Was Spielberg really influenced by Satyajit Ray’s 1967 script, The Alien? I wouldn’t know and it’s none of my business anyway. But E.T. touches me in a very different manner. I see myself – and all expatriates – in E.T. Only that the story of E.P.s like us does not have a happy ending, making me think of what Maurice Maeterlinck said about fairy tales, that those last words – ‘And they lived happily ever after’ – already contained the seeds of a tragedy.
When I first started ‘phoning home’ from Germany in the early eighties, it was costing me four Deutschmarks a minute, that’s a bill of forty D-marks for a ten minute chat with my mom. E.T. wouldn’t have rung home and Spielberg wouldn’t have made the film under those circumstances.
Compared to the mobile telephones and PCs plus Skype and WhatsApp of today, our long distance trunk calls were very much like E.T. calling from the woods. It used to be a funny sort of conversation. I’d tell my mother all about life in Europe and she’d only be interested in knowing when I was coming home.
There was no question of anybody sending a spaceship from Calcutta – Kolkata these days – since even E.T.’s spaceship would have refused to land in Calcutta. In Kolkata neither. Would have been swamped by the slum kids – very unlike Elliott and his gang – who’d have stolen the very nuts and bolts so that the spaceship would have fallen apart in flight like a demure maiden being unclothed in public – I still love them, those bustee kids, used to be my friends and companions, after school hours.
What I mean is, you leave your family and your job to go to an alien country – hey, I thought I was the alien? – because you’re madly in love with this one woman in the universe… Now, what kind of a plot would that be? E.T. coming to earth and falling in love with an earthwoman to teach her Kama Sutra, galactic version, while she teaches him fifty shades of grey – will you stop mixing things up? Grey did the teaching, I’ll beg you to remember.
Being the E.T. who couldn’t go home, who’s still carrying around his glowing Bible card of a heart and the revived chrysanthemum, the only realisation that could save me – and did – was: how many of us, the E.T.s or the E.P.s, the extra-terrestrials and the expartriates, are out HERE, on earth, and not out THERE, in outer space. And we’re growing in number all the time, it seems. Poverty, wars, oppression, persecution, terror sends us scuttering to other countries and other shores. Or maybe just the hope of a good life? What an alien dream!