All ado about pathos and tragedy
I am fundamentally a very happy person. I was not always a happy person, but a wise man once advised me that to get ahead in life especially when things are down and out, one must consciously make an attempt to be happy. This might include wearing an outfit that you never wear but you know makes you look awesome; it might be watching movies that are absolutely inane but make you laugh; in my case it was reading books which bring joy! I have tried this recipe of reading joyful books or at least books with a happy ending for a number of years now and it has become a part of my DNA. Today I can be happy almost in all circumstances – keyword almost!
This post however is not about my philosophy of happiness but my ever-increasing marvel at the sheer number of highly intelligent and intellectual people who seem to prefer everything in the way of reading that has some tragedy, heartbreak and calamity as its theme and would end in ensuring the reader’s mind is absolutely beset with the misfortunes of life. A case to the point is my best friend and flatmate rolled into one. She is an extremely intelligent woman, who has a degree in English and Mass Communication, besides picking up a Ph.d along the way. She is extremely sensitive, intuitive and can be a lot of fun! However her idea of a darn good read is Brother Karamazov and In the First Circle. I mean Gulag, murder and Siberia are some of staring features of the book. Then there is my sister – another one of such ‘weirdo” species. She has a double master and is one of the most erudite individuals whom I have the good fortune to know with a quirky sense of humour that makes you laugh out loud. What is her favourite read? Madame Bovary! I mean you know by the second chapter of the book that this book will end in a tragedy and Madame Bovary is destined for death, but that does not prevent my sister from proclaiming this is one the best books ever.
Of course I do not mean to deride the extreme versatility of these great authors or the understanding or the philosophy that they tried to convey. These books are a must read for any enthusiast of literature and can truly be considered classics. Having said that these are not and I repeat not comfort books and I would not turn to them for relief when I am disturbed. They are not the pick me up kind of reads and they do not give you a warm fuzzy feeling of being at peace with the world and they definitely do not make you smile.
I understand that life is not all fun and games and we have serious issues to address. My contention is that when I am down and out, serious issues do not help, unless you do a take-off in the lines of Evelyn Waugh. Anybody who has read “Scoop” will agree with me that it is as sarcastic a portrayal of commercial journalism as there can be. However it is written in the most light-hearted manner that not only drives home a point but also makes you laugh along the way. Tried reading “The Case of Exploding Mangoes” by Mohammed Hanif? The book covers one of the darkest periods of Pakistani history – General Zia‘s dictatorship and his assassination. But it has been written in subtle black humour while being completely honest to the horrors of an undemocratic tyrannical government. The book tackles serious issues, but it does not make me feel like Atlas; It does however make me aware and appreciate democracy. So while entertaining me, the book has given me substantial food for thought without making me weep buckets!!
There will be tales where some amount of tragedy cannot be avoided. Try “The Great Mysterious” – I am told it’s not Lorna Landvik’s best book, but I love it! I know I cried buckets when Jordan dies some 10 pages before then end, but the book still ended in hope with the protagonist bonding with her nephew and finding a new worth to her life! See what I mean ….
In the end, all I can say is I will root for Oscar Wildes and Sakis and Mohammad Hanifs of the world till kingdom comes. I do not understand the whole “beauty of pathos” thing. They do not make me sigh and teary eyes at all the unhappiness of the world…they make me never want to read them a second time! Wit on the other hand is truly the highest form of intelligence.