Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 40: Mr.George’s Journey of Enlightenment

Please allow me to quote the Bhagavad Gita:

“Your proper concern is alone the action of duty, not the fruits of the action. Cast then away all desire and fear for the fruits, and perform your duty.”

Some context: The Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Lord”) is possibly the best known and most popular of Hindu texts. It is a poem (part of the epic, the Mahabharata - another principal Hindu scripture) in which Krishna teaches the warrior Arjuna about the importance of doing one’s duty and how to achieve liberation from suffering. I know this because I looked it up in Hinduism, A Very Short Introduction by Kim Knott.

Many moons ago, I had an alter ego that long preceded this current one of The Hungry Screenwriter: across North and Central London, I was known as Mr.George. In the early 1980’s, I plied my trade as a sales rep for Sony, pedalling their audio and video tapes across the length and breadth of the lucrative part of the nation’s capital. If you cast your mind back, you’ll recall that in the era I’m talking about, cassette tape was big buisness and so, believe it or not, was Beta video tape.

My customers were London’s hi-fi trade, which was basically run by Indians, from the Mile End Road in the East to Ealing in the west and all havens in between (of which there were many) On a dusty summer’s afternoon near Acton, entering Pavil’s Electronics on the Uxbridge Road was, I imagined, like stepping into a fragrant bazaar in Mumbai, Chenai or Madras.

The nom de plume of ‘Mr.George” came about after, having introduced myself as ‘Mr.Joyce’, something got lost in translation between my language and their Hindi or Urdu.

Entering any one of these emporiums that summer, a television somewhere in the close vicinity of the counter, would be the centre of attention not me and my wares. The three, four, or five Pavil brothers, sons, cousins and/or uncles would be leaning nearby, almost huddled around the screen waiting and watching something with religious attention. Without too much ado or greeting - nothing to do with their impeccable manners, they were caught up in the cricket you see - a tea would be made and handed to Mr.George (please forgive me talking about myself in the third person [like Ross Perot did famously on the US Presidential campaign trail] but I feel that I’m looking back at me through the mists and miasma of so many days that it’s hard to relate the story in the first person and somehow, the telling of the tale works better this way).

Mr.George understood that the reciprocal thing to do, was to take the milky chai in the chipped mug and join the group of viewers, putting his bag and samples down and find something to perch on. He would then gaze from the TV screen to the framed picture of Krishna on the wall, to the framed picture of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II alongside.

For half-an hour, forty-five minutes, an hour or however long the ‘meeting ‘ went, Mr.George enjoyed himself. This small exotic and slightly unruly community, within a much larger community, had accepted him. Part of the reason they accepted him was because he, like them, loved sport, loved cricket and understood the code of behaviour for following your team, in this case, your country. Mr.George knew that the good television sports watcher rarely watched in the company of others, unless they were like-minded knowledgeable others who knew to keep their mouth shut, knew to just watch and listen and maybe at an appropriate moment mutter one comment that came from understanding, high regard or a place of deep passion. Or, alternatively, smile politely when a comment was aimed in my direction: “What you think now Mr. George, eh? Your Mr.Botham not so clever fellow after all.”

These were heady and perfumed afternoons among the lotus-eaters of North & West London, in the summer of 1981, that hypnotised me, a young man from provincial, middle-class England, on a journey from ignorance to enlightenment.

As for my sales, well, they took care of themselves; I just got out of the way and let the Pavils and many of their relatives, order tapes by the container-load from me, which they then distributed across the whole of the UK ( I never had the heart to tell my Sony colleagues up and down the country why they were struggling to sell tape to their dealers). I learnt to sit back, enjoy the odd samosa or two and allow the incense to waft over me, all the time praying to Ganesha, Vishnu, Rama, Sita and any other deity that I was introduced to, that the Pavils tape and hi-fi empire would continue to flourish and my livelihood along with it.

Day #40 Tip: Do Not Concern Yourself With The Fruits of Your Action
One of my favourite pastimes used to be that at the end of 6 long months working on a screenplay, I would type the screen directions “Fade to black. End”, sit back and rather than congratulate myself on the job well done, think to myself: “well, that’s a load of rubbish.”

I’m pleased to say that my self-esteem and work practices are much healthier these days, I no longer judge myself or my labours so harshly. I took the Bhagavad Gita quote that began this piece and made it into a living philosophy or elongated mantra for my writing:

“My job is to tend to the tree (my writing/screenplay), to turn up on a daily or regular basis and to make sure that the tree is getting enough water, sunlight and food. If the tree needs me to sit down and talk to the tree, then that’s what I do. Whether fruit is succulent or withered, is nothing to do with me. Whether fruit actually comes or not, is none of my business. I must let go all expectations of a bumper crop or blighted harvest, for my sole purpose is but to tend the tree. This tending, is my duty and my responsibility and if I let go of expectations, it is my joy and my pleasure.”

I didn’t arrive at this place of laissez-faireism overnight and I can still slip back into my old ways, but it’s not like it used to be and nor am I. This doesn’t mean that I am immune to the slings and arrows (constructive or otherwise) that others pitch at my work, but nor am I too sensitive or prickly, to work with the thoughts and ideas of film collaborators. Film is a collaborative art/entertainment form, I am always (hopefully) going to be working with others and those others will always have comments on the work I offer up. A rite of passage leading from screenwriting puberty to adulthood, is learning to work with collaborators, but first I had to learn to work with me.

Krishna taught me all this, somewhere on the Uxbridge Road, London, W12.

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