Saturday, February 28, 2009

Meaning of Life… by Chance

I want my money back. (Thanks, Meatloaf!) Or something. Like millions of students who come to the United States for higher education, I too came with education as the last thing on my mind (no, not really… but then saying that makes the opening more dramatic).

I wanted to have the “American experience”, you know, meet with people of different ethnicities and cultures, interact, learn, and know and befriend peoples of the world. Interact with not just the “locals,” but also “imports” from places as diverse as South Africa, Brazil, Equador, Columbia, Mexico, Australia, the Middle East, China… you get the picture.

Nashville, in general, and Vanderbilt, in particular, did give me some exposure. I made friends from Vietnam, Korea, Pakistan, Zambia, Ukraine, Thailand, China, Turkey… you name a country or an ethnicity, and I met and befriended someone from there, barring Antarctica (However, I did see the Penguins at the Sea World, and they stank, but I digress). Nashville, while not known for its diversity, surprisingly did not limit the experience even when I left school and started working. My acquaintances expanded to Cherookee, African Americans, Japanese, Africans, Irish, Armenians, Iranians and many other ethnicities.

Since I was spending time meeting different people, I naturally spent less time with my brethren from India. I was perhaps even labeled a “coconut” or “desi averse” by the not as social “desi junta.” Even if I did, I do not mind. I had stepped out to broaden my horizons and by George, no slur was going to deter me from meeting fascinating people and garnering wonderful anecdotes.

A few years thence, I moved to the Golden Shores of the Bay Area, known amongst other things, for its immense and diverse immigrant population. I was excited to giddiness at the prospect of meeting so many more interesting people. Perhaps I might meet a few interesting gals as well. The possibilities seemed endless. Perhaps NYC might offer more, but this was exciting nonetheless.

Cut to a year later: I just stepped out of a late night screening of “Luck… by chance.” With a kazillion other desis. Watching a Hindi movie with a theater packed with people Indian origin, all talking, cheering and clapping during the movie made me feel like I was back in a theater in Mumbai. The exclamations and exultations at the appearance of Bollywood icons like Rani Mukerji, Shah Rukh Khan and Hritik Roshan were surreal.

Image source:

The audience and the movie, however, were a remarkable catalyst for an amazing realization.

The movie revolved around the lives of struggling actors in the glitzy world of the Hindi movie industry (or sometimes identified with the now despised epithet “Bollywood”) as they rubbed shoulders with fate and “star kids” (children of famous previous generation movie stars).

The movie caricatured the various industry stereotypes: an emotional and porky Punjabi producer, a domineering “star mother”, a ditzy “star daughter”, a hack director, a frustrated script-writer and their interaction with the gossip magazines.

It is also notable for many tongue-in-cheek references and cameos: Abhishek Bachchan, Akshaye Khanna, Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar, Rani Mukerjee, Diya Mirza all pay obeisance by lighting the screen for a few glorious moments. It reunites Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia, who first appeared together as adolescents in “Bobby”. Mr. Kapoor delights as the porky Punjabi producer “Rolly”, while Ms. Kapadia does ample justice to the role of “Meena”, a domineering “star mother”.

The plot focuses on how difficult it is for an outsider to break into the Hindi film industry, and the kind of people that thrive in the Bollywood environment. However, the irony of the movie is that perhaps the only outsiders in the movie are Isha Sharvani, Juhi Chawla and Dimple Kapadia.

The movie stars:
• Farhan Akhtar: as Vijay Jaisingh, the struggling outsider from Delhi. Farhan is the son of veteran script writer Javed Akhtar and noted scriptwriter Honey Irani.
• Konkona Sen Sharma: Vijay’s first love and wronged girlfriend. Konkona is the daughter of acclaimed Bengali film director and writer Aparna Sen. Aparna Sen Sharma is herself the daughter of noted film critic and director Jibananda Das
• Hritik Roshan: as the haughty movie star. Hritik is the son of, actor turned director, Rakesh Roshan and Pinky. Rakesh Roshan is himself the son of Roshan, a famed Bollywood music director in his own time. Rakesh’s brother Rajesh Roshan is currently a famous Bollywood music director. Pinky is the daughter of noted Bollywood director J Om Prakash.
• Sanjay Kapoor: as the hack movie director, Ranjit Rolly. Sanjay is the son of Bollywood movie producer Surinder Kapoor and the brother of erstwhile star Anil Kapoor and producer Boney Kapoor
• Rishi Kapoor: as Romy Rolly, the harried producer. Rishi Kapoor is the son of the famous film director Raj Kapoor. Raj Kapoor, amongst other things, discovered and debuted Dimple Kapadia opposite Rishi in “Bobby”.

The movie is written and directed by Zoya Akhtar, who is, you guessed it, Farhan’s sister.

The following stars make cameo appearances:
Appearing as themselves

* Shabana Azmi: Farhan’s step-mother and Javed Akhtar’s current wife
* Javed Akhtar: (as previously noted) Farhan’s father and veteran writer
* Aamir Khan: son of film producer Tahir Hussain and nephew of Nassir Hussain, a director and producer
* Shahrukh Khan: a true outsider to Bollywood and currently the “reigning” actor in Bollywood
* Abhishek Bachchan: son of noted Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan
* John Abraham: an outsider!
* Rani Mukherji: a daughter from a family steeped in movie making tradition. Cousin to star Kajol
* Kareena Kapoor: grand-daughter of Raj Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor’s niece
* Dia Mirza: an outsider!
* Karan Johar: son of Yash Johar
* Ranbir Kapoor: grandson of Raj Kapoor and son of Rishi Kapoor
* Akshaye Khanna: son of noted actor Vinod Khanna
* Vivek Oberoi: son of actor Suresh Oberoi

In a very ironic twist then, this particular production refrains from incorporating any new faces either in front or behind the camera. For me, the ensemble cast also highlights a particularly interesting thing: every parent wishes that his or her children prosper and achieve more than him or her. Javed Akhtar was a notable writer, but no more. Likewise Honey Irani, though respected in her own time, was never the siren sizzling up the silver-screen. Their children now call the shots as writers, leading actors, directors and producers.

Such behavior, i.e. doing one’s best and then passing the baton to the next generation, is common across almost all surviving life forms (that I can think of). This then must be the meaning of life: prosper and consume as much as you can, procure as much as you can and pass on to the next generation, so that they may in turn consume, prosper and achieve more than has been achieved before. From this behavior stems forth strife, struggle, betterment, competition and evolution itself. As do rampant consumption and explosive growth till external forces necessitate change.

All the same, while the cause (“meaning”) for the struggle in life has been addressed, the underlying existential question or purpose behind it all still remains, i.e. “Why? Why go through the rigmarole of competing, of consuming, of procreating and to what end?” I suspect, I’m in the same boat as the rest of Creation on that one, because I just don’t know. Yet.

“Why not then just give up then? Why continue living when one cannot find any answers?” one may question further. In all theory, one could. There isn’t anything to stop one from doing that, if one so chooses. I personally think that is not the most logical (or if you prefer the word “correct”) approach.

“Giving up” rests on the *assumption* that there are no “answers”, that life truly has no purpose. But the honest truth is that we don’t know. Probably there isn’t any purpose at all. We’re all just manifestations of energy, going through an inevitable chain of interactions guided by the inexorable irreversibility according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

If, however, there is a purpose, then the only way to find out (if determining the “purpose” is important to the one doing all this questioning) is to continue searching (and living). Furthermore, when the time comes, one must pass on the search and the knowledge (“current state”) to others more capable (usually younger children for they have a longer shelf life and more energy). Hopefully the new charges have greater intuition and insight, so that they may not waste their lives repeating what has already been done, but explore the uncharted paths of discovery. One is then best served by doing things that haven’t been done before.

On the other hand, if there truly is no purpose, then there truly are no constraints, no levels to achieve, no bars to meet and nothing to dictate how one must live life. One is then free to explore and do as one wishes in the sole pursuit of personal fulfillment (whatever that might be).

In either case then, we are manumitted from proscriptions of tradition, the bounds of religion and the constraints of “right” and “wrong” and are free to choose and do as we deem logical or favorable or palatable. We are free to shun the example of a person willing to sacrifice his own son at the behest of unseen and unheard voices. We are liberated from emulating the paragon of perfection who agrees to publicly persecute his wife by placing her on a burning pyre. We can candidly eschew the schizophrenic rants of a senile pedophile who advocates violence in the name of a higher power. We are emancipated from accepting the world around us as perfect and are empowered to reshape it as we see fit.

The questions:
“Why? Why go through the rigmarole of competing, of consuming, of procreating and to what end?”

can then best be answered the way Neo did:

“Because I choose to.”

So then, just like the million other “aliens” watching the movie with me, I am here because my parents strove, struggled and persevered every day of their lives to give me this opportunity of achieving more. So that I may learn and grow and do all that they couldn’t achieve. And more.

So, no, I don’t want my money back. I am broadening my horizons. I am learning about life in ways I couldn’t have back in Mumbai. I am learning about the Life, the Universe and Everything, and myself. This is all worth it, many times over, many lifetimes over.


Pallavi said...

Very well written. I enjoy reading your blogs.
Btw, I am a strong believer that there is a purpose to life :)

Ganesh said...

The answer to your "why", lies in the book "Atlas Shrugged".

kage said...

thanks Pallavi! Love and appreciate the feedback

kage said...

thanks Ganesh

kage said...

Ganesh, you were quite right. I just finished reading "Atlas shrugged" and I must say I find strong resonance between Rand's philosophy and mine. I did think that her characters droned a bit, but perhaps that's how my writing grates on others as well :)