Insights

Trois Couleurs: Rouge

A wonderful French movie from 1994 directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski touches upon the subject of loneliness, old age, friendship and one of the few film that has 100% ratings on both metacritic and rotten tomatoes.  It revolves around a retired judge whose experiences of life has made him cynical, although he is insightful and anecdotal. Enters Valentin, a young woman who is a runway model, in the judge’s life and the movie goes into a different realm. Their friendship blossoms and they share a unique bond. When we get experience of life, the joys, the sorrows we start viewing the world with a focused eye and with some predefined rules set in our minds but it can always be fruitful to come in contact with those who are viewing the world with a different perspective.

The movie is worth watching for how relatable the concept is and for the acting of Valentin. There have been many movies that explore the friendships with major age gap such as Harold and Maude, Bhuvan Shome ( A master piece ), Leon the professional, Cinema Paradiso, Thelma and Louise, Ikiru, Mrs. Palfrey at the clairmont etc and one realizes how the two people grow in the process.

A memorable dialog from the movie:

Valentin : I love him. If only I could help.

Judge: You can. Be.

Valentin: What do you mean?

Judge: That’s all, be.

 

Men are from Mars and Women from Venus – False

Being from analytics world, I enjoy keeping myself abreast with the problems that can be solved with data. Psychology is one such field that finds its roots in mathematical techniques employed to make predictions and test the foundations of assertions propounded by the society or the hypotheses of social experiments. Designing the experiments is of utmost importance and should be done meticulously as the outcome of the experiments makes the prediction for the entire population based on the sample selected.

Last week I skimmed through a book called Experiments with people by Abelson, Frey, and Gregg and I enjoyed reading the premise and the conclusion of various social studies conducted in the 20th century. One of the study was by Matthew Ansfield and the conclusion was if you want to sleep and someone is playing loud music then the rational thing to fall asleep early is try to keep yourself awake. I will definitely try this one when my juvenile delinquent neighbor will have a late night party. Another experiment conducted by Solomon Asch in 1955 dealt with the idea that how people change their behavior to conform to the groups. A group that knows the right thing to do ends up making more mistakes if there are agents present in the group who want to take the wrong steps. The desire to be liked is a dangerous one and as French sociologist Gabriel de Tarde said “Social man is a somnambulist”.

There was one very interesting experiment conducted in 1990 that caught my attention. It was called “Ackmians Are From Mars, Orinthians Are From Venus: Gender Stereotypes as Role Rationalizations”. Curt Hoffman and Nancy Hurst tried to show that gender stereotypes can arise as a direct result of two groups taking on different social roles ( jobs, household care etc), even when the members of those groups share similar traits. The chapter started with an image of a man and a woman both with stethoscope around the neck and a question in subscript, doctor and nurse or nurse and a doctor? Very keen and interesting question it was. Alice Eagly had studied in 1987 that the underlying differences between a woman and a man are typically small. They become magnified, however, because men and women tend to take on or be assigned to different social roles. The researchers claimed that the differences between men and women are too small for people to detect them. In the society, agentic roles that require assertiveness and independence are attributed to men while communal roles of nurturing, social care are attributed to women. This role assumption has given rise to gender stereotype despite there being a trivial difference between a man and a woman. When it comes to assuming an agentic or a communal role, each gender can perform it with utmost perfection given a chance.

Why do such stereotypes exist? In short – they are explanatory conveniences that allow people to justify the social status quo. Researchers exposed the participants to fictitious species from a planet and they named the two members of the species – Ackmians and Orinthian. They were told that the members of the two groups were either child raisers or workers involved in high tech business etc. The result from the experiment – Ackmians or Orinthians were considered agentic if most of them had a job such as business, high tech etc, or relatively communal if most of them were child raisers, even though no group personality differences existed to corroborate such biased impressions. Not only gender but racial stereotypes also have no roots but they are there and segregating and hollowing the society for ages. There were many extensions of this research and it turns out that gender stereotypes were unaffected by ethnicity. In a study by Niemann and others in 1994, women irrespective of African, American, Asian, Latin American descent were found to be gentle, pleasant, and friendly by the participants while men were taken as tough, alpha creatures.

The book “Men are from mars and women from venus – by John Gray (1992)” amplifies these differences to preposterous proportions. It obsesses with gender differences. Had Phyllis Schalfly read it, she must have been overjoyed for she found another follower of her conservative thought process. Let’s take height as an example, on an average men are taller than women but there are many women who are taller than men. Do we go on and make the unwarranted conclusion that all women are short while all men are tall? No, we don’t. Then why is there a black and white stance when it comes to jobs in the market? The recent incidents at Uber show how sexist the workplace can be. Susan J Fowler’s blog will tell you how a typical male chauvinist, sexist work culture might operate. The number of CEOs in the job industry is highly skewed towards males; people say that CEO is a high risk job that requires certain skills females don’t possess while the truth might lie in the fact that women have been assuming the communal roles for too long and that’s why they are not taken as assertive and strong.

This is a classic case of the logical fallacy – post hoc ergo propter hoc ( after this therefore because of this) and it is high time that we abolish such hypocritical stance and build an unbiased society.

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