Categories
Books & printed materials Fiction

[2883] A story on integrity from Solzhenitsyn’s For the Good of the Cause

I am taking a break from reading everything Malaysiana that is related to my book project. And I have finally decided to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s For the Good of the Cause that has been resting on my bookshelf for more than a year.

Here is an excerpt which I would like to share.

But the story fell flat. Fyodor did not laugh. Grachikov knew that it was better not to revive war memories. But having started this train of thought, he now recalled what had happened the following day, when his division was suddenly ordered to cross the River Sozh and deploy itself on the other side.

The bridge across the river had been badly damaged. The engineers had repaired it during the night, and Grachikov was posted as the officer in charge of the guard on it. He had instructions that nobody was to be allowed through until the division had crossed over. It was a narrow bridge—the sides had collapsed, the surface was very bumpy, and it was important to keep the traffic moving, because twice already single-engine Junkers had sneaked up on them from behind the trees and dive-bombed the bridge, though so far they had missed. The business of moving the division across, had moved up, but they waited their turn in small pine wood nearby. Suddenly, six covered vehicles—they were brand-new and all alike— drove up to the head of the column and tried to force their way onto the bridge. “St-o-p!” Grachikov shouted furiously at the first driver and ran across to head him off, but he kept going. Grachikov may have reached for his pistol, perhaps he actually did. At that point a middle-aged officer in a cape opened the door of the first truck and shouted just as furiously. “Hey you, Major, come over here!” and with a quick movement of one shoulder he threw back his cape. And Grachikov saw that he was a Lieutenant-General. Grachikov ran up, his heart in his mouth.

“What were you doing with your hand?” the General shouted ominously. “Do you want to be courtmartialed? Let my vehicles through!”

Until the General order his trucks to be let through, Grachikov had been willing to settling things amicably, without raising his voice, and he might even have let them through. But when right and wrong clashed head-on (and wrong is more brazen by its very nature), Grachikov’s legs seemed to become rooted to the ground and he no longer cared what might happen to him. He drew himself up, saluted and announced:

“I shall not let you through, Comrade Lieutenant-General!”

“What the hell…?” The General’s voice rose to a scream and he stepped down onto the running board. “What’s your name?”

“Major Grachikov, Comrade Lieutenant-General. And I’d like to know yours!”

“You’ll be in the stockade by tomorrow!” the General fumed.

“That may be, but today you take your place in the line!” Grachikov shot back and then planted himself right in front of the truck and stood there, knowing that his face and neck were flushed purple, but quite determined not to give in. The General choked with rage, thought for a moment, then slammed the door and turned his six trucks around. [Page 95-96. For the Good of the Cause. Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Sphere Books. 1971]

That is integrity at work.

Categories
Entertainment Sci-fi

[2862] The Last Jedi and the balance in the Force

Star Wars Episode VIII reminds me of Hero, a Chinese movie set during the Warring States Period starring Jet Li. What I like the most about Hero is its offering of multiple perspectives of the same event. Each perspective details how different characters see and understand the same event differently, and how it leads to conflict. And if one reconciles all perspectives by listening to all sides without prejudice, one gets to a higher truth. In Hero, the truth is an authoritarian one but the conclusion from understanding those perspectives is so profound that I think a libertarian would submit to its truth (within the context of the film of course).[1]

Director Rian Johnson used the same trick in The Last Jedi to explore the conflict between Luke Skywalker and his nephew-apprentice Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. Johnson does not take the relationship for granted and takes time to explain it. The exploration blurs the line between good and evil that previously was so clear in Star Wars, suggesting as I understand the scene, that the relationship between Luke and Kylo arises out of an unfortunate misunderstanding. The conflict is told through three perspectives: from Luke’s, Kylo’s and then from Luke’s again but with further commentary augmented by Rey. The colors, the cuts and the narratives are so convincing that sometimes I wonder which one is the truth. Rey is so confused by the stories told by Kylo and Luke that she demands Luke whether he created Kylo on purpose. The confusion between good and evil even leads to an altercation between between Luke and Rey, a fight so convincing that as I sat in my chair, I began to wonder, is Rey turning? Is Luke a Sith? Who is the good guy here?

There is at least another scene where Johnson tries to blur the line. I do not remember the exact dialog but it is the scene when hacker DJ shows Finn that the same party supplying the First Order weapons is the same one supplying the Resistance equipment. DJ goes on to tell Finn to not get involve and be free.

But the mindblowing moment for me is the philosophical truth Luke discovered during his exile. As he trains Rey, he tells her all Star Wars fans knows since A New Hope: the Force is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” But Luke goes further by explaining explicitly to Rey that is a balance in the Force and the Jedis do not own it. And since there is a balance, the light that the Jedis claim to defend must always come with the dark side. All this is not groundbreaking. But Luke’s conclusion is. He comes to the realization that if that is so, then the Jedis must not exist and the order must end.

Luke’s philosophy casts all of Star Wars films in a different light, forcing us to reassess what the whole franchise really means.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedMohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedMohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] p/s — I recently learned it was the Japanese film Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa that first used this technique.

Categories
Politics & government Sci-fi

[2792] Malaysian dystopia coming true

Some dystopian science fictions rest on absurd premises.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a statist world of paperwork. There is a form to fill up for everything you do. The story begins with a naming mistake in a government ministry.

Instead of Tuttle printed on the warrant, it was Buttle. That leads to the arrest and the eventual death of an innocent man the authority believed was a terrorist.

When a person discovers that the authority had the wrong person, everybody else refuses to correct or even admit the mistake for fear of having to face the impossible mountains of paperwork. And so the bureaucracy covers it up rather.

Mistakes or not, the bureaucracy is always right. Adherence to the system is so paramount that any attempt to rectify the error is an act of rebellion against the state. The state, meanwhile, does not look kindly on rebellion.

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is more ominous than Brazil. While people of Gilliam’s world are free as long as they fill their forms correctly, Orwell’s is a totalitarian universe with the one party controlling every facet of your life.

The truth is whatever the government ”• the Big Brother ”• says. The government rewrites history however it sees fit. If anybody has a different opinion or remembers history differently, the government will put him through a special rehabilitation program to change his or her mind, forcefully.

There are other brilliantly absurd dystopian works out there.

These absurdities are fictions only to a healthy civilized society when the government is decent. We can laugh at these fictions because they are entertainingly absurd and so far removed from reality.

But the farther down the hole we are from a decent government, the less fictional these absurdities become. In them lie the seeds of truth.

Whenever I think of Malaysia today, my mind wanders to these old dystopian science fictions. I sigh at the ridiculousness of our situation that might as well be the target of mocking and satire of these works.

Our very own Big Brother (is he Ah Jib Gor?) proclaimed back when 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was established that the fund was the centerpiece to his transformation.

It would help to create a new financial center for Kuala Lumpur. It would help reform the power sector. It would push Malaysia into the dreamy First World list.

Drive by the long Jalan Tun Razak, you will read the pretentious phrase ”For a Greater Kuala Lumpur” printed on aluminum hoarding surrounding the prime land 1MDB bought so cheaply from the government. ”1MDB is strong,” the government said.

Today, financial troubles and corruption scandals beset the fund. The strong 1MDB now is in need of government support to survive. The financial center stands unbuilt. The power authority is scrambling to meet Malaysia’s future energy demand because 1MDB failed to build the necessary power plants despite winning the tenders. Amid all this, the government is trying to convince us all that 1MDB is too small compared to the Malaysian economy. ”The fund is inconsequential now,” they claimed.

It took four to five years to change the storyline from it’s-a-big-thing to it-doesn’t-matter. One should be forgiven for not noticing the changing deceit told over such a long period.

But another episode is more shocking. Only a person of dulled senses and soft mind would not notice it.

Remember when all of those corruption allegations backed by various leaked documents implicating 1MDB, the prime minister and several other individuals first came out? They were tampered documents, the government said. The implicit defense was that the allegations were untrue.

Now, as the official government story goes, the money transfer did happen and the accounts did exist. All that was an all-legal multibillion-ringgit donation from someone unnamed. Suddenly, it was all true. Meanwhile, everybody who seems to be trying to right the wrong is arrested.

So, what about those tampered documents? The government is silent on that, instead preferring to talk about political donation reform, which by the way UMNO the ruling party itself rejected while blaming the Opposition for the reform failure. Such is the prevalence of doubletalk in Malaysia.

That blatant defense change happened in the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The fascist party said ”We’ve always been at war with Eurasia.” The masses nodded and they understood they had always been friends with Eastasia.

Suddenly at the same event, the party said ”We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” The masses were oblivious to the switch in name and nodded dutifully.

We have already that one party, the volte-face, a hint of corrupt bureaucracy along with the inane rationale and excuses today. It is up to us Malaysians to not nod lest Malaysia becomes these dystopias tomorrow.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
First published in The Malay Mail on August 7 2015.

Categories
Fiction Personal

[2457] A necessary lie

He remembers all too clearly what happened six months ago on the other side of the world as he stands among strangers under a statue of St Michel, waiting for an old dear friend to emerge from the Metro.

”Don’t bite your nails.”

”You’re starting to sound like my mother,” she replied to him sarcastically as both of them sat by the table, feeling a little bit nervous by each other’s presence. This was six months ago.

”Okay, but you should listen to your mother,” he said.

She gave a curt but a cute ”pfft”. Her reply made him smile, but he regretted saying what he said almost immediately. He didn’t want to annoy her unnecessarily, although such teasing was exactly the thing that brought them together in the first place. Life is so full of paradoxes.

”Why do you like to bite your fingernails, anyway?” He was genuinely curious.

”Well, that’s how I clip my nails.”

He wasn’t quite sure if she was either joking or being serious. The cultural gap between them was wide enough that one makes an assumption on one’s own peril. But he risked it anyway. He wanted to hear her voice. He wanted to see the expression on her face.

”Really? You expect me to believe that?” he incredulously asked.

She smiled, perhaps realizing the outrageousness of her statement. But it was true. She bit her nails to keep them tidy. Almost.

”Okay. Sometimes.”

”I don’t believe it. Give me your hands.” He grabbed both of her hands and inspected her fingernails, which were surprisingly neat.

”Wow” was all he could muster.

”I told you so,” she said almost mockingly as her smile became wider. She loved being right.

He didn’t quite think much of it at first. He had innocently taken her hands, but it soon struck him that they were holding hands for the first time. And in this cold weather, her hands were soothingly warm. They felt so comfortably soft. Holding them felt like a sinful sensual pleasure.

He felt guilty. He liked her but he also respected her. He didn’t want to turn her into a sensual object, a being that existed just to present this private moment to him.

Most importantly, he didn’t know how she felt towards him despite having gone out with her and having simple fun together several times already. Movies, dinners, kayaking, theatres, funfairs. He knew he liked her, but a relationship such as this must always be mutual. He was still unsure, but he couldn’t ask her. One cannot be too explicit with these things.

He didn’t want to be presumptuous about whatever happening between them. It could be that they enjoyed each other’s company as friends and nothing more. If that was the case, then he didn’t want to ruin it. He could live with being close friends, but he couldn’t imagine losing her completely.

He decided to loosen his grip, even if reluctantly. The conflicting emotions were tearing him apart. No longer smiling, she must have realized whatever he felt. His hands were slipping away slowly but surely.

But she wouldn’t let that happen. She quickly took his hands and held them tightly. And she smiled at him, hoping to assure him of something.

”Merci, mademoiselle.”

He sighs forlornly in the cold Paris, ruing how time has changed. He wants to meet her for one more time, but something tells him that that isn’t the best of all ideas. Another friend of his was convinced that it is the worst of all ideas.

”It’s the end. You’ll suffer more if you meet her again,” the friend said.

”I know, but I just want to see her again for one last time,” he stubbornly replied. ”I need to see her again, just for one more time.”

”You’re a sucker for pain, you know that. You going there will only hurt both of you. You need to move on and get over her.”

Whatever it is, it is too late to back out now. There she is, walking straight towards him, smiling and looking beautiful, as she has always been.

He smiles back, partly relieved to see her again, partly devastated that he won’t be able to hold her hands again.

”Hi…” she says rather nervously, wearing a smile to hide, perhaps, the past. ”How have you been?”

In his mind, he wants to say I miss you so much. He doesn’t. Instead: ”I’m feeling great, and I’m excited to be here for the first time.”

A necessary lie, perhaps.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
First published in Selangor Times on November 4 2011.

Categories
Books & printed materials Fiction Liberty

[2429] The good is to live it

For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors—between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it. [Atlas Shrugged. Part 3. Chapter VII: “This is John Galt Speaking.” Ayn Rand. 1957]