I was quite excited to see that ‘The Reader’ was playing on TV.
No-one in my family will watch the same movies as me, even when I offer to pay their ticket at the cinema. I have two brothers that only want to watch action movies and ridicule anything else. My father never goes to the cinema and the rest of my family don’t watch Anglophone movies. We don’t share any of the same tastes. Nobody else in the family reads for pleasure, for example. Outside the family, again no-one will watch what I want to watch. My tastes are too mature, too serious. I could watch the movies by myself, I suppose, but it seems like a waste of money and time. It would be an incomplete experience. To me it would mean, in a sense, giving up on the belief of having someone with similar tastes to go with me, of having someone understand the movie in the same way as me: a betrayal. I can give up the experience of the movie in the cinema, but the faith in someday having a partner viewer, of waiting for them to appear in my life honestly and earnestly? The death of this illusion would be too much for me.
I had just come home and had missed the eight o’clock showing by a few minutes, but there was another one at nine. Even though I knew no-one would watch it, I still asked if anyone wanted to watch it with me. No. No-one had ever heard of it. Everyone was too busy. I scoffed down the prawn, red pepper and tomato pasta that Mother had specially prepared for me since everyone else was eating vegetable curry. I followed it with a double chocolate chip cookie topped with Ben and Jerry’s fudge ice cream, ran up to the loft to grab my glasses, ran all the way back and then sat down to watch.
It always began in the same way whenever I tried to watch a movie at home by myself, in the ugly dark room adjoining the kitchen, on the old TV with poor sound quality.
Immediately, my oldest nephew ran into the room bawling. I missed the first interchange between the woman and the main character as his mother scooped him up in front of me and traipsed off into the lounge, where everyone else was watching their over-loud and garishly lit Indian soap operas on cable.
Every time the scenes of sex and nudity began on the screen, my sister-in-laws kept on popping into the kitchen. My younger sister-in-law came in and stood at the sink. She started banging pots and pans together and dropping things, started coughing – all nervous habit of hers. I am no prude, but I felt a blush jump into my skin. I went and stood in front of the TV screen so that she couldn’t see what was happening. I had to stand there a long time. There was a lot of sex and nudity. Kate Winslet kept on moaning loudly. I was embarrassed and thought of how my sister-in-laws would think of me as a pervert. These kinds of movie scenes are heavily censored in India, where they are from. Suddenly, this censorship came and sat on my head with the Indian women in the room and agitated me. I was doubly embarrassed because I had thought I was above such thinking.
The children ran in swinging open the door and obstructing the TV. They threw about an empty Pepsi bottle which skittered on the lino and they thumped the table next to the sofa loudly. The women ran the taps on the sink, left the door to the lounge open so I could hear the sensationalist music and even some of the dialogue on the soap operas, talked loudly. It was always the same. I could never hear anything.
Mother began the interruptions of the scenes. While my heart sank in sadness as Michael submerged himself into the glittering glass shards that the sun broke the lake into, she wanted to know if I was watching a movie.
And indeed, was I really watching the movie? Was someone else watching the movie somewhere else? Was I watching myself watch the movie from a distance?
Everyone watched over my shoulder to see what was on, with what little curiosity they could muster. They took turns. My dad stood at the kitchen sink and broke a glass while I was trying to follow the moral dilemma of the main character in the law court. During the scene of rapprochement my mother started asking me if I were going to eat the lamb curry for dinner tomorrow for the fourth time. I told her yes for the fourth time. She always forgot after she asked. The repetition always, the same words, the same actions. During the scene of the suicide, one of my brothers wanted to know what it was that I was watching, even though he didn’t care. He stood around by the water cooler in the fridge, gawping at the screen, scratching his stomach. When I told him the name of the movie, he said he’d never heard of it, unnecessarily. As the movie drew to a close, my other brother came down to interrupt the cemetery scene with the man and the daughter. He asked me if the movie was any good. I said he wouldn’t like it. He said that’s because the movie was gay. The movie faded out.
Even though I had tried to watch the movie by myself, this never happened. I would always have to watch it with others. I wondered if my family did it deliberately. Were they sharing the movie with me, in their own way? Or were they making sure I couldn’t have it to myself?
Anyway, this was what it was always like. As long as I stayed at home I would always be watching ‘The Reader’ in a babble of voices, resentment and dislike. Nobody would ever speak to me directly, even on a recorded voice, like they had done to the imprisoned Kate Winslet. I would always be watching and listening and relating to the movie on Indian time.
And I would always feel and know that I had missed something.