Heartwarming Semblance – Latest News – The Nation

Recently, an article on Irrfan Khan written by Abhrajyoti Chakraborty for Hazlitt snuck into my Twitter feed. What followed was a dive down a rabbit hole that made me watch and re-watch some of Khan’s works. I will limit my attention to two of them for this article: “the namesake” and his scenario in “In treatment”. The following is full of spoilers for both, so be warned. In the first, the namesake, Ashoke (played by Irrfan) is an Indian-Bengali who ends up living in New York after surviving a train crash. In this unfortunate journey, he happens to interact with a stranger who, after making his trip to the UK, pushes Ashoke to be adventurous as well. Eventually, Ashoke moves to the United States and ends up marrying Ashima (played by Taru). She gives him two children: Gogol and Sonia.
The film sees most of the main characters struggling with their identities. Gogol wants to wash away his Indianness and chooses not to give in to nostalgia for his parents. Eventually, when Ashoke dies, Gogol does what many do: he indulges in nostalgia and eventually discovers that the decisions he made as a result of this were based on a superficial sense of his Indian identity. Ashoke, on the other hand, manages to maintain a sense of appearance by creating a partial world, the part he has under his control, on his own terms of Indianness. In more ways than one, his story also ends on his own terms.
Similarly, in ‘In Treatment’, Irrfan plays one of the characters, named Sunil, who visits a certain psychologist. He is brought in by his son and his white wife and they insist he has become low key and withdrawn. Although it takes time and some extraordinary compromises on the part of the psychologist, Sunil finally opens up. What we hear is a wild and inconsistent account of Sunil’s past. He delves into the deepest secrets of his past, only to sweep them away with random observations of his present. During a visit, he deduces to the psychologist that he feels a certain aggressiveness towards his stepdaughter, which she herself implies when she drops Sunil off on the first day. Fearing for her safety, the psychologist warns the daughter-in-law who, in turn, calls the police. When the police arrive and ask Sunil for his immigration papers, he refuses to show them. Eventually, he is taken to jail and has to be deported. The psychologist and Sunil have one last talk as they are separated by safety glass in the prison. It is then that Sunil unpacks what he has done: he confesses that he had wanted to return to India but as his dying wife had made his son promise to keep Sunil in the USA, he would not be allowed by his son to go back. So the only way for him to go back was to shape the circumstances so that he was forced back. Sunil admits he fabricated the assault allegation knowing that if the psychologist intervened, the police would be called. And if he refused to show them his papers, they would have no choice but to send him home.
Both relate to the condition of migrant: where one is divided and one aspires to a past that remains relevant in its today. This is a condition that remains important regardless of the realities we face. This is why, I argue, living this way (and it is indeed the norm for a large majority of all Southerners who leave their homes) is an example of emotional abuse. It’s a tough choice, after all. Unfortunately, colonial capitalist society divided the world into developed and underdeveloped countries. It is undeniable that the quality of life is exponentially better in these developed countries. However, living such lives comes at a cost, and for many who have left their homes, the cost is too much to bear. Liberal and capitalist standards dictate that one will be happy once one has a good quality of life. This means that they have enough money (indeed, the more the [much, much] better), rights and the opportunity to “progress”. What this conception of happiness misses is that there must be a direction in which to live. True happiness, as science has recently revealed via happiness studies, does not come from a larger bank balance (because the marginal joy attributed to increased income begins to decline after a certain point), or even of a safe existence, but to devote himself and his time to a cause greater than oneself. It can be anything: it can be love where one thrives on loving and being loved by another, it can be devotion to a cause and even a community. Interestingly, even if we are wrong on several points in our lifestyles in developing countries, this is where we excel. The cause of living comes naturally to us: it is instilled in us as we grow and is nourished by a form of community life.
Going back to Irrfan’s two works, in both cases the characters are simply not being confronted with the opportunities that their new life form affords them. Instead, they either create small worlds within these dynamics, or they do whatever they can to return to what they consider normal. That’s when they find a flash of direction in a directionless world. That’s when they find a sense of semblance, and ultimately, even if we articulate it differently, that’s all we all crave.

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