One Year Later

It has been a year since this column was begun in a myopic spurt of enthusiasm that now shows signs of waning. The frequency with which essays were thrust on an unsuspecting and democratic internet has been steadily decreasing, and every minute spent on the computer is a minute taken away from something more substantial in the constant reprioritisation that is today's urban life.

Together we have chartered all kinds of waters-- a gamut ranging from politics to sports, history to literature, and religion to popular culture. The writing has been uneven, from the spontaneous and passionate to the laborious and mundane. Through it all, the common threads have been personal experiences and selfish opinions (with the slightest attempt at impartiality) on topics that are meaningful only to the writer.

Among the kind criticisms received from various quarters, for which I am deeply grateful, is an oft-repeated question about the exact purpose of these scattered thoughts. The answer is simply a desire to cleanse the mind in a coherent and structured manner. As was indicated in the preamble, in the eyes of this beholder, a weblog is more akin to an online public diary and serves no other noble aim of either systematising all of human knowledge (à la Encyclopedia Britannica) or "to go with thee and be thy guide" (as Knowledge told Everyman in the medieval play bearing the latter's name).

Interestingly, the emerging pattern of serialising famous literary diaries in blog-form suggests that our most profound bloggers are now dead. From Samuel Pepys to George Orwell (with more projects to come undoubtedly), publishing the everyday observations of these literary stalwarts makes them intimately available to a new generation, while revealing that notwithstanding the garb of modernity and complexity, the thoughts that we think alone are not that different from those of our forefathers.

"Hear my words that I might teach you,
Take my arms that I might reach you."
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence.
Simon and Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence

Princess and the Pauper

One of my favourite film scenes is the press conference that Audrey Hepburn, as Princess Ann, attends in the final act of Roman Holiday. Here she follows up her earlier statement that she is aware of her responsibilities to her family and her country, with a remarkable performance that shows her torn between her royal duties and the memories of her escapade with Gregory Peck. Of course, duty prevails and she leaves a heartbroken Peck ruminating on the possibilities of the what-ifs.

Roman Holiday captured the imagination of movie-goers, not only because of the captivating performance of debutante Hepburn, but because it closely paralleled Princess Margaret's ongoing romance with an older divorcé that was frowned upon both by Buckingham Palace and the Church of England. The princess eventually brought the relationship to a close after her advisers misled her into believing that marriage would require her to give up her title.

Her uncle King Edward VIII, on the other hand, had selected affairs of the heart over affairs of the state, and surrendered his throne to marry a twice-divorced American socialite. The passage of time has morphed Edward's abdication into one of the most romantic stories of the twentieth century, but the reality (as perceived in the tumultuous thirties) was less rosy. The general consensus among members of the British Parliament and prime ministers of the Commonwealth countries was one of relief that the union was not ratified, and as it turned out, brought comfort to the English that this pro-Nazi monarch was not at the helm of the British Empire during World War II.

It is said that art imitates life. However, for those who have witnessed Hepburn's Oscar-winning characterisation in Roman Holiday, nothing is more gut-wretchingly real than the dilemma that the young princess portrays on screen. She gives up a lifetime of freedom and happiness to satisfy the archaic demands of the regal station she was born into-- donning a public façade and living vicariously via the expectations of society. Unlike Princess Margaret, she made the right decision for the right reasons. And like Princess Ann, when we face a moral crisis in our lives, it should not take the props of law or religion to realise that the more painful choice is probably the correct one.

I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
Was thy dream then a shadowy lie?
Toil on, sad heart, courageously,
And thou shalt find thy dream to be
A noonday light and truth to thee.
Ellen Sturgis Hooper, The Dial