Yet Untitled 013 - Artefacts of War and Peace
Little things I'll use to explain War and Peace to Giant Robots I find crashed in the woods
I don’t want to write about it. Why would I want to drop war into a space where both you and I are seeking refuge from the doom scroll?
But what can I do? It’s seeping into me through sheer osmosis. And there’s something emerging from this interaction that’s asking for expression.
I asked myself:
Is there anything that qualifies me to write about war?
Probably one thing alone - my experience of firing an AK47 in Vietnam. It was in a tourist-attraction environment - in the grounds of the famous Cu-Chi tunnels - all staged and aimed to thrill, complete with an instructor who simulated a drill-sergeant-to-new-recruit dynamic as he told me what to do. I was told there were blanks in the magazine, but the gun was fixed, aiming at a stack of sandbags as high as the trees surrounding it.
It was a violent experience to say the least. Even with ear-guards, the recoil and the explosion of the shot shook me up enough to think about the effect of hearing this sound incessantly at close quarters without anything shielding my ears.
There’s very little in my everyday life that compares in its potential to jar my nerves. And I live in a building where metro work is on in full swing 200 meters away.
Could using this impression as a baseline, amplifying it manifold to try and create a projection of the experience of war land one somewhere close to what war really feels like? Probably not. But then again, it is what I have - a little visceral artefact of the hell that one chunk of humanity is suffering in the world today - that too very visibly.
Even this, I thought was important.
It got me thinking of James Nachtwey, a photographer whose work I have looked at in depth over many years. After Robert Capa, he’s regarded as one of the top photographers to have documented conflict armed across the globe. A documentary was made on him in 2001 - a fascinating film, where I heard him say the following:
“It’s occurred to me that if everybody could be there just once to see for themselves…what unspeakable pain is caused by the impact of a single bullet…if everyone could be there to see for themselves the fear and the grief just once time, then they would understand that nothing is worth letting things get to the point where that happens to even one person, let alone thousands.”
I had never realised when I fired that AK that I would receive a memory-artefact that would serve as a point of reference when dealing with news of war. As a writer who has the privilege of your ear through this medium, it made sense to share this with you, again, intuitively aware that it was important.
Hearing Nachtwey go further, I understood why:
“But not everyone can be there; and that is why photographers go there. To show them, to reach out and grab them and make them stop what they’re doing and pay attention to what is going on; to create pictures powerful enough to overcome the deluding effects of mass media and shake people out of their indifference; to protest, and out of the strength of that protest, to make others protest.”
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Where to go from here? I confess, I got stuck moving froward after this opening.
There’s a little trick I’ve learned from screenwriting: when stuck, unable to take a plot forward - reverse the scenario completely and see what happens, i.e if a man was about to go rob a bank, what would happen if the bank suddenly decided to rob him?
This got me thinking about…
Being born into a peaceful life can make it something that’s difficult to appreciate.
You don’t think about it until you’re in a submarine. Or a spaceship.
I spent a weekend in Gujarat last week.
Watching my mum and her eldest sister spend long, hot spring days in the house where they grew up - this felt like peace. Siestas on a whim, video calls from their two other sisters in Jaipur and Vancouver. Seeing them lying next to each other watching Netflix, then repeating this the next day; I thought:
Couldn’t this qualify, similarly as a memory-artefact that denotes Peace - something that could be amplified into a larger impression that approximates this thing that John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band asked us to give a chance to?
Watching my dad farm his land outside Panipat, watching him grow his trees and landscape his grounds (he once made a garden installation - a big grass-covered mound with lumps - that he called “The Reclining Nymph”; the less said the better!) amounts to another such memory-artefact.
The more I talk about these artefacts - these capsules of meaning that would yield a concept on the way those dissolvable capsules would produce sponge animals in water - the more they feel like NFTs designed for alien races with an interest in humans.
Who knows whether aliens will ever be interested in our digital collectibles or not. However - you need some strong imagery to convey concepts of Right and Wrong to giant robots from outer space who’ve lost their memory:
Anyone seeing “The Iron Giant”?
In this fantastic animated film by Brad Bird who made The Incredibles, a kid finds a huge robot from outer space that’s crash landed in the woods near his home. The robot has lost its memory because of the impact of the fall. The boy’s kindness teaches the robot what it means to be compassionate, to not harm life - a lesson it imbibes when it sees a hunter in the woods and asks what a gun is.
Along the way, the robot starts recalling its former life and (surprise surprise) remembers that it’s primary function was that of a weapon. However, in this brilliant story, the kid convinces the robot that there is another way to be, getting it to declare ultimately (in a voice given to him by Vin Diesel):
“I am not a Gun.”
My kind of film..!
I’m going to end here. Feels like I’m cutting school early, but it’s been that kind of week 😂.
One perspective I adopted early while writing this newsletter is that I accepted that some weeks will be fertile and some less so. It’s been liberating and made the whole thing sustainable
I have a feeling that “Yet Untitled” is going to undergo a churn in the coming weeks and emerge better and more engaging. But hearing from you will help. It makes me very happy to get any response from you - especially to hear if anything I shared struck a chord.
Stay well and stay safe!
I will leave you with a picture of The Reclining Nymph.
In 1985, Bruce Springsteen addressed the young people of his time in the preamble to his performance of ‘War’, asking them to think about some important things.
I head what he had to say again and it felt very connected to the zeitgeist, very connected to what Nachtwey had to say as well. Now, I redirect his words and his music, especially to my younger readers who never heard of The Boss, who says with so much feeling, mirroring and supercharging my own sentiment:
“War! What is it you’re good for? Absolutely nothin’!
Lemme hear ya say it!
Hit play and have a lovely weekend.