Incendies is a middle-east war film directed by Denis Villeneuve, released on 4 September 2010 in the Telluride Film Festival, and on 17 September 2010 in Canada. It is an Arabic and French language film, oscillating between Canada and an unnamed Middle-east land. Though not explicit anywhere, the film is largely based on the Lebanese Civil War and loosely on the story of Souha Bechara.
Delivered through a dual narrative, the film traces the journey of a twin brother and sister to fulfill their mother, Nawal’s last wishes. After their mother’s death, the siblings are presented with the will of their mother, which astounds them when they learn that their father whom they thought were dead, is actually alive, and that they also have a brother they were unaware of. As there notary, who was also their mother’s employer, remarks, their mother will rest in peace only after they find their father and brother. And hence the journey begins
While the daughter, Jeanne is drawn towards the enigma of their mother’s past, the son Simon is initially enraged by what he sees as his mother’s imbecility in death, when she requests that she be buried naked, face down in an unmarked grave with no wake. Jeanne perceives that there is a reason to their mother’s impenetrable silence in the weeks preceding her death. She then takes it upon herself to embark on a journey that is culturally very distant and alien from the one she has grown up in. Except for a name of the village her mother is from, Jeanne has scrape everything from the very beginning. When she traces her mother’s extended family in the middle-east, she realises that Nawal is considered a blot on the honor of the family. The shearing past of a woman who was an unassuming lover who was impregnated before marriage by a refugee, to an assassin, to a rape survivor, all has an acute impact on Jeanne, and Simon who joins her later. This, to the revelation of a darker truth that descends upon them like a bolt from the blue, unbosoms the reason behind their mother’s sense of loss before she died.
The film displays a chilling cultural kaleidoscope that spans between two countries. The journey of the mother and daughter is similar in retrospect, that of relentless search and sustainment of the self. The truth evades the cryptic soul and renders itself an element of eidolon-unparalleled. It is a must watch. A narrative to be seen with the essence of bare life.
Kanne Madanguka is a 2005 Malayalam language film directed by Alberrt Antoni, starring Navya Nair, Murali and Shobha Mohan among others. The film traces the hardships of poverty faced by a family who try hard to give their children(both girls) a good education. When the father meets with an accident age is bedridden with no hope of recovery, the elder child begins working, much to the displeasure of the father. When a relative offers her a job abroad, the mother convinces her husband to send their daughter, hoping this will provide them with a bit of cushion.
The film reportedly opened to a full house in the International Film Festival of India (IFFI). The main actress who played the role of the elder daughter, Navya Nair, won the Kerala State Film Award for her portrayal of Karunya (name of her character). The film also fetched Baby Neeraja, you played the younger daughter, an award for the best child artist.
The film has been beautifully written and well-choreographed. Emotions are relayed with a depth that the audience find it easy to relate with. The travails of a family fighting poverty is depicted in a calm, yet powerful manner. But what probably won the film it’s much deserved acclaim is probably what caused me a heartsore.
Towards the climax of the film, we see a few villagers reading a piece of a newspaper about a mobile sex racket busted in Nagercoil, and the women engaged in the ‘unlawful’ activities arrested. One of them bears resemblance to Karunya, the elder daughter who is supposedly working in the garment industry in the gulf. While the father refuses to believe it, the mother sets out to Nagercoil to make sure it isn’t their daughter. When she meets the woman behind the bars, she recognizes it as her daughter, but the woman fails to recognize her and asks her to leave. The film ends with the woman in jail crying, revealing that the woman is indeed the daughter.
What saddened me is not the portrayal of the reality of how the poor easily fall prey to sex rackets, but how the film despondently showcases it. It’s been 15 years since the movie came out, but watching it now brings out a sentiment that I’m sure many would’ve definitely felt. That of desperation. Desperation to see a better ending. That despite all challenges, good education and hardwork can better your life. I felt so because the girls were hardworking and studied very well, only to be devoured by what they never dreamed of in their wildest dreams. The pain I felt towards the end was not for the characters, but for the way the curtains fell on what could have been a struggling but hard fought for win.
Times change. Perceptions change. Maybe 10 years on I may have a different take on this same film. And yes, it’s a film based on a million disastrous lives shelled into despicable conditions with no expectation of escape, but this one film could’ve spelled hope.
In the year 2016, Oxford Dictionaries declared ‘post-truth’ as it’s international word of the year, defining it as an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals. The term ‘post-truth politics’, attained a global panorama in the period around the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum. Ever since, ‘post-truth’ has become a major point of discussion.
According to the Oxford Dictionaries, the term ‘post-truth’ was first used in 1992 by the Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in an essay published in ‘The Nation’ US weekly magazine, where it’s written that “following the shameful truth of Watergate(1972–1974), more assuaging coverage of the Iran-Contra scandal(1985–1987) and Persian Gulf war(1990–1991) demonstrates that we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.” Ralph Keyes, in his book The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life, says ‘In the post-truth era, deceiving others has become a challenge, a game, a habit. High-profile dissemblers compete for news coverage…’ Two of the major reasons that has given way to the post-truth era is increased religious polarization and decreased faith in science- two sides of a vicious coin. This coupled with the impending economic crises and a boom in social media outlets have provided sufficient nutrients right at the roots of an age of misinformation that targets the wavering hearts of a population whose beliefs are more important than facts.
Has post-truth increased incidences of online shaming?
It was the 1990s that saw an exponential increase in the usage of internet after it was commercialized. People gained virtual access to almost anything that opened up unlimited opportunities online. Very soon, digital life became the primary way of life. Calls for technological applications rose in every field. People began connecting. It became super-easy to reach anyone at any corner of the world as long as they had access to data connection and a compatible device. In time, video calls became the norm and the world was reduced to a micro-globe.
But all the good comes with it’s side-effects, sometimes toxic. A simple message can be shared and re-shared thousands and millions of times with a simple click, a simple forward. Almost anything seen online is thoughtlessly shared. Many times, these are misinformations and lies that the recipients do not bother verifying. This resulted people’s online activities blemishing the truth of a matter, instigating doubts and discredits and risking the physical and emotional health of the society. The greatest peril lay in the fact that privacy was compromised giving way to social disjoints to such extent that the sheer number of polarities paved way for disintegration of emotional order. The threats of the post-truth era began raising it’s hood. Media concoctions held water with the general public, with corroboration of facts losing consequence before high-impact passions. Digital and linguistic expertise acquired power like never before.
Sometime in 2016, a photo of a mom who was checking her cellphone at an airport after laying her baby on the floor went viral. No explanations offered. To anyone who saw the photo, the mom, Molly Lensing, looked like a careless parent who was more intent on her phone than her child. Social media vigilantes flew down like hawks to pass judgement. It was really assumed that the woman was playing with her phone ignoring her kid. However, the Molly Lensing later clarified that her flight was delayed by 20 hours and she lay down the child because all this while the child was in her carrier and she needed to stretch. Also, Molly’s arms were tired and she wanted to update her family over phone. While thankfully Molly Lensing did not lose her job over this, the media attack on her is no less significant. People jumped to conclusions without asking the necessary ‘why’ and ‘what’ and shamed her for being a bad mother. They failed to verify what prompted the mother to lay her child on the floor. They failed to realise that the person who took the photo probably had no knowledge what the mother and kid was going through. Comments were all the products of emotional baggage.
Another instance was of Justine Disha Sacco’s inappropriate tweet right before she left for South Africa, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The tweet blew up and Justine lost her job. While the post was highly insulting and incongruous, Justine also received threats of rape and murder of family members. The castigators went overboard. The attack became personal. Despite apologizing, online ‘shamers’ kept hounding her.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. I recently noticed a news about a runaway couple being picked up by police. The woman was already married and had a child. The comments below were so horrific that I stayed away from social media for a few days. The wide open online platform has triggered the animals in humans, who have celebrated our evolution for so long. All we need to do is to open the comment box, type thoughtless comments, and become a part of the circus.
So what is the post-truth politics in online shaming?
It is as tough and as simple as you’d want it to be. Let’s discuss it in the premise of our topic. Here, post-truth politics is nothing more that a created narrative space that caters and calls for similar mindsets. Reactions and responses work on unscientific traditions and turbulence. Extremely polarized religiousness and righteousness that has invaded the personal space of human beings have assumed the power of reckless destruction. No one is immune. Anyone can post anything about you and people can take up the cause. Very rarely has this tendency helped than harmed. As long as the veracity of information and emotional checks isn’t being maintained, there is little to do regarding the spread of such stories or misinformation. We are content in gliding through the digital tracks. While we keep feeding our instinctive sentiments, we do not take the effort to deduce that alongwith victimising someone else, we are ourselves falling victims to a larger assembly of vested interests. We are wilfully giving up ourselves as casualties of a fallen democracy (which in itself is debatable if we wish so).
What do we do then?
Who am I to advise? No one. But yes, we can be more mature and attentive before unmindful responses. We can try an stop jumping into conclusions. We can try to accept that our experiences aren’t the sole universal truths. Everyone is wired differently. While there are general accepted practices that the society conforms to to avoid utter chaos, it’s time we accept that there a more shades of grey than just black or white. We needn’t come to a conclusion that ‘if your partner doesn’t give you his/her password to social networking sites, then there is something fishy’ or ‘good parents sacrifice literally everything for their children.’
We need to respond. We need to react. But we need to be even more mindful. We need to remember that tomorrow we may be victims too. We need to begin thinking with our heads again.
So this year’s Onam has passed, largely subdued due to the prevailing pandemic. For those of you who isn’t familiar with Onam, it is an Indian celebration of the people of Kerala. The 10-day long festival culminates on the 22nd nakshatra (term for lunar mansion in Hindu astrology) Thiruvonam of the Chingam month (malayalam calendar) which overlaps the August-September months of the Gregorian calendar. The festival is celebrated to commemorate King Mababali, who is believed to visit Kerala during Onam, which is also known as the harvest festival.
The festivities officially begins during the Atham nakshatra of the Chingam month. It is an important festival for the people of Kerala. One of the major highlights of Onam, which extends for 10 days, is the flower carpet (pookkalam). From simple designs out of flowers and leaves from within their own homes to magnificent ones made from flowers sold commercially, we get to see a variety of Pookkalams in front of homes and even shops or commercial buildings. Other festivities associated with Onam are the Vallam kali (boat race), Puli kali (Tiger dance), Kaikottukali and other folk dances.
On the 10th day, Thiruvonam, a sumptuous meal (sadya) is prepared for the household and visitors, and served in plantain leaves. The sadya consists of 15-26 dishes, though traditionally it was 64 items which can still be seen in some parts of Kerala. While the sadya is considered vegetarian, in many places like Kozhikode and Kollam, you’re most likely to find a chicken or fish item in the menu. This final day of Onam is celebrated in the traditional Kerala attire, into which contemporary styles have been incorporated in the recent times.
Onam is also a commemoration of the myth of Lord Maha Bali visiting Kerala once a year. It is believed that Maha Bali, the grandson of Prahlada, agreed to grant the wish of ownership of 3 footsteps of land to a young boy who interrupted his yagna, despite the dismay of Guru Shukracharya, who realised that the boy was Vamana, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. As soon as the wish was granted, the boy assumed the form of Trivikrama, and with his first step, measured the whole of the earth. With his second step, he measured the whole sky, and then asked Maha Bali where should he place his third step. The story goes that King Maha Bali offered his own head for Vamana to place his third step, and impressed by his attitude, the avatar of Lord Vishnu sent him to Pathala, promising to make him Indra in the next Manvanthara (cyclic age in Hindu cosmology) and that while He Himself would guard the gates of Pathala. Maha Bali, however, requested that he be given permission to return to the midst of people once a year, which is now celebrated as Onam.
The myth isn’t just a story. It holds a meaning deeper than just a simple tale.
King Maha Bali was an asura, that is, a demon. He was imperious and arrogant. He was considered unbeatable and owned the whole expanse of earth. It was this pride that was conquered by the Vamana avatar. Similarly, all false pride can be conquered by us human beings as well.
First, like the first step of Vamana that scaled the earth, we must look around us and see the gigantic number of beings on earth, among whom we are only one.
Second, like the second step of Vamana that scaled the entire skies, we must look up and realise how small we are in this entirety of cosmos.
Third, like how Maha Bali offered his own head to Vamana, we must place our hands on our heads and realize that our purpose in this cosmos is extremely small, even insignificant. Our life span is in itself extremely negligible.
Onam, therefore, is not limited to the scope of simply festivities. The festival is embedded deep into the veins of the people of Kerala. The holidays for celebrations can be anywhere between 2 to 10 days. And while everyone celebrates it in full swing, much of the younger generation is unaware that there is a larger picture behind all the colours and chords that is probably highly consequential in these times.
It’s a pandemic. Social gatherings are forbidden. A lot have already lost their jobs. Many are unable to work because their work takes them to the midst of people and this is no more allowed.
So here’s where ‘Webinars’ take advantage of the system. People with internet access are able to meet each other online. Teachers manage to meet their students, trainers manage to meet their participants, colleagues from workplace can hold meetings, and why not friends simply see one another? One of the benefits of Webinars is that you don’t have much physical stress- the travel, the corresponding packing, the different places of stay and food…and all the mental hurly-burly is done away with. But does that mean that conducting classes or working online means it’s no work at all? Online study and work culture took a sudden momentum soon after the pandemic, when we realized that free and easy movement has been locked out for the near future. Most of us were confined mostly within the four walls (with the exception of essential service workers). This is when we realized that we either have to depend on work rotation, or more on online sources to continue with our work and keep earning. This seemed to work pretty well, though working online seemed a bit snagged due to our own cluelessness is dealing with it.
Now what astounded me were people demanding free webinars from trainers for whom they’d have paid to come and take class on normal course. And these are people who are still being paid their salary by the government which is being crushed under the weight of Covid-19. I recently had a teacher asking my husband if he could recommend a trainer to conduct a free webinar to motivate teachers (who are still being paid, remember?). Well, my husband asked why each attending teacher could not pay a minimal insignificant amount to the trainer as conducting a webinar means he’s working. Why, while not paying the usual amount, he still requires to be paid because he’s investing his time and skills? The teacher agreed to his comments and then poof! disappeared!! A teacher who’s paid somewhat around 75000/- (over a 1000$) a month can’t chip in Rs.100/- (less than 2$) for a webinar to be motivated!!!
This is just one of the cases. I’ve seen ‘still working and salary drawing’ workers even rejecting online career counseling for their children just because it’s online and they believe it can be done for free. It’s funny when you think how they’d spend 10 times more to send their children to career counseling workshops in the normal course.
So here’s the thing. No (wo)man’s work needs to be free. No (wo)man’s work needs to be undermined. Even if it’s online. Because whatever the medium, it’s work and it’s time invested. Time is valuable whether you go out to work or do it at your own home. Just like how a ‘housewife’ is now a ‘homemaker’, anyone and everyone’s time is worth it’s penny. So while there are many many free webinars doing the rounds, think thrice before you demand one!