Yet Untitled 084 - Is it worth the Suffering?
A short essay linking Antibiotics and Art
Dearest Yet Untitler
I hope you’re well.
I want to be well. Fully well. I’ve been in and out of low-grade illness over the past few months. Shoots, extreme temperature changes, the monsoon with its blooming infections, the anxiety of being a first-time director - they’ve all been Rocky Balboa using my immunity as a speed bag.
Falling sick. I don’t like it. I especially hate the feeling that after the illness I’ll have to, in some way, build myself back up from scratch - strength, stamina…everything. It’s an inconvenience, to say the least - to suffer having to climb the same mountain again. The result - I invariably opt for the quick fix of antibiotics a few days into an infection, after asking myself - is it worth prolonging the suffering not to take it?
Sigh. ‘Is it worth the suffering?’.
The other night it was a decent 22 degrees in Mumbai (balmy weather for this city). I asked my kids not to turn on the air conditioning at night and was met with such a bad bout of sulkiness that I had to give in, despite talking about climate change and telling them various ‘a little bit of discomfort goes a long way for mother earth’ sort of things. But they did not see. They did not agree. They opted for a comfortable night. Discomfort was to be avoided at all costs.
(To their credit, they didn’t use the air-conditioning of their own accord the next day).
I’ve been thinking, since, about avoiding discomfort in various respects. Working as a writer/director in the scripted series / OTT / Netflix-Amazon / streaming world, I am often caught off guard by how much the Entertainment Industry eschews the discomfort inherent in art.
Art to me has always been about reflection. I go back to a day in my early 20s when I stumbled upon some folks who had watched a play I had directed and were sitting in a college bar, discussing it seriously. That day I knew that this was the art I wanted to make. I similarly remember another day, likely in the same year, when I walked out of the Cambridge Arts Picture House after watching Asif Kapadia’s ‘Warrior’, and then thinking and talking about it for days. More recently, I emerged from watching Jacob Collier live in Mumbai, and not a week goes by where I do not mention him at least once. All three instances are about Art causing a disturbance of some kind. Does inspiration not feel like a disturbance, sometimes? One that inflects you in a new direction?
The behemoth of the Entertainment industry feels to me like it wants to switch people off rather than turn them on. To not Ignite them. To not Set them Afire.
Thinking about it, it makes sense. Being switched on in this world - aware, awake - means to come face to face with some hard truths - war, climate change, social injustice: all not very comfortable. It makes me think of an episode from Netflix’s edgy, experimental animation anthology ‘Love, Death and Robots’. The episode is called ‘Beyond the Aquila Rift’. IFYKY (which I recently learned the full form of). Along the same lines - in The Matrix, the sleeping humans do not feel the pain of complete subjugation by the Machines. They are lulled via a simulated life, too entertained by it to wake up. To wake up would be to suffer horrors that they consider beyond their capacity.
It cracks me up (in the context of this essay) tat Morpheus gives Neo a pill to wake him up to see the world - the desert of the real - as it really is!
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Two weeks ago, I got an upper respiratory infection 2 days before my mother’s 80th birthday celebrations. I had passed through Delhi to get to my mother, where the air quality index was 850. That’s like doing a breast stroke through a pool of soot. I coughed through the night, and when I woke up, I ran a fever. Not wanting to miss the festivities, I took a precautionary dose of a mild antibiotics and then danced like a maniac on her birthday.
Two weeks later, I relapsed and coughed through the night again.
This time, though, the effect of the spinning sock in the dryer that is my head lingered. I had come up with my own answer to the question - Is it worth the suffering? Interventions, reasons and a bit of reading made me not take the antibiotics this time. After braving discomfort for an extra few days, I emerged intact, a little astounded at my body’s ability to heal itself.
Me: How’d you do that?
Body: You never gave me a chance, ya dufus!
The conclusion, to my eyes, of this instalment, dear Yet Untitler, is that suffering - discomfort - reveals. I’ve been studying about this principle in my Buddhist practice too, that our suffering points out the kind of karma that our life grapples with. What you can see, you can deal with. What you sleep though makes you flummoxed at the climax.
Buddhism calls our world the saha world - a world that had to be endured. But the perspective isn’t as spartan as it sounds. The 'enduring’ is also persevering - despite the discomfort and finding happiness by doing so.
I endured a suffering without a crutch I thought I needed. I have a spring in my step.
I think it was worth the suffering.
Thanks for listening!