Monday, March 3, 2014


There is this very peculiar feeling that I sometimes get when I am in a natural setting -- in a jungle, or by the river, or even in some field -- and it's a bit difficult to express but the main component of that feeling is a sense of contingency - a sense that there's nothing necessary in the scene around me. That those trees or bushes in the jungle or the stones on the mountains could just as well have been aligned differently or could have been in different numbers or of different sizes and it wouldn't have changed anything substantial. That there's no apparent pattern, structure or necessity to the whole thing. And I think that's probably part of the reason why witnessing nature is generally a relaxing experience -- if there is no pattern or meaning in it, there's that much less cognitive load. You just observe the scene and that is pretty much all there's to it. (Of course, there's almost certainly much more going on besides this lack of pattern that make natural settings enjoyable as they are).

So, what brought forth this train of thoughts? It was "Highway", the movie. One thing in the movie that really hit me was its sense of contingent. Highways are probably the only man-made places that with their continuous change of scenery and landscape suggest a similar absence of any necessity. And I think the film was remarkably well shot to convey that sense -- an abandoned godown in the middle of nowhere or a mound by the roadside you go behind to take the leak or a nondescript roadside dhaba -- there's absolutely nothing that is necessary about them. And I thought the movie captured that aspect quite brilliantly.

And I was already struck by this thought when the main characters in the movie revealed their background story to suggest that they both -- one rich and elite and the other poor and arguably exploited -- were running away from the necessities and structures of the society that hadn't quite worked out for them in their own different ways. So I thought that was quite a clever (and subtle) way to put the whole thing -- that these people were running away from the necessary and structured to the contingent and chaotic. Though it doesn't quite work out for them in the end and that makes the whole thing tragic, but, yeah, one can see the lure of it all.
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