..And miles to go before I sleep
Looking back into our journey together at Berkana this year
Berkana started as an outcry against the limitations put on the human spirit by life’s various circumstances. From there it has grown into a full-blown newsletter about cultural anecdotes and analysis of what it means to be human in testing times. The courage, ferocity, and inspirations that help us to get through life’s myriad challenges. Berkana skinny-dipped in obscure history to find the rare proclamation of bravery shining through its pages. We pondered on the motifs present in all forms of art (literature, music, filmmaking, tattooing, etc) and drew on the semblance of cultural relevance hidden like gemstones within its realm. We learned a great few things but the best among all of them are the lessons of compassion and empathy. We learned that our individuality makes us who we are but also our belonging to our band of ancestors have kept us on our path. We learned that even if our problems are unique we still experience similar trials of being human. We are gifted enough to make unique decisions. The decision of choosing right from wrong. The decision of waking up every day and putting one foot in front of the other, whatever may be the circumstances. Having gone through hell and yet the decision of choosing not to suffer. Even in midst of the most horrible circumstances choosing not to be a victim.
Berkana is a place where you discover from true stories that the universe moves if we are willing to make collective sacrifices. If we are willing to give up prejudice, anger, the urge to dominate, toxicity, unhealthy competition, and anything unnatural to the spirit of goodness, then there is still hope for us. With all these philosophies intact, Berkana turned into the birthplace of hope and wonder. An open space to ask without hesitation, “What would it feel to like to be this person from this story?” Now, if you ask that question honestly, you are bound to shift inside another whole new level of your consciousness. You discover and explore more about your inner callings once you realize what it likes to be someone other than yourself. The sense of otherness vanishes, and you become wiser. In this way, Berkana encourages both soul and social growth because one is not unaffected by the other.
A pit stop before racing into 2022
Here is a glimpse of the best of Berkana 2021. These are all my favorite excerpts from some of the extensive posts:
The structure will slowly start to erode by the waves of this creative rebellion and the relentless wars waged for equal representation of women, not only as artists and critiques but also as collectors, dealers, and patrons. Behind the masked social biases lives a monster of prejudice, oppression, and control mechanism, that is still sabotaging the stage, pace, and visibility of women artists. The gigantic underrepresentation of women and especially differently-abled women, from diverse ethnicity, race, color, religion, different political and social liberty - says something about the inherent biases of our society and its immense lack of virtue. These biases are not without consequences. They give birth to gigantic social monsters on the back of which inequality sees the daylight. These biases impact someone’s reality, inhibit their growth, solidify their definition of self-worth, and deprive them of a livelihood or sense of fulfillment in a successful career.
Our acceptance is often plastered with pity which peels off quickly to reveal a deeper dissatisfaction when our heroes don't show up pretending who we want them to be. However, this dissatisfaction that we project on them is internal. We seek perfection out of them because we are reluctant to work on our imperfections.
The muse-like character who constantly lives her life on the extreme edges of neuroticism needs to be reasoned with both within our literature and real lives. We need to admit that it is no longer okay if women are presented as an adventure to be embarked on rather than full and flawed human beings with desires of their own.
The MPDG’s flare and quirk are desirable but not when she lacks depth and story of her own. The ultra-feminine and brazen Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an archetype that confirms the old sexist adage that one exceptional brilliant woman who can see life differently is responsible to save the man she loves. As if that is all that her brilliance accounts for.
You are a magical woman whose magic should not be wasted for anyone else’s convenience. Wield the magic, keep it safe, make it stable. And then, when the time is right, cast your spells, and send the destiny whirling on your whims. You don’t have to be a slave to someone else’s destiny anymore. Wake up dream girl, click your heels thrice, the dream is over.
As a result of the Afspa, people were killed almost every day, sometimes for animosity and sometimes for entertainment. No one but only the invisible Gods heard their muffled screams dissolving into the blind nights of Manipur. The Gods were silent, they were absent. The Gods decided that they had nothing to do with the lives of a handful of men, women, and children. When the Gods turned their backs on people, the women of Manipur lit up the torches at night and rallied silently as watchers, benefactors, and rebels. To protect and protest, to endure together and embrace each other - a sheer display of the feminine spirit. They were called Meira Paibis (Women torch bearers), who stood upon the graves of their beloved daughters like ghosts of the tortured past. Like an imminent force of nature, they rose to demonstrate courage when it was nowhere to be found. They were goddesses personified. Their incredible escapades healed the fractured spine of Manipur. Through their subversive act of rebellion, they successfully cradled the maimed spirit of people back to vitality. Vehement protests broke out in every corner of the state. The revolution began.
When we make a wildly beautiful and rare animal go through such tormented and inferior existence, we collectively fail as humans. We dabble our feet in greed and status symbols at the cost of an endangered animal’s life. Somewhere in between keeping up with the trend and our social media fad, we lost our humanity.
The woman sub-sub culture inside the Yakuza is fascinating. It is a hidden network of sisterhood. The more we understand their group dynamics and individual roles within their community, the more we can debunk the outlook of submissive women that we believed them to be. On the contrary, they are subversive, rebellious, and powerful. They fight the patriarchy while denying being limited to domestic responsibilities. They often work in nightclubs as escorts and strippers to help their partners financially.
We cannot be sure how true the miracle stories are but we can be certain that these women were exceptional. They deviated radically from their expected gender roles. During this period, many women could afford to be courageous and outspoken without being burned or buried alive. They created serenades for god and subtly slipped subversion into it. They sang the verses to deter the oppressors and abusers. Their poetry indirectly commanded: “Do not cross the line, for I belong to God”.
The sorrow and solitude imbued history of the Dak Bungalows are too stark to ignore. It is solid proof of the fact that colonialism was a toiling pursuit for national profits at the cost of individuals. The empire exploited its officers by ensnarling them in the disciple of duty, and its natives by plundering their resources. The Dak Bungalows scream of the madness and mayhem that the empire set loose for its selfish gains. The evocative atmosphere inside the bungalows, constricted by old teak furniture and embellished mirrors, speaks of this inhospitable past. When the last Englishman sailed to his motherland, what was left behind was a legacy of ghastly Dak Bungalows, each one haunted by its own set of angry ghosts.
These formidable women across generations have used their courage and fortitude to weave together the past, present, and future of the Māori world in one tapestry of wisdom and tolerance. Without the gravity of their mana, the Māori men would be lost voyagers of the seas. The wāhine are like the Moana (ocean) that connects the whole of Polynesian islands into one uniform body of people.
Every Māori woman with a whakapapa has the right to wear the kauae as a mark of survival. As a display of resilience. As a reminder to the treaty partners that they are still present rising like the waves of the ocean, unshackled and complete in their identity, roaring in the silent language of symbols etched on their skin to claim back what was rightfully theirs.
The Sufi whirling is a direct translation of motion from the macrocosm into the microcosm. It imitates the ebb and flow of creativity and the expansion of the universe. In the Sufi school of thought, the nature of the world is not circular, which goes repeating itself infinitely. It is rather spiral, it grows and radiates from the center outwards. In the Islamic world, such an understanding of spatial construction found its way from architectural arrangement to basic music order. The spiraling patterns are everywhere. With this understanding, the whirling dance of the dervish Sema/Sama practice makes a lot more sense. The dance is simply an expression of being in harmony with the movement of the cosmos.
When a Dervish whirls, his world slowly crumbles and collapses. This material reality has lesser significance for him when he is seeking the nectar of truth. So he leaves it behind to whirl in tune with the natural flow of energies of the universe. In this choreography replicating the Cosmos, the Dervishes train to yield their bodies to the rhythm of the Earth. Their bodies sway, their blood pulsates, and their consciousness expands. They lose their human identity, and even if for an hour become one with eternity. With their bodies held suspended in rotation by the pull of gravity, their minds finally become free to contemplate the nature of existence. In this altered state of consciousness, the Dervishes finally understand the eternal nature of the soul. This is their moment of awakening.
In her dynamic documentary-style film Capernaum Labaki brings us face-to-face with Zain, a streetwise 12-year-old with hauntingly eloquent eyes who has long lost his innocence in his fight for survival on the Beirut streets. Labaki gives us the perspective of a child (Zain) on how it feels to have been born in a world where you are unwanted even by your parents. We feel Zain’s despair with his existence in a broken world that gave him nothing but the pain of abandonment. Labaki masterfully documents his rabid anger and relentless spirit as he sets on the quest to avenge his cruel fate. Capernaum (which means ‘chaos and miracle’) is a work of art created to hold the world accountable for turning its eyes away from the misery of those innocent children whose fates are sealed with dread even before they were born. Labaki aimed to humanize the stories of the street kids of Lebanon. It is a tale of the lost innocence of those little ghosts of the streets of Lebanon, who are still walking invisible in broad daylight.
Durga is the representation of the mother consciousness and her ancient powers. The archetypal Goddess is our longing to abandon our ego and be on the path of virtuous endeavors. Durga is an archetype that instills unwavering courage we all can access from within in the face of adversities.
From the day a woman chooses the life of service as a nun of Drukpa lineage, she gets new identity, and with it comes a new name. All the women add Jigme as their first name, meaning ‘the fearless one’. The name is symbolic of the life chosen by a Drukpa nun. It is a path that calls for constant courage, from driving a 4x4 truck 30km to and from Amitabha for grocery shopping to running campaigns all across India to teach self-defense to women. There is simply nothing easy about the life of these girls.
Ghibli's dreamlands undergo metamorphosis based on the prominent themes of our modern world problems like war, capitalism, hustle culture, inequality, power abuse, eco-vandalism, etc. Amid these themes, Ghibli carefully evokes emotions to render a naturally evolving world that is believable. This way, the story always grows on its own from the point of conception to become what it is - in this case, a fuller and meaningful world where magic and beauty reign despite the immense difficulties that life offers.
Closing 2021 with a note of gratitude
The deeper I went into this journey of creating a life out of doing what is meaningful to me, the more I realized how important you are to my journey. Dear reader, you are an important part of my career. You get to decide if my words speak to you in one way or another. Some of you are here because a friend recommended Berkana. Some of you liked what you saw and signed up. Most of you stayed. Some among you are writers yourself and are here to support me. Some of you became friends, and others are silent applauders. You kept me encouraged when you rooted for me - when you engaged me in conversations, when you spoke your mind, and when you acknowledged my voice. You are the face of Berkana. This newsletter is about you. It is your story that I tell. It is you that I seek to learn from and belong with. Thank you for being a part of this toiling yet liberating journey. Thank you for believing in Berkana.