Immovable Object / Unstoppable Force
April 17, 2020
Hidden from view by the forest, about two kilometres from where I stay runs a highway, and at night once things are quiet, it is possible to hear the low hum of vehicles as they move across the landscape. I stay on the southern side of rural Bangalore, about seventeen kilometres from the city centre. For the past few weeks I haven’t heard the vehicles at night – only the occasional barking deer or an owl, and at times the sound of rustling of dry leaves, and the snapping of twigs as wild boars and other animals roam the forest late at night in search of food.
Birds 1, Home, Valley, 3rd April
The past three weeks have been difficult for me, and catastrophic for some; India has been under lockdown. Being away from the city, I haven’t been able to see the empty streets that my friends tell me about, or witness the migration of people as they walk back home. The lockdown has also brought with it a set of unintended consequences; people from around the world have reported how nature has reclaimed spaces that humans had polluted; air in the most polluted cities has become breathable again. Listening to these descriptions, I feel incredibly happy, but there is also a sense of guilt. I wonder what is the future of cities. Do they need to be more like villages- smaller in size and more self-sustaining? There is also the possibility that we transition into a society where hyper-surveillance becomes legalized.
Is the Pandemic a Portal?
The models for cities in India have failed and industries globally have done more damage to the environment than we can possibly repair in our lifetime. It is imperative that we stop and contemplate new ways of living. As Latour, Arundhati Roy and others urge us to treat the pandemic as a portal to reconsider systems of production, I find it quite difficult to isolate activities that I would not want coming back, or that I would want started, or accelerated. Ideally I would like to live in an environmentally sustainable society; where every person has good food, a nice place to stay, good education, and an enjoyable job – overall a healthy lifestyle. But how can these ideals be translated into action? Which activities must I stop in my life, and which must I initiate or accelerate to move closer to this ideal society? And if we were to do this collectively, won’t the cessation of a few of these activities destabilise the already precariously placed ecological and economic systems that we are a part of? At the same time, this uncertainty shouldn’t become an excuse for inaction, to postpone action until a later date when things seem clearer. How do we negotiate this change? Will a new system of production really reduce or negate the possibility of ecological and social catastrophe? What is the fundamental cause of this problem? Is the human mind geared to produce societies that are doomed to fail? Perhaps the solution lies in understanding how we produce these systems, and letting our lives organically evolve from this understanding.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
It is surprising how fragile everything is; our bodies, the plants around us, the streams, lakes, the buildings, even the economy in which we put such trust.
Looking back, there are innumerable examples of civilisations that have vanished- entire cities abandoned, and buried under the unceasing flow of time. These were civilisations, just like ours, that probably didn’t considered the possibility that one day the structures that they had built would collapse. Is that where we are headed? If not forgotten, we might be remembered as the generation that could have done something to prevent the imminent ecological disaster.
As I sit to think about the future, I am faced with an even more basic question – what is time? How do I understand it? And how does it structure my response to my environment? I have a feeling that the answer to the question of production lies in our understanding of time and thought.
As a society we have become preoccupied with accumulating both wealth and knowledge. This might be attributed to our understanding of time. Thinking about time is important because that is what lays the foundation for our systems of production, distribution and consumption of products and ideas. It is possible that in the desire for a better tomorrow we have neglected our present.
The current crisis offers us the opportunity to sit quietly, observe our minds, and to understand how we think – to think about thinking. I suspect that the very nature of thought is aggressive, and anything that is born out of thinking is bound to posses its very basic nature. Perhaps, right now the most pertinent question that faces humanity is, can we think without being selfish? Otherwise, any system- political, economic, or artistic, while attempting to be selfless, will ultimately be a sophisticated way of gaining control over material resources and people.
I am reminded of a riddle we used to ask as children- What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? In the current ecological crisis are we the unstoppable force, and nature the immovable object? Or is nature the unstoppable force and we the immovable object? Is that what we are witnessing; the collision of an unstoppable force with an immovable object?
Devashish Sharma has a BFA in Painting from the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, and an MFA from the Shiv Nadar University, Greater Noida.