Having a pet is a luxury that a lazy woman like me can hardly afford. Its appetite is unlikely to be as irregular as my own, and my long bouts of daydreaming might even kill it. So, in spite of desiring the unconditional and unadulterated submissiveness of a fluffy animal, I have refrained from actually bringing one home.
But that has not made the desire go away. Instead, I have found a different way of satisfying it — by owning a pet that does not need food. My mobile phone. It just needs a charger. It keeps me company during my daily Metro rides, during the time I have to wait in a queue or travel on a long-distance train, and helps me often to escape from uncomfortable conversations. It can be bothersome, but it is a medium through which I can make and break contact at will. I can use it to express longing and vengeance, love and indifference. Even switching it off can be comforting. Throwing it at a wall can help vent anger effectively. Playing with it and ignoring it while it rings are pleasurable too. But it is of utmost importance to me for one reason — it does what no human has ever been able to do. It wakes me up in the morning.
Thinking of my mobile phone — of how one of its keys doesn’t work, and the touchpad doesn’t respond, and yet I cannot bring myself to replace it — reminded me of Ritwik Ghatak’s film, Ajantrik. Bimal’s love for the car, Jagaddal — although quite different from, and far stranger than, my attachment to my phone — perhaps has a similar quality. Both Jagaddal and my phone (no, I have not named it yet) are machines. Yet, both of them seem to have become more than just machines to their owners. While Jagaddal is Bimal’s closest friend, my phone spends more time with me than any other human being does. I have often wondered about Ghatak’s vision of a man whose only companion is a battered Chevrolet. Ajantrik portrays, on the one hand, the loneliness of someone who does not have a real friend and therefore has a surrogate relationship with his car. On the other hand, the film is about a deep love affair between a man and his machine that transcends the realness of the ‘real’ world.
Machines are to be used, people are to be loved. This is the reality that Ajantrik challenges. As human beings become increasingly dependent on machines, a sense of apathy, even hatred, towards those lifeless contraptions helps people assert their identities as sons and daughters of nature, and deny their subservience to a mechanical life. Ajantrik is about how this denial can be turned into a loving acceptance, and the hatred into a love that can breathe life into the lifeless body of a car.
Bimal’s intense reluctance to let go of his car despite its jalopy of a body and useless engine is perhaps the most absurd — and yet the most human — show of love towards a pet that is inanimate. Such a love can only be utterly irrational.