Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Romeo, Juliet and a When

For millions of people the world over, the words "Romeo and Juliet" instantly bring to mind an artist unrivalled for his skill with words and strings; one whose name is, to borrow from an advertising catalogue, a byword for excellence. His creations are of such beauty and power that even the Gods themselves - Tendulkar being one - have confessed to feeling weak in the knees when listening to him.

And on a day when he got up from just the right side of the bed, felt his feet finding his slippers at just the right place, and found his newspaper - unspoilt by rain or forest fire - on the front porch with just the right tidings, he let loose a challenge into the morning air: he roared "Carpe diem!" After finishing up with the roaring and clearing his throat, Mark Knopfler strode purposefully into his study, and wrote what will be known for all time as humanity's legacy: Romeo and Juliet.

Now comes the strange part. We get into bare-fisted fights over Bessel Functions and non-linear partial differential equations*. We debate endlessly on whether a pizza is a pizza when we start making it, or only when it's taken out of the oven. We burn books for a misplaced comma in countless, soporific texts. But the true Words of Wisdom, in what is beyond challenge the greatest song ever written, we allow to be mutilated; to have its meaning and its power sheared away by an inability to listen and to understand.

When you can fall for chains of silver, you can fall for chains of gold
You can fall for pretty strangers and the promises they hold

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now; for never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo and their leading "when" - sometimes omitted, sometimes replaced by a banality as "Well." Would we allow "The Third Man" to be seen without that image of Harry Lime leaning thoughtfully in the dark street, a sardonic smile on his face revealed by an unexpected flash of light from the window high up? Would we allow the Continental Op to be shown a weak, corrupt man, jaded beyond recognition; or Philip Marlowe a mumbling, vicious idiot? Would we allow a very tall man to flick boogers up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? And yet, web page after web page, we find when-less.

You see, in the When lies the Answers. It tells us how we love, why we hate, and lays the foundations on which mathematics is built. It even admits that love does ensnare us from time to time; but only until we see before us the shadow of something that holds - but does not make - the promise of being as gold compared to the silver that we have.

And that, my friends, is why men with wives and kids** in Baltimore go for a ride, and, like a river that knows not where it flows, never go back. Those lines tell us where we find the strength to smile at our friends while we scheme behind our masks. They explain every body, with a knife through its heart, in every gutter. They hint at what makes us doubt that the stars are fire, that the Sun doth move, or that Truth be a liar. And isn't that what makes life worth living; without that doubt, wouldn't such a thing as love, to take just one example, be not only commonplace but also lacking in all passion?

Now consider Knopfler's lines without the "when." You can wake up in the morning, you can go to the office. You can make sure you're the conformist line on your manager's spreadsheet, and then you can catch the bus back home. You can soak in flashes of light and sound blended, talk to other carbon-based bipeds maybe, have sex with willing quadrupeds, or read poems about trees and hills and fences and lakes. And after a few years, you can die.

*Or so claims Arthur C Clarke.

**While this is a song I love, a friend pointed out the sexism and adultism it hides - would it have hurt Springsteen to rephrase it as "spouse and dependents"?

P.S. - Something (I forget what exactly), Sreenivasan said, is like an award-winning film: the film-makers intend one thing, the audiences see something very different, and the award jury divines something else altogether that is neither of the first two. But I suppose that doesn't hold here. After all, it's obvious what Knopfler intends: here is the great man telling us all that the meaning of life isn't 42.

6 comments:

Kiara... said...

And i quote by Mr.something someone, "A sense of humor is a major defense against minor troubles".....
with a lil modification there my quote goes like,"A GREAT sense of humor is a major defense against MAJOR troubles"
nice blogs Sir, but can u read between the lines..? :)
cheers!!!

Rohan said...

Why, thank you, Kiara. And I usually have to be beaten over the head with the bleeding obvious. But still, what would you have me read?

Kiara... said...

well, as mr.monsterjob.com says u are clearly 'caught in the wrong job'...more than half of ur reads are based on cinema - and that being your major trouble(or so i think)...choose not to choose life, i say!
'just remember that!' (with the funny screwed up hand gesture he does... and by the way, it actually is a gesture for f**k off in most of the Arab countries)

Rohan said...

A fair point. :)

Thanatos said...

"Mark Knopfler has an extraordinary ability to make a Schecter Custom Stratocaster hoot and sing like angels on a Saturday night, exhausted from being good all week and needing a stiff drink"

Rohan said...

That's a great quote, Thanatos. This is the second time in a few weeks that I've seen unruly angels being used as a metaphor for a certain kind of understated genius: "... [Laxman] batting like angels would do if they smoked, drank bourbon and sang the blues."