Yet Untitled 025 - Heatwaves been freakin’ me out..!
A newsletter about looking away, freezing in a heatwave, the unfreezing via The films of Hayao Miyazaki (among other things).
Dearest Yet Untitlers
When your London colleagues start reporting 40C temperatures as appendages to your work chats, you know you’re in the middle of the climate apocalypse.
I was in Paris in 2018 when temperatures hit 40 degrees centigrade. Walking around with a buff mask on my face, I looked like a liberation fighter looking for an iced cola. My daughters and I watched white insects drift down from trees after likely being fried on the treetops (or having gone into existentialist shock, since they were Parisian). When we returned to our lovely Air BnB, the AC unit (which looked like a plastic, slap-dash version of R2D2) looked like it was dying of shame at failing miserably against Paris’s summer of hell.
A few days later, the UK experienced a ‘browning event’ when the Emerald Isle turned the colour of hay in the face of the unforgiving sun.
This present summer brings back these memories, along with the stark fact that things have indeed become worse.
Heatwave’s been Freakin’ me out..!
I read the lyrics again and again, and I still don’t understand what this song’s about. Something to do with two people not being able to be together for some cryptic reason, and the singer’s cryptic angst towards the same.
But that refrain - Heatwave’s been freakin’ me out - bro, you can say that again. That’s what my friend in London said: “it’s 40 degrees and we’re all freaked out”.
The tone of jest in this edition is deliberate. I too am freaked out and comedy seems to be the only tone I can manage while writing about this disaster ensuing on the face of Mother Earth. It’s cathartic. And if I didn’t do it, I’d likely have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
To be clear, I don’t see writing this piece as a means to look away, I see it as a means to carry on. Because carry on we must, towards something better. But the heat and the fires, compounded by the war and the liars on TV…well it’s a strong, paralysing curare poison to deal with. It’s tough not to think about it.
This got me thinking about ‘not thinking about things’.
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Looking away from my own Apocalyptic Event
On account of climate change, the Great Barrier Reef is undergoing a ‘bleaching event’ i.e - all the beautiful coral is going white.
So is my beard!
Both events are disturbing, and I say this with no intent of being reductive towards something as serious as climate change. I make my point below:
While looking for the Paris intifada photo at the top, I stumbled upon some bearded pictures of myself when - wow - the thing was (relatively) Captain Haddock black, just a few years ago. Blistering Freakin’ Barnacles!
Now, when I look at the mirror and see the beard post my personal whitening event, my eyes don’t want to see it. They block it away, responding from the complex mire of fatalism and vanity. Pssst - they seem to have the same treatment reserved for my love-handles too! Pssst - maybe the long hair has come to give the eyes something to settle in other than (oh, the pain!) the whitening beard.
To my mind, it’s this tendency to look away that, compounded, is frying the existentialist insects in the Jardín de las Tullerías.
Let me elaborate - I think we are constantly flummoxed and paralysed by the idea of death and annihilation. It literally scares the life out of us, makes us die while still alive! What else would you call this failure to see, to react? We - I - cease to think in the face of these very large events. Ageing is one of them. The slow annihilation of our planet is the other.
I see where the two things meet: ageing and the depletion of nature; two arrows that point towards death. It’s dire, paralysing stuff - making us freeze (!) at a moment in history when we can’t afford to be stuck; when we must act rather than freeze, when we must look at rather than look away.
I’m surprised by how similar my response is in the case of both. I look away because, first off, there’s little that I feel I can do to reverse either. However, my response to ageing that comes when I’m calmer (“I may be getting older, but I can be a fitter, healthier older person, no?”) might shed some light on how we might think more positively and constructively in the face of climate change.
My list of constructive triggers to unfreeze in the face of climate change:
I am constantly looking for ways to unfreeze myself from this inability to act for the planet.
One way (seriously) is to consciously look at my white beard in the mirror and reconcile with it. At the very least, this cultivates a habit of peering down a dark hole that scares me. This, for me, is looking at my life’s slow ebb in the face, seeking to understand it better. After awhile, the shocking image of having something stuck to my face that I don’t associate with my life becomes familiar and suddenly, the thoughts and choices that follow come from a more rational place.
This is one of my methods. But I do realise that many of you Yet Untitlers out there may not have beards or love handles (you lean, clean shaven Yet Untitlers, you!). So here are a few more practices (?) to consider for cultivating poise, courage and positive action in these challenging times:
1. Connecting with the Earth’s abundance rather than it’s scarcity
This idea was planted in my head by listening to a seminar organised by the Bharat Soka Gakkai towards their fantastic initiative BSG for SDG. They invited the amazing Shailesh Haribhakti - chartered accountant, green warrior, environmental innovator - whose amazing lecture on sustainable development took many surprising turns, including one that turned the listeners’ heads towards what we have rather than what we don’t.
I was in Delhi this week and the trees are amazing! Every corner of Delhi is bursting with verdant explosions of life and vegetation. This immediately made me think -
Nature is still here. We’re still here. Let’s work!
I get this feeling every time I read my friend Karen Davis’ amazing substack about her walks in nature. We are surrounded by life that aches to continue. When we connect with it’s abundance, it can be the most surprising, wonderful, un-freezing encouragement lying right under our noses.
2. Watching Hayao Miyazaki’s films
Ananya, Aahana and I used the pandemic to move through almost the whole Miyazaki catalogue, which thankfully became available on Netflix a few years ago. I find his films to be a telling conversation with Nature, and, over time, I find that the’ve changed the way I look at Nature, towards regarding it as a sentient fellow life-form.
Two films in particular come to mind in the present context - “Princess Monokoke” and “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”.
Princess Mononoke is set in medieval Japan, when the industrial revolution is just about infringing into the realm of nature, sapping it of its fantastic powers. The film’s whole setup feels like a warning of things to come.
Nausicaa on the other hand is set in post apocalyptic world, when it’s already been generations since the earth has been ruined by mankind’s stupid mistakes.
What I find very interesting is that both films position humanity and nature as antagonists - at war with each other for control of the earth. In either case, it is the antagonism, the distrust between them that leads to the planet’s ruin. Also inboth films, it is one brave individual who plays the role of a reconciler and gets humanity back into dialogue with nature, and finds a way forward.
I love how in both these amazing films, it all boils down to a single person’s conviction that there must be another way of being. Both protagonists have to make very tough choices, putting their life at risk, however neither Nausicaa nor Ashitaka from Monokoke are willing to budge from their world view that we must all learn to live together, and those whom we consider our enemies are ultimately interested in the same things as we are - to be able to live in peace.
To quote Daisaku Ikeda, drawing from his pivotal work “Hope is a Decision”:
“An inner change for the better in a single person — one person becoming wiser, stronger, more compassionate is the essential first turn of the wheel towards realizing peaceful coexistence and fulfilment for the whole human race. I firmly believe that a great human revolution in just one person can be the start of a transformation in the destiny of whole societies and all humankind. And for the individual, everything starts in the inner reaches of life itself.”
To me, both these films manifest Ikeda’s penetrating insight into the correlation between individual change and societal change. I find it very hopeful, powerful and find that it immediately sets me thinking about and taking action rather than remaining stuck.
3. Visualising what we want to see
There is a smelly, dirty open drain that runs a few hundred meters from my building complex in Mumbai, ironically just under the “I love Lokhandwala” sign.
At my worst, I see it as pathetic state of affairs, screaming “why is in my destiny to live near this river of turds?” at the sky.
At my best, I visualise fresh water, carp, fishing, a promenade, a food truck, and flowering gardens with blossoms drifting into the clear water from above.
Reading Ikeda’s quote above, I know it’ll never happen unless someone starts thinking that way, however unbelievable the visualisation may seem. Imagine if 500 people in that building above the drain started thinking the same way. It might just manifest! In fact, because I’m thinking about it, 135 people will read about my plans for the Lokhandwala drain via ‘Yet Untitled’. Something is already moving!
Just see this article my friend Anupam Sanghi wrote about what she envisions for her native Nagpur. It appeared in the newspaper, so you can imagine how many got the taste of her vision. I believe some may go as far as to plant a tree after reading her article!
I come back to Daisaku Ikeda once again, repeating the quote in this newsletter’s preamble:
“Words that move the spirit are the “weapon” of the peaceful revolution – the human revolution – to realise a fundamental transformation in the life of each individual.”
This sentiment brings me back to ‘Yet Untitled’ every week. ‘Yet Untitled’ unfreezes me in ways that I want to be unfrozen. And if I succeed even once in giving you that same feeling of thawing freedom through my words, it’s all so totally worth it!
Thank you for reading! Lots of exclamation marks in this edition!
Lots of love and see you again next week!
Before you go…
What fear paralyses you and how have you unfrozen yourself in the past?
Tell me. I want to know!