Tag Archives: driving

The Venus Flytrap: Highways On The Heart’s Journey

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There are two places on the Chennai-Dindivanam highway where the road curves alongside a wall of sheer rock, the side of a hillock cut down to make room for traffic. Once, a long time ago, driving during a thunderstorm at night, I rested my arm on the windowsill and woke from my sleep just enough to notice the jagged rock, painted with graffiti, and the lightning that illuminated it. I smiled, just then, that night, for the day we had just enjoyed in a town to the south. My oldest friend, her cousin and I. The memory came back to me again a few days ago, driving down that highway and back by daylight. And in the way that memory sieves and keeps the oddest things: I remembered how in years past, the radio signal would turn to static along that wall of stone, and noticed how it did not this time.

Why did some part of me wait to see that rock face as though it was someone I knew? I realised this only as we passed by it, and I felt for some strange reason something resembling joy. How is it that the memory of joy becomes joy itself?

We shared another highway and several long roads together a few months ago, my oldest friend and I, this time with her child. Another adventure, short but intense, sealed permanently in the heart. We weren’t even sure if we would go until we were already gone, the three of us squeezed into a single overnight train berth because not all our seats had been confirmed. I told her I was chasing a vision, and she indulged me. We hired a car and put more miles of roads into our memories. What will we remember when we talk or think of that trip, further into the future? A scattering of sacred places, a grove we drove into without entering the mountains it lay beneath, confidences exchanged, reasons for laughter, a meal, a moment which contained tears, a strange choice?

Not even a fortnight later, I found myself on the other side of that mountain range, on a completely different journey. What will come back to me from that trip, years from now? Ensconced in that travelling was a brush – not unlike driving past that stony hillock on another road – with a place in which I had once sat and watched the rain drip from the eaves of a cottage in a forest and knew with certainty that I had not finished missing someone who had long left me behind. Why did I remember that moment, so much later, in the same way I remember smiling through slumber on a storm-drenched highway, driving back from a reprieve on some distant Sunday? And what will I come to remember of what has just come to pass?

The spaces between journeys are long, for me, but I carry them far and further. Not to keep their memories alive, but to give myself life – so I am nourished always by the knowledge of what I’ve felt, what I’ve wagered, what I’ve been given, and what I’ve made with it.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on May 17th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Going There And Going Back

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When I tell people that my favourite film is Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, they do not understand. They do not understand how this coming-of-age story about two Mexican boys could be the film that I love the most; what could I possibly see of myself in it? But it is true. It is the one film that I can slip into seamlessly, without knowing when or where or if at all I will cry, without expectation, without the hyper-attentiveness that jades so many of our viewings of the films we think of as panaceas, as personal religion.

Like all great stories, this one lends itself to many perspectives. There is its strident sociopolitical commentary, the subtle, powerful and altogether unusual rendering of the female gaze in a manner devoid of fanfare, and of course, the pain, comedy and sensuality of lust. But those are a deconstructionist’s ways of approaching a film that is all these things but in its essence, far more. Ultimately, all that remains are the teenagers, Julio and Tenoch, and Luisa, the woman who lets them spirit her away to look for a secret beach that they invent spontaneously as a joke.

In one way or another, not one of them returns to the city. The journey changes them all. One finds absolution. The others slip back into their lives, disconcerted to find that it does go on, that memory is a broken record but the passage of time is rarely so sentimental.

Like anyone who has ever been on a highway in the wee hours of dawn, under a sky so bruised, so dark like a heart, I am enamoured by the quintessential romance of the road trip. The self suspended between someplace and someplace else. I feel geographical attachments viscerally. Some of the most poignant moments of my life have been in the infinite silence of this suspension.

Poignant because happiness is a thing of hindsight. Julio and Tenoch have no idea that this trip – this joke, this cheap thrill of whisking this attractive older woman off in their car in aimlessly hedonistic pursuit – will contain so much. They do not know while it happens that they will see joy for what it is only in the wake of devastation, and that perhaps it will never again be so uncomplicated, so complete.

We come so far, we cut so deep. And then we flee the scene, retreating back into life as we believe we know it. But whether we choose this or not, we become like the monk in the Japanese poem made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert who stands atop a mountain and watches the world unfurl before him, all its secrets within his sight. And like the monk we return to the marketplace, to ordinariness, forever carrying the mountaintop under our robes.

And above all else, this may be why Y Tu Mamá También resonates so deeply with me: I cannot name my favourite scene. There is no one sequence so conspicuous in my mind that it outshines the rest, and this is why it feels so much like life. The experiences that shape us most are like mirrorballs, catching the light at different angles, revealing different facets at each one. We spend the rest of our lives turning them over and over, always finding something startling. We spend the rest of our lives trying to understand those moments, to encapsulate them somehow in anecdotes or inspired art. We spend the rest of our lives trying to go back.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.