Of all the places in the world I could have run into a book like this, I had to run into it in the Delhi High Court’s Judges’ Library.
The story in Nick Hornby’s Slam starts out simple enough. Guy and girl meet. They think they like each other (maybe, even love). They sleep together. For a while, that is all they do. Then when there is nothing left, they call it quits.
The complication begins when they figure out that the girl is pregnant. They both feel trapped. The girl decides to keep the baby. Now, the boy feels helplessly dragged into the life his mother had lived as a teenager. The story then revolves around how the two teenagers work around the growing tummy of the girl, and later the new human being that shares their DNA, even as they have come to accept the fact that this human being need not be the sole reason for them to remain in a loveless relationship.
One of the most interesting analogies that Hornby employs in the course of this narrative is when he compares the love between couples to a plate of food –
“Where did it go? It was like there had been a lot of food on a plate in front of us, and we ate it all really quickly, and then there was nothing left. Maybe that’s how couples stay together: they’re not greedy. They know that what they have in front of them has to last a long time, so they kind of pick at it. I hope it’s not like that, though. I hope that when people are happy together, it feels as though someone keeps piling seconds and thirds on their plates.”
Maybe, we are expected to be more stingy when we approach love. Maybe, we need to pretend that it is not the buffet that we have been taught to share and accept in abundance. Maybe, it is foolhardy to pretend that it is not the a la carte menu we look through with the knowledge that we only have the wherewithal to pay for one starter shared between two people (even while it still runs the risk of leaving a heavy hole in our pocket!). But, for better or for worse, we find that there is a part of us that begs and pleads with us, to not abandon the hope that we would come across a buffet breakfast that starts at 8 in the morning and goes on till noon.
His analogies even go on to describe the reality of life – “Skating well for nine minutes and fifty-five seconds wasn’t good enough, because five seconds was plenty of time to make a complete jerk of yourself. Yeah, well, life’s like that too.”
Life is a long journey to do one act of kindness or spend one day pretending to be a nice person, and lie back and be a jerk for the rest of your life. You only need 5 seconds of being a jerk to ruin all the good you did until then! And the truth is, people do not care about the previous ‘nine minutes and fifty-five seconds’ when you skated well, what they are going to remember are those five seconds where you made ‘a complete jerk of yourself’.
Oh, and there was the one about ‘the humps in the road’ – “The thing about humps in the road, though, is that you go up and then you come down again, and you can coast down the other side.”
This line reminded me of the phrase ‘zendagi migzara’ (life goes on). But maybe the hump in the road is a tad simplistic for my taste. Life seems more like a series of crests and troughs, and just when you think you have calibrated the wavelength, something comes along and changes the amplitude or the frequency! But then again, what’s the point of living life if you aren’t constantly forced to recalibrate your dreams and plans.
I think, I should end with the same hope that the two teenagers do in the book – “We hadn’t given up hope. It was just a different kind of hope, for different sort of things. We hoped that everything would somehow sort of maybe turn out not too bad.”