which man is confronted with in these troubled times: the reconciliation of individual with society. The more he thinks of it, the more futile such an attempt appeared. If at all there is a pattern to civilization, it is one where individuals came together to form societies, societies from which they later detached themselves to retain their individuality, an individuality which later broke the societies, a pattern which is easily decipherable in the motivations of most cities. And that detachment marked the beginning of the end.

The next song comes on. Another favourite.

(to be continued ...)

8 comments:

Lucky said...

Are you writing about Bombay by any chance :)

' people who prospered..... comfortable with rootlessness and anonymity..'

Somewhere I don't agree with that esp. the rootlessness part. People who prosper would be comfortable with the values that the city gives..as you rightly mentioned. And these people take rootlessness to be the cost of 'success - whatever that means to them'. They are not comfortable with rootlessness and anonymity, they crib about it at every occasion possible and talk about how they are gonna do something about it, but live on for another day, for the values that the city gives makes them tick on. Some day that value equation might change, or it may not.

Musafir said...

lucky,

No, no, not writing about Mumbai. But then, maybe I am ;)

And it's interesting that you should use the word "prospered" when I've not used that word anywhere in the post. I actually used "prospered" in my first draft -- instead of "thrived" and "flourished" -- but then I sort of had a feeling it would make people think something else and not what I was driving at. And it looks like I've not had much success at that.

What I'm talking about is the way in which a city makes you confront who you essentially are. Whether you crib and continue to stay in the city or you ship out, there is no denying the fact that you know mroe about yourself from having to live "with" the city. This could happen anywhere and not just in a city, yes, but from experience, the probability of it happening in a city is higher. And this coming to terms with and the subsequent growth is what I meant by "thrived" and "flourished". Whether that growth is in a materialistic or a metaphysical sense, it doesn't matter, it's real in the sense that it's the real you.

Coming back to what you said, people crib, yes, but at the end of the day, their coninuing to live on in the city is a testament to what they want, whether that want is natural or forced is a different issue altogether.

Brood Mode said...

I've been listening to lot of MS lately too. she's heavenly!

~SuCh~ said...

Why is your protogonist always view from an elevation? Is it to get a sweeping view or a falcon's focus?

So many nice lines, and some of my recent thoughts as well...

My two cents on the last paragraph - Dont you think, that when people detach themselves from the society seeking individualism, a little of the society sticks on their backs ? And the more obvious, that they leave a bit of themselves in the society...
And that can be seen in a city as well, as each one has its unique mind, body and soul, although they have a uniform dress code. :)


"This could happen anywhere and not just in a city, yes, but from experience, the probability of it happening in a city is higher"

Maybe because the degree of chaos and helplessness is so high, that people give up the struggle and are content to resign to their little nests, end of the day.

musafir said...

~such~,

Not true. My protagonists have been sitting, lying down on the beach, lying in bed, walking on the road ... even in the previous post the guy was looking up :)

"My two cents ... although they have a uniform dress code. :)" -- not sure what you're getting at, but it is, like you say, quite natural for any form of detachment (gradual/ abrupt) to result in some sort of hangover.

"Maybe because the degree of chaos ... end of the day." -- Again not sure what you're driving at. Yes, there is chaos. Yes, there is helplessness. My point was more about "growing" than "struggling".

~SuCh~ said...

Protogonists :Yes, but this elevated posture is assumed when they arent mere spectatators, but also try to infer something strong from what they observe.

The trend in the last paragraph:
I tried to provide a reason to the trend you had observed, for the cycle of swarming and seperation.

Growing : " coming to terms with and the subsequent growth"
What makes you assume a growth to be subsequent to the coming to terms phase?

Only the optimistic, march on. The rest, are more lost than before.

The realisation can be revealing and also devastating. Resignation is probably the only common thing between both possibilities.

~SuCh~ said...

The context in which "Kurai ondrum illai" was penned by Rajaji and that used in the post dont necessarily concur ... But anyway, a legendary work such as that, does have the tendency to inspire many different things.

musafir said...

~such~,

Reg. protagonists: I'm afraid you're just trying to project an interpretation where there exists none. If one is standing at an elevated place, one is bound to see the sweep of the land. You are confusing the incidental with the intentional. If one were to climb up to an elevation in order to observe and infer, I might agree with your observation.

Reg. the trend and the reason: Again I don't see what effect your reason is trying to explain. You posed a question which, to my mind, didn't explain the "swarming and separation". The question was merely stating what would come later on.

Reg, growth: It is myopic to think that "growth" and "optimism" and are synonmous.

Reg. "Kurai Ondrum Illai": If all art was to be consumed only in the context of its creation, then we wouldn't be calling it art, would we?