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Miscellanea/Manjula Padmanabhan

Many parents use guilt and obligation to puncture
a child's self-confidence, then suck out a life-term of devotion

It is easy, while battling hordes of hungry mosquitoes, to think of vampires. After all, they too drink blood and fly around seeking victims at night. And from vampires to monsters in general. A story called Lila the Werewolf in the excellent Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories is set in contemporary New York. A young man awakes to find that his girl friend is not only a werewolf but that in her changed form she has a taste for local dogs! Their relationship is fraught with his attempts to protect the neighbourhood pets from her. But she leaves him eventually, to marry an analyst who encourages her to glorify her nocturnal transformations.

The story is as hilarious as it is revealing of the confusions of our age. Whilst some sections of society struggle to suppress Lila's wildness with powerful drugs, other sections are busy denying that there's anything to suppress. Either way it's the poodles that suffer in the end. But is that their fault or merely their role in the script.?

By contrast, the world of vampires revealed in Anne Rice's novel, Interview With The Vampires, makes morbid though fascinating reading. The film of that name does no more than record one gory encounter after another, but the book goes beyond mere carnography. By presenting its fictional account of a vampire's life in his own words, it offers glimpses of a strangely beautiful existence, of senses as crisp as Belgian lace, of hearing as acute as a bat's, of the tedium of immortality and the torment of eternal disgrace. But perhaps the main attraction of the story lies in the way that it mirrors the real lives of ordinary human beings who, through choice or circumstance, live beyond the light of social acceptance.

This includes anyone who must maintain a cloak of invisibility around some personal or professional secret. Just as a vampire cannot afford to permit a dinner guest to suspect that s/he is destined to be the meal itself, so too a person whose friendships or patronage demands that certain social fictions be maintained, cannot afford to be exposed to the light of truth.

The similarity lies in the need to conceal something in order to gain another thing, a thing which would never be given if demanded openly. Whilst the vampires of fiction prey on their victims in a literal physical sense, the vampires of real life hunt in more subtle ways.

Some are villains in the way that fictional vampires are traditionally presented. They are people who live off the energies of others, who use another's trust and love to gain advantages which wouldn't be available otherwise. Spouses are often guilty of this, callously soaking up the life of a partner, while offering a slave's wage of attention in return. Children certainly seem to use their parents like rolls of human toilet paper.

A series of photographs in Life magazine showed a father and his daughter, posing together at the beach over a number of years. While the little girl balloons up into a strapping young woman, the robust and handsome father deflates slowly across the years into a bravely smiling old man. But a number of parents are accomplished vampires themselves. They use their twin tusks of guilt and obligation to puncture a child's self-confidence, then suck out a life-term of devotion. When they finally die, they leave behind only the empty shell of a person, rattling with nostalgia and lost dreams.

Some real-time vampires are forced into the twilight dimension unwillingly: Anyone with a sexual preference which does not fit within the range of what is currently acceptable, for instance. Anyone with a physical condition which is viewed as a disability. Anyone from a social or cultural background which if successfully hidden, can mean the difference between life and death. They do not choose their isolation, yet because of it, their senses are sharpened. They feel insults more keenly, because they see others receiving the blows that could equally be aimed at themselves. They are sensitive to nuances of truth in others, because they live in the shadow of a lie themselves. They are sometimes more sensitive and compassionate towards others because they fear the moment of exposure themselves.

The traditional European vampire of film and fantasy is a creature which can be vanquished only by Christian weapons. As a child I used to worry that, being a heathen by Christian definition, I could not honorably raise a crucifix in my defence. I felt certain that any self-respecting vampire would immediately smell out an unbeliever and pounce without delay.

Later it occurred to me to reverse the logic: Being repulsed by Christian icons might mean that vampires were only attracted to Christian blood. I felt safe, till Anne Rice came along with her horde of fiends who wear crosses around their necks in mockery. They are attracted by warmblooded creatures of all faiths and species. Nothing deters them but direct sunlight, there is virtually no defence against them, not even consecrated Odomos.

Thank goodness they don't exist! The mosquitoes are bad enough.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

Manjula Padmanabhan

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