Tension between the Captive and the Wanderer has always fascinated me. Both are an integral part of my identity and I suspect reside in all human beings at least to some extent. They come in various shapes, forms and sizes. A few common embodiments of the captive are- bird in the golden cage, Atlas, Shravan Kumar etc. Similarly Wanderer can be easily seen in the explorer, vagabond, , roving minstrel and many other similar forms.
There is obvious contrary pull between these two identities. My first cognitive encounter with this tension was in my adolescence when I read Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage”.I have forgotten most of it, but I recall that the protagonist wants to be an artist but becomes a doctor, wants to travel around the world but decides to settle down to a conventional domestic life. The other thing that I recall is that the protagonist was an orphan and had a club-foot.At that time, I did not recognise the significance of this and saw the whole drama only in terms of the conflict between need for anchorage and call of adventure. Much later, I realised that the injured/handicapped orphan was an important part of this drama.
Kishore Kumar’s film Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein is a good example of the relationship between the Orphan and the Wanderer. The image which is stuck in my mind of this film is that of a mature adult who is carrying a handicapped child on his back. The film is about a soldier who on his return from the battle-field discovers that his house had been ravaged by fire in which his wife had also perished. The only survivors was his son who also lost his voice because of the trauma. Essentially the film is about the father’s quest to restore “wholeness” for his son. This quest is captured by the lyricist Shailendra in two of the songs of the film which to date,linger in our collective memory. The two sides of this quest are – nostalgia for the lost paradise ( Koi laute de mere beete hue din) and search for the promised land (Aa chal ke tujhe mein leke chaloon, ik aise gagan ke tale)
Door Ka Rahi, another Kishore Kumar film, breaks out of this lost paradise/promised land paradigm. The theme song of the protagonist here is “Panthi hun mien us path ka, ant nahi jiska”(I am traversing a path which has no destination) In a sense, the film brings into play all three identities- The Orphan, The Captive and The Wanderer. The protagonist Prashant is a wanderer who has dedicated his life to service of humanity at large. During his several encounters, he keeps meeting orphans and captives, alleviates their suffering and moves on. His last encounter is with the duo of an old man (in a “wheel-chair”) and his “widowed” daughter-in law whose husband looked exactly like Prashant. A bond develops between the three and the old man wants Prashant to marry his daughter in law and settle down with them. In wrestling with his confusion, Prashant recalls his own orphanhood and how he had been brought up by a kind holy-man (Swamiji) . Prashant also recalls the pledge that he had taken, at the time of Swamiji’s death that he will stay clear of personal attachments and dedicate his life to the service of mankind. Needless to say, Prashant decides to move on in his never ending journey.
One can look at Prashant both as a Captive (to his pledge) and as a Wanderer in search of his own wholeness. Interestingly, both perspectives are linked to the Orphan who neither feels whole in himself nor a meaningful and integral part of a larger whole. This psychodrama between the Orphan, the Captive and the Wanderer has often played out in my life several times. The Orhan in his search of a “home” finds himself in a prison from which he wants to break free. But once the Captive breaks the shackles and turns into a Wanderer, he is haunted by another song written by Shailendra-
“kabhi yeh bhi socha ki manzil kahan hai; bade se jahan mein tera ghar kahan hai
Jo bandhe they bandana who kyun toed dale; kahan ja raha hai tu ai jane-wale”
( Where is your destination” where is your home? Why have you snapped all your ties? What is the purpose of this wandering?)
And then begins another search for home and consequent experience of captivity. The oscillation between the Captive and the Wanderer seems endless but reinforces the recognition that all nostalgia of the “lost paradise” is imaginary and all conceptions of a “promised land” are a futile attempt to escape the “dukha” which is an inevitable part of being human and existential aloneness . In such moments, I am reminded of Ghalib’s verse “Rahiye ab aisee jagah chal kar jahan koi na ho”. An approximate translation of which is-
I wish to live in a place where there is no one else;
no one to relate to or communicate with,
I wish to build a house which has no walls or boundaries
When I fall sick, let there be no one to take care,and
When I die, let there be no one to mourn
Thus it is in fitness of things, that Door Ka Rahi begins with an old Prashant, all alone in a glacier, remembering the events from his life. The film ends with Prashant breathing his last in that cold yet serene solitude. As though life has come back a full circle and one is reminded of yet another Ghalib verse-
“Ghame hasti ka Asad, kis se ho juz marg ilaj
Shama har rang me jalti hai sehar hone tak ”
( There is no ultimate answer to human suffering, the candle must burn till the dawn comes)
Simply put, what Prashant tells us is that there was no “lost paradise”, there is no “promised land”. The only reality is “living” and this endless journey.At least that is how I make some peace between the Orphan, the Captive and the Wanderer in me. Would love to know how these identities play out in you.