Monday, March 28, 2011

Colours (the concluding part)

Another dream it was in a series. On the plain black screen figures appeared. The language was unknown. It meant "Mount Fuji in Red". 

Since the geography project in which the nine year old had presented the 'land of the rising sun' as best as a nine-year old could, Japan became the land of dreams. Internet was still a few years away. Scourging through books in libraries, Japan unfolded in its mystic charm. The kimono, the island country that feels the sun first - so to say - every day of the nine-year old's life, the eyes like little arcs on the face, and Mount Fuji, the dormant volcano, pristine in its silence, against the backdrop of the aqua sky - enchanted the mind.

Mount Fuji as the nine-year old found it

Ah! It was a land of dreams; it was a dream in which the music from the string instruments always flowed on, as can only happen in dreams.

Mount Fuji was standing tall. It was changing hues - red, orange, blood red. There were a series of explosions behind Fuji. There was a mad rush of people. The middle-aged man in black and white formals mused : "Japan is so small, there is no escape." The woman, holding on to the hand of a child, another child secured on her back, spoke as a living being speaks till s/he is dead. She said, "We all know that! No way out! But still we have to try. No other way! " 

Akira Kurosawa stepped into the world of coloured films towards the end of his directorial life. After directing films in the black/white medium for about twenty-five years, he used colour for the first time in Dodesukaden in 1970. The film was a financial disaster possibly because it was unlike any film that Kurosawa had done. Along with the explosion of colours in every frame, the camera was used almost as a detached observer, with no desire to create a causal narrative. It was simply watching things, people, places. 

It is truly an experience to observe the use of colours by a director who has worked for long in black/white. 

Dreams (1990) (accompanied by Ishiro Honda in direction) presents eight 'dreams', that, critics argue are Kurosawa's own. However, it seems that Kurosawa travels from the personal to the universal in them; as dreams usually do. 

Dreams are never what they seem. They never tell the whole story. They hold un-uttered fortunes in them. It is here that the psychoanalyst and the viewer of Dreams gain a space of existence in disturbance, like volcanic islands in placid lives.

Mount Fuji, the landscape from the land of dreams, appeared in a macabre splendour in Dreams. In spite of the fact that it was still dormant, there was absolute chaos. Something tells you that the scene is progressing to absolute annihilation. This dream titled "Mount Fuji in Red" is actually a nightmare of a nuclear meltdown. 

On the morning of the festival of colours, a peculiar scene from this 'dream' kept coming back amidst the waking life: the scene of the coloured clouds gradually shrouding Mount Fuji as the middle aged man in formals explained 
Radioactivity was invisible. And because of its danger, they coloured it. But that only lets you know which kind kills you. Death's calling card.
The different radioactive elements had been coloured so as to identify them. The man in formals, a man who had worked at the nuclear plants that were exploding, named one radioactive element after another, specifying how it affects human beings. The woman with two kids was increasingly becoming horrified. Her words seemed to come from beyond the cultural calm that Japan was showing in the waking life, faced with the possibility of a nuclear meltdown. She screamed as she held her kids to her bosom: 
They told us that nuclear plants were safe. Human accident is the danger, not the nuclear plant itself. No accidents, no danger. That's what they told us. 
As I remembered all the clouds of colours that we created on Holi, a prickly sensation passed through the body. As I remembered how we used to run after anyone who wanted to stay away from colours on Holi, I shivered. The memory of faces smeared in red, in yellow, in purple made me feel weak in the knee. The stomach curled up, trying to expunge the nightmare of the dreams that can be tangible and real in the crudest manner possible. How horrific it seemed, that, on a day celebrating the vigour of life, the terror of colours was engulfing the mind.

Mount Fuji looked as if it was a glowing hot iron. And then, there was no one around except the woman with her kids, the middle aged man in formals and a young man in jacket. And then, there were only the woman with her kids and the young man frantically waving his jacket at the coloured clouds - red, yellow, purple engulfing them. 

I do not know what numbed the mind more - the possibility of a nuclear meltdown or the truth that human beings, like you and me, had chosen to develop this power on which they truly have no control.
You can watch "Mount Fuji in Red" from Kurosawa's Dreams here.

(Special thanks to Arijit for discussing the films and enriching my understanding of them) 

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Waiting is ennui, it is patience. Both being true simultaneously tumbles the logic gates of either/or, still in use in computers and human brains. As science creeps and crawls and suddenly stands up to barge into a hitherto not-chosen path, it will perhaps become less weird and more normal to have simultaneity in existence. Waiting will then be both ennui and patience, without the need to explain why it is so.

The laptop screen is covered by leaves - yellow and green. Beyond the glass windows, the trees sobered by winter chills are yet to see the leaves return to life. The leaves on the screen are yellow and green all through the winter. The thin light brown stems that hold them to the branches, are tinged with a dull red, the colour of blood. Blood is never the gorgeous red of vitality. It is always a few shades deep, a few shades dull. Almost as if, it doesn't care to live up to the attribute of vitality that we have endowed on the colour red. To us red is the vital colour of all things passionate and fierce. To blood, red is a colour it happens to have, mixed with a tinge of brown, a little bit of dull black too.

As the old laptop slowly comes to life, stretching its limbs, waking from a night of closure, the leaves look at me. Often, I watch one leaf, its curve, its colours blending into different shades, the angle at which it hangs; I breathe in a leaf at the beginning of a day. 

No mornings are really different from the last. Each has its own taste and texture. It is new altogether, not different in degrees of how much less similar it is from the last. You can not compare the sky and the buildings that seem to touch the sky, can you? They are unique; not merely different from each other. So are the mornings in the laptop screen covered with leaves in yellow and green.

It was Holi, the festival of colours, a week ago. The mythology behind the festival is varied. Simply put, it is the day celebrating the vitality of spring, in all its denotative and connotative meanings. The onslaught of colours that ambush you, smearing you with the different hues, is like a celebration of revitalisation. A promise of another exuberant beginning after the winters slide by. Red and pink; yellow and green; blue and black. It is a carnival, a unrestrained day lived in vigour. On the morning of the festival, I woke up, waiting for the yellow and the green of the screen to smear me. In a land where abir (the colour used to play Holi) is nowhere to be found, the imagination creates the carnivalesque. 

The earthquake, followed by the devastating tsunami had visited the shores of Japan on 11th March 2011, a week before Holi. A natural disaster, that no man could have averted. News of the stoic Japanese people, news of the devastated towns and cities, news of people dead, injured and lost, news of the shift of the tectonic plates thousands of meters deep in the sea flooded the internet. And still, life moved on. The nuclear plants in Japan were affected. People were evacuated from the nuclear plants. A handful of people stayed on at the sites, trying to prevent a nuclear meltdown. In lands as distant as this, we watched in horror, in pain, in anguish, hoping, praying, believing that all will be well. And then there was the news that blasts in the Fukushima Nuclear plants have been reported. Till before this, nature was the undeniable wrecker of havoc. The blasts at the nuclear plants signified the possibility of a nuclear meltdown. 

On the morning of the Holi, as I browsed the news bulletins to check out the latest condition of the nuclear plants in Japan, a memory of a dream came back to me. 

To be contd.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On why all things change and yet none do

There is nothing that is the absolute truth in this temporal world of ours. When you and I hold a day old baby in our arms, and touch its soft, smooth skin, you and I are in the here, in the now. You and I do not think of the bruises and the wrinkles that time will bring upon it, though time will, in its own sweet pace. The truth of the child is in the now. No other truth exists at this point. 

Often we meet people, in social gatherings and in mirrors, who feel their lives are a lost cause. They think their dreams are too late to be awake. Sixteen, twenty, forty years have passed since they had this dream. It is not sympathy when you and I say, under our breaths, that we know how they feel. We really do, because you and I have felt like this, at some point.

You and I may have walked through those stormy zones of the mind. You and I may have been drenched and left dripping like a crow in the storm. You and I really know the weight of wet straw and the eventual loss of it. One of us may have picked up fresh, dry straws and stuffed the scarecrows with them, creating them anew. The possibility of another rain and another storm washing it away didn't stay longer than a breath in the mind. It is at this point in our lives, you and I were there and then. You and I were in the here and the now. 

Life rarely lives up to the blueprints we create at the beginning of our lives. At the beginning, you and I were childish, full of dreams, full of confidence that all those seemingly absurd dreams could be made true. As we walk down the road, the blueprint doesn't seem to match the route. You and I still hold on to it, for some time more. We still have some hope left in our youths. We take a few risks here and there, make a few abrupt jump cuts. For one, maybe, the blueprint now seems visible in the road that lies ahead. For the other, the blueprint seems to be a distant truth, as distant as the truth that years ago, the mature body was a lump floating in amniotic fluid. The blueprint ends up in the dustbin by the road if we can retain our composure. If we are struck by rage, the roads are strewn with bits and pieces of something that you and I once called a dream that we believed in. 

As the pebbles and the boulders seem to lie right at the place where you and I intend to place our singular foot, we laugh at the childishness of those dreams. You and I share the joke all along the way. Our laugh thunders through the journey, maybe. And yet, something within feels like the empty place left by the oil drilled out from the earth's core. A collapsing empty space, away from the eyes. You and I are nowhere. We are not in the here, we are not in the now. 
Are our blueprints of dreams truly an outcome of a child's play? What about the potential you and I felt as we tapped our earths? Was it a dream, a fantasy of the child who can create universes out of nothing? But, was life not born from nothing that can be tangibly called 'living'? Our dreams, dreams that you and I nourished, can not simply be a passing toy! Even as you and I tear it apart, from our bodies, they stick to our souls. You and I can't find anything to loosen the adhesive.

Dreams are relative as is the truth about them. They transform as caterpillars do to butterflies or tadpoles to frogs. Yet, they retain the quality of dreams - that which can be a truth - may be in a different time; but truth it is nonetheless.

As you and I meet such individuals again, in conversations or in mirrors, let us remember to share this little joke of relative dreaming.

Image/s: Same tree, same time, just with two different application modes. In Lund, Sweden. By self.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weird connections: the method in madness

After Amy Chua and Darwin one must be thinking what next? The connections seem to get weirder than ever since the time the discussion on learning began. That is precisely what is aimed at: To look beyond what the system tells us to think. To search for new perspectives.

We already have the perspective of the glass half empty or half full. What will we see when we have a bird's eye view of the same glass? The question is impertinent. Irrelevant. Unnecessary in our world. Or, rather we are cajoled into thinking so. Let's just get out of the overcoat of rational thinking and look around the real world.

Mankind is looking forward to creating inhabitable spaces in the moon. And this is not  material for science fantasies only. The Indian Space Research Organization has discovered an underground chamber in the moon's surface where a human settlement could be erected.
The settlement would be protected from radiation, micro-meteor impacts, dust and extreme temperature changes by the lava structure that provides a natural environmental control with a nearly constant temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit), unlike that of the lunar surface showing extreme variation, maximum of 130 degrees Celsius (266 degrees Fahrenheit) to a minimum of minus 180 degrees Celsius (-292 degrees Fahrenheit) in its diurnal (day-night) cycle. (From this article)
At such a juncture in the history of the human civilisation, when change is the only thing that is becoming constant, do you still want to believe that all that we should be doing has already been  apprehended and we just need to follow the blueprints?

These are the changing scenarios in this changing world. The more we accept the cosy couch of the factory mode of learning, the more we choose to look away from the reality of the existence in the now.

The argument that may peek out of your minds as you read this is: How can you plan to address these issues when faced with diversity and population? 

May be all that we can choose to do is affect change in our little lives. Choosing to encourage questioning. Choosing to walk the paths not only with the purpose of material achievements. Choosing to make ourselves and the next generation thoughtful beings, aware of the needs, the changes and the possibilities this world and its inhabitants hold in them. 

The question that occurs immediately in the mind is: Does this ensure any impact in the larger scenario? Well you never know what the n th number of generation from now will be thinking. But short-sightedness is not the natural vision; is it?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Weird connections : Necessity, Evolution and Learning

What did those ancestors of ours thought when they drew bisons on the cave walls, perhaps in the light of a burning wood. Perhaps there were others looking at awe at this unique phenomenon of capturing, in a completely new sense, what they see running and throbbing amidst the landscape. Perhaps they were dumbstruck that something like this can happen. Perhaps the first artists in the history of mankind were shunned from the group. Or, perhaps the artists were hailed as supernatural beings. Perhaps it was at this point of time in human history that the idea of creation most poignantly emerged separately from the history of necessities that made man. Necessity is said to be the father/mother of all inventions. Necessity is also the reason there are discoveries. Had there been no urge to find new sea-routes, the landmass we call America would have never been discovered. (But that is another story altogether). What if we go a step further and say, necessity is also the cause of evolution?

Evolution is cryptically defined as the Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest. It is not the survival of the strongest. It is not the survival of the most ferocious. It is a poetic truth actually. What can be more poetic than the radical cocktail of the element of chance (not so radical in the post- Quantum era though) and the primal urge of survival? Had the human ancestors not felt the radical urge to continue existing in a world that is naturally more powerful than humans ever thought of being, the history of mankind could have been lost in the voids of time.

As mankind trekked through its own history, Darwin's adage was seen as a scientific truth, detached from the reality of our worlds. Power became the stronghold of survival. And humans believed it; they continue to do so. Histories and myths of once great and thriving, and, now extinct civilisations are not very hard to find: the Harappasn civilisation, the ancient Egyptian, Greek,  Roman civilisations, the native American civilisations. And yet, man believes that, that is different. Humans believe that they exist as a continuity of the past civilizations. In terms of genetics, it may be so. In terms of the basic science of Darwin, may be not. 

In  an Old- English poem, a refrain occurs : "That has passed and so shall this". It was a refrain in an elegy, a poem about loss, a poem of lamentation. In that context, this is a hopeful, stoical view of life. Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest seems to be a variation of this refrain. What has survived in pre-historic eras - the wide variety of dinosaurs, the mammoths, the Archaeopteryx (possibly the first bird)- is lost in this present time. What is in this time, may as well be lost in some future time. And yet, Darwin's theory is but a story in the history of science.  

Does this mean we have a meaningless existence? Existence is the meaning we give to this present moment; what meaning it will have in future times we can only speculate. The most profound quality thatthis rather young species in this world needs is perspective.

Herein, interjects the history of the human civilisation and our ongoing discussion of learning. There are differences between what was done, what can be done and what can't be undone. The human learning process does not initiate the mind in seeing the difference between each of these. Education in this modern world is still largely something like the factory production system. There is no  one better to explain this than Ken Robinson in his admirable light-hearted and yet forceful way. 

(to be contd.)