“So it goes!”: A take on Slaughterhouse Five

I had never heard about Dresden, I had never heard about Kurt Vonnegut though I think I had heard the book’s name somewhere (I am not so sure) before I watched the Crash Course Literature videos on Slaughterhouse Five. At the end of those two videos, I felt I must read the book.

The first chapter of the book which seems like a preface or the background, is about Vonnegut trying to write a book on Dresden for more than 23 years. He thinks he can do it but cannot pull it up. While still writing the preface, he also adds a case of dialing a wrong number, which we know later on,  had been received by Billy Pilgrim–the main character of the novel. After he meets O’Hare’s wife Mary, he promises that he would not glorify war and call it the Children’s Crusade. Therefore, the Slaughterhouse Five is also known as The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death.

Billy Pilgrim’s Plot (Summary and Analysis)

Billy Prilgrim is a prisoner of war (POW) in Germany but he can time-travel. He can be in the moments of past, present and the future. Vonnegut says, “Billy has come unstuck in time.” The life of Billy Pilgrim is not shown in chronological order. In one moment he is a soldier, in another he is a twelve-year-old boy and quickly, he becomes an old optometrist who lives with his daughter in Ilium. He sees his infancy, childhood, adulthood, old age and even death.

On the day of his daughter’s wedding, he says he had been abducted by the toilet plunger-like aliens known as the Tralfamadorians. Billy says that he had been to the alien planet for years but nobody missed him because the aliens had warped the time in such a way that years would become less than seconds on the earth. The Tralfamadorians are able to see the fourth dimension–time and they can go to the moments again and again. The linear concept of time is absurd to them. On free-will, a Tralfamadorian says:

“If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,” said the Tralfamadorian, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”

–Chapter 4, Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

The Tralfamadorians believe that what has to happen will happen. They cannot change the moments that have happened and will happen. They can see every moment that will occur but they can’t change the bad moments. They look for the good moments and find peace in it.

Billy Pilgrim himself has no free will. When he is twelve, he does not want to swim but his father forces him into the swimming pool. He does not want to come out of the water but it pulled out. He did not imagine marrying Valencia, yet he does. He wanted to die in the war but he survives instead of the characters around him who wanted to survive.

Billy Pilgrim also tries to find moment of happiness and solace but he never finds such an instance. In all the above examples, he is unhappy. Even in the moments he tries to be happy, he is reminded of the war and deaths. As the story progresses, we know that Billy cannot speak about the war to anyone and that has resulted in a mental disorder.

Billy’s mental instability is the result of the losses of his mother, his wife, his father-in-law and most of all, his experience during the war in Germany and in addition to that the fictions of Kilgore Trout. Despite his psychological imbalance, he is saner than the people who thought that bombings on Dresden were justified. Dresden was not a strategic point for warfare, there were no industries that produced weapons and hence, there was no logic behind the attack. Thousands of lives were lost for the show of unnecessary pride.

“So it goes”

This is a repetitive phrase throughout the novel. According to Nick Greene (2014), the phrase is repeated 106 times. Whenever death and destruction are mentioned, the phrase comes up. It is in accordance with the Tralfamadorian concept of time, life and death. The death is inevitable but there is nothing to worry about it. In other moments a dead person would always be alive.

I found this “Tralfamadorian” concept similar to the Bhagavad Geeta where Lord Krishna says to Arjun that there is no need to worry for someone’s death. The death is pre-determined. It’s not in the hands of humans to change it. And there is no need for regretting that.

Billy Pilgrim, too tries to take things as his fate and accepts that he had no power to change them. But it’s too difficult to get out of the trauma he feels. “So it goes”, might give him solace for a while but it is not a statement he wants to follow. It’s been dictated upon him by fate.

Some Memorable Quotes:

“Billy had a framed prayer on his office wall which expressed his method for keeping going, even though he was unenthusiastic about living. A lot of patients who saw the prayer on Billy’s wall told him that it helped them to keep going, too. It went like this: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.” Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.”

–Chapter 3, Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

“Everything is all right, and everybody has to do exactly what he does. I learned that on Tralfamadore.”

–Billy Pilgrim

“It was peaceful in the ruins.”

“American fighter planes came in under the smoke to see if anything was moving down there. They saw Billy [who was also an American] and the rest moving down there. The planes sprayed them with machine-gun bullets, but the bullets missed.”

“The blind innkeeper said that the Americans could sleep in his stable that night, and he gave them soup and ersatz coffee and a little beer.

“Good night, Americans,” he said in German. “Sleep well.””

[Americans had destroyed Dresden only two days ago. These lines brought tears to my eyes.]

 

References:

SparkNotes Editors. (2002). SparkNote on Slaughterhouse-Five. Retrieved September 10, 2017, from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/slaughter/

Greene, N. (2014). 15 Facts About Slaughterhouse-Five. Retrieved September 10, 2017, from http://mentalfloss.com/article/58888/15-things-you-may-not-know-about-slaughterhouse-five/

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Monthly Feature 15: Zootopia

Zootopia–a play on the word utopia. Utopia–that can also be pronounced as Zootopia (in Sanskrit and in Nepali). Zootopia–a movie I watched twice in about twenty hours. One of the movies I cannot forget.

“Anyone can be anything in Zootopia,” Judy Hopps, the first rabbit police officer claims. But Nick Wilde, a fox and con says, “Everyone comes to Zootopia, thinking they could be anything they want. But you can’t. You can only be what you are. Sly fox. Dumb bunny.” Between these two quotes exists the story of Zootopia–the major city of world in which “preys” and “predators” are history. They have learned to live in harmony.

But fear still exists. Animals that were traditionally “preys” fear that the “predators” may go savage again. Someone targets the fear, turns some predators into savages and disrupts the harmony. Maybe Mr. Big (a tiny shrew(?)–I think he is a shrew, I don’t know😜) is correct in saying, “We may be evolved, but deep down we are still animals.”

Zootopia shows fear and prejudices can disrupt the peaceful coexistence. “Predators” are ostracized. Zootopia was, “a unique place. It’s a crazy, beautiful, diverse city, where we celebrate our differences,” Gazelle, the popstar says. She adds, “This is not the Zootopia I know. The Zootopia I know is better than this. We don’t just blindly assign blame. We don’t know why these attacks keep happening. But it is irresponsible to label all predators as savages. We cannot let fear divide us. Please, give me back the Zootopia I love.”

Fear rules the modern world and it is fear that divides us. A world free of fear can only unite us all.

More info on IMDb

Monthly Feature 12: Let’s take a “Breathless” Revision

When I began writing posts under the category of “Monthly Feature” at the beginning of this year, the only thing I aimed was consistency. The other aim was to review music, movies and art. As I look back, I realize that there have been movie reviews have become more numerous than the others. On the twelfth monthly feature–the last for the year 2016, let’s take a revision.

On January, I featured a Nepali folk music band: Night. Despite being named Night, I discussed how the band is taking Nepali music on to the light. The second post was the review of a wonderful Nepali movie Jhola. On the third monthly feature that came on March, I could not find a specific topic, I guess. So I discussed how our very existence could be an art and how we can indulge ourselves in art as well.

I went to a wood-art exhibition in March. Later, it turned into April’s monthly feature. I was really mesmerized by the way, artists from various parts of the world to create the best they could. May’s featured post offered condolences to Thinle, the hero of Dolpa whose movie Himalaya (aka Caravan) was nominated in the Academy Awards. In June, I analyzed Maleficent (2014) and discussed if it is fair to call her a villain.

In mid-June, I watched Kalo Pothi, a movie based on lives of Karnali. I reviewed its pros and cons in July. For August, I seem to have lost a specific topic again. So, I shared some songs and music I was listening that month. They were only a little part of the music I listened to, however.

The last three monthly features have been movie reviews. In September, Inside Out was reviewed, and Interstellar in October. The last post was on Pashupati Prasad, one of the finest movies that have been made in Nepal.

 Just before I wrap up, I would like to share a song–Breathless by Shankar Mahadevan. Most people are amazed by the way he sings; but to me what he sings strikes a chord deep within me.

 

Scribophile: Irony of Critiquing

I have been busy on Scribophile these days. It is a writer’s forum where one can read and critique others’ works. After one has 5 karma points, they can publish their works so that others can comment and critique. That’s exactly where the irony lies.

On Sunday, I critiqued a work inline (one can point out errors and suggest modifications word by word in this format). When I completed and looked back at the homepage, I had received an inline critique on a story I had submitted. I am grateful to everyone who critiqued the story. They showed me the errors and suggested some of the things I had never in my mind. When I ended reading the critiques, one thing became clear: We tend to turn a blind eye to our errors, while we tend to point out other people’s mistakes.*

I think it is our inherent nature that makes us able to show other people’s errors. Scribophile has helped utilize that inherent capacity for the growth of authors. And I am loving the irony in it.

*In Nepali we have a proverb: 

आफ्नो आङको भैंसी नदेख्ने, अर्काको आङको चैँ जुम्रा पनि देखाउने !

Transliteration: Aafno aang ko bhaisi na dekhne, arka ko aang ko chai jumra pani dekhaaune.
Translation (literal):

One does not see a buffalo on their body but shows lice on other’s bodies. (Excuse my translation!)

Jhola-An Epic Movie

Introduction

Sati, the first wife of Lord Shiva had jumped into the sacrificial fire in protest of the abuse her parents had done to her husband. Commemorating it, an inhumane tradition continued for thousands of years in which a woman burnt herself alive on the pyre of her dead husband. Women who were saved from the practice were rare. Only Mandev’s mother has been mentioned in the ancient history saved from the tradition. And then there was Rajendra Laxmi, the daughter-in-law of Prithvi Narayan Shah. Thirty one Satis burnt themselves at the death of king of Patan Yog Narendra Malla. During the reign of Laxmi Narsingh Malla, Kaji Bhim Malla was persecuted for a crime he did not commit. His wife, while sacrificing herself on the pyre of her husband, cursed: May the rulers of this country lose their rationality!

image

Jhola (English: Bag) is a movie based on the story of the same name by Krishna Dharavasi (Dharavasi literally translates to- one who lives in the Earth) was the most anticipated movie of 2014. Speaking on the evil practice of Sati, the story of Dharavasi had gained immense popularity- credit to the radio programme Shruti Sambeg and genuine lovers of Nepali literature. What was the custom? What were the pains? Yadav Kumar Bhattarai has shown well as the director of the movie.

As soon as the production declared the making of the movie, everyone was eager to know the development. The movie’s shooting was given utmost importance by the national level magazines and TV shows. The actress, Garima Panta rose to fame. The post-production was keenly watched over. Content, everyone knew. How would it be presented? Major curiosity lied on the presentation of nudity. Complete nudity was mentioned in the story. How it be shown in a movie that had audience of conservative mindset? This curiosity had also made up a newspaper article.

The Movie

The movie opens with a song by Sumnima Singh of Night- the same band I had featured in January. Krishna Dharavasi and his family make a special appearance in the present (2058 B.S.). He discovers a paper (letter) inside a bag left by an elderly man earlier that day and reads it.

The story opens in the year 1971 B.S. at an Eastern Hilly Village of Nepal. The writer of the letter is about 9 or 10 years old while his father is more than seventy years old. Shockingly, his mother is just twenty-seven. As his father lies on deathbed, his mother undergoes many troubles to take care of her son and household.

One day, the old man dies. The boy is then under the care of his uncle and aunt (both older than his mother). His mother is declared a Sati and she is made to perform several rituals before she offers herself to the burning pyre. However, she escapes without the notice of the processors. The boy finds her and takes her away to Manipur, India.

Social Evils and their Eradication

The movie presents some other social evils along with the tradition of Sati. Unequal marriage, treatment by witch-doctors and slavery are the evils of the era movie is based on.

Sati Pratha and Slavery were abolished by the Rana Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher in the years 1977 and 1981 B.S. respectively. But as the movie says- Evils in our society still linger. Widows were burnt once then. Now, they are burnt several times by the society. Unequal marriage, child marriage still prevail. Dowry system is growing up as another evil. Everyone should be united to fight against these evils.

Personal View
The movie has been well presented. Such a presentation is rarely seen in low-budgeted movies of Nepal. Village life in the hills of Nepal has been well depicted. The story is supported by the acting. The illness of the old man seems real. The rituals after his death are well-shown (although there could have been finer details of the procession). The background music is catchy and melodious. The cinematography and the lighting is good, although there is need of improvement at some points. The only thing I felt bad about was the transition between the scenes and the scenes that occur rapidly after the death of the boy’s father.
Overall, the movie is the best literary adaptation in Nepal.

Movie facts:
Director: Yadav Kumar Bhattarai
Story: Krishna Dharavasi
Screenplay: Krishna Dharavasi / Deepak Alok
Music/ Lyrics: Jason Kunwar
Singer: Sumnima Singh
Actors:
Garima Panta
Deepak Chhetri
Deshbhakta Khanal
Laxmi Giri
Sujal Nepal (Lead Child Actor)
Producers:

IMDb Rating: 8.8/10

References
1. Jhola at Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
2. variety.com/2014/film/asia/nepal-picks-jhola-for-foreign-language-oscar-race-1201290740/

You can watch the movie at: https://youtube.com/watch?v=tvSSDYsOHxw

Great Power, Greater Responsibilities

“I am not so sure. I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”                                                                                      (Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows  by JK Rowling)

I had never thought of Harry Potter series as the one which consists of a sense of revolution at the core. When I had read it two years ago, I had forgotten to notice this and the last chapters of the last book had been lame to me. Now when I read it two years later, I see that Lord Voldemort was neither as powerful nor as clever as that mentioned in the earlier books of the series.

The series contains in its core the struggle for power. Where on this world there is no struggle for power? There are people, who to invoke fear among others, destroy the lives of thousands. They are feared all over and they overpower those who live. Such tyrants never get any respect. And among those who hate them, comes out a leader, who encourages the others to fight.

Harry Potter is one such leader, whose destiny had been changed by the murder of his parents. Voldemort- a tyrant and a fool, who had always seen people begging to him for their lives and kills everyone on his way for the fun of it, was affected by the willingness of Harry’s parents to die instead of their child. The boy unknowingly gets pulled into the struggle since.

The above quote is an important to understand the core of the series. It also carries the question of morality. How many humans have understood that having power might make them corrupt – that they are not worth it? Very few people had understood that. Mahatma Gandhi, for instance and in our case, Ganesh Maan Singh were able to understand the corrupting nature of the power they had to hold. We always think that they could have done better as the heads of each of their countries, but they understood somehow that they were not worth the power they would have. They believed that good leaders are those to whom leadership is thrusted, not those who go and seek for it.

Albus Dumbledore, once he realized that he would not do well with power, confined himself, helping the revolution against the power-seekers – Grindelwald and Voldemort. The above quote also reminds me of another character in the series, who evolves on his own into a leader- Neville Longbottom. He could have suffered the same fate as Harry, and could have been the hero in the story or would not have existed at all. By the end of the series, he gets the recognition as a leader of revolution against Voldemort. Not only that, he becomes worth of the Gryffindor’s sword- previously used by Harry and Ron Weasley – and destroys Nagini- the last horcrux.

The search for an able, worthy leader goes on in the real world, though. And one in a million, we can find such a leader. One who has the power over all, with a lot of respect and also with sense of responsibility towards all is the leader we want for the world. Even more for our Nepal. We need the one who understands these words quoted by Ben Parker to his nephew, Peter (Spiderman):

With great powers, come great responsibilities.