Insanity and the Family

Psychologists, or mind bender as my grandfather calls them, are objects of much curiosity in my family. I don’t mind their playful accusations of me trying to brain wash people; I’ve met far to many people who demand I read their minds for that.

Yesterday my mother challenged me to diagnose the various tales of bizarre behavior that haunted the family. The first story was about an old great grand uncle who lived the life of a simple shop owner and land owner. Since everyone used to walk back them, he walked a lot too. But one day he left his travel companions to pee behind a bush. He soon returned and began speaking to everyone in Malayalam, which no one understood. No was able to figure out how he knew Malayalam either. He was soon ravaged but whatever afflicted him and his metal health disintegrated.

The next story was that of grand uncle who had an annoying habit of loudly narrating whatever he was doing. Even more irritating was his tendency to narrate what other people were doing while he stood about staring at them. When people asked him to stop narrating and just finish what he was doing he’d walk off angrily. My mother recalled that she hates people pointing out the obvious too and wondered if she was crazy too. She was quickly distracted by other memories of his fingers playing imaginary instruments and him singing notes “ahaaa vheeee huuummm” as he walked the long corridors that South Kenaran houses used to have.

The last story of insanity was of a great grandfather who’d have windows nailed shut if people forgot to close them when he asked them to. He also insisted on people waiting for him to wake up before they opened the front door. Since the bathrooms were outside the house, people inside had to wait anxiously till they could relieve themselves.The fact that he’d wait for his cat, that slept on top of him, to wake up before he rose must have made the wait a lot more painful.

The stories of insanity didn’t really interest me as much as the amount of information my mother knew about the family. I can’t even remember the names of all my uncles. I guess she kinda had to pick it up when one of my great grandfathers had as many as 22 children between two women.

The whole thing makes me wonder what normal is. Normal must just be the generic behavior society wants from you, but honestly I can’t think of many normal people. My grandfather isn’t crazy but I’m sure the people who see him walking around the house quoting 60’s movies and random children’s rhymes have a hard time figuring out what’s happening. Not being eccentric is a little odd given our families history.

Hedda Gabler

It isn’t often you enjoy reading about cruel characters who manipulate,cheat and drive people to kill themselves but Henrik Isben pulls it off.

I don’t really read a lot of plays, but Hedda Gabler makes me reconsider my indifference towards them. You’re thrown straight into the thick of the story. Huge revelations, twists and explanations float by, unnoticeable to all but the most observant viewers. To the outsiders in the play, the characters must seem like happy, well off and respectable people. But we the view see gratuitous amounts of dissatisfaction. Unhappy meaningless marriages, deception, affairs, manipulation, jealousy. These aren’t happy, well adjusted characters we’re dealing with.

Hedda Gabler and all the other characters are bound by their past, by their genders, by their failings and try desperately to find a little happiness or at least escape boredom. Hedda despite being cruel, manipulative, exploitative remains a likable character. It feels wrong to call her an anti-hero. There only a few lines about her past, but that’s all you need to know about her struggles to stick to gender norms. She is her fathers’ daughter, Hedda Gabler, and not Hedda Tesman, Tesmans’ wife.

Tesman is a kind soul, an ambitious and dedicated scholar and husband but without great talent. He’s naive, spoilt and oblivious to the many many times he’s been hoodwinked. His rival Lovbog tarnishes his reputation (along with that of his lover) and wastes his talent and Hedda aids his destruction. Thea, restricted to the sidelines, can only watch silently as her life is ruined and her work destroyed.

When boredom, rebellion and independence are no longer an option, death becomes Heddas’ solace. When all the other characters are able to put aside their own frustrations and realize Hedda has shot herself, it is said “People don’t do such things”. Even in death the characters are bound by the need to be respectable  and polite.

A medium length play that might annoy quite a few with its dark, bleak approach and cruel characters, Hedda Gabler manages to be an engrossing look into the minds of people desperately trying to deal with the boring world polite society tries to create.