Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Day, A film and Reflections

Expectations are funny things. The more you have them, someone, somewhere is secretly working so that they are never realized. You accept this fact and accommodate it into your daily workings It is indeed interesting as to how we seamlessly accommodate unwritten rules into our lives, which would have seemed absurd and out of place otherwise. Is this a resignation to fate or an acceptance of reality, practicality at its best ? Whichever way we see it, there is no escaping it. One lowers his expectations sometimes, and just accepts the way things are thrown at him. But then once in a while, comes a moment that completely throws you off balance, leaves you stunned and it takes some time for the feeling to sink in. I am probably reeling under such a situation now.

On a Friday afternoon, after a guest lecture on the gaming industry, I dropped in one of the innumerable lecture theaters here to watch the screening of an Israeli movie, Seeds of Summer directed by Hen Lasker. As you might know, Israel is the only country in the world which has a compulsory military service for women. One is expected to serve a military in some way, not necessarily as combat soldiers. At the young age of 18, girls are drafted and undergo rigorous training. The movie is about the girls who voluntarily underwent combat training over a period of 66 days. Shot by Hen Lasker, who herself underwent this training a few years ago, and returned to capture the lives of these girls on film.

The next 63 minutes were a feast for the senses. The movie looks at the lives of the girls in two ways, one is the metamorphosis of 18 year old girls into fierce combat soldiers, who until a few days ago would have been happy handling a hair drier, today handle guns with ease. But more interestingly, it explores the personal lives of the girls, and how in a closed environment, feelings of infatuation and love develop between them. In an environment set by masculine codes, the way female intimacy is developed is a pleasure to watch. The director, who fell in love with her commander while in training, in a conversational manner, chronicles the lives of these girls, their complex interpersonal relationships, their joys and sorrows, their acceptance to change happening within themselves and the maturity they possess at such a young age. I wouldn't review the movie for you, as I don't consider myself qualified to do so. I was extremely thrilled to watch the movie. But I realised the best was yet to come.

As the screening ended, no one was moved. Not because they were so taken in by the film, more because they knew more was in store. A young woman walked up to the center and introduced herself. My jaw dropped. Hen Lasker herself! She thanked us for attending the screening and opened the floor to questions. Following are my recollections, and I am not quoting this verbatim.

She was asked about how it is to be in the training. She replied that it was indeed interesting as to how its a common point/base for all Israelis to talk about. How it is almost impossiblt to prepare onself mentally for this kind of training. Then a professor asked her this

" In the context of the movie, there is an unknown enemy that lurks in the background. How do young people deal with the concept of the enemy and how does this training effect them as individuals ?"

The fact that there is an enemy has altered our lives forever. Our children today are more mature than children elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately, this isn't something we chose. They have lost a part of their childhood, to war and to reality. They have been born in a world where conflict is the norm. A day doesn't go by that the thought that we are in a perpetual state of war doesn't cross our minds. In Israel, war is a reality, something we confront everyday. The way the war has scarred us is something I will never be able to put into words.

She broke down.

Her colleague took over. She talked about how people after the draft, save money to travel, to see the world, to restore a sense of sanity within themselves. Military service is not something which comes naturally to everyone. They choose to try out different drugs, just to forget what they have seen, returning after a few years to become normal citizens. War to them is more than television news. Its a way of life, which they had to choose. I am not trying to take sides in the conflict, but trying to tell things as they are. After the talk, I went and spoke to her. I had a million questions running in my head, but none seemed appropriate for something which was so sensitive to her. I decided not to probe any further, as I felt it would have been just heartless to do that. I wonder if peace is a concept people in Israel understand or probably they understand it better than all of us.

I ask again. Is this a resignation to fate or an acceptance of reality, practicality at its best ?

Somehow the question seems irrelevant.