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Some Ramblings - Cloud Atlas (2012)
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

Life (Existence) is only because of a series of coincidences, coldly postulates science. So, out a few hundreds of thousands of galaxies loitering around the Milky Way, just one planet with perfect conditions for life to flourish? Just one, out of millions, conservatively speaking? Pure coincidence, nothing else, declares science again. The conditions, like breathable air, water and the blanket of atmosphere to keep the good things from getting out and bad things from creeping in, might not be the standard prerequisites for existence of life forms throughout the universe, science reckons. It is just that the they evolved to adapt to these conditions on this planet. It might be oxygen on Earth here, it might be Argon or Xenon some place else. So don't place too much emphasis on the odds, the one in millions and billions, when talking about the seeding of life, because that's what coincidence is, a one time occurrence caused by a confluence of events. In case of existence of life, it just happened on a cosmic scale, due to the presence of a weak star, just strong enough to incubate a bunch of gases over a period of time. Well, so far so good. But science also advocates the cause and effect theory. Going by that causality that every event has to have a source somewhere, the effect of Life can be traced back to the source of Big Bang. Since the Big Bang is also an event, what about its source?.... Is the universe then willed? Is it indeed a creation and not merely an inexplicable coincidence (though, according to science again, there are no such things as orphan events). Which then brings to the fore the original existential question - Is everything connected?

'Cloud Atlas' makes a case for that connection with seemingly random yet remotely related stories spanning centuries, showing how the thoughts and actions of some minds on one place of the planet at some point of time, ripples through the fabric of space and time to cause an upheaval at a different place and a different time. Who abolished slavery in America? Pat comes the reply, Abe Lincoln. But legend goes that he was very much moved by Harriet Stowe's seminal novel, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', which was about the conditions of the slaves working in the cotton fields of their masters during the day, and being tied to the posts at the ankles along with the farm animals in the barns during the night. Ok, Stowe it is then. But then Stowe cited that she only dramatized a bit what she had witnessed in her father's fields during her childhood. Had there been no slaves in the fields, no novel in about them, and with no novel, nothing to so move Lincoln as to declare war on half of his own population and no abolishing then? May be someone else would had written about it, or some other President might had taken it upon himself to set things right. But that kind of hypothetical is not science, it is philosophy, and 'cause and effect' is strictly science. Which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the slaves in fact had freed themselves, if all the dots are finally connected. P.T.Anderson's 'Magnolia' is another such work of intermingling stories of intertwined fates of people who never even meet each other, yet effect each others lives profoundly. Sounds familiar? Cops chasing a thief open fire at him, only to see an innocent bystander lose a limb or life off a stray bullet. This is not a far-fetched example. These types of incidents play out in everyday lives. Just what connection does that bystander have to the cops or the robber to become a casualty of the collective fate? Cause and Effect? Coincidence? Or a deeper connection that ties the whole of humanity at some basic level?

The concept of fate, where everything is preordained or predetermined, could simply be the causality of the collective, much like how the balls on a billiards board scatter out on a hit, or how the ripples in a pond stretch out to the far corners of it even when the disturbance point is at a completely opposite end. There is no escaping the effect, and it is only a matter of time (and space) where each and every action of the humanity is tallied up and accounted for. The movie takes a very clinical approach in weaving the different strands (stories), keeping the audience at arm's length allowing it to only observe (and later ponder) but never participate. The tone seems to be a homage to Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey', for they both try to aspire to a cosmic outlook towards life through the little steps in time.

Define Life. Biologically? Where's the fun in that? Metaphysically, of course. Life is collection of events, some authored by the subject, some whose origins are untraceable, coming together in a crucible to create a unique experience, which then propagates into the world, creating even more unique experiences. Life is not singular, it is a collective. It is simply a chain reaction of unending fissions and fusions, which can be best summed up in a kid's rhyme.

ABCD EFG, G se nikla Gandhiji
Gandhi ne khaya Pakodi
Pakodi se nikla Pataudi
Pataudi ne mara Sixer
Sixer se nikla Sunil Gavaskar
Gavaskar ne mara Chaar
Chaar se nikla Chor
Chor ne piya Beedi
Beedi se nikla Bedi
Bedi ne pakda Catch
Khatam ho gayee match!

Yeah, life is something like that!

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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