Tuesday, January 12, 2010

1947 Earth

Earth without doubt establishes the power of Deepa Mehta as a director. She has the amazing talent of making her viewers turn in their seats in extreme discomfort and agony. She is the director of anxiety. Earth takes a view of the few months leading to partition in the city of Lahore which has a sizable Muslim population while at the same sees the flourishing of Hindus in trade. "Ham sab haraamzade hain" Amir Khan says, in a state of a tormented mind. A train from Punjab has arrived to Lahore filled with dead bodies. One whole compartment is filled with body parts of women. He has waited twelve hours expecting to find his sisters in this train. His extreme grief anger and pain have touched his innermost core. "We are like the animal in a cage," he says, "waiting to be let loose- and once the cage is opened- only god can help." This film raises intensely uncomfortable questions about civilization, about humanity, about virtue and about fate. Violence seems to live in the human heart like a pathogen, latent, waiting for a stimulus. Dil proposes to Shanta, seeing her as the only way he can to contain the violence that has suddenly been unleashed by the gory sight of corpses in the train. But Shanta refuses him as she is already promised to Haasan. Dil spies on them as they make love and is consumed by a jealousy that writhes inside him in the very way that his cigarette smoke curls up over his head. The next morning, Haasan is brutally murdered and left on the road side, crouching in a gunny bag. The Parsi home is stormed by Muslims looking for any Hindu in the house. Dil tricks even Leni, the polio inflicted child, as he exposes Shanta to the ruthless crowd. The film only reminds of the last words of Curtz in The Heart of Darkness: "The horror... the horror."

Goodness seems like an afterthought, a corrected impulse. I cannot imagine living at a time when the mob rules; when individuals are at the mercy of the crowd, when heart breaking cries of victims are drowned by the roar of a thousand voices filled with hatred. Where does hate gain such an intensity? Why is that pain moves us more than joy? Human beings can fall back from a million years of evolution in a fraction of a second and be more beastly than any animal. To trick, to want to possess, to inflict pain, to be so callous- to be blind! Hatred is blindness- and yet what drives it. It is the undoing of all civilization- the devastation that man wrecks upon man who is left with nothing to possess and nothing to lose. Hatred and violence have emerged so often in the history of mankind that they stand testimony to the bitter fact of our innate bestiality, in spite of all our progress and technological evolution. It seems to me, we become subtler in our means for violence as we evolve, if we are evolving at all. But we do not ever rid ourselves of that nefarious death instinct which constantly runs against the strain of our very existences. It is easy to say that man needs to conquer and tame his own heart before sending rockets to the moon. But to turn enemies to our own selves, to betray and turn one friend against another in the name of religion, race and caste...to invest words, veils, a hundred year old customs with so much importance that we are left with nothing but skeletons and corpses! Life has no meaning without an aim, without faith and without beliefs.. but what is the use of that aim, that faith and those beliefs that seek to obliterate life itself?

It is spine chilling to consider even with the slightest premonition that violence is the natural disposition of man, the largest and the most dominant part of himself. We are drawn to it like "moths to a flame." It shall consume us even as it shall consume everything else. We evolve it would seem, to turn back upon ourselves and swallow our own kin, to feed in vain that gigantic hunger that will forever remain insatiable.

Stranger than Fiction

The writer's block is an interesting phenomenon. The double looping of the narrative on itself elucidates a strange blend of reflexivity and authorial intent. Harold Crick can hear the narrator spelling out his life, talking about his deepest emotions "in a better vocabulary" and filling in the details during silences. The author, Karen Eifel, is not only the privelged person who can see the insides of Harold, she is also his fate. She writes his future and also makes him feel, want and do the things she needs him to do to advance her narrative. The idea of the wrist watch- and consequently the story as an interesting experiment in the space-time fabric is brilliant. The reality of Harold, which we are made to believe at first, lies entirely in the hands of Karen. His life is prevented from being an ordinary linear narrative because of he plain fact that he can hear her voice without her intending to. This strange scenario reminds me of the question of fate and free will so prevalent in Greek drama especially in the Choephori, in which Orestes must kill his mother's lover or die himself.

Harold seems to be inhabiting two spaces simultaneously. He lives a part of his life completely outside the purview and the knowledge of his creator. This is the part in which he meets the professor and gets the advice on what to do. The professor does not belong to the cast of the author unlike Anna Pascal, Harold's colleagues and even the doctor who tries to make Harold see that "trees are trees." This simultaneous occupation, characterised mainly by his exchanges with the literature professor is brought into being only because of the stimulus of the author's prediction of Harold's death. An entirely surreal effect is, of course, the life of the chain-smoking author herself who suffers from the writer's block and her relation with the new secretary Penny. The author stumbles into the world of her own creation unintentionally when the tables are turned and Harold has "a sneek peek" of her on television without her knowledge. Harold's world then is not entirely controlled by Karen. He "exists" as she remarks with a sense of enlightenment. All the characters that she has killed were indeed real people, and writing a book then seems like the subtlest most ingenious form of murder that even the law cannot trace.

But in the end, Karen has the god like power of preventing death and allowing Harold to live in spite of his severe injuries. Strangely, the literature professor's advice to Harold "to do nothing" and his consequent tv watching and the dramatic intervention of the crane seems to occur in a middle space. The parallel world of the author sees her struggling to find ways to kill Harold. She goes to hospitals, she gets drenced in the rain and shares an umbrella with Penny. The complex structure of the narrative brings into question with suspicion the nature of the narrator who is recounting us the story in the film. The film itself is a narrative and we are its readers or listeners. We are characters in somebody's mind.. and maybe our death is nothing but the whim of creative idea.. possibly of a mind tormented by a writer's block. We invent ourselves, our lives, reality is a construct that shapeshifts like the mind itself. Who exists? that is the question that eventually arises; furthermore who governs our lives? It is true that most of us do not hear voices narrating our lives and hinting at the future. But creativity seems to be a killer in more than one ways.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I would live..


I would live in your love as the sea-grasses live in the sea,
Borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn down by each wave that recedes;
I would empty my soul of the dreams that have gathered in me;
I would beat with your heart as it beats, I would follow your soul as it leads...

 -Sarah Teasdale

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bare Feet and the Echo

A chewing cow ambled along the dusty road
A bell tinkling at its neck..
Its tail leisurely whipped the air-
the flies no longer followed.

The girl walked beside the cow,
she was barely eight years old-
she hummed a village song i did not know
Probably her mother has sung it for her
and her grandmother before that.
Or maybe they sang it in the fields
or whispered it to the grasses they cut
or to the ripples that formed in the pale
as they drew water from the wells..

The song that was sung
through a million generations,
the song that would survive them all
A tune that harboured each inflexion
of voice, of pain and celebration..

The cow mooed, the bell tinkled fainter.
The dust that arose between the sight and the vision
had no memory of footsteps..
Time would level it again- untrod .
Bare feet and the echo of an echo.