Koyaanisqatsi is one of the finest examples of an experience very rare in life when art is surely able to carry you to a different place. I have rarely seen films end on such a powerful note but then again, I have not seen many movies like this. Though today was the third time I was seeing this and it blew me away harder and better than it had the first time.
The part which totally dissociated me from myself and in towards the film and its message was in fact one of the ending scenes where the exploded engine of Atlas-Centaur plummets through the atmosphere back towards the ground. As it seemingly falls free yet tumbling against an unseen force which burns and bends it whenever it resits it too much, within a few minutes the now-absorbed viewer might suddenly remind himself to check whether this fall is really that long as shown or rather the director’s obnoxious little trick. The slow rotation and the burning up of metal section by section with each spin is terrific to see. This huge piece of human genius, dreams and effort condensed into a mass burns away right before your eyes against the bluest of skies.
Countless other interpretations could go in there and I am sure they do because this film is purely at a level that is meditative yet not focused on a certain message or agenda. All of this happens while Philip Glass takes you back to square one, back into the ground from where you came alongwith the melody of a primitive beginning now louder and more confident than ever – worried but optimistic. What else can represent the human spirit and life better than this I really do not know.
I do not know how it is for most people (and cultures), but for me, I relate family to late summer afternoons. It is usually during the summer break when either I used to visit my cousins and aunts or they used to come over. Every summer was one to look forward to.
Here in this darkened room where curtains dance with the persistent light from the outside to the draft of a cooler humming in from the window it blocks in some corner, keeping the ruthless summer along the edges of this house full of ten people or more – silent, well-fed and sleeping they are but something wakes me up. I assume it usually is a gulp from the bottle of water that has sweat itself over the table by now because someone forgot to put it back in the fridge.
They sprawl in threes and fours, the women and the kids; probably because this rest came unplanned though was foreseen as they fell asleep while chatting about the heavy lunch they had had. I glance over their calm faces, lost in their own dreams and worlds, they will never be this carefree or silent when together and awake. It is like a congregation they are participating in but one which no one else, not even they themselves, but only can I spectate..
As I strolled the lawns of a college through the lines of white tents standing on a budget destroyed by a student leader, my gaze was fixed straight through the movement of flesh and bone on nothing but the food stalls. Cuisines which I could not recognize let alone pronounce lay waiting for my tongue. The only problem was that in this fest, like most fests I had been to as a student, I didn’t have any money.
Planning with, for and against hunger, I found myself climbing a small hill that led to a stage which shot the latest techno tracks in hemispherical concussions towards the crimson skies. All I could imagine was a paper plate in my hand overloaded with samples from each of those food-stalls with oil glistening in the bright lamps that lit up this dream of mine. Sadly, the only thing that glistened right now was my salivating tongue.
The music reverberated from the buildings that towered around the stage and as I tried to make sense of it through the bass I ran into a man in a grey suit. He was speaking in a heavily accented English with two of his friends who seemed more like his bodyguards. His beard was cut short, he had a piercing in his left ear and had covered up his sunburnt skin with a lot of makeup – he obviously seemed important. As he tried to avoid me standing there and gazing at him, I instantly recognized the man. It was Baba Ramdev. The man himself. The man who bent himself through the masses to climb and sit atop a pharmaceutical empire that is giving international consumer product brands a run for their money. The same sodium laurylsulphate that Unilever sells gets a special Vedic property when sold under his name. He was the Yoga Prophet of Profit. Now his gaze and the quarter of its flicker caught this fool looking at him again.
I decided to not creep him out any more and started a simple conversation with him from which I learnt that he had been invited by this college to judge their fashion show- the main event of the night! I was heavily confused at this point as nothing was making sense and really felt like recording all of it because this was unbelievable. The conversation ended as quickly as it had started and a crowd began to assemble around us. I realized that the stalls would close soon and made a dash towards them to get a plate full of that unhealthy filth. The music started again, louder than before as the first model stepped on the ramp to the beats of an artist who was really famous in a chamber in my head. I looked ahead as I ran down the slope to see the tents drift further away with my ever increasing speed. I think I had been cured.
The earth has now finally flattened herself to rest. Who knew that her chaotic dance would come to this calm soliloquy. The winds do not carry the soil with them anymore and the water has eroded everything that stood around it. Everything has settled down as the new uniform muddy floor a few feet below the waters that cover the entire planet. There was no movement, no waves, no life but just the water profoundly reflecting the dead sky.
But not very far from the spot where the first rock carved by man had stood was the last rock he would carve. It jutted just a few feet above the water and was the only place left to stand on. On it lived the last man who spent days carving this island into what now looked like a marble coffin in the sea. It might be difficult to have a point of reference in such a place but I have seen men find a home between two steps in a stride. He worked without breaks and only rested on moonless nights. The tides did come in perfect intervals and he would simply let them pass under him. The mud was uniform but it moved and it raised him and his rock to the crests when the tides came.
It had been decades since he had last spoken or heard a word. he could not remember his own name but he remembered the name of the last human he had seen and it was a young man who called him The Scientist. His hands had completely cracked with exposure to the sun, the water and the salt. With these hands and whatever little fuel and metal that had remained, he built a capsule in which he had shot him into space.
Now sitting alone he thought a lot about his fellow men and how they used to make things out of rocks to leave behind their proofs of presence for the generations to come, proclaiming in one tongue or another rather simple words – “Yes! I too had lived.” each such wail only wanted to be found in this ocean filled with noise. Everyone had their rock carved and left it here to be found but The Scientist was sure that no one would see what he would leave, even if it were the best rock ever to be in this sea.
The girl stands on a mountain of rocks and through the crevices she sees people below her. Dressed in white shirts and black ties they are running as fast as a crowd can run. It is yet another lost civilization that runs in circles in that underworld lit only by fluorescent light. She waits and keeps looking at them till her medication wears off. She returns to where she was, standing on the staircase of the subway station and looking through its corners at the busy platform below.
In the middle of a very intense chase, Batman and Joker walked into a shop full of customers. Obviously, everyone else present was stunned and did nothing but stare as both of them carefully walked around the store exchanging glances. They acted as if they were there to buy groceries while keeping away from each other yet in some weird form of a chase. They didn’t want anyone else to recognise them even though both of them were fully dressed in their respective costumes. Only the carnage they had caused outside lay between the distant police sirens and them but in here their frantic squeaky footsteps broke the uncomfortable silence within the store.
I was present too, and the shopkeeper who had just printed out my bill slowly leaned forward and said, “Yeh saale dono roz gaanja pike yahan aake pakdam pakdai khelte hain, aap chalo yeh toh dhai ghante aisei lage rahenge.” This was Gautam’s city.
This is about another dream I had today in evening (since my sleep cycle is absolutely wrecked and I sleep during the hours when the world wakes) I was in my usual place of great memories, my home in Pandara Road and this time I was playing a song. I started off with singing the first two lines of a Nirvana song (cannot remember which one) and completely went into a different but original melody which was soon joined by someone on the violin. This is one thing that I had actually enjoyed after many many days because I haven’t really done anything after my band dissolved into a pile of corporate plebs. Like anyone in such a situation, I told myself that this was really good so I better write it down or record it or at least play it a couple of times just in case I forget so I proceeded to perform it several times before an audience which seemed to love it and they expressed the same concern about forgetting something so good. While playing it to what seemed like a portable Zoom field recorder I realized that I was in a dream. This is when things started to slip. I wanted to remember this piece and carry it with me to the real word but apart from memories nothing else would leave this place. Even the recorder would not come through. If there was only a way to be sure of storing it in my memory without any loss or alteration. This song was truly a good one and at least it was one thing that would get me to the point of getting up and recording it in its entirety. So as the dream collapsed and I stood there in my old bedroom repeating the tune loudly to myself so that it would stay with me. I came back and woke up in a house which was absolutely dark, beautifully silent but could not stop the voices of the children playing outside after the sun had set. My mother was out somewhere and my dog was not barking like a maniac, which is rare. A silent bubble like my head, this home, consumed most of its inhabitants directly or indirectly while the world played outside. I tried to recall the song and it was not there, not even a trace, not even the slightest hint of the melody it started with. The sounds were silenced as I entered this bubble of reality, or did the dream silence the sound itself? It didn’t surprise me as I have become used to these but it did really hurt me because I had not been inspired like this in a very long time and I do not know how long, if ever, will I have to wait for the next beam of inspiration to come through.
And then there are dreams where you fall in love with someone- a figment of your imagination so perfect that none of your real experiences could ever match up to it and even if you know slightly somewhere that it might not be real, it still remains too beautiful to leave and you try your best to stay.
This person whom you had never seen or met before suddenly becomes everything and all, you get to know bliss in its purest form and with all your guards down, here is a world where you are not weak if you cry.
But like all dreams, it ends and you part without getting a chance to say goodbye, you know you will never meet again no matter what you do and it hurts. You wake up to a soaked pillow with just a stupid wish that you could meet them here someday. Now, within minutes, this sorrow turns into a painfully restless feeling when you cannot even recall their face any more. That is the beautiful stranger we all have known.
I can only recall the last few episodes of this dream before it dissolved into a distant vibration of my phone. Obviously, I do not know how I got there but there was some kind of a tension buildup followed by a release of people and their emotions in a swarm at a harbor. There was a huge cloud on the horizon with sun rays behind it rising upwards to the sky, a clouded sunset against a harbor through which I drifted like a camera operator in a movie set. I landed at a place behind these buildings, carefully walled from each other and linked by huge wooden double-doors. This was a town of war and I already knew that the frenzy here would never end. People would fall or jump from balconies of their homes or run in small groups across the street, some would randomly fall and never get up but there would be no sign of who or what they were running from, or any hint of this unseen force which was knocking them down. I proceeded to run randomly through the streets seeing everything in my way for the first time but, at the same time, still being sure of where I was heading to. I reached the harbor and it was crowded with more such aimless runners. A ship seemed to stand there like a black mass taking up the entire port, a form which never escaped the corner of your eye no matter where you looked. It was the only thing in that place which had no movement or any other sign of emotion or life. It was the spectator of this dream I suppose. I ran along its length to the nearest pier I could see and jumped off into the water.
Even though I do not know how to swim, here, in my head, I just shot from the pier perpendicular to the port till the cloud on the horizon seemed like a mountain in front of me. I slowed down and looked back and saw the shape of the harbor town with the ship marking itself as its center. Outside the structures on the land and away from the things which crowd and limit your view, in the sea, the horizon encircled me.
Darkness and the cold started to creep in which I took for fear in the beginning but it was nothing but pure isolation. It felt like one of those places in time where you either completely get depressed and insane or you learn more about yourself. It is like a Russian Roulette of meditation where you risk losing your mind to learn alot about everything in a short span of time. I half swam and half drifted to the point of getting bored of feeling nothing but water all around me – I felt like water, water with a head coming out of it.
In the early hours of the night, the cloud was still there taking up a quarter of the sky. Clear skies, no stars, just moonlight spreading all over from behind this other spectator. I cannot call the cloud a ‘new’ spectator because it had been there all along. What a weird day it was. It only got weirder when a school of dolphins came in from behind and slowed down to my pace, it seemed pretty much like a challenge which I arbitrarily accepted. We raced for hours and I used to drift away from them every now and then to see how they would react to my absence – they did, they used to slow down, circle an area in a staggered way till they saw me and I joined again. I really wonder what they thought of me because the challenge was over, there were no winners and I was now in their team.
The darkness slowed down and my dream felt like another dream, the one you get when you are half-awake in a fever. In this state a dot of light caught my eye and without much thought I split from this new isolated family in this empty sea I had found and swam towards this other new world which would probably hold a better story. Dots and distant sources of light, you see, have that effect on me. As I got closer I learnt that it was a very very small island the size of a studio apartment, its existence was probably caused by a furious stem of land down below which tried to shoot up from the sea floor, surfaced and broke its direction, arrogance and force on seeing the vastness of the sky and the sea it had lived under. Nature, I believe, does awe and humble itself in various ways.
The island had a hemispherical hut, a bonfire, a boat tied to a tree-stump and darkness. No one else was there now but I was sure that someone had just gotten up and left. Everything looked like it had been left midway. This absence of a stranger didn’t make me want to stay there either. I felt curious and wanted to find this person who had probably left on seeing me approach. I looked around and saw that the cloud was now gone. Knowing not what I had to do next, I just went to look inside the hut. That is when the buzz came in from all around and grew louder into long and deep pulses of a drone. I realized that the land on which this hut stood was still angry and had finally found someone, a spectator to exhibit his disappointment. Frantically I knelt down and clawed at the ground but it would not stop, my mind was paying way more attention to the sound now. All forms melted away and I opened my eyes. It was 6:50 am.