POSTCARD #257: New Delhi temp: 38° Centigrade (100.4° Fahrenheit): Too hot to be out in the middle of the day, stay indoors, everything is internalized, giving way to the illusion. Lucky to have this comfortably cool room – two ceiling fans spinning in the half darkness of noon-day filtered light. This old house was nicely designed; corridor goes around three sides of the room with large window at the front, looking through the corridor space, out through a second window to the garden – and same at the back.
Enclosed in a room inside a room, lost to the ‘real’ world, we choose the window of Netflix – a story to be told about me and the Netflix illusion getting to know each other here in Asia, where I’ve been resident for 30 years, a Scot married to Jiab who is Thai. I’m distanced from the Western cultural model, a part of my past surgically removed, and all immigrants will know how that feels. Nowadays, the best audio, video devices have made it here to this part of the world and raised to a level equal to, or higher (some would say), than the Western model. So I bought myself a large, flat-screen TV, and stepped into sound and color.
Getting emotional, just listening to the sound of Western voices conversing in the mother tongue – the familiarity of it quite strange. Sudden recall of whole pieces of my life, forgotten until that moment. I’d get quite tearful about just seeing the streets, the traffic, and the easy pleasantness of it. The pace and the way things move along, created for TV by the director and advisors from the political realm, those unseen, propping up the Western model of the world as they see it.
How wonderful to have all these generous close-ups of immaculate faces, portraits, talking heads, good-looking news anchors in Breaking News. Ordinary faces are extraordinary on TV shows, super-ordinary, the face is an act in itself, head swings, facial gestures, lovable laughter and dentistry, cosmetics, lighting – more than enough, and all these nice interiors, a gallery of created spaces with artwork on the walls. Everything looks better when it’s framed, presented with image enhancement, studio lighting… my room as a selfie! Smile please! Take another one, smile click.
I’m falling in love with it more and more each day but I’m also somewhere in a story of the past in a black-and-white world, sad shades of grey. The irretrievably lost, a la recherché du temps perdu. A part of me died while I was away, I’m back there now just in time for the funeral, and relatives I’d forgotten about, greying and smaller than I remembered, look at me as if I were a ghost. I am a ghost, an actor in a movie, playing a part so well the audience believe it’s real. About this, unknowingly we accept, and to an extent engage with. The skill of the illusionists, the politicians, or anyone with the gift of the gab, convincingly dressed for the part, standing against a nice backdrop and there you are.
The story I’m in is different from but similar to those of migrant populations from Europe who came to the US with their belongings and heritage of things past. I went in the opposite direction, back to the places all those young and able-bodied left behind. Similar in the sense that now they’re hidden in the background, like me, off-stage or behind the scene. But theirs was a story of hardship and endowed with the sharp intelligence of living on the edge. The great great grandmothers and great great grandfathers of today’s success stories in the West, you could say. In two generations the memory of the old world is completely gone, death is a vanishing trick.
Today’s refugees and migrant workers are waiting in the wings, with their own stumbling through a colonial and demolished past, singing their songs about forgotten things out of time and place. Ready for the next re-build… another story to be told.