Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No Turning Back

For every decision which we have made, there are consequences that follow. There are times we wish we could go back in time and undo the things we have done. We wish we would be given a second chance to correct some steps we have taken or  do something better. We will never know what could have been if we have made different choices and taken a different decision but various decisions and choices  have  to be made from time to time.

In the novel “Landline” written by Rainbow Rowell, Georgie McCool is a TV writer and something has come up just before she and her husband are supposed to visit his family in Omaha for Christmas. Georgie tells Neal that she cannot go as she has to stay back in Los Angeles to work on her show. Neal is upset with Georgie and she wonders if she has ruined everything when her husband and the kids go to Omaha without her.

Would  she and Neal be better off if their marriage had not happened? Georgie is miserable when she decides to stay back and work on her script. She is distracted and she discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It is like time travel but it is not . When she cannot get through to Neal on his mobile phone, she tries the landline at his mother’s house and it is always busy.

Georgie was back to the past looking at the future which is her present. She thinks about their almost breakup one Christmas fifteen years ago before they got married.

‘Not fine . Completely not fine.
‘I should have told you ? I did tell you.  I said, ‘ I can’t do this anymore.’ I said, “I love you , but I’m not sure if it’s enough. I’m not sure it will ever be enough,’ I said. ‘ I don’t want to live like this, Georgie’- remember?’

It made sense, really. If Georgie was going to have a delusional, paranoid breakdown about her husband leaving her ,it made sense that she ‘d flash back to the one time Neal actually had left her.
Sort of left her.
Before they were married. ‘

Georgie is obviously miserable and tries to resolve her conflicts. She is  not that likeable a character as she seems self indulgent but aren’t most of us self involved even though we may try not to  show it?

Georgie wasn’t better off. Even of Neal was right – even if they’d never make it work together, even if they were fundamentally wrong for each other  -- she still wasn’t better off without him. (Even if your heart is broken and attacking you, you’re still not better off without it )

Georgie’s mother is the  “cougar” as her dates become considerably younger and Georgie finds that her mom is a pervert, a libertine when she checks out twenty-something guys at forty. The other character in Georgie’s life is fun and trendy . Seth is Georgie’s writing partner since college days. She went to University of Los Angeles because of The Spoon which was the Harvard Lampoon of the West Coast. Seth was a sophomore and already an editor. He and Georgie work well as a team. One can imagine them as buddies starring  in a sitcom where their lines are witty and funny.

Seth’s chief pastime back then was paying attention to girls. ( Another thing that hadn’t changed.) Lucky for him, then and now, girls usually paid attention back.

Huangshan, China
The way  Rainbow Rowell describes her  characters  is like how we describe someone we know. She has an easy going voice and there are some very funny lines. With hindsight, we may or may not appreciate the decisions we have made. On reflection, we may have done things differently but the question is : Would we have been better off ? That is the theme that comes through the latest book written by Rainbow Rowell. Landline has recently won the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Fiction 2014.

Relationships are never easy. In some cases there may be no degree of atonements that can ever reverse a situation. There is no turning back. The British film Locke  tells such a story.  The protagonist Locke was played by Tom Hardy whose performance is compelling.

Locke is about Ivan Locke, a successful construction manager and a family man who has to ring up his wife, Katrina to tell her that he will not be home because a colleague with whom he had a one night stand is having his baby. His wife and sons are waiting for him to watch a football match with him and his job is at stake.  He is in a bind, and he has to be present for the premature birth of his child whose mother needs his support as she lives alone in London. He has not been able to tell the wife about his infidelity until then. The entire film takes place in his car and you get the story  from the phone conversations he has with his colleagues and wife and sons. He is also seen to have an imaginary conversation with his own father who has abandoned him as a child. Even though how his life is turned topsy turvy within a span of two hours’ drive does not seem possible, it is not improbable.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Right or wrong?

There is no right or wrong. But can anyone be so unassuming that anything goes? Everyone operates and approaches a task from his or her point of view and the role he or she assumes whether by choice or due to his or her job specifications or the circumstances that he or she is in. More often than not we respond or execute a task in a pragmatic manner. When it feels right and things work, we will continue to operate in that manner. A mother  usually cooks something wholesome for the family but a cook who does it as a living may not think about cooking something healthy as he or she just wants to serve something that is delicious and enticing to the customers. Is it his or her moral duty to see that the food he or she is serving is healthy for human consumption? The restaurateur’s objective is to make money and ensure that his or her restaurant is sustainable and not about sustainable living for the world. It is up to the individual to decide for himself or herself what he or she wants to consume.

When I first started practising law and doing civil litigation , I loved the challenge in getting a point across to the judge particularly when I found that my client had been wronged or there has been clearly misapplication of  the laws regardless of whether my client  is an individual, a landowner , a bank or a company. No matter how technical or tedious the legal points may be , it has always been interesting to find the cases and  authorities  to support my clients’ contentions.  After years of practice, I see that there are always doubts about what the clients tell us and it is a matter of perspective and perceptions but as a lawyer it is a matter of interpretation of the laws to suit our clients’ needs. Throughout the years I see that the banking documents run into voluminous pages as the banks and financial institutions have relentlessly and constantly worked on their clauses so as to make it impossible for the borrowers and consumers to succeed in court  should a dispute arises. It is a lawyer’s role to see that a particular client’s interest is well represented and safeguarded. The lawyer’s job is to act on  client’s instructions within the legal parameters and we must not think about the interest of the other contracting party. It is also our job to uphold our client’s rights and defend our client’s interest in court and winning the case  is what matters most.

In ‘It’s a Man’s World’ the novel written by Polly Courtney ,  Alexa Harris is asked to head up lads’ magazine , Banter.  Alexa is brainy and ambitious and always loves a challenge. She is subjected misogyny in the testosterone- fuelled office. When she introduces the My Girfriend mobile app for the lads’ magazine where one can upload nude pictures , she finds herself the target for the women’s rights activists who has  found the app to be pornographic and must be banned as it  perpetuates the notion that women are objects and one particular feminist persistently tracks her down to bring across the message that the lads’ magazines promote violence against women.  Georgie , the antagonist in the story tells  Alexa  that what the magazine has done is  brought sexual images and language into the mainstream and Alexa tries to argue that sex is everywhere and it is not the fault of the magazine. Alexa is so bent on achieving the sales target so that the magazine will stay afloat that she refuses to see the social harm the lads magazine may cause due to lack of control and the mobile uploads.

Shanghai 2011
At the work place, there are also women  who will dress  and behave  in a way to please the male bosses to  get ahead. The personal assistant in Banter , Sienna  is such a girl though she has writing talents. 

Alexa continued to drink her beer, feeling it mix with the tequila inside her and thinking about Riz’s words . He was right . There wasn’t a single move that the PA made that didn’t have a motive. She kept Derek sweet because she wanted to work her way into an editorial post. She played the dumb blonde because she wanted the team to see her as compliant and sexy – the perfect Banter girl. An outsider might say that she was the victim of sexual harassment at work, but in fact, it was the other way round. It was her male colleagues who were being played.
Tokyo Dec'06

‘She’s just biding her time,’ Riz said quietly.
‘What d’you mean?”
‘ She wants to do more editorial – not just the shitty problems letters she does for Neil. She’s looking around, I bet.’
Alexa looked at him. ‘Do you think?’
He nodded.

Tokyo  Dec' 06

Alexa’s mother and good friend, Leonie would never approve of what she is  doing at Banters. Alexa is forced to look at who she has become and the price she has to pay to get ahead.  There are interesting insights in the novel ‘ It’s a Man’s World’ .          

Monday, November 3, 2014

Carpe Diem

Last Saturday evening, a friend who now resides in Adelaide informed  me via a text  on my mobile phone that someone I knew from the university days passed away in Sydney that afternoon. I can still recall how the person looked, spectacled, tanned and thin. He was one of my flatmates for three months. Decades ago, six of us in our late teens got together and rented a big house near Coogee Beach in Sydney. The ad stated that there were several rooms and in reality only one of the rooms was a proper bedroom and it could barely fit in a double bunker bed.  All  six of us who had just gone over to Sydney for our matriculation moved into the house. We were mistaken to think that rooms had meant bedrooms when there was only one bedroom and the other rooms were basically living room and dining room.I still remember how all of us were away from home for the first lunar new year and we had missed our  respective families . After three months we decided to part as we had trouble focusing on our studies. Nonetheless we had fun  sampling each other’s cooking and I remember the guys seemed to be better cooks than me and the girlfriend who had kept in contact with these housemates. More than a year ago, I was also informed that another housemate had bitten the dust. Though I have not caught up with either of them for decades, I  feel rattled as these friends were still  some  years away from qualifying for senior travel discounts.

How often I am reminded that  life is transient, yet I get caught up with trivialities . Life is short is not just another cliché. Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero. Seize the day as you do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Seize the day enjoy the moment make full use of the moment. Not every life will leave a mark, not all lives are extraordinary, but I would imagine that these friends will be missed by their loved ones. Even though these friends and I have become strangers, their deaths still affect me. I cannot help thinking whether they had unrealized dreams. Death releases one from human sufferings. No matter what we say about human sufferings, we still prefer living than dying and we would like to hang on to life as long as we could.
In Kinder than Solitude, Yiyun Li wrote, “ Uncle’s death had caused, however transient ,a ripple of melancholy in Ruyu’s heart, followed by relief. Uncle had been one of those whose lives were saturated by unwarranted sadness, and what could be a kinder antidote to sadness than death itself?”

Yiyun Li also wrote,
 People don’t vanish from one’s life ;they come back in disguise.

Maybe it is about closure, some people have caught up with many of their school friends or varsity friends while some people choose to move on without a trace and leave their school friends wondering what could have happened to them. As a rule  most people will only let you in for what they want you to know and if you think about it, do you really want or need to know about  all the  things that have happened to the people you know? 
Beijing Dec'07
Kinder than Solitude is a fiction about three childhood friends who have chosen to live apart, two of them stayed away from their homeland while one of them remained behind in Beijing. They are  all haunted by a mysterious incident whereby a friend of theirs was poisoned and ended up in vegetative state for twenty-one years. In 1989, Ruyu , a fifteen year old  orphan was sent by her adoptive family  to Beijing to live with a relative and her family  and there she had met Moran and Boyang who had been close friends since they were children. At the relative’s place, she had to share a room with their only child, Shaoai, a rebellious twenty-two year old young woman who was  obstinate and has relentlessly caused her parents distress and pain. Against her parents’ wishes, Shoai had been active in the democratic protest in the summer and had to face disciplinary action from the university where she was studying international trade and relations. The story is about the loss of innocence in Moran and Boyang. Before Ruyu’s arrival, their school life had been straightforward and sweet. Ruyu had learnt not to trust anyone ever since she was very young. She had once been deceived by a girl in first grade who had often begged to be taken to her home and she had promised not to tell a soul about the visit, “yet the day after the visit everyone in the class seemed to have leaned something about her home, and even a couple of teachers came to ask her about her grandaunts’books.

 While the story is rather straightforward, Li’s descriptions of the characters and their psyches are definite and compelling. Li  writes as she describes a young girl whom Boyang is attracted to  when he is old enough to be her sugar daddy: “ What made her different from other disillusioned souls? All young people start with untainted dreams, but how many would retain their capacities to dream? How many could refrain from transforming themselves into corruptors of other untainted dreams? We are all wardens and executors biding our time; what’s taken from us, what’s killed in us, we wait for our turn to avenge.

Kinder than Solitude written by Yiyun Li is a page turner that keeps you in suspense about the irresolvable crime that has caused three friends to become estranged and how each character is driven into loneliness and solitude by the weightiness of  their own memory and guilt about the incident in which a friend of theirs has been poisoned. Another insightful writing about how one cannot  extricate oneself from one’s past no matter how hard one tries. Kinder than Solitude is not just about a murder mystery. click