Millennium Post

The aesthetics of alienation

Recently, when the film Ship of Theseus was running at full house in theatres, the philosophical root of the question behind its story somehow did not get discussed enough in
society. Anand Gandhi has dared to raise some questions on fundamental issues about life, its transitivity, its mutation through organ transplants. It ponders on the location of identity in an organ transplant – does it lie with the organ, the donor, or the receiver?

Apart from outstanding cinematography and a beautiful sketching of situations which have no easy answer, the film also becomes a prism with which we must look at the content on television, newspapers and other media.
Why TV channels are not drawing from creativity and innovation is a difficult question to answer. Asking why public broadcasters like AIR and Doordarshan don’t even give one hour a week to creative and innovative content to excite the minds of the masses is just as unfathomable. But that could also be said of almost all newspapers – none have a dedicated space for a daily dose of
creative innovation or an idea, not even a six inch column.

But let me get away from this vain attempt to argue that making communities responsible through exposure to creativity and innovation must be a larger purpose of every media. Sometimes, acts of omission become as seminal as acts of commission, though.

The film brings this out sharply when it wonders whether getting a new lease of life is so important that you are willing to get an organ by hook or crook. What is the ethics of taking something away from someone without due discourse on the consequences of that action for say donor of the organ, and, of course, the receiver as well.

This is not a new dilemma. But exercising power over someone who is helpless and is vulnerable is not really an act of great valour. To understand this little better, let us consider a hypothetical situation – there’s a hospital with several people living outside it, by its wall. Some are well, some are sick. Some have tea shops, some sell trinkets and some have made a small temple.

The ones who have made a temple enjoy patronage of influential people. In eviction drives, they are never asked to go; the others are. For a sick person on the pavement, the hospital seems miles away as he receives no treatment for days on end. And then there would be those who would be hundreds of miles away but the hospital will seem right around the corner because it always within reach.

Ship of Theseus raises questions about the paradoxes one encounters in life, in every day conversations, about various choices and exposes the hypocrisy underlying the intellectual pretentions of the middle class. Gandhi brings together all those who got organs from the same donor and then leaves the rest unsaid. All of us receive a lot from society every day. We are under huge obligation, actually, if we make a balance sheet of what we get and what we give.
And yet when time comes to take decisions, we become oblivious of all the unredeemed IOUs.

If a pavement dweller gets soaked in rain because the tarpaulin under which he takes refuge is punctured by strong winds, we are obviously not responsible. But if we join the winds and make the task of stitching or repairing the tarpaulin more difficult, then perhaps we assume some responsibility for the way the winds blow and the way people cope or do not cope with it.
The film wonders whether we ever pause in our busy life to even contemplate on these existential questions. Sartre and Camus may not have been able to resolve the dilemma about whether we really have a choice or not.

But to me it seems that we all have a choice, to be more humane, to be a bit more concerned, to carry the burden of our authority and power a little lightly on our shoulders, to be a bit more concerned about the rights and lack of these for many; not only for those who depend on us, but also those on whom we depended for various mercies when we were in need.
On arrangement with Governance Now
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