Yet Untitled 006 - The Elders
A tribute to my older friends and some thoughts on ageing
Welcome back to “Yet Untitled”.
The grand self-realisation I arrived at this week is: I identify with older people a lot more than I do with people my own age. There. I said it. No offence if you’re one of my same-age peers; nothing personal! But it seems I’m just built that way.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I got to spend a lot more time with my parents because they’d sent my older siblings away to boarding school and chose to keep me all to themselves for a few extra years. We went everywhere together and I learned to appreciate their company. There were some great times. One special memory from my 20th year is reading a particularly raunchy Roald Dahl short story - Switch Bitch - aloud to them by candlelight at a remote hill station that had no electricity. That’s the day I discovered that older people aren’t necessarily all prudes. And that I could be friends with them.
This is Dr. Sanjeev Mehta photographed on a hillside near his farm in Karjat, Maharashtra. I just spent a weekend with him and his wife at his wonderful farmhouse - Ekantam (trans: ‘tranquility’), where I felt such a sense of encouragement - a sincere acceptance and endorsement of my life and choices - that it got me thinking about all the elders in my life and the indelible effect they have had on me and my family.
Three Elders in Portraits
Rohi Ram was a former wrestler I interviewed in relation to a film script set in Punjab. He was a champion in his day, and I was struck by his gentleness and the readiness with which he gave me his hands to hold when I asked to feel them. They were huge, hard and calloused but his grip was gentle in a way that belied his size and strength. For reasons yet unknown to me, he was the first person I thought of when I sifted through the Elders imprinted in my memory. Our one and only meeting twelve years ago must have lasted all of 30 minutes.
My grandmother hated this photograph but I always loved how it conveyed her fragility. While she was alive, it reminded me that she was precious and needed to be protected. This is ironic, because this photo was taken at a time when she was capable enough to administer a small town all by herself! She’s deeply considering something here. Gravitas. I love the word. I associate it with what are, to my mind, the best and most attractive aspects of age.
I love an Elder’s ability spout pithy lines! MT Vasudevan Nair (if you don’t know him, check him out, he is an ULS - an Uber Literary Stud, the Marquez of India) once told me that:
“In order to write you need to have a shard of ice in your heart”.
I’m still unpacking that statement to this day. Sometimes it takes courage to write, and sometimes courage can mean hardening yourself to the things that tell you not to write, which could take the forms and voices of those close or precious to you. It’s one of the most useful pieces of advice that I ever received as a writer.
MT also once told me:
“Good writing must be readable.”
So if you’re enjoying the style and tone of “Yet Untitled” and finding it accessible, then chances are it’s because as I write, this sentence is flashing before my eyes like a neon sign outside a dhaba on GT Road near Murthal.
What I Know - the birth of my first original screenplay
At 28, I was ready to write my first original story for screen and I sat down with a piece of paper asking myself the question - What do I know most about?
The first answer I wrote down was “Zits” 🙄 (There had been a few dermatologically challenged years in college).
The second answer was '“Old People”. Having spent a LOT of time with my grandparents as a child (there is truth to this, photographic proof below), this was a subject that my 28 year-old self felt he held authority on. I find that quite sweet!
I dipped into many things I observed about my grandfathers - especially how irritated my nanaji used to be when he couldn't recall (because of some form of advancing dementia) facts about the French Revolution he’d known all his life. I found that these memories moved me emotionally, and I made full use of them.
As a result, SEBASTIAN WANTS TO REMEMBER - my first feature screen story - was born: the story of an ageing photographer who loses his memory and gets into a fix because he remembers the Other Woman and not his wife! The wife decides to explore further. A thrilling road trip across north India from Delhi to Diu follows and skeletons come crashing out of the closet.
My longtime friend and colleague Michael Henrichs and I made a short proof-of-concept film based of the feature script to SEBASTIAN WANTS TO REMEMBER in 2015. You can watch the trailer for SEBASTIAN AND ROSE here and here:
PS: That’s my Pentax Spotmatic in the poster frame - used to take many of the photographs you have seen and will see in this newsletter.
‘Ol Leonard On Ageing
Ageing is a recurring theme in Cohen’s music. Here are the lyrics to the fantastic opening of Tower of Song, that succinctly communicates his humorous and sardonic approach to moving along his timeline:
All my friends are gone And my hair is gray I ache in the places where I used to play I’m crazy for love But I'm not comin’ on... I’m just paying my rent every day In the tower of song.
I been appreciating this song since I was 22, but a few years ago his 2014 album opener “Slow” from Popular Problems replaced Tower for me as my favourite ode to ageing. Here’s ‘Slow’:
The conceit fits so well with the intent of this newsletter - slowing things down! I have to hand it to Leonard. His music has been a constant location in my life - a place, a refuge - that I can always rely on for perspective; where I can make sense of things. For me, success in this endeavour with “Yet Untitled”, would be to become such a place even for a few readers. Who knows when and if this will ever happen, but I bank on you - friend - to tell me if I ever get close.
Now, after all these statements about age and its mores, the funny thing is that even though I claim to identify more with the Elders…
…I feel like I’m still the same guy who inhabited the body of the dude in the above picture from twenty years ago. Just another kid wanting to be with his folks, driving though the hills, reading them lewd stories.
A lot has changed, but then again, so much has remained the same.
One for The Follies of Youth:
See you all next week!
Stay well. Stay happy.