Remembering absence of fear


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Category: Reflections Date: 31 Oct 04


I am sitting freezing on the fourth floor of a building overlooking the lit gate of London's Chinatown, inhaling pungent roast duck and noodles from the restaurants below, listening to an orchestra on BBC radio, the thrum of a hairdryer, and Korean conversation in this bizarre combination of internet/ hair dresser.


I am trying desperately to find hotmail in English while being baffled by the Korean instructions on my screen, wondering over the endless parallel and overlapping worlds in one city.


After we fell into one another's arms, the catchword at the reunion of my year's fellow City University journalists who flew in from Canada, Israel, other parts of Europe to meet in a London flat after a hiatus of 15 years (we were the International group), was "we're so glad we made the effort. Life's too short."

For that brief evening we were students again, back in time, drinking too much, flirting outrageously, and remembering tenderly complicities as only those who have been young together can be. We know now what we didn't know then. Experience gave us a sense of our own mortality, knowledge of death, a kind of shock that time flattens hope, and gobbles possibility, narrows our road map to one narrow path that sometimes can lead to a quiet dead end.


We've gained mortgages and children and achieved something or another, but we wouldn't have believed it then if you had told us, that now into our third and fourth decades that we would be hunkering down, as one friend put it against possible blows, fearing for our security, our children, our futures. But we remembered, strong now in our numbers, that there was a time when we ran against the wind, leapt without thinking. We remembered that absence of fear. That endless possibility. Some of our more subdued cynicism today has to do with the world of-course.

Valerie spoke of seeing the faces of dying children, of weeping cameramen and journalists helpless against the ravages of war that comes from the jostle for power. My Dutch friend, now a correspondent in Israel, spoke of the everyday images of dead Israelis and Palestinians, of the complexity and similarity of the twin faces of hatred.


We spoke of Bush and Blair and the illegal unjustified war in which Americans are counting their dead, where British troops will follow, where Iraqi dead don't count, where guns are breeding more terror not less. As the evening wore on, we grabbed the moments in which we could reflect our younger more idealistic selves on to one another. For those few precious hours we didn't speak of mortgages, and responsibilities. We were not impressed with ISPATT's Mittal's enormous bonus to himself (more than a billion pounds), or the auction of Oscar Wilde's possessions on at Sotheby's or the priceless Raphael exhibition on at the National Gallery. Glitter, chandeliers, gleaming marble floors, wildly extravagant fashion, can always be found with money. But it is only stone, only cloth, artificial light imposed from the outside.


A dozen of us walked out into the streets where the rain converted the streets into a gleaming black, reflecting gold light. The faces we turned to, the arms we linked, the eyes we laughed with must have been older, but our confident quick steps, the way we walked into, instead of ducking against the rain, the quickening of our hearts, made us remember, possibility, passion, an active engagement with the world. It needs a bit of excavation, but it never ages, is always there.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur