Daily Musings

Pan

When I picked up Pan last month at Foyles at Charing Cross, London I had two thoughts in my mind regarding the title. My immediate thought was the pan in which one cooks but then it couldn’t have been this simple given Munch’s work on the front cover of the book. My second thought was in direction of Pan’s labyrinth and from that I thought of Pan – the Greek god of the wild. It turned out that the second guess was more closer to the profile of the work.

I was looking for Hunger by him but couldn’t find it and made peace with my purchase. It was surprisingly lean unlike the tomes of work that was common in the times during which Hamsun produced magnificent works. He veered off from the pallor tradition of writing endless dialogues and wrote bluntly on the raw human emotions in the heart and the various confounding debates of the human mind.

Pan is a story written in first person featuring Thomas Glahn and Edvarda, set in Sirilund, where time is spent frolicking in and admiring nature. I sometimes get bogged down by too much detail as it happens in many famous works where the writers keeps on describing the sunset for three pages, but here I took pleasure in reading about the grass blades, foaming sea against the docks, little hut, beetles, and other wonders of nature and the random act of naming the ants while sitting under a tree in solitude. So very human.

People will say it is a book about psychology but to me it is about the author and his way of describing what humans are and what do they want to say to other humans; They aren’t paragon of virtues but are flawed and thus humans.

“Do not forget, some give little, and it is much for them, others give all, and it costs them no effort; who then has given most?”  – Knut Hamsun, Pan

The timeline love story reminds me of 500 days of summer which has similar events and the misunderstanding between the two reminds me of Dev D. They love each other over a period of spring, summer, and autumn but neither understands what it means and eventually drift away.

The epilogue which describes the fate of Glahn set in southern India seems like another short story and is not archetypal of Hamsun’s period (Although Maggie seems to be an unrealistic character to me in that period in Indian subcontinent). Such literary devices put him ahead of his time and not confined to any literary tradition.

Today, Hamsun is seen in a dubious light despite being a literary genius from Norway who was awarded Nobel prize for literature in 1920, and it’s attributed to his far right political views and his and his wife’s relationships with then Nazi ruling Germany. It opens the never ending debate whether we can dissociate the artist from his/her personal life and political views. Despite that one can’t ignore the significance of his works and the literary evolution he was responsible for, his works aren’t another damp squib but something of Steve Jobs’ dots that one connects while looking in the past.

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The craft atlas of India – Tumba

Many years ago I went to a friend’s house and saw the ornate wrought iron door that immediately had my attention. A few days ago roaming around in one of the ‘ethnic’ shops of Delhi I saw the similar figurines that I saw on that gate. This time I enquired and learned that it is a traditional loh shilp(iron craft) from Chattisgarh. After scouring the internet more it turned out that it can be specifically located in Bastar region of the central state of India.

Bastar has been the locus of the tribal crafts of India but it never has gained the focus of media and the lesser-known art form from the region is Tumba. Tumba is the bottle gourd in the local language; given the strategic shape of the gourd, the dried form is used to carry water, liquids etc in daily life but apart from that the dried gourd aka tumba has found a special use as well. The gourds in the region look like giant pears, upon harvesting they are dried for a couple of months, hollowed out before they find themselves on the working station of an artist. The working piece is then ornately punctured, stunningly truncated, denotatively etched with forms and symbols and the final product is breathtaking.

The etching is done using basic iron tools and the final product finds home on the table or as lamps on the ceiling. Whatever is the final usage stare at this piece art long enough and you will start appreciating the sweat and blood that has gone in the process. It also tells how beautiful things in life are mostly simple.

Lost in translation – An attempt to read books from all countries

I am annoyed by the nuisance of the pigeons that I see around me, their tiny feet making incoherent noise on the scaffolding and the canopy is distracting. Such is their power that they have forced me to retreat to my cold room than sit in the sunshine. It is peculiar how the pigeons that I have encountered in the cities are fearless of human presence, not only are they oblivious to traffic but also don’t think twice before encroaching human dwellings. Anyway, this isn’t the central theme here.

Starting last year(beginning of 2018), I resolved to accumulate and read as much foreign literature as possible. Literature from countries that isn’t famous in USA, England, Australia, India or other English literature producing powerhouses. Translations of texts known and unknown; They needn’t be considered national literature but whatever I could gauge from blogs and after scouring the internet. I won’t call myself an anglocentric reader but this year I decided to broaden the horizons more.

My peculiar habit of visiting bookstores and coffee shops whenever I visit a new city has helped me amass books which is definitely Tsundoku in Japanese terms. By reading the books I bought, I would not only clear the backlog but also will try to achieve the goal that I set myself for the year.

I ended up reading a few books, stories, travelogues, biographies, historical narratives, forgotten folk tales. I am yet to gauge what did I learn in the process but it is definitely interesting to see how the idiosyncrasies of an individual, his/her background, formative years, beliefs, thought process, rationality, exposure shape up the writing style and the language used. The entire exercise reflected on the wide range of emotions, temporal, and behavioral differences among the societies providing an inkling to what that micro or macroscopic world sympathizes with.

Life isn’t found only in large cities but finds it ways in nooks and the smallest corners of the world and many of the works dealt with those lives. It is comforting and disconcerting at the same time to have a realization that all of us are an ordinary human being living our ordinary lives on an extraordinary planet. The simple life modeled by love, sorrow, laughter, innocence, desire, vice, and sinister political play.

I won’t bore you with the entire list here but I cherished reading a few of them.

CountryName of the bookAuthor
EstoniaThe Man who spoke snakishAndrus Kivirähk
NetherlandsFreeloaderNescio
FinlandThe Year of the hareArto Paasilinna
IcelandIndependent peopleHalldor Laxness
HungaryMetropoleFerenec Karinthy
KyrgystanJamilaChingiz Aitmatov
ZimbabweThe hairdresser of HarareTendai Huchu

The man who spoke snakish written in a mythical parallel world knows no bounds to the imagination, it presents the constant struggle and doubt that pervades human mind while the central character in The year of the hare seemed to have transcended the bounds of the human world. The entire setting is incredible yet believable.

Metropole is a dystopian world which can make one shudder if something like that happened in real life while Nescio aka J H F Grönloh writes in a simple yet sublime and effective way about the promises of the youth, the perspectives, and win-loss cycle.

I don’t know what I learned from the process whether I successfully finished it or not but I definitely relished it despite knowing the fact many emotions and feelings that words had to convey were simply lost in translation.

Godard Breathless in Paris

In the 2003 film The Dreamers, Isabelle says “I entered this world on the Champs-Elysees, 1959. La trottoir du Champs Elysees. And do you know what my very first words were? New York Herald Tribune! New York Herald Tribune!”

Today I tried to reactivate my Filmstruck account only to see a message that said the service is permanently closing down at the end of November this year. I not only was disappointed but also a little enraged that such a good service is coming to an end. I do agree that it wasn’t the optimum film watching experience but the content was so rich and was something that couldn’t be found at other streaming services. I am thankful to filmstruck to introduce me to Andrei Tarkovsky and for providing essentials of Bergman to the masses. There have been countless movies that have been made by many directors but only a few of them have been able to make an impact at a larger scale; These are the ones who decided to break free from the conventional settings and didn’t think twice before trying a new concept and challenged the status quo. Those who had moon shot thinking.

Non-linear story telling(Memento), movie without a story or a plot( Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels), multiple genre( Million Dollar Baby) are few such audacious but arduous exemplary steps, not necessarily the first ones in the direction towards revolutionizing the film theory. The film director is one person who can make or break the film and it’s his discretion how to show the story, characters, plots, and twists. One man who stands out is Jean-Luc Godard who constantly experimented progressively throughout his career and kept on exploring the personal themes in his films. From his debut itself he announced himself on the larger screen; The setting was perfect for the arrival – 1960s France. He said our cinema isn’t influencing the youth, so let youths influence the cinema. His first work was Breathless, and with the use of jump cuts i.e. abrupt transitions between one scene to the other he not only showed how pragmatic he could be but also challenged the archaic notion that movie watching has to be an immersive and emotional experience. Bertolt Brecht already had coined the concept of alienation of the audience and Godard used it wherever pertinent.

Breathless was shot on a minimum budget and Godard didn’t have the permission to shoot the film (strange times). He employed whomever he knew as his film crew and the film was shot on the streets of Paris with the cinematographer sitting on a wheelchair and someone pushing him so he can have the perfect angle. It also established Jean Paul Belmondo and femme fatale Jean Seberg in the French cinema with latter as the finest actress in Europe. The story is simple but well crafted with beauty lying in the streets of Paris of 1960. Comparing contemporary Paris with what it was back then always makes me wonder what if I could somehow transport and see that square or that building at night in person akin to Midnight in Paris.

Breathless culminated into a success story which paved path to young directors who didn’t have large studios or sophisticated equipment. Tangerine, released in 2015, is one such example and the entire film was shot on an iPhone 5S camera.

Godard couldn’t stand the passivity and wanted movies to be an intellectual stimulation exercise that challenges the thought process of the audience and over years he created content that gloriously exemplify his tactics. It is true that brave film directors create what they believe in and that’s what Godard did. 


									

Minima

A day or two ago I decided to get rid of some extra stuff that I was carrying over past few years and the first one to go were the assortment of random credit cards and some other savings/stores/random cards that I had acquired over a period of time and I wan’t using them at all. I have always assumed myself to be a minimalist in certain aspects of my life but while packing my stuff I realized that I might not be as characteristically immoderate minimalist as I perceived myself to be. Indeed I don’t have much furniture barring a sofa, a mattress(no bed), table, chair, and a bookshelf; I don’t own a car and mode of transport is an inexpensive bike; But when I looked around in certain nooks of the apartment, things I can call tchotchke, non functional objects collected over a period of time from lands far and near found their home. I do have plethora of books carefully selected in the past decade from various international bookstores and surprisingly have graduated to a well equipped kitchen as well.

Not a minimalist in the true sense then. Minimalism can be subjective, one needn’t get rid of each and everything. The idea is to own with a sense of responsibility and with owning less one tends to stretch the life and usage of the things one owns thereby creating lesser impact on the space and the environment around oneself. We end up in the whirlpool of the statement – I might need this one day and eventually end up having things which we don’t even need.

Back in 2014 I decided to experiment with project 333 that culminated into a success and I gave up many apparels to charity but after the project finished I ended up buying clothes again in next 2 year time frame. All of us have been caught in this vicious circle one time or the other. Oh well! Fact : After the oil industry, the fashion industry has the greatest environmental impact and with the advent of easily accessible fashion that won’t make a huge dent on the bank account, we own things without consciousness and don’t realize what impact our small purchase had. Some argue that sweatshops in south east Asia are important for the economy and how they are injecting money thereby increasing the purchasing power of the people. But don’t these big brands who give the contracts to the sweatshop owners have any responsibility how and under what conditions their clothes are made or are they merely concerned with minting money?

The idea behind minimalism isn’t to live in paucity but with enough that won’t cloud our vision and won’t be an obstruction in the process of life. Also, realizing the state that owning stuff doesn’t equate to lasting happiness may be ephemeral and transient one. From my personal experience, the last minute tickets I have purchased to go to some far flung or an unknown city for a brief vacation has brought more pleasure and pinched me less than Moomin mug or yet another CK shirt.

So, when I decided to get rid of the cards that I was owning and not using them, I decided to record my Rachel Greene moment but it turned out that next day many people ended up calling me and texting me to check if I was alright and whether I am going through a rough phase. Barring one everyone termed it as a crazy act but to me it wasn’t and as I said, minimalism is subjective and it did feel good in the end.

In the end I would say, there aren’t any set rules, do what you please and what is pertinent to the lifestyle you envision; You needn’t own only 100 items or live an ascetic life by not owning a car, a bed or TV but when the moment reaches when you are buying things for emotional support or more often than not, before buying anything you don’t have a clear ‘Yes’ to the question – do I really need it, then stop, think, and then decide.

 

 

 

Nastasya Filipovna

Finally last evening I was able to have the euphoric feeling of finishing a book from end to end, the feeling quadruples when it is a classic and the cherry on the top is added for I was moving at a snail’s pace. I picked it up in April while I was on my flight to Seattle and since then I have been reading a few pages here and there but over the long weekend I decided to be done with it and could I be any more successful!

I had purchased it for the first time back in 2011 after finishing Crime and Punishment but tsundoku applies to me. When I was in Paris, I did visit Shakespeare and Company, not for the sake of tourism and getting my photograph clicked and put a tick on my checklist but for some other reasons. At the entrance of the store there is a small paragraph written in chalk which intrigued me a lot and that was the tipping point for me to pick that book again.

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Truth be told, many times I did feel a little overwhelmed with inordinate amount of  details and endless dialogues but the development of the characters over a period of time kept me going. I guess a book becomes a classic when it transcends time, it doesn’t have to be didactic but should show the human emotions in most raw and authentic formats without any adulteration. Dostoevsky has always successfully dabbled with the concept of human emotions, the flaws and strengths that we carry with us since our birth and that makes us who we are. The Idiot deals with the human struggle of being a human being. Many times when I have read books from previous centuries, I have wondered have we progressed at all, are we on the right trajectory, will we evolve more emotionally or have we attained the apex point? The Idiot lets you peek into the Russian ideology, Russian society, customs and religion. I could understand the difference between the catholicism and Russian orthodox church and may be that’s one of the point from where the difference stems between Russia and the other western nations.

The book starts with a great pace and builds momentum over a period of time but then many characters jump in as it happens in Russian classics; As I took some time to read the book, I used a cheat sheet to refer to various characters in the story. There were metaphors and allegories used, and I don’t claim that I understood everything but I indeed relished the character development and the storyline of the main characters. The last 20 percent of the book moves at a faster pace compared to the middle part in which many other characters are getting focus and are having their spiritual transformations e.g. Hippolyte is one of them. I felt bad for Aglaya, she was just a normal girl who was with wrong people at wrong place at the wrong time. Myshkin is a typical nice guy but he is indecisive and his behavior with Aglaya infuriated me a little. Roghozin is one of those who think they are entitled to something great and they can have it by hook or crook but if one ignores his lunacy he did love Nastasya that turned into an obsession. The final one was Nastasya Phillipovana, her role in the story is passive for a long period of time except at the beginning and the conclusion. She is indecisive, she loves Myshkin but is convinced that he can’t be happy with her. She is the typical hot mess who has self destructive tendencies and it stems from her past. She reminds me of words of Jon Krakauer – “Some people feel like they don’t deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past”. She knows how her story would end but she audaciously accepts it.

I think some characters alive or dead stay with you and Nastasya is one of them and I thank George Whitman for the introduction.

The next renaissance

The movie fight club has a few thought provoking quotes – “We are the middle children of history, no purpose or place, no great wars, no great depression”. I don’t second the thought completely, our generation might also have a purpose may be a latent one, may be the purpose is hidden in layers like a pomegranate hides the berries in layers. Taking the middle path is the norm, the path that is safe, one that might bear the fruits of success – a success that is moderate but not the one that will make you immortal. Fight club comes to rescue one more time by stating “It’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything”.

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The cities that have marked themselves in golden letters in pages of history were unforgiving to the people who called them home. There wasn’t a plan B, if you succeed then you will share the glory and your place in pages of history with the greats from all walks of life but if you fail then you might starve to death and you subject your upcoming generations, if any, to similar fate. But that didn’t deter them to take risks. They always shot for something that can be considered the ultimate manifestation of human spirit.

What is it that we will risk everything for? Pope Julius II gave the commission to Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo wasn’t a painter, he was a sculptor. But the philosophy to take risk on the unlikely heroes was not uncommon. Identify a talented person and bestow responsibility of a herculean task; sit back and look at the results.

But what we do nowadays is quite tangential to that approach. We enlist the people for jobs once we determine that they are the perfect fit and then we assign the tasks to those who demonstrated the ability to execute those tasks in the past. Entirely risk averse. No risk or reduced risk is what the aim is. The space and time required for the ideas to flourish are not provided and then we wonder why aren’t we living in another renaissance?

Color me saffron

A few days ago when I was sitting in Scheltema in Amsterdam, I found a book named The Secret Lives of Color on the shelf. It was an interesting find. I quickly read the quoted stories on few of my favorite colors and was delighted to see the aspect of history associated with them. While I was about to return the book, I thought of another color – Saffron that forms a part of the tricolor flag of India.

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world and at one time saffron color was one of the most expensive ones. In 1444 a man was burnt alive in Nuremberg for he used to adulterate saffron with marigold and used to stretch profit margins. The spice is so fragrant that Cleopatra used to bathe in milk and saffron.

In Indian context, the color represents strength and courage in the nation and in terms of Hinduism it represents the holiest color among all colors. It is the color of burning flame that can purify, it represents the sacrifice. The priests, the monks, the learned ones wear the color indicating renunciation of worldly wealth. S Radhakrishnan said the color in the flag should symbolize renunciation and disinterestedness. Indifference to the material gain should be the fundamental rule followed by leaders but we have seen umpteen times how the country has been plagued by corruption scandals.

Bike On

I am not here to preach you about biking and its benefits to health, environment, and the society. The advantages are conspicuous enough and if one can’t see them then what’s even the point. Critically cynical stance from me but I still gape and don’t believe my eyes when people take their cars out to go to a store within 2 mile radius. I have nothing against cars, they are great mode of transport if we are talking about longer distances but if used within the city limits can cause the slow death of the city life, deteriorate the environment, and unnecessarily encroach the urban space. But oh well, what do the status hungry society care? Higher the BHP better it is, flashy the car higher would the status be in the ‘society’. But there is hope, it lies in the diamond frame. H G Wells said ” Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of human race.”

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My Parisian Friend

One of my favorite question in the interviews revolve around the framework used by the candidate, and I prefer the lucid and simple ones. A good framework is easy to understand and works well; It is akin to a bicycle – a simple machine that can have solution to few most complicated problems that infest the modern world.

For most of us, bicycles were the first source of freedom, taking us from point A to B but over a period of time we have shunned the bikes and have taken refuge in the cars. Whenever I go to a new city, I prefer to walk or take a bike no matter whether it rains, snows, heats up. Even if I end up walking 33 km in Paris in a day, bike for 40 km in Northern Amsterdam along the dikes, or find myself accidentally in Skagen(sleeping in train isn’t a good idea) and spend the entire day on bike there. There is a different feeling to it, it’s ineffable. You see the world differently, you hear it differently, you smell it differently than from behind a car’s windows. The speed is slow and you can appreciate more around you.

One of the best places to bike, in my opinion, are Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and having the entire road or bike highway to yourself without having to worry about getting hit by a motorized vehicle is a bliss. One can cruise on the bike thanks to the flat terrain of these cities and the cool breeze makes the experience enjoyable. It is interesting to note that studies have been conducted in England that showed that bikes helped in expanding the gene pool of counties( people had more mobility, so they procreated with people from other counties) and at one time was a symbol of female empowerment. Enrique Penasola, the mayor of Bogota exclaimed that absence of bike lanes is undemocratic way of life; If bike paths are present then the city can become a lot safer as there will be people on the road or outside more often.

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My Dutch Way Out

The most talked about advantages of biking are economic, political, social, and ecological but the personal ones cannot be discounted. Advantage of biking for the Parkinson’s patients has been talked about in many papers; one of the doctors took his patient on a tandem bike ride and saw the symptom level for Parkinson has gone down, he kept on repeating this tandem ride for few weeks and found his eureka moment for finding a correlation between biking and slowing down of disease.

Here goes a high five to German born Baron Karl von Drais – creator of this simple machine for “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.” — John F. Kennedy

 

Stalker

 

Sifting through a myriad number of films that have been produced till now can be a herculean task and if I were to leave it on chance to find films that I would enjoy then I would be getting to see the gems once in blue moon only. Today only I was discussing this with a friend of mine that there are millions of things that have to be done, millions of books to be read, places to be visited, songs to listen to, movies to watch, emotions to express and experience, will one lifetime be enough for that?

I knew about Filmstruck for a long time and decided to have the trial version of the same for the 14 days before I would start my work-related travel again. I watched Krzysztof Kieslowski’s  Trois Couleurs Bleu, A French classic – Une affaire de femmes, a couple of Swedish ones namely Together and the famous – I am curious Yellow. I had kept Stalker – the 1979 soviet sci-fi in my watch list and was I delighted to watch it?

When I started writing this post I thought I would write a review for this masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky but in between I have changed my mind and my propensity is towards the instruments and film theory Tarkovsky resorted to while he directed this one. There is not an iota of question that the film is a strange one, not easily digestible, set in a post-apocalyptic world, talks in ciphers and cryptic language. The medium is terse and esoteric, talks philosophy, and focuses on single frames for a long time, at times as long as 4 to 5 minutes. Such lengths make people uncomfortable. Why? May be it makes them bored. Boredom is quite magical, it makes you do things that you wouldn’t have done otherwise even if it means jumping from one task to the other aimlessly. But the question is – Is this movie meant for everyone? May be not. Soviet state committee pointed out that the film isn’t immersive but alienating the audience and is slow. Tarkovsky replied it is the way it should be.

The arrogance and obstinacy is what is attractive here. Tarkovsky was assiduous, arduous, and audacious in one of his final attempt. So was Bertolt Brecht, the man who coined the concept of Verfremdungseffekt, popularly known as alienating the audience. Most of the movies that we see these days rely on CGI for the grandeur or the emotional manipulation of the audience. In layman terms, you identify with the main character of the film and go on an emotional roller coaster with that character. You laugh and cry in unison, one such example is Roman Holiday in which people can start relating themselves to princess Audrey Hepburn and l’ordinaire journalist Gregory Peck. To Brecht, emotional manipulation meant vile and scrupulous like a lie that steals your right of knowing the truth. This concept cuts chords with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

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At this point, Brecht decided to alienate audience than immersing them in the film watching experience. They would be looking at the characters, film, the plot, the props as an outsider. The audience won’t become part of the emotional experience but will be a self appointed critique. The end goal was to distance the viewers so they can take a rational decision on the plot, events, and the actions of the characters. Tarkovsky used this method well to create a radical, surprising, and a critical product – Stalker. The art practice no longer remains a bourgeois and lofty one but can assimilate with the audience without manipulating them emotionally. Another film that follows the similar path is Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. I was thoroughly bored when I watched it for the first time and anticipated ‘something’ will happen but after 3 hours 45 minutes, the film just ended and I felt deceived. I was naive. After watching Stalker that belongs to the similar genre, I felt challenged. The film challenged me to remain bored, to maintain the static nature and then observe my surroundings. It challenges us to try and take a step away from the buffet of dissipation and profligacy and visit the mysteries of the zone. It is inline with Brecht statement that sometimes it is important to be human than to have good taste.

PS: Today I had a mathematical model’s delivery at work and while wrapping up the presentation I asked my clients to be devil’s advocate while checking the model or if we talk in film theory, I would like to alienate my audience so they can take a rational decision on the final product. We all had a hearty laugh.