My boy Bukowski

They say about geniuses that they are troubled, they are mavericks and they are miserable.

Charles Bukowski was a mad man, with terrible views on women, a pessimist who could wear down the happiest of souls, a not-very-good man, but he wrote like a scarcely believable dream.

He was my favourite writer’s favourite writer. That’s how I came to know of him.

I had read other books before, never poems. I hated poetry, what with all it’s fancy metaphors and characteristic exaggeration.

But, boy, was Bukowski’s poetry magic. I wonder how I became addicted to it. Maybe because it wasn’t writing about the beauty of trees, but of ordinary activities like finding jobs and drinking beer.

I don’t even know whether I treat it as poetry. It’s so unconventional it has got to be something else. Art, maybe. Or a slice of a life we’ve all lead for varying lengths of time but have qualms admitting to even ourselves.

Writers are powerful people. They are an important species. But not all of them are brave. Only a few maybe. Bukowski was.

He didn’t write about things that were all good and lovely and mushy and easy and nice. He didn’t write about things that were out there in the world somewhere which could be found with enough research.

He tore himself down, looked at what was inside of him, the little good, the slightly more bad, and the most ugly and he wrote about that. He constructed not sentences, but the pain that made him.

In a world which is afraid of reality, which craves drops of goodness like a teen rebel does acceptance, he didn’t go looking for what would give him an escape route. Instead, he chose to go to war with that which would without any doubt destroy him.

When he wrote about how his father beat him up or how he pretended to be pro-Nazis just so he could stand out, when he wrote about the despair which made him and surrounded everything he saw and felt, I felt that indescribable something which I haven’t ever while reading or watching stuff.

There was a truth to it that struck out, not the hard facts type of truth but a truth that only a person who has confronted their own ghosts and come to peace with all that is horrible and bad and mean and disgust worthy about them can talk about.

He wrote at a level so profound I think he should be classified as a philosopher. I have read Kafka as well. He was magnificent, powerful too. But with Bukowski the truth was more blunt, more personal, more everyday.

I have conflicting views, often.

I am a Jeremy Bentham fanboy as well, a firm believer in his utilitarian philosophy that what the ultimate aim of life is pleasure and happiness.

Maybe Bukowski’s was too, in his youth when he would still have hoped. But later, it was as if he knew he couldn’t be happy, that his life would be nothing but years of struggle and unwinnable battles with misery.

Going by what he wrote, and if his writing was one thing, it was the truth, he had stopped hoping. And that, I feel was a level of self realization theoretically mentioned in different philosophies but unheard of practically.

How can anyone continue if there is no hope? When they can’t even feel what good is? When they can’t even imagine happiness?

My girlfriend told me that once, when she was a kid, she asked her father what keeps beggars going. He told her that it’s the hope that one day they may graduate from sleeping on pavements to sleeping in the slums and from slums onto the next stage. It all depended on hope, that’s what drove them.

But in Bukowski’s struggle of an entirely different kind, he didn’t even have the one thing even those who possess nothing have.

In one of his books he has written that he didn’t want to kill himself. He was a coward, he said. He couldn’t do it.

And that probably was the mother of all ironies. A man who exemplified bravery with what he wrote considered himself a coward.

Bukowski wrote about the life we experience, he wrote about things like sleeping late into the afternoon and the nuances of working odd jobs and through it gave us a tiny glimpse into his world of pain.

One of the questions in an application I filled recently was to write a sentence on a person who has influenced me massively. This is what I wrote on Bukowsi:

I spent my whole life looking for magic and wonder, for greatness and genius since those were only things that were truly special in this world, always frustrated with the rigours and monotony of daily life, and then I read Bukowski, who wrote not about the unreality of the hopeful sunlight but of the reality of the pain of the night, a man who made the monotony of everyday, magic, carved out greatness from the ordinary, a man who glorified the life we live and not the life we seek, and made me quit the race which had no finishing line.

I’ve read and felt disgusted by some of his work. It is vile and nauseating, some of what he writes.

But it still affects me, sticks to me because it is the truth of the man who has written it.

The kind of truth we refuse to believe we also have.

 

*Featured Image Source – zzzessay.com

 

Hope

There are people. There are cars. There is noise. And there is heat. A typical early summer evening in the heart of Delhi. I’m seated in my car, busy flipping channels on the radio whilst simultaneously wishing the traffic subsides swiftly.

I can’t seem to keep still, so I look out of the window.

My eyes wander to the right and then to the left. I see a bunch of kids striding out to play cricket with a purpose most professionals would have a hard time matching. One of them is leading the bunch of seven, and he looks and behaves every way the boss. He’s telling them to take today’s match against the neighbouring colony seriously. We may be small, but we’re not pushovers, he says to them firmly. This is serious stuff, not just a stroll in the park, he keeps reiterating. In his eyes, there is a burning passion for victory, for success. And he’s hell bent on achieving that for himself. This resolve and dedication will take him places in life, I tell myself.

I then see a young girl engrossed in a text book sitting behind someone who appears to be her father on a rusty bicycle, not at all bothered with superficial things like traffic and the heat. I instantly smile, seeing in her, a hope for a better tomorrow, a want, a will to learn, to defeat what life has thrown at her. Not everybody has it. And those who do have a lot they can teach. She does. Inspiring, I think.

The traffic moves, and then halts again at the signal. I keep gazing out. The world has a lot to offer, only if we ever bother opening our eyes. Even if for a moment.

I now see a small temple to the left of the road after the crossing. And I see two people outside. A man who can hardly walk, he’s so weak. Wearing clothes with more holes than fabric, looking as if he had not eaten in days. But he’s there, in front of his God, in his eyes the controller of his fate, his life. Despite everything, he stands there, head bowed, hands folded, displaying unflinching hope in the one thing he believed in, faith. Lost in prayer. He’s probably been doing that every day of his life, for he hopes. And hope is all he has when there is no food on his plate, no roof over his head, no easy days to look forward to.

There are many stories we’ve heard, even been inspired by, of celebrities, sportspersons, and in some, very rare cases, of commonfolk achieving dreams despite all odds being stacked against them. But stories of people like the one outside the temple are no less inspirational. People like him are no less heroic.

For it’s not always in happy endings that victory resides. It’s in this defiance of life, in this sort of immovable hope and will that victory lies. It’s this struggle, this display of absolute courage that gives humanity, and ordinary people like me hope, and the will to carry on with a smile.

Right next to him stands an older man in a pristine white shirt and dark brown trousers, his driver having helped him out of his Bentley. This elder gentleman stands in the same posture as the man next to him. Head bowed, hands folded, deep in prayer. Probably thanking the almighty for all he has, praying that he keeps blessing him the way he has until now.

It would have made for a beautiful picture. These two men, poles apart in terms of how their lives have panned out, so different yet so similar, lost in reverence of the One. If only I had a professional camera, I sigh.

But it gets me thinking, aren’t we all the same?

Similar in foundation, different in manifestation.

All of us hope. Even when we say we have lost hope, deep down, a part of us still hopes. Some place their trust in God, their hope manifested through prayers and devotion. Some work day in, day out to make things happen. Some wait for a fairy tale. Some just wish for a miracle.

But we all hope, because hope is what humans are built on. Of one kind or another. Of one magnitude or another.

Every moment, every day, we hope. For things to become better, or for them to remain the same. It’s what we thrive on, it’s what we survive on.

That young boy hoped to defeat the elder boys from the neighbouring colony and prove that his team of smaller boys was good enough.

That young girl hoped to defeat what the world would feel is written for her – a life of poverty and struggle – and make something of whatever she has.

That homeless man at the temple hoped something, a force of nature maybe, would give him a shot at living a life of dignity.

And that older gentleman would hope his loved ones continue to prosper and be comfortable and happy. He may have internal struggles nobody knows a thing about, as is very often the case with these successful and ostensibly happy people, and he may hope for some inner peace. As a lot of people who’ve seen good money say, beyond a normal comfort level, it doesn’t really matter. Maybe for him too, it doesn’t matter. And he’s hoping for something else.

Everybody hopes. Sometimes even without knowing what we want.

But we live, and we hope each day. In search of that elusive something. If we keep at it, we’ll find it one day. All we need, all we have is hope.

 

 

My most unlikely teacher

He came. And he went. Just like that.

I met him for the first time on the day I had an exam. He had come to drive me to college. He ended up doing a lot more.

I generally tend not to notice things before an exam. With him, it was different. Something about the way he said hello, about the way he smiled, something, everything about him struck a chord within me, maybe moved me. It was at once both bizarre and beautiful.

He was quite old, probably in his fifties. His hair a combination of white and grey. He drove in a strange way, his back bent, hands firmly on the steering. A complete antithesis of what you would call a relaxed posture. In contrast with his body posture, his face was relaxed, the smile still there. That smile.

I couldn’t help observing all of it. I was just so fascinated by him.

In the area around my college, there was a lot of traffic. Knowing that I’ve got an exam, instead of getting stuck, he simply took another route.

I asked him which route we were taking. Not out of curiosity, but because I wanted make conversation with him. I had to.

During that conversation, as he was telling me all about the new route, his smile became wider. Seeing that, my smile became wider.

When we reached college, I told him that I’ll be back in the evening. I felt like saying more. I didn’t. He wished me luck.

On the way back, he was still smiling. There was just one short conversation, about the route once again.

When we reached home, I asked him how much money was due for his day’s work. It was his response that touched me, that hit me the hardest.

He told me to give him however much I felt he deserved. Here was a man who had to give half the money he earned to the agency for which he works. Here was a man who had no stable income to support his family. And he didn’t ask for the amount he was technically due. He asked for the amount his service for the day deserved.

Pretty emotional by this time, I gave him more than what his actual due was. At this time, the look on his eyes was beyond amazing. He looked so happy, it was unbelievable.

In that one moment, I realised that six hundred rupees could mean so much. But, I knew it was not because the money that he was smiling. It was because someone thought he deserved more than what he was due. I wish he knew I thought he deserved a hell of a lot more than what life had given him. I just wish.

That day, he taught me that one doesn’t need money to be happy, that one doesn’t need money or position to impact someone. He taught me that no matter how tough our lives are, it’s always possible to smile, and to make others around us smile. Much more, much better than any moral lesson or story ever can, ever will.

As he walked back, I smiled for I knew he would be coming the next day as well. The arrangement had been made for two days. I had another day to observe him, to learn from him.

The next day was pretty much the same as the one before. Just a bit more conversation. At one stage, I told him that I have not seen anyone who knows as many routes as he does. At that moment, he gleamed with pride. And then, as if he realised his pride was too evident, he tried to say, with a sense of modesty that anyone who drives for 15 odd years would have the same knowledge of routes. I knew he was lying. He knew that I knew he was lying. Small details. Intricacies.

While the day was quite similar to the one before, it was the night that was different. As I paid him, he smiled the same smile from the previous night. But, this time, I didn’t feel the same way. For, I knew he won’t come the next day. Or any day after that.

There was a strong sense of sadness I felt in that moment. The one that makes you go weak in the knees, the entire body. The heart.

While handing me the keys, he smiled and bid goodbye. As he walked back, in a hurried, mechanical manner, I went outside my house to take one look at him, to take one last look at him.

I may never see him again. But I will always remember him. For the world, he will just be a driver. For me, he will always be a teacher. My most unlikely teacher.

He came. And he went. Just like that.

 

*Featured Image Courtesy – https://www.pinterest.com