Tuesday, 17 October 2017

USA: promoter of entrepreneurial capitalism?

America: Imagine the World Without Her (2014, Documentary)
Director, Written: Dinesh D'Souza, John Sullivan

At a time in our country when leaders from the ruling party tell non-dominant races of the nation, the so-called 'newcomers', not to comment on the political running of the country but to just continue paying the tax without raising an eyebrow on the turn of events, I thought this documentary was an eye-opener.

Only in America an immigrant who still remembers his time in his original country and after 30 years of residence in his newfound country writes and makes documentaries about the greatness of his new home but condemns the opposition to the concept of America. He further goes to prison for hurting the people in power. This is Dinesh D'Souza, the filmmaker known for making political documentaries and of one of the highest grosser in the history of USA. His previous flick, 2016: Obama's America (produced 2012) remains the second highest grossing political documentary of all time after 'The Inconvenient Truth'.

Most non-Americans view the Democratic Party as the liberal party sympathetic to the plight of minority, immigrants and the economically challenged whereas the Republican portray a gung-ho nationalist group hellbent on allowing gun usage and spreading xenophobic attitudes. Unfortunately, life is not so simplistic. After all, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican when he fought for the abolition of slavery.

From the turn of the 20th century onwards, USA has always been painted as the good guys fighting for the greater good of things against the evil fascists and communists. When the Berlin Wall collapsed when everybody thought there would be peace on Earth, nothing like that happened. Instead, what we have is the tarnished image of the USA who is viewed as the epitome of everything evil, from being a theft of lands to the manipulator of world regimes among others.

D'Souza disagrees. He feels that America is the land of free where dreams come true. It allows individuals to write their own script of life, to live their dreams and be free. He gives himself as an example, becoming successful as a writer and a filmmaker, which he would have never dreamt of being if his parents had decided to stay back in India some 30 years previously.

He goes on to dispute many of the firmly held beliefs around the world. To conquer and dominate had been going in human history in time immemorial; the Huns, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Europeans, they all did it. Even before Columbus landed in the New World, various Native American tribes were already killing and displacing each other.

He takes the famous historian, Howard Zinn, someone often mentioned in the mainstream media and Hollywood, to the task. The Mexicans still long for the day when the part of Texas and California that they lost to the USA which they fondly named 'The Lost Providences' can be reclaimed. Surprisingly, no Mexicans who migrated to the USA wants to return, and more are yearning to leave Mexico for greener pastures. The 'Lost Providences' had undoubtedly prospered under America. Imagine what would have happened if they had still been under the mafia-controlling, corruption-plagued, unsafe Mexico.

CJ Walker 1867-1919
American first female self-made millionaire.
America promotes entrepreneurship. This virtue seems to be better than being a slave, a slave-owner or living life looting (off other people's hard-earned earnings). Slaves lack the motivation to progress in life as they see the future bleak. Their owners, on the other hand, become lazy and unimaginative.

D'Souza looks at the time when America had slaves as something which was the norm for that era. Many labour intensive industries all over the world relied on slaves and indentured labourers for survival. The only difference is that America fought a war to abolish it. In fact, in the 1800s, it is recorded that even freed black slaves (e.g. William Allison) became slave-owners themselves as it was lucrative. Then there was a Mdm CJ Walker who, through her own effort became a millionaire, a philanthropist and a political activist.

To the accusers of the USA being a conqueror of small nations and puppet master of corrupt regimes, he has this to say. America's brand of entrepreneurial capitalism creates wealth, not pilfering. Without US' creation of wealth, the world would be engaged in wars over wars as they had been doing all the time in the history of humanity.

The most scathing accusation that the author makes is in the radical stance of the Democratic Party. They appear to be liberal, but it is all a facade. He alleges Hillary Clinton to be influenced, in her formative years, by a communist sympathiser, Saul Alinsky. Alinsky drew his inspiration from the mobster Frank Netti and, believe it or not, Lucifer. He goes on to demonise Obama and denounce his plan to develop America as robbing from the US coffers to impoverish the country and destroy the fundamental of which the country was built.

This documentary was not received cordially by the media people. Many nasty reviews have been written. After all, the media is supposed to be liberal as the Democratic Party does make themselves to be, and D'Souza tries to dispute. 

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Fate or folly?

An Era of Darkness (The British Empire in India)
Shashi Tharoor, 2016.

We all have listened to Shashi Tharoor's fiery debate at the Oxford Union on the necessity of Britain to pay reparatory damages to India. It was easily the most verbose and well-argued rebuttal on the merits of colonisation of the East by the West by any scholar. The bombastic choice of words and poetic structure of sentences would make even an authority on the English language scurrying to the thesaurus. This book is a continuation and elaboration of his articulations in his argumentation.

India was doing quite alright even before the first white man reached its shores. At the beginning of the 18th century, India's was apparently the wealthiest nation in the world, controlling 23% of the world GDP. After the pillage of the country by Western powers, mainly the  British, in 1947, it became a poster child of poverty, misery and backwardness with 3% of the world GDP.

The British India Company was primarily a business entity out to make a kill. Its responsibility was to garner profits to its shareholders, later, the Government and Parliament. They would, in turn,  decide and enact laws which are best for Britain. Not for India. It was primarily, as it is now, a rule of, by and for a multinational company.

The British Revolution in India is built on the destruction of India's thriving business, of their self-serving social arrangement and their language. They not only extracted and taxed its citizens, but they also instigated them to fight each other. They made the differences among the country's inhabitants, which had been invisible all the while, pronounced and problematic to the changing world order. The invaders not only looted the word 'loot' from India but made a habit out of it, the famous one of which is the Kohinoor diamond which sits nicely on the British crown reminding every one of the Empire's not so glorious past.

Historians are baffled on how the number equivalent to the 0.05% of the country's population could control the remaining 99.95%. Is it the devotion of the few or the passivity of many that did the trick? Whatever happened to the might of the fierce Sikh warriors, the brave Marathi sorcerers, the fearless Moghul henchmen and the enterprising South Indians?

Nevertheless, the Indians did fight back through many of their leaders starting with what can be labelled as the 'First Indian War of Independence' in the form of 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. Somehow, being the master manipulators as they were, the British managed to 'divide and rule' (divide et impera). Indians were pitted against each other based religion, caste and origin. Fictitious 'Aryan Migration Theory' was created by their scholars to create division and animosity. British also imposed their assumptions and stereotyping of their subjects. In fact, Partition is one of their devious plans for the same.

For the Britons, they justified their entry to India as a service to humankind. They perceive themselves as bringing light to the dark; bringing civilisation to the ignorant subhuman natives.

As mentioned earlier, the Indians had been sustaining healthy industries which helped to spur development to the region adjacent to it. They had an advance shipping and ship-building industries. The local handloom fabric was of very high quality. The Indian even had an advanced steel industry. Their knowledge of metallurgy was exceptional. It seems, for the longest time, the Indians were the only ones in the world who could smelt zinc from ore. The British argue that these type of enterprises were heading for doom anyway as the world economy was changing and India would not be able to compete with the ever-changing world scenario. To this assertion, the author refers to the example of Japan. Left to its own devices, unconquered by any foreign powers, at the same era, was able to keep up with the change. Like Tharoor sarcastically sneers, "We missed the Industrial Revolution Bus because the British pushed us under its wheels!"

Scotland in the 19th century was almost a failed state. But thanks to their entrepreneurial interventions in India, they prospered as a nation. Many employees of the British East India Company and later of the Crown, built a fortune after their call of duty in India to retire in luxury and to climb the social class with their loot from India. One such prominent figure is Robert Clive who was an ordinary clerk who was pulled into the aristocratic circles with his ill-gotten gains.

The Brits assert that they were instrumental in unifying India as a nation. The author denies this fact. The precedent was already set in medieval times under Asoka, Gupta Dynasty, Adi Sankara and even in the famous tale of Mahabharata where India was already unified as a single entity. It was not a Western invention.

They say they brought law and order to a lawless country. The truth is far from it. The British not only left the country impoverished and disunited, but they were also the reason (some say from their instigation of the Muslim League) for the birth of an Islamic State called Pakistan and the mother of all civil Wars, Partition.

British's preferential treatment of the own citizens over the subjects of the Empire was instrumental in many of the famines that occurred in India during their occupation. 30 to 35 million farmers starved to death due to their negligence. Forced migration either as indentured labours, convicts or for economic reasons helped spread the diaspora to shores halfway across the globe to places like Straits Settlement, Fiji, Mauritius and even the Caribbean Islands.

Anglophiles often hail their colonial masters for introducing English to India. The status of language as a lingua franca in fields of academia, commerce and internet certainly helped Indians to be marketable in the workforce. Detractors would argue that the use of English in the modern world is due to the advancement of many fields by Americans, not British. Anglophobes would also say that Nalanda is an apt example of how advanced the Indian scholastic studies were, even long before British entry into the Bharat.

The railway system is often hailed as the colonial's success story. The real reason for getting the railway line going is to extract India of its resources, not to connect people from the remotest of the sub-continent. The laying of tracks, coaches and the maintenance all benefitted the British companies. The passenger tickets were not subsided.

The Brits left the Indians the tea-drinking habit. Again, this commodity, tea, was another of the imperialist's proof of entrepreneurship. For centuries, the Chinese traded tea from the southern seaport town of Canton. In the local Cantonese dialect, tea was referred to as 'cha'. Hence the name 'chai' or 'chaya' in most Indian languages except maybe Tamil. In English, however, it is called tea. It seems that the British, in wanting to save on importing Chinese tea, sourced (smuggled) tea shoots from Amoy in China. They intended to grow tea in Assam. The endeavour failed miserably. They soon discovered a variant of tea grew in Assam (black tea). It grew well, and soon it was sold to Europe. In Amoy, the name for tea sounded like 'tea'; that would explain the name.

Another legacy left behind by the colonial masters is cricket. A land divided by caste, creed, colour, culture, cuisine, custom and costume is united (at least) by cricket. What started for the Indians as means to step up the ladder of social status and the power elites of the Raj, the Indian team has had the pleasure of many victories over their former masters.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Vedantic wisdom has no boundaries!

Indian Deities Worshipped in Japan (Documentary; 2015)
Director: Benoy K Behl

If we look around us, we will find an unsatiable attempt to divide and sub-divide people. Human beings are often 'boxed-up' to be made seem different. Individuals placed in these 'boxes' feel exclusivity, and members of this association do things that convince themselves that they are indeed unique and their activities are centred around trying to satisfy their internal quagmire. Unfortunately, it does not lead to world peace as nobody wants to neglect their belief to bow to others' domination. Cognitive dissonance comes in the way. Everybody else can see the world tear apart except themselves. Paradoxically, all claim to descend in peace.

The Greeks with their Platonic and Aristotelian teachings,  Hindus with their Vedantic leanings and many of the ancient belief systems must have got it right all along. They endeavoured to connect the dots and try to find commonalities between ideologies to attempt to answer the mysterious meaning of the journey of life. Sadly, believers with self-interest have hijacked the whole exercise for their political power. Now we are just like like corn seeds popping out of the hot pan.
Japanese equivalent of Saraswati, Benzaiten

On the other hand, however, attempts are made to find similarities between cultures from different parts of the world. Modi's recent visit to Israel paved a path towards this end. The Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India produced this short film to find common grounds between the Japanese and Hindu practices, from the religious aspect.

This documentary was nominated at 2016 Milan International Film Festival for Best Short Documentary.

Just like how one can make out the veiled similarities between the three female Hindu deities of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati with the Arabian pagan deities of Al-Uzza, Manat and Al-Lat respectively, many Japanese deities bear an uncanny resemblance to the Hindu gods.

More than a thousand shrines had been built over the years to honour Benzaiten who mirrors Goddess Saraswati with Veena, lotus and water motifs. Benzaiten holds a traditional Japanese lute, biwa, instead. She is portrayed in two form; one with eight arms, each carrying various paraphernalia and the other with two. She is an essential feature of Japanese culture denoting things that flow like water, time, words, speech, eloquence, music and by extension, knowledge. Her temples usually have flowing water as a theme, probably referring to the river in India where human civilisation is supposed to have started.
Benzaiten (Sarasvati), Kangiten(Ganesha) and Bishamonten (Kubera)

More forgotten Hindu deities like Kubera, Varuna, Vayu and Surya are preserved here. Kaali, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Shiva and many more are nipponised. Many ancient 6th century Sanskrit scripts are used in many rituals and recitals. Specific obviously Hindu practices like fire sacrifice (havan or homam) must have got its root from Buddhist priests who were explicitly invited from India who also made a stopover at the Champa kingdom in Indochina.

The wisdom from these ancient Vedantic traditions has seeped so much into the practices of the Land of the Rising Sun that it has become sine none qua with everything Japanese culture, Shinto and  Mahayana Buddhism. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Just fear fear itself!

It: Chapter 1 (2017)

Coulrophobia is a psychological condition when its sufferer feels a morbid fear of clowns. Funny it may sound as clowns are generally employed to liven up an event, a child's birthday or as a filler between circus performances. Furthermore, as the general statement goes, come sun or rain, the show must go on. Movie buffs will quickly remember Raj Kapoor's 'Mera Naam Joker' (My name is Joker) where the clown has to make his audience laugh even though he was crying and dying inside. Sivaji Ganesan also did a similar rendition in 'Rajapath Rangadurai' in the song 'Jinjunaka' where he, dressed as a clown, had to entertain a rowdy despite his bleeding heart.

There is a logical explanation to coulrophobia. Clowns are accepted in certain places, parties, circus etcetera. He elevates the mood. However, outside this ambit, people are supposed to behave appropriately. Humans, as survival defence mechanism, have developed pattern recognition. They become wary when a person smiles for no reason (like clowns often do). They form an innate fear of harm when encountered in such a situation. Hence, the underlying phobia.

I do not fancy horror movies. In fact, I have not read any of Stephen King's novels. This story was written by him. The reason is simple. After growing up beside a Chinese cemetery, having witnessed aftermaths of jumpers from the top floors of the seventeen storeyed flats and regularly spending many good hours under the shade of an Angsana tree in the heart of Batu Gantong cemetery, my sisters and I decided that believing in ghosts is all hocus-pocus. It is all just a figment of our imaginations. We saw not a single apparition in our twelve years of sojourn there. Like the message that goes towards the end of the movie, it is clear. The only thing in life we have to fear is fear itself. A frightened person will even be apprehensive of his shadows.

This 2017 story reminds its viewer very much of the 80s Spielberg movie, 'Goonies' as it was also set in the 80s, a coming-of-age story involving a gang of cycling losers and their adventures outside schooling hours. The layout, however, is much darker, with plenty of blood splattering, sheer savagery and brutal violence not excepted from young teenage children. The sexual connotations are not mere innuendos but real in-your-face long French kisses and incestuous dialogues.

The story goes about a clown who appears once every 27 years to create mayhem in another town and disappear a year later. One of the protagonist's brother was pulled in the drain during a rainy day. Thinking that the boy might still be alive, he embarks on a heart-stopping, stomach-churning experience to get to the root of the matter and literally squash the clown to smithereens.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Scepticism keeps us going!

Memories of Murder (2003)

We look at things around us, and we get awed. We observe, scrutinise, see a pattern, try to connect the dots and suddenly be cocksure about something. We brag and gloat that we have cracked it like we had unveiled the secrets of the Universe. Then it would hit you right smack in your face - that something did not turn out as we thought it would. We are shocked. We deny it. Cognitive dissonance would set in. Our ego would not accept our failure. We would blame error in experimentation, that somebody had slept on the job, that it just cannot be.

What we do next may make or break our civilisation. We can just deny that the whole thing did not happen and move on with life, content with our prior knowledge. We can tell ourselves that we have learnt everything already and that there is nothing more to earn. Or be a sceptic and retrace our every step and try to outline where and when and how things can go wrong. The former is the easy way out that maintains status quo and maintains the hierarchy while the latter is more problematic. Paradoxically, scepticism, rethinking and re-questioning are the very qualities that keep our civilisation propelling forward. Lose that, and we will be extinct.

The Koreans have leapt forward in many fields, science, technology, medicine, economy and of course the art form. Besides providing Psy, boy bands and soap dramas to the world, the film industry is a force to reckon. This film is praised for its storyline, particularly the climax. It is based on the series of unresolved murders that happened in South Korea between 1986 and 1991. It narrates the escapades of two regular detectives and a newly transferred one from the big city, in 1985, who desperately try to solve three murders involving young girls. They see a pattern in the crimes; the victims are females, all wear red, that the event happens on a rainy day and is preceded by a particular song requested on the radio. They come so close to solving the case until a vital clue comes against their suspicion. It happens repeated until they had to close the case.

How the man look? Just ordinary!
18 years later, after they had left the service and lead their own lives, the memories of this unsolved murder stays in their mind. The main character, as he is passing through the crime scene one day, decides to stop to have a look. As he is scrutinising the area and the avalanche of recollection about the death come pouring in, a young passerby asks him about his activity. He tells her that he is looking at something that he was working on many years previously. The bewildered girl replies that another man was doing the same thing just a few days before that. The puzzled ex-detective asks her to describe the man. The answers that she gives only brought him back to the memory his detective days, "Oh, just an ordinary looking man!"

The detective must be telling himself,  anyone can commit murder. He does not have a different identifying look. Evil resides in all of us. When our shields are down, when the time is ripe and at the spur of the moment, humanity fails, and darkness prevails.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Life is not so simple, or is it?

© Asleep at the Wheel, New Yorker cover by Frank Viva
We think that we do not have self-driving cars because the technology is not perfect. Furthermore, we heard of Uber experimental driver-less car crashing. Hence, the whole exercise had been put into cold storage.

Jack Ma, in one of his interviews, was quoted as saying that we should wait for a perfect system before introducing it for human consumption. He suggests that we should present it anyway and make changes as we go on, as we encounter obstacles and bumps. I think that is a businessman talking. Capital ventures usually sell an idea, get everybody excited, convince them that it is the best thing since Adam, create an illusion of demand, make loads of money starting the venture, selling the business, going for a kill and split the scene to begin another venture somewhere else.

The idealist would, however, ponder and yonder till the cows come home. Nothing new would see living daylight. Every endeavour would fizzle out as unremarkable as it started.

Another discussion that I heard recently on the use of a driverless car is the moral dilemma. It is dandy that the vehicle can be navigated from point A to point B. Now, along with the way, there can be many unforeseen circumstances. It could be one that had not been programmed with the machine's algorithm. A split second decision may need to be made. The car may need to decide between crashing into a crowd or hitting the pavement. But wait! Hitting the sidewalk or the tree may endanger the passenger. The question arises whether the maker of the car should give importance to its client or to the vagabond slouched by the roadside. How is the software going to know the identity of the potential accident victim if not for facial recognition and access to his bank account and social background? Oh no, does that mean some lives are more worth saving than others? Does owning a self-driving car make you more valuable than the man on the street? And all this in a fraction of a second!

Anyway, human beings are not the best of moral agents especially when it is their lives, or their loved ones are involved. Social class, race, religion and self-interest may cloud their judgement. Are machines going to be any better as they would be programmed by us anyway?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Rebirth to resume unfinished business?

Dora (Tamil, 2017)

Most Hindus believe that our physical bodies are just vessels for the Atma (soul). The Atma is eternal. It moves from births to births to finish unfinished business and to re-pay unsettled dues. Everything happens for a reason, and the reason is this. Nothing happens by mere chance or at random for nothing. Every flutter of a butterfly wing and every whiff of the wind that regenerates takes place in a pre-determined fashion. But then that would nullify the role of free will in deciding the course of our lives or it our free will also pre-determined. I think Avicenna incurred the ire of his contemporaries when he posited that God is too great to be worried about the nitty-gritty details of things that happen but decides on things seen at a higher level.

This must be the basis of this movie. The soul of a dog (Dora) goes into a car to avenge the death of its owner. Nayanthara is the kick-ass protagonist which unknowingly becomes the owner of a second-hand car which becomes alive with her touch. Nayanthara (as Pavalakodi) is the recipient of the dog owner's heart (heart transplantation).

The story seems far out. A self-thinking car with the ability to self-drive and auto repair itself, including re-materialising broken windscreen and headlamps in a jiffy is laughable. The story is predictable. It seems that nowadays, abusing parents and ridiculing them constitutes comedy. 2/5.

USA: promoter of entrepreneurial capitalism?

America: Imagine the World Without Her (2014, Documentary) Director, Written: Dinesh D'Souza, John Sullivan At a time in our co...