WritersWorld

Ray’s Fable and a Big Game

The cinema’s characteristic forte is its ability to capture and communicate the intimacies of the human mind… The cinema is superbly equipped to trace the growth of a person or a situation.

Satyajit Ray

A child’s mind – impressionable, unbiased, bold, colourful and spirited – picks up the colours of this patterned and cemented world, crossing the maze, chasing dreams, breaking away, yet gradually getting engulfed by it wholly. How come? And Why?

Ray’s short film – Two: A Film Fable (1964), twelve minutes long, black and white, without any dialogues – shows ‘how’, leaving the ‘why’ for the viewer to find out.



Story

Fable, a short story that tells a moral truth, often using animals as characters, is given a twist by Satyajit Ray for here we aren’t told anything, just shown and we don’t see animals but toys that are class-conscious.

With two little kids as the protagonists and only people in the film, it makes a striking portrayal of the class difference in our societies that nurtures and feeds, without fail, every individual, even a child, with a prejudiced ideology.

The little kids in the film, one up in a mansion and the other outside his thatched hut, start a competition of showing off their toys to each other. Soon the privileged kid starts to overpower the poor kid by showing his latest toys one after the other; he proudly and pompously uses his air gun to shoot down the poor kid’s kite, defeating him in this invisible war-like game.

The rich kid turns to wonder what he should do next – his luxurious life acts heavily on him as he is hardly interested in playing anything, getting distracted every time to hop on the other toy train.

Though the rich kid thought he had won the game, he notices how the poor kid has gone back to his first toy – the bamboo flute. The rich kid in his big mansion with barred windows, ample toys and other luxuries feels confused in the end.


Analysis

A chance encounter between a rich and poor child that quickly moves from a childish display of their toys to a game of power politics, Ray’s fable presents a strong image of a divided and degraded society.

The film shows the truth of inequality – nurtured by greed, leading to decadence – revealing how the class that suffers the most is the one which invariably suffers to simply survive.

India in the 60s, apart from facing many internal problems, also fought wars with China (in 1962) and Pakistan (in 1965), thus, impacting the overall growth of the new nation. Two: A Film Fable highlights this stunted growth by showing the disparity between the two kids, reminding people about their responsibilities as a free citizen of a free nation.

The rich kid is not just rich, he is self-indulgent and hedonistic; home alone after attending his birthday party, he saunters around in the big empty home, drinking Coca-Cola, chewing bubble-gum, not sure which toy, out of the lot, he should play with. Meanwhile, the poor kid is playing his bamboo flute, walking round and round outside his hut, not minding the glaring sun.

Bamboo flute vs. toy trumpet, small drum vs. battery-powered monkey drummer toy, a mask, bow and arrow vs. couple of fancy masks, swords, spears and guns – both the kids don’t realise participating in power politics as they don’t understand it, but because they belong to such different classes, separated by a giant gap, their casual showing-off game inadvertently turns into power politics.

When the poor child comes back and quietly starts to fly a kite, the rich kid – who was till now looking down at the poor kid from his first-floor window – looks up at the sky, surprised to see the poor kid’s kite soaring high. Wondering, he gets his toy rifle and shoots down the kite. The rich kid is unabashedly happy about his actions here.

Satisfied now, the rich kid goes back to playing with his toys, switching every automatic toy on simultaneously, making a lot of noise, over which he soon hears the poor kid’s flute once again. While the poor kid calmly plays the flute, the rich kid stands still looking nonplussed.

In a very subtle manner Ray’s film criticises the class politics, the capitalist outlook and booming culture of consumerism by portraying how these ideologies sink in the society affecting one and all and especially instilling flawed values in the children.

Or not…?
[Source – Pixabay]

Today these two kids – who are still very much present as the disparity has only intensified – will not have such an encounter through the window anymore, thanks to the mobile phones and social media age.

The adults have joined too for they started the big game, everyone’s playing it, my toys vs your toys. And whosoever wins, not knowing what else to do, restarts the game.

And the fable continues…


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Caught In The Flow Of Life

Breaking free and blooming…
[Image by Rae Wallis from Pixabay]
बन्दिनी/Bandini (A lady who is in bondage)

Tied to a drunkard good-for-nothing husband, Ma seems to be ready to cross the bridge today, yes she is, I saw it in her eyes, she spoke a different language that silenced him, my so-called father. And we will walk away… away from him, away from poverty… Ma, I promise…

Alas, on returning home, the son found his mother packing bags… she, a ‘bandini’, is ready to follow her old husband to their old village… a broken hut on a parched land awaits her… her home.


पदम्लता का सपना/Padamlata’s Dream

…क्या पदम्लता ज़िन्दगी में फिर कभी सोनापलाशी गाँव की मिटटी पर पैर नहीं रखेगी? जिसका बचपन केशोर्य यहीं बीता हो। सुख शांति और गौरव न सही, दुःख अपमान की समृति का भी अलग ही एक आकर्षण होता है। हो सकता है अपने आपको एक बार प्रतिष्ठित करने की गुप्त इच्छा सात साल बाद दुर्दमनीय  हो उठी पदम्लता में।

जोदू लाहिड़ी के घर खाना बनाने वाली ब्राह्मणी की लड़की ‘पोदी’ को सहसा पदम्लता के वेश में आविर्भूत होते देखकर सोनापलाशी के वाशिंदे कितने अवाक होंगे, इसे देखने की भयंकर इच्छा – जिसे सात सालों तिल-तिल करके पालती आ रही थी पदम्लता…

-पदम्लता का सपना

In the corner of the open veranda, little Podi slept close to her mother, boldly showing her back to the cold winters that kept prodding her. When her running nose and childhood got cured itself and bloomed into a beautiful young Padamlata, people couldn’t believe it nor could they believe when she got married. How did the old maid managed to marry little Podi? That too to a school master?

Word has it that Padamlata has turned into gold… she is a walking, talking bank… one who doesn’t believe in “interests”. Wide-eyed, jealous, in awe… the folks of Sonapalashi village are witnessing this role reversal speechlessly, they speak up only to welcome Padamlata, singing her praises and remembering her late mother.

Padamlata’s dream has come true, elated, she wants nothing more. But back home, her husband has gone bankrupt. His savings, he hid well in the house, are gone.

Exactly how much? Ask Padamlata, for she had secretly taken an amount to Sonapalashi before leaving.

सिक्योरिटी जमा करने के लिए घर-दवार ज़मीन-जायदाद यथा सर्वस्व बेचकर जो दो हज़ार रूपए इकठा किए थे, वह रूपया चोरी चला गया है।  तुम तो जानती हो, चोरों के डर से बक्से में न रखकर, रज़ाई रखने के टाँड पर रुपए की थैली छिपाकर राखी थी, लेकिन वहाँ भी चोर की नज़र कैसे पड़ी, यही आश्चर्य हो रहा है।

मेरा विश्वास है, यह रिश्ते के शत्रुओं  का काम है।

-पदम्लता का सपना

Caught in knots.
[Image by Pavel from Pixabay]
शोक/Shok (Mourning)

Old and ailing mother-in-law is no more, said the telegram early in the morning, just when Mr. Ji was leaving for the office. Imagining how Mrs. Ji will breakdown, shake mountains, tear rivers apart, he left to get his salary first, and later balance the personal world. He left only after tiptoeing to the window, keeping the telegram above the magazine, that too had arrived this morning.

Mrs. Ji unaware, walks to the room, finds the telegram as well as the magazine there; dumbstruck after reading about her mother’s death, she forgets to cry. There is no one around to acknowledge her absolute shock and pain. Her four months old son is crying in the kitchen, she rushes to tend to him.

Ashamed to reach home too late, Mr. Ji finds that Mrs. Ji has apparently not found the telegram; he finally breaks the news to Mrs. Ji, wondering if she hasn’t read it, how come the telegram shifted its place from sitting above to below the magazine and got a yellow spot of turmeric on it.


बेकसूर/Bekasoor (Innocent)

An open and shut case, thanks to so many witnesses who had not seen anything clearly, yet were sure how the business man’s son killed his wife in the darkness of late night by pushing her from the first floor. These witnesses, business man’s close relatives/rivals, had travelled via tram, ran and walked and persuaded the girl’s father to file an FIR before even seeing the dead girl’s face once.

The girl’s father, furious at first, wanting his son-in-law to be hanged immediately, realises it one day that his daughter’s old habit of sleepwalking got the best of her. The sun-in-law was not guilty.


Ablaze and silent…
[Source – Pixabay]
दियासिलाई का डिब्बा/Matchbox

That her suspicious husband read her letter before she could find out, yes, he read it yet again, read it shamelessly and tried to justify his stand, blaming her mother for always asking for money, probably assuming him to be a bank… sparked a fire within her.

Even though she turned this letter and her mother’s request for more money into ashes within herself, she couldn’t swallow her husband’s cold taunt, maybe 100th taunt and began to spit fire.

The smoke could have smothered the husband, but the joint family life quietly quelled this fire, that too unknowingly.

Entering the kitchen with a smile, engaging herself instantly, the wife didn’t let anyone guess that she had been on fire just a while ago.

A woman can also be like a matchbox…


कह न सकेंगे/Keh Na Sakenge (Speechless)

Back quite late, he is questioned by all – his wife, elder son, younger daughter – everyone who is at home. Irked to say the least, his behaviour irked the others. The old chap had come quietly, said he won’t eat and went to bed, then came to the kitchen to finish his dinner… But who is not at home?

His wife declares, as usual, that she will wait for their younger son to return. Slightly worried for him as protests and riots have erupted in the Calcutta city.

Who is not at home? The one who shouted at everyone in the tram and asked to de-board? One of the rioters? Because of whom the old chap, with aching knees, ran to a corner? In hiding he heard gun-shots and then heard someone describe a beautiful young boy with curly hair who had been hit.

The old chap, at home, remembers the sound of the gun shots and goes mum.


Words guide the confused…
[Image by Jon Hoefer from Pixabay]
रीफिल खत्म होता एक डॉटपेन/Refill Khatam Hota Ek Dot Pen (Faulty Pen)

The whole day went in looking for grandma, but when did someone saw her stepping out of the puja room… she left without having her morning tea… not possible… run-run-run… no, not on the terrace or in the backyard speaking to the gardener, not at any of the neighbours’ place, or at the temple, not at her brother’s or sister’s house, not at the ghat or the bazaar… this double storey house has come to a standstill… elder son went to the office nevertheless… he has a government service unlike the younger son who is naturally expected to wait… late-late-late… assigning duties to others and he left… daughters-in-law tackled the chores and the inquisitive neighbours, relatives alike… when kids came home from the school, one spoke, “grandma must have gone to end her life…” and showed a note… grandma had tried to scribble something on it… “but the dot pen stopped working“, said the kid and laughed… the world swirled and the time became stiff as everyone took notice of it… late in the evening they heard grandma’s voice… she was bargaining with the rickshaw-wala… both her sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren came running… she laughed and said she had gone to visit a temple… that is on the outskirts of the Calcutta city…

The family took a sigh of relief… and so did the grandmother…


The illustrious Ashapurna Devi. (1909 -1995)
[Source – eyramagazine.com]

Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship (1994), Jnanpith Award and Padam Shri (1976), Ashapurna Devi was an eminent Indian writer who wrote in Bengali. She had the knack for writing realistic, powerful characters, all caught in the flow of life, facing, choosing, accepting, neglecting, forgetting, overcoming, surrendering to the drama… the drama called life.

Read more about her here.


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A Diary Meets a Secret at Mohenjo-Daro’s ‘Great Bath’

Next stop – Mohenjo-Daro!
[Source – Wikipedia]

Along the great rivers – Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, Indus, Yellow, Yangtze, coastal Peru rivers, Coatzacoalcos – rose the world’s oldest great civilisations – Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indus Valley, Chinese, Caral-Supe, Mesoamerican. Rivers sustained these agricultural civilisations, providing food, fertile soil and better access to build trade relations with the rest of the world.

Archaeological findings provide us with a map that take us closer to these ancient civilisations, yet mysteries remain, as in the case of the Indus Valley civilisation, also known as the Harappan civilisation.

Major sites and extent of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
[Source – Wikipedia]

Although bigger than Egyptian or Mesopotamian (spread across northwest India, Pakistan and northeast Afghanistan, more than 1500 sites being found), the Harappan society boasts no monumental marvels like the pyramids or a deciphered writing like the cuneiform, nor even a ruling class, a military, weapons of war and not even distinctive burial sites.

The historians found no evidence of violence either and therefore, a tectonic shift that dried up the river or a terribly great flood is seen as the main reason behind the Indus Valley civilisation’s final collapse.

Nevertheless, what was discovered makes Mohenjo-Daro and Dholavira – the main Indus Valley cities amongst others – world heritage sites of immense importance. Indus Valley people lived in a very well-planned city that was most likely cosmopolitan-natured.

With its naturally ventilated and uniformly baked clay brick houses, well connected grid-patterned streets, an elaborate drainage system (some of these 4,500-year-old drains still perfectly operational), public washrooms, dustbins, around 700 freshwater wells, a massive granary, a citadel, uniformly made artefacts, seals and weights – Mohenjo-Daro was one of the twin capital towns, along with Harappa, of the Indus Valley civilisation.

The most important structure excavated here is not a palace or a temple, but a public bath – known as the Great Bath – also called the “earliest public water tank of the ancient world”.

Tightly fitted bricks and a layer of bitumen (waterproof tar) made the floor of the bath watertight; it was a large building with several rooms, one of which also had a freshwater well.

The ruins of what was once a large multi-storied building – now termed as the House of Priests – right across the street of the Great Bath, reinforces the idea that the bath had a sacred purpose.

Most scholars agree that this tank would have been used for special religious functions where water was used to purify and renew the well-being of the bathers. This indicates the importance attached to ceremonial bathing in sacred tanks, pools and rivers since time immemorial.

J. M. Kenoyer
“The Priest-King”, a seated stone sculpture at the National Museum, Karachi. [Source – Wikipedia]

A single soapstone seated structure termed as “Priest-King” by the archaeologists does not suggest that a monarchy or a priest ruled the city of Mohenjo-Daro, yet the remarkable urban planning and meticulous construction focusing on public welfare hints at probably a council of elders and a community that worked together.


A Mohenjo-Daro’s citizen’s Diary

Seal with two-horned bull and inscription; 2010 BC; steatite; overall: 3.2 x 3.2 cm; Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, Ohio, US).
[Source – Wikipedia]

Day – Sunny

Got up. Slipped from broken stairs. Mended. Water’s fresh, took bath, drank plenty.

Seals made – water buffaloes, elephants, bulls, rhinoceros. Ha!

Day – Sunny, Clouds Playing

At The Great Bath. Slipped from slippery stairs. Cleaned. Cleaned more. Got fresh water from the well. Poured. Poured more. Thanked noble Indus.

Day – Too Rainy

Group work. Mending limestone slabs. Mended. Dry granary functions. Ate well. Didn’t slip. Healed.

Day – Raining

At The Great Bath. Mending roof. Unfinished. Slipped. Fell into the Bath. Resurrected. Ha!


Reclining mouflon; 2600–1900 BC; marble; length: 28 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City).
[Source – Wikipedia]

Blogger’s Note –

Only ten percent of Mohenjo-Daro has been excavated so far and yet it shows how grand the city must have been, its citizens living a simple life, nurturing good daily-living-practices; either celebrating special occasions at the Great Bath or just storing water, humbly accepting what the Indus River brought.

Spiritually awakened or not, religiously enlightened or not, fiercely ambitious or not, the Indus Valley folks definitely, without any doubt, slept well. And that’s their secret, if there is any. They rested and digested fantastically and so they functioned wonderfully. Maybe they slept for 12-14 hours, working from dawn, with a calming break around noon time, to early evening. Not rushing or worrying when at work.

And so, well rested, they loved water – fresh, salty, rainy (and were also aware about floods; they constantly rebuilt their buildings in cities like Mohenjo-Daro), and fire – for they loved baking bricks, and music and art – for ahm…The Dancing Girl, the ornaments and toys. They loved to work.

Every task was a joint venture, everything done together with nothing but the Sunny/Rainy/Cloudy day in front of them. And then the starry and peaceful night, when the wind played a lullaby and one with nature, they slept.

Good sleep made them bright and happy.

The Pashupati seal, showing a seated figure surrounded by animals.
[Source – Wikipedia]

Read further –

Rediscovering the magic of Mohenjo-Daro

Indus Valley Civilisation, Mohenjo-Daro and the Cradle of Civilisation

Watch to learn –
At the Great Bath, Bollywood style… enjoy –

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Mountains

The Pir Panjal Mountain Range, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh.
[Image by Jagriti Rumi]

What are the mountains saying that doesn’t reach me?

Nothing.


Sun kissed peaks, every hour of every day, shattering time moving in the round clocks, but not the colossal movement, the mountains hide what secret from me?

I’ll measure it, treasure it, capture it once and for all, weigh it well, dissect and familiarise, worship and sell without expectations. Tell me, what is it?

Nothing.

Don’t lie!

I’ll climb and conquer again, I’ll dig and extract again, I’ll create tunnels and pin cables, hang lights and find roads, I’ll race up and down and charge tickets, smart tools are enough to overpower, smartly I move, watch me.


Alas! Ages pass by and you rejoice in stillness while I struggle and fight with no one but myself. In the search of an answer, I have walked past the question always, watch me as I do it again, watch me as I fall.


Watching… Dear mountains, you have watched it all, the movement, steadily you have participated, participated fully… is that it, then? Erosion also doesn’t bother, nor does dying, mixing in dirt, letting the wind take you away in bits.

Evening hour, The Pir Panjal Mountain Range.
[Image by Jagriti Rumi.]

Dear mountains, you don’t speak of love, yet your beauty does. You play with the sky, clouds and lightning.

Not tethered to a window, you see the full picture, and breathe the fresh air, and live… live not as the word ‘live’ explains, dictates, guides, forces, blesses, teaches, restricts, warns, and shouts telling us how to… but simply you do. And for that you need…

Nothing.


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Farewell, Dear Star

Webb Telescope NIRCam image of supernova remnant Cassopeia A.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Danny Milisavljevic (Purdue University), Ilse De Looze (UGent), Tea Temim (Princeton University)

A star that shattered like a glass

Cassiopeia-A, its name

A supernova remnant, when captured

In a telescopic lens, it showed

The colours of peace that overtook the space

When the star exploded

Breaking the shell into pieces

To embrace the space

To become one

Dying not, but evolving

Into what is the infinite

Not far or near, but everywhere

Direction-and-distance-free

Beaming brightly, lives

The star that shattered like a glass.


The structure contains cosmic dust, which has the potential to coalesce under gravity over time, to grow and grow and eventually form brand new stars.


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The Samurai Walker

Reverberating grand mountain range… here I come!
[Source – Pixabay]

Recently ordained as a samurai or was she a veteran, no one knows for what is the difference between new and old journeys… Experience! Experience? Experience is always limited, tied to the past, a guide it maybe, yes, just that, but not a compass, for the working compass points towards the present, always.

And grannie, the samurai never called herself a samurai… she said, and I have heard too grannie, she called herself a walker.

Hmm… yes, yes, that’s right too, but listen what happened next. She crossed the ocean of the golden grass that swayed with the silken wind, her hands stroking the golden waves past her, dancing a little to the left, then to the right, dancing to dodge the crickets, grasshoppers and in some seasons the dragonflies. Some seasons? Some seasons, yes, for she has crossed this ocean of the golden grass many a times.

You mean the meadow, right grannie? Golden grass ocean is where we play? Because I have seen her passing by.

Yes kiddo! So, listen now, she crosses this ocean to climb the reverberating grand mountain range… mountains that speak and its white peaks touch the sky, its high peaks that speak that us chaps fail to see for we bend to sow seeds, our backs ache and speak a different language that doesn’t reaches the peaks that speak.

But the samurai’s footprints, when in the mood, talk and share anecdotes and so we know somethings like that she stands still to sleep and drinks fresh water for breakfast and dinner, skipping lunch altogether, that she takes different routes to reach the top in search of an answer.

Grannie, she bought flour from the market one day, I saw her. She knows how to cook too.

The footprints are complete, not weak, she is never in a hurry, walking ahead, different routes but one direction. Where to? What chasing question she chases? What can be seen that is hidden in these glorious mountains? An answer? Why again? Yes, again… isn’t the old answer relevant anymore? Or is the question too old, dimming the revelation in-turn? Or there’s no question, no answer to be known?

Kiddo? You asleep, good. Rest now, for you too have to go on a long walk soon.


The samurai, standing on the mountain peak, her hundredth journey, maybe, she mutters, for she stopped counting long time back, for it didn’t answer, it dated the time passed and that is all. Why hundredth then? For impact, she whispers.

Biting cold wind reminded nothing of its silken version that swayed the golden grass, the meadows that looked like a shiny river from there. The samurai looked in one direction for hours, concentrating madly, couldn’t see clearly when suddenly a brisk energy filled her fully, and she stopped looking in one direction, and looked at the panorama fully, the whole of it and not just a part.

The question, the answer busted in joy then, concentration took a dive into complete attention, a clarity dawned that stopped the samurai from checking time, for the whole movement moved in her wholly.


This one movement played like a melodious orchestra around her, that from that day, the samurai walker didn’t imagine her goal, but saw the radiant whole.

The job was done, yet the samurai walked, fought and caught the fallen and rose every time, looking, from a certain angle, as tall and strong as the mountains.


And those who have heard the peaks, mostly the oldies like our grannie, even once – the echoes of the purple caves – they have spent the days and nights in glorifying it as a legend, speaking in riddles, confusing all and never…

Hey, where’s my stick? Wait, you!!


Climbing like the rainbow.
[Source – Pixabay]

She walks without counting, checking time

Or imagining a direction, she walks

Matter-of-factly, fearlessly, lightly

Like the rainbow after a storm

-Samurai’s footprints

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An Ancient Temple

Living and dying daily.
[Source – Pixabay]

Stranger, think long before you enter,

For these corridors amuse not passing travellers.

But if you enter, keep your voice to yourself.

Nor should you tinkle and toll your tongue.

These columns rose not, for such as you.

But for those urgent pilgrim feet that wander

On lonely ways, seeking the roots of rootless trees.

The earth has many flowery roads; choose one

That pleases your whim, and the gods be with you.

But now leave! Leave me to my dark green solitude

Which like the deep dream world of the sea

Has its moving shapes; corals; ancient coins;

Carved urns and ruins of ancient ships and gods;

And mermaids, with flowing golden hair

That charm a patch of silent darkness

Into singing sunlight.

-Inscription on an ancient temple, Pingalavel, G.A Kulkarni

An ancient forgotten temple that luckily doesn’t asks for donation, mutters a handful of such words that falls on some lucky ears, but usually ricochets off the nearby rocks.

The mossy temple, absorbed in and absorbing the greenery around, is purposeless, meaningless, free from limited definitions.

It shoots comet-fireball-meteor-like sparkling rays randomly into the bright dark sky… or catches the comet-fireball-meteor-like sparkling rays… it shoots or catches… if you see after tilting your head a little.

And so, it meets and greets only the earnest pilgrim, who is roaming aimlessly, ‘seeking the roots of rootless trees.’ Admonishing a half-hearted, tied-to-a-string, fearful attempt, a fearful approach that has drawn conclusions. ‘… the gods be with you. But now leave!’

Sitting still, sinking into the deep sea, a silent celebration that never began and will never end.

The ancient forgotten temple disappears into singing sunlight.

Sing along the sunlight!
[Source – Pixabay]

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Together Pan-optically

Ah, recording it all and then repeating it.
[Source – Pixabay]

A humble looking, I mean just two lines long, definition took such a grim turn that it never left the abandoned penitentiary.

Definition –

Panopticon – a prison with cells/ rooms arranged in a circle, so that the prisoners in them can be seen at all times from the centre, without them knowing whether or not they are being watched.

After taking this same turn, one Michel Foucault – French philosopher, philologist, historian and social theorist – observed things differently, trying to understand why the penitentiary was made in the first place. To control and rule perhaps, but what about the good old methods of confinements in dungeons, solitary cells, and the public displays of torture? With the death of the monarchy, these methods rusted away quickly.

The new progressive democratic modern world needed a much more sophisticated method to control, to rule. Panopticon with a panoptic (pan= all, optic=seeing) tower cheered for itself, gaining a decent fan following.

Doubly jailed!
[Source – Purdue University]

Foucault in his work Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975) shows, with great detail and pain, how a structure like panopticon guarantees internalization of the idea of surveillance.

He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.

Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish

Walking ahead, leaving this grim lane behind, rushing past the dullness, the dilapidated mood and tiring heavy air, you realise someone is following you, a shadow appears now and then, it is eager to manipulate, and then a crisp clear voice says, ‘Big Brother is Watching You.’

The Panopticon is polyvalent is its applications; it serves to reform prisoner, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, to confine the insane, to supervise workers, to put beggars and idlers to work. It is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organisation, of disposition of centres and channels of power of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, workshops schools, prisons. Whenever one is dealing with a multiplicity of individuals on whom a task or a particular form of behaviour must be imposed, the panoptic schema may be used.

Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish

To discipline and punish a society that loves power-knowledge* equally and functions “pan-optically” allowing the power of mind over mind to flourish, what feelings, emotions then nourish the individual…?

A very lonely affair, this panopticon business, it inevitably breeds fear, snatching away life, pinning a number, tagging a label instead. This number, this label becomes reality unbeknownst by the one numbered/labelled.

The prison cell and the panoptic machine thus are two similar moulds that create same order in society, though with drastically different labels. So different that they are always seen in opposition.

“I know… yet I don’t know…”
[Source – Pixabay]

The humble looking definition that took a grim turn is essentially noble. It is not at all bleak in nature for it gives rise to questions and doubts, it confuses and bothers, if one stays longer with it, allowing us to see, that too in no time, how the two moulds – a prison cell and panoptic tower – are similar, and when seen so closely, one even gets to see its foundation – fear.

And when you see fear, directly, you find that fear is nothing but you, a concoction of some ideas, a darkness that simply dissipates when seen, it ends at that very instant, and with it, so do the two moulds.


“Am listening”, “am listening too”, “am listening three”, “sssshhh!”
[Source – Pixabay]

*For Foucault, knowledge is connected to power, his critical theory states –

Knowledge linked to power, not only assumes the authority of ‘the truth’ but has the power to make itself true. All knowledge, once applied in the real world, has effects, and in that sense at least, ‘becomes true.’ Knowledge, once used to regulate the conduct of others, entails constraint, regulation and the disciplining of practice. Thus, ‘there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time, power relations.

Michel Foucault

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Essentially Gold, The Lavender Hill Mob

A praying mantis sitting on a leaf, stealth mode on, meditating and still, prepares to make a move, to catch the prey and the predator unawares, killing one, fooling the other.

A man sitting in a bank jeep, subservient clerk’s hat on, conniving and shrewd, plans to make a move, to smuggle gold out of the bank and become rich, killing none, fooling them all.

The praying mantis jumps, attacks with precision, and wins; the man, fumbles, tumbles and yelps ‘Old MacDonald had a farm, ee i ee i o.’

The film poster.
[Source – vintageclassicsfilm.co.uk]

A black and white 1951 comedy film, that runs truly, only and only, on the story fuel, The Lavender Hill Mob, is perfectly crafted, balanced and performed heist caper, a hilarious journey that arrests you from the very beginning.

Ranked as one of the greatest British films of all time, The Lavender Hill Mob confides in the audience, letting them see, feel, laugh and think without tickling persuasively with a joke here and a punch-line there.

And so, personifying itself successfully, narrating a comic tale straightforwardly, wonderfully, giving the visuals the space to rise and fall, promising entertainment, delivering it with twists.

Comedy that studies its own movement through planned time-checked routes and unexpected quick-sharp turns, The Lavender Hill Mob set the foundation for future British comedies without any pomp and show, rather just through pure performance.

Check out the official trailer of The Lavender Hill Mob now –

Meet the protagonist, Henry ‘Dutch’ Holland

I was a potential millionaire, yet I had to be satisfied with eight pounds, fifteen shillings, less deductions. A weekly reminder that the years were passing, and my problem still unsolved.

Henry Holland (played by the genius Alec Guinness) narrates his tale honestly, matter-of-factly, beginning from the beginning, a man of numbers, to be specific, of the number 495,978 (pounds of gold bars), for that is what happened and he, like an amused storyteller, reminisces it gladly. This fact, that the protagonist is the narrator, doesn’t hang heavy on us, we forget and start walking with Henry Holland.

Henry is daydreaming again.
[Source – vintageclassicsfilm.co.uk]

The bank manager and his superior and juniors and most importantly the two guards see him as an honest fool, imbecile, fussy crack-pot, who they can trust, even blindly, who they feel is a cog in the machine, tailor made for nothing innovative. Henry knows it, he bows to this fact, choosing to continue the charade.

A place that assumes no special status, the boarding house, Balmoral, in Lavender Hill, London, becomes Henry’s abode, suiting his obscure identity well.

Mapping a robbery of a consignment of gold bullion robbed Henry of peaceful mapping as without a safe route to smuggle the gold abroad, all this stayed stuck like a day dream unexecuted. It is when Al Pendlebury, an artist, finds lodging in Balmoral, Lavender Hill, that Henry finds a ‘golden’ way out.

Pendlebury owned a foundry that made souvenirs – like Eiffel Tower paperweights – that were exported to holiday destinations like Paris.

More than a paperweight, eh?
[Source – Fruggo.com]

These two good friends partner-up and set the mapped scheme into action – timely they hire two chaps/ experts/ thieves for executing the robbery smoothly.

What Henry didn’t factor in while daydreaming about the robbery was the common errors, intrusive and funny ‘by-chance’ happenings and the simple-stubborn-absurdly-comical behaviour of all of us.

Ha-ha! Henry and his mob of friends run, miming a wall and hitting against it, encountering the police on the street, in the office, the gully, the lodgings, somehow meekly fooling them.

But when juggling too-too-too many balls, some are bound to fall… especially if one is juggling and running madly down the Eiffel Tower’s spiral staircase like Henry Holland the juggler… His paper plane, boat, car, crashes, sinks, collides and yet, he tries to do as planned – “for it’s a perfect plan.”

Henry Holland beams through his eyes, camouflaging neatly, mantis-like, aware of his agility and other’s dreariness; master planner, he walks to-and-fro, amongst the crowd, catching them unawares, cheating, skipping, dodging.

Al the Artist

Ee i ee i ohhh!
[Source – IMDB]

Alfred Pendlebury (played by the wonderful Stanley Holloway), lover of everything fine – paintings, sculptures, pottery, complete/incomplete canvases, a ready-made studio at his lodgings that he exclaims ‘…has a north light, too’.

He would be a full-time artist, quitting his souvenir business for good, but he never had the courage, and he quotes – “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these… it might have been.”

The iron’s hot and Henery doesn’t wait to strike; Pendlebury, in the mould, honestly thinks about their honest lives and steps out to join hands with Henery the mapper.

But there is a rush now, the robbery must happen within one week’s time because Henery Holland is promoted to foreign exchange’s department, with 15 shillings raise in his salary.

The Mob

The mob at work, ta-da!
[Source – IMDB]

How to hire two thieves? Talk about leaving your office’s safe unlocked with the staff’s monthly salary in it in crowded places on the top of your voice and ta-da, the applicants will land up in the office the same night without fail.

Two applicants – Wood and Shorty – small time goons end up chewing the bait, happy to be of assistance and glammed by the grand bullion million pounds plan all mapped neatly by now. 

Miss Evesham and Mrs. Chalk become Henry’s accomplice without them or him every finding it out. These two fortuitous accomplices by simply coming downstairs, crossing the corridor, sipping tea, getting someone to read a crime-fiction for them, knitting, ignoring door bells, opening and closing doors, suggesting and commenting contributed silently in building and yet disrupting the status quo.

The Gold

What’s cooking?
[Source – IMDB]

Like a dormant volcano, the gold, in the form of bullion stays too quiet, shining but inactive, somewhat silly, sitting steadily, favourable to none but the locks owning entity, so that the protagonist lurks, dances around it praying for a better life until the day the volcano becomes active.

Henry’s prayer is heard, that is what he assumes, liquid lava gold turned into Eiffel Tower paperweights add weight to his plan but nevertheless begins to slip away, carrying the souvenirs back to Britain from Paris, landing right in an exhibition of police history at a training college for police in London.

The game reaches its final stage, with time slipping by and Henry losing almost all his mob members, he tries to place the king on the diciest square to quash the enemy king’s check-mate move.

The king wins, but which one?

So, we wait and watch till the end.

Comedy

Suffering from vertigo?
[Source – sceen-it.com]

Serious about comedy the story refrains from pretentiousness. Catch Henry Holland gently smiling now and then, turning and glaring with another soft smile and beady eyes, and you’ll be a step closer to knowing what he is up to.

Al Pendlebury’s confused, amazed looks, clumsy actions, along with his loyalty to his best pal Henry allows him to sow and reap comedy.

Wood and Shorty – though they surrender the heist midway for the greater cause i.e., getting the freaking cash (actually refusing to travel because one has got tickets to a Cricket test match and the other’s Mrs. just won’t let him leave) – become the much-needed side-kick pals who bring in the spirit of tomfoolishness in the team.

The language too brings out a unique British flavour of comedy; it is straightforward, dialogues a bit longish, colloquially languid with a Shakespearen high, funny and fitting. In fact, the climactic drama owes it to the language mix-up as it causes a French saleswoman to sell six gold Eiffel Tower paperweights to six English school girls.

A shocked Pendlebury says, “How did that get here? I told you never to use a crate marked ‘R’.”

French Saleswoman replies, “But that is not an ‘R’, monsieur, it is an A(eh).”

Pendlebury exclaims, “It’s an ‘R’ in English!”

Henry’s calculations begin to fail frequently as such twists keep on overruling it; the master plan starts to lag behind and when no one is looking, it is put aside. The nail-biting hilarious ending reminds one, amongst other things, of the novel that Mrs. Chalk is reading – You’d Look Swell in a Shroud.

Conclusion

A cameo by Audrey Hepburn.
[Source – Film Forum]

Produced by the Ealing Studios, directed by Charles Crichton, and written by T.E.B. Clarke – a team renowned for making great comedies – The Lavender Hill Mob became one of their masterpieces, also winning the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay.

As the plot swiftly steers the story ahead, the absorbing clever character tracks merge strikingly with it, accelerating, without much effort, the journey. One forgets to question anything – a twist, turn or an action – while watching Henry and Pendlebury tricking and getting tricked at once.

The Lavender Hill Mob is gold for it has aged like the metal gold, without rusting or tarnishing, still shining and entertaining, turning every viewer into a mob member, following and cheering their leader Henry the juggler.  

Can they see us?
[Source – British Comedy Guide]

Watch this comedy classic here.


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