Empress Ki: Character Analysis- III

While Empress Ki lays emphasis on the journey that Seung-nyang takes and the success milestones she achieves as a woman in a man’s world, in my opinion, the soul of this series was the story of emperor Ta Hwan

Of the journey he takes from being the imbecile, incompetent crown prince who lacks meaning and purpose and is incapable of standing up for himself or for his people, to being the people’s emperor and a survivor.

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Ta Hwan is quite unlike Seung-nyang or Wang Yoo. He is naive and has always been shielded from the ground realities of the world. He is emotionally close to his father and has lived a life of luxury, without any accountability. He has not had to build his life or earn his privilege, and this makes him a person who lacks survival skills. The death of his father and Ta Hwan’s subsequent exile is probably the first setback in his life. As an individual who has never learnt to swim and is abruptly thrown into sea, he does not know how to save himself. He gives in to the only emotion he feels at this point- fear:

He is unable to move beyond the fear.

It is at this juncture that he meets Seung-nyang. Though they are quite unlike each other, they grow fond of each other. Ta Hwan has no ambition or goals; the privilege he has always enjoyed causes him to lose value for positions of power. Instead, all he desires is for his life to be spared so that he can live his life and savor the world. He does not realize that life in itself is a privilege, and has to be earned. He does not realize that there are obstacles and challenges that one has to overcome in order to be worthy of life. His personality is that of a child, naive to the ways of the world and to the hardships of life. However, there is a fundamental goodness in his character that enables him to love people. Though he has always led a privileged life and he expects to be cared for, he also demonstrates the ability to acknowledge his shortcomings. He is so true to himself and so true to his love for people that despite the privileged life he has led, he is able to find it in him to be guided, led, and advised by the people he loves. He does not see himself as above people; he genuinely loves them and is receptive to them. He respects their feelings and their perspectives.

What I found valuable in Ta Hwan was his life force. Ta Hwan belonged to the natural world governed by the automatic force of life; the world created by human beings was alien to him. For him, love, peace, companionship, and the savoring of experiences were of value. He could not understand ambition, vengeance, and people’s desire for power and money. He could not understand systems and the unnatural behavior they demanded. He could only understand the journey guided by the spontaneous flow of one’s raw emotions. He could not understand how it was possible for someone to not see the worth in the love that came their way and be capable of disregarding it.

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It is perhaps his inherent goodness that enables Seung-nyang to grow fond of him. Ta Hwan clings like a child to her. Seung-nyang’s companionship comforts him in his confused loneliness. Her courage, confidence and independence provide a protective framework that soothe his anxiety and fears, and he allows himself to be guided by her. He is trusting of her, and follows her lead.

Her companionship does wonders to him. It motivates him to go against himself and rise above his fears and limitations. Ta Hwan’s openness to experience comes in useful as he strives to survive. Unlike Wang Yoo, he does not live by a rule book, and in the protective framework that Seung-nyang provides, he drives himself to accomplish what he imagined he was never capable of. He finds himself taking risks and demonstrates moments of intense courage and strength. He surprises himself and this helps him gain confidence.

In the cocoon that Seung-nyang weaves for him, Ta Hwan finds the inspiration and motivation to metamorphose from being a caterpillar to a butterfly. However, he does not accomplish this instantaneously. As with any creation, he breaks and then reinvents himself persistently. Initially, his vulnerability dominates, interrupted by brief displays of courage and strength. However, as time goes by, his decisions and actions demonstrate more conviction and strength, though he continues to slip back to vulnerability and weakness. However, he finally moulds himself into the emperor who has found a firm footing. As he finds meaning and purpose, his vulnerability settles. It becomes more tempered, more mature, more resilient. It loses its threat and its ability to self-destruct.

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Seung-nyang becomes such a powerful force in Ta Hwan’s making that he begins to derive meaning from her companionship. He finds the purpose of his life in her companionship.

To the casual observer, Ta Hwan’s love for Seung-nyang may come across as desperate, needy, inconsiderate, and chaotic. But in truth, it is pure, unshakable, profound, and alive.

Ta Hwan is unapologetic in his expression for he believes in the truth in his emotions. He is therefore unapologetic in the expression of his love for Seung-nyang. He does not hesitate exposing his desperation and vulnerability to her. He is blatantly honest about his feelings, and unabashed in the expression of his love.

Ta Hwan connects to Seung-nyang at multiple levels. They are complementary to each other. Ta Hwan is creative, versatile, spontaneous and expressive. Ta Hwan’s ability to savor the world and his ability to offer diversity and texture to their relationship, drive the evolution of the relationship into an intense and highly aesthetic relationship. There is a certain freshness about his character; it is this freshness that he infuses into their relationship. He never loses the ability to surprise and re-imagine life. There is more life in their relationship than in Seung-nyang’s relationship with Wang Yoo. However, Seung-nyang chooses to disregard the truth in her relationship with Ta Hwan.

Ta Hwan goes to great lengths to win her heart. He finds it in him to sacrifice everything that it takes to keep her companionship. He finds it in him to embrace her journey and her goals as his own. He empowers himself by educating himself and by taking an interest in the political affairs of the empire. From a passive individual, he transforms into an active individual who is able to execute his power and rise above the opposition. He understands that in order to win Seung-nyang’s love, he has to be worthy of her. Though he does not value power, he understands that unless he empowers himself, he cannot offer her protection and help her fulfill her purpose. He risks his own life in order to save her. His efforts and sacrifices become hard to ignore and though Seung-nyang’s mindset does not allow her to acknowledge the truth in their relationship, she cannot help opening her eyes to his conviction. She finds it in her to be by his side and instill strength and confidence in him.

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As opposed to Seung-nyang, Ta Hwan experiences more fulfilment. He comes across as a more healthy personality. Though he takes the journey to strength and resilience, he retains his ability to feel. He does not lose his inner child– his ability to savor the simple joys in life. He continues to be unapologetic about his emotions and demonstrates the ability to accept his sadness, as long as Seung-nyang is by his side. He is grateful more than he is sad, and he is able to find his happiness in whatever form of companionship she is able to offer him. In truth, the story is more about the making of emperor Ta Hwan, than the making of empress Ki.

The most important question this series helps us dwell upon is in the context of our relationships. It prompts us to take a journey into our own personal relationships and question the truth in the love in them. What did we sacrifice for the other person? What did the other person sacrifice for us? These are key questions that we must ask of ourselves in the context of relationships.

Empress Ki: Character Analysis-II

Empress Ki is a historical fiction that weaves its plot around the dynamics of power and the pursuit of power. On this fabric, it weaves stories of war and peace, of victory and failure, of love and spite, of  strength and weakness of human character, of motivation and resilience. The story is a powerful reminder of the universality of the human drama- across time, across space. With the passage of time, organizational politics may have replaced court politics, slavery and war may have attained newer guises and versions, but the core fabric of the human drama remains unchanged.

Empress Ki is the story of a land and its people, narrated through the inspiring journey of a young Korean girl Seung-nyang who is sent as a tribute woman to the Yuan empire, but who later goes on to become the empress of the Yuan empire. It is through Seung-nyang’s story that history chooses to speak of the barbaric laws and policies of a dynasty that takes pride in its imperial power, but is inconsiderate of human suffering. In the words of Tal Tal:

“The imperial palace is a place where grandeur and death co-exist.”

The series launches itself with its most significant milestone- the coronation of consort Ki (Seung-nyang) to empress Ki. The viewer is introduced to both the men in Seung-nyang’s life. As they briefly share the frame, the sharp contrast in their personalities is evident in their short discourse. Emperor Ta Hwan (Ji Chang-wook) momentarily exposes his emotional lability as he assertively declares his ownership of Seung-nyang. There is anguish in his eyes and they well up with tears as he momentarily dwells on the truth that he has not won her heart in totality. But he does not give up and he holds his ground.

Wang Yoo, the king of Goryeo, in contrast, is composed and does not allow his vulnerability to surface. He is a man of few words and grieves the loss of his love in private. He demonstrates the strength to carry grief in his heart and to refrain from rebellion or aggression.

However, it was Ta Hwan’s character that was unique and that breathed life into the series.

Ta Hwan’s character was perhaps the most emotionally demanding character in the series, but Ji Chang-wook delivers it with such perfection that the viewer finds himself intrigued by the character. Ta Hwan’s character embodies life. He is driven by spontaneity, impulsivity, volatility, and deep engagement with his environment. There is an unconscious element to his character; he does not make any attempt to inhibit the spontaneous expression of his emotional flow. Life flows out of him, unbridled. He switches unpredictably between happiness and sadness, between vulnerability and strength. It is impossible to enact such a character who is purely driven by a mind that is as unconditioned and naive as that of a child, unless one feels and lives the character. Ji Chang-wook lives the character and almost conceals the complexity that the character demands. As he switches rapidly between emotions and moods, there is not the slightest hint of a conscious effort. Ta Hwan’s character creates in the viewer the hunger to explore and study him. This would not have been possible without Ji Chang-wook’s flawless embodiment of the character. He sets a reference as an actor; the series owes a large part of its success to the life that Ji Chang-wook breathed into a complex and challenging character to make it believable and real.


For me, this series boiled down to a study of three charactersTa Hwan, Seung-nyang, and Wang Yoo. It boils down to what motivated them, why they were different in their motivations, and how these differences shaped their personalities and governed their decisions.

While the plot was centered on Seung-nyang’s journey, her personality is fairly straight-forward. Seung-nyang’s life is a journey of losses; she loses at different phases of her life the people who are most valuable to her. Seung-nyang’s childhood is uprooted as she and her mother who belong to Goryeo, are sent as tribute women to the Yuan empire. Seung-nyang loses her mother to this journey as General Dang Gise from the Yuan empire shoots the women who make an attempt to escape. At that tender age, she becomes aware of the powerlessness of her country and of its inability to protect its people. She also understands the disadvantage of being a woman in a country that cannot protect its people. As her mother dies, Seung-nyang finds herself all alone in a cruel and insensitive world, and her choices are limited. She chooses to beat all the odds and survive. At an early age, she learns that money has the ability to buy power; she understands that money can help one find their way through the rigidity and hierarchy of a system, and exert control on people and systems.

Seung-nyang resorts to extreme measures to beat the system. She dons the guise of a boy. She empowers herself by mastering all the skills that she deems necessary to climb the ladder and make it to the top. She excels at archery and at martial arts. She spends the early years of her life as the leader of a thug gang that has significant power in the province and uses the money earned to rescue women who have been sent as tribute women to the Yuan empire. Early in life, she finds meaning and purpose in a cause. She is independent and self-reliant, and she invests her time to study the loopholes in the system that can serve as her rungs to power. She learns to carefully observe and strategically plan her moves in her fight against powerful opponents.

Seung-nyang evolves into a woman who is not particularly motivated by love and relationships; her primary motivation comes from her need to bring back power to her country and its people. As a woman who has been exposed to adversity early in life, Seung-nyang adapts well to the changing circumstances in her life. She refuses to give up and her goal is to overpower adversity and emerge stronger in every circumstance.


Loss shapes Seung-nyang’s journey at every phase of her life. Her childhood is shaped by the loss of her mother. Her youth continues to be turbulent. She discovers her father, only to lose him to death. Subsequently, she loses the only companion she has allowed into her life and the only man she has loved without any conflict- Wang Yoo, the king of Goryeo. Her ultimate loss is marked by the loss of her baby. Life is cruel to Seung-nyang and at every phase, it puts to test her ability to survive the odds.

With each person that she loses, Seung-nyang reinvents herself into a person who is hard to break, but she does this at the expense of her vulnerability. She trades her emotional warmth for her strength and resilience. The Seung-nyang who meets the Yuan prince in exile is courageous and self-reliant, but she hasn’t lost her warmth and her inner child. She finds it in her to be a warm companion to the emotionally demanding prince and to accommodate his weakness and his spontaneity. She retains the ability to savor experiences. However, the Seung-nyang who eventually marries the emperor is cold and has lost her inner child. Though she appreciates the emperor’s efforts to protect her and to be an emperor for the cause of the people, she is unable to summon any warmth in her relationship with the emperor.

Seung-nyang finds in Wang Yoo a companion who shares with her a common goal. They are both driven by their loyalty to their homeland of Goryeo and by the need to reclaim the power that they have lost as a nation to the Yuan empire. Wang Yoo is shaped by the sense of powerlessness he has always experienced, despite being the king of Goryeo. His self-esteem is constantly suffering because of his inability to protect his people. This motivates him to study the forces that govern the power equation and wait for his opportunity patiently. Also, Wang Yoo is the first potential companion that Seung-nyang meets. These factors enable her to love him without any conflict.

However, the interpretation of her relationship with Ta Hwan is challenging. Though she first meets Ta Hwan under extraordinary circumstances where she plays subordinate to him on the orders of Wang Yoo and in the interest of her home country, the dynamics of their association leads to a warm companionship. The nature of their relationship is so spontaneous and natural that one does not question it. Also, the fact that she is disguised as a man, saves them from complicating their companionship and questioning the underlying emotion. From an initial contempt for his dependence and cowardice, she slowly grows fond of him. The awareness that he is incapable of taking care of himself and protecting himself, causes her to feel genuinely concerned for his well-being. She goes beyond what her duty demands, and chooses to be kind and caring towards him, and shields him from the negative forces and dangers that surround him. There is a parent in her that desires to be by his side. She perhaps relates to the vulnerability in him that the loss of his father has exposed, and she empathizes with him. She chooses to reject Wang Yoo’s offer when both the men command her to join them on their horses, and she rides back with Ta Hwan instead. This is perhaps because she is aware that her rejection will hurt Ta Hwan while Wang Yoo would be able to deal with her rejection. When Ta Hwan is eventually handed over to the Yuan officials, she continues to feel anxious about his safety, unlike Wang Yoo who does not care about Ta Hwan.

At no point in the series does Seung-nyang demonstrate a romantic inclination towards Ta Hwan. Though Wang Yoo is her first love and the only love that she acknowledges, the viewer cannot help but compare the two relationships.

To the viewer, the relationship between Seung-nyang and Ta Hwan is far more aesthetic, dynamic, and attractive, as opposed to her relationship with Wang Yoo. Wang Yoo’s personality brings out only certain aspects of Seung-nyang’s personality. On the contrary, Ta Hwan’s versatility and spontaneity bring to surface multiple aspects of her personality– her inner child that is capable of mischief, humour, and adventure; her nurturing self; her potential to evolve to a superior version of herself. While fiercely possessive of her, he is willing to go against himself to allow her to unfold to her fullest. Ta Hwan is only fearful of losing Seung-nyang; he is not fearful of the different facets of her personality. He demonstrates the ability to absorb and celebrate every aspect of her personality. However, this entire aspect of their relationship is lost on Seung-nyang.

The viewer cannot but help wonder if Seung-nyang would be happier if she had married Wang Yoo. Would he have valued her and cherished her as much as Ta Hwan did? Would he have valued his kingdom over and above their relationship? Would Seung-nyang feel restricted as time went by, given her potential to grow, and given Wang Yoo’s disciplined approach to life? We shall never know. These are the questions that haunt us in our real lives, the answers to which we may perhaps never know.

The other question that is raised is whether Seung-nyang would acknowledge her relationship with Ta Hwan if he had not been responsible for her father’s death. Is it only this event that causes her to permanently reject Ta Hwan’s affection for her? It is hard to imagine what her perspective may have been in the absence of this event.


Finally, did Seung-nyang choose the right path? Was she right in her fight for her people and her vengeance? While it is not difficult to empathize with Seung-nyang’s journey and understand where she is coming from, she has also lost a precious part of her personality in her fight- the part that is capable of feeling. She ends up as an individual who has lost her inner child and her ability to feel. It is only the victory in her pursuit for power and in having avenged her father’s death that she is left with. The mother in her is also motivated by her child. However, she loses the ability to be happy and to enjoy the simple things in life. One can’t help comparing this to high performers in this era who are aggressive in the pursuit of success and who do not realize what they are losing in the process.

At the end, is it worth it?


Empress Ki: Character Analysis- I

I was disappointed to know that the series Empress Ki was largely fiction. The plot was so intriguing and believable, and the characters demonstrated such conviction that it was impossible to believe that most of it was fiction.

While it has always been a matter of debate as to whether artists can take the creative liberty to distort history, my take on it is that they can. Artists may not be true to historical facts, but they are true to their inspiration, and this inspiration drives their conception of a character. They are guided by this inspiration in imagining how a character must act in a specific situation. In Anjum Rajabali’s words:

“You can’t distort history, but you can re-imagine it.”

Just as life reinvents and re-imagines itself with the passage of time, characters are re-imagined in the minds of artists, while retaining their essence.

Wasn’t it also the case with books like Lust for life that were categorized as historical fiction? In one of his interviews, Irwing Stone educates us on the creative process and describes how he went about recreating Vincent van Gogh’s life in his book. Out of the blue comes an experience, and the artist finds himself jolted. Within his mind is ignited the creative spark. In Stone’s case, the very first exposure to van Gogh’s paintings had an emotional impact on him; the organic nature of the paintings grew on him and refused to leave. He felt this intense desire to know the human being who had churned out life in his paintings. The artist then develops an obsession for the phenomenon. The obsession drives the artist to repeatedly savor the experience and research on it. The artist finds himself deeply engaged with the phenomenon; he becomes one with the experience. In Stone’s words, the artist begins to ‘live the character from the inside‘. He emphasizes:

I don’t stop researching on the character until I have gone out of my own skin and my own heart and my own mind and become the character.

The sort of focus, attention, and concentration that such engagement brings is extraordinarily intense. Irwing Stone had researched on Vincent van Gogh to the point that he could almost imagine how Vincent would act in different situations. He could almost get into his mind and read his thoughts, his perceptions, his impressions of the world. This is how he created Lust for Life.

I could relate to this because it is this very obsession that has triggered this review. I find myself constantly fascinated by people and their creations, and I am either reviewing works of art or reviewing extraordinary minds. Eventually, everything boils down to this obsession I have for what motivates people and why they behave the way they do. My review may not be accurate, but I remain true to my inspiration.

In the context of reading, Stone states that reading is born out of a deep inclination to know the world in which you live, to get an insight into the different types of people there are in this world, and most importantly, to get an insight into one’s own self. It is for this reason that I read and it is for this reason that I watch movies. It is for this reason that I write. The most important motivation for me is to illuminate those aspects of my own mind that remain a stranger to me. It is this journey that fascinates me the most- the journey into myself. Empress Ki was no exception. It helped me understand the forces that govern the world. It helped me understand the different types of people there are. But most importantly, through the character of Ta Hwan, it illuminated significant aspects of my own personality.


Assisting the Life Force

I had the good fortune to watch Honeyland– a documentary that narrates the story of Hatidze– a woman of Turkish descent, rich in her poverty, untouched by the currents of capitalism that are only capable of uprooting and destroying the very fabric of life.

Hatidze is rooted in the natural world. She is the last of the traditional keepers of wild bees in the region, and is deeply engaged with her craft. Hatidze’s persona and the integrity of her world are at the heart of this documentary.

Hatidze finds meaning and purpose in her craft; it is more than a livelihood to her. Hatidze invests love and labour into her craft; the outcomes are driven by these investments that work in collaboration with the forces of nature. Hatidze’s life is uncelebrated, but she is not driven by the need to prove her worth to the world. Her world is solitary and private, nurtured by the forces of nature.

Hatidze is nurturing. She is not rushed by greed or desperation; she pauses to observe and study the life forces that surround her. It is this aspect of her persona that enables her to effortlessly integrate into the scheme of her environment. Her relationship with the wild bees is born out of such careful, empathetic understanding.

It is when you pause without the urge to intervene, lending your senses to the environment, that the environment speaks to you.

Unless you learn the art of being a nobody, the universe will never lend itself to you. You will always be a stranger to its secrets, to its miracles. 

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It is this quality in Hatidze that enables her to be silently aware of the life forces within her and around her. It is such awareness born out of an empathetic understanding that creates a win-win outcome for nature and for man. The sustainability of every craft is significantly dependent on the nurturing of the life forces of the ecosystem.

Hatidze’s life is a visual narrative that illuminates the active participation of the environment in outcomes to human intervention. This documentary causes us to reflect on our acts in the light of such engagement. It raises the most important question there is to ask-

Are we assisting the life force or interfering with it?


 

Life is an automaton

Studying Medicine increased my reverence for life. However, when I practiced Medicine, I believed that as doctors, we significantly altered the outcomes of the lives we healed. I believed that human intentionality was the sole force at play in this act of healing. It was only when I specialized in Physiology that this belief underwent a transformation. Arthur C Guyton taught me my first lesson in Physiology (the most important lesson there is to learn)-

Life is an automaton.

Today, this is my opening statement to every new batch of students in Physiology:

Even as you listen to me speak, you don’t stop breathing. Your heart continues to beat. Everything that is needed to keep you alive, continues to operate automatically and silently, without demanding your attention. There is nothing that you need to consciously switch on. Imagine if it were not so!

Life is an automaton. There are automatic forces that are constantly at play to keep you alive, to save you when there is a threat to your life. Physiology is the study of these automatic forces at work.

I go by Guyton’s words- Who can be more fortunate that the one who studies life? What can be more fascinating, than to study what keeps us alive? To have the opportunity to study Physiology, was to get a glimpse of the miracles within our own bodies, our own minds. It is this science whose art teaches us the intricate relationship between life and its environment. It is here that I witnessed the collaborative forces that keep us alive.

When a medical student steps out into the world, it is this understanding that teaches him to question every decision that he makes for his patient, and to ask himself-

Am I assisting, or am I interfering with the automaton that is life?

It is only then that he will be able to see his patients as feeling, suffering human beings within whom throbs the miracle of life. Only then will he see the force of life that works relentlessly until the last breath, in an attempt to restore harmony, to restore balance, to conserve.

Here lies the wisdom of the modern version of the Hippocratic oath:

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required, avoiding those twin traps of over-treatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

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The doctor and the farmer

The doctor and the farmer have one thing in common- they both encourage the life force.

The farmer works in conjunction with nature to assist the forces that are constantly at work to help nature evolve to her highest aesthetic potential. In doing so, there are long-term rewards– for man, and for nature. The farmer intervenes by irrigating, weeding, digging, tilling, applying manure- all his acts are nurturing.

Study: Organic Farming Is More Profitable Than Conventional ...

Principle of health: Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible. The health of individuals and communities cannot be separated from the health of ecosystems.

organic farming practices

A doctor does the same. The principle of every therapy is to nurture- to set right the environment that is disturbed by disease. A doctor recognizes the intricate relationship between the living cells and their environment. He addresses the root of the disease and drives healing by assisting, and not by interfering.


 

Parenting in India: Assisting or Interfering?

Parents often fail to recognize that some of their acts are in truth, interfering with the spontaneous development of their children into happy adults who are in harmony with their internal selves and with their environment. Parents often end up ignoring their children’s creative instincts and underestimating their inherent potential for survival and sustenance. Parents end up being controlling, rather than nurturing. They end up moulding their children into stunted trees that have lost the ability to grow branches and engage with their environment meaningfully- trees that have lost their connect with the roots, and are easily uprooted. Children lose touch with their life force- with who they were meant to be and with what direction they were meant to take. The outcome?

Unhappiness, dependence, mental unrest, depression, anxiety.

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. You may give them your love, but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow. 

-Kahlil Gibran

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Education System in India: Assisting or Interfering?

There is only one way to educate a child- make them feel. Make them feel the magic, mystery, the wonder. The Indian education system disregards this principle. It aspires to create factory molds, and not human potential. Children lose touch with their uniqueness; the only purpose such individuals can serve is to slave for capitalistic markets that thrive on such slavery.

Children are alienated early from the world of language, stories, perceptions- from everything that is alive and that nurtures the life force. Our education system successfully kills the most valuable part of our persona- our inner child. It is this inner child that houses life and that can serve as a torchbearer in our journey through the universe. The child is unafraid of the uncertain paths it walks. The child is capable of exploring, experimenting, and discovering.

In my experience as a teacher in the current education system, I have often found that rank students are the most unworthy of education. They are often individuals who demonstrate the greatest apathy and have lost the ability to feel any joy or wonder in the books they religiously read or the profession they practice. These are often students who go on to become incompetent, insecure, manipulative, and unhappy bosses in the organizations they work. They can never nurture; they can only destroy the life forces that surround them.

The most painful question that such students ask me:

Why should we know the story, the concept? Why should we know any more than what we need to know for our exams?

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The synergistic forces of our parenting and our education system help to create individuals who moral compasses cannot tell the difference between an act of empathy and an act of apathy. Between nurturing and destroying. This serves well the needs of a capitalistic system– there are no voices of protest, of dissent. When our forests burn, when our farmers and tribes are uprooted from the land into which they are rooted, when our food and water is poisoned, when our wildlife is endangered and uprooted from their natural habitats, it is convenient to have no voices of dissent or protest. It is convenient to have a population that does not understand how these issues concern them when they have flattering jobs and job titles in multinational establishments.


 

My Last Hope

My last hope is not the human race; it is life itself.

As forest fires and pandemics rage across the globe, we have two choices:

  1. To respect the natural order and direct all our efforts to restore ecological balance.
  2. To face the risk of extinction

Either way, the planet will survive. Either way, life will reclaim itself. Just that the story of the human race may come to an end.

Do we have among us a prince Ashitaka who can steer the outcome to the former?

May the forest spirits reclaim what the human race took away from them.

 

forest spirits

Examining our cultural journey

When we were children, India was still an agriculture-based nation. Coming home to Kerala during our vacations meant coming home to the fields. Of course, the young people had all found their way out of agriculture, but the fields of paddy that had been created painstakingly by our dedicated ancestors who had mastered the art of tapping into nature, continued to welcome us. Life in the villages still revolved around the four seasons. Much as agriculture had started to fade away, the culture surrounding agriculture had not faded away. Though farming had stopped attracting the youth, people continued to follow the old way of life, save for their occupation. Community life continued to exist; traditional practices were very much in place.

However, it is not the same today. Agriculture has been wiped out. Kerala is a confused society. As agriculture faded away and the people who had once safeguarded agriculture also faded away, there was suddenly nothing to bind us together. We couldn’t find a common story. People struggled for an identity. Some found it in their white collar jobs and their educational qualifications. Some found it in the material wealth that they had acquired and that they could now showcase for the world to see. Some found it in the expatriate status that a few years of toil in the Gulf had earned them. Some even found it in religion or politics. So the divide increased. Where once our movies, music, poetry, and literature had bound us in one common story, we now struggled to find a common story, a connect. Yesudas, Chithra, ONV, MT, Basheer– these were once household names. It didn’t matter if we were rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim. Somehow, we were so bound to the common story of this land that we embraced every artist that this land had given birth to, as our own. The chayakkada where politics was discussed with fervor, the local stage performances where the countryside found expression, the ferries that transformed transport into an aesthetic experience, the fish monger with his audience of impatient people and cats- we had much to feel connected to the community that was Kerala. Today, we are lost in a sea of disconnect.

What is our story today? The story of markets. Of capitalism. Our story has moved away from the natural rhythm and the aesthetic beauty of agrarian life to a story of dehumanization. We have abandoned psychological wealth and we move towards material wealth.

Where is God’s own country? It exists somewhere in my perceptions of yesterday, somewhere in my memories.


Is it possible to go back to agriculture? Can we revive agriculture? Can we bring back the paddy fields? Within me is the futile hope that as mental illnesses consume us and we realize how we have brought self-destruction on ourselves by moving away from the natural world, we may move back to agriculture.

Agriculture demands community life. Joint families had their demerits, but they also taught us the art of being more accepting of differences and deprivation. We do not necessarily have to go back to living together in the same space, but couldn’t we go back to living as a closely-knit community?

Do we have to raise such high fences between our houses, between our minds?

Children and the elderly have lost much in the process of globalization. Children who return to empty homes as both parents are working, and then resorting to the companionship of gadgets.

The conversations are somewhat of this nature:

Children: “Mom, what time will you be home? Can I watch Netflix for an hour? Can I do my homework later? When are you going to buy me the phone?” 

“Complete your homework by the time I get back. Tell the maid to make chappatis for the night. If you are hungry, order on Swiggy.”

The elderly have found a renewed life on Whats App. They feel a sense of accomplishment when they share pictures of their children’s high end lifestyles on a group or when they share meaningless forwards and blow up everybody’s phone. Somehow, this numbs the loneliness of their solitary lives in the four walls of a plush apartment with all the conveniences and comforts that modern life offers, including the services of a maid or home nurse. They are also excited about the Skype calls that give them an illusion of emotional connect.


If we were to examine beneath this facade of happiness that we see on the outside, we see loneliness, lack of motivation, and lack of meaning. We see depression in all its sophistication. We see the appalling ugliness of life that characterizes the material world.

How much longer will it take for us to realize that we are headed in the wrong direction? Isn’t it about time we examined our lives and made a conscious choice of moving away from a world that does not make us happy? Why do we choose instead to put ourselves through the misery of it all? Only because we nurture this delusion that we are going to find happiness eventually in the material world-

We believe that we are making the right choices, when in truth, we are moving towards self-sabotage.