Few years back a Bollywood movie named “Raincoat” was released. It starred Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai. I did not see the move but I read somewhere that it was based on Oscar Wilde’s story “The Gift of Magi”. I remember I was in panaji that time and going to broadway (bookshop) or other book exhibitions was my weekend activity. So when I saw “Selected Works of Oscar Wilde” I immediately purchased the book for Rs 100.
One of the story was “Picture of Dorian Gray”. If you search on internet you will find out that this story is considered as one of the best stories of English literature. The book’s foreword mentioned this. However when I read the story I was deeply disappointed. I found the story meaningless. I told myself that either I do not have a good taste in English literature or it is just a fad to call meaningless stories “Classic”.
Years passed. Recently when I was roaming through a giant bookshop in Mumbai I coincidentally spotted another friend of my. I knew him when I was in Panaji. He was slightly older than me and his nature was that of a poet. Though we were not very close friends we spent considerable time together and known each other well. I knew one of his secrets which according to him he had never told anyone except me. There lived a beautiful girl in the society next to my place and this guy told me that he was deeply in love with her. She was a fairly sophisticated girl. She studied in Dempe college near Miramar. Often we went to Miramar beach just so that he could catch her sight or often hanged around the temple close to her house and so on. Unlike me this friend of mine was very social, but when it came to this girl he could never approach her leave aside the topic of wooing her.
I then left the city and never met the guy again. So when I spotted him in the bookshop I was delighted. We walked to an adjacent coffee shop for a chat and had a wonderful conversation. It might sound as if I am making this up for the sake of a story but I was stunned to see a lady walk into the coffee shop with another handsome man. This lady was none other than the same girl (Yeah I am not making this up). I was awestruck and my friend turned back to see what I was so surprised to see. In the quick glance I had at this lady I had noticed that she was holding the other guy’s hand and it was obvious that they were in a relationship. The guy’s appearance not only matched her beauty but the way he was dressed it was also obvious that he was pretty rich.
I suddenly felt bad for my friend who was sitting in front of me. He was not even an engineer and worked with an advertising agency in Mumbai. He was not as handsome. And now here just where we were so happily chatting whatever entered the coffee shop must have ran over his heart like a road roller.
But I am as curious as a cat. I tried to observe my friend and his reaction to the whole thing. I could see some pain but not as much as I had expected. He probably noticed it, so I asked him directly. “How does this feel? ”
He told me an answer that I actually understood. He said, we all hope for an alternate reality. We want to exist in a different circumstances than what we are presently now. So when I am single and I see her everyday my heart tells me that I want her and having her will make me infinitely happy. This not only applies to a girl but to also all other things we desire in life. That love depends not on the person but the image of that person we have in our life. So I loved her and I still do. But you see XYZ (he took her name here) is not the image in my mind, she is a real person with her own characteristics. So if I knew her better may be I would have got to know that she is not really what I think her she is. That would have shattered the image in my mind. I loved that image in my mind so much that I was not ready to hurt it at any cost. That image is still there and will always be there.
On my way back home, I pondered on his words. I am not the kind of person who takes life so seriously but I felt so connected with his words. Like Ramana Maharshi’s teaching which says “all is in self” our perceptions not necessarily reflect reality. To contrast with Raman Maharshi, I am reminded of Galib’s couplet.
KAFAS MEIN ROOH DAAT-E-CHAMAN KEHTE NA DARR HUMDUM
GIRI HAI JIS PE KAL BIJLI WO MERA AASHIAN KYUN HO’
A bird in cage, is telling a free bird who has come to see him. “Dont worry while telling me the new of the world dear friend, if you are scared to tell me that my nest in the woods is destroyed by a thundering, let me tell you that I cant call it my home anymore.”
Then I remembered Picture of Dorian Gray and it was clear to me why it was considered classic.