Rosalyn D'Mello: In search of the right choice
I've often thought about how this tussle between dharma and karma has mostly been represented as a male predicament
Truly wise, seasoned international travellers use their in-flight time to sleep. I am not one of them. I'm not talking about domestic flights that are of the more touch and go variety, but rather those plane journeys where you land in either another country or continent; ones that are at the very least between three to eight hours long. Whether I'm travelling business class, (which has happened only twice), or economy (more the norm), while other passengers around me are catching up on sleep, I can be seen with my head held high by my neck pillow, sipping from my glass of wine stationed on my tray table, with a blanket wrapped over me from head to toe. I look just like my fellow passengers; except, if you look closely, you're most likely to find tears streaming down my face. I'm not talking about moist-laden eyes. I mean a silent, but all-out weep. I'm supremely dignified about it, and unapologetic, too. I'm convinced it has everything to do with a combination of cabin pressure and the crying juice I'm sipping that's otherwise known as red wine. This has become assumed the status of a delightful ritual, especially since I travel alone.
At first I didn't realise how much consideration went into selecting the perfect film to watch on flight, because I wasn't aware of my tendency to cry. I still exert the same effort deciding what I'm going to invest time in. It's just that now I do it more consciously. What I watch has come to assume significant meaning. I can now remember whole flights because of the films I saw while I was on them. When I was en route from Singapore to Brisbane, for instance, the longer leg of the flight from New Delhi, I watched Miles Ahead, an inventive, fictional film about Miles Davis and his renegade attempts to retrieve an album he cut that was stolen from his home because he didn't want the world to listen to it yet, because it wasn't ready, because he had yet to arrive at something and didn't want what he had recorded to interfere with his legacy. The second film I watched was Youth, by Paolo Sorrentino, starring Michael Caine, who plays an ageing conductor on a spa retreat in Switzerland with his daughter, who is visited by one of the Queen's men with a request for him to conduct his famous suite, Simple Songs, which he has refused to have performed for decades. I cried at the end of both films, sometimes
also in the middle. On my flight from New Delhi to Singapore, when I travelled business class on an Air India Dreamliner, while everyone was asleep (because it was past 2 am), I was busy sobbing over An Affair to Remember while sipping on a generous portion of Talisker.
This time, while on the second leg of my return from Italy; from Dubai, I managed to catch up on the Brazilian film I'd watched when I boarded in Milan called Like Our Parents. When I was done with that, I chose to watch Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. Needless to say the film un-did me. On my way to Dubai on April 13th, I'd seen Audrey Hepburn charm the pants off Humphrey Bogart in the 1954 film, Sabrina. I had three hours, enough time to really delight in her character, crown Princess Ann's taste of freedom when she decides, while in Rome, to escape the ennui of her sheltered life and seek freedom on the streets, where she encounters Peck, who plays Joe Bradley, an American reporter. It's a marvellous film, about a woman going rogue, in a sense, reneging, however momentarily, from her responsibilities as a princess. When she realises it's time for her to go back to her life, because she is obligated to her country and her people, she is conflicted, because she has already fallen in love with Bradley. It feels like a point of no real return, because she arrives at a dilemma; she must choose duty or she must choose love. She cannot have both.
As I wept, unwittingly, I thought about how this tussle between dharma and karma has mostly been represented as a male predicament, most notoriously forming the premise of the Ramayana. For women it gets reduced to the over-sized umbrella of "having it all", whatever that means. There are exceptions, of course, but in the case of women these have been manifest in terms of career or love, which is a different philosophical dilemma. It occurred to me that until very recently, the choice was not one that women were even allowed to make for themselves. I continued to scratch the surface of this thought of what could constitute feminist duty, but I have, as yet, only arrived at the topsoil. Because at heart I think the decisions I have made in my life perhaps already embody the answer.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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