By CP Surendran
My dear Aryan,
It’s good that yesterday we had that video chat with you. Good that you are functional, despite the shock and the shame. Despite everything, really. There’s hope, yet, though you are in Arthur Road Jail looking at the high walls from behind bars, and we here in Bandra have a view of the sea, from where we could set sail to other lands but we choose not to.
The sea looks the same, I must tell you. But it feels different. Deeper, perhaps. For sure, it is saying something different; something different from what it was saying until the other day. You know what I mean, of course. It’s incredible how in two weeks you have become as wise as I. You, old man.
That we are in the same country, even the same city, and to think how both of us have altered. We change, and everything around changes with us.
Our country. Our city. We take a second look at these now, don’t we? For a very long while, we saw these as our extensions. We did not question if these were separate from us. We thought we owned them because we were rich and successful. And there was no reason to think we did not own them. Indeed, we built them after a fashion, even as we built ourselves. How can you have Bombay without its Badshah? How can anyone imagine Bollywood without Shah Rukh?
But you can, as it turns out. It only takes a night. You and I now know a night out among friends is no longer what it was in my time. A night out today is a setup. Could be a setup. As is a selfie: guilt by adjacency. As is anything. There is no longer a picture, only a detail. We are no longer proficient in seeing the whole thing.
The liberties we took — with both ourselves and others—were an expression of an arrogant innocence. A certain virginal joy of self-importance, even. That was our charm. Our personality. Our smile. Indeed, that was our trust in humanity, which shone out of our eyes. No longer. That is gone. It has been taken away from us: the illusion we are inviolate; our exceptionality, in short; we have been trimmed and plucked.
That cruise ship you got on. It was anchored, wasn’t it? Just floating up and down on the same wave as it were. But when I think about it now, it occurs to me she was going somewhere. It took you — and, vicariously, me — on a journey. A very long journey, too, it is turning out to be. It took you to an island we had only heard of: Arthur Jail. A set, a location in one of my strange and violently hopeful movies, where I am always in control, and emerge, even if beaten and bleeding, a hero. Now I know better. So do you, of course. It is chaos all around. No amount of money can hold it at bay.
Sooner or later you will be out. And you might even become a better actor and better human than me for your trauma. Indeed, I might become a better actor and a better human after this. This new distance between us and the world, the world we thought was created for us, will equip us with a new perspective, and we will hear our own and others’ speech, our own and others’ sight as if being reported to us.
How ironic it seems that until the other day, I used to refer to myself as He— out of reverence to myself, of course. But now it would be out of circumspection. We will no longer trust; not others, not ourselves. And there will be always a distance between us and our country, our city.
Our country? Our city? Pain and fear estrange us from our surroundings with which once we identified. Yes, as I said, we take a second look. And a third. And a fourth. And what we do see?
Not the great night-long and day-wide Bollywood parties. Not the great food. Not the fine trips abroad to clean places. Instead, we see dogs running fast on the streets looking for food. The leaner they are, the faster they trot. We see a social media clip where a man’s hand is hacked for desecrating a holy book, and he pleads for his life, which in a moment will be taken away from him, contrary to what the same holy book says.
We see our country (our city, too) turning hungrier even as we speak: we are ranked by the UN at 101 (from 94) on a list of 116 countries. We see we are getting more self-reliant on defence armaments. We see more bad movies on Netflix and Amazon. We hear more. We see more. We feel less. We are constantly excited. We cannot sit still.
But not you and I. We have learned to sit still. It takes such a lot to sit still. We will meet again soon, and you will be a better, kinder, braver man for the voyage on that ship that was moored. A few days more, and you will be out of jail. Here, we keep the doors open all night and day.
Meanwhile, what can I say? Keep your mask on? Wash your hands frequently? Maintain social distance? I am sorry I sound like a statutory warning. But there is a virus about, shaped, naturally, like a crown, the symbol of power. A virus for our times. And it is likely to be around for a while. See you soon. ( THEFEDERAL )