Yet Untitled 085 - On Waiting for the Man
On how the myth of Eklavya is the 90s action movie I really wanted to see
Dear Yet Untitler,
The Star Trek fans among you may remember the ‘First Contact’, in which Captain Piccard and the Starship Enterprise travel back in time to our not so distant future, to the point when the human race first encountered alien intelligence face to face.
Briefly - in the film, the ruthless Borg are traveling back in time to jeopardize humankind’s first encounter with the Vulcans, a by-far more technically advanced and evolved race. This moment of First Contact meant a renaissance for Earth where the two civilisations cooperate and humankind is catapulted ahead to advance beyond its comparatively petty problems like war, economic meltdown and climate change, on its way to becoming a money-free egalitarian republic that is prosperous enough to fund deep-space exploration and look towards even greater advancement. By jeopardizing this moment of first contact, the Borg would ensure that Earth could be easily colonised in the future, with humankind unequipped to offer any resistance.
As the Borg say: “Resistance is Futile!”
When I just revisited the ‘First Contact’ trailer in reference to this instalment, I found that it remains one of my favorite Star Trek films to date! Full of thrills! But, let me say that I had been thinking of First Contact in a very particular context; the same context in which I had been thinking about this song by the Velvet Underground:
It all happened while grappling with a bunch of problems I did not want to deal with.
I wanted Vulcans to come and solve my problems too. Or any kind of man, woman or creature other than myself. Pointy ears were not a requisite. Lou Reed may or may not have been very helpful if he came (he seemed more interested in procuring controlled substances than solving my problems!)
I also thought of another elusive man who goes by the name of Godot, his claim to fame being - he never comes. Thinking of Godot felt as if the universe was whispering a hard truth to me - the Man I’m waiting for to solve my problems ain’t coming.
Interestingly - this inner dialogue started with relatively minor questions like - “How do we make our daughter Ananya more enthusiastic about Math?”, in which the Man was the tuition teacher we want to employ. Having The Man come and solve Ananaya’s fear of math in one clean sweep was attractive, even while I questioned whether it was the best and most lasting solution. The present age tests me with various bigger, more stark questions: If the Man - or the Vulcans - ain’t coming, then what’s to become of us? We don’t seem to be doing so well with our pressing, recurring problems as a race.
Halfway through writing this instalment, I wondered whether I had worked myself into a corner with that big question - what’s to become of us? - and how much room I would gave to manoeuver in this space to answer it. I’ll admit - my optimism often takes a beating in the present times when no Vulcans seem to be coming. But when it does, I work hard to find my way back to it. I have to, as Ananya and Aahana’s father.
Writing this instalment is me inching my way back.
A surprising chain of thought triggered by “Hope is a Decision”
I have often quoted this line - ‘Hope is a Decision’ - in Yet Untitled. It’s from Buddhist philosopher and philanthropist Daisaku Ikeda’s book of the same title. Of course, it always brings my wandering thoughts back from looking for quick fixes like alien intervention to Me and my own agency. That’s what the line usually does.
This time, in this instalment, it brings my attention back to another Man.
Yes. Just as you didn’t expect that, neither did I. Honestly, right after thinking of Ikead’s quote, I immediately thought of the other film from the 90s (1988, but close enough!) that made a big impression on me - Die Hard!.
Apart from being the film that taught me the F Word, ‘Die Hard’ is a textbook narrative of a protagonist wiggling their way out of a stupendously impossible situation. Despite the film having the title that it does, Bruce Willis’ John McLAne decides decisively not to die in it.
Not to die. Not to fade away. I trust this instinct deeply embedded in humankind that has been exploited to the bone by Hollywood, and of course - by all of literature. I think there’s a reason why we’re constantly looking for stories of heroes who conquer death. Maybe it’s because there’s so much poised to annihilate us. I admit - I’m looking for those meanings in any hero’s story.
This very nostalgic and entertaining chain of thought leads me another Man from another 90s film - Bill Pullman playing the President of the USA in ‘Independence Day’, a film in which aliens don’t come to save but to kick human ass.
Remember Pullman’s speech to the US Air Force before they launch a do-or-die assault on the invading aliens?
Here’s the text of the speech:
“In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world, and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind, that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore.
We will be united in our common interest. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression or persecution, but from annihilation. We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist. And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice, we will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight.
We’re going to live on.
We’re going to survive.
Today, we celebrate our independence day.”
Don’t judge me, but I confess - goosebumps then and goosebumps now. That’s what I call a speech! Go Hollywood!
The dangers of the External Man
One line from POTUS Pullman’s speech caught my eye:
We will be united in our common interest.
In Alan Moore’s graphic novel ‘Watchmen’, the antagonist Ozymandias engineers teleporting a giant squid-like alien to land splat on New York City, killing thousands. However - this is interpreted by the world as the emergence of a ‘new threat’ that immediately unites the world’s superpowers to cooperate and build a common front against as alien enemy, not knowing that this enemy had been completely fabricated by Ozymandias. As a result of this new cooperation - Earth experiences a renaissance of development with wars stopping, new technologies emerging to create food aplenty, diseases being eradicated and more utopian stuff.
Of course, the New Yorkers flattened by the fake alien squid stay dead. Even those who know the truth keep their mouths shut.
Thinking about Ozymandias and his terrible Machiavellian manipulations now, I conclude this: a desperate desire for the Man to come and save us may give us the wrong sort of Man. It may give us an Ozymandias and not a Vulcan or Bill Pullman’s POTUS.
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The Power of the Internal Man
After emerging from the reflection above, I find that I’m suspicious of the External Man and freshly curious about the Internal Man.
Who is the Internal Man? Which of the various voices inside my head is He? Or She?
I think of the story of Eklavya from our epic narrative - The Mahabharata. Eklavya wanted to become the best archer in the world, but on account of his low caste, he did not have access to the teacher who could help him become that. The teacher - Dronacharya - only taught princes, and a prince Eklavya was not.
But that didn’t stop him. He practiced day and night before a clay image of Dronacharya and indeed became the best archer in the world, demonstrating feats that shadowed Arjun - Dronacharya’s star disciple. The story ended tragically. Dronacharya asked Eklavya for his thumb in return for his ‘instruction’. Eklavya readily gave it, and in giving became the lesser archer to Arjun.
What I like about this story is that Eklavya didn’t wait for the Man to achieve his summit. He found him right where he was. He didn’t wait. This, I think, is important.
I also think it’s important to regard the seeming miracle of Eklavya’s achievement not as a miracle but as a possibility. I think we all entertain this possibility to some degree. I definitely do - it allows me to rewatch cheesy 90s action movies again and again. Perhaps it’s the part of me that does not want to wait for the Man, but wants to be the Man himself right now.
Buddhism tells me that I am the Buddha right now - that I already am the Man - just that I have to learn to manifest it rather than leave this aspect of my life latent. It took a besieged building for Willis’ character to tap into his unlimited courage. It took an alien attack for POTUS Pullman to unite the world and counter our annihilation.
But I hear Eklavya screaming across the millennia - ‘don’t wait!'.
I hear him. And I seek harder.
Thank you for listening.
Lots of love
PS: I’ll leave you with an appropriate song, one by The Man in Black: