Friday, January 26, 2007

‘Autobiography’ by proxy. Or, design.

I happened to buy yesterday at the Strand Bookstall annual exhibition Premchand’s ‘autobiography’ – compiled by the supposedly ‘final’ authority on Munshi Premchand, Madan Gopal. Entitled My Life and Times, it is described on the cover and the front page as “(an autobiographical narrative)”. In other words, a narrative ‘created’ (or ‘recreated’ as Gopal put it unthinkingly) by stringing the stuff that Premchand wrote (some of it in English and the rest translated, letters published and unpublished and so forth, with the gaps filled in by Gopal’s interpolations printed in italics). The outcome is quite riveting. I found myself devouring the narrative greedily just how Premchand by his own admission used to devour gur. Totally guileless and other worldly he seems to be as a person judging from his own words. He is quite open about his own shortcomings, e.g., his utter callousness towards his first wife because she was ugly, his ratting on his cousin in order to save himself for punishment and so forth. In fact, the way he tells his life story totally disarmed me as a reader. Charming and artless. Worth a read.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Peter Pan is also Peter Piper?

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?"

Mother Goose could not have known of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan (1911). She couldn’t have known of Pan’s talent for playing a mean tune on his Pan pipes, just like Pan of the Greek Mythology. So, the two Peters couldn’t possibly be one and the same person. Also, there’s the delectable evidence of P Piper’s fondness for pickled peppers. In P Pan’s Neverland, most meals were make-believe. So, there you are. If Mother Goose is to be taken at her word, though, her Peter too was as forgetful (he forgot where he left the pickled peppers, didn’t he?) as Barrie’s Peter. In fact, Peter Pan’s ability to forget was legendary. He forgot he had killed Hook after the deed. He even went on forgetting his annual spring cleaning date with Wendy Darling with impunity. There’s a Freudian angle to Barrie’s Peter that is both alluring and intriguing. Peter’s search for a mother for himself and the Lost Boys continued relentlessly although he hated all grown-ups including mothers especially. In his books, a mother was solely for insisting little boys go to bed at a decent hour, tucking them in, telling them bedtime stories, darning their socks, washing their dirty clothes, bandaging their cuts and bruises, giving them medicine, cooking their meals – even make-believe ones – and stuff like that. Even Hook and his pirates seriously discussed getting Wendy to play mother to the Jolly Roger crew. Peter and Wendy played father and mother to the Lost Boys who also had among their ranks Wendy’s younger brothers. And, so on. There’s a ‘Time must have a stop’ sub-theme running through the tale as well. Hook’s nemesis, the Tick-Tock Croc, is there to remind the reader that Time is chasing after each and every one of us as long as we live and breathe. (As a counterpoint, we must remember that the reason George Darling won Mary was because he took a taxi ahead of all her other suitors and proposed to her first – a worthy reward of his ability to save Time, get it?) Peter, the eternal boy, retained his original (milk/baby) teeth all along because he refused to grow up. The fountain of his eternal childhood probably sprang from his ability to forget and therefore not be a slave of Time. His emotions too were ambiguous. There’s an on-and-off sexual tension between him and Wendy, him and Tiger Lily and him and Tinker Bell which he is unable to identify as such because he is a child. His refusal to grow up is an indicator of his inability to take on grown-up responsibilities although as, the leader of the Lost Boys, he was already shouldering the burden of their welfare. That is why he lured Wendy and her brothers to Neverland in the first place, remember? However, when it came to long-term commitment, he was quite firm about not staying back with Wendy and the rest of the Lost Boys. The only commitment he made to Wendy – and sporadically kept – was to take her to Neverland once a year for ‘spring cleaning’ (clearing up the cobwebs of memories and other trivia accumulated over a year?). The Wikipedia article about Peter Pan mentions a Dr. Dan Kiley who coined the psychiatric term "Peter Pan syndrome" for his 1983 book on the subject to “describe an adult who is afraid of commitment and/or refuses to act his age. It is also sometimes used to positively describe an innocent, childlike approach to life.” (In the same vein, Wendy is the girl-woman who acts the role of mother.) Remember, ‘Pan’ (which at times means ‘all’ as in ‘pan-American’) is also a root of ‘panic’ (= sudden fear, especially in lonely places). All the while I was reading Peter Pan, the one melody I kept hearing in my mind was the Lawrence of Arabia theme. With good reason, I realised on reflection. Like Peter, Lawrence too recklessly refused to grow up and chased adventures. Like Peter too, he loved to ‘fly’ … on his mobike. Unlike Peter Pan, though, he wasn’t immortal. P.S.: One claim I find hilarious is Michael Jackson as Peter Pan Never mind the 2700-acre Neverland. Never mind the persistent rumour about Peter being androgenous. Never mind the dark hints that JM Barrie, like Lewis Carroll, was a pedophile. The MJ=PP ‘equation’ is too weird to be believed.