Sunday, June 28, 2009

400 Blows - My Thoughts

Truffaut’s 400 Blows. I have seen the movie thrice, the first time being when I was sixteen, and it never ceases to make me feel disturbed.
I could relate myself very much to the young protagonist of the movie – Antoine, because like him, I myself used to have a trail misunderstandings following me everywhere – at home and at school.
Of course, I have grown out of these feelings now, but still I feel touched by the subtle way the entire film, with all it’s complexities of children moving apart from their parents and the emotional ties and attachments disappearing in the post World War II European societies, with the nuclear families becoming the norm and individualism and existentialism being the catchword, nay, the shibboleth , of the urban middle and lower middle class families.
The character of Antoine is a representative of all the children in such similar situations – childhood being converted into a scapegoat to be sacrificed at the alter of existentialism. It was, and still is, an age of innocence being lost, and morality being spat upon in the face, by children and grown-ups alike. Antoine never thinks twice before giving the false alibi of his mother’s death as the reason for his missing class. Or maybe, just maybe, he does think twice, he does hesitate for a while, signifying the battle between morality and the morbid individualist existentialism…
What Camus’s Meursault, in The Outsider, had while declaring the death of his mother in the famous opening lines of the novel was honesty – naked honesty, and Truffaut’s Antoine had the same honesty too. Because to him, his mother is dead indeed, or may be that she never existed to him, and, looking at the picture from the other side of the glass, he never existed to his mother. This is because he had overheard his mother telling his stepfather that she wanted to have an abortion, only that her mother didn’t let that happen…
Maybe that’s what this state of Being and Nothingness all about… The underlying theme of 400 Blows is existentialism. But unlike Bergman’s Silence, which, too, was shown from the perspective of a child, this one is presented in a light manner. And all the despair and hopelessness and pathos in the movie remains hidden behind a cloak of childish innocence and exuberance. But at times the cloak gets lifted, and we can see the nude flesh, like when Antoine, while skipping his class and walking around the city with a friend of his, sees his mother locked in the arms of her office colleague, walks past casually as if nothing has happened and when his friend asks him “that wasn’t him (your father)?”, Antoine nonchalantly replies – “never saw him before”…
And the scene of three little girls, hardly four of five years old, locked up in an iron cage and staring at the older boys playing at the Juvenile correctional centre – complementing and perhaps supplementing the earlier scene of three grown up women, presumably prostitutes, locked up in the police station, is bound to send streams of slow and ice-cold shudders running through the spines of the viewers. Together, these two scenes represent innocence, being locked up in a secluded cage, staring at guilt and the ennui of hopeless fear, as described aptly by Baudelaire in Les Fleurs du Mal – “C'est l'Ennui! —l'œil chargé d'un pleur involontaire”. This was perhaps the underlying theme of the entire movie. And I say ‘perhaps’ because this movie is like life itself – open to perspectives and interpretations – the objectivity of the flesh and blood
The scene of young Antoine being interviewed at the correctional home is another visual masterpiece. I’ve heard that for this particular scene, no written script was provided to the boy who played Antoine’s part. His facial expressions, the sudden quick glances, the gestures and movements of his hand – everything were real – there was no acting involved.
And one more piece of cinematic magic was the the medley of whirling faces staring down at the rotating chamber at the carnival. This scene reminds me of the immortal lines from The Hollow Men – “Shape without form, shade without colour / Paralysed force, gesture without motion…”. This was a celebration of life and lifelessness, like a brother and a sister, abandoned, standing on the roadside hand in hand and staring at all the geometrically vorticistic movements of straight lines, parabola and hyperbola – men and motorcars…
The essence of the movie is pure humour – something that brings out our smiles and tears simultaneously – like good old Charlie Chaplin staring out of the frame of City Lights – smiling and biting his finger with a rose in his hand. 400 Blows, to me at least, embodies all these feelings – those of smiles and tears, of the stream of never-ending hopelessness and despair, and the absurd happiness creeping out of all these like Camus’ Sisyphus
The character of Antoine Doinel in 400 Blows is a confluence of Ray’s Apu from Pather Panchali and Bergman’s Johan from Tystnaden (The Silence) and what we get as a result is not merely a product of cinematic genius of the highest order, but an embodiment of life in itself – with mirth and melancholy flowing like an eternal river. Many of the shots, scenes and sequences reminded me of yet another masterpiece by yet another master – Bari Thekey Paliye by Ritwik Ghatak…
And perhaps my vocabulary is not sufficient to describe the last shot of the movie, where Antoine has ran away from the Labour Station and on reaching the sea and realizing that there is no escape route from there, turns back and faces the audience and the camera freezes…It is as if he is staring at the audience, at the people, and his eyes search for their cold hearts…He is punished and caged – not merely by the Correctional Home or the Labour Station, not merely by the unfeeling society, but by the world at large – by the lack of empathy, and the infertile detachment of our existence – imprisoned by the stone corridors of eternity, stone corridors that have no life and no feeling, he has no option but to stare at the lifeless insides of us – the hollow men, the stuffed men – devoid of all feelings and compassion, leading an existence of nullity… All the modern man has is a chain of present-moments – no past and no future, and an intense fear of the unknown, Antoine in 400 Blows, like Johan in Tystnaden explores these innermost fears…The innocence of these little children is something that is feared by the those who have embraced this existentialist mode of living (or maybe, not-living)…for innocence strikes like thunderbolts and declares a jihad against the guilt-ridden interiors of a fading morality… and the cold, lifeless whispers of this fear, of this intense horror wake us up in the middle of dead nights… at the Hour of the Wolf, and make us break into cold sweats…
The Horror…The Horror…

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Silence, Love, and the Sparrows

Please don’t turn your face from me,
When it rains real hard
Shine for me, O Shine for me,
When the sun gets all covered up

In the glint of the snowflakes
Let me feel your eyes,
For the sky is all fog and smoke
And the thunder brings no surprise

But the night, it wilts away
Like the flowers of your silent smile;
I’m tired, tired, walking all day
Hold me in your arms for a while

See the old man, drowning in sorrow
Clutching his old violin
He knows there’s no tomorrow
Every day is today for him

See the young boy, eating his pears
Sitting at the branch of the magic tree
He stares at the sky and discovers his tears
As he sees the sun going down into the sea

Evening falls like a drop of tear
Floating across the lonesome valleys
In the gypsy tents they gather around fire
And listen to the wise man’s stories

Shine on me, for the moon is down
It’s cold outside and the fire is dead
Take my scepter, take my crown
And give me some love instead

But I need to fight, I need to conquer
The loveless kingdoms beyond the sea
Promise me that if I fall in the war
You’ll spare a sigh and a rose for me

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Ode to a Hypothetical Classmate

In the distant provinces
There lives a pretty princess
I see her in faint glimpses
In beautiful dreams

She is like Hamlet’s Ophelia
She is like a winter Dahlia
She is like a Christmas Camellia
She reminds me of chocolate ice-creams

She has a strange light in her eyes
She is fond of butterflies
She must be a fairy in a lady’s guise
And her whispering voice breaks up in a thousand sighs

I have no words to describe her face
She is the epitome of beauty and grace
She wears a purple moonlight dress
And she steps out of a photograph by Arthur Tress

Indeed she’s a pretty lass
She sits right next to me in class
And I might sound a little crass
But she has a boyfriend, alas !

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Rasputin sat beside the Rubicon
With a cup of hemlock in his hand
Evening was falling like silent tears
The sky was drunk with crimson mist

He stared across the river’s breast
He saw the wild flames leaping up
Two dragon-flies sat atop the flames
Rasputin laid his sword of faith down

In a shimmering pyre of solitude and wood
He saw the bones of Joan of Arc shriveling
When the horses in the stable became restless
Rasputin spat between the eyes of Revolution

Beneath a leafless and lonesome yew tree
He saw History playing cards with Death
And the little boy who knew all about destiny
Strummed his balalaika in the empty valley

And by the time the chandeliers were lit
The theatre and the cathedral were dead
The seven wise men – they were clueless
For the moon had stolen the missing piece

Jesus of Nazareth – he was nailed to his cross
The five blind Jews carried him across Rubicon
And a dead brown leaf whispered to my feet
‘Did the faithless faith healer cross the river too?’

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An Autobiography

Do they still sing my name
under the starry sky?
Do they still find my name
etched in the stars?
Do they still hear my whispers
when the wind writes her poetry
over the desert sands?
Do they remember the irony
I invented once when the moonlight
reached the haunted barn
and disturbed the dreams
of the brooding pigeons?
Perhaps not
But I was a God once,
till the temptation of flesh
became too strong for me to resist…

And now, only the silence
can afford to sing my name
Only the great nothingness
beyond the seven seas can
fill itself with my confirmation
of existence
Only the corpses with their
lice-infested skulls and the

mummies with their petrified
flesh can remember me,
For once, I was their God
For once, my hand used to
point their path to the grave
And now, the deserted stone-corridors
of the catacombs and the pyramids
whisper my name in the naked

silence of eternity and doom

The seven frozen children
stare at me from across the mirage
with their eyes full of the last

moment of life as it left them
with their eyes full of the first

moment of death as it entered them
But my only terror is that
there is no love or hatred

in those eyes…
They were the seven children
of my seven deadly passions…
I married the seven sins, and
each bore me a child…
And after the last one was sired,
a great misty veil of silence came
down from the heavens and engulfed
me into the wombs of my very first
mother – her name was Darkness

I lost my crown of thorn, I lost my
kingdom of moonborne dreams
I became empty, empty like a
leafless maple covered with winter-frost
And as I lay chained in the bastille of my
passions, I saw my children die…

And now the owl sends her condolences
to the moon by hooting out thrice every
midnight, and for three seconds, the moon
wears the cloudy veil of a silent widow…

Clocks tick on,
Angry moths spit between the hungry

eyes of lizards
Soldiers empty their machineguns
in the empty stomachs of starving

children and fatigued saints
Eternal nothingness waits like

a seasoned stalker
in the padded paws of a cat which
she licks whenever a mouse

is spotted
Revolution squanders in empty

liquor bottles
as those red ants make a feast with

cow dung
And the world trembles between

my dusty boot-heels
with desperate pain, striving to find a voice
The new gods want me to kneel down
and repent, so that I can join their league

I refuse to hear…

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Small Gift

I fear looking at my own image in the mirror
Especially those eyes
Yet I spend hours and hours in front of
mirrors… and the eyes from the other side –
they keep on staring at my transparent self,
right inside me…
And that sure gives me the creeps
At times I ask myself – which one
of the two is real ? The one inside
the mirror, or the one outside?
I’ve been trying to find a way out
of this labyrinth for quite some
time now…

I am a joker
And like all jokers, I have
sad eyes and a face that smiles
vacantly out of the empty mist
And I play a saxophone sometimes
And like all saxophones, it sounds
like a nightingale in a lonely valley
But wherever I go and whatever
I do, I drag my purple self with me
Like the moon dragging the violet
clouds at midnight…

Perhaps someday I will smash
all the mirrors
Perhaps someday I will stop smiling
But till then I plan to keep myself
entertained with all the treasures
I have dug out of life –
the dearest among them being happiness
Well, I guess that’s what living is all about

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Conversations with the Executioner" or "Self Negation"

No, just an old fashioned hypocrite
Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius
Let him have it then !
Acta est fabula, plaudite, plaudite…
But what’s the point?
He waited, so did she
Who there chants in my ears?
Believe in epitaphs?
Don’t turn the lights off, please!
Sad memories of childhood?
No, just a façade to hide behind
Any unfulfilled ambitions?
Next question please
Sighs? Tears?
By Jove, what are those things?
You seem to be drowning, old pal
No, no, just escaping the mirrors
Shall there be no faces to smile at?
That’s entirely upto you
And who shall join the procession?
None, except my own mocking selves
Any last wishes?
Here lies a presumptuous fly
trapped in amber for five
thousand years, pretending
to be alive
Set it free…set it free...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Odyssey, Nocturn

The day doesn’t have any wonders

It’s the night – that fades
like skeletal nuclear stones with
the rendezvous of the falling stars …

It’s the night – that withers away
like dry pages of the book of apostrophes
with the running paradigm of the clocks
that show the mortality of desires …

It’s the night – that dilutes through
the test-tube womb of the mother
of destiny with the trembling ethos
of the long-lost dungeons of despairing
happiness …

It’s the night – that disappears
like the misty grey purple covering
the blind God in his heavenly light
with the empty multitude of the
absurd dawn …

It’s that passing night that brings
me closer to the silent image that
resides across the empty canvas

of my evanescent eternity

Monday, June 1, 2009

An Ode to My Ego

And now I shall write the poetry
of dreary solitudes and windshaken

For the windowpanes are singing
the song of the drowning man
in death- whispers

For the leaves are shed,
and the sinuous tree is naked
in its faithless belief

For the keys of the piano
hide wounds of mortal love
and wrap the agony up
in the feigned ecstacy of harmony

For the silent machineguns are singing
the song of the lifeless mannequin
with the rhythmic silence
of the stone-drunk corridors
in echoes of lost words
meant to be spoken everafter

For I have found out that the fire
purifies my words by turning them
into ashes and smoke

For I have been deaf and mute
since the time time was born

For my naked fingers dance
with the drumbeats of the
soundless carnival hanging
from the cocktail waves
of the mocking-bird’s plume

For the nightingale becomes silent
after singing out once

For I am tired, tired, chasing
parched mirages, cracked images
and blue lights

For I have been waiting in vain
for the wind to erode these
cold dead rocks away

For the eyes of dead fishes
swim around the alter of
my dreamless quintessence
and the currents meet
under the seven-sea-waters

For my tears have forsaken me
and I am left with this…this
vast desert where I have been
ordained to raise a garden
of the first Green

And hence, my friends, I lay down
my wreath of cactus flowers
at the feet of the trembling despair
of the approaching evanscence
of the three infallible hands
of my wallclock

It’s half past four in the morning