Cloudy wisdom in anxious times

Who can deny the last few days of the election campaign were particularly funny?

Modi and national security

In the opening scene of the 2009 dark war comedy, The Men Who Stare at Goats, General Hopgood (Stephen Lang) is seen in deep focus, in a frontal close up, about to accomplish the impossible.

Hopgood then tells the orderly that he is going into the next room and charges ahead like a bull, only to crash into a wall and collapse. The intent was to pass through the wall employing shamanic powers.

The movie is about a special army unit, the New Earth Army, commanded by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), who had a revelation during combat in Vietnam after which he believed psychic powers and love could win wars more easily than bloodshed. George Clooney, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey come together as The Men Who Stare at Goats.

With the prime minister’s recent observation, apparently of ‘raw wisdom’, that aircraft could use cloud cover to hoodwink radars, one is reminded of the aforementioned absurdist comedy and the equally absurd political drama unfolding as we approach the counting of votes.

A cloud may look gigantic and solid from afar, but is fragile up close, reduced to the lightest of particles comprising mostly dust and vapour.

Something essentially hollow. “PM Modi seems to have suggested that cloud cover could shield aircraft from radar surveillance. Experts have ridiculed the idea. They say radar signals can penetrate clouds and ‘stealth technology’ has to depend on factors other than weather — like special design of the aircraft for radar signal absorption or deflection. The PM appears to have made a foolish remark that stems from a lack of understanding of a complex subject,”  says theatre and film personality Prakash Belawadi.

 Bengaluru, given its comparatively higher elevation, provides a closer view of the clouds.

The often vibrant blue and white sky, with clouds scurrying at times as if to get somewhere, is perhaps seen only in much higher elevations. We know some clouds bring showers and some create ethereal displays during sunrises and sunsets.

However, hiding behind a cloud, something that constantly shape-shifts yet is porous, is akin to a smoke-and-mirrors trick that may help temporary evasion, unless the suggestion was a poetic reference from the PM.

People in the comedy business find ample material in politics, but what if politicians are so funny that they look like competition? “How can one poke fun at the funny? In the past five years, the kind of things we have heard in politics borders the bizarre.

The ‘cloud cover’ comment is definitely one. What is more worrying is the tendency to resort to violence in a political debate. It is not about who started the argument, but who is inciting violence. Dragging the Mahatma to a base political tug of war is simply unacceptable,” reflects RJ, writer and actor Danish Sait.

Cloudy also means uncertain or unclear. How can anyone take shelter in something uncertain and unclear? When the so-called raw wisdom is used for policy decisions, what are the bureaucrats and knowledgeable advisors doing? “I think the smartest thing a politician or any leader can say is probably ‘I don’t know’. This will be a much more accepted statement than making a mistake,” feels comedian and digital video maker Sanjay Manaktala.

Stare power

There’s a trick employed by Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) in The Men Who Stare at Goats — ‘cloud bursting’. He stares at a cloud so intensely, that too while at the wheel, the cloud just breaks apart and vanishes — ‘keeps me in shape’, says Cassady. ‘Psychic power’ is employed to stop the heart of a goat as well, simply by staring at it. Was the PM referring to ‘psi-combat’ of this sort when he suggested hiding behind the clouds? “Someone’s been watching a lot of Game of Thrones!” exclaims stand-up comic Punya Arora.

No substitute for science and tech

M K Raghavendra, film critic

Obviously unscientific, but what I find so amazing is the kind of response it has generated. The PM has built a cult around himself, and to his worshippers he is wisdom personified. He has also tried to convey the impression that he is infallible and there has been a procession of experts deserting the government. It is because of such a publicly projected image that the innocuous remark about aircraft protected by clouds stands out and becomes laughable. Even if raw wisdom existed, are we to do away with our intellectual capital, scientific and technological advancements?

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