Tuesday, July 17, 2007

one kind of list or another

I was looking for a quote, something Gabriel Figueroa said about working with Buñuel on Los Olvidados -- I had a memory of an incident where Figueroa had a magnificent sunset in his viewfinder and Buñuel, looking at it, turned the camera around to show a thorny, ugly bush.

I didn't find it. So I went looking through My Last Breath (or My Last Sigh, depending). And though I didn't find anything relevant about what I started wanting to know, I found this passage towards the very end of the book:

The diagnosis couldn't be simpler: I'm an old man and that's all there is to it. I'm only happy at home following my daily routine: wake up, have a cup of coffee, exercise for half an hour, wash, have another cup of coffee, eat something, walk around the block, wait until noon. My eyes are weak and I need a magnifying glass and a special light in order to read. My deafness keeps me from listening to music so I wait, I think, I remember, filled with a desperate impatience and constantly looking at my watch.

Reading this, I was reminded of my grandfather who used to do the same thing. He used to sit in one chair, adding a pillow or cushion as the years went by and he became thinner and could no longer be comfortable with the chair as it was. And he used to look at his watch every five minutes, while sitting in full view of the big clock on the wall. I used to wonder what it was he used to look for, why he needed to check the time so often.

Then last year, he died and I inherited his diaries. I had thought they would contain gems of I don't know what. Perhaps not wisdom, but an insight into someone else's mind; perhaps some window into something not usually visible. As with all expectation, this one also was met with disappointment.

My gradfather's diaries were pages and pages of lists, of chronicling every moment as it passed: waking up, bathing, food consumed. The slightest deviation from routine, the grumblings of an old man whose body was refusing to cooperate, the looking forward to the smallest treat - a fruit out of season, a bowl of payasam - all of it was put down in a cramped and shaky hand. Every time he wrote, he slowed down time while making it pass. I wondered, did he ever re-read anything he wrote? Would he know one day from another? How many months' worth would he be able to re-read before he had to cry out in frustration?

There was this poem that I used to like when I was in college. Jenny Joseph's alternate list seemed wonderful: I would be like that, I used to think. I would only appear senile or eccentric to other people but it would actually be daring and free-spirited to wear purple and pluck other peoples' flowers. It's been a while since I've entertained the possiblity of taking any pleasure at watching someone else down three pounds of sausage at a go (what a relief it is to be single!), but even this kind of list-making seems unbearably sad because it is so delusional.

What can old age be but a bleak series of breakdowns? Of watching the time crawl and recording it as it goes in all its minuteness, if one is able to?

I want none of it.

PS: I'm aware that this is not the promised HP post. But wouldn't you rather have Buñuel that Potter?


Cheshire Cat said...

This was moving. I liked the part about slowing down time while making it pass... It sounds as though it, or something like it, should belong in a poem.

Shweta said...

PS: I'm aware that this is not the promised HP post. But wouldn't you rather have Buñuel that Potter?

That depends on who the ‘you’ is. It’s not to say that this wasn’t as good a post as usual, but m’dear! Where is your sense of occasion? This is Potterweek. The only one we will ever have. Surely we must extract every sickle’s worth out of it? Conflict and doubts can wait. In the aftermath and anti-climax literary tastes can be defended to death.

Falstaff said...

"Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

This was exquisite, but I'm not sure I agree. Perhaps there is something to be said for clinging on to life at all costs.

The slowing down time to make it pass thing reminded me of Catch 22 actually. Wasn't there a character in there who tried to do the same thing?

Space Bar said...

Cheshire Cat: PErceptive of you. It is.

Shweta: Oh I think I have time until saturday before I whip myself into a frenzy! And then I shall pay my obsequies like everyone else.

Falstaff: You know, I've always thought of that poem as a young man's desperate exhortation. Most old men, if they're conscious of what they're feeling, would just want the end to hurry up. Or at least, so I imagine.

And even assuming there is rage and the will to cling on to life, how terrible to do it with such paltry tools as are left you at that age.

the mad momma said...

this was most unlike you.. you rarely write about family... and it was beautiful and thoughtful. as for HP.. get on with the next post please!

km said...

Woah. That is beautiful. And now I want to go back and read my journals.

Space Bar said...

TMM: I do, sometimes, you know. It's just that it mostly gets linked to some other thing - like this one as well!

KM: Thanks.