The Difficulty of Gandhi’s Philosophy

Photo: Margaret Bourke-White

Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha or “Firmness in Truth”, which is a fancy name for letting the world know about the atrocities targeted at you by boldly enduring them (although it has a much deeper meaning), has been widely criticized for its insanity. However, as insane and cruel (although this is not the right word to mention here, but this is how its results are perceived) this concept may appear, you cannot claim that it doesn’t work.

Violence and vengeance are so tempting. As a matter of fact, whenever an act of violence is inflicted upon you, vengeance is the first thing on your mind. Societies around the world, East and West alike, take pride in vengeance and it is seen as a symbol of might and strength, while abstinence from it is seen as a sign of weakness. Probably, that is why Satyagraha has been widely rejected as practiced by Gandhi, but not completely.

Now to get to the point why talking about it is even required. Believe it or not, the concept in theory is as relevant today as it has ever been and will always be. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it has been used prominently in history. The concept could play a vital role in forming public opinion, the impact of which is enhanced in the modern times of advanced communication, at least as compared to the period during which Gandhi was alive.

However, whatever plays a great role in forming positive public opinion can equally be vital in the formation of negative public opinion. This is a vital aspect to Satyagraha ignoring which completely destroys its utility. Utility, I say, because the pragmatic world needs a practical use for something. Obviously for Gandhi it was the way of living, more like worship, but not everyone can be expected to be as devoted to this unorthodox concept, which may appear bizarre to many.

In order to practice Satyagraha and in order to use it for what it is meant for, it is indispensable to remain consistent. Once you take this path, you will lose all that you have achieved if you divert from it, or in other words, if you resort to violence. And that is the greatest difficulty of Gandhi’s Philosophy, so much so that even the most ardent of his followers, which are becoming an extinct breed of people, find it a hard pill to swallow. Let us examine the practical Satyagraha just for the sake of understanding this post and having some fun.

But before that, it is important to explain that non-violence or Ahimsa is the fundamental requirement to Satyagraha, which is primarily why it is such a difficult concept.

Person A is Person B’s best friend. Person B happened to rape and kill Person A’s wife. This obviously put an end to their friendship. During the trial of the case, the court finds insufficient evidence that Person B is guilty. However, Person A is convinced that Person B committed the crime. Nevertheless, Person B is acquitted. Person A has a few choices to make now.

a) He could go and kill Person A in the good old fashioned way, especially if the death of Person B is the main aim of the court trial.

b) He could plead to a higher court to review the verdict hoping for the death sentence for Person B.

c) He could plead to a higher court to review the verdict and forgive Person A if the court’s verdict decrees a death sentence for Person’s B.

d) He could simply ignore the courts, no longer pursue criminal prosecution, be at peace with it and forgive Person A.

First of all, it is extremely difficult to think from the perspective of Person A who has suffered a traumatic loss. However, suppose that he is a person practicing Satyagraha, and to make things even more relevant to the point of the post, suppose that he is a person who holds a high public office with both Person A and B recognized widely in public and the case is followed vigorously by the media.

Now a word about the society these persons live in. They do not have to live in a society that believes in Satyagraha, let alone the thought of practicing it. However, let us suppose that it is a liberal society that considers rape and murder a grave crime, yet believes in the sanctity of life and generally disapproves of capital punishment even if it doesn’t mind it being used as punishment for such crimes.

Now such a society, or any society for that matter, will have sympathy for Person A. However, they would expect Person A not to resort to option A, which is taking the initiative of killing Person B, even if some of them may think that Person B deserves that. They would consider option B the right of Person A and if Person A is able to successfully pull off option C, it would do wonders for creating the right image of Person A. Whereas, option D may offer solace on a personal level, but would not have any use whatsoever in the given scenario.

However, there is another point to it. The puritan Gandhi followers, if any around at all, or at least those who are familiar with it in theory and that of Gandhi’s personality, could object that using Satyagraha for gaining public sympathy and popularity is against the very spirit of it and the concept must be practiced in itself without the thought of achieving such vile aims.

While that sounds correct, you must not forget that Gandhi advocated Satyagraha as a way of fighting tyranny, oppression and violence. It sounds like an insane and almost a suicidal strategy but it could work if practiced with devotion. Therefore, the idea of using Satyagraha for building a better public image is not wrong at all and as a matter of fact, Gandhi had been doing so himself all along.

However, the major, and perhaps the only difficulty and hurdle to the practice of this philosophy and way of living is the temptation to violence. The concept of Satyagraha seems almost contrary to the human nature, as humans have a violent instinct. The concept offers a peaceful and non-violent alternative to vengeance and further violence to resolve violent disputes, but in the end many would question if it is realistic.

It has its limitations, yes, but you can extract its essence for application if not use it the way Gandhi advocated and practiced it.

That’s how you would find it in history.

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures

Stanley Kubrick filming Barry Lyndon in 1975 (Source: Kubrick Estate)

Much has been written and said about the legendary American film director Stanley Kubrick but few records offer us a closer look into his life than Jan Harlan’s documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001).

The documentary covers Stanley Kubrick’s life from childhood to death, featuring rare footage, images and home videos from Kubrick’s infamous “archives”, and more importantly, all his pictures from Day of the Fight (1951) to Eyes Wide Shut (1999). It talks about his personality as well as his work, his aspirations, his fears, his accomplishments, his passion, his disappointments, his style of management and direction, his family, his home and his life, which to many had remained a mystery until his wife Christiane Kubrick and her brother, and the director of the documentary, Jan Harlan, started speaking about him publicly after his death in 1999.

The documentary tells the story of how Kubrick started making pictures, his humble beginnings as a photojournalist, his struggle to make a mark on the global cinema and interesting facts about the making of his pictures, such as how Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) was turned into a comedy, and particularly Spartacus (1960) in which Kubrick had little control as the director due to the influence of the star and the executive producer of the picture, Kirk Douglas, who had also appeared in Kubrick’s widely acclaimed (anti) war drama Paths of Glory (1957).

It is on this documentary that Malcolm McDowell reveals about his friendship with Kubrick that later turned into almost indifference from Kubrick as the filming of A Clockwork Orange (1971) was completed and Shelley Duvall talks about her experience with Kubrick during the filming of The Shining (1980), which was something she “would not want to go through again”.

Apart from McDowell and Duvall, the documentary features interviews from Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Martin ScorseseSydney PollackPeter Ustinov, Jack Nicholson, Arthur C. Clarke, Keir DulleaMatthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, James Earl Jones, Leon Vitali, Christiane Kubrick, Katharina Kubrick, Jan Harlan, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

To commemorate the 83rd birthday of Stanley Kubrick, and the tenth year of the release of A Life in Pictures, nothing is more fitting than revisiting the introduction of the documentary, which is probably the best tribute to Kubrick within a time span of 3 minutes. Fortunately, the documentary is available at youtube.

Poster for Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (Source: Wikipedia)

The documentary starts with a montage of the adjectives printed by the press in the West about Stanley Kubrick and the kind of assumptions that were associated with him such as being a recluse, a megalomaniac, obsessive-compulsive and a perfectionist. Kubrick’s family perfectly explains how little the world know about the man and how incorrect were the labels associated with him by the press.

It is clear that the press made such assumptions about Kubrick because he refused to give any interviews and generally avoided talking to the press, except for the ones he trusted, and to some, they did it plainly out of bitterness. When he was asked to explain his pictures, and he was asked the question a lot for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1965) for its cryptic symbolism, he simply refused to do so by saying that you should let the pictures do the talking.

The documentary is loaded with images from Kubrick’s films, all of them assorted in one collection, which is one of the reasons why the documentary is such a delight to watch. What else has the life of a filmmaker to offer than images, and this is what motion pictures are all about. Maybe I have said this before, but if you want to know how great a film director is, see how easily you can recall the images from his or her films. Kubrick’s films have some of the most iconic, important, historic, unforgettable, memorable and haunting images that you could ever come across from any other director.

The documentary is an absolute treat to watch and a delight for a Kubrick fan, or for anyone who is interested in cinema and in Kubrick’s work. Whether you like his pictures or not, you simply would not be able to deny the fact that Stanley Kubrick’s films were some of the most important cinematic works in the 20th century and his milestone masterpieces set new artistic and technical standards in filmmaking.

Bergman’s The Seventh Seal & Death

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) Source: People.com

To commemorate the birthday of master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), who was more like a master playwright and stage director who happened to make pictures in my opinion, here are a few glimpses from one of his masterpieces that fail to leave my memory. Det Sjunde Inseglet or The Seventh Seal (1967).

If you study the history of cinema, and of art for that matter, you will find a great obsession with Death. From Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and from Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy (1955-1959) to James L. Brook’s Terms of Endearment (1983). And why not? Death fascinates us. We are obsessed with Death. Or maybe it is incorrect to call it an obsession. Maybe it is the only thing to talk about after all.

It is only fitting to talk about that with reference to The Seventh Seal.

With the brilliant performances of his remarkable players Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Nils PoppeBengt Ekerot and Bibi Andersson, who I admire greatly from her part in Persona (1966), Bergman creates a masterpiece on the cinema screen to portray what probably no one else would be able to equal in the years to come.

If you have not watched The Seventh Seal, I highly recommend you should watch it before proceeding to read the post any further. But if you choose to do so anyway, then what you are about to watch are some of the most iconic images and symbolism in the history of cinema (such as the analogy of life and death with the white and black pieces of chess).

There is one scene in the film that clearly suggests what it is about than the rest of it and it also encompasses the struggle that the protagonist is going through, reflective of the brilliant writing of Ingmar Bergman, as seen in many of his other pictures such as Nattvardsgästerna or Winter Light (1963)

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He makes the audience realize, if not make them feel, how it would be like to be dying, and to encounter the horrors of death while you still have not succumbed to its force.

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One of the most iconic images in cinema history (Source: filmist.tumblr.com)

The final scene of the film examines the duality and the inseparable nature of life and death, of joy (and pain), of hope (and despair), of faith (and doubt) and of redemption (and damnation). Josef, the itinerant actor, his wife and son symbolize life in this film more than any other characters. Jöns,  the Scribe, is the skeptic in the Knight Antonius Block, reminding him of his doubts and the hollowness, and perhaps futility, of his prayers.

Yet, there is one undeniable reality that remains. Something no one can doubt or deny, believer or skeptic.

Death.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Wars

Source: Kubrick Estate

So you think wars are wrong, eh? Had your brain examined lately?

Well, obviously not everyone is unfortunate enough to have the company of people who think that wars are wrong and have their minds contaminated with the dangerous ideas of a hypothetical brand of peace and non-violence promoted by lunatics like Gandhi and ***** (name omitted for security reasons). The reason for that is the simple fact that wars are such an integral part of our lives that the very idea of a war protest seems highly absurd, and almost self-destructive.

Come to think of it for a second. This idea is against the very foundation of Civilization. It is contradictory to our lifestyle, and indeed to our interests. It is contradictory to the official state propaganda of all our lovely countries and the way we teach our children about the world. It is important for them to think that wars are important, unavoidable and urgently and regularly required for the maintenance of the attainable peace, to protect the civilized way of living, to keep people employed and to provide for the bread and butter of millions of families around the globe, not to mention our esteemed mentors.

If you think that wars are something which started in 1914, namely the “First “World War””, then you need to work a bit on your history (of course, you don’t). Wars have been there since time immemorial and according to careful estimations by anthropologists and evolutionary biologists, skirmishes had been taking place ever since the human kind learned to use tools, and of course, we are talking about weapons here.

The reason why you are reading these lines and why we have built this magnificent world of ours is due to wars. If you find that laughable, then you must not be seriously considering the fact that without wars it would not have been possible for the human race to reach this point in civilization and evolution and had it not been for wars, you would not have had the peace and tranquility of using a computer in your home with an internet connection.

You must at least support wars for the sake of your internet, if not anything else.

You must be having some idea about the supposedly barbaric ancient times. Apart from sanitation standards, the greatest horrors of those times were the ever impending attacks on their civilization centers. Human Civilization has reached the proud point when wars have been taken away from the Cities, namely Civilization Centers, as much as possible, other than what is necessary. But people in the ancient times did not have the luxuries that you enjoy living in your comfortable homes and contemplating over the cruelty of wars and violence. They lived it.

All the ancient kings and kingdoms, of all ethnicities, castes, religions, cults and geographic locations have been attacking others in order to supply for their people, and more importantly to the state machinery to ensure the security of the people and not to mention for the nation’s glory and that of the beloved mentor, namely the king or more aptly, the Leader. If you are naïve enough not to consider this true, you can go and try your hand at the strategy games your younger siblings and children have already mastered.

Who attacked who and who plundered what and killed how many is merely detail which you can make up for text books and make your children read to brew hatred against any particular group that you want. The wars always have such tremendous propaganda value. If you find one of your ancient heroes in the historical list provided by this seemingly carried-away and outrageous generalization, then I encourage you to quietly embrace this fact if you have not already rejected it.

And the kings and kingdoms, pardon me, the leaders, the republics and the remnants of kingdoms of our world are no exceptions. They too, have to carry out business, buy and sell weapons, fuel the industry, fuel the fuel, for protecting you and feeding you. They are serving you, so don’t you dare be ungrateful to them and criticize their actions for your lazy intellectualism and for feeding your Utopian ideals which are a product of your redundancy and decadence.

But you can change and again be a part of Civilization.

Don’t cry. Smile, laugh instead. Cheer for the wars.

If you don’t love wars, you are a traitor to humanity.