Safe in hope’s cocoon

Sayantan Ghosh | Updated on May 18, 2018

Eyes on you Actors Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu

Shoojit Sircar’s October is about keeping faith, beyond science and logic, and a doctor’s call

Watching Shoojit Sircar’s October, you’ll be instantly immersed in a sort of sadness that is difficult to shake off. How do you deal with a film that doesn’t offer solutions and celebrates gloom like spring celebrates cherry trees? This film is a Neruda poem come alive. A sudden tragedy leaves a young hotel worker in a comatose state and, with the exception of her mother and a reckless colleague she was never very close to, no one believes that she might recover one day. Practicality is hope’s biggest adversary, because, unlike despair, it doesn’t strike from the front. It creeps up from behind and envelops hope when the night is dark and hope is at its weakest. Accidents are a matter of chance, but hopelessness is a choice.

When Dan (Varun Dhawan’s character) refuses to give up on Shiuli (Banita Sandhu’s character), even when most of the hospital staff and her own family members do, Dan’s friends find his behaviour foolish. Capitalism doesn’t allow hope to breathe freely. Dan begins to spend every night at the hospital, missing his shifts at the hotel where he worked with Shiuli, losing his calm often and eventually losing his job, after an outburst of bottled frustration. But it’s through his unshakeable confidence in her that Shiuli’s muted body finds not just warmth but also a voice. Hope is different from belief. Belief is when you remind yourself that, no matter what, you’ll reach the finishing line before everyone else. Hope is when you trip and fall a thousand times and rise again, but never give up.

Hope lies in not doubting. When Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay started writing the novel Chander Pahar about the adventures of a young Bengali villager who travels to the forests of Africa, without ever setting foot outside the country himself, the author’s friends must have laughed at him too. When I was moving to Delhi to try my luck in the publishing industry — with a history of running away from internships, chickening out of plausible professional courses, losing friends, failing at multiple jobs — the last thing my mother told me with tears in her eyes was, “Don’t come back.” I knew even then she must have been deeply saddened to hear those words come out of her, because not a day passes when she doesn’t miss me. But she was more scared that I’d fail once again. I remember holding her hand and giving her my word that I won’t — something I had never done before. It must have been very difficult for her to believe me that day, but she hoped that for once I was right, and I hoped that the remaining ₹300 in my bank account would last me a few days, during which I could find employment. Thankfully, an overgenerous close friend had taken care of food and shelter for the time being. It’s been more than five years since, and I’m still here.

Everything I write often tends to end with a story about my grandfather whom I was close to. So here’s one. In January 2001, the day he died, we were all home. There was no time to take him to the hospital because he was sinking fast after having battled cancer for months. When the doctor arrived and couldn’t find a heartbeat, he began to give my grandfather chest compressions like I had only seen in films. As the doctor pressed the heel of his hand against my grandfather’s chest, a moaning sound came out of his mouth. After doing this two or three times, the doctor stopped and announced to the room that my grandfather was dead. When I asked about the sound from his mouth, the doctor said it was just the body’s doing and something about the soul having left it.

But I recognised that sound. I had spent years with my grandfather, and not some doctor, and in those years I had heard him make a similar sound every time he came back from a long walk or climbed the stairs, due to his weak lung. For years I had seen him sitting by the door, catching his breath before entering the house. I was ready to believe when the doctor said that he was perhaps breathing his last, it was only natural after having suffered for so long. We all knew it was coming. But during his final moments, what the doctor saw, perhaps rightly too, as a mark of leaving, I saw as a sign of reaching out. So when the doctor stepped away from him, I stepped closer to the bed and continued applying pressure on his chest like I had seen the doctor do. And I didn’t stop until my grandfather went completely silent. I don’t remember how long it took, perhaps only a few minutes or even less. But it was important for both him and I, for the relationship we had nurtured and shared for 15 years, to know that until there’s hope of coming back to each other, neither of us gave up. I couldn’t stop him from leaving, of course. But I wanted him to leave with the thought that beyond science and logic and a doctor’s call, we kept faith.

In October Dan always wears a helmet when he goes to visit Shiuli on his motorcycle. With a helmet on, outside noise often doesn’t reach you. All you are left with is the sound of your own heart beating safe in hope’s cocoon and the occasional car horn, which you learn to ignore with practice. When we learn to hope, we manage to erase those voices that remind us that we are being irrational, or unrealistic. Or simply the fact that we can’t have what we want. Take away this audaciousness of the human condition and all we’ll become is a name, data saved in a server somewhere. But where is the fun in that?

Pablo Neruda wrote:

I like you when you are quiet because it

is as though you are absent.

Distant and painful as if you had died.

A word then, a smile is enough.

And I am happy, happy that it is not true.

This is the most hopeful thought that I can leave you with.

Sayantan Ghosh is a Delhi-based writer

Published on May 18, 2018

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