Friday, March 29, 2019

Apathy, Atheism, and The Last Call by Dushyant Rakheja

I spoiled God’s divine plan at the age of 17. My mother was shouting at me to not throw a bucket of water at my sleeping brother, yet I did. As expected, she was as enraged as was my brother, but he’s not important for now. My mother, or rather her beliefs as a Hindu, however, are. According to Hinduism, God has a divine plan for the world and everything that happens in a human’s life happens for a reason that only They know. Hence, it is often preached that one should not give into rage because all bad things are Their plan. If one reads again closely, they will find that I was able to aggravate a firm believer of this notion. I had her, just for a moment, “step away from God” and commit a sin. That possibly wasn’t part of his plan. I beat God…or did I?

Later that year angering my mother became a second habit, and questioning Their existence became the first. That was because I had concluded at this point that there was no divine plan that we followed. Call me skeptical but I fail to understand why the plan called for people to die at the hands of others for money. If there was a God, would he make a plan that could lead to this? Though I did know the answer already I wanted confirmation, which I found in Alan Watts’s The Book: On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are. He confirmed my suspicion in the very first chapter by saying:
God also likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. (Watts)
Hindu philosophy states that we are born of God and we are one with Him. Watts seconds this notion by stating “there is nothing outside God.” Ergo, inhabitants of the earth, we all collectively are God! He is more you and more I than he is in Himself. The fog dissipated at last, giving way to why the divine plan led us to an era where the majority is not happy to be alive.

“… Sometimes the reason is you're stupid and make bad decisions.” (Harmon)

Being the Devil’s advocate, or maybe the God’s advocate, I started questioning priests and learned people about whether they knew God or not. More importantly, had God given them what they asked for any more than their parents or friends did? Before the big reveal, however, it is important that one knows about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Consider a bunch of prisoners who were chained up in an underground cave ever since birth. Their only sources of light are the diffused sunlight coming from the mouth of the cave and the fire burning behind them at a higher elevation than them. From in front of the fire passes a road where showman and puppeteers perform casting a shadow on the opposite wall, the only wall that prisoners can see. Since that was the only thing they saw since the beginning of their lives, the prisoners accept the shadows to be true and hence start naming and familiarizing with them. If from a bunch of these prisoners one random person was freed and shown his surroundings – the fire and the diffused sunlight – he would start questioning his conception of reality.

Illuminated by this new knowledge, the prisoner returns to the cave to help his fellow prisoners differentiate the true from the shadows. Before making a decision, I would like you to try and remember your reaction when you figured out your mother’s name was not “mom,” or some other variation of it, but rather something else. I, personally, did not accept the fact and it took a lot of explanation to reconcile me. Or, try telling somebody that cockroaches cannot harm them and do not need to be feared. If one can be unaccepting of such minor changes, it would come as no surprise that the prisoners did not want to believe the free man. Since his eyes were more adapted to light, he could not see the shadows of the cave properly whereas the other prisoners could. They used that fact to establish their superiority and shunned him aside like a lunatic. The prisoners in this case could be exchanged with the priests I talked in my quest for sun. 

Some debated with me back and forth and strengthened my point that God resides in all of us, and prayer is just a way of reminding oneself what’s important to them in life. Others entered a state of absolute denial or even became a little hostile with their words and called me the personification of blasphemy.

Societal pressure, however, did not stop my investigations. I had progressed to finding the meaning in every mundane aspect of life: each blink, each wink, the flutter of the bees that I now consider my equal, each breath we take. The last question popped up to me during my grandfather’s funeral. He was clinging to life with an oxygen mask as Alzheimer’s took away his ability to breathe. My uncles and father gathered around him and were showing him images of the deity he worshiped and whispered, “They are calling you. You want to go to Them, right? You can go.” Among the loud sniffles, cries, and wailing, this sentence rang loud in my mind. If one believes in living a better life after death, why do they fear it or get sad when a close one dies? 

“Has any one supposed it lucky to be born? I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die…” (Whitman)

Walt Whitman’s 52-piece series called Song of Myself covered most of what I would like to know about life. It is true that the way I assimilate the message may be radically different than what he intended, but it resolved my issues. From Song 1, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself…,” I learned what it truly means to live and bask in the glory of oneself while enjoying the moment. Song 6 talks about leaves of grass, affirming oneness among humans and the earth; all of us being part of the same, being born and dying to be the same. Why should I then treat anything or anybody any different than others? The grass I walk on is not less deserving of my respect than the stranger I share a smile with at the coffee shop. My reaction on my phone falling out of my pocket and breaking must not differ from when I found out it was just my tempered glass protector. Some people mistake this for my apathy, but I am merely taking things as they come, like the Chinese farmer.

The Chinese farmer, in Alan Watts’ The Story of the Chinese Farmer, as one may have guessed by now, was a statute of the Buddhist principle of impermanence with an eye to the tao (zen). When dealt with seemingly good or bad situations, the farmer stays calm and waits for them to play out on their own, much like Arjuna learns in the Bhagavad Gita, that is, non-attachment to the fruits of one's actions. Divergence of the actual outcome from our expectations is what causes our sadness and not the outcomes themselves. This happens to be an unrealistic thing to chase after, but we all hope for a miracle every day.

Through my journey of life till now, I have been transformed into an atheist who does not believe in god, but after being acquainted with Alan Watts and Plato, I believe in humans and our power to change our lives as well as others. Hence, I would rather say that I am non-theistic but still pursuing truth. I believe in questioning what I see and am told to believe without reason. Walt Whitman gave me new questions to think about and a new perspective to view things from. The Chinese farmer challenged me to not over-think too much and to take things as they come. I was resolved and challenged to break the shackles and go to the light, to stand at the edge of the cave and learn about all the new parts of me that I see and not be overwhelmed by it. I have a new rail to take my train of thought on, and this is the last call. All aboard!

Works Cited

Clay, Becky. “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.” YouTube. 5 Jun. 2011,

Dhyani, Divya. Haridwar. Jan. 2015.

Harmon, Marion G., Ronin Games, Vol. 5. USA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015. Print. 6 vols.

Living, Raw. “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in Cartoon!” YouTube. 4 Nov 2014,

Plato. Allegory of the Cave. Trans. Jowett, Benjamin. Los Angeles: Enhanced Media Publishing, 2017. Print.

Plato. Great Dialogues of Plato. Edited by Eric H Warmington and Philip G Rousse. Translated by W. H. D. Rouse. New York: Signet Classics, 1999. p. 316

Watts, Alan. Chapter 1 “Inside Information.” The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. Aylesbury: Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd, 1973. Xvii. PDF

Watts, Alan. “The Story of The Chinese Farmer.” YouTube. 20 Nov 2016. Web. 02 Dec. 2018.

            Whitman, Walt. Song of Myself. Dover Publications, 2001. Print.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

How Identity Works: Without Pain How Can We Know Joy? by Sadie Schofield

What is good without bad? In “The Story of the Chinese Farmer” by Alan Watts there was a man who had bad and good fortune happen to him at different times. His son broke his leg which seemed to be a bad fortune, but because of this, he was not drafted into the war. His neighbors gathered around him every time a different event occurred, and they would cry out “Oh, that’s too bad” or “Wow, that’s great!” However, each time the Chinese farmer would state, “Maybe” (Watts). The Chinese farmer realized something that all these town folks did not understand. You cannot have good without bad. They are inseparable. For “your joy is your sorrow unmasked” (Gibran, [On Joy and Sorrow]). Alan Watts gives a clearer picture of this in The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by stating:
. . . Just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can't have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn't be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side with white, or white unless side-by-side with black.

Everyone has their own experiences with black and white. One fails a test, but because of it, one wants to study harder. One gets thrown in jail; however, one learns not to make the same mistake again. One gets sexually assaulted, yet one walks away stronger with the knowledge that even though this happened, one might be able to help someone else who is going through the same thing. Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself,” section 4, “I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won” (Whitman, par. 18). I have had my own share of black and white which I had to deal with and my own identity to figure out. For me to tell what happened to me and to take ownership of the situation is going to be a hard thing, but in the end, it will help myself as well as others.

From the ages of three through sixteen, I was sexually assaulted by my grandfather. He was a man who I called Papa. I was supposed to trust him and have comfort knowing he would protect me, yet instead he betrayed me. This was something which pierced my soul and made me ashamed of who I was. I thought that it was me who did something wrong, that in some way I was the problem. Just like any other victim of a sexual assault, whether you are male or female, you know that a part of you is missing after the occurrence. There is that feeling missing from you; you know it was there, but now it is snatched away by the rapist.

Surprisingly, I never realized what was happening to me until I was sixteen. Because of my Baptist background, I was never taught what sexual assault was. My church thought it best to keep these things away from children not realizing that sexual assault could happen to anyone. The even sadder part was, when I eventually realized what was happening, my grandfather was admitted to a nursing home because he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and forgot his past. He might have forgotten what he did, but I did not. He eventually passed away in October of 2016; I watched him take his final breath as he laid there on a hospital cot. For a long time, I felt no justice was done for his actions. Instead, I curled up in a ball of negative emotions causing 2017 to be the worst year of my life. I tried counseling for a while with no avail. One cannot be helped by a counselor if one is not willing to heed their advice. For me, at least, I had to figure out for myself who I was. Was I just a victim of a crime or was I someone who might grow from this experience?  
Someone who helped me figure out my identity was my friend Robert. He went through a similar experience of feeling rejected and used, yet somehow he looked past all of that and found the beauty in life. He realized “the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain” (Gibran, [On Joy and Sorrow]). It was him who got me out of my mental state of collapse. Through him, I learned to “unscrew the locks from the doors and to unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs” (Whitman, par. 24). Reflecting on my grandfather’s behavior, I took refuge in these words: “Whoever degrades another degrades me and whatever is said and done at last returns to me” (Whitman, par. 24). Because of Robert’s scarred past, he looked to alternative options to relieve his pain, causing him to have a run-in with the law. He did, however, learn that he would not be making the same mistake again, but he still had to pay for the consequence of his actions. This past November he was taken away to prison for a few months, where he is now. This was another major event in my life which could have caused me to slip into depression had I not looked at it from a healthy point of view. I saw this as a way for me to put into practice everything that he helped me with. I saw it as an opportunity for growth and to show the world that even though this is my past it does not define me. I do still struggle a bit with my past sometimes and “these thoughts come to me days and nights and go from me again, but they are not the Me myself” (Whitman, par. 4). 

I took my first steps into discovering my new self as I progressed throughout my first semester of college here at Hofstra University. I was not going to let these series of sexual assaults be the thing that took me down. Instead, I decided to surround myself with people who I knew had my best interest at heart, even though this story of sexual abuse might scare them. However, this story might also help them because “no matter who you are, we all have some sort of monster hiding in our closet” (Gottwald). This was my monster and is the monster of many other people. I have to say if I had not have gone through this experience I would not be at the same state of mental compacity as I am now. In a weird, twisted way I did grow from this experience. Because of this, I unlocked what Whitman was trying to say when he stated in his Preface to Leaves of Grass:
. . . hate tyrants . . . have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men. . .  read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

Because of experiencing rape at a young age, I have learned to be more companionate and to take more time to invest in the lives of others. I also learned to re-examine my life as well as overcome whatever insults me. My job now as a thinker and learner is to use the Jewish philosophy תיקון עולם or tikkun olam, which roughly translates, “to heal the world.” I have to repair the tear in the world by showing people that “I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. . . I will overcome the tradition of silence” (Anzaldua, par. 40). We are given tongues to be able to speak the truth and to stand up for what is right. We should not feel like we have to hide our past or be too afraid to speak up when we are being abused. Gloria Anzaldua suffered with using her own voice. Every time she opened up her mouth she was deemed wrong. That is why we have to untame our tongues; we need to prevent the silence. There are many women and men alike that feel the need to keep silent; they do not feel like they are going to be taken seriously. Such is the case with many college students. Sarah Baum wrote it best in her essay, “Pulling That Weight: How Colleges Can Support Survivors of Sexual Assault,” especially the story of Emma Sulkowize (uses they/them pronoun). Emma was sexually assaulted while they attended Columbia University. “They reported it [the assault] to campus authorities but it fell on deaf ears. When that failed, they reported their assault to the NYPD. Their case was ridiculed and dismissed” (Baum, par. 1) Emma is just one of many who have suffered by being dismissed. It is a scary thought that “One in five women will be assaulted on a college campus” (RAINN). Yet, when a student is a victim of sexual assault on campus, they have no ally in their school. They only face blame and shame. “They are damned before they can even be victimized” (Baum, par. 2). We need to all bond together to stop this from happening. We need to lend a listening ear to victims. We also need to help heal the world of the victims whose lives have been torn apart. We need to jump out of the cave and look toward the light (Plato).

Looking back now, a semester after I wrote this, I can truly say that my life has changed. I have been able to use my voice as a writer to help others by stepping into peoples’ lives and being the listening ear, they were yearning for. Because of this I have been able to help victims gain a voice of their own. Sexual assault is a hard battle to overcome, but when we all join together to take it down little by little the mountain turns into a mole hill.

Works Cited

Watts, Alan. The Book; on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. New York: Pantheon, 1966.Menantol. Web. 06 Dec. 2018.

Gibran, K. (2018). The Prophet by Khalil Gibran - free online ebook. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].

Whitman, W. (2018). SONG OF MYSELF. (Leaves of Grass (1891-92)) - The Walt Whitman Archive. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].

Gottwald, Benjamin. Personal Encounter. 5 Dec. 2018

Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. 2018

Anzaldua, Gloria. (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].

RAINN | The Nation's Largest Anti-Sexual Violence Organization,

Baum, S. (2018). Pulling That Weight: How Colleges Can Support Survivors of Sexual Assault.

Watts, Alan. “Story of the Chinese Farmer.” YouTube, Wiara, 19 Nov. 2016,

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Making It Work: The Bell and The Bowl by Dushyant Rakheja

I am getting a degree because I want to make money. I am getting a degree because I want to make money. I am getting a degree because I want to make money. Call it a completely normal statement; nothing about it stands out as odd apart from the fact that I wrote it thrice. It is what we all believe, and it is flawed.

When I was seventeen-years-old, my parents allowed me to watch a movie with my friends for the first time. Feeling like the king of the world, I went to buy popcorn during the trailers. As I was waiting in line playing with the only thing in my pocket, my dad’s debit card, a thought swept over me harder than a tsunami; someday I will have to spend my own money to buy the popcorn, the movie ticket, and the water! I went back home and handed the card back to my father without any grease on my fingers. The strength of the thought threw me into such an absolute anxiety about how to earn money that I forgot to order popcorn. This lingering unease was all I could talk to my friends about for the next couple of days. Unsurprisingly, they had had the same thought way before I did and were also looking for solutions. We shared our ideas on our communal bench, the one by the window in the corner. We took down notes during lectures hoping to scientifically analyse the historical decisions made in our civic society. However, we were only young seventeen-year-old brains with no real-world experience. All the ideas that we could come up with were too simple, according to our parents. So, naturally, we turned to them for advice and learned something we would never forget.

Having gone through the same phase, my father had an exact cure to my itch: “Go to college and get a degree. If you score all ‘A’s you will earn enough riches to dwarf a small nation. Score one B and you’ll just be getting along. Anything below that and you can call the assistant because you are not worth the time” (Rakheja). That is, in closest translation, what my father said to me, just as his elder brother had stated it to him. Later when I consulted my uncle, he confessed to quoting my grandfather on that occasion. One can assume that my grandfather probably quoted somebody ancient who came before him. Going to college for money, therefore, seems like an inherent knowledge passed down through my family. By conversing with people in my classes I discovered that this knowledge is not just my heirloom; we all have it. Consider the clear indication in my roommate’s prompt reply to my questioning his major: “I am an accounting major so I can get a job as an accountant. I gotta pay the bills” (Galietta). Everybody wants to study a subject to “get a job” in that field. It has been conditioned into us like the bell and the bowl of food that was conditioned into Pavlov’s dogs.

During the 1890’s, a Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov conducted research in classical conditioning by examining dogs’ saliva in response to an induced stimulus (BullyingNewsVideo). He would ring a bell and give the dogs a bowl of treats. In time, the dogs started to associate the sound of the bell with the bowl of food, thus releasing happy hormones whenever the bell was rung. After a while, the dogs got elated by the mere sound of the bell even without the chow in sight, thereby being conditioned to like the chime. Using the same logic, one is conditioned to stay in crippling college debt.

There is no denying that the cost of college is increasing exponentially. Take Hofstra University, for example; their per year tuition rates went up from $20,999 (inflation adjusted) in 1998 to $43,960 in 2018. Similarly, the City University of New York’s rates went up from $5,091 in 1998 (inflation adjusted) to $17,910 in 2018 (Chronicle of Higher Education). The cost of attending each college throughout the U.S. went up almost every year of the decade. If one was to take an economist’s view, it only seems fair to raise prices. Since it is seen as an essential product (diploma) and service (learning) by the people, they are bound to indulge in it. As Thomas Frank notes in “The Price of Admission,” “An annual pass to Disneyland would also cost $54,000 if society believed that what it took to make you eligible for success was a great many hours spent absorbing the subtle lessons of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage” (par. 5). Even so, it is not necessary for the bowl of crippling debt to follow the bell of college. The bowl that leaves a student crying on their floor eating ice cream while re-watching the same Disney movie for the 19th time is avoidable. Alas, my strolls through campus and its neighborhood have pointed out that we do not want to evade it!

Every person I know would love to have less debt, but they are not willing to work. Obviously, they want a job, but they desire the immediate rags-to-riches story because they want to be Princess Diana. Nobody notices the “Help Wanted” signs posted in the windows of shops that are within a ten minute walking radius of the campus as they are too busy shining their tiaras. My own roommates, who have more debt than I do. would rather make fun of me for waking up at 6:00 am to go to work than get off their Playstation and work alongside me. By lounging around and complaining about not having enough money or required job experience afterwards, we allow our comfort zone to become a limiting threshold. Certainly not everyone may want to be waiting tables til midnight, but I have also seen a “We are Hiring” poster outside the same Target Superstore for the past month. These are not jobs that pay $250 or $300 an hour as we would like them to, but it is still progress--- the building block of human society. These $7 or $8 per hour jobs keep us from being monkeys with suits and ties hanging in our wardrobes. Everybody seems to be so content with being in the state of having debt that they forget what being human is.

Slow progress over centuries is what led humans to rule the food chain. It is these increments, i.e., low paying jobs, that will continue to lead our march towards the top. It is not as easy as going out with our paper degree, handing it over the counter, and coming back with money as if we are buying bread from a grocery store. It involves long hours of collecting small slices that will eventually bundle up to a big loaf (Farquharson). Not only is it about small slices, but American citizens can make their college lives easier in big sums---even if they do not have an academic scholarship!

The ROTC program at most universities is available for anyone with an average GPA of 2.4. The program’s recruiting officer at Hofstra University also mentioned that there are scholarships that can amount to half the cost of tuition (Massidas). Since room and board amount to the second highest cost contributor in college, Hofstra, like many American universities, provides free room and board to active ROTC members. This is just one way to cut down college cost without being an academic or athletic genius. All it takes is a little snooping around.

Amidst all this “give me what I want because I want it” mindset that we carry, the go-getter sense has been lost. The sooner one realizes that they cannot beam up to the rich life, but rather will have to put in some effort, the closer they will be to their American dream. I am an international student from a middle-class family who is not allowed to work in America. However, while nobody was looking, I was able to add two slices to my bread fund. If I could, that means native-born Americans do not look closely enough. Are we letting opportunities pass us by because we are blinded by the end goal? There is a treacherous track we must tread before reaching the ribbon. As the product of our parents’ money, having almost nothing to our name, why should we be afraid to start from level negative one? We have got to stop getting happy at the sound of the bell and go look for the bowl.

Works Cited

BullyingNewsVideos. “Classical Conditioning – Ivan Pavlov.”  YouTube, 13 Sep. 2008,

Chronicle of Higher Education, The. “Tuition and Fees, 1998-99 Through 2017-18.” Chronicle, 28 Nov. 2017,

Farquharson, Tajear. Personal interview. 10 Nov. 2018.

Frank, Thomas. “The Price of Admission.” Thomas Frank. Harper’s Magazine, Jun. 2012, Web. 16 Nov. 2018,

Galietta, Noah. Personal interview. 1 Mar. 2018.

Massidas, Wilfred. Personal interview. 5 Nov. 2018.

Rakheja, Anand. Personal interview. 1 Aug. 2015.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Traverse & Transcend: Notes from a Walkabout by Benjamin Kelley Gottwald

You have navigated with raging soul far from the paternal home, passing beyond the sea’s double rocks, and now you inhabit a foreign land.

 Euripides, Medea

“Hey, so we were taking earlier,” one of the ladies from Milwaukee said to me, “and we decided: this is your rite of passage.”

“You think so?” I looked up and asked, having just crammed into my backpack 35 pounds of food, water, clothes, and other miscellaneous, life-saving supplies I have been carrying with me for the past four days.

“Yeah,” she replied in a verifying tone, “this is how you become a man.”

Despite having readied myself entirelybootlaces fastidiously fastened, map carefully examined, bandana neatly folded and tied across my brow—I sat on a wooden bench in the shelter’s bunkroom for a few minutes, thinking eagerly about her words. I wondered just what the verb become really meant: what it had to do with the five days I had spent in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the 30 miles I had walked over roaring rivers and mountain tops, the manhood two Midwestern mothers had claimed I had achieved. That conversation put the last day of my hike in a curious mood, and with 13 miles to go and three more peaks to summit, I took to the trail with the usual hiker’s mentation: simultaneously in awe of the sublime landscapes and lost in thought inside of my head. I discussed my journey’s purpose with myself. I wasn’t running errands in the woods for status, nor was I looking to wave a flag of masculinity from the barren peaks of mountains. I was looking for myself and nothing else. Having graduated high school one day prior to setting out for the hills, I did have something to prove, but this time it was an internal demonstration. In a word, I was on a walkabout.

The term comes from Australian Aborigine culture and represents the six-month journey every Aboriginal young man must take as a rite of passage into manhood. In that time, he must survive with little more than his skills alone, proving to Mother Nature herself that he can withstand the unforgiving Outback wilderness (Gibbs, par. 2). This odyssey into adulthood was best captured by British New Wave film director Nicholas Roeg in 1971, when he created a film that bears the selfsame term as its title.

When the opening shots of Walkabout—glimpses of quotidian city life in Australia—subside, a dicey and hazardous narrative unfolds. An English family drives into the scorching Outback to have a picnic. Yet behind the innocent meal lurks some malice; the father, who Roeg depicts as tragically ignoring his young son and perversely aware of his teenage daughter, suddenly draws a pistol on both of his two children. While the young ones do manage to find cover behind nearby rocks and brush, the following frame ensures us that the father had a similar fate in store for himself: it shows the car, having been ignited in flames, and the father, having shot himself in the head (Roeg).

From that point on, the two children—played by actors Jenny Agutter and Lucien Roeg—are fatherless and abandoned. They are left to their own devices under the scorching sun with little more than their school uniforms, a battery-powered radio, and the contents of a picnic basket. What follows is their dramatic and desperate attempt at surviving the inhospitable. They seem to fair well for a day or two, even managing to find a desert oasis; that is, until they wake up the next morning to find their precious water source dried up entirely. At this point in the film, the viewer can easily assume that doom has found its mark. Luckily for them, however, a young Aboriginal boy, played by indigenous Australian actor David Gulpilil, comes into frame. With his skills and knowledge of the land, the Aborigine teaches the two to drink water from the same ground they believed had dried up, and takes them under his wing as he journeys across the desert landscape (Roeg). It is clear, at this point, that the two children have a destination: the civilized world from which they came. Yet plenty of viewers ask the same question of the Aborigine. As the movie’s title suggests, he too is on a walkabout.

As I watched the Aborigine in his pointed and communal interactions with nature—his effortful and modest hunting with wooden spears, his use of animal blood as a remedy for the young boy’s sunburn, his sense of navigation that borders on second-nature—I felt the same inspiration that came to me during my own rite of passage through the woods of New England. I must concede that the Aborigine’s walkabout is of a more serious and urgent nature, and his terrain far more unforgiving than mine. Still, beyond the physical and procedural, a deeper idea lies in the subtext, further connecting him and me: both of our excursions were opportunities to traverse and transcend the realities we take for granted, to show us a side of humanity and its world that we had previously never acknowledged.

My journey into the mountains showed me more than the flipside of nature; it elucidated the flipside of humankind. The Midwesterners with whom I spoke on that Wednesday morning in June were just two of the dozens of people I met on the sides of trails, on the summits of mountains, and in the quiet of shelters. With each new person I met, with each new way of life they showed me, I was exposed to a new mode of human interaction. It was a new kind of friendship—immediately formed in that unlikely meeting place—that would reveal to me some aspect of what it means to be human so starkly, I automatically cast away the separation that civilized strangers unknowingly hide behind. The whirlwind nature of my interactions with these people made them unforgettable to me; after that night in the shelter had ended, or that water break on the cliff had grown too cold in the breeze, it was a near guarantee that I would never see them again.

Yet this iconoclastic awakening brings about so much more from the perspective of the Aborigine; his departure from his rite of passage was totally unlike my own. My jolt of enlightenment carried less of a shock than his. As their narrative progresses, the three protagonists each develop differently, and each get a jolt of their own. The Boy grows calm, and through his curiosity of the events, he attempts adaptation. The Girl, however, keeps her blinders set on her return to civilization. Still, Roeg’s depictions of her interaction with nature—her adjustment, her efforts to relax and find solace in her predicament—contrast with his depictions of the Aborigine.

As critic James Berardinelli so aptly put it, “Walkabout is about the never-ending conflict between civilization and nature, and how the two constantly work to destroy one another” (Berardinelli, par. 4). His observation shines through as the film nears its end. In directing the film, Roeg had an opportunity to reconcile the injurious relationship of civilization and nature via the interactions of the Aborigine and The Girl, but he resolves to do the opposite. The Aborigine slowly grows enamored of the teenage girl, and this attraction comes to a head when he dances for her. The raucous tone of the didgeridoo, an Australian instrument, underscores the situation: she becomes intimidated by his advances, ultimately rejecting him. And the morning after these hijinks, the two British children wake to find their native guide dead, having hung himself the night before (Roeg).

The Aborigine’s death is something to be mourned in every aspect; Roeg condemns the relationship between civilization and nature when he cast the native young man into the absurd. Overwhelmed and crestfallen by this view of the world, the Aborigine became yet another martyr. Watching that scene, I couldn’t help but realize my fortunate circumstances: my journey of self-discovery showed me a new part of myself and the world in which I live that gave me hope for the future. It showed me the exigencies of life, a world’s worth of competing forces, but revealed them to me in a luckily benevolent light.

Still, the Aborigine will not go unavenged in my mind; as he fell victim to the great conflict of society and nature, he revealed to the world, in 1971, the true situation. The civilized world is not deserving of an unmitigated conquest over nature. I learned this on my own terms too, when I saw just how capable nature is of retaliation. My walk in the woods forced me to come to terms with violent storms, unrelenting winds, and the crippling cold. It gave me the same feeling Walkabout should bestow upon any attentive viewer: a humble urge to approach nature in peace and only peace.

Works Cited

Berardinelli, James. "Review for Walkabout (1971)." IMDb., 1997. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

Ebert, Roger. "Walkabout Movie Review & Film Summary." N.p., 13 Apr. 1997. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

Euripides. "Medea." The Internet Classics Archive. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Gibbs, Patrick. "Walkabout, Original 1971 Review: 'beautiful'." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 08 Nov. 2014. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

Walkabout. Dir. Nicolas Roeg. Perf. Jenny Agutter and David Gulpilil. Twentieth Century Fox, 1971. Online.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Barbie to a Ken: My Look at WALKABOUT by Betty Araya

I remember the day the switch went off in my young, naive mind. I began questioning what I now know to be true: I was merely a product of my socialization. My opinions were those of my parents, the same as the ones I secretly heard them argue during dinner parties. My style was that of the photoshopped model, whose insincere smile plastered on the cover of the catalogue fooled me into claiming as my own. The person I chose to show the world was no different than my classmates, who I constantly looked to for approval.

One day, at the ripe age of fifteen, I went to school where I mindlessly copied down the words of my instructors, trusting that I was learning. I sat at lunch with my peers, believing my conversations were substantial. I returned home, sat at my desk, and regurgitated the information my teacher shoved down my throat. I began choking on all the mendacity our capitalized, righteous, bureaucratic society was forcing on me to keep me in line. Like The Girl in Walkabout, I was destined for the fate planned for me before I was born. I was and would be someone's daughter, someone's sister, some man's wife. And like The Girl, I chose the familiar radio instead of the larger world.

Walkabout is a cautionary tale about what happens to most women in Western civilization. We are submerged in a system that religiously uses the banking concept of education, the modern pedagogical approach which is stumping our intellectual growth and identity formation (Freire, par. 2). We are forced to conform to a society that will shame anyone who dares to question their way of life. We alienate anyone who deviates from our cultural and behavioral norms. Director Nicholas Roeg uses minimal characters that symbolize the various corruptions of the first world mentality. The story line is centered around The Girl’s journey through the Australian desert while she searches for the way back to her world. Faced with various obstacles that challenge her to question what she believesrather than what she is told to believeshe dares to follow her heart, rather than the pop-sugar quiz she took online, during the most crucial part of her life.

This cinematic revolution reminded me I am going to have to keep an open mind regarding all that I do not understand. I realized I am The Girl, and the desert is the world I live in. Roeg uses symbols to shed light on the various obstacles that women have to go through to have an identity different than the ones we are force-fed. The movie begins by depicting the earliest stages of socialization in a family, ending with the inevitable outcome most women are cursed to embrace: becoming a Mrs. to a Mr. For me, the tragedy in conforming to mainstream society is that, three generations from now, my family will no longer be immigrant Ethiopians living in America, but Americans who, caused by the fear to accept who we are, cautiously assert that our lineage began in Africa.

The three main characters that hold the most significance to The Girl’s walkabout is the father, the brother, and the native. The father represents the earliest forms of socialization we are exposed to as well as the detrimental effects of living an entire lifetime striving to please conventional society and the western mindset that is furthering racial hierarchies. Socialization first begins with family. The father tells his daughter to arrange the picnic, while the son plays with his action figures, which represents the gender roles that our families unknowingly impose on us early on in our lives. He also tells The Girl to look after her brother, planting in her mind she has a role of a mother simply for being female as the boy is not her son. This notion that she is a caretaker sticks with her throughout the entire film. In addition, the father is every teenager’s worst nightmare. His dehydrated skin, bloated belly, and bulbous nose hint towards his inevitable alcoholism. He has invested more energy in chasing money then experiencing life; all he has is his bank statement to comfort him at night after spending the day at his mind-numbing, boring job. He is a sorry excuse of a father, who has spent his entire life sexualizing women and cannot seem to draw the line with his daughter. He also represents the flaw in Western civilization as a wholewe would rather burn and die then entertain the idea of living life differently than we are used to. That is why I believe Roeg had the father blow himself up so early on, causing the children to flee. The Girl needed to realize the fate she was destined for if she continued to be guided by social structures to tell her how to think.

The Boy in the film represents the same mindset that The Girl is taught. He is still pure, like most young kids in our society who see a smile, where most others see a skin color. They see a heart, where most see a hair texture. The Boy has not yet suffered through thirteen years of brainwashing, also known as the K-12 program. He asks for a name, where most adults give a label. The Boy does not automatically assume everyone is like him: white. For example, in the scene with the water, the boy realizes he must explain what he wants for the native to understand him whereas The Girl believes the suitable solution is to stick her nose in the air and demand the black man give her what she wants (Roeg, 00:36). This scene was so powerful because it portrayed how similar we all are. We all need food, water, shelter, and companionship. The only thing that differentiates us is our distance from the equator which determines our complexion. The only reason we cannot understand each other is because of our locations on the map and the methods of communication we have adopted. Our geographic differences are what spark the different cultures we all practice, which is actually a beautiful thing. The Boy, the part of society that still has hope, helps his older sister come to terms with the fact that the high society she proudly identifies with will serve her no purpose in the Outback. It will not even get her the simplest thing required for survival: water.

The native represents many things for The Girl, but most importantly, he symbolizes hope. In the endless ocean that is Western civilization, he is the promise of land in the horizon. When she and the native first meet, she is in trouble. She has been taught to view herself as a damsel in distress, and he must play the role of her savior. It is for this sheer fact that she begins to fall for him. She thinks a man’s role is to take care of a woman, and it is the woman's job to need to be taken care of. She completely forgets all she accomplished on her own thus far. Despite her desires for him, The Girl could never get over his skin color. The scene where all three of the children are swimming naked is intentional. Roeg portrays the taboo of having affection for someone who looks different from you. In this scene they all look so happy and free, showing us how liberating it can be to forget the societal norms implanted in our brains and do what makes us feel good. Although I have learned to love being a woman of color, the scene made me imagine how different life would be if I was just a girl, instead of a black girl in a white society. The native also represents the detrimental effects of colonization. He graciously accepts the British kids and attempts to teach them about his way of life. He does not request they conform; he simply coexists and helps when he can. When he saw the hunters kill for sport, he saw his culture diminish before his eyes (Roeg, 01:17). He accepted what history has continuously proven to be true, which is that he has two options: conform or die. He unfortunately chooses death. Despite her desires to embrace him, The Girl turns her back on the native and what life could be like outside the lines. Perhaps she is too scared to be different or  scared she might actually like it. In either case, her lack of bravery haunts her, which we saw in the flashbacks at the end while in the embrace of her husband (Roeg, 01:37).

In my walkabout, the father is the man behind the glass at the DMV absently stamping documents. His vacant expression is what inspires me to strive for knowledge rather than the approved symbol when I swipe my credit card. I crave infinite knowledge, rather than infinite zeros on my account balance. The father in my walkabout is also the sea of white faces that covered the hallways I ambled in school, signaling me out as the dark one. The Boy is the potential I still have, a reminder that it is my choice to resist the constant nudge by society as I begin questioning the world around me. He reiterates that I hold the upper hand in this power struggle, because I am in control of my mind. The native represents the ghosts of immigrants to America. Although I did not resort to hanging myself once acknowledging the power Western civilization has, needless to say, the native represents the fight so many immigrants and minorities have already given up onpreserving their own culture.

I moved from Ethiopia to America when I was four years old. In the States, Ethiopia, one of the earliest civilizations, is more known for poverty than its overwhelming communal culture. I moved to a melting pot of different cultures and a society that stresses individualism, with little preparation for the culture shock I would face. I was unready for a country that defines one's value by one’s ability to contribute to the federal reserve rather than who we are as people. It is a system that believes in creating robots as early as five years old, rather than providing tools to discover an identity of one’s own. Until my teenage years, I was not striving to find myself, but rather to paint over all that made me me: my caramel colored skin, my distinct features, and my curls. I sought to match the white girl who sat next to me in my reading circle in elementary school, the white girl who insisted on touching my hair at lunch junior year to further emphasize my difference, the white girl who was never ridiculed for who she is because at the end of the day, America was hers and I was the alien who chose to invade. 

The Girl in Roeg's drama, like many other millenials obsessed with iphones, social media, social approval, and the Kardashians, chooses the easy route, the mindless route, that further feeds the biggest issue of our time: ignorance. Walkabout is what happens to most teenagers in our society, and it almost happened to me. I am now eighteen years old, attending a prestigious university spending my days focusing on my passion. I have grown to have confidence in myself, but it was not effortless to get to this point. It was not without vigorous effort, tears, and crippling self-doubt that I blossomed from a girl whose stomach dropped when the teacher read out my full name to one who now proudly introduces herself. It was a difficult journey to grow from someone who straightened my wild curls to one who proudly wears my mane. I alleviated the insecure, misguided child I was by embracing what made me different instead of trying to conform.

I do not want to recite what I read in a textbook to prove I have knowledge. I do not want to repeat what I heard my family says to prove I have beliefs. I do not want my identity to be simplified to boxes I check off on a job application. I refuse to spend my life with the mindset that my greatest accomplishment will be the day I say “I do” or the day I have a child. I deny the ending The Girl in Walkabout had, because no matter what our society tells us, I will never sit quiet and look pretty. My walkabout has taught me to treat each person as my equal and embrace that they offer me. It has taught me that the six o’clock news does not cover all that matters in the world. It has forced me to accept that living in America does not require that one become a homogenously white American. It has left me yearning for the day I look in the mirror and only see myself, rather than the array of people I have been taught and forced to be. Although I can still feel the residue of my unwilling socialization clogging my throat, every day I am closer to dropping my radio. I am closer to embracing who I am, where I came from, and the values I hold. Every day I embark on this relentless journey, and the identity I fear the most is growing further away, that of being a Barbie to a Ken.

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. The "Banking" Concept of Education. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

Walkabout. Dir. Nicholas Roeg. Perf. Jenny Agutter, Jean-Luc Roeg, and David Gumpilil. 1971.