But first one must free oneself
by Patrizia Cavalli
But first one must free oneself
of the precise greed that produces us,
that produces me sitting
in the corner of a bar
waiting with clerical passion
for the exact moment when
the little azure fires of the eyes
opposite, of the eyes acclimatized
to risk, the trajectory precalculated,
will demand a blush
from my face. And will obtain a blush.
–tr. Robert McCracken, Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, ed. McClatchy
Most of us will probably agree that we spend half of our life, if not more, in fulfilling expectations. The expectations of our parents, expectations of our children, expectations of our society, expectation of our spouses, expectations at our work place and so on.
This aspect hits us more during the summer months because this is when the results of various exams start to appear. One of the topics that I have discussed with many of friends on a regular basis happens to be education and the expectations that the modern child carries, especially in the urban centers. On one hand we have the parents who would want their children perform at their best and get into a good Engineering College or a Medical College. They feel that this is very important since the world is turning more competitive by the day and it is the survival of the fittest etc etc. (I don’t agree to lot of things that are said in favor of driving the kids but I will keep that for another day.) On the other hand is the peer pressure on the kids. Everyone is joining some institute or the other and the question that comes up is: You are much smarter than your classmate. So why not you too join some coaching camp and prove to the world that you are smart?
We must understand one important aspect here. Not every parent explicitly pushes their children along the path of rote learning or places burden on them to become Engineers and Doctors. This expectation is latent and implicit in many cases but the children know: The way the eyes of parents light up when good marks are scored and the drooping face and forced smile when marks are low convey the expectations of the parents effectively.
Newton’s third law says that for every reaction there is an opposite reaction. In the modern world, as much as parents have expectations from their children, the children too have expectations from their parents. (Again I am talking about the urban kids here.) Kids expect their parents to provide them with almost everything that is asked for: starting from going to the malls all the way to going on a foreign vacation. It is almost as if all these are their entitlement and society owes them big time. It is a very complex expectation game that goes on between the parents and children: Parents feeling entitled to their expectations on their children and the children feeling entitled to their expectations from their parents. It is not that there were no expectations in an earlier era. The expectations have always been present but in the modern era it is felt even more acutely.
Expectations are the most important aspect for anyone in love. Somehow we get a feeling that being in love means that our lover would understand us perfectly and vice versa. The poets ofcourse have make it even more difficult by coining phrases like ‘two hearts beating as one’, ‘two eyes seeing as one’ and so on. People in love almost demand that their lover understand what is being said as well as what is not being said. Silence, a simple gesture, couple of words, and a laugh – everything needs to be understood. That is the expectation. So when a question is asked and the partner remains silent and you understand the meaning of it, then the joy is infinite. Or when you partner wants to do something on which his / her heart is not set and you reject the proposal, love grows deeper. It is this aspect which makes love such an enduring emotion to lot of people. It is this understanding of unstated expectations that sees the lovers through difficult times. It can also frustrate people who are not capable of understanding what is unstated. Infact even those who can understand their lovers well are prone to occasional outrage for some cases defeat them. If you have ever been a friend to a person in love you would definitely have heard the phrase, “I cant understand what he/she wants” quite often. All expectations will not be completely stated. There are bound to be expectations which will be unstated. We need to understand this in our lives at various levels starting from childhood. And as I said, the best part happens when you are in love.
Is this poem about love or about ensnarement? The poem tells a story: a story of expectation and a story of ensnarement. And it tells it in minimal words. The poem superbly captures and freezes a moment. It captures the expectation of ‘azure fires of the eyes’. The poem tells us that the expectation will be met and after freezing this moment, the poem lets us imagine the future. The detached tone suggests that the person may think that he is getting what he wants but is what he getting what he wants? Do they each know that the other is playing to their expectations? Do they each know they are playing out a drama whose script each of them is familiar with? Maybe they know exactly how it would end and that is the reason they are in the play? Are the expectations that are stated through the eyes which give a glimpse of the screenplay that a person wants to enact?
In our lives many a times we become part of the screenplay that someone close to us wants to enact. We act like trained actors but we rarely reveal to ourselves that we are actors and that we are playing a part that is expected out of us. Sometimes we enjoy the role and sometimes we want to break free from this role but by then the strings which bind us have tightened around us. It is only a very strong puppet that can break these bonds. Many love to be ensnared and be lost in this infinite drama.