Friday, July 14, 2006

Mumbai, Mon Amour

Every time something happens to Mumbai the city, I get double vision. A feeling that all of this has happened before and will happen again and again, time out of mind. And when this happens, I can’t hep but think of Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour.

It’s an unusual film for the way in which so much of it is in voice over. Nowhere else does the interior monologue (in a screenplay by novelist and filmmaker Marguerite Duras) emphasise the way in which the inner life is separated from the outer, and the dangers of such a separation. If memory is fundamental to the way in which the mind functions – and an interior monologue is nothing but a door opened into the workings of the mind – then the deliberate rejection of memory is the way in which the external life is lived.

In Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Emmanuele Riva is in Hiroshima years after the war is over, to make a film and has an affair with Eiji Okada during the course of which memories of her dead German lover during the war, in Nevers, are evoked.

But Hiroshima is much more than a love story; at the heart of the film is the paradox of necessary memory and the dangers of forgetting. We need to remember the past and keep its horrors before us so that we do not repeat our mistakes. But to remember such horrors paralyses us. We have to forget to be able to live and thus we condemn ourselves to repeat our mistakes.

And why this film is on my mind is, of course, because of the serial blasts in Mumbai. Every few years, some crisis, some act of terror draws to our attention this necessary forgetting that made living possible after the last time. How else would the city function, if it was frozen in fear? How would anyone climb on another train, take a bus or sit in another theatre? We forget because we have to. And so we relive these horrors every once in a while. So it goes.

PS: When I first saw the film, I made extensive notes because the voice over was poetic and true and I wanted to remember everything. I knew if I didn't write it down, I would forget. It is exquisitely ironic, therefore, that 13 years later, when I want to quote from those notes, I can't find the book in which I wrote down practically the entire monologue word for word.

PPS: Ranjit Hoskote’s op-ed, Resilience is good, but amnesia is fatal in The Hindu yesterday suggests that we ought to, instead of dusting ourselves off and carrying on, memorialise or archive our past so that we do not forget.

“Mumbai ought to take the important symbolic step of enshrining the collective spirit that shines through in times of crisis, by holding an architecture competition for a monument to those who have died in the weave of riots, pogroms and terrorist strikes since the early 1990s. it would also help to establish a city museum that renders tribute to those moments of collective suffering when Mumbai’s spirit has been tested and its best people have shown themselves at their best.”

Now, I don’t know about architecture competitions and I’m inclined to lean towards the general mood of ‘if I hear another word about the Mumbaikar’s spirit I will scream’ that is prevalent in a number of places. But I do think that we need to have a place that will help us remember.

Crossposted on Writers Against Terrorism.

1 comment:

Batul said...

We've all been fine, just shaken up. Disoriented. Wondering.