Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan

Ate Bing, Sonia, and I were walking in UP Diliman when we passed by the Dalisay Aldaba Recital Hall. It looked like there was a show that was about to start so we went in and bought tickets... just at random. As I sat down, I didn't know what to expect. It turned out that I was in for one of the most serious plays I have ever watched. It's called "Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan" (Light is Heavier than Sorrow). It tackled a heavy topic in a way that touched both heart and mind.

The play was set during the time of then-President Estrada's all-out campaign against the secessionists who believe that they are better off as separate from the Philippines. The issue was widely covered by journalists. But what was not heard a lot were the voices of the people who were caught in the cross-fire of this battle for identity and nationhood; students, teachers, elders... the characters in the play dream of peace for their hometown but the violent circumstances had forced them to learn how to fight with weapons. Their stories took centre stage in this play.

Some of my thoughts about the characters in this emotional and intellectual reflection of people's conflicts from the point-of-view of someone who is ignorant and wants to understand and help in my own little way...

One thing that struck me throughout the play is the characters' seeming lack of self-esteem. One character was dreaming of going back to the idyllic times when the area was still a farming community. He totally rejected the urbanisation of his area because the more-educated northerners kept displacing him and his family. The same character espoused the idea that lack of education does not mean ignorance... but it does! These thoughts are very dangerous because the sense of entitlement caused by feelings of unfair treatment leads to anger, hate, and then (as Yoda puts it), the dark side. The character, seemingly, did not think that sometimes, the fight for survival does not mean taking up arms... it's always about competing and bettering oneself to get ahead of the race.

Then there's the student who had the brightest future because he was given the opportunity to see the situation from afar and to use such view to gain an understanding of what's happening in his hometown... and then contribute to its development. But did he take that opportunity? Did he follow his professor's example to go the distance? No. He fully understood that what's happening in his hometown was at the fringes of social discussions at the university but he gave up when his efforts to raise his issues failed. Naturally, other students would diss at him; he was talking of real-life struggles in front of idealist students who didn't have a clue what's going on outside the university (based on the concerns that they wanted raised during a student meeting). If he were built of stronger stuff, like the trainer at the camp of the secessionists, he would have had a better chance of being heard.

A group of students remaining in their hometown decided to join the training camp to learn how to fight. It looks like they did. But to these kids, their hometown was their world... it's so small. Naturally, their opinions and their belief systems would be as narrow and limited because they hadn't been exposed to anything else. They remained educated only in the world view of their teachers, whose anger and resentment directed at the government pushed them to take revenge or to take a more pacifist, academe-oriented approach.

Yes, the story about their struggle (based on how I understood the characters) was never about obtaining nationhood, freedom, independence. These appeared to be abstract terms alien to the characters' situations. Rather, the story was always about defending oneself and getting revenge for wrongs done to them. That is why the light at the end of the tunnel was always heavier than their sorrow. Statehood (their light at the end of all their struggles) was too far and seemingly unreachable that they'd settled for their comfort zone: unending sorrow. Because once they finally figure out that peace and self-identity (the real light at the end of the tunnel) can be reached using a different and less painful way, they would never think that it's all that difficult.

The lesson here really is this: There is always a choice. There is always another path. Choose to stick to the most obvious but difficult one and suffer. I think, to see this more elusive, yet easier path, one has to follow what the elder woman said to her grandson (one of the kids who went to the training camp):

"Huwag lalayo nang malayong malayo. Huwag lalapit nang malapit na malapit."

To our Moro brothers and sisters, there is always another way to peace in Mindanao aside from armed struggle. Never lose sight of the light.

I hope that this play gets a wider audience... to be staged in a venue bigger than UP Diliman's Aldaba Hall. I think that it's a story worth telling and worth sharing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

the mystery of the bent timepiece

One of my favourite animated movies is Alice in Wonderland. It got me started with dry and absurd humour. And for some strange reason, it introduced me to Salvador Dali's brand of surrealism. It all started with this Instagram post of Tom Trandt. The photos below shows a weird looking timepiece because it looks misshapen.


Indeed, it is misshapen. At first, it looked like a snail (sans the shell) climbing up the side of the wooden table... like a mountaineer crawling through that last assault to reach the summit... Obviously, I haven't gotten over Everest yet. And then, after I looked at it a bit more, I thought that the timepiece looked like something that would have fallen down the rabbit hole... might even be the White Rabbit's own watch!

Perhaps, the photo showed physical manifestations of someone's dream... just like in Inception... Time is bent in space in such a way that the sense of it is distorted. This was getting into surrealistic territory, I thought. This must be originally a surrealism work. And so I Googled about bent watches and clocks... and bumped into Salvador Dali's work: The Persistence of Memory, a painting which featured three bent watch faces.

I've heard of Salvador Dali's work of course. But I've never been a huge fan of surreal art... I'm more into Impressionists because their painting evoke the dreamy feel of going through fog (for me at least). But I'm quite sure that Dali's work must have the same influences as the artwork featured in Monty Python and the Flying Circus. On the other hand, if Dali painted bent watch faces, he must have worked on surreal themes similar to what's in Alice in Wonderland, right?

A few more clicks on the Web browser and I found something: Salvador Dali did paint a few pieces with Alice in Wonderland as a theme in 1969! The William Bennett Gallery (New York) had, on exhibit, a 12-piece suite of Alice in Wonderland-themed paintings, said to be some of the rarest Dali suite in the world.