By Sneha Roy Choudhury
“And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough. When I say what things are like
Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself
Surely you see that.”
“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.”-Albus Dumbledore
Hence, some are written in troubled times on troubling matters. As the world resounds with the terrible screeches inflicted by mankind’s gore, a few sit in the corners of time and record, chronicle, compile. They furiously scribble, hoping, knowing perhaps, that one day the world will turn the pages of history books to chapters on cruelty and prejudice, only to realise how much has been lost in this lust for blood. There is a certain voice in these words, one which nudges the conscience and pierces through space to ring with sense and truth. Such are the grave voices that smart the tests of time and survive to be heard and repeated for ages to come. Larry Kramer’s happened to be one such voice, whose splendid, loud conviction rang in his works and lived on for years after him; sometimes repeated in memory and at others, in fury. He wrote of death and neglect, of ignorance and bias, of a kind that looked away from an epidemic and chose bias over compassion. Larry Kramer became the face of a movement many refused to fight and a cause many had abandoned.
In the uncertain 1980s of New York, Kramer sought to showcase a rather pressing issue that plagued his community and caused an alarm. Being an active (and I must mention here, very vocal and political) member of the LGBTQ+ community of the then USA, Kramer couldn’t stand to watch his fellow activists and friends succumb to this spreading epidemic that was then identified as ‘GRID’ or the Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease (now known as HIV-AIDS), while he felt handicapped and limited. And hence, in his very Brechtian style, he gave the world ‘The Normal Heart’, a play to be reckoned with, as it heralded a wave of awareness, of talk and deliberation on a disease that wasn’t being heeded to earlier. The play was aimed to draw attention-its tone wrought with anger and its style entangled with a certain frustration, a desperate urgency to be heard and for his community to be noticed.
The play and its message, though often criticised for its very “gay-chauvinist” note, has walked through time, been read and performed, and now adapted into a movie. The context that Kramer seeks to advocate his message in, wafts through decades to appall and shock mankind, never losing an opportunity to prick the thinking, feeling soul. Kramer’s ideas are unapologetic, unrelenting; never failing to highlight the failings of the entire system, the disappointment meted out to the people he loved. Through the story of a Jewish, homosexual activist, Ned Weeks, and his life of unimaginable loss, stigma and struggle, Kramer’s revolt becomes conspicuous. Tears are shed once the apathy of those around is brought to notice, and a crippling sense of hapless sorrow arrests the human heart.
The Ryan Murphy directed, Mark Ruffalo starrer made quite the buzz at the Emmy’s this year, with its magnificent casting and enthralling performances. But what came across to me, most dominantly and very strongly was this cry. This voice I had alluded to earlier, the one that spoke to me and ought to have spoken to all those that may have cared to lend an ear. Auden, in a poem from which Kramer borrows the title of this play, had once noted- “We must love one another or die”. Without going into all the controversy that follows these lines, my closing comment on this mini-series and the very heart-rending script of the play shall conform to the spirit of these words. There is destruction written in the fate of a kind that can hate with fervour such as ours. And we shall be consumed in the fires of the loathing we direct at others. When we look away, chose to not notice, to neglect, to act out of prejudice and bias, it is ourselves that we wrong. And the world is shredded by such petty wrongdoing. We tear ourselves apart from the most natural of our instinct- humanity. So what are we creating other than these little Igors of our own?
Sneha Roychoudhury is a student of History with a passion for words and can be best described by the collection of books stacked on her shelves and the little doodles made on tattered ends of these volumes. She dreams, and she protects them in a lexical fortress- some of it built and quite some imagined. Music renders her free and literature entwines her being- each mending the chipped pieces of her imperfect soul. Travel and the written word are her soul mates, the world a box of woes and wonder and the untold stories of the nameless millions her singular passion.