Friday, 24 July 2015

Certain Empathy extends only after our line of sight.

Hello. It has been about a good ten days since the last time I stumbled my way here, and for once, I actually feel a sense of relief to see the blank, empty page of a new post. I'm back at college, for my fifth semester in chemical engineering. It was quite a vacillating two weeks leading up to my eventual return, though.

When there were ten days left for departure, I was impatient for the holidays to end; I told myself that I was raring to go back to college. However, when there were about three days left, my feelings were akin to Prince Abdullah from 'TinTin'; They'd have to drag me, kicking and screaming every step of the way if they wanted me on that train. On the last day, though, I felt fine. I didn't feel particularly nervous or afraid, and while I did feel a slight twinge of annoyance that I had to return, I accepted the fact that I needed to finish what I had started.

Being alone in a hostel room is a lot different from the safe solitude, that your boudoir at home provides. This is my fifth time around, coming here, so I thought that I'd be fine, and I was, mostly, for the first few days. As the hours dragged on though, even if you try to convince yourself otherwise, certain undesirable thoughts do creep into your mind. At moments like that, there is nothing quite as effective as finding a creative outlet to occupy all of your concentration.

"Cooper!" Brand shouted, Jerking in her seat, she looked at the craft attached to the underside of the Endurance. 
Cooper gazed back at her; their eyes locked, for what seemed to be an eternity. It might have very well been that, with the black hole being in such close proximity. Or it could have been just a sliver of a split-second. Brand didn't know, couldn't decide. She couldn't see any light reflected from Cooper's eyes.
"We agreed on 90%, remember? Dr Brand" Cooper said simply, as he disengaged the craft, setting himself adrift on the event horizon of the black hole.

It's incredible, that we can find so many scraps of 'Pulp Wisdom' scattered across fiction and non-fiction alike. Even comics and cartoons, often draw inspiration from philosophy and morality, such as Calvin and Hobbes and Cyanide and Happiness. The above dialogue was from a sequence in the movie Interstellar, right before the movie's next scene made people go "Eh? What?"

The movie was acclaimed, mainly for its ambition, and the brave attempt by director Christopher Nolan to create an original screenplay on such a magnitude. What intrigued me the most, was a certain scene of the film, at the beginning of Matt Damon's first appearance. Damon mentions that Michael Caine's character sent all of the astronauts - Cooper, Brand and Co. - into space, knowing full well that the odds of them ever saving the people on earth were close to nil.

He did this, after giving the crew a statement to the contrary, and telling Cooper in particular that he was undertaking this mission to save his children. Damon states that Michael Caine's character had correctly identified this:

                                "Empathy extends only as far as our line of sight"

However, as per the dialogue excerpt from above, we see that Cooper's actions are truly the crux of the entire film's premise. That he chose to sacrifice himself, to give his partner a chance to create a new colony of humans, populated by people whom he would never meet- in other words, out of his line of sight- over a chance to be reunited with his children, is a direct refutation of Micheal Caine's belief, that humanity could not save itself without a proper incentive, something Christopher Nolan probably wrote in the script on purpose.

I believe that people can genuinely care for each other during times of calamity and disaster. The recent earthquake in Nepal is a case in point. Support in the form of relief aid, manpower and prayers for the safety of the survivors poured in from across the world. But for most us, it was just 'Someone Else' who had lost nearly everything they had in their lives, if not their lives itself. If the whole world were in danger, as it already is from numerous mistakes of our own, would we see such empathy for others. or would we prove Michael Caine right?

Alternatively, if we flip that statement around, what would we have, especially in India? Recently the American Supreme Court legalized Homosexual Marriage across the country, in a landmark judgement. Facebook, quick to react to the potential implications of the judgement, offered its users a mechanism to convert their profile pictures into shades of the rainbow, giving them an opportunity to display their solidarity and support to the verdict.

Let me just interrupt in between here though. In my opinion, the victory achieved by representatives of LGBT communities at the supreme court was not a victory for love. I feel that it was common sense that won that day. We are all beings who are capable of living our lives to the best of our capability. If each of us wants to live his or her life a certain way, then he should be allowed to do so, as long as it doesn't infringe upon the equal rights that another person also possesses. Admittedly, this is an over-simplification of a much wider issue, but I do not feel that I am wrong in saying

                                                     "Live and Let Live"

The question that I finally have is, would such an empathy survive at all within our line of sight? There were millions of users on Facebook, in India, a land were homosexuality is still illegal, who changed their profile pictures to the same in shades of the rainbow. But for every single one of them, barring a few, I am willing to wager that actual homosexuals are simply "Someone Else". They support the movement because it trended wildly in the week of the verdict and in our politically-correct society of today, it is 'cool' to be seen as 'forward'.

But exactly how receptive those individuals would be if someone they knew, such as a close friend or family member, came out of the closet? Would they be as understanding and 'forward' as they portray themselves to be?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Intriguing ways to express yourself.

Alright, Since nobody really has any problems with what I do around here, I think I'll go with a different format this time. The idea is the same, it's just that I really, really love to write stories. So I figured, why not experiment writing a post like that?

The platform at the train station was streaming with activity, as bodies jostled against each other on the concrete floor, porters bellowed at the top of their voices, furiously pulling their heavy, luggage-laden trolleys, and the vendors at the platform-stalls called out to travelers standing idly by the motionless line of coaches.

There were still about twenty minutes, even after making allocations for the punctuality of services in India, for the train to depart. But, having no companions from college to travel with, I had already wandered into my coach some time ago, and was quietly listening to music. I had found, to my delight that my berth was one on the side-lower side of the cabin.

It was slightly cramped for me, since I was about Six foot one, but once I'd hunkered down and plugged in my earphones, I was able to lean back with a contented sigh. Normal berths were always a nightmare for me, since I always traversed to and forth from Chennai to Trichy alone. More often that not, there would be a crowd of hostile co-passengers, usually a family with some exceptionally unruly children, seated all around me, leaving me to silently grit my teeth and stare furtively out the window.

Travelling alone also makes one, way more suspicious of his surroundings than the normal . A man makes his third bathroom trip under a half-hour? He's probably robbing every sleeping passenger blind. Somebody brushes closer to you than necessary? He has an eye on your laptop bag and is waiting for the next station to snatch it and run out. Every tattoo and every scar that you spot adorning a fellow passenger gains its own dark origin story, and every hand that slips into a pocket is expected to return clutching a knife.

'No wonder I like the solitude of the side-lower seat' I think reflectively, as I tilted my head to the side, and watched the travelling landscape reflected in my eyes.

There was something weird that happened once we were on our way, though.

 As I had predicted, there were a noisy pair of families spread across the other seven berths of the cabin. An old man, -I think he was the father- sat awake in his upper berth for the entirety of his journey.

Now, insomnia on a train journey is perfectly understandable. The constant rattle of the coach wheels on the gravelly tracks and the shrill whistling of the wind, as it whipped across the windows makes it remarkable that the man was more of an exception than a norm. What stood out in this man's actions what that he had a near zombie like stare for the better part of the three hours that I was observing him.

I really had no choice. As I lay on my back, I couldn't help but look at him as he sat, his head leaning forward with his forehead resting on the berth supports. And, well. It freaked me out. As I lay three berths down, I contemplated, in my head,  all the various situations that could go down if the old man suddenly went on a kleptomaniac/Murder spree.

Sure,  I could stop him. But then... I was the lone, single, entitled young dude, whilst he was the old guy with a family.  IF we were to throwdown, I was fairly certain the rest of the coach's passengers would pronounce me guilty of some heinous crime anyway and mete out 'righteous' justice to me.

Luckily, nothing of that sort happened. The only unusual incident that happened during the rest of the journey was that we had a spot of rain while crossing through one of the bigger towns.

Returning to the hostel was sort of like returning to the frontlines of a war from paternity leave. You're always teary at odd moments of the day, you snap at everyone else, only to go to their rooms at the first opportunity you get, to fret in unison about the prospects for the upcoming semester. It doesn't help that the corridors obligingly resemble a city that has just been bombed, with the amount of trash that other inmates toss out of their rooms.

As I was catching up with friends, one of the three topics that every conversation in college will include in some form or the other, cropped up, namely; grades (The other two are girls and football). So, as we were talking about grades, or rather I was talking about my lack of them, someone mentioned the name of our resident top scorer.

Instantly, all manner of abusive words and obscene comparisons were shouted. I, of course being a person who is all for the notion of keeping with timeless traditions, joined in, adding in a couple of particularly harsh comparisons. They drew dry chuckles and a few laughs from the little gathering in the room, leaving me feeling pleased as punch.

A few days later though, I started to think over it after I saw a few articles online. The first was Ellen Pao's resignation. I don't really dish out opinions out here, and I myself am pretty much a newbie to Reddit, so I won't pretend to understand the community out there. But, when I read some more about it, the abuse hurled at her for stepping on the 'freedom of expression' of certain persons was horrendous. I mean, is it such a bad thing to clamp down a little on online harassment? Some of the banned sub-reddits had some extremely distasteful and allegedly abusive content, which the moderators were doing nothing to stop.

Is shutting down a sub-reddit called 'Fatpersonhate', where people post pictures of fat people being abused, a gross injustice done to the freedom of expression? Ludicrous.
If this happened in India:
1. The government would have shut down reddit completely.
2. People would grumble a bit, send a few nasty tweets at ministers, then accept it with a shrug after a while.
3. Some yogic/social expert would weigh in on the whole issue a few days later, causing a minor flutter in the newspapers.
4. Reddit comes back online, after some ah- 'negotiations with the government, with perhaps Gandhi mediating the whole thing'. Everything goes back to how it was before.

More than the arguments presented by the bereaved users of Reddit though, what interested me was how they chose to go about it. Abusive language. On social media.

Now. My current modus operandi on social media is to rarely create original posts, share the occasional random tidbit, and above all, proofread everything at least twice, before clicking 'post'. These people were using language and obscenities that you'd find on 'roadies' or at an all-nighter study group ten minutes before the finals. And on an incredibly exposed and public stage to boot.

Reddit isn't alone in this phenomenon though. Recently, the government of India announced a programme called the #SelfieWithDaughter initiative. As the name suggests, parents, particularly in the rural sectors of the country were requested to take selfies with their daughters and then post them online, on twitter for instance. It was certainly a novel and unconventional approach to raise the awareness against selective-sex abortions, which were still being reported as common incidents across the nation.

The idea, was that the act of taking a selfie with your daughter, would inspire others and yourself as well to cherish the female child. The initiative, started in a rural village in Haryana, aimed to tackle the problem by stimulating the most ancient incentive of all; human emotions.

There was one person, though. an actress who questioned the effectiveness of such a scheme. She happened to voice her apprehension in the same medium as the campaign, twitter, and unfortunately was rewarded with an incredible amount of abuse. People called her a thesaurus-worth of obscenities, with some individuals (and opinion groups) going as far as to suggest that she had been a victim of abuse from her father at childhood.

Maybe she was validated. in voicing her concerns. After all, we are the world's -yawn- biggest
'democracy'. And as effective as the selfie campaign could be, in the long term, it is more likely that improvements in the accessibility and quality of education, particularly in the inculcation of sex and health education would have a better long-term effect in reversing the trend of India's dropping sex-ratio.

But did she deserve to be a victim of people looking for a 'score' in social circles? No, nobody deserves that I think, and especially not my poor resident class top scorer.  

Friday, 3 July 2015

Subconscious aspirations through advertising?

Blogger tells me that it has been exactly one week since I last wrote a post for my blog.
 *Cue Non-existent Drum Roll*. On time, for once. How long that'll last? Uh. Hopefully a little longer.

It's funny. When I think of a line to write or when I think about doing something, I often get this mental image in my head, which sort of helps me. It doesn't help directly, but it's kind of like my mind telling my body "Yep. No worries. you've done this before, ergo, you must be able to do it again".

When I write on my blog, the mental image that keeps recurring in my head is one, where I stand on-stage in a theater reading a discourse to the janitor, the hall attendant, a few people who wandered in by accident and a stray dog. Either my mind is being too honest with me or it wants to mock me. Sigh.

Ha. Such optimism eh? I hope that my ever-appreciative audience can bear with me for a bit, because for the next couple of paragraphs, I am going to whine like a bitch and since you are always silent, I will take it that you are in complete agreement with what I have to say.

College is back on in a week. I'm actually leaving a day early to my hostel to set up everything and dust up the old hideout a bit. I'm in my third year now, and really, I should be kind of used to the sensation of going back, perhaps I should even be anticipating the prospect of my return to campus.

Nope. Consciously, I feel alright, even nonplussed by the fact that the hols went by in a flash. But I just, feel down. I'm constantly plagued by worry, yet I cannot put my finger on the reason for feeling this way. I conclude that it is because, at a subconscious level, I'm afraid.

I'm scared of what this new semester will bring. And while my conscious tries to push down these feelings, painting over the cracks with thin optimism, my true feelings seem to be seeping out at every turn, during the worst moments of the day.

So, the subconscious. Hm. I actually went to the cinema the day before with a couple of senior friends who've already graduated. They had only a couple of days to spare before they would have to leave for their new jobs, so I felt obliged to have a sort of one-last experience with them before they left. I figured it'd be a good way to snap out of this funk as well.

We watched inside-out, the new Pixar animated movie. It was in short, mindblowing. It was so many things, and I utterly lack the words to describe it. And my poor substitutions would take too many lines for any reader, who wishes to avoid spoilers, to stomach. Simply, It touched my heart. It also had very interesting ideas about the subconscious, but I think it'd be better if people got a chance to watch it.

During the intermission, I actually hustled back to my seat from the popcorn line because I wanted to watch some of the trailers for upcoming flicks on the big screen. Alas, with Youtube poaching the entire trailer-release market, we were force-fed commercials, mostly advertising gold and property-for-rent.

Most of them had cringeworthy acting performances by women heavily laden in gold. And the situations were so ridiculous. Like there was this blinged out lady, sitting casually at her laptop on a fine evening, and she turns around to tell her tech-savvy (and likely employed in software) daughter to stop wasting electricity. Her daughter then replies with equally moronic dialogue which I don't really want to go into. (Basically, instead of switching off the lights like any sane person would do, she says something about gold wastage. Sigh)

Anyway, we had a load of fun laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. But then there was this one ad which really appealed to me. It was classy, understated. There was no dialogue, just a lot of clever camera-work, and some imperious, statuesque poses by the model on the screen. It just caught my eye, and for marketing personnel, that is the first objective they seek to achieve for any sort of branding.

That leads me to wonder, ads are created to entice people to aspire to the products being shown advertised right? But if a certain ad appealed to me, and caught my attention, while the rest merely drew my ire, is the ad a reflection of my aspirations? Of the kind of image that I would like to project about myself? Maybe some of the other ads which I disliked may have caught the eye of someone else too.

So, what does this mean? Company's generally create their ads to appeal to their target audience, but those are generally generic classifications based on demographics, eg; rich, male, mid-thirties, upper middle-class, female, married etc, so we can say with some confidence that ads aren't tailor-made for each demographic.

Does that mean that subconsciously, we aspire for a certain lifestyle, or a certain quality that is exemplified in the advert's skit? Do Ads secretly tell us what we really want in life? People are getting smarter now, and it is no longer true to say that all ads that tell you to buy something will compel one to do so, People can now select from a variety of choices, It could very well be that the ad that was instrumental in their final choice could have been one which was advertised in a way that was in line with their subconscious aspirations at that time.

From the last bench.