Insights

Chandidas and Rami

Ghazals are one of  the purest form of expression I have experienced in my life till now. The metaphor clad meters chalk out the palpable  feelings of lovers howsoever hyperbolic and exorbitant they may seem. They are all so foolishly romantic that they seem incredible and prodigious.

In one of the ghazals of Ameer Minai performed by one of the artist, he recounted the tale of Chandidas and Rami. Chandidas was a poet famous in the medieval period and his poems are many times used to draw parallels between human and divine love. Then, Chandidas was a priestly class while Rami was a washerwoman and the love between them was not only frowned upon but impossible in the era of division and class. They took their love as sacred as the love between Radha and Krishna; Chandidas refused to forgo his love for Rami and also his priestly duties in the temple much to the despair of his family. Many legends say that he was arrested by the queen and later whipped to death but no one knows the true story.

Why the story of Chandidas and Rami holds significance? Much of later Bengali literature, art, and societal thought found its foundation in the legend. The urge to show the face of society and the characters involved without any exogenous and dramatic variables became an integral part of the art. The spirit of defiance and being recalcitrant in the time of social disapproval might have carved the room for breadth in the thought process.

THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU

When I decided to watch this movie I thought it would be a dark comedy like In Bruges or Clerks but after watching, it came out much more than what I had expected. It is one of those few films that let the events unfold by themselves without any human or dramatic intervention. It falls in the genre of the movies that lives in the moment, witnesses the reality as it is untouched by any exogenous factors, concludes nothing, and shows people living their lives from one second to the other.

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The name of the character Dante Remus Lazarescu seems a satire, Dante Alighieri wrote The Divine Comedy, Remus, the twin brother of Romulus, was one of the founder of Rome, and Lazaraus was brought back to life on the fourth day after his death by Jesus.

The Romanian (Remus connection) movie deals with the overworked medical staff who are shown as human beings, not as saints. They also stress out, smoke, use cell phones, refuse treatment to patients etc. After circling (circles of hell in Dante’s treatise) through three hospitals, the fourth hospital (Lazarus was brought back on fourth day) accommodates the patient eventually and the ambulance driver along with the nurse, Mrs. Mioara could take a sigh of relief. The viewer is left wondering whether Mr. Lazarescu lived. The role of Mrs. Mioara played by Luminita Gheorghiu is something we can relate to from our experience. She represents the element of sincerity and humanness in us. Despite the high handed behavior of doctors with advanced ‘degrees’, she maintains her composure and makes sure that the job she has undertaken is seen through. I kept on wondering where have I seen her before and the words ‘pose and job’ kept striking me till I could trace it back to Child’s pose – another wonderful performance  from the actress as a wealthy matriarch in post Ceausescu Romania.

Yi Yi

Movies as life are a mix of happy and sad emotions, they are so concurrent to life that we fidget with the possibility of them coming true. They have the power to transform a mind, implant or steal an idea from you, and stay and with you like an organism. After meandering on Netflix like a milling crowd in Times sq., I promised myself  that this weekend I will watch a meaningful movie. I was going through articles from Harvard Film Archive (HFA) and it’s when I stumbled upon Edward Yang’s work. East Asian cinema has given us gems of directors such as Kurosawa, Takeshi Kitano, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and their work is unparalleled. The line of thought is authentic and relatable. HFA ‘s article can be found here : http://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/films/2008septoct/yang.html 

Surprisingly enough New York Times published an article on Friday on the best 25 movies of this century so far and it did included Edward Yang’s work which I would consider a magnum opus. It’s as grand as Tolstoy’s war and peace and as real as the pathos of Kazuo Ishiguro – The remains of the day. If one thinks about the movie then there is nothing really special about it. It’s a movie that has all stages of life in it played by different characters, the movie starts with a wedding and concludes with a demise; it’s a movie about how different people handle the situations differently- from Yang Yang, the budding photographer to his father NJ, whose honesty doesn’t finds a place in a world driven by profit. The restless search and struggle for something meaningful, the creativity driven by and despite frustration is something one can relate to. It’s a very human movie; it takes time, experience, internal struggle, and external manifestations for characters to realize that they are human. The setup of the movie is in Taipei, one of the big cities in the world and it takes an artist’s perspective to put inanimate objects and concepts as artists and characters. The cities, though founded on the traditional values, offer global views but lack the humanness and one has to wade through them, weed out a lot to reach one’s destination. Yang Yang who likes to take photograph of back of people’s head is embodiment of a marvelous concept that we don’t see the entire truth, only half of the truth at one time. One memorable dialogue from the movie is between Yang Yang and his father in which Yang Yang says “I can’t see what you see and you can’t see what you see, so how can I know what you see?” For solving this paradox, Yang Yang starts taking photos of back of people’s heads so people will know what they can’t see, a concept though lucid but difficult to assimilate with.

Yi-Yi translates to one and two, and may be Edward Yang wanted to say “as simple as one and two”

Sonder is a word that means “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”. The movie justifies the existence of the word.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0244316/

 

Monotone

Monochromatic photographs and movies are graceful and attractive but life if lived in only two colors won’t be an exciting one. The daily drudgery, repetitiveness, and monotony can bog anyone down. That’s why we take to avenues of entertainment, to movies that let us live lives that are not ours, listen to music and start believing in the world. Emily Dickinson, the great poetess said

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The riddles we can guess

We speedily despise-

Not anything is stale so long

As yesterday’s surprise!

A walk past the historic lanes

Last month I visited Chicago – my old home. The gold coast neighborhood, the barnes and noble on State street, oak street beach, treasure island on Clark, the big bowl (now closed) – where I always ended up whenever I wanted to eat out, Ra sushi ( whose veg tempura tasted like sea food), the yogurt land and myriad number of spots invoked many memories. I enjoyed a coffee in the Starbucks lounge, where I spent countless evenings, listened to multi ethnic music, and made acquaintance with the baristas who knew what two drinks I order. The $7 movies in AMC on Michigan st. were something to look forward to. The limonata of eatley, miller’s pub on wabash, the two lions in front of Art Institute of Chicago, the numerous rides in L, my meditation classes with Andrew in Montrose, origami meeting in Garfield park, and the biting wind of Chicago in winters stir up many pictures in my brain. It was my last week in Chicago and I was strolling around downtown and my neighborhood in the rainy night and was taking photos; It started pouring down so I decided to go into this McCormick and Schmick on Rush St. Only one old woman was in the bar and I sat couple of high chair next to her, after a while we started talking and she learned my plans to move out of the city to NYC. She scolded me for roaming around in Chicago at night alone as it’s not the safest city. I told her that I do it all the time, it’s no big deal. We spoke for couple of hours before parting our ways. I wonder how and where she is now.

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I, for sure, miss the view and the enormous red and orange sunsets from my window facing west.

 

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You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. We start to worry , thinking, “What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna be in ten years?” But I say to you, “Hey, look at me!” Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day… make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular.

Loneliness is a construct that binds the people. I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone. The loneliest and the saddest people in life try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.

These are not my words but of a man who lived and made his life spectacular.

Bukowski 9 to 5

 

Few days ago I watched an old movie named Barfly starring Micky Rourke. The movie was based on the formative years of Bukowski when he was drinking himself to death and was on verge of destitution. He wrote the screenplay himself and portrayed the lead who finds solace in writing poetry.

One dialog from the movie is remarkable. Wanda asks Henry “Do you trust me”?, Henry replies “Yes, why not! It is easier that way”.

I am pasting one a letter here that goes hand in hand with what we feel today. How insecurity, the comfort, the society influences our actions and make us do things which we might not have done if free abstractly.

 

December 8, 1986

Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right.

They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place. You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

Your boy,

Hank

A day without emojis

Smileys, furious face, tongue sticking out, crying faces have become integral part of daily life. The phones and various chat applications keep on updating their emoticons palette; Emoticons have the ability to replace the words to the degree that complete sentences can be formed using them. There are puzzles based on emojis in which you have to decipher the name of a movie, some food, emotion, a proverb or something else from them when used in a particular sequence. So much so that. I remember that I wasn’t agile enough to use them straightaway. When I started talking to a girl online some 10 years ago, I never employed smileys in my texts and little did I know that my humor, sarcasm, and other statements not supplemented by emoticons would be misconstrued. From then on I reached a point where there is one emoji in 15% of my social texting. Not there anything is wrong with it but I did notice it and decided to cut down the usage for a day and see whether pre emoji era conversation would be misconstrued. I asked a friend of mine to try emoticon sans conversation, though she is a frequent user of emojis and was reluctant initially saying she can’t stand it, she did agree to participate for a day. The argument that I used was the books don’t have smileys and it has been working out very well for them without them. She retorted that books have longer sentences for touching the emotional chords. Long story short, she agreed. Another precursor of communication was that we couldn’t have asked questions such as are you mad, disappointed etc.

We started our day, went through it and wrapped it up exchanging 308 messages between us including the Oks, Yeses, Nos, and notorious mono question marks. I did supplement lol and haha to indicate humor but there were times during which the conversation veered off in a tangential direction despite the fact that we knew each other quite well. I was wee bit adventurous by bringing more controversial topics on the table to see whether emojis are needed or not. At times explanations were needed and at times we might have obviated the details. The deliberate obliteration of the colon, semicolon, right and left round braces revealed a macroscopic picture about linguistics. I once attempted to study hieroglyphics and understood that pictures can tell the same story as the words can; Mandarin, Cantonese, Kanji, Hirangana, Katakana are the visual scripts in which symbols stand for words or phrases. I am not leading anti emoticon protest but I wanted to see whether I can convey emotions and pass my word across without being misconstrued and I would say the experiment didn’t fail.  I don’t want to make a case that as a human race we have evolved and should use the words rather than the smiley or winking faces to convey the messages. Sometimes a thumbs up or a smiley face can work fine but one should take a step back and check whether he/she is capable to put the word across without use of emojis and if one is inept then it could be a red flag for the declining literacy and decimating self confidence that if veered off, the communication can’t be brought back on track.

A little history : Scott E. Fahlman, computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon is credited with inventing the smiley face. https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~sef/sefSmiley.htm

Hygge

Hygge was among the finalist words in words of the year year 2016. Oxford dictionary defines Hygge as – A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. I think the definition of the word is subjective and being able to enjoy the passing moments of life, howsoever transient or ephemeral they might be, should come under the larger set.  To start with I had been pronouncing the word incorrectly for a long time. It is not Hy -gee but Hue-gaeh, but my laziness made me adapt to the former pronunciation than the correct one. I have always wondered what exactly would I say as hygee in my life. My Swedish friends have Fika for hygge but I? I might have myriad answers to it. Sitting at Fisherman’s wharf  feeling the wind from the pacific and the heat of the sun is definitely hygge and so is letting the cool breeze dry the sweat from your back. Enjoying every sip of hot coffee might be hygge for many but I have burned my tongue and entire pallet on this account multiple times and have been rendered incapable to taste for few days on multiple occasions. The Portuguese word cafune seems like hygge but I am not sure. Cafune is running your fingers through someone’s hair. It would make me sleepy before I decide whether it is hygge and moreover I am ambivalent on number of people that can participate in one person’s hygge ceremony. Washing the dishes doesn’t seem very hygge-istic to me either, it can be therapeutic but mundane and trust me when you have to clean a pressure cooker after cooking Sambhar ( an Indian curry) in it then all hygge will vanish from your life.

I have assumed that reading a book and curling up is hygge-ing but on the other hand it can be a result of my anti-social, tight upper lipped behavior that quashes me to spend time with people. Sleeping on my yoga mat in Central park is definitely fun but there are many who would disturb my inner peace there. Smokers and birds are two culprits to begin with. Apart from that there are multiple hygge related events – binge netflixing, slurp sounding while having soup (many would call it plebeian style but who cares), able to generate perfect crease on trousers, stretching your body and hearing the clicking sound from various joints, smelling the soaked urad lentil ( split and dehusked black grams), leafing through a glossy magazine, listening to a song of your liking on radio and may be many more.

BTW…here is the the Hygge Oath

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The Purpose

I don’t know why am I writing this post today. I should have written long time back but that is how it is and I am writing it now. Today, a friend of mine and I were talking about world war 2 and then we switched to Adolf Hitler and then to Gandhi. I gave her a detailed account of Indian struggle for independence and the phrase ” winners get to write the history”. I sent her a link of Rang De Basanti – one of my favorite movies. I don’t know whether she watched it but I watched it again and so did I watched The legend of Bhagat Singh. I admire both of the movies to no end and to pieces and the related events.

It’s not the movies that I admire but the events and the heroes who were part of it. India adores Mahatma Gandhi and ignores the 700, 000 other people who died for the country. Is that fair? May be no! But again – winners get to write the history. I am not denigrating or castigating anyone here but as a citizen of India, it is my responsibility to understand and read my history properly before engaging in an argument with anyone. Although, the premise I am presenting isn’t understood by most and most reach the conclusions hastily.

Indians have mostly been non-confronters, timid people and among them rose the likes of Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Batukeshwar Dutt, SukhDev, Jatin Das, Udham Singh and many others. Most of them fresh out of college, 22-23 years of age but unknown to the fear. At such young age they had unparalleled focus, the will to give up their lives for the country, the clarity of thought and the will to act upon what they thought. I don’t want to compare our generation with them as it won’t be apple to apple comparison. Rang de basanti has a dialog – there are two ways to live your lives – 1. Keep on absorbing what is happening around you and keep on adapting even to the worst of circumstances. 2. Take the responsibility to change the conditions around you and change them. The above mentioned names chose the second one. There is a dialog in the movie Predestination – What does anyone want? Love. Oh fuck love, a purpose. I strongly agree with the statement. To be able to give your life a purpose is a life fulfilled. Bhagat Singh would agree with that too. Multiple people believe in multiple things but it doesn’t mean that one is right and the other is wrong. Creationist would always be against the believers of Darwin’s theory and would term the non believers as arrogant, baseless who are floating on the cloud of their own notions. Many say that a rational society can’t be helpful to humanity but is is really the case?