Supposing I was Guru Dutt, who lived for 39 years and three months, I would have been dead for over a month now. But what a shameful death it would have been: nothing to leave behind for this world, nothing to show to the maker. God would have asked: "Why the fuck did I send you there?" Or exclaimed, Gabbar Singh-style, "Khaali haath aaye ho!"
Guru Dutt, if you look at the body of his work, comes across as a man who must have lived up to the age of 70 or 80. But in that short span of 39 years, an age when you are not grey enough to be taken seriously by the world, he built an university of cinema where thousands of people still enrol every year, as students as well as spectators.
To tell you the truth, I am not a great fan of black and white cinema. I find it very difficult to sit through Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar films and avoid them altogether, but somehow colour (or the absence of it) ceases to matter whenever I watch a Guru Dutt or a Dev Anand film. (Those days Guru Dutt and Dev Anand, both almost the same age, worked mostly together.) That's because their films were marked by intensity.
Intensity, in my opinion, is not something that can be forced upon you through melodrama, with actors going overboard with facial expressions and a dozen violins or the esraj playing a sad note in the background. Intensity is best conveyed when a film or a scene -- or even a book -- sits lightly on your shoulder, so lightly that you are able to make friends with the characters and step into their shoes. And after having stepped into their shoes, you feel their pain. That's intensity according to me, and that was the hallmark of Guru Dutt's films and many of Dev Anand's films with which Guru Dutt was associated.
There can't be another movie like Pyaasa. What the Taj Mahal is to India, Pyaasa is to this nation called Intensity. The intensity of the film was, in fact, was born out of a marriage between sensitivity and sensuality. The sensitivity of Guru Dutt, S.D. Burman, Mohammed Rafi, Hemant Kumar and, above all, Sahir Ludhianvi, married to the supressed sensuality of the women in the film, portrayed effectively in Geeta Dutt's voice, "Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo, janam safal ho jaye; hriday ki peeda deh ki agni, sab sheetal ho jaaye..." -- Take me in your arms, my love, so that I am fulfilled in this birth; so that the ache in my heart and the fire in my body are taken care of. What a song, erotic and yet so aesthetic.
This post is not about Guru Dutt, but about the body of work he left behind in spite of dying at 39 years and three months and how I, in spite of having outlived him by a month so far, have nothing to show for. I have only written one book (which hundreds of others have done in India alone), have maintained a blog for four years (which thousands of others have done too) and have a few hundred bylines to my credit (so do a few other millions). So what am I, the bloody fool, doing, in spite of knowing that time is running out?
I will tell you what this bloody fool is doing. As of now, he is thinking of getting a tattoo on his upper arm because he believes that will make him look sexy and also slow down his march towards middle age. Time does not recognise tattoos to be an enemy, but the fool is still wasting his time debating whether he should get the sun or the trident (Shiva's symbol) impaled on his arm. His wife, always the wise one, is laughing and convinced that he would not undertake such a misadventure in "old age."
But now, the other side of the story. What a bitch life is, a real cock-teaser: it first gives you a dozen examples that make you feel miserable about your existence, and just when you are on the verge of giving it all up, it presents you with examples that, no matter how old you are, make you jump in joy and drive you to the nearest gym, if not a tattoo parlour.
I think life has a way of testing you: whether you think by your balls or your brains. If you let the balls take over your life and let the brains rust, then the end is near. Very near. But if you let the brains do the thinking, you will recognise that the balls need servicing every now and then and you will take corrective measures as and when required.
Really, why should one give up at 39 or 40, when the fun has just begun? If Guru Dutt died at 39, there is Gabriel Gacrica Marquez who became a full-time writer only at 40 and went on to win the Nobel prize. Then there is Frank McCourt, a writer I recommend to all, who published his first book at the age of 66 and won the Pulitzer prize. At 66, in India, your ambitions are long buried and you wait for your funeral -- in the interim, you play with your grandchildren. Forty-two per cent of Robert Frost’s anthologised poems were written after the age of fifty. Mark Twain published Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when he was forty-nine and Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe at the age of fifty-eight.
In other words, I still have the time -- to fool around, to get a tattoo, and work towards my goal of being a writer (when I say writer, I mean someone who has the ability to write books that bring him enough money so that he does not have to worry about holding a regular job).
Come to think of it, these are the best days of my life. I am not as silly as I used to be when I was in my twenties, either as a person or a writer, though back then I believed I was the best. And I am more mature than what I used to be during my thirties. Today, as I near 40, I have learned how to combine the 'carefree' spirit of my 20's with the 'careful' approach I had adopted in my 30's. The end result is fun. Really, these are the best days of my life.