Self is a story. A narrative about the past and the future that has a narrative coherence. As long as the story makes sense, we maintain the semblance of normal life. We don’t recognize that all we have is the present moment. We’re constantly analyzing the past to fit into the story we want, the story that would make sense, and in some ways it is important, to recognize where we are at this moment. To track the journey to the present moment, we continuously interpret the past into a version of a story we can understand.
In a similar vein, we keep planning our future to make sure our story continues the way we want it to. We make goals and have aspirations as per the story we want for ourselves. It is at least true for me. I’ve always planned goals based on what I envision my story to be, especially in terms of work. I couldn’t bear it that my story would be that of a “normal” life, an “insignificant” life, so I couldn’t choose the easy path. I had to constantly make harder choices for my future self, even while my present self was enjoying life, leaving the hard work for the future self. Because I never really knew whether I liked doing the work or not, I just knew what I wanted my story to be. This seems like a good way to live life. This seems like the only way I’ve ever learned how to live life. I set up goals for myself based on what I envision for my future, and I’m constantly learning how to create tangible action items in the present to reach those goals, complete with the understanding that changing my environment is more effective than motivation. But, now I’m starting to wonder whether I should continue to live life this way. What has this life been, but every moment spent analyzing “imperfections”? Each moment spent analyzing the past for lessons that can be learnt? Constant struggle and frustration? And disappointment that is largely driven by my story not ending up as I had envisioned it. That’s the sole reason age terrifies me, because age brings a narrowing of the future paths my stories can take, and it scares me that for all my grand plans, the choices I’ve made in each moment have led me down a path which is gonna end up in a “normal” or “insignificant” life. The reasons for this fear are a story for another time. They have to do with the past, and how my story reached here.
The main point I want to capture in this write up is this – should we stop pretending that we have a self based on the poorly remembered past and a vague dreamy future? Should we stop making goals for the future and try to live in the moment? That seems like a more terrifying thought. What ever do I want to do in the present, I have no idea. Wouldn’t that make me a slave to my animal impulses, driven by whatever fancy my mind caught at any particular moment? And that’s impractical, because my future “story” would probably end in poverty and extreme discomfort.
Ah! What a life. Lived constantly to prevent discomfort. Ensuring comfort and availability for the fulfillment of our base desires, while constantly denying ourselves these desires, and feeling guilty for enjoying them. Or is this life? Living in stories to steal some moments of indulging our base desires.
The various emotions that beethoven’s 5th symphony evokes. A mother wakes up, suddenly to the sound of the alarm, that is where the music begins with a swell. She’s gets busy immediately, cleaning, cooking breakfast for the children and the husband. She gets ready for office and the first respite in music comes when her husband and kids are eating breakfast. She breathes a sigh of relief and sips some tea in the kitchen.
She suddenly looks at the watch and realizes her kid is getting late for school. She again hurriedly steps out with him, looking for an auto. She hails a nearby auto and goes on her way to drop the kid to school. There is a moment of peace and calm, as she enjoys watching her child play with his doll. The camera focuses on the kid’s innocence and her mother’s face, her happiness and contentment…
The mood suddenly turns dark. The camera pans out to show a city in chaos. The soulful music underlines a city in ruins. A bus on fire, with broken windows. Some people continuing to throw stones on it, like throwing stones at a dead elephant. A necklace of fire, flows towards the unsuspecting mother as if a river of fire is about to engulf her little world.
Without any time to react, the mob flows over the entire street. A man grabs the mother and another one grabs the kid. The mother is holding her son’s hand with all her might, screaming and struggling. We feel her pain in her eyes as the music turns dark, and we sense her fear, her fear of loss, and the need to protect, like a glass, holding onto the stem, even after it has already broken……
- Vidhu Vinod Chopra makes films like fairy tales. The whole experience is basically based around a central idea. The characters are vehicles for the idea, or to show how the implementation of these ideas changes their lives. So it’s basically a saviour story. Instead of the hero’s journey, it’s a superhero, who brings a new idea into the lives of common characters, characters that normal people can relate to, and then the whole story is about how everyone comes to realize and recognize the strength of this central idea, and why that is something that’s wrong with the world and needs to be fixed. The hero is perfect, without flaws, or has overcome his flaws, and he helps the people around him make this change in their lives as well.
- I’ve finally analyzed my way out of the supposed “enlightenment”. It’s sensory overload, and neural activity that becomes too extreme and believable. That’s how I presume drugs affect the human mind. They cause a sensory overload which leads us to perceive them as new experiences. I’m assuming that’s the reason I got those feelings, because of heightened neural activity, and over production/replacement of pleasure hormones, which caused a sense of euphoria, and a sense of connection to the whole world. While on weed, I felt like my senses were competing for my attention. I could only focus on one sense at a time, which made me want to recoil and give up on all senses, close my eyes or lay down. And this made me realize that that entire experience of oneness and pleasure, might have been completely chemical, messing with the neurons of my body, and having seen this experience described as enlightenment, or a connection with a higher consciousness or religious, that’s what I labelled it as well. My experience was overshadowed by what I had read, the experience painted in the perceptions of others, in their own words, and their own biases of their times. Meditation or extreme focus might have similar effects on the brain as these drugs, and like any phenomenon not yet explained through the laws of the universe, we label it as religious, otherworldly and as an explanation for the meaning of life. A sense of connection to people highly contributes to this euphoria, and we label this experience as a universal one-ness, or God. And this elusive feeling may lead us to forgo any conscious analysis of this experience, and thereby “believe” without questioning in this feeling of oneness. It might have also contributed to how some religions formed, specially Buddhism and Sikhism. Religion at the end of the day relies entirely on belief. Even after having this supposed experience, we can never be sure whether this was a sensory overload of drugs, or maybe on some dimension or level, this connection and unimaginable experience might be real. There is no real answer. Maybe one could pursue this by studying the effects of such drugs on the human brain, but as we know so little about how the human mind works, I think we are quite some time away from these studies revealing any substantial answers about the world and its’ “realness”. So, I choose to believe the sensory world, the one I interact with, and focus on the experiences here. If I am just another virus born in a meaningless world through the chances of evolution, I’ll make the most of my time here.
- Only alcohol leads to the senses to be subdued, which causes a sense of euphoria, and enjoyment. Basically all enjoyment is sensory. Movies are a visual and audio stimulation of our senses, which lead to an emotional fulfillment as well, which comes through sharing stories and experiences. It’s a social experience which is important for us in an evolutionary sense, leads to a sense of belonging, connection and love for our fellow humans. That’s the reason we do anything, either evolution or sensory pleasures. That’s why sex is so fun, because it was so weird, that evolution upped the sensory factor to make it so lucrative that it’s the most sensual experience that you can have.
- On the question of how I spend my time here, I enjoy analysis and philosophy. The reason I enjoy software development is actually designing and building a business solutions that solves a problem. Problem solving is my forte, while technical excellence is something I need to pursue.
Today I feel single, truly single, I can’t tell after how many years.. and weirdly this feeling of singlehood also brings with it a feeling of wholeness. For example…
- Finally feel like there’s nobody you’d rather be spending time with than yourself
- You don’t keep checking your phone expecting someone’s text
- You don’t keep avoiding your phone to avoid the disappointment staring back at you from the blank notification bar
- You don’t keep wondering in the back of your mind, what more you could have done
- You don’t keep wondering in the back of your mind, what more you can still do
- You don’t feel like you’re missing out on the greatest show on earth, but you weren’t worthy enough for a ticket
- You don’t keep thinking about the moments and talks you had
- You don’t keep thinking about somebody’s cute nose, luscious hair, or weirdly attractive shoulder bones
- You don’t keep checking WhatsApp or Instagram for the latest byte you’re missing
- You don’t keep thinking about what you shouldn’t have said, or what you should’ve said instead
- You don’t think what if……….
And that is the biggest reason for this ecstatic feeling of wholeness. Today, I’m not thinking what if. Today, I’m not feeling insecure about my choices. Today, I feel glad, that I’m able to see people objectively and understand the choices they made without feeling that a thousand questions are unanswered.
Today I’m secure.. nay, even thankful, about what happened, and what didn’t. It all turned out for the best.
I recently had a conversation with a friend, which prompted me to write this letter for them. And this particular letter is addressed to them. But I want to say this to all my friends, that even though we might have never explicitly said this to each other, but I love you and I mean this for all of you…
Thanks for being you.
It felt good to hear that you don’t want me to be hurt. I realize I’m bent and jaded in a lot of ways.. same as anybody.. same as you. In a world, where we’re always trying to protect our inner child, always building walls, and putting up barriers, learning of new ways to hide and deflect, it felt good to hear that somebody’s looking out for me in some way. I hope you know that I do the same for you. It felt good to feel trust, and to feel that maybe we have a purer connection, beyond our walls and our barriers.
But I’m not sending this to you directly. Why?
As a teenager, I used to have a lot of friends here, pouring their hearts out in their posts and their comments. But as we strive towards adulthood, we’ve hidden this part of ourselves. Many have deleted their blogs, many have made them private, many have just stopped, much like me. Maybe they found better friends and didn’t feel the need to vent. Maybe they’re too busy.
Or maybe they’re too afraid of being judged. In a world where everything is entertainment, it’s too sentimental.. it’s too filmy.. too serious.. too easy to make fun of. So I’m shielding myself with a cloak of anonymity here.
But I’m still posting this.. and I’ll send it to you, because feelings, the plethora of medleys that our emotions create, the endless ocean of feelings that we feel, that’s the most fun part of being human. So I’ll indulge while I still have time here 😉
I am starting this post, because I have decided to write. About anything and everything. One Essay per day. That’s the new quota. It’ll help me get a better GRE AWA score, and also prepare me for the novel that I’m one day never gonna write.
So, let’s get started.
Why is my next step GRE/MS/post grad.?
Education is important. I think(hope) we can all agree on that. Education opens up one’s mind to all the possible ways the world can be studied. It opens our eyes to the different ways of thinking about and dissecting the same scenarios and problems. Although it doesn’t itself lead to a higher intellect, it might lead a person on the path to discovery of a higher intellect.
Well, my pursuit of MS is no noble pursuit. I am not chasing higher intellect or another way to dissect my random musings and the meaning of my existence. The simple reason for my decision is that I want a degree from a good university. I want to experience what it’s like to study with some of the better minds of the world and share some mental space with them. And the single reason I want to do this is, that I don’t respect the people around me.
I like people who are around me, don’t get me wrong. The only problem is that I don’t think I have much to learn from them. As in the words of Benjamin Franklin, I want to surround myself with minds of higher thought process than myself. I see people around me stuck, in money mostly, or social life, or the corporate ladder. Or maybe I am ignorant and I don’t understand how they are also looking for a simple life, without much stress, and are in fact much ahead of me when it comes to the matters of the soul.
Either way, I want to grow. And I want the sweet sweet label.
My thirst for growth and learning could also be satiated if I was working in a company I deemed brilliant enough, but guess what? I’m not brilliant enough to work in any of them.
So, I have to study.
There’s also the fact that I want to experience the american life. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a teenager, so I figure, might as well experience it in this life.
The biggest deterrent to my resolve is my intellect. I can’t justify or find much meaning behind these shallow reasons, which make me lay back in my bed, and not prepare for GRE at all. Well, maybe tomorrow 😛
Welcome to the concrete jungle, surrounded by lush green flora, collections from the most exotic locale, much like its inhabitants. Why is the flora so green and fresh? Why the green outline to the black mirrored boundries? Government regulations? A sense of environmentalisim? Decoration? Who has the time to think.
Welcome to the concrete jungle. Surrounded by steel gates, but afraid of humanity leaking in. If you take a walk around, you’ll see the inhabitants walk about this jungle, careful to watch that they don’t step onto the green sea. Carefull enough not to malign it, not attentive to what they’re so carefull about. It’s beautiful in a way. So many different specimens beautiful in their own way, paid no attention by anyone except people who are paid for them not to die, much like the inhabitants themselves.
Welcome to the concrete jungle, surrounded by behometh gates, but for the fear of humanity leaking in. The culture here is sipping on jugs and sucking on tiny white tubes. Sucking in and sucking up, for the fear of the fear leaking in.
There, standing behind the beautiful red abomination of a thousand species of red flowers, are our protagnists. Say hi. They’re warm. They’ll wave and smile back, even if they don’t remember where they shook hands with you once, or shared an elevator, or stabbed you in the back. Go on.. say hi.
Iss qadar kyun chahte hain tumhe koi ilm nahi humein
bass chahat ki har hadd kuch iss kadar paar kar jaeyin
dil se nahi rooh se kuch pukaar niklti hai yun
tumhe paakar bass tum mein khud hum simat jaayein
dil cheer kr dekh lo, kuch khabar nhi kyu aisa kuch ho rha hai
bass tumhare ikk chehre ko dekh kar mera yeh dil ro rha hai
kuch yun tumhe apne andar jazb kar paate gar mumkin hota
kuch haalaat alag hote yaa kuch hum insaan alag ho jayein
dil cheer kr dekh lo, tumhara naam likha hai har kone par,
bass ab thake baithe hain har kona iss dhabhe se harra kar jayein
humein kadar nhi unn sab ki jo hum par jaan lutaye baithe hain..
bass tum par aakar aisa kyu lagta hai k sabki jaan luta jayein
tumhari rooh ko chuh lein to shayad jannat ka rasta mile humein
tumhare rooh ko chuh lein to shayad jahanum ko alvida kar jayein..
ikk roz ye soch kr baithe the k aaj bhool jayeinge tumko
ikk roz ye soch kr baithe the k aaj bhool jayeinge tumko
fir socha kya maloom apni pehchaan ka tukda shikast kar jayein..
inn bahon ki bhookh to naa jaane kab se lekar baithe hain
inn bahon ki bhookh to naa jaane kab se lekar baithe hain
iss soch mein ab baithe hain k tere naam ko gumshuda kr jayein
teri jaan.. teri yaad k sadke.. ab iss hasti ko alvida kr jayein
If I had to encapsulate the theme and emotional power of Punjab 1984 in a few words, I’d never be able to ace these couplets from the movie’s soundtrack :
Haadh Diyaan Paindeyan Ch Vichchdi Hai Chaan Bann Ke Bedard Haakma Tu V Vekh Kade Maa Bann Ke Mudh Aa Ve Laadleya Ghare Ammi Udeekdi
Mere Pind Di Oh Paun Nu Suneha De Dyo Mainu Lorriyan Sunaave Kitte Maa Banke Ni Main Kujhe Wich Aunga Swaah Bann Ke Ni Main Kujhe Wich Aunga Swaah Bann Ke
That’s all Anurag Singh’s Punjab 1984 is, and all it had to be, a story about a mother looking for her son. The film opens with a brilliant scene during the attack on Golden Temple, a scene so poignant, I’d have to look long and hard to find anything which matches its simplicity and sincerity while depicting such an important and sensitive event for millions of Sikhs around the world.
The movie then movies to a year and a half later, with Kirron Kher as the main character of a mother looking for her son. Like she says, she used to be worried that he returns home in time, and she still is. The opening credits carry a serene sense of her morose life, her daily routine, as she visits the police station daily, and waits for news about her son. This is of course not a unique or isolated case. It is the story of upheaval in the lives of countless families in Punjab during the period of the Khalistan movement. It is the true story of thousands of mothers, whose sons went out on a day as ordinary as any, never to be seen or heard from again.
The methods used by the police to suppress insurgents during this period, and politics of the situation is well documented and well known(Click here & here to read more). Family feuds, and personal grudges intertwined into the political war that was underway. Many policemen misused the sanctioned power. As the general sentiment goes, who watches the watchmen?. Our protagonist’s story is one such incident, with a land hungry neighbour, and a power hungry policeman. The mother’s powerlessness in the situation is reflective of our own impotency in face of political power even today, especially today.
The backstory moves briskly, with the serviceable blend of a happy go luck protagonist, loving mother, strict father, ‘love at first sight’ song and dream sequence before getting to the actual meat of the plot. Of course the mother is portrayed as righteous as any can be found in the breadth of the hindi or punjabi film industry, without any flaws or intricacies of a human. She is perfect, kind to any and all, even to those who have wronger her. The only humanizing characteristic she possesses is her loss, and her resolve to find out what happened to her son. But Kirron Kher’s acting truly liberated the character and saved it from crossing over to the territory of melodrama.
The moments chosen to elucidate the mother’s situation are a step away from the cliche’d moments we’re used to witness in movies. Here, they’ve used small moments, dialogues, to evoke the sense of loss and frustration. A moment that particularly stood out for me was when she has to go through the pictures of boys recently killed in Police encounters and shootings. The camera lingers on her face as she is handed the album, and it is kept steady, as we feel her hesitation. She slowly starts to look at the album. The camera still lingers but zooms in a little, as we feel along with the mother, the fear before the turn of each page, and the small respite before gathering enough courage to turn the page again. The scene transitions to reveal a few glimpse of some of the victims. As the mother reaches the end of the album, she hides a smile of relief behind her chunni. The acting by Kirron Kher is top notch in this scene. The direction and photography is particularly masterful. Frankly, I was surprised with this level of finesse in a punjabi movie.The film is so engaging that when the words ‘intermission’ appear on the screen, I had to check my watch to confirm that 90 minutes had indeed slipped by.
The second half starts strong with an incident inspired from real life, and a terrific scene, where the mother learns that her son might have died. Her son’s friend informs her that her son might not be bound anymore, he is finally free. The agony and restlessness is brilliantly depicted using the mother’s reaction. The director might have overstayed to milk the scene for some extra tears, nevertheless, it’s a very powerful scene. Why couldn’t it have stayed that way? The movie changes gears and the story starts to falter, like the writers were unsure where they should go from here. Then scenes start to fall flat, emotions and melodramatic dialogues start to fly high and it completely derails in the last thirty minutes.
The plot shifts to the going ons of the present day as the drama and body count starts to rise. There’s some unnecessary resolution of the land acquisition plot. Granted, it did set the whole plot in motion, but the follow up and resolution fell flat, and frankly, felt unnecessary. Also, the romantic sub plot overstays its welcome and acts as a distraction sometimes. But it still adds to the realness of the movie, and works to a certain extent. The depiction of the ‘movement’ is cheapened to cheap ploys of a couple of power hungry politicos. But of course, our hero saves the day, and how.
After this point, the movie goes from being a grounded representation of the reality of Punjab to generic masala fare. The last thirty minutes might be inspired by any number of the mainstream ‘100 crore club’ bollywood movies. I literally cringed at the Salman Khanesque moment when the ‘hero’ challenges the arresting officer (the villain in this case) and throws away his gun to have a hand to hand fight.
At first, I balked at the writer’s poor choice to go this route, but then it occurred to me, that perhaps the writer had was so deeply emotionally invested in these stories and so frustrated with the powerlessness of the common man, or even his helplessness as a writer, that it was a chance for him to let off some steam, to exact some revenge. It was a masturbatory exercise by the writer, where he was literally bashing the shit out of such policemen and the system and the movement who were responsible for such mishaps. Whatever the reasons were, in my opinion it nullified all the respects and dedications it wanted to pay off to the victims and their families, a message so explicitly stated at the end. It was almost an insult, that those boys weren’t strong enough to change their fate, or fight to survive… only if they’d been heroes. Anyway.
The film climaxes when our protagonist finally returns home with his head and chest held high, just as he had envisioned it. It should have been a touching and a much needed emotional payoff, but I was still barfing from the last fight scene. The movie ends with such a weak and tailored scene, that it seemed like they cobbled it together at the last minute when the writer finally gave up on the story. The only saving grace of the climax was the acting of Diljit Dosanjh and Kirron Kher, which supplied some much needed emotionality, and grounded it to a certain extent. The haunting lyrics of the song ‘Swah bann ke’ also help.
Apart from the acting, the cinematography and editing are considerable well done. The movie has a bleached look with a yellowish tinge used effectively to illustrate this bleak period in Punjab’s history. The frames, shots, and length of scenes are mostly perfect with the camera lingering just long enough to leave an impact. The music of the film is very strong, especially the songs ‘Sawah bann ke’ and ‘Ammi udeek di’. It’s the first time I’ve seen music so well used in a Punjabi movie. Here it’s not a distraction, but helps further the story forward and acts as a beautiful supplement to help effectively portray the emotions of the characters. Overall, I would say that it’s a must watch, even if for the beautiful first half.
P.S. If you want to listen to the songs, click here.
P.P.S. For a political analysis/review of the movie, read this.