OM’s utterance-parts A,U and M represents the waking, dream and the sleep state. Frog, the central image of the film, is a being which lives inside water, outside water and also floats in a partially in and partially out state. The title Om and the image frog stand for coexistence of different kinds and coexistence at different levels.
Parking this aside for a while let me quote Arundati Roy. “India lives in several centuries at the same time. Somehow we manage to progress and regress simultaneously. As a nation we age by pushing outwards and from the middle- adding a few centuries on to either end of our extraordinary CV. We greaten like the maturing head of a hammer-headed shark with eyes looking in diametrically opposite direction.”
Its with the help of these three things: literal meaning of Om, the metaphor of frog nad the quote of A. Roy that I understood Om Dar Ba Dar, when I watched it during my days in the Institute.
I don’t know if my reading is right. But with films like Om Dar Ba Dar, I guess there is nothing like a correct reading and a wrong reading. Like the tadpole, in the film, which refuses to become a frog the film refuses to lend itself to a complete meaning, it appears to me. The second half of the title ‘Dar-Ba-Dar’ meaning ‘From door to door’ to mean itinerary existence also suggests the constant moving/ shifting of the meaning and the expansion of meaning and also digression from meaning.
The film looked, to me, like a microcosm of this country. Like this nation it holds several things- colourful, opposing, meaningful, meaningless, progressive, regressive all within itself. It is a collage like, it is kaleidoscopic. It is jarring and smooth at the same time. It makes meaning only in parts. It makes meaning on partially. It challenges meaning also partially.
Mithya has sansaar, maaya hai sansaar!
[An impromptu reading/ review of the film written in a Facebook group responding to the discussion about the film at the time of its release in January 2014.]
It had been a while since the bus started moving. I was on the phone talking to a friend as I saw the bus conductor asking for tickets. I cut the call and took out my ticket. He had checked my ticket before I got into the bus. He must have checked, similarly, everyone’s ticket before they got in, I thought. I was wondering why he was checking tickets again. He saw me and moved to the seats behind me without checking my ticket.
In the seat that was behind my seat an old man was seated. The conductor asked him for his ticket and the old man pulled out the ticket from his pocket. The conductor saw it and asked, “Show your id card.” The old man was puzzled. “What id card?” he asked. “Any id card, voter’s id, pan card. Anything,” explained the conductor. “No, I am carrying none,” said the old man and immediately asked, “Why would I carry them?” When the conductor said, “This ticket is not valid if you don’t have an id card,” the old man was quick to say, “I have them at home. But I am not carrying them, that’s all.” “If you are not carrying one, this ticket is not valid,” reiterated the conductor. The old man was angry now. “How will it nor be valid? I have paid the money,” he roared. The conductor respecting the man’s age said, “Look grandpa this is an e-ticket. When you book an e-ticket and are travelling you need to be carrying an id card. Else you cant travel with this ticket.” “How can you say that I cannot travel with this ticket when I have paid the money for the ticket?” The old man’s anger was accelerated with the same “invalidity” being mentioned again.
The conductor took the ticket in his hand and pointing at a line written on it said, “See it is mentioned here that you should carry an id card while travelling.” The old man couldn’t make sense of anything being said. “I have travelled earlier too. Never have I been asked to show an id card,” he said in a restless way. “Then you had bought tickets from the counter. This is e-ticket,” tried explaining the conductor. “But I have paid the money. What more do you want?” questioned the angry old man. “Listen to me,” the conductor’s voice turned quite patronizing as he continued to say, “The rule says one cant travel without producing an id card while having an e-ticket. So, this e-ticket is invalid.”
The old man said he will get down. The conductor got worried and asked him where would he go from the point where the bus was, far from where the old man had boarded the bus. “What else am I supposed to do if you are not allowing me to travel even when I have paid,” the old man questioned. “Its not me who is not letting you travel. The rule is such,” explained the conductor. “Now you will not let me get down. You will not let me travel too. What am I to do?” asked the agitated old man. The conductor suggested he buy a new ticket. The old man said he did not have any money on him and took out his phone and called his daughter. “I am not being allowed to travel in the bus. They say the ticket is invalid,” explained the old man to his daughter. The daughter asked the old man to hand over the phone to the conductor. The old man handed over the phone to the conductor who explained the rule to the old man’s daughter. The daughter asked what the solution could be and the conductor explained, “I will mark this ticket in my register as ‘not travelled’ so that you will get some amount reimbursed. Let him but another ticket now and travel.” The daughter asked the conductor to hand over the phone back to the old man and the conductor did. “What is the matter?” the old man asked his daughter in an angry tone. The daughter must have said that she forgot to mention to her father about the need to carry the id proof. The old man’s anger was turned towards his daughter now, “Why do you say sorry now? I will have to buy another ticket. Two tickets for one journey in one bus.” The daughter must have explained to him that he will get the money reimbursed for the first ticket. “So what do you say I must do now? But another ticket?” asked the old man. After a moment’s silence, listening to his daughter, he said, “Okay. I will. But never again I want to travel in this bus again. In my entire life I have never seen a bus asking for id proof,” and cut the call.
The old man bought a new ticket. While issuing a fresh ticket the conductor said, “You will get your money back for the other ticket. I understand that you are not at fault. So I am registering here as you haven’t travelled in the bus. You will get the money back. If I report as you travelled but did not produce an id proof you will not get your money back. I am doing this for you because you dint know the rule. Had it been anybody else I wouldn’t have.” The ‘favour’ by the conductor dint matter much to the old man who turned to the person next to him and said, “I am a senior citizen. I am old. I have travelled many a times. But never in my entire life I have seen such a thing happening. He says the ticket is invalid when I have paid the money. Now he says I will have to buy a new ticket and I will get my money back for the earlier ticket. What sense does it make? I have to pay again to get my money back? Does it make any sense to you?” The man sitting next to him just nodded his head and turned in the opposite direction.
With my ears thrown behind me I was sitting in my seat looking out of the window wondering how technology and technology driven world leaves behind people who cannot keep up with the rapid changes. The bus of civilization makes their ticket invalid and makes them want to get down, without asking them to get down directly. Their travel with the world is made impossible or uncomfortable embarrassing and difficult. The exit is made either to appear volunteer or ‘deserving’ for their ‘fault’ by an extremely demanding and unforgiving technology.
I remembered Rajiv Gandhi once saying that the nation should take a leap into the next century. LEAP. Technology and rapid changes caused by technology demands us to run, demands us to take leaps. Do the weak and old have the strength to take a leap? Can’t the world be more humane towards those who walk those who crawl, those who limp?
I kept asking myself sitting in the bus which kept shifting its gear and kept racing ahead on a highway.
My grandmother passed away at 3 a.m. today [7th June 2014]
Death is cold. When you come in close contact with it, it leaves you numb. In that numbness, caused by death, memories come to life and in that pool of vacuum created by death thoughts beat it arms and legs trying to keep itself afloat. We try to make sense of death, make sense of life, at the face of death.
Two years ago when I was struggling to come to terms with my grandfather’s death a new realization started dawning. Between his death and the death of my grandmother today there was a narrative of love, loss, loneliness and companionship which unfolded before my mind’s eye.
Four years ago [July 2010] Susheela H.L. Acharya, my grandmother, had survived a major heart attack. She had got an attack while she was in the ICU. That night the doctor had suggested that she may not survive. We were asked to, by the doctor, to inform all relatives that they can come and meet her once and to see her alive for one last time. We were preparing ourselves mentally. I was fighting my own guilt while preparing myself to see my grandmother lose in her battle against death.
But she survived.
In a few weeks’ time she was quite fine and back to normal. Obviously some health issues were there but she was quite fine. It was such a pleasant surprise for us and a “miracle” for a doctor friend who on that night had hinted to me that the case is almost closed.
But she survived.
She survived and actively participated in my sister’s wedding, my cousin’s brahmopadesham. And when my grandfather’s health started to collapse [Dec 2011] she stood strong and by him trying to fill strength in him, trying to contain the desire for life in him which was dripping out.
But when my grandfather passed away- 30 Mar 2012- her health collapsed drastically. She became weak as days and nights turned the wheels of time. All the recoveries she had made after that fatal night of 2010 fell flat when it hit against the death of my grandfather. Health complications rose, one complication leading to another. And she never recovered.
When my grandfather passed away I was not around. When I returned, after a few days, I went to Byndoor. As I went into her room, where she was lying down on the bed, she saw me and on seeing me held my hand. I could sense fatigue in that touch. Holding my hand she said, “Grandfather passed away.” It was not an information that she was giving to her grandson who was out of town at the time of grandfather’s death. It was not just crying out in grief. It was a preoccupation, a preoccupation which breathed with her till this morning.
My grandparents were married for around six decades. Together they had seen and nurtured five children, twelve grandchildren, and three great grand children. Together they had shared the pains of the troubles caused by some close and distant relatives. Together they had fought poverty. Together they made two ends meet. Together they lived through all ups and downs.
When that togetherness was snatched away by death, an immortal loneliness, made home inside her. Emptiness held her hand when my grandfather freed his hand from hers. Children, grandchildren and great grand children all were there for her but with her and inside her there was some vacuum which all the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren put together couldn’t fill. A vacuum created by the death of my grandfather.
Once during my visit to Byndoor in 2013 Jan, I saw her skin getting worn out. Ants were around her bed. How death walks in slowly, I saw through my eyes. Decay is a slow process which isn’t visible. It is an experience. That day she had stretched her hand and tossed it slowly to show the skin getting worn out. “Possibly its some medicine reaction,” I told and very innocently she had asked, “Why don’t medicines act but only react?”
That question puzzled me as much as the sudden collapse of her health, even while surviving two major heart attacks, following my grandfather’s death did.
My grandfather in his last days once had told me, “Old age itself is a disease.” But at his death my grandmother was proving that her husband was not entirely right. There was more to it.
What is the relation between health/ well-being and love? What is the relation between health/ well-being and togetherness? What is the relation between health/ well-being and companionship? What is the relation between ill-health and loss of love? What is the relation between ill-health and loneliness? – I wondered. I wondered and asked myself- “ Is love the only cure? Is lover the only healer? Is resurrection possible only because of love?” and at times, in a rational state of mind, rephrased it as, “What is the role of love and companionship in healing recovery and well-being? What loneliness and loss of love does to our well-being our lives?”
As I kept wondering all of this and played with those questions, in the last two years, death and life wrestled against each other making my grandmother’s body the wrestling ring.
Finally today the wrestling match is over. An empty wrestling ring remains.
From the empty wrestling ring those questions stare at me again, today, and smile.
My grandmother breathed her last breathe in the same hospital where my grandfather had taken his last breath, like in some fairy tale. In the final tale narrated, through living and dying, by my grandmother, after all the fairy tales she once narrated years ago, I guess I have my answer.
While my grandfather narrated to me the tale of labor, my grandmother narrated to me the tale of love.
Rest in peace, Grandma!
Friends from A.V. Baliga Hospital, Doddanagudde, Udupi invited me to inaugurate World Schizophrenia Awareness Day on 24 May 2014. I wondered why I was the chosen one. But soon I learnt that though it was observed as World Schizophrenia Day it is also inclusive of other psychosis and the theme for this year, across the globe, is to fight the stigma attached to mental illness. On learning this I agreed to be a part of the programme. Dr. P.V. Bhandary and my childhood friend Dr. Deepak Mallya convinced me that I am the right person to inaugurate for I have been vocal and open about my depression and have been trying to fight the stigma attached to mental illness.
After inaugurating the programme I spoke, in 10-15 mins, about medication not being enough to overcome mental illness and the need for social support and the need for the individuals to engage with the world and life around to overcome the illness. I spoke all of this based on my own experience in dealing with depression making it clear that I am incompetent to speak on schizophrenia and that I am speaking about my own struggle through depression.
On the following day i.e. 25 May 2014 a Kannada newspaper named Udayavani in its report of the programme says, “He [me] said he could overcome the problems of schizophrenia because of his family’s efforts in encouraging him to take up writing.”
I dont know who was the reporter from Udayavani who came to cover the programme. I dont know what he heard of my speech. His report says I am schizophrenic and says I took up writing because my parents pushed me in to it.
I realized in what situation people say, “I did not know whether to laugh or cry.”
When I narrated this to a friend he got angered and said, “Write to them and ask them to apologize and publish a corrigendum.” Another senior activist friend who was with us laughed and said, “One will apologize and publish corrigendum if mistakes happen. But Udayavani does all the so called mistakes deliberately very consciously and with great thought behind it.” I too laughed because I knew he was true. Udayavani has been publishing several cooked up stories to stir communal hatred and communal tension in coastal Karnataka. Amidst all of those reports this report can be brushed aside by laughing at it, I told myself. But deep within I knew what exactly the report had done to me.
[Photo: Newspaper report of Udayavani]