Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 04/16/16 7:10 AM

Feature: Charlie Chaplin, A Tribute

Make like the Tramp!

One could do worse than adopt a Chaplinesque outlook to life.  

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, better known as Charlie Chaplin,  entertainer exemplaire, would be 127 years on April 16, 2016, if he still lived. But the character Chaplin created and the world took to its heart, the Tramp, continues to entertain, enthrall, and amuse people the world over. That way, Chaplin lives forever.

Let us demystify the Chaplin/Tramp credo. While on the surface his films were romps, giggle-fests, a series of comical montages, a deeper look will reveal the strain of sadness that runs in them, subtle, slender but very much there.

The boy who is poor, the hobo who is given the cold shoulder by the haute monde, the lover whose girl scoffs at him for a variety of reasons, the blue-collared worker whose boss thinks he is good for nothing. The one who is forever aspiring to something better in life and not always achieving it.

And there’s a reason for that strain of sadness. Chaplin did not have the easiest of childhoods. Raised by a single mother of fragile mind, with no father around, the little boy was in the workhouse by the age of nine.

A handful of years on, his mother was admitted to a mental asylum. From then on, it was all about survival; and after survival, chasing his dream, to carve a niche on the stage and screen.

He created and developed the persona of the Tramp, which of course, went on to become a much-loved character. However, as befits one who really exemplified the rags-to-riches story, Chaplin’s Tramp never lets us forget his creator’s humble origins.

This global phenomenon’s attitude to life is a laudable one. It is equanimity in the face of adversity. It is vanquishing pathos with levity.

Once, explaining why his comedies often tend to ridicule sad circumstances, Chaplin said, “It is paradoxical that tragedy stimulates the spirit of ridicule … ridicule, I suppose, is an attitude of defiance; we must laugh in the face of our helplessness against the forces of nature — or go insane.” Never were truer words spoken.

When you think about it, it’s a no-brainer. As any Chaplin fan will tell you, it’s all about reacting one-dimensionally to everything life throws at you.

It’s all about being the roly-poly, that round-bottomed toy figure, which will swing back however hard it is hit. It is all about looking on the bright side of life even when the clouds amassed overhead threaten to swamp the sky, and your very life.

This is an intelligent man, this Tramp, not at all the fool the casual viewer might take him for. He is the classic underdog and the underdog is one figure we can all identify with.

There runs a strong streak of self-confidence in the Tramp and when you read what Chaplin feels about life, you fully understand the psyche of that special hobo. “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!” said the man.

So, what are the Chaplinesque qualities that we could imbibe and live with in these far from peaceful, restful days? Well, here’s something to begin with:

The simplicity: It’s the old adage — the more you simplify your way of thinking, your way of living, the easier life gets. It is about editing: editing your belongings, your lifestyle, your wants, your needs, your very way of thinking.

The levity: Movie after movie, the Tramp finds laughter in tears, hope in despair. Chaplin once said that a day without laughter is a day wasted. A pertinent point. Even if you are loath to join the laughter clubs, you could ease up, look for humour in everything, everywhere, and laugh more. Or at least, break out into smiles more often. Laughter is the great de-stressor, remember?

The optimism: There’s enough in the world around us and the world that directly involves us, to steep us in dismal cynicism. But a strong determination to stay optimistic, to always look on the bright side of life, to always believe — stoutly — that every dark cloud has its silver lining, will ultimately win the day for us.

The self-confidence: You smack it down, the roly-poly bounces back almost in reflex action. Well, that is just what you need to do. And it is easy to do only if you tap into a well of confidence in yourself, the conviction that whatever it is, you can do it, face it, and get through it. Move beyond and above it. Hark back at the Tramp. He knows he is actually a hero, on an off-day. It’s just a matter of time before his inner champion comes shining through!

The equanimity:
 This trait is revealed in most impressive ways by the loveable hobo. Even as everything seems to conspire against him, the Tramp retains his good cheer and calm. Nothing fazes him. And even if things don’t ultimately go his way, what viewers carry away with them is that unflappable good humour.  An admirable trait, indeed. He views failure as something trivial, something that’s part of everyone’s life. Big deal, he says, and moves on.

The detachment: Our Tramp could well have been a Buddhist, given the fact that nothing seems to go too deep with him. He loves, he aspires, he wants, he even yearns for people and things. But when he doesn’t always walk into the sunset with the object(s) of his desire, well, that seems okay with him, too. Off he hobbles into that waiting sunset on the horizon, quite pleased with himself. No meltdowns or raving rages for the Tramp.  Chaplin said nothing is permanent in life, not even trouble, and his Tramp exemplifies that.

So, while Charles Chaplin, the man, was ultimately a hero with feet of clay, by no means the perfect man — what with his series of affairs, the court cases against him, his leaving America in a bitter frame of mind believing himself to be persecuted by the authorities — there is much we can learn from that lovable character he created, the cheerful, resigned yet optimistic Tramp.

May the Tramp’s force be with us!

‘We have lost the way’

“The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has
poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us
into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves
in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us
cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.

Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The airplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all…Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men — machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines, you are not cattle, you are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts!``– Charlie Chaplin.

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 16 Apr 2016.

Charles ChaplinDeccan Heraldlessons from the TrampLiving

Sheila Kumar • April 16, 2016

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