Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Some time ago, Amy and I watched the movie Invictus. Now, with work and cooking (not to mention blogging!), it is not often that we get much time to spend together. And when we do, there is so much to catch up on that movies are very rarely on the menu. I can count on my fingers the movies we have watched together over the last year! And more often than not, by the end of the movie, there will be only one of us awake. And the last man (or woman!) standing is, more often than not, the one who chose the movie. For as is the case with our sleeping habits, our taste in movies are diametrically opposite! While I am all for the thriller/suspense variety, Amy is much more keen on family/animation stuff. The only area where our tastes intersect are romcoms, but then, given the miniscule number of those that are truly funny without being bawdy, it is but rarely that there is a consensus on the movie choice.

Now after all this build-up, I suppose you are thinking I am going to make some superlative statement which suggests that Invictus was the first movie that we both enjoyed together or some such thing. My apologies if you thought that. For as usual, by the end of the movie (which I had already seen about 3 times before!), Amy was snoring fit to wake the dead! For complete enjoyment of a good movie, there is always the need to discuss the finer points with someone. So when you turn to that someone bursting with comments and philosophies, only to be met with the throes of slumber, it is a little disconcerting! Though of course, when the person in slumber is Amy, the peaceful smile she has when she sleeps, which enhances her innate beauty, is more than recompense.

As I watched again the story of 2 men who made a choice to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to a situation charged with anger and hatred, I was struck by the contrast to nearly every other regime change of history. Right upto the present day. Where victorious allies of the Gulf war hand the death penalty to a half-crazed despot. Where victorious armed forces in sectarian struggles stamp their authority by unspeakable ethnic cleansing. Where, even in India, successive governments in our states make it their agenda to overrule every scheme put in place by their predecessors - good or bad. The example set by men like Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar are too easily set aside, for the sole reason that forgiveness is one of the most rare of human qualities. For it involves the conquering of our ego, which for many centuries man has found difficult to do.

When Nelson Mandela came out of prison with the world at his feet, he could have chosen the path of justice. Where every wrong committed over the years of apartheid rule could have been returned the justice deserved. And no one would have or could have faulted him. In fact, it was what was expected of him. But as Robert Mugabe has proved in Zimbabwe, the end result would only have been disaster for the country. And so, in the face of stiff opposition from his own supporters and followers, he embarked on a path of Truth and Reconciliation. And put South Africa and South Africans firmly on the road to recovery and even prosperity. It is truly amazing, as Pienaar says in the movie, that a man could spend 30 years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put him there. But as Mandela says, Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.

The movie refers many times to the poem Invictus which was Mandela's inspiration to not give up even in the face of terrible deprivation and torture. It is a beautiful poem - who could not be inspired by the lines - I thank whatever Gods may be for my unconquerable soul. But the story of its author makes it even more inspiring. It was written by the English poet, Wiliam Ernest Henley. Henley was diagnosed to have tuberculosis of the bone at the age of 12 and the disease slowly progressed until at the age of 25, the limb had to be amputated below the knee. He wrote the poem from a hospital bed  in 1875. I thank God that there is nothing in my life that I have suffered that can even begin to compare with what Nelson Mandela and William Ernest Henley have gone through. And I pray that my soul will remain unconquered by the pressures of life as we know it, however big or small they may be. Here is the poem

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


  1. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness, when nothing less will do?

  2. "Though of course when the person in slumber is Amy, the peaceful smile she has when she sleeps, which enhances her innate beauty, is more than recompense."
    i think she's finally at peace while she sleeps, now that she's with u! no more worries about a little sister hitting her head with a steel spoon or a heavy leg landing on her with a thud!

  3. How very true! Interestingly, forgiveness is a quality most people aren't particularly keen on developing - I've often seen it being thought of as weakness. Yet, being able to forgive requires the highest possible form of courage, namely, conquering a false sense of pride. Not many of us can do it - I've myself been guilty of holding on to grudges many times. It is indeed inspiring to read about those who are not only able, but willing to forgive.

    Thanks for posting 'Invictus' - one of my favorite poems. Another truly inspiring one is Sir Stephen Spender's 'I think continually of those who are truly great'.

  4. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness, when nothing less will do? - I guess the more we ask ourselves that question, the answer will slowly become clear.... I hope so at least - it is the question I ask myself too

    Eva - Hi! Hitting with a steel spoon - now that's something I should try out! As for the heavy leg - I'm afraid that still happens!!

    UB - I guess someone of Mr. Mandela's stature will not be considered weak, though some of us might (I know I have been) when we forgive. It's a tough ask.. And a constant struggle

  5. Hi amy and arpit...you guys write amazing stuff.god bless you guys.love your blog. Invictus is class. amy where are you right now? writing cmc?