Sunday, January 29, 2006

What color and shape is Kiki!?

Noam Chomsky believes there is a universal grammar. That is, the way humans learn and create language is innate to all humans. In others words, humans open the door to language with a similar key.

I would agree that there is a sort of common construct over which most aesthetic languages are built.

But that’s not all. A warm-up exercise with Michael Shank before one of his seminars I attended made me wonder how music came into being? In the exercise, the 70 or so participants picked up ambient sounds and everyone copied the sound – and added each new sound to a sequence. Everyone created the sound routine in a chorus. In a few minutes, we had created rhythmic music!

That exercise made me wonder about the first music, and how and where Man picked up music from? Bird songs, running streams, falling rocks and the sounds of the earth and sky must have been the earliest sources of inspirations and the earliest clips of music.

And if that early music was picked up from the environment and the ambience, is there still more music out there? Is there a universal music? And do all people enjoy it in more or less the same way? Perhaps – because most birds have universal musical significance for people of all cultures, which may hint at a universal music.

If there is a universal grammar, and a universal music, there may be a strong case for the presence of a universal aesthetic – which must in fact be the root of the universal grammar and the universal music. Dennis Dutton believes in a universal aesthetic sense. In these times of heightening spiritual and aesthetic awareness, this is certain to generate more interest. Especially as the drive to understand life in a holistic way becomes stronger in humans, a search for a universal aesthetic will become a common sport, not just an intellectual’s odyssey.

Persons who are familiar with the concept of synaesthesia will appreciate more readily the belief that there may indeed be a universal code of beauty. Which is innate to all humans. And other beings included in the web of existence.

As an aside, I just took the shape/sound test available on the Wikipedia page on Synaesthesia. It turned out that I was in league with the 95% - 98% of the persons who associate a certain sound with a certain shape. Take the test for yourself. Hint: go with your first gut response. You may be surprised.

43 things people want

As of press time, 211,829 people wanted these things in life. Going through the personal wish lists of over 0.2 million people from 43 Things is a realization. People want to experience, and generally do very simple things. Things like going on a road trip with no predetermined destination (3248 people), learning to cook (1678), or growing their own vegetables (around 500 people).

1600 people want to be alive, not just live by. 4468 people want to – ah, that permanent dream of us all! – fall in love! (Fools!)

People want to experience beauty. People want to be better humans. Someone I read somewhere said that being better was the ultimate human temptation – the one the Devil tempted Adam and Eve with. Eat the fruit, reach a higher station.

Seeing these curious wish lists makes me wonder, why is our modern life undersigned to help us do the things we most want to do?

By the way, a very interesting wish is by some grief-stricken Harry Potter readers. Spoiler warning: Don’t read if you haven’t read the sixth book.  

Friday, January 27, 2006

Die, Pakistani Woman! Then be born again.

When a clueless, fat, old Pakistani woman fell back on an escalator in the ablution areas outside the Khana-e-Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia, I snapped. That woman held on to a static railing off the escalator while a companion of hers yelled at her to let go. She couldn’t tell a moving thing from a stationary one, and rolled back as the electric stairs tugged her up. She came rolling down like a snowball and fell into one hopeless heap.

And that was it for me.

That was the end of the Pakistani Woman’s stupidity and self-unawareness for me. After years of seeing every Pakistani woman over the age of thirty with a permanent backache and an inability to order food off the menu in the presence of the men of the family, after years of seeing women mumbling an opinion before being shut up in the name of their assumed natural silliness, after years of seeing that the most ‘liberal’ women were often merely a shadow of the very misled Western woman – I snapped.

I snapped when this woman fell over because she didn’t know what to do. Because she was so old and fat and helpless at the age of barely fifty-something that she couldn’t learn the function of an escalator nor respond adequately to her companion’s chiding. I snapped because when she got up, I could see in her bewildered eyes and cries that it was just not another accident of technology-unease, but a consequence of the inability to deal with a novel situation and being in a novel place.

What is life but a series of novel incidents that need a novel understanding of each moment? And if this fat, old, clueless woman lived every moment out the same, was she alive at all? Why was her mind unable to understand the simple instruction of “let the stair wall go!”? Why was she among the countless stupid, old, clueless women from Pakistan when so many other women from around the world carried themselves with grace during the Pilgrimage?

I have had enough of the Pakistani Woman as she is. I want to see a Pakistani woman who has grace. Who can think for herself. Who can order food off the menu without stuttering. Who can climb a stair or an escalator without stumbling off. I want to see a Pakistani woman who can walk on her feet, holding her thoughtful head high.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A rounding education

My little life has been affected – and for some while I thought, tragically so affected – a great deal by the limited literature I have read. Once upon a time when I was a small child, I read this story about a young man who went with a caravan to another town. There he saw other young people getting a variety of education. And he decided to stay and get educated.

I do not remember the beginning nor the end of the story. What did stick around was that each year, the young man took a new lesson. First, it was playing chess. Then it was music. And then… well I forget what then. But this little story determined forever the course of my academic career. One thing this year, another thing another year.

When I grew older, I learnt that the best description of this kind of a scholar was a renaissance woman.

I do not know. I usually do not prefer to tag things.

But tags are satisfactory, because without them, we might find ourselves a little lost, especially when in very unfamiliar territory. For years, I have found myself in an unusual academic pursuit: trying to learn as much about life as I can. I have found regular academic institutes including schools and universities dreadfully boring and constrictive. And while I had no name or description for taste in education, renaissance proved useful.

Now, where does one get such an education? The closest choice has been a liberal arts degree – which has, when we are making education choices as an adolescent, a fabulous notoriety for not leading up to a guaranteed career path. (I know in five years’ time, some might wonder what am I talking about? I was an adolescent before 2000. Then the world changed for sure.)

To be honest, I wanted that coveted liberal arts degree. To be really honest, when choosing a degree, I was temporarily insane to assume it to be a ‘loser degree’ (not that I have ever, ever actively used this silly term ‘loser’). To be stark naked honest, after not pursuing that line of education anyway, I feel hyper-practical enough to assume that a liberal arts degree from a very decent college in Pakistan or abroad – at the end of the day it doesn’t matter where – produces a peculiar combination of a stiff neck holding a very naïve, impractical mind.

In simpler words, the way education is designed in the world today – and I concerned only with today – is inhuman. The passion-education-career chain for a person is composed, usually, of three distinct chains. Whatever that means.

In much fewer words, my view is that at least as adults, we should have the option to educate ourselves the way we want. We should be able to buy our education and choose the length of education that suits our unique needs. If we want to grow up to be farmers, fine! Let our education be lesser than 16 years. Umm, yes, that would push the choice in the zone of childhood or adolescence, but you get the drift. There must be schools that allow us to buy the education we want without the hassle of prerequisites and educational competition.

When I am rid of my flu and in lesser hurry, I will explain this more. To conclude, a person needs many things to round off their education – and there are many things that we can do without. While the latter needs a more sensitive handling with a lot of clarification and ifs and whys and buts and hows, the former is much easier to explain. Get the education you want. Particularly, the rounding off education. Now most regular schools and universities have that nasty little competitive structure where only the kings and queens and “only the best” are ahead in class, in societies and clubs, and in sports.

If I had my way, I would set up an old-fashioned school where a teacher would arbitrarily read up a talib’s personality and match the student with the kind of education that would suit the student. No structure. No competition. No GPA. No crying suicidal idiocy. Just plain completion of being.

Now. I have found one such school. It is like a prayer answered. The reward of years of search! Years of quest for beauty! Years of lust for life! And while I am tempted to reveal all about the school, I think this kind of a destination deserves that each man or woman travel to it themselves.

One day I will make such school myself. It’s a promise!

Filmazia and the highly sensitive viewer

Who on earth thought of the certainly profitable but annoyingly noisy channel FILMAZIA? I must say that in my childhood days, I did not realize how much was President Zia ul Haq editing out of those full-bodied Pakistani movies. Now, thanks to the nostalgic moods of all the family elders, whenever the insanely outrageous and bizarre old Pakistani movies play on the channel, I want to dive under the TV lounge table and cover my eyes.

Oh! How, how, how do I preserve my aesthetic sense from the encroachment of thosely ghastly sights and sounds?

And why, why, why do I have this eerie fascination with the ridiculous tune of zero-nine-zero-zero-seven-eight-six-zero-one!? Except that it’s the tune of the good ole KoKoKo Reena… one that sometimes plays on the annoying musical FILMAZIA….

Ooh my senses!

And all is life!

It is strange how our life has been designed to give us an optimal experience of being. The past few years of my life, I thought, broke me as a person. Yet a Sagittarian is a quintessential optimist. And I have an unflinching eye for profit. Surely, there must be some good in breaking down and falling apart, too?

The quickest and the most logical good that I saw in the break-down of personality was the wonderful possibility of reconstruction. With a good deal of willpower and of course, the Sagittarian optimism, the new construct could be much more to my liking. It could be a construct I chose. And how many do get that kind of an opportunity!

So. Rest in peace Who I Was. Here I Am. New.

Like quanta of light, there are quanta of life moments. If in one moment the light is in the ebb of its wave, in another moment life flows. Morning comes from night, and life from death. In this moment, and as of now, I am alive.