Ranjona Banerji: When the only option is fantasy

Jul 12, 2017, 06:08 IST | Ranjona Banerji

The basilisk is still roaming around India and you can sense it moving in the corners of your eyes, even as you try to look away

The series now outpaces George RR Martin’s books and the final season is almost upon us, winter is coming. Pic/Game of Thrones official Facebook page
The series now outpaces George RR Martin's books and the final season is almost upon us, winter is coming. Pic/Game of Thrones official Facebook page

In the Chamber of Secrets, the second in the Harry Potter series, a basilisk roams around Hogwarts hissing "kill" and students and animals are petrified by it. Harry and his brave friends work hard to beat the basilisk and everything it implies. At the moment though, with a sort of "kill" frenzy roaming around India, I confess that I have no courage to even read about it, let alone write, and have instead decided on both fright and flight.

How does one escape and where to? Physical escape is too complicated and few of us can afford to go on holiday forever. And besides, it is not the physical one wants to escape from, but the relentless creeping madness of hatred and violence that is beginning to consume us, made worse by the justifications of viciousness and the mocking of those who are disquieted or frightened of it.

Luckily for me, on my escape journey, there's Wimbledon. Tension, butterflies in the tummy, gut-wrenching fear, joy and elation – it's all there in each match that Roger Federer plays. Add to that the glorious thrill of watching new talent emerge or old talent, like Venus Williams for instance, involved in tough negotiations where canny experience wins over youthful enthusiasm.

On Monday night, even as a resilient Andy Murray fought off a mercurial Benoit Paire and Federer diminished the very talented Grigor Dimitrov, French Open champion Rafael Nadal was involved in an almost five hour nailbiter with Gilles Muller of Luxembourg. Muller, 34, had beaten a 19-year-old Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon in four sets in 2005. He was called "Gilles the Giant-killer" by a bloodhound press always looking for new underdogs.

Now, 12 years later, after being plagued by injury, Muller is back. Nadal and he locked horns for five sets which ended at 15-13 in the fifth set. The weather and satellite television allowing, the world's oldest tennis tournament – 140 years old this year – offers sanctuary and excitement every evening.

Philosophical parallels between life and sport aside, at the moment, Wimbledon is testament to human achievement and will, both weak and indomitable.

Also a revelation – in a completely different field, is British actor Rowan Atkinson as Georges Simenon's legendary detective Jules Maigret.

Atkinson has long been a comedian, best known as Blackadder for the discerning and Mr Bean for everyone else. To see him in a serious role shorn of exaggerated mannerisms and impossible facial contortions is a blessing and a marvel. Indeed, that he can keep his mobile face so still and bring such gravitas to the role of this great French detective speaks of greater acting skill and talent than he has been credited with so far.

Once a week, you feel is almost not enough to watch Atkinson cast a spell on the viewer and take old familiar stories – for connoisseurs of crime fiction – and make them his own. And again, one is fascinated with the way the French criminal justice system works, with its inquisitorial system and not the adversarial system we use here in India as well as in England and America. The ideas of guilt and innocence, of intent and action, of incitement and violence and of crime and punishment are usually so much better portrayed in fiction than in real life and crime fiction almost always ensures that justice is done.

But, there are times when the fictional answer is too pat. The basilisk is still roaming around India and you can sense it moving in the corners of your eyes, even as you try to look away. The only option then is fantasy. And the biggest, most outrageous, most violent and most Machiavellian fantasy world is on its way to television viewers.

How wonderful for human invention and imagination that in spite of all the horrific things we have done as humans throughout our history, we are still shocked and stunned by Game of Thrones. Nothing is too vile if it gets the job done: that is the promise that this series offers, as it now outpaces George RR Martin's books. The final season is almost upon us, the Great War is here and winter is coming.

Immersed in a world where bad is horrific and good is pretty bad, I can only pretend that it has dimmed the sound of the basilisk.

For now.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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