Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Sound of Her Wings

"All Bette's stories have happy endings. That's because she knows where to stop. She's realized the real problem with stories -- if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death."

Neil Gaiman, Sandman #6: "24 Hours"

It's 4:37 am now. A character in a movie I once saw said that between 4 and 5 in the morning, the spirits of the dead would come out to roam.

I don't believe in ghosts - I stopped believing in them a long time ago when I stopped believing in gods, angels, fairies, demons and all the other the other things that live in between the cracks of our consciousness. Yet, when I go out in the darkest morning, between 4 and 5, I would still be wary. I would strain to see into shadows and chase the edges of my sight. I would turn around and look behind me, dreading to see something unnatural - and yet when I find nothing, I could allow myself no ease.

I know that for the rest of my life, no matter how many times I wander out of my home between 4 and 5 in the morning, I will never find ease in that hour.


In a few short hours, a bus bound for PJ would leave my campus with a large party of my colleagues. There is going to be a funeral, one which I will not be attending. I think I don't deserve to because I don't know the Deceased more than what one single episode of small talk would afford me. I am sitting this one out because I do not want to take up a space which someone who knew the Dearly Departed better deserves more. I heard he died a passenger on the North South Highway about this time yesterday. I heard that there's another passenger who was infinitely luckier than he. I heard the driver escaped largely unscathed in body, but much less so in mind. And I heard all of these as part of a second hand account, so they might not be at all be true.

Between the Deceased and I, we literally shared only one conversation, and we shared it in the first week we enrolled into med school in India. He told me he had a mild case of food poisoning, so I offered him a tablet of activated charcoal - which he took. I happened to have some on me because I was also suffering from the same. That was near 4 years ago, and we have not spoken a word to each other since. I cannot honestly say I am saddened by his passing, because he was almost a stranger to me. I also cannot honestly say I am shocked or surprised by it, because after an old friend of mine took his own life a year ago, I've started seeing Deadlines hovering over everyone's head. My great grandmother passed on last year too, and so did Phoebe's uncle. And three of Phoebe's colleagues were crushed in a small car pancaked between the inertia of one bus and the momentum of another. All of the deaths I've mentioned - save one - were before their time. I have somehow arrived at this point in my life when all the people I have ever known started dying one by one. I hear the hoof-beats of the Pale Horse constantly now. Sometimes it's far, sometimes it's far too close.

Lie quiet, mate. You died in the prime of your life, a student more than halfway through medical school and a pretty damn good football player, I heard people say. You died full of Promise and Potential. You could have been Anyone, attaining Anything. The rest of us would die a long time from now not quite the person we expect to be, and not quite achieving what we've always wanted in life. The rest of us would die Disappointed, and as Disappointments. With Regrets, and as Regrets.

The reason I'm awake right now is because I can't sleep, though it has nothing to do with my colleague's death. I simply do not sleep at night during the weekends. The reason I wrote this is not for my poor deceased colleague's sake, but for my own. Funerals and eulogies are for the living. The dead does not, cannot care.

I'm going out for a walk now.

k0k s3n w4i

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Malaysian Allah Controversy

"... And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our Allah and your Allah is One, and unto Him we surrender."

Surah 29 Ayat 46, Al-Qur'an

Nicked this off

First off, I would like to say that I'm an atheist. I am therefore completely outside the influence of any kind of bias in this matter.

Christianity was established in the mid-1st century AD in the eastern Mediterranean and early Christians have existed in Arab-speaking lands since the 3rd century (there is still a community, though small, existing there today - talked about as recently as last year's June copy of NatGeo magazine). The Arabic language dates back to the 4th century, existing hundreds of years before Islam was founded by the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.

You know what this means? Do I have to spell it out for youse folks? This means that Christians have been using the word "Allah" for their God hundreds of years before the prophet Muhammad was even born, before even a single Muslim existed in this world. The Christians in the Middle East today still uses it, and the Middle Eastern Muslims saw no problem with that at all. And now, you - a bunch of Malay-speaking bigots - are raising this unholy hoo-ha about how other people use a word in someone else's native tongue.

Also, read your own scriptures, Muslims. Verse 46 of the 29th surah, the Surat al-‘Ankabūt of the Qur'an (quoted right at the top of this post). Your own holy book said that the Christian God is Allah too, and even pointed out that you guys worship the same deity, the God of Abraham/Ibrahim. So what now? Muslims can call the Roman Catholic Christian God Allah, but the Christians themselves can't?

Look, you don't have to take my words for it. You have your own Qur'ans. Go thumb the pages.

Imagine now for a moment that you guys succeed in overturning the high court's decision and successfully institute a nationwide ban on the use of the word "Allah" in reference to the Christians' God - what would you have done? You'll have to ban the Qur'an now, won't you?

And one more thing, "Allah" is the generic Arabic word for God. It is not God's name. It is God's job. You cannot sue for exclusive use of a generic word - it is simply not legal to do so. How if tomorrow, I sue for the exclusive use of the word "banana", or "aeroplane" and make it illegal for anyone else to use these words in print? Good thing is, I can't lawfully do this. And neither can you.

So, my Muslim friends, you argue that you are afraid that people might confuse the two religions? You are afraid that Muslims might be bamboozled and led astray by the Catholics' use of the word?

Seriously, do you really think that your brethren are that spectacularly stupid? C'mon now, quit insulting the intelligence of your own brothers and sisters of the faith.

I am speaking up because I believe in the truth, in the freedom of speech of all humanity. If you truly love knowledge, and love the truth as your own God have ordained, you would not oppose the Catholics' use of the word Allah. Your opposition is both ignorant and unlawful, and is demonstrably against your own religion - to say nothing of torching Christian churches and Sikh temples.

There, I wrote it all in the simplest English I can.

Addendum 15/01/2010: Here is a couple of useful links given by an esteemed Muslim colleague of mine in the comments section for those who want an eloquent Muslim perspective on this matter. Certainly worth a read, in my opinion;

Isu Nama Allah: Garis Panduan Penggunaan Nama Allah
Beza Antara Merebut Nama Allah Dan Mempertahankan Akidah

And here's an easy to understand article on the reason behind the usage of the word "Allah" in the Malay Bible by one Dr Ng Kam Weng;

Allah can't be substituted by Tuhan in Bible translation

P.S. Link this post in your blog so this can reach as many people as possible. Or if you don't like to give me traffic, just copy and paste this. Or rewrite it in your own words. Seriously, I don't give a fuck.

P.P.S. Isn't it ironic that when the Religion of Love clashes with the Religion of Peace, intimidation and violence happens?

P.P.P.S. Here's a shout out to a Malay Muslim friend of mine who helped me hunt down and affirm the translation of the relevant Qur'an verse. He wishes to remain anonymous, naturally.

k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Study in Kicking Ass

"I can't fly. But I can kick your ass."

Tagline for Kick-Ass (2010)

Hit Girl
That's right, bitches.

It's official. Kick-Ass is my most anticipated comic book film of 2010. Watch this teaser right now and tell me you're not completely hooked too,

I'm a huge fan of the ongoing Mark Millar comic series that this movie is adapted from, and if you don't already know, Mark Millar is also the mind behind the Wanted comics which indirectly spawned the unholy 2008 flick of the same name starring Some Guy McAvoy and Angelina Jolie. While the Wanted film was an enjoyable summer popcorn fare, it's completely missing the point of its source material - which is about a world in which all superheroes were either defeated or dead, and the supervillains are in control of the world behind the scenes. The film is about a fraternity of assassins killing people on the orders of a glorified sewing machine to keep the balance of the world or some shit.

The impression which I got osmotically through the Kick-Ass teaser is that it's going to be helluva faithful, and boy, it's going to piss a lot of sanctimonious moral guardians off (giving all of them fatal cerebral aneurysms, I hope). I saw Chloë Moretz in (500) Days of Summer last year as an unlikely relationship guru for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, and I see her appearance as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl in this film to be the logical next step in her acting career. Do not question my chain of reasoning.

Another genius casting decision was Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Red Mist. I've liked this guy ever since I saw him in Superbad as McLovin, and he was arguably the best thing about that film. I can't say much about Aaron Johnson though since none of his previous acting roles have been memorable to me at all, but hey, I think he warranted a mention here since he's playing the eponymous Kick-Ass in this film.

Kick Ass- 024
This is going to be so so so mind-blowingly AWESOME!

Totally geeking out,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Post on Everything

"Everyone is disappointing the more you know someone."

Adele Lack-Cotard, played by Catherine Keener
in Synecdoche, New York (2008)


This is not a review of Synecdoche, New York, but it's a meditation which descended directly from it. It's not one of the best-made films I have ever watched or even one of the most enjoyable - but it's probably one of the most important I have, or will ever experience. I will not recommend it to everyone. I have made it a point to be as honest as I can in my writings, and I do not see any reason why I should stop now. The truth is, most of you are far too stupid to understand this film.

I am incredibly conceited and am far more egotistical than I really deserve to be, but I know this. My conceit is a conscious choice, a role I have casted myself in because the skin feels comfortable and I enjoy wearing it. Staying in character, it's very hard for me to recognise any form of thought by anyone else to be superior to my own and it takes extraordinary, superlative persuasion to convince me to admit that I have been wrong all along. Synecdoche, New York, to understate it, is very persuasive.

Determinism is the belief that every event in this universe, every single action, decision, thought... everything and everything is the direct consequence of what happened before them. To frame an example: a man married a woman. He did it because he was in love with her. He fell in love with her after meeting her at a party, where they talked and found that they have so much in common. He went to the party because he had nothing better to do that Saturday after his dinner plans with his then-girlfriend was cancelled because they had a terrible row which broke them up... and you can extrapolate the chain of causes all the way back to the beginning of the universe. To trace the thread in the other direction, every single one of my actions, decisions and thoughts henceforth - tomorrow, next year, and on the day before I die - are all predetermined by events which preceded them. Free will is therefore an illusion. Everything is therefore fated. Even if you decide to fight fate, that decision was fated to begin with.

I used to pooh-pooh the idea of fate. Now I'm not so sure. It's not that I have never wrestled with the concept of determinism before but it's only since yesterday that I can accept it. A character in the film convinced me of that when she bought a burning house and told me that "the end is built into the beginning." It became clear to me immediately. We aren't pieces on a cosmic chessboard pushed about by some sort of alien motive force. We are both the pieces and the force, and this is only possible because we are imperfect, myopic and oblivious. The day we become omniscient enough to understand every thread of causality relevant to our lives is the day we lose our illusory free will. Poor Doctor Manhattan.

I remember 2007 when I spent most of the year single, feeling like I was at some kind of crossroads where so many branches of my life lay open to me. Had I fallen for someone other than Phoebe, oh how different my life would be now! I still wonder, on occasion, at all the possible lives I could have led. It's only natural to be curious, isn't it? But that's how things work. You play a card and hope shit doesn't happen. For my part, I feel I'm holding the winning hand. Phoebe and I are two years old on the count last Boxing Day and for two whole years, I have not felt sadness. No sadness. Two years. I have not been sad for two whole years. I can say without the merest trace of irony that I am at the point of my life when I feel happiest and most fulfilled. That's funny because I used to tell the ex-grrrfriend that "I'm just an unhappy sort of person"every time she asked me why I was so depressed. I thought my melancholy was built-in, that it's all my fault I had such a cancerous outlook on life. I actually believed that love is pain.

On a side note, that is why I write so sparsely these days. I no longer have enough angst to do so.

I reinvent myself every two or three years or so. Sometimes, it's obvious. Sometimes, I change something invisible to everyone but myself. Regardless, the change is almost always fundamental to my psyche, my core. I believe that if a person cannot change, he has absolutely nothing new to offer to the world or more importantly, to offer himself. When Synecdoche, New York introduced its protagonist, Caden Cotard, in the beginning and followed him as he woke up from bed, went out to retrieve his mail and had breakfast with his family, the date kept fast-forwarding subtly and what we as the audience perceive as a single morning actually spanned weeks. The deejay on the clock radio said it was 22nd of September. The date on the newspaper said it was October 14, 2005 and then quickly contradicts itself on another page, claiming October 17. The spoilt carton of milk suggested that it was at least past October 20 and suddenly, the radio guy said it's Halloween. I am not sure what I'm suppose to make of that entire set piece but it screams of some sort of desperation to me. Or maybe I'm just projecting. Maybe, I just don't want to be the same person all my life where my mornings are all alike.

I feel it would be liberating to be able to step out of a role one day and walk into another as you please in the next as if life is one big stage production. That guy working to save dolphins on the nature channel - I wonder what his day is like. That cute girl who who smiled at me from behind the Starbucks counter. That doctor who knew all his patients by their first names. That kid who aspires to be the leader of the free world some day. Their joys, their problems, their thoughts, what do they mean? How does it feel to put on their shoes?

My regret is that I have only one life to play through, and my choices so meagre. And that's all I want to say today. Now, I'll leave you with a part of the speech the Monologuing Minister gave in the film;

"... even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but it doesn't really."

Have a nice day.

Your move,
k0k s3n w4i