Holden Caulfield was a friend. A rather uneasy one, who I thought was unnecessarily contradictory and morose, but that was what brought me close to him. We couldn’t have been more different. He was a white teenager in the late 1940s from a rich New York family, gallivanting around the city in search of himself. I, on the other hand, was this brown queer shadow in another part of the world some 50 years in the future, too afraid of my own-ness, who was staying in the confines of a room, reading a book after another, and giving up on the travails of daily living. He would have called me phony, I thought at the time, and still, I befriended him, and kept him close. My copy of The Catcher in the Rye was dirty and stained and somewhat smelly, from all the times and places I read it.
A few years later, I carried the same copy to a book group meeting and read a couple of pages, hoping that the enthusiastic book-worshippers would tell me why I felt so attached with it and with him. Basking in the mute yellow sun of a late winter afternoon on centuries-old stone steps of the Bada Gumbad (Big Dome tomb) at the Lodi Gardens, they all listened to my pesky little voice, still uncomfortable in its cadence and strength. Some said that I was perhaps like Holden.
The only thing common between us was our sense alienation and perhaps our conflict with individual needs and the trauma of our histories. But that did not make me like him or so I thought, not when it came to identifying traits of personality. I dropped it.
Holden fell through the cracks, or maybe I did. I forgot my copy of the book and all the pages that had become fragile beneath the restless touch of my thick fingers.
As I picked it up again and entered the somewhat muted and old-film-like-light of Holden’s story years later, I laughed. On an empty bed of an empty room, swathed in shades of blue and brown, I laughed like I never did before while reading it. I found it hilarious: his wry comments on everyone he found phony and all the things he did not feel like doing or talking about despite keeping on with it for paragraphs after paragraphs. As I moved from one chapter to another, I found that I never actually related with him. I only related with the circumstance of our shared disillusionment, that rises like a bleak sun through the peak of teenage, zigzagging down the winding ways of a still developing mind.
As I caressed these espresso pages and fingered the scrawl of those ant-words, I missed Holden. And I missed myself, or a part of self that I do not see in the mirror anymore. I finished the book on my 25th birthday.
I do not think that revisiting Holden was a mistake. That is a kind thing I did for myself, and understand the uncertain and inane myths that I built and believed for a very long time. They are not untrue because they are myths. They are not negative, or self-serving in a sanctimonious way. They are a sliver of history with a range of subjectivities, allusions, inspirations, and needs.
I accept them today. Now that my face is a bit more serious, a little less gaunt, my eyes deeper-set, and the hairline receding from prominent stress lines, I acknowledge it all. Holden is a long-lost friend, and I will let him stay for a little more before sending him on his way towards an ever-changing past.
It’s been a while since I last posted here. Many things have changed and yet many have stayed the same. If you are new here, you can check out my short-lived #Trash personal essay series or the archive of poems.
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One thought on “Catch me, Holden!”
Same. The old books and characters hit different with age. And in re-reading them, there’s always self-discovery. Happy birthday, Anmol. Never stop writing.