Sunday, March 21, 2010

Little Women

Statutory warning : A painfully long post

If there has been a lapse of over a month between my last post and this one, I have little to blame it on the nonavailability of time. For I have only been moderately busy, and could have always got down to blog if I wanted to. But I didn't. Lack of inspiration can be a vile thing indeed.

So I attribute this sudden whim to blog once again to two extraordinary women- one fictional, another real. I refer to the inspiring and individualistic Josephine March, and the brilliant authoress Louisa May Alcott who created her.
I was a little embarrassed in the beginning to have started reading a book that I ought to have read when I was fourteen or fifteen. I have neither any idea as of why I didn't, nor any memory of being suggested to devour the great work. But having read it now, I think it is better that I discovered this book at one-and-twenty and not in my early teens. Reason being my absolute quixotic temperament back then. I'm not denying that my traits have not changed one bit, and I'm still as quixotic as I was, but with age comes a little pragmatism.

I grew fonder of Jo's character as the story progressed. I couldn't figure out while reading who of the four charming sisters was the main protagonist as the book gave all the four little women equal measures of attention, but couldn't help picking a favorite. Your favorite is the one you can relate to. Now that can be really tricky, you know. Because no two persons are entirely similar, and any girl can find one or more similar characteristic between her and any other female counterpart. So look for a character for whom your heart- celebrates when her efforts are acknowledged as they rightly should have been, mourns when she doesn't get what she wants for it reminds you of some of your own missed buses, defends her flaws for it knows that you have the same ones, seconds her decisions, desperately wishes she must not have the damned fate that looms somewhere around, is relieved to find that the bad spell is over for her. Yes, that's your protagonist! A person after your own foolish heart.

So, yes I rather liked the obstinate yet devoted tomboy, who turned out to be the main protagonist after all, but it was only after I finished the book and researched a bit about it did I come to know that Jo March is often recognized as an extraordinary literary heroine, very much like Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. But unlike Jane Austen who-much to the sentimental joy of her readers- penned a fairytale ending for Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, Louisa May Alcott broke many a hearts when she didn't unite Jo and Laurie-or Teddy as only Jo would call him. Of course she didn't keep her an old maid and brought to her world more happiness than she deserved( in Jo's own words) by getting her married to Prof. Bhaer, whom she tenderly loved. And Laurie after nursing a wounded heart from Jo's blunt refusal, began to ardently love and admire Jo's youngest sister Amy, who subsequently became his wife. Even though the ending was perfectly merry with the comforting presence of a big happy family, I felt felt there was something amiss. With little self-absorption I found what. I discovered that I'd have rather had Jo accept Laurie's proposal, for they were so meant for each other! For backing my feeling I began the research, and by Jove! did the whole world echoed my views or what? For they did, and passionately so! I read how Louisa.M. Alcott was harried with heaps of letters from fans requesting to change her mind about Jo and Laurie, and how she remained perverse about it. But then it was the love, response and demands of her fans that made her script Jo's marriage because originally she was to remain-as I understood-a literary spinster, like herself, as the character itself was loosely based on her.

Now, here is where the good thing about my reading the book at twenty-one instead of fourteen should come into picture. My teenager self would have vehemently protested and would have never understood. I don't claim to understand the reason entirely even now. But the only difference is that I can and I shall try. Both for the sake of perusing a swell piece of literature and because I daresay I need to make some discoveries about myself.

There are two ways of looking at it. Both diametrically opposite.
First: It is utterly selfish of the readers (including myself) to demand an alteration just for giving vent to their own unfulfilled romantic dreams. Deciding every character's fate is entirely the author's prerogative. And say if we leave that aside, isn't there something called platonic relationship? Even as I type this, I can imagine all the cynics of the world unitedly scoffing. Maybe I'm the wrong person to orchestrate this as I never really had a guy as a best friend. But with the experience of having many a close friends and confidants of the opposite sex, I can certainly answer in affirmative . Sometimes you're too good friends to be anything else. This, I vouch for. These things are so to-each-his-own types that a general conclusion is hard to reach, but if I speak for myself, I, even in my most coquettish days have never once flirted with a friend. I can't! And it's amazing how so many people can. Now, if some old friend is reading this and saying-"you hypocritical vixen, you so can!", all I can say is that I never flirt till I fancy, and if I fancy I don't put you in my friend's domain. So if I ever burst into peals of laughter at your codswallop that you called joke, it was probably because I didn't consider you my friend then and was merely flirting in good faith. Apologies.

The point I'm trying to make is that what Jo shared with Laurie had it's roots in the most uncorrupted days of their lives, when playing outdoors was the most important thing in the world. So, if they promenaded arm-in-arm and called each other 'my boy' and 'my girl', it was because the two buddies thought ( although Laurie did in a different way) that they owned each other, like a family.
So why my dear fellow readers of the book, do you take Jo to be stonehearted? I think it was immensely remarkable of her to not have acquiesced to her lovesick friend because she knew she could never love him the way he loved her, which would have been mighty unfair to him. Do you not think that it takes courage to look at a despondent face knowing that it is you who made that face look like that? And excruciating is the pain when it happens to be your pet face. May lord save us all from such agony.

Second: Then we can always see it in a different, though not so unexpected light. The stupendousness of the romantic tragedy. It isn't in the least surprising that by being denied a tangible union sincere love always achieves an eternal one.
Some wishes should remain unfulfilled for the feeling to linger around forever. For that 'idea' of the fulfilled state of wish to always stay alive. Sometimes it is million times better than its granted form. The history is strewn with such plentiful examples that I would make a poor display of my awareness if I attempt to cite a few. The yearning to yearn is passionately strong in us humans from the very incipient stage. Have you not seen how a child yearns for the very toy that is forbidden for her/him? It is psychological, I believe.You're halfway through making a sand castle and the surging tide sweeps it away, and you lament for you think it was to be the best sand castle ever made and nothing could have made you happier.Not pausing to think that it could've been the most hideous one ever made in the history of sand castles, but you wish to believe the opposite. And this cheers me up, as I sense optimism even as we pine away. It is our devout desire to make perfect endings but when we can't, be happier as it is ordained to have something better than a perfect ending. Everlasting existence. If you believe in this you probably can enlighten me more comprehensively and I'd be much obliged. If you don't, what are fan fictions for!

As I was chatting with my friends, while ambling down the road in the precious one hour break this afternoon, we all bitterly agreed on how time flies with miraculous speed. How we're very much into our twenties now and yet feel and behave every bit like carefree sixteen year olds.
But then there's also something I always secretly believed in, and which was wonderfully put into words by the Little women's mother or Marmee- "Children should remain children as long as they could".

I wish I could a little longer. It is ironical how while reading the pen picture of the tomboyish wild girl, a hazy face of a cheerful, messy girl just floated into my mind. Now, if you don't know how Divya Nair was you probably will never understand the irony, but never mind. While our novel's Jo never wanted to grow up, our precious Tayar was the one who made us grow up. I was a little scandalized at such a reflex action of my subconscious mind. Because no two girls have been more dissimilar. Why, she had no proclivity for literature or writing (or academics for that matter), was more ripen up than the whole lot of us, and flirted unabashedly. So totally un-Jo-ish. So, what made me think of her? Hmm..the curly hair could be one, outspoken audacity the other, always monkeying around could be a contributing factor and so could be her on-your-face ruthlessly honest comments. Now, wait! Am I disparaging her? Hell no! She was one of the sweetest persons I'd ever had the fortune to meet and also the vividest of all. The funkiest joker of the class who always kept us in high spirits. And whatever I wrote, I mean it in the most revering way imaginable. For who but she could perpetually rag the fellas, use their slangs on them, and keep us ever entertained. The guys scowled at her, as they always hypocritically do, at girls who can give them a dose of their own medicine. But she couldn't care less, and I loved her for that! She educated us about the facts of life much before and better than our biology textbook did, she taught us swear words so that we'd be able to recognize when somebody spoke them. She taught us that if you have a fervor for playing for the house sports cup or dance for the cultural award, don't let the uneasy days of the month deter you.And most of all she taught us how wonderful it is to laugh together even if it is at your own expense!Oh! what would we do without her. So, can you gauge my shock when I got to know that she was the first birdie to fly out of her nest? Maybe, you can. But you have no idea how near-fainting experience it was to see her coyly standing next to her hubby at their reception stage. Visibly docile, exuding feminine grace. Part astonishing, part revolting. Yes, revolting! Where was my partner in crime with whom I used to have capital times? One with wild mane, silly grin, mallu accent, reckless spirit and dollops of spunk.Who was this saree clad, eyelash-batting, children-loving, dutiful, domesticated belle? It was like watching my childhood dwindle away in front of my eyes. I started framing sentences in my head to say to her as I queued up for going to stage, for I thought I could hardly be able to stutter anything except congratulations to this intimidatingly stranger woman who was strangulating my girlhood. It was best, I thought to let Anu and Vandita to do the talking, I'll just smile, congratulate, give the gift, get snapped, grab a bite and get the hell out of there lest she formally thanks us for coming and requests us to 'please eat'. So as per my on-the-spot plan I smiled, gave the gift, muttered congrats and was ready to get discomfited by her formal smile and thanks, when she teasingly said- " Basu, tune bahot powder lagaya hain" :)
Atta girl! Saved my childhood memories. :)

I sometimes wish I had never reconnected with some of my old friends on social networking sites. Then I'd have forever cherished the sweet imprints that those lovable people left in my wistful eyes, but damn you facebook! You show me what has become of them, and now I don't adore them half as much as I did in some ancient time.

P.S: Phew! Unleashed. Finally. Feels so good :)

4 comments:

Kardel Sharpeye.... aahh..ok Karn said...

didn't read the post yet, but i swear if you didn't update your blog for one more day, I was going to call you to see if you still have your sanity intact.

Good to have you back :)

neelanjana said...

Very much intact, I thank you. :)
Although that call wouldn't have been a bad idea.It has been ages!

Vineet Kumar Singh said...

Hi, This is Vineet from Banaras Hindu University. You have written very godd articles. I found them quite interesting while reading. You have written very few articles, please try to write more. I also want a favour from you...Please visit my Dept's Blog- www.hotspotmamc.blogspot.com & my blog www.roshanchirag.blogspot.com

Best Wishes

pseudo intellectual said...

i have read and reread Little Women and somehow it seemed fitting that Jo refused Laurie, even when i was fourteen (though i cried for L). i totally identify with Jo, too.
sigh, i hate growing up.
Lovely post, neelu. am glad i am back :)