True beauty of American Beauty

11/22/12

American beauty is one of the nice movies I have ever seen. That’s not surprising because it’s an award winning movie. Anyway, its simplicity and context which aligns with the most wanton characteristics of fast moving life and its tragic consequences towards a family make me think more and more about ourselves. Though I use the ward “tragic”, this movie is not all about a tragic end, but it also opens an avenue for the simplest beauties of life which has nothing to do with lengthy philosophical means.

Beauty is just life...how you take it... as Lester (main character: middle aged magazine writer who faces a crisis) says at the end... “Today is the first day of rest of your life!”
I have watched this movie three times in three different stages of my life and grasped it in terms of different aspects. First I watched this soon after the first release when I was just out from the university. Honestly, what I enjoyed was the glamorous sexual fantasies Lester had on Angela who is a friend of his daughter. I should admit those scenes were beautifully done. And that’s it.



So this is all about glamorous dreams...

Then American Beauty was shown in Liberty Cinema for a little period when I was in late twenties. One of my friends (a photographer) wanted to go and see it and I was invited to join him. So I said I already watched and, as far as I can remember, it got some glamorous scenes, a half naked beautiful girl and so on... but there is nothing much to watch again.  Anyway, I watched it again with him and it started to open different window this time. Hmm.....  it’s not only Angela’s sexy body, but how the ambiance and reality of people contrasts each other. What are the different aspects of different people in same family, same neighbourhood? Is it worth to be in this frame defined with perspective of the community? It’s simple, yet a conversation where we are involved in.

See how Ricky captures the beauty of everything... why we missed this beauty in our life... does it need rocket science to see the beauty of something around you... this of course opened a new avenue in me..


Since we too were youthful and in our inventions of love, this scene too disturbed me so much. Lester decides to live the life at the moment. Now he is working in a burger store, no stress... no binding even. He simply wants his wife to be happy. If he really wish so, isn’t this the way he needs to behave. His coolness makes Carolyn (wife) mad.


So second time it all about how we look at things!

When I watch American Beauty for the third time, I had my little daughter on my lap. It gave me a big gravity. It made me further concerned about the life we are running. Are we going to forward this depressed life style to my little girl too on day? Nothing tells us Lester doesn’t love her daughter. We all are average and confused people in this horse race. So are the kids.


This time I understood the root cause of the issue of crisis of Lester’s family. It’s the stress. Stress made by jobs under current economic surroundings. Stress made by social structure. Stress made by routine work and so on...  While I understood that I am also in this arena, I got scared.

So third time, it is all about stress..

In fact, I need to see this movie again when my daughter is 16 old, in same age with Jane. Jane decides to flee with Ricky to a big City. City is not a safe place. It doesn’t save you from confusion. I am scared.

Of course, Angela’s half naked body is sexy and beautiful...  but that’s not the true beauty of American Beauty... It’s the beauty that we miss in our day to day life... most simple once... just like a plastic bag blows freely in the wind.

Journalism and being the second vulture

7/24/12

This is Kevin Cater’s most disturbing and award winning photo, which should be named as the photo of the century. More than the photo itself, Carters life and death come to my mind time to time. It is the ultimate tragic story of mankind… his death is a monument to the tragedy of replacing the human means with materialized objectives.


As a photo journalist he managed to capture the baby and vulture correctly in his camera. He did it, because that was his assignment there. He won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for his work. When thousands of people who were disturbed with the photo ask what happened to the child Carter didn’t have an answer. Then only it was realized that he just concentrated on taking the photo, but not helping the dying child. Also Carter had told his colleagues that he had been waiting to see if vulture would spread the wings; which would have given chance to a better photo! Later on Carter committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.


Carter’s story just highlights the tragic of forgetting the primary responsibilities of a man.  Before you become a photographer, before you become a journalist you are a man and that’s never changed. You are not paid for that… you are not honored for that, but that’s the responsibility carry on your shoulder when you are born.

One critique on Carters photo redefined photographer as the second vulture in the scene. It is not unfair at all. Vulture in the photo is an opportunistic bird, and so is the photographer in that occasion. What is the difference….?

In context of Sri Lanka, we see propagating a lot of web media that reports and analyze social issues to gossips. In spite of the debut of credibility of some such media, we also find it difficult to understand the vision behind some of the reporting. When we had the war, of course we had to hear the bitter news of human deaths in day to day basis. Now war is over and we don’t need to hear those, unless as a news. When it is a brutal killing or raping happen, some media seems to be doing a good job by giving them a massive publicity… In most cases, like Kevin Carter’s photo, there seems to have had two (probably more) vultures by the name of journalism.

How many lives we actually got?

When discussing above post with someone, it raised us to the discussion of role of a photo journalist.  Some conclusions, more or less, were as below.

“What else photo journalist could do than taking the photos. He is not there to do the job of a welfare worker”

Then my mind raised the question to me. Then why Kevin got depressed by the comments. Why people around world kept on asking whether he helped the poor girl. This is a serious question to me. This puzzle drags me to think deeper about definitions of each role we play in life.

Sometimes we are pleased to say that we had to do something according to my profession. As a journalist I had to report that. As a soldier I had to kill. As a politician I had to decide that way. As a scientist I had to create an effective bomb. If you believe in God, what is the life you carry in your shoulders when you meet him? Can you exclude your professional life? Can I justify a crime by explaining it in terms of my profession? Is there any limit of this?

After 9/11 CIA hired two psychologists (i.e. Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell) to train UA servicemen on effective torturing methods, known as SERE programme, which is even against the Geneva conventions. May be Bruce or James could think, professionally they had to do that. Most of all, society accepts them not like a killer works under labelled terrorist organization.

This is a big question in my mind. I think “professional” label is another myth implemented by post capitalist system to justify something unethical. I know a chemist who work for manufacturing company of Baby oils, but never use them for her babies since they are bad for health. She was kind enough to tell all the friends not to use those kinds of oils. Anyway, “Professionally” she is making them for thousands of other babies... All other professionals too are to do these kinds of justified jobs.

In today’s context we even say you should not mixed up professional life and day-to-day life. This sounds like, what we do as “professionals” will be not be tolerated by the values of a day-to-day life that believes in mankind and humanity. Is it?

From recent years I have been thinking of unified systems as an answer for these contradictions of life. Though, I am not a historian, I am pretty sure ancient civilizations didn’t work with categorised objectives as we do today. Each ones goal is to be inter-connected. In Sri Lankan context, I believe ancient farming or manufacturing didn’t raised problems of environment. Can we claim a massive structure like Sigiriya would have destroyed the adjoining surroundings or its lives? I guess this harmony should have been same for all other early civilizations.

Today, Banker is interested in cash circulation and farmer is interested in fertile lands. Power generating companies interested only in generating power, but not the environmental pollutions. Environmentalists too are programmed to go against each and every development plan without knowing how their houses are provided with power and how their vehicles are supplied with fuel.

This funny system recalls me of my wedding! Photographer just wanted to have most successful photo sessions. Dress maker wanted to make a success by producing best bride and that’s her aspect of wedding. She was not interested in anything else than that. DJ wanted to make it a big music extravaganza and decorators wanted to bring most beautiful flower arrangements under this sun and moon. Individual goals seemed to be over ruling the main objective sometimes. Ultimately, I and my wife were the only people who wanted a successful wedding.

Even under this situations, sometimes some people work according to the call of their hearts.  I can recall two simple experiences I came across. When we head to tsunami affected areas in 2004 in Sri Lanka to help people, my friend, obsessed photographer, Roshan came without a camera which surprised me. He simply said “we are going to help people aren’t we?” Second occasion was.. my cousin, Kasun gave up aeronautical engineering after spending successful years in university, when he learnt all the leading researches are focused on advancement of fighter jets but not passenger planes.  In both occasions, they could have done the opposite since they have been justified by the civilization. Anyway, their hearts might have given a different judgement.

If we turn back to Kevin’s story, he should have had a struggle on his stance.  If he was a super product of post capitalist monetary system he shouldn’t have suffered from depression. If he was a super product of humane purity, he shouldn’t have left the toddler along with the vulture. Kevin’s tragic story can be quote close to our story also. Have to be wise when working with so called “professionalism” comes bundled with requirements of monetary system, not the requirements of mankind.

For me I have only one question. There are no many lives called professional life, family life and etc... I got only one life. Question is whether I live it truthfully to my heart or not.

No Complains.

4/20/12


Senaka, Thanks for sending this in the morning and making my day a meaningful one.

Colours of Great Barrier Reef

3/16/12

All in a sudden I decided to do it. Under any circumstance, there are things you should not delay. That’s what I thought when I decided to visit Great Barrier Reef. It’s a fantasy; it’s a dream.


Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the largest coral reef system on earth that consists of more than 2900 identified individual reefs. Obviously, it’s one of the ultimate wonders of nature. Northern Queensland of Australia is one of the best gateways to GBR.  Coral reefs are the richest ecosystems on earth. Richer than tropical rain forests.

You can select basically one from Cairns or Port Douglas to stay and get in to a diving boat. I selected Cairns due to the easy access to Cairns Airport and my wife can do some shopping while I am away.

If you are flying to North Queensland, February is not the best time, but it’s the best “wallet-friendly” time. “Very hot, Very humid and most of all Very nice people” That’s the first impression about Cairns. It’s not a big city... definitely not Sydney... because people of Cairns have time to smile with someone and willing to please someone.  It’s like somewhere in Sri Lanka. You can make new friends while waiting for a bus. Man made lagoon in the heart of the City is one of the remarkable icons for Cairns.

Onboard community

I travelled in a modern speed boat to the reef as I planned. It contains everything; diving gear, drinks, meals and very comfortable lounge type areas to rest. Most of all, boat was full of people from all around the world who had their own different reasons to do this expedition. It was a good experience to share our knowledge and inspirations. I met a nice guy from Michigan who was bit nervous, but he badly wanted to do this dive. Again I met a middle aged guy from Argentina who was travelling with his twin teenage daughters. I enjoyed his company and his humorous style of talking.

“Well, you are from Argentina... Are you a Football fan?”

“Yep, if you don’t like Football in Argentina, you will be taken to jail..., it’s illegal not to be a fan, so I am a fan!”

“I see... I am a cricket fan in Sri Lanka... the same way”

I was the only black (Asian) guy except for one Fijian diving instructor who was training snorkelling for amateurs. Next significant thing about me within that circle was I am the slimmest of all. When selecting diving gear one crew member was telling “Ladies and perhaps ..Sumedha can use these small size yellow fins...” Then he smiled at me and added... “take it as a compliment mate..” . “Ok, I will” I said to myself.




Diving

I teamed up with few others. It was guided by experienced dive master from Queensland called Rachel. Other team members were my buddy diver Sean and a young couple from UK. Sean was an experienced diver and he wanted to get good photos of the reef, which was my idea too. So it was a good match.


When I dived first... I felt like I am entering to a dream world because my mind was telling me... that I am really in it! I have been waiting for this moment. It was the marvellous warm waters welcome you. If I recall my memory of coral reefs of Hikkaduwa or Trincomalee, I saw more vibrant soft corals in GBR. It is also said that GBR is the healthiest coral reef on earth today. I usually don’t dive more than twice per day, but this time I was too greedy and made three consecutive dives in two different reefs, namely Hastings Reef and Jorgeys Patch. For the second dive, we got in to a small dinghy boat and left for bit far from the main boat.


Inspiration

What Great Barrier Reef means to me? Hm... it’s a long story. When I was very small, probably 7 or 8 old, my parents brought me and my brother to see a documentary film at New Olympia (Colombo) on Great Barrier Reef. I and my brother were amazed with the beauty and were watching the film with surprise. Probably, I would have asked thousands of questions from my father. This film still comes to my mind like a fantasy seen in a distance. That’s the first inspiration of my life to see the Great Barrier Reef... probably I wanted to see that beauty for real. I kept on telling that I am going to see it one day. My father hasn’t been into many tough outdoor activities, but he encouraged us to do all; Cycling, swimming and hiking. Even he let us try climbing a coconut tree, though it was criticized by some of his own relatives. They would have thought that I might select it for living.

As soon as I came to the hotel, I dropped two short e-mails to my Mum and brother telling “I did it!” Unfortunately, my father is not there to share my joyful e-mail. So it is an emotional achievement for me.

While we were sailing back to the land, the Guy from Argentina who became friends with me was having some hot coffee with me. Coffee is the best pal after diving. While having a leisure chat, he asked what make I come this far for this diving. I told him about the documentary film and its inspiration. “This is for my Father and Mother who didn’t forget to guide us to nature, while confronting with all the day-to-day challenges!” I added. He wanted me to tell this story to his daughters.

One day, I will tell this to my daughter too.






Two books, two women and two countries

1/25/12


I read “A Thousand splendid suns” (TSS) by Khaled Hosseini some time back and it was a “Splendid” book by all means. Book is mainly about story of two Afganistan women who face cruel challenges of their lives, which lead not only by cultural and social factors, but political atmosphere of the country. Beneath the main story, I also learnt bit about the Afgan culture in a different angle, which couldn’t be caught in usual western media.

Recently I was lucky enough to read the book, “Disobedient Girl” (DG) by Ru Freeman. It was a very nice book which I enjoyed a lot. This book carries two distinct stories of two Sri Lankan women who struggle with their lives.

At a glance, it is like comparing Apples and Oranges if we try to compare Afganistan and Sri Lanka.. Its meaningless.. They are of course different entities.. Afgan society is an Islamic society while Sri Lanka is very much a Buddhist society. How women are treated is far different in these two countries, which clearly shows in these two books. This contrast is obvious and nicely grasped by someone who read both books in  a short period of time. Credibility of that ground level information is the fact that those writers were born in those soils. Khaled Hosseini was born in Afganistan and Ru Freeman in Sri Lanka. At least they are not reporters who jump in to a ground with an agenda, but story tellers with roots. But now I am trying to see some similarities in between these two books in a different angle. This could be controversial.

Both books discuss about life stories of two women that head towards merely tragic ends. In both books it shows how their lives are being critically influenced by political unrest of the country. TSS shows how their society was badly beaten by terrorism (Taliban) and unstable governments greatly influenced by major powers of the world (US and Russia). In other hand DG highlights how Sri Lankan civil society was affected by JVP insurgency in 89 and suffered from a civil war for decades.

Most of all, I think, both countries had to struggle with the influence of first world since both countries are very important in terms of their location in the world map. During the cold war and afterwards, western countries badly wanted to have leaders for these countries, who can be handled by them. In order to gain the control, both countries were deployed terrorism. Their cultures were challenged and social structures were destroyed. Destroying the fundamentals of culture is the base of destroying a nation. Though it is different the way those women suffer in two books, roots remain the same.

According to western media, both countries are degraded to a lower level. (Thankfully, Sri Lanka managed to get rid of the terrorism afterwards) But reality is far different. Both countries were pushed to such situations... both countries have their own culture and social structure... as same as women in London or Paris, women in troubled countries too, have their own desires, dignity and feminine character.. Jealously, love, kindness, bond with mankind, emotions...  TSS tells how Afgan women risked their lives to enjoy TITANIC movie in hidden televisions, even after usage of televisions were banned and killed who were found to be watching.

 
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