Of India, by an Indian, for Indians
I have a lot of things to say about India that would be considered, for lack of a better word, unkind. Actually, scrap that, there is a better word: sedition. And while I’d love to write an article regarding all those things, I’m pretty worried for my well being and the well being of those around me. So I decided that for Independence Day (well, a week after Independence Day, but let’s just overlook that for now), I’d come up with a list of small things I like about being an Indian.
Number one: Indian soap operas are the peak of art.
Controversial opinion, right? Well, think about it a little more. TV shows are either supposed to make you laugh, compress tons of action into minutes of content, or make you feel comfortable. The mega-whirring, jarring cuts that depict the same incident (according to authentic studies, this “incident” is an aunty dropping a plate/cup 90% of the time) in different camera angles and different colour schemes have the comedy and action factors locked down! As for the comfort, you can’t deny that there’s some sense of charm and positivity you can derive from watching a grandparent genuinely enjoy soap operas.
Number two: All Indian movies are musicals.
It’s not everyday that you come across a Hollywood movie with authentic music and extravagant dance scenes; in fact, the folks over at America™ dedicate a whole genre to that kind of film. We don’t do that here. Every single box office banger I’ve seen has at least 10 songs on it, at least half of which are certified bangers (and by this, I mean Rowdy Baby specifically). Ponder over that for a minute and tell me that Hollywood movies are “better”.
Number three: We have some beautiful slang.
My house is a place wherein I am regularly called a donkey (endearingly) and told quite often that I have high cholesterol (again, endearingly). Amongst my friend circle, I’ve also been called a cheater-cock, and been told by tens of people that I’m a tubelight. Various teachers have accused me of eating their brains and/or sitting on their heads, neither of which I’ve done even once. Memorizing things became “by-hearting” and “mugging up”, assurances turned into “pakka” and “mother promise”, and Sushant Singh Rajput turned into “an important piece of news”. Wacky, right?
Number four: Auto-rickshaws are inarguably the best mode of transport.
I learnt very recently that auto-rickshaws were just an Indian thing, which absolutely baffled my mind. It’s not very often that I say foreign countries should learn from us, but I have no idea why other countries don’t have autos. They’re economical, quick, and fun to ride. They also have three wheels, and if you’ve read previous articles of mine, you’ll know I like that number a tad bit. Plus, trying to seat myself on one-fourth of the front seat of a share auto so I can travel 2 kilometres for the cost of 5 rupees is a memory that gives me more delight than I can express in words.
Number five: We have the best stand-up comedians.
If you’ve watched Comicstaan, you’re probably gaping at this point in pure disbelief, and I don’t really blame you - that show’s about as funny as your grandmother’s WhatsApp forwards. I am here, however, to tell you that Comicstaan is about as good an indicator of Indian stand-up as India is of democracy, and that the stand-up artists we have are just better than those of any other country. Sure, John Mulaney’s funny or whatever, but I will take to my grave that nothing is funnier than Rahul Subramanian encouraging a crowd of a hundred people to scream like a banshee whenever a DJ asks them to “make some noise.” Also, Kanan Gill.
Number six: Food.
You all saw this coming, and I couldn’t not include it. Indian food is as integral to contemporary Indian culture as misinformation, and we treasure it wholeheartedly. In fact, it’s one of the only things that everyone in our country relates to (that and the aforementioned misinformation) - whether you’re young or old, Hindu or Muslim, North Indian or South Indian, as long as you’re human, you’d find it impossible to deny a nice, crispy dosa. The power of urad dal, am I right?
And there ends the list.
I’ve been trying for a while to justify this article with a central motive, or a central theme to tie this all together with a nice clean bow. But maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s fruitless to try and convince you that there’s stuff to cherish about India. Maybe you really just don’t care about soap operas when colonisation ripped us apart and exacerbated discrimination and segregation in our country. Maybe you couldn’t give a shit about auto-rickshaws when our Government is literally systematically tearing apart the pillars that hold our democracy up.
And I don’t blame you. I like to imagine that these little things that I’ve talked about are forces that take a group of diverse people and give us something to be proud of, but I’m probably wrong. They might just be lone threads by which we’re all hanging to forge a sense of belonging amidst the divisive environment we’re in. As we begin to doubt whether the country we’re living in is truly good, it’s easy to say “Of course it is! Where else would you find a Kenny Sebastian?” but it’s harder to scrape past the sensationalism and ask ourselves whether India really is what we think it is.
But hey, most importantly, if you’re a fan of Rahul Subramanian, let’s talk. For the sake of our nation. <3
Well, as an Independence Day special, I could possibly talk about some of the much more pressing issues in India, but in the spirit of Independence Day (the fear of being thrown into jail), I decided “Hey, Indian songs? Some of them are hilarious. I should write about that!”. Let’s start with the song that defines Indian culture better than anything else ever can.
So the song “Pappu can’t dance, saala” is, of course, what I was talking about, clearly. This song defines everything that is right about India. Ah, yes, being muscular, popular, spectacular, and a bachelor - the defining traits of every single Indian citizen. This song is about Pappu, a person who is everything that makes one appealing to people, except for one thing: he cannot dance. Now, this song, however stupid the lyrics may be, is way too catchy and I love it so much. The best part is that the exact same lyrics are said both in Hindi and in English. “Pappu can’t dance, saala” being the chorus (of course the title of the song constitutes the main part of the chorus as with all modern music) and “Pappu nach nahi sakta” which, well, means the exact same thing. We couldn’t have ever got the meaning of the song without it.
Now onto the second song. Let’s talk about “Why This Kolaveri Di”, a song that played a humongous role in shaping my childhood and making me who I am today.
Calling this song anything less than a masterpiece is a mistake greater than calling veg biryani pulao (like for real, they are two different things). I will say, every single lyric in this song is nothing short of a work of art. Some notable ones though are, “White skin-u girl-u girl-u, Girl-u heart-u black-u, Eyes-u eyes-u meet-u meet-u, My future dark” and of course, “God-u, I'm dying now-u, She is happy how-u, This is song for soup boys-u, We don't have choice-u”. These lyrics are so absurd, but it just somehow makes it work. The song makes it a point to stress on the last syllable of every word, which of course gives it an authentic South Indian feel.
Okay, for a song that offended a lot of people, I find it immensely hilarious because we as South Indians know what North Indians think of us almost perfectly because of this one fabulous song. “Lungi Dance''. The song starts with the famously iconic lines “Mucho Ko Thoda Round Ghumake, Anna Ke Jaisa Chashma Lagake, Coconut Mei Lasi Milake, Aajao Sare Mood Banake.” Now, this is what I call a national treasure. Not only does this beauty have a million more amazing lines such as these but it is the very fact that it was considered a tribute to Rajanikanth and South Indians that just makes this song stand out from the rest. In all seriousness, I hate this song with a passion and I will be very annoyed if any of you play it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have, of course, the parody of Lungi Dance by the amazing comedian SA Aravind. Now this, without all the sarcasm, is a genuinely good parody and a must watch. With the extremely repetitive “Lungi Dance” being replaced by “Chapati” and it being dedicated to everyone who dedicated Lungi Dance to us, I’m not joking when I call this song a masterpiece.
Let's get to recent trends, shall we? You must have heard of “Bachpan ka pyaar”. The song has been everywhere in the past few weeks after the artist Badsha collaborated with the young maker of this tune. Now this is the epitome of the type of songs being discussed here. It has everything, from a 5 year old singing a very pitchy melody which immediately gets stuck in your head, to Badsha’s signature catchy Hindi words that somehow have no meaning but sound absolutely amazing. This is what we should be celebrating in India.
Okay now before we end a few honorable mentions. There is, of course, “Hafte mein char shanivar hona chahiye” which is just mwah. Also, the song that compares you to a soda “Coca Cola Tu'' is, simply put, a really emotionally heavy song. Then we have “Apdi Pode”, of course who could forget the song people think South Indians spend their entire life listening to. “Jalebi Baby” Is another perfect example of this, it is just absolutely chef’s kiss. Also, any song by Vennu Mallesh is immediately a national treasure and if you disagree, you are wrong. Right - so those are some of the songs I feel are so stupid and fun that they actually work very well and the lack of logic and content to them is what makes them so great (the riverdale of music if you will). I hate them so much that I have started to love them. Please listen to these if you haven’t yet besties you will not regret it. <3
Last week was "Independence" day, and there was rightfully a lot of discourse on the value of this independence along with a lot of displays of nationalism. That got me thinking, what is nationalism? And what does nationalism mean to me? And why didn’t I feel the special connection to it that a lot of people did? Was it my ideology? To me, nationalism felt like identifying with my nation and seeing myself growing with it. By competitive nature, it made sense that nationalism was also to the detriment of the interests of other nations. A large portion of the speeches and the campaign put across the message that India was “better” and it would out beat other nations easily because of the qualities it had. But was it always detrimental to other nations, or just other communities?
I decided that it wasn’t entirely me being directly opposite to the government on the political spectrum. Nationalism isn't entirely a leftist or a rightist thing, it's been associated with different movements all through history. In the 1920-40s, it was allied with right-wing tendencies, but more recently it's been allied with left-wing, communist, anti-colonial movements.
Was it because I saw nationalism as bad rather than a good course of development for the country?
There isn't a lot of grey area in the discourse on whether nationalism is good or bad - the bad is Hitler and the Holocaust, and the good is the Zionist movement that created modern Israel, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Nationalism can uplift the idea of working for the greater good. Citizens would be less resistant to paying taxes and redistribution of income would probably be much easier. But I like most of my characteristics grey, so I believe that nationalism is a tool that can go both ways. Good nationalism builds a state and helps organize a community and help it move towards good, democratic values. The bad sort of nationalism is a power-hungry ideology that seeks to eliminate and crush rather than include.
If I looked at a more cynical interpretation, I could say that nationalism is good when it works and bad when it fails. For a long time, the excuse of nationalism has been used for acts of brutality, marginalization, and has led me and a lot of other people to question its morals. It should seek to unify the people and become all-inclusive. However, since independence, we have become more conscious of what brings us apart. Our democracy is built largely on parties pulling strings at different communities in whatever way benefits them. And the biggest party that calls itself nationalist is "majority oriented". This too could have been one of the reasons I didn’t identify at large with it. I clearly wasn’t a part of this majority.
Wait, let me go over the majority oriented thing again. As for a representation of India, the "majority" that comes to mind is a Hindi speaking, Hindu guy from Uttar Pradesh. He might also like the idea of being the majority, but is he? Hindus are about 80% of the Indian population, and the majority doesn't speak Hindi or come from Uttar Pradesh. And that's not even mentioning his caste, he might be part of the 10% of Indians that are Brahmin.
And there’s Hindi, something I never identified with but felt essential anyway. And also, one of the topics I went down a rabbit hole about while researching for this article. There are about thirty-five official languages in total (not the 1637 that Shah Rukh Khan mentions) and they're spoken by over a million people. They're not dialects or subsects, they're full language systems. And the native speakers of these languages are almost all minorities. A lot of people understand and speak Hindi, well, thanks to Bollywood, but the technicalities are largely unfamiliar to people in the South and the North-Eastern states of India.
So what's the solution? What is the perfect alternative that keeps everyone included equally and allows for comprehension everywhere? A medium of communication that is equally distant from all spoken languages so that everyone is easily included without being ignored would be ideal. We see this ideal in China, where there's a common script that allows people that couldn't comprehend each other while speaking to write to each other. Consequently, alliance networks in China have been multilinguistic since the Middle Ages. Russia, on the other hand, has a lot more linguistic diversity than China and its language is written in several scripts like Arabic and Latin. This diversity put in obstacles to forming alliances across linguistic boundaries. There were instead a series of nationalism movements for each community which helped lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union and previously the Romanov empire along ethnic fault lines.
There are perfect solutions to each of these problems, and feeling disconnected and excluded isn’t just a “me problem”, it’s a problem for all the minorities that make up the majority.
Something else that might push this all-inclusive sort of nationalism along would be the people in power supporting civil organizations that connect to people across ethnic divisions.
This representation of the supposed majority is what we see in the central government at large and that's why people don't identify with it. Looking from my perspective, there isn't a lot of connection I'd have with the current government. However, if I saw someone from my community, even just from South India, talking about issues we faced here, I'd be a lot more likely to identify with my nation then. Andreas Wimmer, a professor at Columbia, found that almost all stable countries have the most inclusive of the communities within them.
I'd also feel like much more of a nationalist if the government (not foreign NGOs or the private sector) provided public goods equally across the country, rather than just where they had a majority (free vaccine who?).
In conclusion, inclusivity and equality need to be at the heart of nationalism for it to work properly, have smoother functioning and have an overall passion for the betterment of the country. We'd all be a lot better off if we felt like we belonged, and righteousness probably would make you feel better than the morally grey.
Pieces of my Puzzle
The world is in constant flux. Call it dynamic equilibrium or spontaneity or anything else, there’s no denying that the laws and variables that concern our cosmos are bound to shift.
Change is good. Change is necessary. So instead of my usual bi-monthly article on abstract notions and worldly issues, I am writing about math.
Math isn’t something I’ve always liked. I’ve begrudgingly looked at math for most of my life, finding solace in complex sentences and difficult words. Letters were never an issue; numbers were. The twisted shapes of nines and zeroes, twelves and hundreds floated grimly in my nightmares. From afar, a dark figure threw multiplication signs shaped like ninja stars at me. I dreamed of a life where I wouldn’t have to ‘carry the one’ or ‘rationalize the denominator’.
I don’t know what made me change my mind (it certainly wasn’t circle theorems). I guess math grew on me. Solving problems now seems meditative and soothing, instead of panic-inducing. I remember formulas as easily as I remember new words.
Math made the world make more sense. I have a (bad) habit of overthinking the variables and constants that make up our reality, and math feels like an alternate universe where every straight line is a straight line, every equation has a reason, and most things have an answer.
While I might not be as knowledgeable about this subject as my other editorial counterparts at Riot, I’ve learnt more about the intricacies and connections of math through them. To them the Collatz Conjecture may be an unsolvable mystery, but as I’ve said before, 3n + 1 by itself can also be seen as the nth term of an arithmetic progression. But I digress.
Numbers, even when printed in grayscale, can show a myriad of colours. A difficult equation that took me a good five minutes to solve and a well-written descriptive give me the same level of satisfaction. But finding peace and common within the intersections of my brain has left me… confused.
There’s an opportunity cost between choosing to be rational, or choosing to be creative. Math has led me to become more observant, but has cost me the spontaneous spark, the swift creativity that made me who I thought I was.
I also keep forgetting that just like the world, I am in constant flux.
Rationality and spontaneity can coexist, both within me and in my surroundings. Why can’t I be logical and imaginative at the same time? The purpose of existence is to be. To be whole, to be different, to be the best one can be. If that means dividing myself into pie charts, or in the stanzas of verse, so be it.
I stand in the middle of the comfortable mundaneness of math, and the inexhaustible magic of random creativity.
I think it’s a great place to be.
DISCLAIMER: Read at your own risk. The author of this article is not liable for the reader’s urges of destroying property. And believe me, the urges will be there.
Despite it not being #ThrowbackThursday, I’d like to take you back to the good old days in third grade when we used to play math tricks and riddles on one another. Let’s try that again, for nostalgic purposes. Pick any number under 100 you’d like. Got it? Alright, now if it’s even, halve it; if it’s odd, triple the number and add one. Got the next number? Ok, now repeat the same even-odd process again. And again. And again. Do it 116 more times just in case (Confused? Haha me too). If you remember the game correctly, at this point, the trickster, i.e. me, will guess your number. My guess - your number is either 4, 2, or 1.
I got it right, didn’t I?
It seems like a naive and deceivingly simple problem - start with any number, apply the process as shown above, and prove that it always reaches the numbers 4, 2, or 1 eventually. Believe me when I say that if you are anything like me, please, please run as far away from this problem without looking back, or else you’ll see the expression ‘3n + 1’ wherever you go - in the shower, on the streets, in history lessons where you are learning about the World Wars. When world-renowned mathematicians themselves haven’t been able to resolve this conjecture in about a century, what hope does an eleventh grader have of solving it?
I kid you not. The Collatz Conjecture, sometimes called the ‘3n + 1’ conjecture, is infamous amongst professionals for the fact that it hasn’t been solved yet. Unlike Fermat’s last theorem, every mathematician has definitely given the solution a try some time in their career, but has miserably failed.
There are only two ways in which the Collatz Conjecture can be resolved. We may find a solid proof, showing that all numbers will reach 1 eventually. The other involves us finding a self-sustaining loop, other than the 4-2-1 one, that loops around to itself eventually. But no one has succeeded in finding such a proof or a loop yet. Considering that even computers haven’t been able to solve the problem, it seems like something that’s just a little bit more difficult than your average high-school mathematics problems.
Now, if this has motivated you to try to give a crack at the Collatz Conjecture, that wasn’t my intention at all and I compel you to put that pen down. However, if you are as stubborn as me when it comes to unsolvable problems, by all means do give it a go; don’t come crying back to me when you’ve spent an entire week trying to blow your head up in frustration. Just a little piece of advice - if you want to try out different numbers to see where they land up, start with something around 268, since every single number below that has been proved to come back to 1 eventually.
If you have had a go at it, welcome back from a session (or multiple) of agony and repentance! I don’t blame you; the problem seems like something any third grader can understand, which is why it is so lucrative. Being so deceptively simple, it might tempt anyone to have a go at it, but in reality it’s much harder than it seems.
Things are not always what they seem to be. From the transformers, a semi-truck might actually be an alien robot. Your cute little brother might actually be a harbinger of hell. A math problem that seems like a platitude might actually be unsolvable. You might be having epic flashbacks of sleepless nights after watching the Matrix right about now, but honestly, that could be a possibility in our world too, you never know. We may never know. We haven’t found our Neo yet.
We’re surrounded by illusions. Things are not what they seem to be. Everything around us may just be another illusion. From the nib of your pen to the house you live in, it could very well be an illusion. The scary part is that we have no way of confirming whether it is an illusion or not.
Maybe our universe is an illusion.
Parfait Panic: My Issue with Social Media and Difficult Desserts
A fourteen-year-old procrastinator. A red couch. A demonic television set (apparently it also provides Netflix now), whose only goal is to suck people into trashy-show vortices.
Two sentences in, and the situation already sounds like a recipe for disaster.
As I sit on the sofa, the clock showing half-past 3 on its threatening arms, my darling mother walks up to me, clearly perturbed by how my body could possibly contort itself like that- I think she’s half-convinced I did not come out of her, but instead fell ungracefully from a spaceship, like the one in Krrish 2 (actually scratch that, fully convinced now). Limbs and all, I give her a wan smile, and then, my eyes drift back to the TV. “What on earth are you doing?”, she questions, her eyes flashing with both concern and bemusement. “Watching Masterchef. Why?” I ask, mumbling incoherently. Mumma, slowly chuckling, asks me the following question, and consequently destroys my entire perception of social media and convinces me to give up every form of digital entertainment.
(Well, not really. That would be way unrealistic).
“Why are you watching Australian children make parfaits? Aren’t you ever going to make one yourself?” No, I probably wasn’t. In fact, I barely knew what a parfait was. However, I was going to continue watching the show, because that would mean I get to watch kids half my age worrying about if their desserts would set in time. And that, to me, was far more interesting than worrying about Geometry theorems and if I was going to pass ninth-grade math with marks that wouldn’t make me want to cry an entire isosceles triangle-shaped river.
However, that did get me thinking: Why do we spend so much time consuming content that barely serves a purpose for us? Instead of using it for worthwhile things that will stimulate us intellectually, we watch Buzzfeed employees eat the entire menu of McDonald’s - something that gives us no knowledge other than useless advice like “do not order the number six with cheese”.
This little phenomenon has a name for it: Mindless scrolling. As much as I hate to admit it, my mother was right. Our generation has practically grown up with the technology that we continuously see evolving, much like our own selves. We carry our phones with us everywhere we go, and in case of the pandemic, we lounge around in our beds and watch 15 hours of Tiktok.
According to research, the behaviour that is associated with the need to constantly stay connected is explained by the concept of the Fear of Missing Out. It is defined as “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This tendency of ours causes us to be on our phones 24/7, even if there is not necessarily a reason for us to do so. The action of refreshing our feeds and instantly receiving new content triggers the release of dopamine, a chemical in our brains that is released “after pleasure and reward-seeking behaviours”. These dopamine hits keep us wanting more, and because refreshing our feeds is so easy and accessible, we continue doing it.
We know why we constantly scroll. We know how it affects us negatively. But the real question is this- how do we stop?
Sometimes it takes the most minimal effort to escape the four walls of your room, and the fourteen-inch screen you have trapped yourself in voluntarily. Go read. Try to play that song you’ve been practising on the guitar. Attempt to ride the scooter that your parents gave you on your eleventh birthday, and subsequently scrape your shin while you curse the gods above for giving those things metal edges.
I’m going to learn how to make that parfait.
My personal philosophy is that if you care about something, it’s worth putting effort into. Poetry is no different. Reading individual poems is fantastic, and a great starting point, but by now I think we’re ready to branch out into reading whole poetry books. I’m going to recommend a couple of poetry books along with individual poems in the next few issues. Books immerse you in the world of one poet - they let you truly engage with the work you’re reading. And of course, here’s a reminder to consider signing up for Poetry Foundation, Paris Review, and/or Poem-A-Day for poetry in your inbox!
In today’s issue, we have a poem I wrote while my chronic illness was at its worst. I’ve gotten a little better now, but that was not something I thought was ever going to happen. We also have a poem I really like from my friend and fellow core team member, Shravan. Stick around for the end, where I’ll be recommending some fantastic poetry, and a couple of poetry books!
Putting Poetry in Context
On calling a spade a spade
By Brishti Chakraborty
Previously published in Issue 6 of Fahmidan Journal
Some nights I can’t sleep. Most days I can’t do anything but. Words drop from my mouth
like glue, clinical and reluctant. My head rings too loud for me to hear them anyway. You say
chronically ill and I say I don’t set alarms anymore. The sleep does what it wants. Say five
more minutes. Say absolution. Make them sound the same. These are things we don’t talk
about: the white bottles on my table, stacked according to size. The heating pad I kicked to
the floor last night. The unread texts on my phone. The ones from you. Place your order and
go sit down; service is slow right now, we’re understaffed overworked overstretched. Three
years of telling me friendships aren’t transactional, and I guess you were right, because tell
me where the debt I built up has gotten me – hey, are you doing ok? To wassup to [read,
01:54 am]. You told me we’d never test how much friendship can withstand, but I can see it
now: three weeks of blistering headaches and a diagnosis of always. Because you got tired of
living in a world of when you get betters while I lived in a world of it will be like this
forevers. And how could I blame you? Tiredness is the best friend I will ever have.
Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.
by Shravan H
time must have started at some point, right?
the imaginary clock’s first tick, its reverberations announcing a new beginning
the microscopic speck of sand in solitude on the bottom face of the upturned hourglass
the sudden shadow formed by the sundial’s gnomon at one hundred and eighty degrees
the new functionality of the pocket watch, its imperceptible casing shielding its hands
everyone knows what happened after
but no one thinks of what was before.
before the tick, the sand, the shadow, the watch
maybe there was a star
just a star, unencumbered by time
it didn’t twinkle every few minutes, it just twinkled
the light from that star didn’t travel at a few thousand kilometres per second, it just moved
maybe there was a breadstick
its yeastage independent of the hour
it didn’t expire after a week, it just stopped tasting the same
the sesame from that stick didn’t rot as time went on, it just wilted
maybe there was nothing
nothing, nowhere, for no reason
nothing didn’t not continue, it just got replaced
and nothing never stopped happening, it just didn’t encompass as much space as it did
that was confusing
I should probably just do my math homework
maybe there was math homework
Shravan Haribalaraman (15, he/him) is a teenager studying at The International School Bangalore. He’s passionate about writing, playing the piano, and writing third person descriptions of himself. He also loves reading, writing, and performing extensive Wikipedia analyses of poems that he doesn’t understand.
Keeping things whole by Mark Strand
Mark Strand was recognized as one of the premier American poets of his generation as well as an accomplished editor, translator, and prose writer. The hallmarks of his style are precise language, surreal imagery, and the recurring theme of absence and negation; later collections investigate ideas of the self with pointed, often urbane wit. (Poetry Foundation)
Meditations in an Emergency by Cameron Awkward-Rich
Poet and writer Cameron Awkward-Rich is author of the full-length poetry collections Dispatch (Persea Books, 2019) and Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016), as well as the chapbook Transit (Button Poetry, 2015). Awkward-Rich’s poetry and essays explore artists’ ability to reimagine the politics of social worlds. (Poetry Foundation)
want by Joan Larkin
Joan Larkin is a poet, essayist, playwright, and editor. Formally assured, frank, and often fearless, Larkin’s poems explore alcoholism, sexuality, and loss. In the Los Angeles Times, David Ulin observed that Larkin’s poems “stake out a territory of relentless self-examination, taking on love and death, family and sexuality in a voice that is unsentimental, ruthless and clear-eyed … This is poetry without pity, in which despair leads not to degradation but to a kind of grace.” (Poetry Foundation)
We’re all familiar with the magical world of Harry Potter. The books captivated us, and the movies brought that magic to life. Jurassic Park is solely responsible for everyone's childhood dinosaur-craze phase even to this day, with VFX sequences and stellar performances allowing for a seamless transformation from page to stage. On the other hand, though, when we think of the Super Mario Bros movie, we find ourselves recollecting a visual acid trip with lackluster direction, kooky interdimensional hijinks, and bobblehead villains. Books have successfully made the leap from text to screen, so what’s stopping their video game counterparts from doing the same?
Plot wasn’t an absolute necessity in the early ages of video gaming. The game mechanics and overall enjoyment of a player were usually more important. In a game as popular as Super Mario Bros., the plot was exceedingly simplistic - kill monsters and save the princess. It was enough for the game to offer a sense of progression or urgency, and simultaneously never try to be complex or intricate with its approach. If a movie was to be made based on this loose plot, one would either have to:
a) build on the already present minimalistic story beats or
b) do a complete overhaul of the present storyline and focus on incorporating the characters into a blockbuster setting.
Super Mario Bros. did neither. The production company was so fixated on getting A-list actors, that they completely forgot about the most common phrase in all realms of creative media - “story is king”. The initial script showed potential. The initial directors had potential. But the production company wanted even more, and in their greed, they lost all the attributes that might’ve given the film a chance to flourish. The script was watered down until it became a messy mix of science fiction and drama. Characters went from being charming and witty to being one-note and irksome.
Video games to movies: from classics to catastrophes
Super Mario Bros. was the first video game movie to see the light of day and it somehow managed to curse its successors. Soon after the movie failed to appeal to critics and audiences, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter were also released, attempting to right what its predecessor had done wrong. Unsurprisingly, both of these movies also flunked. The movies were clunky and none of the studios were willing to put in the effort to refine their final product. Characters continued to lack depth, CGI continued to be terrible, and the writing was practically non-existent. The only reason these films were being produced was to earn a quick buck and that they did in spades. Critics panned, audiences grumbled, but studios managed to walk away with heaping wads of cash. Most of the budget was used for marketing and this tactic seemed to work, at least for a while. Viewers were invested initially, but slowly crept away from this genre of movies as they realized that nothing promising or worthwhile would ever come out of it. This was a wake up call. People working on these films realized that effort and story were of absolute importance. In 2019, we finally got a glimpse of just how critically and financially successful these movies could be by doing the bare minimum. Sonic The Hedgehog (known initially as nightmare sonic) and Detective Pikachu surpassed the expectations of audiences and critics alike. Passionate teams with a love of filmmaking allowed video games to (somewhat) successfully make the transition from console to theatre.
The quality of these movies might’ve gotten better, but they’re still far from perfection. We can only hope studios don't get complacent and continue to use this rugged formula for future adaptations of video games. With a slightly stronger push storytelling through movies can be allowed to adapt to include their gaming counterparts. Now all we can do is wait and watch.
SITCOMS AND SUFFERRING
Picture this. You open your eyes to a green wall, birdsong, and a reassuring message staring you in the face. A voice calls you in and informs you’ve achieved the single greatest thing in your life - and death - You’ve made it to The Good Place.
Eleanor Shellstrop, the main character of the critically acclaimed sitcom ‘The Good Place’ finds herself in this exact predicament. But the twist? She knows she doesn’t belong there.
The Good Place was a breath of fresh air for me. With its witty dialogue and complex situations, it managed to create the perfect atmosphere to learn a lot of profound theories without feeling like it was a classroom. And philosophy, our topic of discussion today, laid much of the groundwork for the overall narrative and character arcs of the show.
Philosophy is defined as the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.
Regardless of which religion you subscribe to (or the absence of such a subscription), everyone follows a certain philosophy. Even claiming to not have a philosophy is a philosophy in itself. Broadly speaking from my point of view, there are 4 main branches of philosophy - Logic, Epistemology, Axiology and Metaphysics. Logic deals with organising and understanding our reasoning. Epistemology helps us discover how we came to know what we know today. Axiology studies basic principles and values, and Metaphysics delves into the true reality of the physical world and the universe.
Today, I would like to discuss a certain branch of Axiology: Ethics.
Ethical philosophy, or moral philosophy, is the discipline concerned with the system of moral and values. The concept of ethical philosophy has always intrigued me, but the catalyst for my renewed interest and research into it was watching The Good Place.
The show, as we’ve previously covered, follows Eleanor Shellstrop, who dies in the beginning and ends up in the Good Place. But she knows she doesn’t belong there. To quote Eleanor herself, “I’m an Arizona trashbag who lived and died pathetically.” So she seeks the aid of her ‘soulmate’, Chidi Anagonye, a professor who studied moral philosophy, to help her become a better person. Eleanor and Chidi aren’t the only beings on this philosophical journey. At first, the people they meet seem to be caricatures. Complete archetypes of their characters - a silent monk, a superficial socialite, an all-knowing mentor. But slowly, everything begins to rip at the seams. The show evolves from a distinctive sitcom with a unique take, to an absolutely heart-wrenching, hilarious, and thought-provoking story that makes you sit and stare at the ceiling for an hour after watching it. The kind of show that inspires a week-long existential crisis.
The enlightenment of the show comes mostly from Chidi, as he teaches Eleanor about different schools of thought, theories and philosophers, all in the hope of making her deserving of the Good Place.
Aiding them in their journey have been several moral philosophy concepts, that I’ll attempt to expand on:
Utilitarianism: This theory says that an action is morally right if it results in the happiness or well-being of people. It doesn’t matter what your reasoning was, the morality of the action relies purely on the consequences it had.
Deontology: This ethical theory presents that there are a set of moral rules by which any action can be deemed good or bad, and that there are no exceptions to this. For example, Kant, who is known to have aligned with deontology, believed that actions follow universal moral laws that must never be violated.
Existentialism: Existentialism deals with the nature of the human condition itself. This philosophy stresses that people are entirely free and therefore responsible for their own decisions. With this responsibility, comes profound dread. What if there is no set meaning to life? Do you control your actions, (and hence their morality)? These are the questions posed in this branch of philosophy.
The schools of reasoning I’ve listed above are interesting to think about, but I find it easier to learn hands-on. Here’s where the ‘Trolley Problem’ comes in: a wonderful example of the more philosophical elements of ‘The Good Place’. The Trolley Problem is, by now, a well-known ethical thought experiment that explores sacrifice and the greater good. In the show, it was a unique practical application of a hypothetical situation.
Imagine that you are watching a trolley, hurtling out of control on a track towards five workers that cannot escape. Right next to you is a lever that could divert the trolley to a second track. But the catch? There is one worker on the other track too. What would you do?
Most people would pull the lever, and divert the train so that only one person would be killed. Let’s look at this choice through the lens of utilitarianism. Though nobody would choose to cause the death of another person, this action (of diverting the train that leads to the death of one person) would definitely be the lesser of two evils, in terms of consequences. Hence, with this theory, the action can be considered morally good.
This seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
But let’s up the stakes a little.
Imagine, instead, that you’re a doctor that witnesses five patients who are slowly dying of organ failure. Surprisingly, you find a healthy person who is a perfect organ match to all five dying people. If you harvest this person’s organs, you can save five people. But in the process, you are essentially killing a healthy individual.
Now if we look at this from a utilitarian perspective, they would claim that harvesting the organs of the healthy person is the morally good thing to do. In their perspective, nothing has changed since the previous situation. The death of one individual would definitely be better than the death of five, relatively speaking. The consequences would reflect a morally sound action.
So why is it that most of us would choose not to eliminate the healthy person?
This is where deontology comes into the picture. As we’ve previously covered, deontology dictates that a set of rules must be followed when you make certain decisions, no matter the circumstances.
Most of us have rules condemning lying, stealing, or murder, despite what the motivation behind it could be. So in this situation, most people would choose to not kill the person. because they would have to actively take action as opposed to simply watching it take place.
To me, there is no logic in condemning an action no matter the circumstances. There will inevitably come a time in your life when you’ll be forced to do things you don’t want to do and it’s only logical to accept that at face value. That being said, judging an action solely based on the effect it has on the people around may not be the best idea either. It could result in a very stressful life where you sacrifice your happiness and well-being for the rest of the world.
Moving back to our trolley predicament, what is the solution to this dilemma? The perfect answer that presents a win-win situation for everyone involved?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but there isn’t one.
This problem, like several other thought experiments, has no definite answer. It was created to stimulate intellectual discourse and compare different schools of ethical philosophy. Nonetheless, I consider it an extremely thought-provoking quandary.
The Good Place offers no concrete answer to this question either. The thought experiment - which began as a futile attempt at educating and enlightening a thousand-year old demon - unsurprisingly backfired. As soon as the harmless thought experiment turned into something bigger, more lifelike, more realistic, decisions changed entirely. The heat of the moment gets us to do some dangerous things, which reminds us that you can never really live life through hypotheticals.
The fact that this thought experiment has no ‘correct’ solution brings me some amount of peace, because human beings are messy and complex and there’s almost never an easy-out. But whether we’re trolley-drivers or master surgeons, we’re all in this together.