Sunday, September 18, 2011

Never-ending Story

I read a facebook post from someone who confesses to her incurable addiction to German soap operas. I can so relate: I, too, confess to this addiction and have blogged about it previously; however, besides the opulent sets, familiar cadences, and use of folklore that I've addressed in earlier blog entries, there is the matter of the story, the plot itself that beggars justice.

I am truly amazed and humbled at these contemporary epics. The plots of these serials make mazes seem tame. There are numerous subplots, an inevitability, really, considering that the typical saga begins with a rather large joint family. These plots are very wise: they know that no story is meaningful if the characters don't mean enough. So of course, there are several episodes devoted to character establishment.

The story uses an intricate embroidery of colors, costume accessories, phrases, melody strains, and amazingly, a background chorus for effective characterization. For example, if a villainous, scheming vamp archetype is being introduced to the newly married bride (our protagonist), the background music associated with the vamp would include a phrase, like her first name whispered ominously, repeatedly; or if the neighbor's good-hearted son (our clown) is about to tell a lie, the background music is woven around a phrase like "Jhoot bola!" (Jhoot= lie; bola=he spoke). And then the story begins; the central conflict is introduced, and variations on the same theme form subplots for characters that are only slightly ancillary.

The plots are convoluted, unlikely series of events that rely on their very improbability for verisimilitude! They seem to rest on the truism that truth is stranger than fiction: after all, the individuals who make the audience examine their own lives and circumstances, and think back to an earlier decade when all that has come to pass since, would have boggled their imagination then. And reality itself is such a shifty thing! One cannot rely one's senses to verify it, and human understanding is so fraught with pre-conceptions, mis-interpretations, mis-calculations and a myriad of patinas, that it seems useless to commit to a limited version.

Moreover, the characters and situations are ever so easily recognizable, so easy to relate to, that the improbability of the opulent settings and costumes becomes just an acccesory to the permutations and combinations of events, and helps in construction of archetypes.

Fiction imitates reality, like a stick figure imitates a human being: this is the first lesson to all who choose to Read Literature. The soaps, like all fiction, then, channel this truth, the truth that transcends facts; the truth of humanity made recognizable in a stick figure has an appeal that is more universal than an individual's face reflected in a mirror.

So it is with these stories. Characters die and come back to life in a different place, with a different name, among new characters, often with different faces, but they become palimpsests of their previous stories which continue with their absence at the center. These parallel plots build up to a climax when the past and present are made to co-exist, acknowledge, and recognize each other, often in presence of the future, so the story can go on once one climax  has been resolved.

I heard of a knife a family has; it's been in the family for many, many generations. Of course, sometimes, the handle has had be changed, and sometimes, the blade has had to be replaced, but the knife is still the same. This post is dedicated to unending stories that continually re-invent, re-tell, re-configure, adapt, to refract the variegated colors of the kaleidoscope that is reality.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Glass Windows and Long Stories

There is something cosmic about staring out of the glass, on level with the clouds and tree tops, looking down on parking lots and roofs. Today, I am more aware of this feeling for various reasons. The most obvious of these is, of course, that it is a clear day, with unlimited visibility, the sun spilling gold all around the world, so the sky feels like another landscape. If I wasn't so afraid of situating myself in precarious places, like high glass towers which would often be at the mercy of the frequent storms, I'd be a megalomaniac, intoxicated by this sight.

However, there is another reason for being more aware of the cosmos: some new potentially habitable planets have just been discovered. The informed ponderers postulate about the existence of water on these planets, which could host life.

This worries me; I feel like I am perched at the edge of a high, fragile glass window in the middle of an indifferent storm. How is life an accident? We assume that we are unique; doesn't that scare everyone? This assumption seems illogical at best and egoistical at worst!

My reaction, of course, like always, is to seek out stories that examine other alternatives. The ones I have been drawn to lately have been fantastical universes, even multi-verses that are not anthropocentric. I find these stories about dimensions of other lives, life-forms, realities co-existing with us, fascinating. These have been the stories that have kept me up at night (work schedules notwithstanding).

An excellent example, of course, is the Harry Potter series; I revisited the first book since it was what my book club was reading, and again, I find myself hooked. I have blogged about this elsewhere, so I shall save my patient reader the repetition. Then, Shannara kept me up till the wee hours. And now, Stroud's London, told partially from a Djinni's perspective, holds me captive.

They say Fall is the season when curtains between various worlds and states of being are at their thinnest. The falling year does bring to mind the long story told over many nights, the longer twilights and small days, when humanity holds the largest number of festivals, celebrating beings we don't really understand but are acutely aware of.  I think of this season as the least anthropocentric, when people are naturally drawn out of their shelters at night, to gaze at the large moon and sharp stars, and wonder.

So in a couple of hours, when the evening begins, I, too, shall fold up the day and settle down with the unending story that reminds me to be afraid of high glass windows. After all, I am not Sisyphus and my world is not as predictable  or  as anthropocentric as his: I do not inhabit a deserted universe, nor do I have the strength to roll this rock, or believe myself to be the only upright life form.