Sunday, January 24, 2010

What can you say about him?

Sometimes it happens. Sometimes, you remember the things that got brushed off to the fray.

Eric Segal’s most popular book is ‘Love Story’ and maybe ‘Doctors’. But I’ll remember Segal for two of his other less celebrated books.

One is ‘Oliver’s Story’, the sequel to ‘Love Story’. The book ends with Oliver taking a run atop some hill. He’s met some interesting women after his wife’s death, he thinks he has moved on, etc. etc. But after the run, he’s standing on top of the hill, surveying the city. The sun comes down, the lights come up, and he realizes that he’s still in love with his wife.

That portion of the story…it’s not spectacularly wriiten. Nothing too quote-worthy there. No dazzling nuggets like, “Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry.” Or “What can you say about a 25-year old girl who died?” But it’s so tender and beautiful, that my toes actually curl when I remember that part. Oliver standing there, alone, looking lost, and knowing that he can’t be with anyone else just yet. No matter how we lose the one we love – death, deceit, drama – whatever…you never stop loving the one who broke your heart.

The other book that is my absolute favorite is ‘The Class’. In my mind, it outranks ‘Doctors’, ‘Acts of Faith’, ‘Love Story’, ‘Prizes’, etc. etc. by spades! It’s a trajectory of the lives of 5 characters over a span of many years. They meet as students in Harvard, leave, some get married to each other, and decades later, there’s a re-union. The most important chacracter, though, in this book, – the one that makes me tingle all over still- it’s Harvard.

Some of my favorite lines and scenes in the book are really ordinary. I don’t know why they stand out in this novel of nearly 400-odd pages. Maybe, its their ordinariness that appeal tome. Made them special. Made them the glittering threads that get undone in the fray.

There’s one girl, Sarah, I think, who’s been married to her brilliant college sweetheart for a few years. Both start working on their theses – similar subjects (not sure, though). Niether have time for each other, and then the guy cheats on her. She finds out. On the night she decides to leave him, she’s sitting on the doorstep of her house. She asks him about the affair and then tells him that she’s on her way out. And he is embarassed and hurt, I think, mainly because she’s not angry. She’s just expected this from him – after realizing the scum-bag that he is. He detects pity. And then, with a lot of bravado, he tries putting her down. He tells her that she’ll never be as brilliant as him, her thesis will never be as good as his, and she’s become so ugly that she’ll never find anyone else to love her. To which she replies, “What I will or will not do is not for you to know. What I can or cannot do is not for you to judge.” She walks. I think that’s what I loved about this segment – her goodbye…dignified, definitive.

The other excellent part in this book is the foreword. Segal has quoted a Harvard alumni in that portion. Someone who speaks about the age in which they graduated. When sex came out of a packet and psychology was all in the mind, etc. etc. And he ends with, “…but what we didn’t realize was that we were a generation.

Segal’s other books have made me feel fuzzy, made me smile or cry or get quiet when I’d see a couple holding hands in Churchgate. But ‘The Class’ swept me off my feet and kept me off the ground for many, many years. I read this book a decade ago. The plots of the story are hazy in my head.What’s absolutely clear, though, is the time of the day I picked up the book, what I was wearing, the place I ate a vada-pav while I first read the prologue, and then how I walked to one corner of the station to get out of the way and read it again. And then read it over and over all the way from Churchgate to Bandra.

I don’t remember the details. I only remember how it made me feel. And that’s how you know you’ve found the true thing. More rare than love, more enduring than hope.

Eric Segal gave me one of my most memorable adulthood insignia - a hero called Harvard.


Jay Shanker said...

"The Class" is really a fine book. I enjoyed "Love Story" too. Liked the understated romance and his un-corny style of writing.

AbhayP said...

Now, that's a nice article from you after a long time, reminding me why I started reading your blog around 4 years back!

Mukta said...

hi jay...yes that's true. Love Story was not written in the conventional way. That was refreshing.

Hi i guess between the time you started reading 4 years ago and this article, you didn't find anything you liked? :-) Finad that hard to believe.