The poignancy of potential

Saturday evening to Sunday next, I’ve been keeping to a Sabbath pattern again after a (probably) stress-induced medical scare, and tasting the goodness that is time not taken, but given …

Finally made the last, sweet, sorrowful parting with Diana Wynne Jones through her final story, The Islands of Chaldea, completed seamlessly by her sister Ursula. DWJ was truly one of the greats, faithful to her gift of weaving tales that wound their way into you, and that kept to truth both merciless and merciful.

Followed this up by finally watching Inside Out — I won’t say it met my every over-blown expectation, but it’s definitely fodder for thought, a turn for the perspective, a kindle to fiery conversation (even if it’s in your own mind). Brought ever so alive 1 Corinthians 13:11.

Finished off the month of rests by finally leaping into The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (on All Hallows’ Eve!) — definitely choose the UK Bloomsbury edition illustrated by Chris Riddell — and remembering the good work of the very best “children’s books”:

Bod shrugged. ‘So?’ he said. ‘It’s only death. I mean, all of my best friends are dead.’

‘Yes.’ Silas hestitated. ‘They are. And they are for the most part, done with the world. You are not. You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.’

So easy to get bogged down by tasks at hand and forget there are so many mountains, volcanoes, deserts, islands, seas, rivers, lakes, undulating forests and sinuous jungles left to traverse; there are so many people left to befriend, and friends to plumb the depths with; there is so much potential as long as there is breath and heart, even if I don’t dare to dream quite so big right now, and don’t like to be in a plane for quite so long anymore.

Sometimes the doubt-cloud is over whether I’m already far along the adventure, or only at the tenuous beginnings — how much ‘pushing’ is there yet to be done to birth ‘the next phase’, if there is one? I don’t want to overstep, or undermine, or puff up, or self-destruct; I want all that life in Christ has to offer, and I believe it’s not a cut-and-dried picture postcard. And I’m just grateful — for all the toil and trouble I bring on myself, the speed at which the present becomes the past no longer makes for dour despair.

Tinsel and truth

Ensemble aboard!

Ensemble aboard!

93. Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) — At this clip, I might just hit 100 Hindi movies before kingdom comes! Anyway, this is another one of those utterly modern, utterly stylish Bollywood films, but with a most winsome approach to its fluffy dialogue, family drama and manufactured conflicts. Below the comfortably cosmopolitan polish is a willingness to go raw at the edges, giving us a wry look at divorce, infidelity, daddy issues, etc. — the same old stories made new in every family. At least, in Bollywood billionaire families.

I enjoyed the DIY touches, with the cast given free rein for parts of the choreography, for example, and the endearing ensemble, who were inevitably shunted aside at the end for the main cast. Ranveer Singh, who impressed me muchly in Band Baaja Baaraat, is here, as are the supremely confident Priyanka Chopra and the fearless Rahul Bose. Why did Farhan Akhtar have to play a perfect man? Because his sister directed the film?? I appreciate and understand the apparent rise in feminism in the Hindi films I’ve been watching, but am a bit wary of lip service — still, the arc here was done quite well. The cruise ship itself was quite a character — and what’s up with the ever-increasing number of folk heading to Turkey and Greece for the hols?

Apologies for ending in a complaint … or really an old observation. I didn’t really buy the romance between Ranveer Singh’s and Anushka Sharma’s characters. So full of artifice, their first meeting — think there was more chemistry between her and Priyanka Chopra. Even the subplot between the pseudo Romeo and Juliet was sweeter, as was the could-have-been thing between the Poor Boy and the Rich Girl. Didn’t really buy the swift reformation and reconciliation for the Anil Kapoor and Shefail Shah couple either — I think it’s more the writing than the acting though. This movie was entertaining enough, but would have edged closer to gold if that certain frission you get from watching SRK and Kajol had been there. Or am I disgruntled because I don’t believe in love based purely on feelings (anymore or have never, I don’t know), but equally on honesty, loyalty and service?

More than words

Life’s in the waiting. I love how real this is.

92. Piku (2015) —  I have not laughed so hard and so honestly at the movies for a long time. Enough said? How about Irrfan Khan, who can do no wrong in my books, being delightfully dry (love that white shirt, khaki trousers and brown bomber jacket outfit); Deepika Padukone acting her socks off (wow); and Amitabh Bachchan genuinely impressing me for what feels like the first time? More than all that, I found a lot of pleasure from the whole supporting cast, the thoughtful plot and pacing (took a bit longer than I expected to get to the road trip!), and every set-up of the mise en scène (though the actual scenery during the drive was a little disappointing — India has more to offer!). Go watch the movie!

Ah, what a sea change has happened since I started watching Hindi movies. SRK didn’t kiss women-who-were-not-his-wife on the lips. Virginity ended only at marriage. Elders were always right. Now we live in a world where SRK has broken that taboo (with an actress a bewildering fraction of his age), and here we have a film that flouts the second assumption with aplomb, and the third with a remarkable frankness and even a joyful resignation. The father is painted as a progressive, but can’t avoid the charge of selfishness; the daughter is sketched as a shrew, but can’t escape notice as a dutiful daughter. The driver is depicted as being somewhat disagreeable, but can’t hide the growing hold that the wacky family has on him. All I can say is — I’m not always comfortable with it, but I’m glad for filmmakers willing to tell the truth about life.

Anyway, I’m still not sure what Piku means in Hindi (Sayesha says it’s just a nickname), but for my non-Chinese-speaking friends — it’s the hanyu pinyin for backside. There’s life again for you, with its delicious irony. Go watch the movie.

Words to read by

In what sense is it ever possible to answer a great work of the intellect? It is possible to go through it point by point, indicating inaccuracies or errors in detail. Such demonstration is usually tedious; and for the most part it is ineffective, because it leaves the main structure unshaken. A principle may still be valid, even though the working out in detail of its applications may leave much to be desired. … there are only two possibilities. Either it must be shown that the method adopted is inappropriate to the material to be considered, or, granted that the method is not illegitimate, it must be shown that the application of the method has been vitiated from the start by concealed presuppositions and prejudices, by the neglect of relevant evidence, or by the failure to see what kind of conclusions really follow from the evidence adduced, and what kind of evidence must be produced if certain conclusions are to be maintained as tenable.

— From The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861–1986 by Stephen Neill and Tom Wright (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988), 18–19.

Myself, Rani

91. Queen (2014) — OK, I waited way too long before writing my reflections on this one so the reality of the film is probably going to be compromised … but here goes.


I like this film. Left me smiling. I could not recognise the Kangana Ranaut of Gangster (an eyeroller of a film, that one), and there was a kind of joyful, artless authenticity to everyone and everything. No one is that bad, or that saintly; nothing is quite the end of the world, or the beginning of a fairytale. What we get is the crushing of a caterpillar’s dream and the cracking of a butterfly’s cocoon. Then — Revelation. Dignity. Identity. Good stuff. Even with the awkward “Japanese” guy.

I resonated most with the slow and steady flashback-awakenings of our queen as to all the tiny papercuts that made That Guy (such a good actor, Rajkummar Rao — loved to hate him) all too wrong for her. (I also resonated with the lead’s irrepressible auntie-ness — I love how she’s never other than herself even as she blossoms.) Why do I need a movie to tell me how to process my feelings? I’m sorry and not sorry. And thankful.

Happy thanks to Sayesha for introducing this gem, and feeding me before it!


I couldn't find my fave still from the movie — from the book reading scene — so this will have to do!

I couldn’t find a still from the beautiful book reading scene, so this will have to do. Fun bit! (Sanjay Dutt was super in his role.)

90. PK (2014) — It is a great pleasure to encounter a film that is both entertaining and powerful, a pleasure compounded by sharing it with a first-time and slightly fearful Hindi movie viewer (she was delighted in the end).

“PK” — to a Mandarin-speaking reality TV viewer, a “PK” round is one in which the loser is immediately out of the competition, an allusion to “player kill” in a multi-player game. In “PK” the Bollywood movie, it is a play on the sound of the Hindi word for “tipsy”. “PK” is also the name of a popular Russian rifle … anyway, the point appears to be that the word could and would mean different things in different cultures, for such is the oddness and wonder of human languages.

What we have in “PK” is an alien’s eye view of humanity (mostly represented by brethren in the subcontinent), specifically its tendency towards religiosity. (The twist in the romance was suitably tear-inducing, and added to the big picture instead of being the big thing — huzzah!) As the alien casts his eye across humanity, it is not from the vantage of a throne or castle, but as a vagabond tossed about by the usual slings and arrows of fortune, made all the more outrageous by his unfailing honesty.

What it seems we are being led to see through his (mis)adventures is the paucity of truth in much of our ever-searching for God (even when we think we have found him — non-gender-specifically), which has inevitably led to a myriad variations of idolatry (making God in our own image; taking anything or anyone other than God to be God), with “managers of God” doing their daring best to exploit the misery of the masses.

“PK” sometimes veers close to the arrogance of those who declare that all gods are the same — for would they not have to be a god to judge so? In its send-up of the “wrong number” dialled by various religions, it does get Christianity wrong — no one is ever born a Christian, even if they’re born into a Christian family. Following Christ is a decision you make, not a decision made for you — in other words, God has no grandchildren.

But I take the point about the confusing damnation of hell — why would God destine his children to eternal suffering? Yet here the moviemakers are guilty of using terms without defining them and of taking imperfect language to be a full description of the perfect. I should be wary then of how the other religions are depicted/caricatured in the film — but could even this be a masterstroke of a point?

In any case, the movie’s points remain, given to the audience not in masala or half-measures, but as strong and subtle assertions for any work of art. We are all seeking for God, but surely the Creator gave us minds — and hearts — so we would use them. It follows then that if God were powerful enough to create us, then we are fools to believe we need to protect his honour by doing violence unto his creation, instead of honouring him by protecting our fellow creatures. We should be wary of disdaining honest questioning (wouldn’t God be big enough to take it?) and depict our fellow seekers as enemies.

These points are all the more keenly felt in the wake of the many mindless, heartless massacres from Peshawar to Paris.

Annus mirabilis

One of the reasons why I made such a shift in (or should I say, actually found) direction in life was because of the creeping horror that otherwise “this” was what life was going to be like if I didn’t giddy-up and head to where I should be going — the days drifting before me year by year, nothing changing at the speed of light. So I am very happy to report that 2014 has proven to be a tremendous year for me —

  • through the agony of work and the ecstasy of fellowship in the last semester of my Master of Divinity programme at Singapore Bible College
  • through my first-ever silent retreat, a weekend with the Jesuits at Kingsmead Centre
  • through my first-ever visit to Indonesia — gobsmacked by the architecture, I was
  • through turning old enough to apply for my own public housing flat …
  • through the actual fact of graduating (how did that happen again???)
  • through adrenaline-pumping adventures with schoolmates at Phuket, Telunas, and the epic Justice Conference Asia
  • through beginning to make my way into a new church, with all the attendant training in humility, patience and trust
  • through a big and happy change in hairstyle ^_^
  • through returning to the same seminary, this time as an administrative staff (shout out to those patient, pure-hearted labourers), a research student (shout out to the longsuffering labourers passing through the Master of Theology programme), and — how’s this for amazing — a teacher of basic Hebrew (shout out to my own teachers, on whose shoulders I stand)!!!
  • through the sobering, gentle, piercing, God-given words of a warrior ajumma who runs a prayer mountain in Korea
  • through the mind-altering, faith-bolstering Philosophical Hermeneutics course, and the ensuing research paper and presentation with encouraging feedback
  • through the once-in-a-long-while family trip (and getting to visit Taiwan again!), undertaken to support my little bro in the steps towards the big venture of marital bliss
  • through the unexpected gift of viewing all three Occupy HK sites through my own beady eyes
  • through the utterly unlooked for and undeserved opportunity to attend this year’s South Asian Christian Youth Network gathering in Dubai, all thanks to TSY!!!
  • through being set free from anxiety attacks in confined spaces that somehow began on the plane to HK
  • through having any lingering illusions shattered about a self-deceiving hope I once had, the denouement to a tale I would not want my worst enemy to live through, but have grown tremendously through nonetheless
  • through the glorious news of a cousin getting baptised on the same day as his then-fiancée, and the happiness of witnessing their wedding and having the energy to drive two hours straight and back to Muar without dozing off like I did three years ago … (my parents were in the car, and they aren’t believers yet)!!!

In the past three years of seminary, I have fallen into every trap I could. The Lord in his love has let me suffer the consequences of my actions and inactions, and helped me learn from them — the Lord in his mercy has rescued me from much delusion, especially in the year gone by.

I look forward to the year ahead with eager anticipation for where this freedom will lead to, and pray especially to flee like the wind from the temptations of my besetting sins, finally grasping the finality of victory in Christ over them.

Next post will be about the adventure in Dubai!

[Addendum: And how can I forget? I played basketball and even football in school this year — at my grand old age! Better late than never ever! Teehee!]