Carl Sagan. Always….

Essential viewing…..For those times, when the inexplicable injustices of the world grip you (such as several recent miscarriages of justice in Florida’s legal system), for those tumultuous political/social times when a form of hateful discord grips people of different communities, colors and religions – and you understand the futility of such group-think, for the times you need answers or just peace or closure – helpless at your inability to reconcile with justified anger at certain man-made systems, for the times you wonder about your “place” in the world, for the times you need to get out of the abyss of excessive navel-gazing myopic views and understand the fallacies of our anthropocentric world; and for the times when the sheer scale of the Universe and imagining its immensity becomes akin to a spiritual experience……… For the times when perspectives of a wise and ethical astrophysicist, ecologist, anthropologist or scientist-philosopher, and based on proven facts, makes much more sense than any subjective opinions blindly followed……..For the times when knowledge sets one free, while ignorance merely buries.

carl-saganI feel very lucky to have been exposed to the work, shows and writings of Carl Sagan at an early age. What an incredibly wise man he was! Wish there were more objective scientist-philosophers like him. Wish he hadn’t passed away so soon.  When I met the “father” of landscape ecology research Richard T. T. Forman at Harvard in 2008, I gushed like a teenager. But wish I could have met Sagan, at least once, before he died. He was also one of those few great men, whose private conduct had integrity and ethics, and did not differ from his public image – a disparity oftentimes sadly seen in many creative or public figures who may seem very alluring from the outside, but have hypocrisies within. Carl Sagan even transcended that – by all accounts he was good, wise, humble and ethical, both publicly and privately. Yes, he truly was a great man.

Here are two well-made videos by a fan, with Sagan’s narration. There are many more videos of him out there, of course, and his must-have series “Cosmos” which is a testimony to the good that great and intelligent television shows can do, as opposed to the murk it more often churns out.

On my blogroll section is a link to “Carl Sagan quotes.” And a chapter from his last book can be found here: * Billions of stars * Billions of sports fans

Wishing you wisdom………and billions of warm wishes from the ravenous July heat of New York City.

And evolution created Woman

AND EVOLUTION CREATED WOMAN


On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (March 8th) –  a list of all the past posts on this blog that featured women, womanly ways and/or womanhood as a theme. The good, the bad and the ugly of womanhood. Women who inspire your very soul, and women who irritate the heck out of you. The kind-hearted and the cold-hearted. And of course, what enchants me personally the most – the beauty (in and out) and the strength and serenity of those women who have real authentic goodness. (Click link to read post)

  1. Racqueting on a grass court
  2. Sex and the Starchitect
  3. And now for something completely different
  4. A heartfelt comment
  5. A ‘colorful’ message
  6. Anthem
  7. A whiff of IF
  8. Freedom at last ? (Aung San Suu Kyi)
  9. Sweatshops for your sex, and the city too
  10. There’s something about Clint
  11. Saltationism of Silliness
  12. Love in the time of February
  13. When words are unnecessary – 1 (Zaha Hadid)
  14. When words are unnecessary – 2 (Hilary Hahn)

“How wrong it is for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself.”. Anais Nin (1903 -1977)


“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical.” – Sophia Loren. (You’re right madam Sophia…albeit those breathtaking curves of yours and Monica Bellucci help ;)




Red December – Post 3

RED DECEMBER – 3

LOVE & THE RED BALLOON

The heart has its reasons that Reason knows not of.”  – Blaise Pascal

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The Red Balloon. Albert Lamirosse’s 1956 Oscar & Palme d’Or winning 30-minute Film.

It is a liberating feeling to know that writing/journalism is not your mainstay profession – that way you are free to write for the sake of writing and let your stream of consciousness  transfer through your mind and heart to your fingers without a plethora of intellectual/politically-correct debates sprouting up. Just a thought. This is the last of my ‘Red December’ series. In a sense it was the idea of this post that had first made me think of the associations of the colour ‘red’ – isn’t it interesting how the most extreme ranges of human emotions are associated with this colour? Danger, alertness, action, stoppage, sexiness, war, anger…..but most importantly the emotion of Love.

Yes, despite all the downers in life, the one ’emotion’ that kept me in balance, kept me optimistic, was that Red Balloon of Love. And I don’t mean ‘romantic’ love. Just ‘Love.’ The kind that just lives and redeems for itself. On watching the film again, I realized why this movie is so profound – it is a metaphor of what love is – the kind that stirs your heart like never before, like an understanding playful friend reaching out to you against a shared loneliness or greyness of the apathy and complacent cruelty in the world around – the way love lifts our hearts, the way we grow attached to it, depend on it, nurture it, are loyal to it, sacrifice for it, learn lessons in pain and longing from it, and finally, the way Love sets us free because of the epiphany its magical presence brought in our lives.

In November 2008, while going through a period of metaphorical insanity that produced volumes of writing, I’d had a powerful epiphany about love. It still remains one of the most profound times of my life where logic and love found a balance, and Love truly lifted me from my own darkness. Many chapters and stories were written in that inspired frenzy, and the following is an excerpt from a chapter I wrote titled ‘Love and the Lameness of Logic.’ Today I read it again, and though I have grown more since then, I am glad in retrospect that I grappled in those dark depths, if only for the euphoria that this realization had brought me. Not that I had not experienced ‘love’ before – but this time the intellectual, the practical, the emotional (and every other ‘al’) finally found congruence and I was set free. The condition where ego no longer matters but the Self finds itself. And truly discovers the capacity, the power, the unbridled abandon of Love.

“……..As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as constantly kind and just, sadly, we are cruel in life. Sometimes. Often. Unintentionally or through ignorance. Why? Because we keep those waiting who love us the most; We take love for granted. I know I have which is why I can write so. We waste our energies convincing those who do not care for us. They become a challenge to please. We show our bright lights to the uncaring. Yet we let those who care for us remain forgotten in the shadows. We do not remember them until it is too late. Until after facing the coldness of the world we turn around to seek them, thinking they will always be there and then find they have walked away finally exhausted, or are dead.

“Pride and ego work antithetically to love; silencers of confessing the truth to ourselves and to others; we are so concerned about how we will be perceived, so concerned that we will make fools of ourselves, so concerned of the stuffy and pretentious dictum of social protocols that after a while we stop listening to our hearts. I know this because I have sometimes noticed that ‘pride’ in myself and in others becoming the blockage in expressing love. But really, Pride for whose sake? Although in my case more than pride it has mostly been a sense of overwhelming shyness to express. The mind often thinks it knows better but in the end the heart is the one that breaks free when love is real. Hurt and its fear is the barricade that blocks the flow of love between our hearts and brains and since amongst the logical, the brain mostly transmits our words to our lips – we blurt out the wrong words because that bridge between the heart and the lips has been blocked. And now that I have confronted the hurt – or rather the shock – how clear it is to cherish the understanding I had received and yet had not wanted to see blinded by stubbornness so as to allow only Reason to overpower emotion and everything else. In a strange way – logic almost becomes the thwarter of love. As Tagore (the Nobel laureate Bengali poet) had said – “A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.”

“Or As Blaise Pascal had said: “The heart has its reasons which Reason knows not of.”

“Useless by cartoonist Randall Monroe of xkcd.com

“Love is what keeps us. What makes us. What saves us. And love is for love’s sake only – it completes and redeems itself. And the love that combines romance, strength, spirit, intellect, body, mind and compassion – and ah, so very very rare to find – and the one we all search for in one person and find it only in parts in many – that is the closest to salvation we come to. At the end one realizes that that is how one has to love one’s own self inside, to view the “love” inside in its multitude and then when it dwells as an integral part of one’s state of being, it becomes both the flame that enlightens one and the flame that gives warmth to others. It is difficult  to reach at this stage for many, but it is true nonetheless. My mother used to say that “Every human has his own limited capacity and within that some try to reach their own limit, some do not even recognize what they have inside and never even try to expand. And then there are those who break away from even their own limits to a higher state.” And the holistic state of love is the fire that breaks the limit. It is true. It is a personal journey. The mantra has been tainted, ritualized, made clichéd by various forms such as religious quarks, cheesy commercialism and even extreme ‘free love’. But it is an internal philosophy that at the end reveals the truth through personal reflection and experience only. It is only then that Love translates into the type of self-actualization and exaltation that covers and becomes one with the entire universe – a truly cosmic experience. This is something that some wise (or crazy) souls had discovered and tried to pass on, but forgot the folly that comprehension cannot be distributed second-hand. That just that personal knowledge was enough and not it’s craving to pass it on. But it is a lonely craving to share with similar minds. Ah – the craving to share, I know it. Because the solitude of epiphany is a peak where you wish to see others yet have to let them make the climb themselves.

“And that is why I looked back at the gift of understanding  (although Reason had clouded sight) and I realized that love is the one quality that as humans we should never forget in our hearts no matter how many times we get caught in earthly disappointments. I read words I had received of a few who shall remain unnamed for their privacy, of those who were not poets or writers and seemed so rational and restrained; and yet love had evoked something rare in them. I understood how it is love or its loss that makes men of logic and reason, finance and institutes turn into poets and philosophers. I understood how love arises in the human heart and why introverted men and women with their quieter ways take longer to put their thoughts and emotions into spoken words (never mind that they may be writing treatises in the privacy of solitude). And how it also causes sadness when the object of one’s love moves away. And  that it was not conquest but absolute surrender that could open the heart to love.

“Oh, how could I have forgotten such beauty in my search for logic and reason?? How could I have started reading on the ‘biology of chemistry of love’, terrified that my heart would overpower my logical brain. How can any brain chemistry or neurology explain such poignant honesty of the heart? Actually it can – but what good is prose in life without poetry? There is no substitute for pure unadulterated love. How telling it is of why in petty human misunderstandings there is no real reason to get sad and angry because many truths are simply hidden. Comprehension ignites compassion; Learning enlightens love. Just as love inspires learning.

“so really it’s not just a matter of “understanding men or women”, it’s understanding understanding.” (quote of an old long-lost friend.)

“And at last the honesty of acknowledging the truth about love was released.

“As a child I believed in love in spite of my visions of war. Till 28 I believed in personal love even after seeing hatred. How did I – who could give love so freely to everything else – restrict myself from believing in its power when it came to my own personal life and looked for answers in purely logic and reason? And have evaded from seeing the powerful love behind words and simply started seeing words like an arrangement of letters of the alphabet? I know why I did it – it was to avoid the pain of disappointment by those who did not mean their words – and now that folly has been rectified; the lodged bullet that blurred that vision removed. Words are the expression of our deepest thoughts, our innermost psyches – the purest form of an invitation into the chambers of the mind and the heart; as is music and painting and most art forms of course – but words by far the easiest to transmit and share. And love which I believed in as the most beautiful abstraction in the world since childhood spread out full force inside in every pore again from the unrestricted heart and I could express it through language again.

“I think when love gets held back by fear or not finding the right words to express itself, it comes out silently as tears. Or falls inwards like pricking icicles hurting the heart.

“And when love becomes part of one’s entire being again – one understands its force in the world, in the everyday. And one also understands that it is truly the absence of love that creates the horrors of the world. Some may say a love for power creates a mess. That is a blasphemy of using the word ‘love’ – ‘love’ is not what those power hungry people feel. It is a Greed for power, a greed for control, a greed for forceful assertion that creates the chaos in the world. As I walk down the street – it is so obvious……the power of love: It is love that makes the baker put his artistry in the delectable pastries, it is love that makes the artist pour out his soul on a canvas, it is love for their children or families that make men and women take up jobs they don’t like but to sustain a livelihood, it is love that makes people seek beauty, it is love for their work and their conscientiousness that make architects and engineers and all the professionals who we cannot do without build up the pillars and the infrastructure of the urbanscapes we dwell in, it is love that makes us smile for no reason when we feel happy, it is the love of a mother for her child that makes her do anything to get the best for him, it is love for one’s music that makes a musician produce such beautiful notes, it is the love of his work that makes the craftsman make those musical instruments, it is love for knowledge that makes the scientists and inventors of the world go to the amazing lengths of medical and technological advances and space travel that we have today, it is love for compassion that makes some people risk their own lives to help others…….on and on it goes………Love and a love for their work; or love and love for duty. That really is what makes the world go round. And of course ecology – but that’s another completely different aspect. But it is love that makes at least the human plane survive. At least the love of those who are the pillars that carry everyone else. And those who say love is foolish, presumptuous or the idea of fools have sadly perhaps never experienced genuine unconditional love, except perhaps from a mother.

All ideologies end up killing people. If you separate love from nonviolence you turn nonviolence into an ideology, a gimmick. Structures that are not inhabited by justice and love have no liberating or reconciling force, and are never sources of life.” – Jean Goss.

“It is sad to realize that in a sense the men who hound bars, the women who do the same in the seduction game, lonely inside, are actually all looking for love but trying to find it through temporary pleasures. Or perhaps that is all there is and they are genuinely happy in that physical expression of love, but I believe no person and animal can survive without love. A kind lady had once told me that love is often even more needed than bread. That love finds a way to provide bread. Which is why it is so beautiful, so wondrous. Love brings joy and joy generates peace. Of course peace becomes a whole different system of world politics and………oh well, that logical brain always has to butt in once in a while.

“But if love is so unimportant in life why do our greatest songs, our greatest epics, our most beautiful works of art always deal with the beauty of the presence of love and the ugliness of the absence of love (war)? It is love which gives us life and its absence death. And when we resurrect ourselves, it is due to our love inside. And death has its limits but it is truly love that is limitless.

“It is love that makes people cross oceans and mountains to bring back their beloved home, it is the understanding of the knowledge and power of love that gives the meditator nirvana. It is the echo of the beauty of first love that people try to recreate in all its innocence – no matter how much they try to rationalize. Einstein had said something to the effect once that how on earth can you ever explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a phenomenon as first love. The chap was right of course. So when thoughts of that causes one pain, or a craving to recapture that sense of wonder and innocence and the unadulterated love in one’s heart – what does one do? One remembers just the love, that fire inside one’s heart and forgets the ups and down of the attachment factor in the past. And that fire within oneself then translates into a luminance of Love inside of the Here and Now.  That fire becomes one with all the other types of love inside and the light inside glows  inextinguishable. A supernova-of-sorts constantly regenerating…. And one is then at peace with one’s darkness too.

On the other hand, it is the absence of love that causes the worst horrors of life. Because hatred consists of the absence of love. War is the culmination of all the negative forces of the human psyche. And within it too emerge acts and flashes of incredible courage and love. Jealousy that causes some women to do horrible things to others is the absence of love for others’ better qualities. Isolating others because they are different in some ways is the act of withholding ‘group-love’ to psychologically torture another. The advanced Self realizes to churn out a powerful love from within oneself and not get caught by the immature dictum of society.

It is important to remember though that in a bustle to ‘exoticise’ love in other places, logic is not abandoned. Sometimes there is a trend to think that those who prefer solitude or are introverted may not need love, while those who always wish to be a part of big social groups are more “loving” in some ways. This premise is not entirely true. Rather, in highly communal societies the ‘groupism’ present is often not so much out of extreme brotherly love, but because there is a direct relation between bad infrastructure and tighter communities. The worse the infrastructure of a country, the tighter the communal camaraderie of its people – because they have to depend on each other for survival, not on the government. In more technologically advanced societies it is precisely because the infrastructure is more developed that groupism becomes a choice, not a necessity. A person’s individual capacity to generate love is independent of his civic structure. And this then starts off an entire new debate of inherited values, ingrained bonding abilities, and of individual love, communal love and the balance between the two………..but that’s another story. And another post for another day.

For now all I know is this : If we were told we only had 10 minutes to live, the only people we would remember are the ones from whom we learned and the ones whom we loved. And those who truly loved us. It is strange how clear life becomes when one thinks with a bucket list.”

– written during a bout of ‘madness’ in November 2008, during the stillness of nights on Rue Dizier, Old Montreal.

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LE BALLON ROUGE

34 minutes of your time that will bring back  the rawest and purest form of childhood’s  joys, tears, injustice, cruelty and redemption. And love that can speak in the language of silence. Happy Holidays and wishing you the best for 2011!

My little gift (thanks to youtube) to all my readers who have read my random words through this year, and especially to those who sent me beautiful mails, insightful comments. Your feedback makes it worthwhile to keep writing.

For a long time it was very difficult to get a copy of this gem of a film. It’s available on this link. Enjoy!

https://archive.org/details/LeBallonRougetheRedBalloon

and here (without the opening title) :

For more on Le Ballon Rogue : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Red_Balloon

& and a beautiful analysis of this film, done by author and illustrator Brian Selznick:  Here

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6-9.

June 9 : Today is a very special day for me for personal reasons. So I’ve decided to place something that I really love – an image from one of my long time interests – Astronomy. And a quote from one of my favourite scientists, three from two good authors; and one from a  favourite philosopher. (And I’ve added two more photos in my ‘about’ page.)

The following image is courtesy the European Southern Observatory. For more on this go to: http://www.eso.org

The Nebula NGC 6334 (click to enlarge)

The Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) is a vast region of star formation. This new portrait of NGC 6334 was created from images taken with the Wide Field Imager instrument at the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, combining images taken through blue, green and red filters, as well as a special filter designed to let through the light of glowing hydrogen. NGC 6334 lies about 5500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius. The whole gas cloud is about 50 light-years across.

NGC 6334 is one of the most active nurseries of massive stars in our galaxy and has been extensively studied by astronomers. The nebula conceals freshly minted brilliant blue stars — each nearly ten times the mass of our Sun and born in the last few million years. The region is also home to many baby stars that are buried deep in the dust, making them difficult to study. In total, the Cat’s Paw Nebula could contain several tens of thousands of stars.

The nebula appears red because its blue and green light are scattered and absorbed more efficiently by material between the nebula and Earth. The red light comes predominantly from hydrogen gas glowing under the intense glare of hot young stars.  – ESO


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“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity and I’m not sure about the the universe.” – Albert Einstein

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

“A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“How wrong it is for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself.” – Anais Nin. And from her again:

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

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P.S. A very Happy Birthday to these achievers who have/had their birthdays today: Johnny Depp, Cole Porter, Jackie Mason, Natalie Portman, Aaron Sorkin, Michael J. Fox, Anoushka Shankar (sitarist), Kiran Bedi (first woman to join and become Director General of the IPS), Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (first woman mayor in England),  Gian Gomeshi, Canadian broadcaster and journalist), Johann G Galle (German astronomer), George Stephenson (inventor of RR locomotive)

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Documentary Heaven

This is one of the coolest websites I have come across : Documentary Heaven

http://documentaryheaven.com

For those who are more inclined towards gaining information, insights, facts and the ‘film’ version of non-fiction books. It covers various diverse categories from Archaeology, Economics, Environment, Human Rights, Physics, Psychology,  Space Science,  Sport & Adventure and a whole lot more.

Talking of the last category a big congratulations to a friend of mine for  many years Nethra Raghuraman (pronounced Netra) who is hosting a new documentary series on adventure sports and aircraft for the National Geographic channel. Nethra is not only an adventure-sports participant herself, but is an Industrial Psychology magna-cum-laude graduate who on a lark had entered an international L’oreal modeling contest years back and not only became its winner but later she chose to leave the catwalks of Paris (based on her own observations of  the industry) and participated in art and independent films instead.

Nethra Raghuraman – psychologist, model, actress, animal rights activist

One of India’s topmost supermodels (where she feels you have more control over your appearances and choices than in agency-based modeling) and a regular on the runways both there and in New York and Paris, she chose to select film projects which had more independent directors instead of  the hackneyed Bollywood song-and-dance routines. This limited her choices, but she still chose her personal principles and ethics over giving in to more marketable strategies. Her most significant role was in the critically-acclaimed Bhopal Express (A David Lynch presentation which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival) which went on to snag 7 awards in the festival circuits including a best-actress award for her  and was based on the true story of one of the largest industrial catastrophes caused by human callousness of the Union Carbide plant resulting to a death toll of upto 15,000 people (both immediate and the aftermath of the  leaked poisonous gases.) When I went to watch the movie in a Montreal Art Film Festival in 2000, the line-up for the tickets was 6 blocks long (I’m not kidding.) And while I had known her even before her modeling days, it was wonderful to see that that young, shy, intelligent teenager I knew who was still coming to terms with her growing height at 5′-10″ and fluffy lips had years later transitioned into this elegant, sensitive artist. Unlike most other women in this field of work, she does not enter into self-promoting campaigns and does not even bother to maintain a home page. And even after featuring on the cover of Vogue Asia (she’s the one  kneeling on the left) still remains as  grounded as she has always been. I particularly liked an observation she once made : “I’d read somewhere that things are to be used, and people loved. But strangely and sadly you find in this world that so often things are loved and people used. What a reverse world we live in!” Congratulations, Nethra on hosting your new gig. And for waiting  and turning down other numerous offers till it was for a channel as informative as National Geographic. Thank you for being a woman of strength, beauty (in and out) and intellect (and I wish more interviewers would ask you about your education, insights and philosophical musings, rather than the usual cliched questions.)

Netra hosting the series for the National Geographic channel.

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A documentary on Nietzsche : Human all too human and Beyond Good and Evil.

And now, moving on to something else, particularly to one of my (and my mother’s) favourite philosophers – Friedrich Nietzsche. (And much to my embarrassment, my paternal great-grandfather, an archaeologist who adored his work used to copy his style of moustache.) While writing on Nietzsche would deserve a separate post altogether, since documentaries-are-the-topic-du-jour here, I am enclosing one taken from the link mentioned above. For more on his philosophy here is a wiki article : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_Friedrich_Nietzsche although the best way is to read his books, of course. One of the best aspects of Nietzsche is  that unlike some other proponents of individualistic independent thinking, he never seeked any followers nor believed in cult-tactics (in fact he abhorred it) to impose his ideas upon others. He wrote for himself and for the personal joy of his ideas , reflections and observations. And no, he was NOT anti-Semitic, quite the reverse. The above mentioned moustachioed grandpa was Jewish so I do know what I’m talking of. Even the wiki article clearly states the facts. I do like the works of the mathematician-philosopher Bertrand Russell, but the introverted, introspective Nietzsche was definitely a man who was a true individualist of his time, for which he paid a lonely price. There are many insightful and powerful quotes of Nietzsche but one of my favourites both for its brevity and wisdom is :“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

I will soon be starting a series about people termed as rationalists and secular humanists and thinkers (and the first post lined to be up soon is on Richard Dawkins) but in many ways, in the school of philosophy and rational thinking, Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the pioneers of asking this line of  rhetoric,  as well as questioning widely -followed-irrational-mass-belief-systems.  And he knew quite well back then that he would be in a minority.

This particular documentary shows more of Nietzsche’s human side and weaknesses, a ‘truth’ that I have often been in conflict with about many creative artists and writers and even leaders I have liked. I found (a truth my mother had told me long back but I would find too hard to digest) that often the creative/artistic output of a man/woman (painter, musician, writer etc. who is not engaging in any moral-code-preaching but purely creating works for his/her own indulgence) should not be judged by but rather be viewed independently of his/her human fallacies (i.e.’weaknesses’ that did not include any violent tendencies, of course, but rather the softer limitations and follies of human nature.) It was one of the hardest truths I have had to accept over time and life; and in some ways to learn from my own fallacy of overt optimism in  the logic or kindness of humanity or rather lack thereof; and perhaps the reason why in my own life I still adhere to following a measure of personalised integrity and ethics as honestly and as steadfastly as I can. As Nietzsche says : “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Now that’s an objective observation I can live with. And in today’s world, where the patterns of consumption, production and existence are too intricately tied and criss-crossed to be untangled, this thought of his, though impossible if one wishes to maintain both the practice of practicality and humility, still remains a liberating dream-reality: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.The first part of the statement is the observation. The second is the process or the price. And the third is the prize, if only for one’s own sense of self, but truly one of the best gifts  you can give yourself. Should you choose to, of course.

http://documentaryheaven.com/nietzsche-beyond-good-and-evil/

http://documentaryheaven.com

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Empty Spaces

COMFORTABLY NUMB IN EMPTY SPACES: I have watched the movie ‘the Wall’ seven times in the past 12 years and it always remains haunting. Questioning. And always powerful. And while it outlined excerpts from the band members’ lives, parts of it are said to show Syd Barrett’s fall into schizophrenia. But this excerpt from the movie in the first video posted below is one of the most powerful animations I had seen on film when I’d first viewed it years back. And still remains to this day. (The flower is symbolic, as any man who has had his heart ripped would know.) As dark and symbolic as the whole movie is about a man’s existential crises,  as he isolates himself from the apathy and chaos of the ‘usual’ ways of thinking around him, at least by the end of the film it ends on an ambiguous but positive note when he finally breaks free from the wall that he had made around himself one brick at a time.

The metaphorical film released in 1982 is rich in graphic, often disturbing imagery, music and symbolism and punctuated by animated sequences by political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. It was directed by Alan Parker and the screenplay written by Pink Floyd vocalist and bassist Roger Waters. Waters in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine had discussed that the album as well as the film were both derived partially from Jean-Paul Sartre’s story by the same name, which according to Waters had deeply moved him and changed the way he viewed life.

Pink Floyd’s music was always reflective. Contemplative. Haunting. I had first heard its sounds when my mother had used parts of the soundtrack from the Dark Side of the Moon album for a play she was directing. I was too young to understand much of what their lyrics or music signified at that age but later in architecture school (where they were madly popular) I began a very serious appreciation of both the creativity and departure-from-norm that their work had encompassed, away from the ‘pretty’ and lovey-dovey boy-bands that had won more hearts in the 60s and 70s. Pink Floyd instead was cerebral, intellectual, questioning – it tackled pondering and pain, not fluffy teenage fluttering hearts. I was blown away by their depth and imagery and music. The band had formed in London’s architecture school and its initial goofy name was ‘The Architectural Abdabs.’
Today I am finishing a book I had received sometime back:
Pink Floyd & Philosophy: Careful with the Axiom, Eugene. Edited by George A. Reisch – professor of philosophy at the Northwestern University. An excerpt from the book’s back cover:

“What does the power of great art have to do with madness? Should psychedelic drugs make us doubt the evidence of our senses? How did power, sadism, and conformity turn education into mind control (not that we need either)? Can a rock band keep its identity as its members change? What can we learn from the synchronicities between The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz? Did Friedrich Nietzsche foreshadow Syd Barrett? When did you realize that you are the hole in reality? How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?

The existential, cinematic music of Pink Floyd made them one of the most influential and recognizable rock bands of all time. They didn’t do it by leaving their audiences comfortably numb, but by unsettling, disturbing, questioning, and criticizing.”

As I write this, it is one of those nights when from the sour warm depths of a spring evening, melancholy takes over; and after a while soaking in its darkness and stilling those questions, one begins to feel uncomfortably numb………

(Warning: Both videos have graphic content. And are very dark. Not for the faint-hearted. To be watched only during melancholic moods. And at night. Do not ruin your mornings by watching these….)

V

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For one of those nights when the shadows and voices of life and existence cannot remain still any longer – the movie The Wall is available here  (in parts) :

This Too Shall Pass….

Written in Woodstock, NY and Boston, MA. April 12, 2010. Abstract : The good thing about growing up and gaining experience through the years is that when either ecstasies or sorrows and pain get too overwhelming, we have the internal wisdom to know that ‘this too shall pass’ (or ‘gam zeh yaavor’ in the original hebrew)

FROM HIPSTERS TO HIPPIES: For the early part of last week, April 5th to be exact and two days before its record-breaking hottest day, I was in New York City but by mid-week left for a cabin in the Catskill Mountains near Woodstock to wind down. And pretty much lived off the grid till my return back to Boston. I will be writing a new post more on it some day. There are so many thoughts, so many reflections from what I saw in NYC. My hotel window 50 floors above at the Millennium Hilton directly looked over into the World Trade Centre construction site for the new Freedom Tower and adjoining buildings and it was an unbelievable sight – which evoked so many different emotions. The ‘whys’ that arise when you wonder how psychopaths can cause so much destruction knowingly in the name of fundamentalism.  The repercussions that followed with more deaths and more wars in the aftermath. And also, all the questionings that were evoked of injustice and the absence of ethics in certain other parts of the world too in some tribal communities near a bauxite mountain  when I recently heard an extremely heartfelt and tumultuous talk given by architect-turned-writer-turned-social-activist Arundhati Roy at Harvard for her book promotion.

I have seen both parts of those worlds, and many many other parts as well, in depth; in substance; in smells; in sweat; and in their sweetness and  their sadness. And the brutal truth is that in all the wars for religion, resources, ideologies, inequalities the ones who die are mostly the innocent….be it the children in a day-care in building 5 on the WTC site, or the everyday workers,  or the firemen on that fateful day. Or the soldiers and civilians who died during the war that followed. Or the journalists including the one who was beheaded. Or the people in certain unrelated tribal areas who are being killed and bulldozed off through twisted politics of industry and a greed for wealth for forcefully obtaining the raw resources the mountains in their rural land contain. It is always the innocents who suffer and die………

From here..

..and here…

To Here.

But I am here now, and a calm serenity has overcome every conflicted questioning of the early part of last week. I do not know if this is escapism, or treating yourself once in a while to utter, unadulterated calm and peace, but it certainly feels wonderful. And renewing.


lamb and daffodils

RANDOM THOUGHTS THAT PASS ON: The mountain air, far from the madding crowds, does something to clarify the signal to noise ratio in favour of the former. Perhaps somewhere, deep inside, rather than our analysing, questioning minds, our bodies ‘sense’ much better that the simple joys of life often arise from the simplest and most serene of little pleasures – a good cup of tea, a beautiful sunset, a little 400 square foot cabin, the warmth of a fireplace, the smells of the fresh earth of springtime, the chartreuse green of the new leaves, the skipping of a happy baby lamb full of joy to be born. (Just so you know I have never eaten lamb or veal or for that matter any baby animal in my life. There is something too unfair and macabre about that act. I also believe that any person who hugs a newborn lamb, or caresses the soft skin of a gentle calf or watches the toddling steps of a suckling pig will be unable to think of snuffing out its innocent life and letting that life end up as human poop.)

How much do we really need to be happy? How much is too much?  Where do we separate ‘need’ from ‘greed’? Where do you draw the line for personal ethics?

I do not want to end this on a sad note.  A man I had once met who had traveled around the world on returning back home to Canada had rightly observed : ‘We all have the right to feel sad at times, but we do not have the right to feel ungrateful.’ How true! I often wonder how some people squabble and fight over petty seemingly trite problems which seem so trivial in comparison to so many horrific problems and disasters that life could have thrown at us by accident, by luck or worse, through the intended malice of psychopaths – be they in the form of venomous and manipulative men and women, or larger organized death cults and clans. We have to learn to be careful – blindly forgiving psychopathic behaviour in some magical wistfulness of a misplaced naïveté of ‘eternal optimism’ is a sure way to self-immolation. But at the same time, we have to be objective about the degrees of ‘pain’ in the world and where our own ‘problems’ fit within it. Emotions are funny creatures. While poems are written about them, they after all are still a product of our thinking, of our hormones and enzymes and the neurotransmitters in our brains. But an act of consistent wisdom (as any person who laments how much better life can be viewed in 20/20 vision when you look back) would be to not let overwhelming emotions – especially if they are negative– dictate our actions. Actions that arise out of fear, anger, extreme sadness, wrath, malice, hatred, hurt are always counterproductive in the long run. We do not have to turn into consistently logical Mr. Spocks (nor his evil opposite which would be unfeeling empathy-devoid sociopaths) but knowing that overwhelming negative emotions can well become momentary time-bombs is an important step towards growth.

My mother had once written to me in a letter: “Constant pristine permanency is an impossible phenomenon. Happiness consists simply of a collection of sporadic beautiful tangible and intangible moments in life and in their experiences and memories. It is a state of mind and a choice dependent on our internal concept of our present being, not some external future elusive goal.” Or in other words, Happiness (at least if you are in a place or relation where you are not living under constant threats of being shot, killed, hacked or abused) is a state of mind dependent on our ways of perception and self-reflection as well as an acceptance of our present reality and not some ‘goal’ that can be obtained by chasing rainbows. The second method never works in the long term because when those who have that mindset once ‘reach’ something, they raise the bar and are on to chase the next elusive illusion that they think will ‘make’ them happy, and thus become eternal chasers, who miss the flowers to be smelled and noticed in daily life.

The ‘state of happiness’ in any case always evolves, always comes and goes and explodes or recedes through the day and years within a certain continuum or within a stable mid-point of equilibrium if one is mentally  healthy.

In the same token, all negative emotions also pass and it is even more important to remember that; and therefore not hurt others in that moment of wrath, weakness, sadness or anger. Justifying it later through rationalization and excuses does not work. Would the lasher do the same if the recipient of his wrath was standing before him holding a gun? I guess not. Except of course if the lives of his loved ones or children were at stake, he might have braved the gun. So I have observed in life that we (humans) victimize only those who we can. As horrific as it sounds it still is the truth in so many ways be it those civilians who were killed in war in far-off lands,  or the people who were murdered that day in September, abused lovers who receive rage-filled threats and rants in relations, or even those baby animals who are killed and cooked just when they have opened their eyes into life and do not know how cruel the world can be. It is always the innocent who are the real victims.

Like the change of seasons, a healthy mind knows the ephemeral nature of emotions. Some remain steady and stable and this requires practice – in fact it is worth stabilizing our feelings of love, compassion for the truly innocent, our integrity, courage and a quest for peace, truth and practicality without compromising objective ethics. For other feelings, especially the bad ones, it is important to remember that ‘they pass’ and to wait till the heat is over instead of burning those in its vicinity. There are no two ways about it. Like springtime renews the earth each year in northern climates, each season passes in the garden of our thoughts and either scorches or hardens or rather renews and rejuvenates. It is a way of life and the more we fight against the laws of nature, the more we stagnate, caught in the detritus of rotten leaves and cold snowstorms. There are those who cannot neurologically overcome sad and crazy thoughts and they are literally mentally ill, but for those who have the capacity to think, reflect and live in healthy ways, I honestly think it is ignorance, laziness, false pride, or a refusal to self-improve that holds them back from experiencing joy and love in the simplest things life has to offer. Or refuse to welcome ‘Springing’ back to life. And to love.

This is why I like that Hebrew saying : Gam Zeh Ya’avor or This Too Shall Pass. The phrase has featured in the fables of Krishna, of King Solomon and has been used by quite a few including Abraham Lincoln in an 1859 address:

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction! – A.L

Gam zeh yaavor. There is so much wisdom packaged in those three little words that even chunky books on psychotherapy and neuroscience aimed towards healing mechanisms in the brain would finally come to similar conclusions as the summary of their research, unless there is irreversible physiological damage. My great-grandfather had found that the Hebrew word for the ‘spring blossom of renewal’ was the same as the Pali (Buddhist) word for ‘the possessor of wise understanding.’ He always believed that it was no coincidence. That the one who has mastered the art of self-renewal and welcomes spring each year (or for that matter each day) of his life in fact understands and possesses true wisdom.

And as I recalled the gigantic construction site back in the crater that once held the twin towers and its surrounding buildings, and the thousands of workers who have found jobs in this economy as they rebuild once again the tall towers and its new gardens, I felt that in many ways that site represents renewal, regrowth and above all,  a most symbolic resilience  of the human spirit. (But then my neurotic mind wonders where the steel for the construction comes from? Could it be from the bauxite ore of a mountain far away – and a string of thoughts about another post germinates….)

So here’s something to celebrate Renewal and Passing. And just to see how great videos CAN still be made without CGI effects, here’s an absolutely brilliant, goofy and incredibly ingenious video made by the alternative rock group OK – go. In many ways, our lives are like dominoes too – one event leads to a chain of others and triggers many more within or without our control over them. We cannot undo the past. Or at times get out of a mess created through our own or someone else’s  accidental or deliberate mistakes. But what we can do is at least to have the wisdom to say ‘This Too Shall Pass.’

Is this a form of escapism? Could it be that confronted by the horrors of the world we fall into some self-preservation  mode and escape into music or ‘escape’ like the hippies in Woodstock or say ‘this too shall pass?’  Or one has to be always angry and angsty  like Arundhati Roy? Where is the middle ground? Where is it? I know where that point of balance and peace  is in my own mind- but I don’t see it out in the world……  And if this is a post on recovery from personal pain and not the pain-in- the-world, then for the former indeed ‘this too shall pass.’ For the  cycle of pain in the world – well, that’s another post. Another day….

Be sure to click on the ‘full screen’ button!

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