25 April 2012

On heart-unbuckling

It is morning here in Chalkidiki, Greece.  Early morning.  Six o’clock.  It is still very dark.  In the hotel lobby, there is a young Chinese girl checking out places of interest in Greece on the internet, I am sure.  There’s music.  The theme music from the classic film ‘Zorba the Greek’. 

I haven’t met Zorba yet but then again I’ve been here less than a week.  The music took me back to the year 1990 and Boston, where I first saw the film.  Films, for me, are creative works that give you two or three thing to reflect on and maybe something that opens hitherto unopened eyes to see things in ways unseen before.  Good films, I should add.  Forgettable films are forgotten quickly.  ‘Zorba’ is a classic because it gave me many eyes and showed me colours I had not seen before and one or two yet unnamed. 

Remembering is now-made.  It is the today and this-moment of our lives that makes us remember certain things and not others, from films as well as any other art form.  This morning I remembered a scene from Zorba that is at once funny as well as illuminative of certain eternal verities. Here goes.

Zorba and his master (referred to as ‘boss’), the owner of a lignite mine in a Greek island are confronted by a beautiful widow who is looking for a stray goat.  The two men return the goat.  Zorba notices the glance exchange between his boss and the woman and says, ‘boss, she wants you.’  The boss reflects a moment and responds, ‘no Zorba, I don’t want any trouble’.  Zorba’s observation is a classic: ‘but boss, life is trouble; just unbuckle your belt and embrace trouble!’  Anthony Quinn as Zorba roars with laughter.

I hadn’t read the book on which the film is made then.  I read the Sinhala translation by Saddatissa Wadigamangawa (more than adequately saluted at his death by W.A. Abeysinghe in a classic tribute to a newspaper titled ‘Zorba nam voo sinhalaya’ – Zorba the Sinhalese).  Zorba’s retort was laid out thus (my translation is poor):

‘Lokka, one day you will die and go to your maker.  He will ask you, “Lokka, that innocent woman came to you looking for comfort, for softness, for love. Did you comfort her with tenderness and love, Lokka? No, you did not!  Off to hell lokka!”’

It turned Christian morality on its head, spoke to something far more fundamental and indeed divine about the human condition, the purity of heart-things, of loving regardless of consequence and being honest to self and world.  We are not like that, are we?  We are, for the most part, a mind-species, given to calculation, weighing of marginal costs and marginal benefits, preoccupied with insurance policies and playing safe.  Our brave words and flamboyancy is make-up and disguise and say more about our fears, flaws, ignorance and poverties than anything else. 

I met a Zorba, a Sinhalese, in Kandy a few years ago.  Zorba Lelum Ratnayake was attending the wedding of a mutual friend, Zorba Chaaminda Ratnasuriya.  ‘Malinda, mama dan premawanthayek (I am a lover now, Malinda)’.  ‘Aadarayata aththe ekama namai, machang,’ I said.  He said he understood me perfectly and pointed out that if love is love and if it is to reside in the dizzying but ultimately pure heights of virtue, then it must be cognizant of and comply with the sathara brahma viharana, metta (compassion), muditha (ability to rejoice in another’s joy), karuna (kindness) and upekkha (equanimity). 

There is a lot of love we lose by ‘loving’, that is loving in accordance to convention, being according to norm, doing the ‘right thing’ as defined by convention, which in the final instance is nothing but rule-sets defined and ratified by flawed human beings, whatever the rhetoric and reference pertaining to divine edict.  There is a lot of life that we lose by living.  And we dare not say the truth of heart and heartbeat because of the costs involved, the ‘life’ that such confession/affirmation we would be deprived of. 

We love and live within pre-defined boundaries and this is not bad or wrong of course.  Societies must have coherence and anarchical love and living can blur boundaries and cause much distress.  And yet, there’s something primordially innocent in Zorba-love that is not synonymous with the physical act implied by belt-unbuckling. 

The Chinese girl stayed on that web page until the theme song was over. I was at that moment listening to a song from the 1973 Hindi movie ‘Bobby’, Main Shayar To Nahin, ‘I am not a poet’.  We don’t have the words, I felt.  The theme music of ‘Zorba’ conjured a thousand images and thoughts and a million sensations, all collapsible and collapsing into a definition of love that is taboo. 

We don’t unbuckle heart-belts for love. We undress for sex. 

Such a pity!

[written in October 2010 while in Greece as Manager of the Sri Lankan Youth Chess Team for the World Youth Chess Championships] 


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