Nothing is impossible.
Except reading this without cracking up even once. Go ahead, try it.
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There are two little known movies I saw in the recent past: Baraka (1992) and what I consider it’s updated version as opposed to a sequel, Samsara (2011). I didn’t think I was skilled enough to describe the experience of Baraka and Samsara. Unable to write down any words at all, I looked up what Roger Ebert had to say about them. I was not disappointed. These are kind of movies that deserve a writer like Ebert.
In the 1970s, “Samsara” would have been known as a head trip. The critic Matt Zoller Seitz calls it “a trance movie.” For Fricke and his producer and collaborator Mark Magidson, it is a continuation of the meditative imagery they used in “Baraka” (1992), which intensely regarded the strangeness and wonder of our planet. Both films draw a sharp contract between the awe of nature and the sometimes ruthless imposition of man’s will. I learn from Wikipedia that “samsara,” literally meaning “continuous flow,” is “the repeating cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth” within such Indian religions as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. “Baraka” can refer to God’s blessing.
I met Fricke and Magidson when a restored version of “Baraka” was shown at Ebertfest, and had the impression that traveling the world and recording these images was sort of their calling. Some of these places, structures, peoples and practices will not endure forever, and if this planet someday becomes barren and lifeless, these films could show visitors what was here.
How many movies can you describe as meditative?
This experience deserves to be replicated every few decades. It is my sincere wish that the makers never end this journey.
The one tiny suggestion I’d make is to watch Baraka and Samsara in the highest quality that is affordable to you.
Some folks have made this wonderful video using an audio recording of David Foster Wallace’s now famous commencement speech This Is Water:
Feel free to check out the entire speech.
Not long ago, I recall being frustrated at seemingly trivial things: traffic, delays, long lines, slow moving lines (or worse, being in a slow moving line next to a faster moving line.) I can’t quite put my finger on when I started changing but now it is rare for me to get frustrated. It comes down to how we think—or as Wallace puts it—how we choose to think.
Take an everyday example of being late to a meeting. We cut others in traffic, drive impatiently, hop into an elevator a few hundred milliseconds earlier, get annoyed when the folks getting out of the elevator don’t seem to share our urgency—all to save perhaps a few seconds or a minute. I don’t know about you but I have never once attended a meeting where my arriving a minute late would have had any impact whatsoever. Once that realization hits, you cannot be the same person.
As Wallace says, the constant bombardment of banalities in our everyday life is hard to escape. We can however do better. A few tricks work well for me in making a otherwise unhappy or neutral moment into one of fascination.
1. This one’s corny but take a moment to appreciate love. It’s all around you. Old couples, young couples, teenage couples, a dog and and her owner, a mother and daughter, a father and a son, a woman walking her new born.
I still find it immensely fascinating and awesome whenever a living being has love for another. I can’t think of anything that tops it in our experience of being alive.
(Sure, many seemingly loving relationships aren’t perfect and have problems of some sort. But you don’t have to think about that when appreciating love around you.)
2. Wallace touches upon this in his speech: Make up a story for every stranger you come across. Their actions will seem rational and your problems trivial. Take a waiter/waitress who messes up your order. If you know anything about the minimum wages for tipped employees, it should be easy to imagine a median life of a waiter or waitress who has to smile through their problems every day. There’s no fucking way you will ever again be annoyed when your order is late or a bit incorrect.
The old lady at the checkout counter of a grocery store, the lady driving a bit cautiously in her SUV, the young black girl working at a fast food chain: With just a tiny hint from their appearance or body language, you can make up the story of their life. And it doesn’t have to be Dickensian level of pathetic: a person living a normal life with a wife, two kids, a steady job and home in the suburb scares me enough to empathize for him.
No matter how good you are at the above, you will invariably come across assholes. I take the path that causes me the least unhappiness. My happiness is far too precious for a stranger to ruin it. In a weird way, you make him less of an asshole if he can’t make you unhappy. Make sense?
My good friend Aditya Khanna* who blogs anonymously as Overrated Outcast hits it out of the park in this week’s column: Do we really want to join the superpower sorority? Think again.
When someone says that they want their country to be a ‘superpower,’ what they’re trying to say is that they now want their country to be the world’s ‘decider’ — the sort of a**hole country which tells other countries what to do and where they can stick their ‘sovereignty.’ What they mean is that they want to be the guy in the room who has the remote to the teevee and will continue to watch a documentary on the drainage system of the Aztec civilisation even though everyone else wants to watch that show which has ‘everyday people’ eating bugs for money.
*Name changed to protect identity.
Lift the index finger of your right hand in front of you. Note the point where the tip of your finger meets space. By the time you read this, you are already about a thousand kilometers away from that point. And no human being—past, present or future—will ever be at that point in space again. You were the only human being to ever touch that point in space.
Follow up video here.
Every year National Geographic conducts a poll for the People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. The winners in 2012:
Everest guide Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa and extreme kayaker Sano Babu Sunuwar were named the People’s Choice Adventurers of the Year for 2012 for their climb to Everest’s summit, record-setting paragliding descent and long-distance kayak from Nepal to the Bay of Bengal in India, the National Geographic Society said today.
Do watch the video. More pictures here.
There were three activities here that required a superhuman effort: Mountaineering up to 29,000 ft., tandem paragliding at that altitude in thin air, and kayaking class V rapids. They had to be beyond excellent at each one of those to complete the journey. And they were. Insane stuff.
I have been told a few times by friends and acquaintances that I inspire them to seek out adventure. To be quite frank, they would do well to take inspiration from those who make me feel very small.
I came across a philosopher with an incredible voice (literally), Alan Watts. He’s a close second after Carl Sagan for voiceovers about larger than life concepts. Here’s one video:
He makes a passing observation that the existence of intelligent life was implied in the Big Bang itself—it just took billions of years to manifest on Earth. Arguments more sophisticated have been made against the existence of free will, many in the realm of neuroscience. But his words, to me, are the simplest argument against free will and for the existence of destiny, albeit retrospective destiny. In that, at the moment of the Big Bang, you were meant to exist some 13.8 billions years after and read this sentence a few years after that.
If you want to go deeper, you and I were part of the Big Bang. We—people, objects, atoms, energy—were all together when that happened.
It’s such a pity I can’t recall any of it.
For perspective, he died in 1973 and his fans have created beautiful videos such as the one above using his audio recordings. Yet there is a timelessness to his observations that they could have just as easily been said yesterday.
I often view the trending topics in India on Twitter to keep up with the latest news. There was a recent trend of hashtags that I didn’t quite get at first glance: #PappuCII, #Feku, #InternetPappus. They coincided with public appearances of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi—of which there have been many for they are our presumptive Prime Ministerial candidates. If you haven’t read the tweets, I don’t advise you do. It’s a cesspool of hatred and name calling by BJP and Congress supporters.
Now it has come to this: A prime-time news show that ought to be about issues ponders how the Twitter war of #Feku vs. #PappuCII is going to affect political agenda in India. Seriously.
As an observer, it’s been fascinating to watch how the use of Twitter has evolved in India. Early adopters were the socially hip people who, if I may use a broad brush, were social liberals. Right-wing ideas did not have a voice. I’m using a loose definition of ideas here. Calling Rahul Gandhi dumb and Sonia Gandhi by her maiden name Maino are not ideas.
As a natural reaction, over the past year there was a meteoric rise of right-wing Twitter accounts. Follow the retweets and you can track the influential users: Kanchan Gupta, parody accounts of Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi, “proud Hindus” or right of center folks, or as this guy calls himself: a right-wing fanatic with interest to shape 21st century as India’s century. He has about 6,000 followers and I’m like:
This had to be a paid, organized effort. After all, who has time on their hands to defend a political party all day long, every day? It is really just that: defending the BJP and dissing the Congress, on every single point, on every single incident, day in and day out. Surely that can’t be a coincidence?
But what’s interesting is that it worked. And well. Not because of the ingenuity of the idea but the terrible governance of the UPA which kept giving the movement the momentum and people it needed.
Some time back I wrote about Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. One comment insinuated that Rahul Gandhi was dumb and used the phrase Amul Baby. It was obvious the commenter was plugged into the right-wing universe. Those word associations don’t exist in the real world.
The Congress then realized it was losing this war very visibly. The retaliation began with pro-Congress Twitter users cropping up causing trending topics such as #Feku (a reference to Narendra Modi and his allegedly lofty claims.)
This too has to be an organized effort, and much more likely than the right-wing rise. The reason as I see it is this: I get that enough people buy into the identity politics of BJP to defend them at every opportunity. But I do not see why a person with no incentive would defend the Congress after its performance since 2004.
I should add another category to the type of content I avoid: Hatred.