Sunday, July 22, 2007

Flourish, Exeunt

Oh, the torment bred in the race, the grinding scream of death and the stroke that hits the vein, the haemorrhage none can staunch, the grief, the curse no man can bear.

But there is a cure in the house and not outside it, no, not from others but from them, their bloody strife. We sing to you, dark gods beneath the earth.

Now hear, you blissful powers underground-answer the call, send help. Bless the children, give them triumph now.

The Libation Bearers- Aeschylus [JK Rowling- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows]

And then it was midnight, or 7:01pm in Trinidad. I had never stood in line, as I would for food or a movie, for a book. But all that changed on the night of July 20th, 2007. I was fully caught in the hype for the final installment of the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry Potter may mean different things to different people, but for the last 10 years, it has been to me very much what I suppose Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was to my parents.

Ever since I could remember, I have read or been read to. I don’t know if my father remembers, but I remember, at 3 years old, clambering into bed with him and my younger brother, and being read the classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and many, many more. I never forgot them and as I grew, it was evident that those evening spent discovering the enchanted lands of fantasy and escape had laid the foundation for a lifetime of reading a myriad of books.

Finishing 400 page novels at nine and ten years old became norm for me. Then, as I started high school, there emerged from obscurity a British writer, who, on good account had created this series about a boy, who lived amongst Muggles but who was really the lone survivor of murder and who had vanquished, as a baby, the most evil of all Dark Wizards. And so, binding the planet with her tale of Harry Potter, Rowling’s spell evolved from a battle between good and evil to a battle between Harry and himself

Harry faces his greatest challenges, but as we read, he learns to overcome them using love, trust, friendship and restraint. His quest to recover the Horcruxes is akin to Frodo’s ‘precious’. He grapples with the loss of many of his closest allies in a bloodbath filled novella that answers all questions, ties up the series wonderfully and brings a sense of bittersweet closure to his legion of readers.
He longed to discover the truth about his past and forged the strongest of friendships whilst courting danger under the watchful eyes of Headmaster Dumbledore at Hogwarts. We walked alongside him, whether recovering the Philosopher’s Stone or understanding Quidditch or participating in the TriWizard’s tournament or acing the Potion’s class using the text of the Half Blood Prince.

We were captivated, drawn into the magical fantasy of Harry’s world, vacillating between love and hate for Snape, becoming impatient with Hermione or just feeling sorry for Ron. The books became increasingly longer and more popular, as Rowling narrated every detail, from the shade of the drapes in the Gryffindor hall to the elusive Snitch to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself.

She has served, not only to entertain us, but to allow us, especially those in our mid twenties, to live our own lives through the lives of her characters. Talking about Hogwarts is as nostalgic as talking about your old school. The non-magical tribulations faced by the gang while doing their OWLs is easily relatable and their stuggles with relationships is as human as ever. Rowling made sure never to cast Harry as a superhero. She ensured that he wasn’t perfect and it was that fallibility that accorded him a degree of humanity that so many of us could attest to. He needed people to trust, friends to confide in, teachers to guide him and was the subject of taunts and antagonisms. Were he not the Chosen One, he would be a regular boy. And it is that connection that had millions lining up at midnight to get their hands on the final installment to discover for themselves whether Harry’s fallibility would end in death or if the merchants of good would defeat the Dark Lord and his disciples.

Rowling imputes resounding political themes and lessons are learnt about absolute power and domineering government control. From the various Ministers of Magic to Dolores Umbridge herself, the latter books are wrought with warnings about allowing freedoms to be systematically undermined without a definitive uprising against those taking away those freedoms.

Reading the final book finally put a realization that as each page turned, you were one page closer to the end, with no Book 8 to come. As things were explained and understanding dawned, tears flowed freely, if not for those who died, but for the selflessness of some, the utter sacrifice of others and the loyalty of even more.

There will never be another Harry Potter. In twenty years, perhaps, another novelist will come along and take the world by storm. Whether the next great author can top Rowling as history’s best selling non-religious author remains to be seen. It would be a great day when another 400 million books can be sold, captivating from kindergarteners to pensioners, especially now in an age of TV, Internet, iPods and movies.

For now, we are left with seven of the most magical books ever conceived from one of the most creative minds ever to bless this earth. JK Rowling has showed that people are willing to read, if they are given something that they want to read. Her formula is not easily duplicated and, dare I say, will never be replicated. And as the first 12 million copies literally fly off the shelf as if enchanted by the Accio! spell, we can take heart that Rowling does not abandon her progression into darkness and death and that the aptly named Deathly Hallows is a final reflection of life and the importance of living not only for yourself, but for the general upliftment of others and society

Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.- William Penn (More Fruits of Solitude) [JK Rowling (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)]

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Death Becomes Him

On Monday we added another name to the already alarmingly long list of young people we’ve lost. I don’t know if the number is par, but personally, it seems that too many recent graduates or students of my alma mater are meeting their demise.

The latest, Shastri Sooknanan, decided that there was no longer a reason to continue his existence on earth and proceeded to swing himself from the rafters of his home. I didn’t know him personally, but even those who did couldn’t come up with a reason that would explain this seemingly inexplicable event. Being in the midst of severe tribulations, I can understand how easy it is to hide things. Not one of my friends has a clue as to what is transpiring in my deeply personal life. None of them know how close I, too, have come to being the subject of a story similar to Shastri’s.

I ponder as to the reasons and chillingly, I even admire his courage. I could never go through the process of actually attaching a rope, pulling a chair and following through with the actual act. Perhaps it is a reflection of a sickening mind, but I don’t blame him for the action that he took. I don’t view him as a coward nor do I think he may have been unjustified. We simply do not know the circumstances. We can only guess as to the exact event that broke his back and made him systematically plot to carry through with this mere minutes after his sisters were the last people to leave the house that fateful Monday morn.

What I do know is that he spent seven years at Presentation College and another five years attaining his medical degree. And after twelve years of intense studying, it took only two weeks in the workplace before something triggered him to complete an act so reviled by others that the Bible itself ensures its punishment as condemnation to an eternity with the Angel of Darkness himself.

Perhaps it is a failure of the system not to recognize and offer assistance to those amongst us who are truly in need of counseling, even when we ourselves recognize the need for it and are actually crying reddened tears for it. More so, it is an indictment on ourselves as humans that he didn’t, as far as we know, find a single individual whom he could have turned to confide in. A person whom he knew genuinely cared for his story and was willing to listen to him. And perhaps more than that, just a single true friend who would not glibly dismiss his sentiments as insignificant in the wider scheme of things.

We all have our stories, our secrets and our pains. Every so often we need a person in our lives to share, confide in and acquire advice. Whatever drove Shastri to the deep end, never to be rescued should not be allowed to repeat itself. But that statement rings hollow when I know that the only outcome of this would be a memorial service with a high-faluted dean, who pretends to care for the well being her students, addressing the rest of us as though she knows our stories and cares for the well being of our existences.

While some of our worlds come crashing down worse than America in Die Hard 4, no one seems to have an answer as to why so many choose to end it rather than fight it. Perhaps, it’s because all the fighting was done already. The challenges became insurmountable and the fight no longer held up. And boxed in, with no one and no where to turn to, the only reasonable decision seems to be ending it all.

The lamentations will continue for a few weeks, months perhaps, but in time to come, there will be a repeat because we would have failed to learn from our pasts. The fragile souls on the edge would have taken the leap into the unknown, in the fleeting possibility that they may, in fact, be finally saved from the machinations of a world designed to extricate from them only the darkest and most sorrowful aspects of their existences.

Judgments will flow from the experts and non-experts alike. They will be crucified, even in death and remembered, not for the great lives that they lived, but for the death that they chose. In the end, it is perhaps best not to glorify death. It is sick to be obsessed with it, as it is sick to be obsessed with anything I suppose. But unlike most other things, death is irreversible. A mark left forever in the sands of time that will demarcate the cessation of your time on earth. And for those who leave their footprints on their own terms, rather than on the terms of nature, accidents or God himself, the living is forever indebted to them for the actions that they failed to take to save a life.

Rest In Peace:

Shastri Sooknanan (Class of 2001)
Dewan Suren Ramberran (Class of 2003)
Garnet Lalla Maharaj (Class of 2001)
Gerard Bertrand (Class of 2002)

“Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
- Shakespeare