The Existential Crisis @ HKUST IDOL

Pakistan. May 2, 2011. Militant Islamist Osama bin Laden was killed by the U.S. forces, ending his reign of terror:

A drizzle of blood

From the skies burst

Touched his lips

And quenched his thirst

 

And as innocent blood

Wet his throat

He inspired men

With hate and loath

 

His bombs, missiles and gun barrels

Vanished cities with a blast

And the eyes of each city shone

With the ghosts of its past

 

Each man, each woman,

Each child of every faith

Vowed to strike back

And avenge their death

 

And at last as though heavens raged

In silence with interminable zest

In secrecy they sent him where

No man in peace does ever rest

 

Is this the emotion that oozes?

When you hear his name

Forgetting latent virtues

In sheer disdain

 

How many of you agree to that

Upon which the poem insists

I may, I may not, but

Isn’t there a heart in every terrorist?

 

They say probably not

 

Bin Laden’s death was a landmark; a symbolic slap on the face of terror that boosted the morale of people. It was supposed to be a harbinger of hope.

But the power vacuum

Lead the Middle East

Into a state of

War and Insurgency

 

The chasm between

The two factions of Islam

Fueled by jihadists

Gave rise to a political bedlam

 

The ISIS then emerged

In Iraq and Syria

Wishing to establish

A governance by Sharia

 

The resulting civil war

Scarred the Syrian nation

Destabilized Middle East

And invaded global regions

 

Now as the US and its allies

Launched airstrikes at ISIS

Syria became inhospitable

Resulting in a migrant crisis

 

It is the year 2016 now. This is the story of a how, a Syrian refugee who lost his family while migrating to Europe, meets another refugee settled in Germany in a similar situation

It’s those some-times

When in the quintessential hush

You whisper

From a broken raspy throat

Crackling through the silence

As though parched and raked over

Burning coals, over

Scorching summer sands

And into those silences of the desert

Your agonizing cracked voice

That has been silenced

By fate perchance

For so long

It has so much to say

It longs to, but nay

The silence of the desert

Offers no solace, no oasis

Yet you whisper

It speaks of strength

That you’re so hardened

That only you know, it’s an illusion;

Where they see courage

I see the desperation

I see you’re broken

Because I’ve been there too

The ageless quietude

Of whispering

Of wetting the throat with emotions

Buried somewhere far but not forgotten

Of wetting chapped lips with blood

That you wished was not a figment

Of your imagination

You bleed within and wonder

Why it all never bleeds out

But like a rot on the inside

It gnaws at you, it clings on, it clots

And you scrape it out

With harsh rasping sounds

And guttural cries and howls

Your throat is hoarse

Because you have so much to say

But no one to tell

So you tell the silent air

The forbidden secrets you hope

It will share

You hope that one day

You’ll get there

I won’t lie and say it’ll be fine

But it will get better with time

Your lies, your self-deception

Your ability to hide the pain

To hide yourself

From not just the world

But from yourself

 

We wish to say something to those refugees. To tell them that there is hope. That they have people out there who wish to help them.

But at the end of the day,

We are spectators; indifferent

Sympathizers; still indifferent

Commoners; who aren’t directly affected by ISIS or the migrant crisis

And this realization

That our lives are affected by petty complaints

Transports us into an existential crisis

 

Just a Matter of Perspective

As an extension to Happy New Year, a friend of mine told me earlier this morning that he makes resolutions when needed, not when the calendar on the wall changes. That perfectly describes my sentiments. However, this New Year I received a greeting from another dear friend apologising for all her past actions and words that may have even inadvertently hurt me. That gave me a pause. It gave me the idea for my latest resolution, which coincidentally happens to coincide with the first of January.

Every individual reacts differently to a given stimulus. Communication in a common tongue aims to reduce the scope of misunderstandings within these reactions. However, our unique styles and perspectives on life disable this particular feature resulting in a wall that stops us from being able to adopt a foreign mindset that justifies a particular action or reaction.

evaluation3-copyIn this light, my resolution is to simply try and breach the wall by translating it through poetry. As an example here is a parody on the mental tyranny of social obligations:

 

 

LESS IS MORE

I suppose it may differ
Mine from yours
As do I from you
But nevertheless for me
It’s true
My dear –
Oh bother
I really must start appending
‘friend’
At the end
Of every ‘my dear’
For I fear
That such affectation
May be taken
Under undue consideration
By one
Who may or may not
Have been
Mocked
As the talk
Progressed into
The emphatic
But thence
Unto
The static

– Akanksha Gupta

Wacky Food Lyrics

I adore cooking. Mostly cooking up things. Sometimes it’s food. Palatable, usually. Here’s one of my many wacky dishes.

RICE ‘N’ CHIPS

Doritos crumbled into rice swathed in egg mayonnaise seasoned with a thousand islands and sprinkled with grated cheese and red chilli

dish 1

because there is poetry in food … and food for thought

You know you’re in University
When your taste buds have worn out
With the bland and the boring
And the numbingly unalluring
“Things” to eat

And you know when you’ve crunched
On supermarket candies and cookies
For days, mayhaps even weeks
Because winters have come
With blanket retreats

You know you’ve truly forgotten
How the good food melts like
On your tongue
For to walk a mile
(Or what seems like one during exams)
Is a real problem

But when your stomach starts wheezing
And your bread is hosting fungus
Oh your jam’s got it too
You walk that mile (despite a humongous workload)
But your options are too few

So you don’t even take the road
Less travelled by
But get off of the fork
You wade through the forest
And pick that what might just work

– Akanksha Gupta

TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE

Politics is messed up and in return, I am lousy at it. It is a very healthy relationship I assure you; of being uninterested, apathetic, uncaring, and indifferent and all the synonyms you can find in the thesaurus for the word “voter”. Do note that the word ‘voter’, here, not only refers to those who vote but also those who can but prefer not to.

And I appreciate the voters who don’t vote. After all, they must have more pressing concerns such as working to put food on the table. They have no reason to care about which candidate gets elected or what schemes he proposes. Those schemes are never going to bear them fruits. But yes, if they must, they would rather vote for the candidate that delivers promises before the elections even begin. After all, he ‘shows’ promise despite his track record. Now, while most cultures may call this ‘bribery’ and condemn it for being a despicable act, the truth remains that nobody would admit but everybody is guilty of it. And that makes the whole world which includes those who vote and those who don’t equally and unequivocally a despicable lot. Since everybody is born this way, no-one is alone in being lazy and dishonest. Thus, without shame I can confess to you, one voter to another, I’m one who’d rather not vote.

THE UNVARNISHED TRUTH BEHIND AN ELECTION MANIFESTO

I will get up

And wash about

Me, my house

 

I will drink

To the health

Of me, my house

 

I will eat

To fill the tums

Of me, my house

 

I will work

Hard to earn

For me, my house

 

Day after tomorrow

I will do all I can

For me, my house

 

Tomorrow I will plan

The how-to-do

For me, my house

 

And I will want today

Your support

For me, my house

 

For what is mine

Is yours too

Even me, my house

 

And together

We sink or swim

That is our house

 

Coz ‘everyday’ comes

But the day after ‘tomorrow’

In this blessed house

However, I vote. Despite the fact that the higher echelons of the society are infested with petty politics of a silver tongued governance riddled with corruption, I vote. After all, the media has spiced it up into a soap opera, irresistible even to the likes of me. And I absolutely despise it; a love-hate relationship. Moreover, I want to feel like Santa Claus. I want to know which candidate has been good and deserves a gift. It gives me a perverse guilty pleasure to note that no politician deserves it. Still I vote; partly because I am inclined to put up the pretense of a nice active voter who cares and partly because if I am to give up my nation to vultures I’d rather choose the least greedy one. So yes, while I am lousy at politics and would rather not dirty my hands with it, I refuse to sit on the sidelines and accelerate the rot. Who knows? Once in a blue moon, the tide may change and long-sought changes may be wrought.

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

Look at those giant feathery folks

That poke their beaks into businesses

That bother them not

And rather than lay an apology

Thickly and swift

Their tongues erupt into

Hackneyed discourses and juvenile diatribes

That fail to eclipse their wilted wit

So much so that these long weathered ears

Grow wary of potential permanent abuse

Especially as their voices grow louder

And their stilted stature elevates

Mayhap it’s their nearness

But as their beaks elongate

I wonder how many of us

Are blind by choice

And how many oblivious

But it is quite certain that the giants seem

(Beyond their bulbous beaks)

Unable to see

Or care about

Our apathetic visage

And a pathetic state of affairs

~ Akanksha Gupta

(PS: This article was published in HKUST Wings 23.1)

PERFECTION: Attempt 2

Perfection is abstract

Abstract concepts are subjective

To every individual

They seem to be distinctive

Yet no pair of eyes

Can claim objective observation

And thus if they see it

It’s their perception of perfection

But since nobody is perfect

And since there is no universal definition

Nobody has the ability to be perfect

By the inherent virtue of perfection

Though on their own they can

Strive for their self-defined ideal

But once they reach and cease

There would be no progressive fuel

This lack of impetus

Would stop further innovation

And a stagnant world would spiral

Into its own rot and degradation

And thus we return to the web

Of subjectivity and motivation

And to the existential crisis

The Shakespearean question;

The possibility to be

Or not to be

That weaves a delicious irony

Of perfection and imperfection

Do you know why we have so many matrimonial services? Because it is difficult to find the perfect life partner. Everyone has a different nature and nurture, and therefore, a very different view of what a ideal being is. Furthermore, their perceptions keep evolving with time.

For instance, in the 17th Century, the society defined a perfect, accomplished woman as one well-versed in a variety of homely arts and social etiquette (Sense the sensibilities of Pride and Prejudice here?). Had the society remained constant in its views of a perfect women, we would still be afflicted with gender roles today. The world would have made no progress.

Take another example. If we had believed that the first phones invented were absolutely flawless, we would have never made smart phones. We would have not invented beyond a certain creative threshold.

That is why it is said that “Forget perfection. There is a crack in everything. That is what lets the light get in.” In other words, we can always find potential for improvisation in every sphere.

However, let us assume for a moment that it is indeed possible to achieve perfection. To begin with, is there any universally agreed upon definition of what that may entail? Your version of perfection may very well be flawed to me. Perfection, therefore, lies in the eyes of the beholder.

The only perfect persona we can achieve is the one that we conceive. For that, we keep on improving and changing for the better. In other words, we strive to be more perfect than before. And herein lies the irony of trying to be perfect but not having the ability to become so.

In short, while nobody is perfect, everyone has the ability to overcome any imperfections in the constant endeavor for self-development where sky is the limit.

– Akanksha Gupta

Fantine Is Still Alive

Fantine is alive not just in our memory, but in reality as well. There are many Fantines. Every person has the potential to become a Fantine. What are we doing to ourselves?

Anne Hathaway’s touching performance of “I dreamed a dream” as Fantine in ‘Les Misérables’ will remain burnt into our hearts through time. It was the raw emotion that dripped from her voice, the pain of her trials that echoed in our ears and the portrayal of her life that singed our hearts. But the silence that lay heavy in the air then, continues now. Its essence has permeated; bred through time and broken the shackles made by the blood and sweat of all those who tried to keep the monster at bay. The shackles had always been feeble anyways. And so, that silence that haunted Fantine still hangs like an albatross around the neck of the society.

We see cases of domestic abuse, molestation, rape and so on fill the pages of the newspaper. It chills us to the bones. For a moment we are skeptical of what remains of humanity in this world. We wonder why our society makes monsters of good men. Well, there are a number of different theories.

Some argue that it is conditional behavior. Those men observe that most of the crimes (at the rate of one molestation every 15 minutes; one crime against women every 3 minutes; one dowry death every 77 minutes; one rape every 29 minutes; one murder every 16 minutes; and one sexual harassment case every 53 minutes) go unpunished, and instead, the victim is blamed. They deem it acceptable in their mind.

But here, we wonder whether they have any discretion, any rational thought to counter it. Well, that thought is perhaps trampled by what they are taught to practice; subtle gender inequalities that over time begin to seem commonplace to both genders. It gradually becomes a part of their culture. It transforms their mindsets into that of the oppressed and the oppressor. For instance, in 2004, the NHFS reported that at least 35% of the women being abused thought that they deserved a brutal beating from their husbands if they neglected the household chores or children, while 51% of such husbands also deemed beating their wives acceptable if they disrespected the in-laws. It is no wonder that according to a UN report, 6 out of 10 men in India commit domestic violence.

Here are some more unsurprising statistics about the attitude towards gender equality in India (published jointly by United Nations World Population Fund (UNFPA) and Washington-based International Center for Research on Women):

  1. 93.6% men believe that a woman should obey her husband
  2. 86.2% men believe that the most important role of a woman is to take care of the home and cook for her family, against 74% women who said the same.
  3. 74.6% men and 65.1% women believed that if a woman does not physically fight back, it is not rape.
  4. 93% men felt that ‘to be a man, you need to be tough’ compared to 85% women.

Look closely at the 4th finding mentioned above. It shows how both the oppressed and the oppressor are in fact oppressed and shackled by the parochialism of a society that unknowingly perpetuates the aforementioned inequalities. The quintessential male is limited to a gender role defined by high aggression, independence and an unemotional countenance. This is one of the main factors for a higher rate of suicide among men than among women, since it prevents men from seeking counselling against depression.  Gender roles indeed play a major part in the increasing incidence of related crimes.

But not all women or men are the quiet martyrs of yesterday. The Fantines of today are trying to break the silence. One out of every four Fantines in India is speaking out against the atrocities. Can you hear their voices?

I can, and I tried to capture the story of one of them in the following video. And while these modern-day Fantines are slightly different from Hathaway’s Fantine, the similarities in their circumstances are heart-rending, as is the fact that they still exist.

I hope that we begin this new year with the hope to bring about a change and make this world a better place to live in.

– Akanksha Gupta

BEHIND THE SCENES

When it comes to war, each person roots for different sides as though they’re their favorite cricket teams. Some look at the history; the originator, the aggressor. Some look at the bigger picture; the countries or alliances benefited. Some also look at the power struggles and support either the expected winner or the ‘underdog’. And then there are some who look at the religions of the warring factions and decide upon the one with a darker overtone as the unequivocal perpetrator.

But who does the majority of us support?

The majority of us supports neither side, just commiserates their misfortune, passes a remark or two with indifference and gives up thinking about them as a lost cause, all the while thanking our stars that we were not born in the ever-warring conflict zone. The majority of us pities the poor people born into that world, for ‘collateral damage’ is inevitable in war.

The question is what if we were born into that world?

The question is, how many of you stop for a moment to consider the “collateral damage” – the civilian life, livelihoods, peace and stability? How many for a moment, step out of this humongous cloud of hatred and rejection that is bound together by a history of foolish pride, stubborn politics of retaliation and wrong decisions? How many of you ever think about the ‘Humans of Israel-Palestine‘?

Oh no, this is not really about the Israel Palestine issue. It is about how, by supporting neither sides, we are still supporting the war. This is not an attempt to criticize or propose a solution. It’s a cold hard recipe of bitter ugly truths. It is a mirror to our actions; a harsh reminder of what we may be doing. And all the while, it’s reverberating the voice of the people spouting those truths, splaying their misery unto the world and crying for a reprieve. Indeed, it’s about those people suffering behind the scenes.

 

Broken orbs, ruby red, as fresh as the midnight air,

Splatter onto me today, I shrug them off and stare afar

A little jarred, with eyes scared, a little cold, a little hard,

My bones benumbed, cling on, chilled to the core,

The anger should have melted them by now,

Burnt them to a blackened barbequed crisp, but

I guess my heart has frozen like lead; strangled

My neck like an albatross, and I fear

If a little more sorrow is pelted on it, it’ll break

Apart, like the crystal glass that showed me once,

A little girl, a life away from grenades and gunpowder,

But shows me now the lifeless face of my mother;

I shudder, and open my eyes to the moon-white, as

The crystal ball shatters into a million orbs, ruby red,

As fresh as the midnight air, and I?

With a grim smile, I shrug them off…

– By Akanksha Gupta