Mastering the Fates

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How about a film marathon? Watching movies based on the flaming human spirit that pursues excellence against all odds? In a coincidence that bordered on the mystical, I was recently afforded an opportunity to watch a few of such soulful ones: On Pele, on Jesse Owens, on Mandela, on Alan Turing.

‘The Imitation Game’ makes you weep- with overwhelming empathy for a tortured genius. Alan Turing the brilliant mathematician who was driven to suicide at 41, has been beautifully portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.  The enigmatic Turing pieces together the world’s first thinking machine amidst mind numbing pressures, battles deep human prejudices and yearns for life assuring friendships.  All the while, he is quietly saving millions of lives.The film makes us aware of how deeply flawed we are, as a human race. We are the most cruel of all living beings. I felt touched by an Angel after watching this beauty of a movie.

‘Invictus’, is named after William Ernest Henley’s poem that was Nelson Mandela’s favourite. It depicts the elegant Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, emerging from prison in 1994 after 27 years. He is faced with a divisive nation where mutual hatred and suspicions reign. The Rugby World Cup of 1995  is used as an opportunity by the great leader to  inspire a unifying sense of nationhood in the South Africans. One sees leadership in action, greatness in front of the eyes, making us dazzled with the purity of the undying human spirit and the enthralling power of sports.( I loved the Maori war dance, the Haka, before the finals.)

‘ Out of the darkness that covers me/Black as the pit from pole to pole/ I thank whatever Gods may be/ For my unconquerable soul…’

‘Race’- the movie on Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics under Hitler’s very eye, is  both informative and inspiring.We see that the White House  did not acknowledge Owens’ victory and that he was forced to enter his own victory party  at the Waldorf Astoria through the entrance meant for servants. Jesse Owens the quietly confident star, his encounter with German competitor Luz  Long that carries a beautiful story in its  own strength, the manipulations of power- all make for  a mesmerising watching. I  was stunned by the actor who enacted Joseph Goebbels with finesse- Barnaby Metschurat- for the sensitively portrayed body language, the look in his eyes, the palpable touch of evil power. The nexus between politics, business and sports was again high lighted through the story of Avery Brundage. Someone should study that character further for a management course in Power and Politics.

Pele-the birth of a legend, the biographical film, with music by A.R.Rehman, should not be missed by football fans. I wished that my father was watching it with me- when  I watched Pele’s father teaching him the Ginga style (inspired by the Capoeira martial arts )of playing football , using a mango fruit. The mind numbing poverty and the amazingly talented  Brazilian children playing football with cloth balls were eye openers in a literal sense too. Here too, was the human spirit at work, aiming for excellence amidst all odds. The beautiful game is showcased in a wonderful way.

‘ It matters not how strait the gate

How charged with punishment the scroll

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.’

***

 

Rereading Invictus

When the marks had come of the vernacular language, in the critical Boards examination, shock awaited me. I had scored much less than what my teacher had expected. I remember standing crying, swearing never to study the (erstwhile) beloved subject again.

” How could this happen, sir?  I really performed well. Never will I touch Malayalam again.”

Pavlov would have found a nice explanation about my reaction.

My learned teacher, an old man , believed in telling the truth- not sugar coating it with consolation.

” Do the opposite,” he smiled.

” What? ” I sobbed, all rebellion.

” Definitely study the subject further. Score the highest in your future course, and take sweet revenge.”

That was a great “aha” moment for me. I was being asked to take defeat on the chin and move on. And dare to dream again.

” More. Do more. Write a book someday in your mother tongue,” he laughed.

” In Malayalam?” I asked, wonder struck. ” There are too many stars here..where do I find my space, sir?’

” One day, you will find your space. Might be totally yours too. Find your own strong points- something totally your own”, he said firmly.

” Now, recite a favourite poem for me. In whatever language you like.”

I rubbed my eyes and recited  Henley’s Invictus.

.. In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

****

My beloved teacher is no more.

At the beginning of this new year, after 25 years of that conversation, I have cheerful news.

The leading publisher in my mother tongue has informed me that they are planning to publish two of my books.

One is a poetry translation from English. Another is a Philosophy translation from Hindi.

I have found my space, sir. And I touch your feet in my memories, with reverence.For that timely encouragement , when the head was bloodied with defeat and I  had thought to call it quits.

May there be teachers like you, world over. May  more dreams be kindled by words like yours. May each of us find our little space to shine in this beautiful world, using whatever gifts we are blessed with.

To remain, unique. To serve, in whatsoever way.However late it may be, in the order of time.

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