Monday, 28 November 2016

Arrival - A Stunning Probe Into Elements of Humanity

A linguist with the weapon (ability) of seeing the future knows that she will marry the man who stood by her in her quest to cohere two civilizations that are light years apart, to preempt the world community from making history’s greatest error of judgment and to finally bind them in unity for posterity. She knows that he will father her daughter who is going to leave them prematurely as she would helplessly sleep holding her dying body as she slips away bit by bit from her grip. She knows that when she will predict to him about that loss, he’ll walk out on her, telling her that she made a wrong choice (in everything). Still, when she'd be proposed by him, she’d agree regardless. A heartbreaking personal price that Arrival’s protagonist has to pay for the ability to gift humanity a historic makeover. Suffice this should to underline the human element within the science fiction that ‘Arrival’ purports to be.

Intricate emotional layers aside, the story of “Arrival” is lucid — aliens arrive and then we contact them and whatever follows, follows. Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist who is called in by the U.S. government when the arrival happens. One sliced egg shaped UFO above the grasslands of Montana, and eleven more descend at other locations around the globe. Louise, along with a physicist (played by Jeremy Renner), is tasked with establishing contact with the visitors from far space and decode why they are here. They meet their hosts, two giant, squid-like beings that float on the other side of a see-through barricade. Verbal communication attempts yield complex outcomes, but written words and images bring promising results. Communication with the creatures moves slowly, but it at least begins to move.

But here is the challenge. If we are trying to understand a culture fundamentally different from our own we could not simply gather statistics, analyze grammar, and make conclusions. We’d have to absorb a different way of seeing. We'd have to find out how words are being attached to meaning. It is here that the movie makes us realize that language isn’t just about understanding how to say things to someone and ascribe meaning to what comes back. It tells us language has deeper roots in civilizations and the way they flourish and grow rather than just being a mode of communication. 

The film is replete with flow of intricacy which keeps you dangling on the verge of guessing and taking back those guesses about the possibilities that those seem to be opening. Toying with the danger of drowning the viewers in enigma, Villeneuve challenges himself as a storyteller/filmmaker and he comes out with flying colours by dosing the audience with crucial, orienting pieces of information without any ground shattering violence or action. And a part of the movie’s stunning brilliance must have to do with Ted Chiang’s spectacular short fiction ‘Story of Your Life’, published almost a decade ago, of which the movie is an adaptation. Right from the moment the opening scene plays, it’s clear that we’re in for a reflective expedition through memory, time and crushing grief. Die hard sci-fi admirers may not soon understand the import of such a premise in an alien invasion movie. But the story has criss-cross layers to make you hold on despite a very slow progress and the absence of the entire over the top stuff we have come to expect from science fiction features. The seminal subject of fate, loss and the meaning of love are so smartly interwoven with science that the film’s grip over you never loosens inspite of the so called slow progress. The director’s courage in not sacrificing narrative for entertainment is amply rewarded when the crafted pieces of his art suddenly come together to make sense. As one leading journal has written, the film is a profound example of how the best movies are those that allow the narrative and entertainment to coexist in unforced, tolerant balance. 

Imagine the conundrum which the protagonist has to deal with. To know that if she creates a life, it’s going to end prematurely, brutally and dissolve the cohesion of the most priceless bonds. Yet, she embraces that future. Yet, she chooses to bring that life into existence. Watch it grow, smile with it, play with it, and sleep with it on the same bed, helplessly witness it wilt abruptly and die. The question you cannot help asking yourself in that moment is should we meddle with future if we are able to foresee it? Beyond the sci-fi narrative ‘Arrival’ makes this tantalizing probe. But by the time you arrive at that point you’d have already lived a brilliant unfolding of a never before experienced story about human alien relationship. One that is far from being gory or from being driven by a motive to annihilate or dominate. When the decisive rendezvous happens, contrary to accumulated expectations, it turns out to be meaningful instead of menacing, meditative instead of adverse and peaceful instead of violent. You cannot help but admire with a smile the clever use of restraint with which you have are made to experience a genre of storytelling often characterized by conflicts of colossal proportions. 

Arrival, is as has been aptly put, a stunning science fiction drama about linguistics, aliens, and how we live today. Chances are that after watching it you’ll come out of the theater with a lump in your throat besides the feeling of having been overwhelmed by a rainbow of feelings .

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

We're all walking
Through the desert of our dreams
Afraid to wake up

Friday, 18 November 2016

Is Poetry Twilight

Why is poetry born? 
Does its womb in darkness churn?
Or is its river reason?
Where are its verses meant to reach
The heart in which a corner we crave
Or the home we left behind 
At the end of an old path of trust bereft.
Is poetry merry, singable, is it a song
Or is its verse only a whisper
Like the cry waves leave by their shore
In an ageless error of love.
When we write poetry
Are we answering or asking
Is poetry confluence of our humble sides
And with melody must it be sewn
Or is it the dissent of sore tides.
Able at performing within silent strides.
Is our poem a halt for someone's timeless wander
To hear which the wait has been suffered.
Are words of your poetry
Better guarantors 
At negotiating our differences
That stone walls cover.
I know that by poetry we undress
And cover the frayed flesh of our tattered soul.
Our poems are our window to the world
And the world's peek into the depths that we fall.
Where should we hide poetry
If it goes unheard
Why should we write poetry
If nothing it alters that it must
Burning, aflame
Consumed in fire and dust of hopes
Is poetry meant to die and be reborn
In paper or transcend boundaries that guns draw.
If it is meant to be the song of ages
Why poetry must be written by poets alone
Strange - poetry is immortal
When the hands that write it aren't
They call poetry abstract, figment, feetless walk
And the labour of a mind swimming among islands.
And to find a answer I yet must write another one
What do I know of poems and poetry
Or of their power and shelter
For I have only always crawled to poetry
To conceal the sky of my losses under its wings
To be able to go on, 
To breathe by my poem's shadowy side
To cry what I need and miss
To sing what I believe, 
I write those poems 
When truth and times force me 
To the twilight of my dreams

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

I never had, still don't have, the kind of money required to pack my bags and fly away to the many captivating spots of nature to heal from bad memories, or meet men and women, bond with them, strive for experiences that distract us. I even never had too many friends. And whichever friends were there I couldn't bring up before them my personal struggles for discussion. Therefore, since a very young age, to deal with my ghosts I've always turned to cinema, to books, to writers who could tell me stories, make me meet characters whose choices in life were as bad, show me that often man suffers, loses love, falls into the abyss of solitude and that his life is still worth something, atleast of becoming a story, despite terrible things happening in them all the time.

To deal with the aftermath of a relationship, unforgettable and impossible in equal parts,  I started to look for a book with the hope I mentioned, to find my story in its pages, only to be torn between two Booker winning masterpieces. Coetze's Disgrace and Flanagan's ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’. I went for the latter simply because of the subject it seemed to be about. I read, reread its single liner blurb which went “In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Burma Death Railway, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Once I read this, I found it hard to be able to look beyond Flanagan’s novel. Hence, it was not just because it had bagged the Booker in 2014 that the book found its way onto my shelf and into my heart.

The story of TNRTTDN is an unmitigated account of the atrocity perpetrated on the captives of the Burma death railway. Flanagan describes it in the following words For good reason, the POWs refer to the slow descent into madness that followed simply with two words: the Line. Forever after, there were for them only two sorts of men: the men who were on the line and the rest of humanity. Or perhaps only one sort: the men who survived the Line. Or perhaps, in the end, even this is inadequate. Dorrigo Evans was increasingly haunted by the thought that it was only the men who died on the line. He feared that only in them was the terrible perfection of suffering and knowledge that made one fully human

As the railway is being constructed by hundreds of thousands of slaves, they are forced to work no matter how close to starvation they are and no matter how sick they are. The slaves are beaten for hours on end. They suffer from cholera and have to walk miles through the jungle before they start work, often day and night. Towards the end some are crawling or dying. Thus, Flanagan’s protagonist has to deal with two colossal and perpetual events of tragedy, the casualties of the war and his lost love. The first one, the war, is everywhere in Flanagan's novel. You live, suffer and die with the POWs. You go through their starvation and share their desperate clinging on to each other in misery. You feel the peeling of flesh under the whip and the fatal entry of bullet when they fall. But their favourite doctor, who is saving them all the time, is facing another war within, the memories of his momentous relationship with Amy. The recounting of that short experience is incredibly detailed. In those few pages Flanagan ensures that his readers understand why even a short, momentary experience can command our discretion long after it is over. 

Dorrigo Evans is soon to be married to Ella, but when his division is shipped out he is deep in love with Amy, the lovely wife of his uncle Keith.  Dorrigo's brief affair with Amy haunts him for the rest of his life The memories of her expressions, her beauty spot over her lips, their love making. They never set him free even when he marches through war and tends to ghastly wounds and diseases of the prisoners.

For Dorrigo’s longing for Amy, Flanagan writes “Dorrigo’s life at the King of Cornwall (his uncle’s hotel where he met Amy), which was measured in hours and which could have added up to no more than a few weeks, seemed to be the only life he had ever lived. Everything else was an illusion over which he passed as a shadow, unconnected, unconcerned, only angry when that other life, the other world wished to make claim on him, demanding that he act or think about something, anything other than Amy’.

I believe that profound art is often sourced to suffering. So when I was greatly moved by TNRTTDN, this belief I subscribe to only got strengthened when I came to know that Flanagan's father was a prisoner in Burma himself who died the day Flanagan finished his novel. The author has made it clear that the book is a tribute to his father. 

If you have ever felt love that was so deep reaching and powerful and compelling that it turned all those fiercely burning passions of your life into mere warmth of candle flame, if you have known of the kind of love which wraps itself like skin around your soul, if you have then had to live with no possibility of ever getting that love and in the middle of despair if you have had to deliver yourself to things which took you very far away from it, things that owned your body without any meaning or heart, till you realized that there was nothing you could have done, then Richard Flanagan's 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' is a must read for you.

The book has made something beautiful out of things terrible as war and loss. By the time you would have arrived at the final passages you’d have, with a lump in your heart agreed with the rest of the blurb which says ‘Richard Flanagan’s savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man come of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost’. This book might just convince you that life is more than happiness, a normal existence and being free. It is about having to break at life’s hands and still strive to live. That as individuals, we have to walk very narrow roads with great depths. The haiku of Kobayashi Issa mentioned in one of its pages will suffice to hint at the revelation one might encounter while and after reading TNRTTDN.

"In this world
We walk on the roof of hell
Gazing at flowers”