I like the road. I don’t know why. Or may be I do, but that isn’t what I want to write about. Then again, may be it is. For a student of Vedanta such as I am, life is a sojourn. Today, I wished farewell to a friend. We weren’t the thickest of friends. In fact, we were nothing like each other. I couldn’t stand him at times. I am sure it was mutual, given how crass I may have been in his eyes and viewed from his value systems. We had had our good times and bad. The last time I met him, as always, I asked him the forbidden question. He was his enthusiastic self. He promised me that we could meet after he was back from his travel, and his wife reprimanded him – it was festival day and she reminded him also that his health doesn’t afford him such vices.
I had invited a couple of friends to watch a movie with me. I didn’t tell them which one, and they were kind enough to oblige me anyway. I like giving people surprises. I don’t know how they took it. I liked the movie. I’ve wondered what makes me pick the movies that I watch. It is different things. If it is on the big screen, though, it may be the premise. It is the premise – of a black man, hiring a white man from the Bronx, to chauffeur him to the southern states in America in the 60’s – that fascinated me. This wasn’t just another road movie.
The two men form an unlikely friendship. They are chalk and cheese. This isn’t scripted, mind you – I think I saw somewhere that it is inspired from real life. So (pardon the cliche) we have a ‘cultured’ highly educated musician played by a black guy and a crass, cussing friend-chicken eating Italian American. Tony won’t be a man Friday, his job is to drive and he makes that clear. It is interesting, when the porter brings the bags and they both look at each other. Tony won’t make a move, until finally the porter loads the bags on to the car. The porter, interestingly, is Asian.
Dr Don Shirley, on the other hand, hasn’t ever eaten friend chicken – least of all with his fingers; he hasn’t visited the bar downtown and cussing is below his dignity. Regal as he may be, he realises that he needs to drive south. He is on a mission and Tony may be his best bet, in his assessment. There is irony from the word go, and this is as much about class as it is about skin colour.
Don is a musician, and the music in the movie was a highlight for me. More so, because it is accentuated by the visuals – the Don Shirley Trio playing in the most sophisticated places, to the most ‘cultured’ audiences. I was fascinated by the thing that is the piano. It is so massive, and to watch an artist’s fingers dance on it is an experience – those were some of the most memorable scenes for me, coupled with the music in the background.
As they travel, we get to see the racist America that was. Is it still that way even now, only superficially different, I wondered. Their journey together is eventful, and teaches many a lesson. Don, who would look down upon Tony, ends up at his very home for Christmas. And this is the Tony, giving Don a warm hub and welcoming him home. The Tony, who in the opening scene, throws away a pair of glasses because a couple of black repairmen drank out of them.
As different as they may both have been, they both seem to carry their set of values. There’s a certain sense of honesty. And yet, we see them being at odds, and learning, and evolving. After all, isn’t that what life is about – growth and evolution?
I am grateful for having had the company of people different from me. And I wish for more, so that then, I may overcome my small mind and grow to be a better person. When he left, and when I saw that body lie there, I could only recollect the good times we had together. And there were quite a few. After all, we had worked together and he was my neighbour for a few years as well.
Go well, my friend. If we met in another life, I shall wish that we were even more different from each other, and that our paths cross again, to begin another friendship. Until then, the scotch that you so relished can wait.