The Lives of Others

How I love the lyrical rhythm, flow, and emotions, concealed and glaring, in the phrase, the lives of others. Ruminating over the romanticism of the words, I am reminded of having read a namesake book ‘The Lives of Others’ penned by Booker nominated Neel Mukherjee a couple of years ago. Amazed and fascinated that I was by the writing, the story and the life of every individual portrayed in the literal masterpiece, be it a stray cat, a faithful old household help, I wrote an email to the author about the unfinished stories, expressing my curiosity, my intrigue. That the author never responded, never replied, busy that writers get in their secluded world of words and thoughts, forms, perhaps, the premise of another post.

Humming the elusive melody of the tune hidden in the words, the lives of others, I often find my thoughts wander into the realm of the regularity of souls pressing around us, enveloping and hueing our lives with their presence and of those who appear for a fleeting moment only to disappear into the momentary frames locked in the convolutions of the mind. Fleeting scenes, of lives and emotions and much like the flickering images of a television, green, red, blue shades, the constant motion lights up our faces as they dance about in their rectangular boundaries-magical and mysterious!

Recently travelling through tiny hamlets, towns, and cities of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, witnessing a fraction of the lives unravelled through the windscreen of the car, whereupon my reflection, my perceptions merged with the unfolding scenes right in front of me, I, unprepared and consciously, participated momentarily in the lives of others. There some children returning from school seem merry and carefree, while some little children racing about. Over there I see some lanky teenagers laughing about something, and on the other side of the narrow winding road I see a little brown mutt running behind its person, in absolute delight. Some old men in worn-out white shirts and dhotis gather about to ruminate over life; unflinchingly they look up at passing vehicles and reverently return to their silent conversation. I see trucks buckling under the weight of freshly harvested sugarcane making its way through roads lined by a retinue of tamarind trees, their military alignment broken in places by Peepul trees. Rocky hills in the distance, peppered with canopies of brave little trees, ones which have arduously emerged through the cracks in the boulders, form a part of the horizon otherwise unbroken by fields that stretch to distances as far as the eye can absorb. Retreating monsoon clouds in several shapes, ominous to cheerful, parade in shades of grey, suggestive of a sultry weather-tired faces, glistening in the winter sun, and little chequered hand towels placed across shoulders to wipe off the precipitation validate my perception otherwise oblivious inside the comfort of a conditioned car. Here a town begins, cheerful plastic pots, glittering fabric, mounds of coconuts, green and orange, and there a tiny tea shop with little wooden benches emerges, and from my vantage point I can imagine the concoction bubbling in blackened kettles and pans, and the customary chilli fries sizzling in that ancient wok; an imaginary smell of ginger and cardamom titillates my imagination and pangs of imagined hunger turns my belly! Traffic slows down as we wander into the town, crossroads, markets, flower vendors, marigolds, golden and yellow, bunches of plantain, greener than green hang precariously on the facades of several stores, little alleys emerge and fade away, a cow wanders slowly into the road ignorant of the barking and honking that it invites, and a sea of people, shopping, walking, go about their daily chores, their lives. The lives of others. I imagine their lives, their thoughts, their wishes, their dreams, and aspirations and I conjure stories inside my head, aided by my imagination and of what I perceive and read. I smile inside my head at their jokes, sigh at their unfulfilled wishes, gulp at their fears and am saddened by their sorrows. A life imagined.

Months later I try and recollect the faces, of children, men, women in their myriad sarees, and jasmine flowers carefully adorning their well plaited hair. I remember the laughter, the listlessness, the smirks, the glee, the cacophony of markets, the overbearing silence of the fields and stretches of nothing, and I try to remember a face or two. A faint recollection and I delve deeper into my imagination, lost to a trance. I am jolted back to reality when the thought of if one of faces in the crowd has ever, looking at me, wondered and imagined. My life as that bystander creates.  Perhaps that face, real or imagined, and I shall continue to remain strangers or perhaps our lives shall in the future cross paths. Perhaps we shall smile at the stories which we had created about each other, if it comes rushing to us from the treasures of memory, or perhaps we shall walk away into our own lives, imagining more, or oblivious, both of us returning into the vagaries of our own lives, my life, that stranger’s life, into the strange beauty and secret of the lives of others.

Image Credit: Photo by Paweł L.:

21 thoughts on “The Lives of Others

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      1. It’s about artists living in East Berlin before the wall came down and how they were watched. It won the German equivalent of the Oscar for best picture. Really interesting and moving.

  1. It’s funny how we have this in common. I like to watch people and wonder what it would be to lead the lives that they do. Vicarious living or escapism? Maybe it’s a bit of both. Bizzare sort of coping mechanism for those of us with overactive imaginations, I suppose. Really reminds me of the song people watching by Conan Gray. Wonderfully written, as always. Made my day 🙂

    1. “Vicarious living or escapism?”, and yes a bit of both. The lives that seem enticing and exciting draw us into their regularity and with overactive imaginations we only wonder filling our living hours with stories and anecdotes completely conjured inside our heads.

  2. So sweet to read you as always, dear friend! Your words always carry me into the scene and events. The people, their voices, the colors and the very breezes swirl into my imagination. And the lives of others is now my own. Because even while we observe, we are observed. *smiling heart*

    1. Thank you so very much Joan for reading and travelling along with me into my land of imagination. True about what you wrote on “while we observe we are observed”. 🙂

  3. I love your flow of vivid imagery, even adding the probable scents that you are immune to inside an ac car! I also love to watch and imagine about others lives, eavesdrop conversations and imagine the full scenario … strangers are merely friends waiting to be met 🙂

    1. “Strangers are merely friends waiting to be met”, now that is a quote for life. Much like you I love to observe people, in a restaurant, in an airport, at the bus stop and imagine what their lives may be like from the snatches of their conversation.

      1. it’s been my hobby from a young age, I blame my overactive imagination 🙂 I’m sure their lives are nothing like I imagine them to be but it sure does keep me amused for hours 🙂

      2. I have to agree with you there. Our imaginations have given them lives which they would be amused to hear of if they ever did. But then it gives us stories to write and keeps us amused like you write 🙂

  4. I so enjoyed your vivid descriptions and the ability to make the reader vicariously participate in what you imagine. Sadly, I am not a people-watcher but so enjoy others insights. An engrossing read as always.

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