Driving through the Desert

One of the most formative experiences of my life — maybe because it was borderline traumatic — happened to me when I first drove out to the beautiful state of California to start on my new job back in the year 2000.

At the time, I was working in St. Louis, MO, and had only just accepted a job in Northern California. I had a few days before I started, so I decided to drive across the country from Missouri to California in my bright blue Pontiac Grand Am. I drove through Missouri, Kansas and Colorado on the I-70 going westwards. It was a pleasant enough drive. I can still remember driving through the vast expanse of the Kansas prairie — I had never before driven through such a vast plain in my life — and enjoying the sunset on the flattest, widest horizon I had ever seen. I also remember the quaint country hotel where I overnighted and the breathtaking snow-capped peaks in the distance as I drove through Colorado the following day, after passing through Denver.

Pretty soon, I arrived in Utah and took the I-15 northwards to Salt Lake City, where I got onto the I-80 going westwards towards California. Leaving Salt Lake City, what awaited me was a long stretch of driving through a barren wasteland — the deserts of Utah and Nevada — a tough, relentless drive. I still remember checking my gas as I left Salt Lake City — the gas gauge read half-full (or half-empty, depending on how you look at it)! “No problem,” I thought to myself. “This should be enough gas to get me to the next town, where I can fill up.” And so, I began my fateful drive through the barren Bonneville Salt Flats, a dreaded stretch of desert west of Salt Lake City.

As I drove on, the desert yawned out ahead of me — a vast, parched wasteland. Not the least hint of civilization or culture for miles. I continued along the highway, glancing nervously at the gas gauge. The sun beat down mercilessly. I passed by the occasional truck on the otherwise empty road. Not a car to be seen. The gas gauge continued to fall, and still there was nothing. I began to wonder if I would ever get to the next town. I began to imagine terrible scenarios — being stranded in the middle of the desert without food, water or gas for my car. Even if I had a cell phone on me — and I didn’t at the time — it would probably have been useless in the middle of the Salt Flats!

In the end, I was literally driving on fumes and praying to Jesus Christ with all my might, but still, pushing forward through the desert, hoping for a miracle! And a miracle did come! Just as I heard my car engine begin to sputter, I arrived at a gas station, frequented by truckers. It seemed like the only gas station in that desert for miles — a run-down establishment overcharging for gasoline and other provisions — but it was, at the time, a veritable Godsend! An oasis! Nirvana! I whispered my thanks to God as the gas tank in my car greedily swallowed the gasoline I pumped into it!

I continued my drive through the deserts of Nevada and, as I approached California, from a distance, it truly seemed to be the Promised Land — a green haze seemed to have settled over the verdant hills of Northern California, signifying the promise of salvation from the relentless arid wasteland that I had left behind me. And as I drove through a hilly stretch of road in California, approaching my destination, it truly seemed like “a land flowing with milk and honey!” It may sound somewhat naïve, but that experience has stayed with me ever since then. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if I had chickened out on the desert road, with the gas gauge reading empty and nothing but vast stretches of barren desert in all directions! That experience makes me think twice about taking anything for granted and makes me appreciate art, culture and civilization all the more!

The vast prairie horizons of Kansas, the majestic mountainous horizons of Colorado and the desert horizons of Utah and Nevada are ingrained in my memory and partly became my inspiration in launching Horizon Cybermedia several years later. The experience continues to inspire me to push forward in life even when it seems as if I am driving through the desert on an empty gas tank — because if you push forward, you just might make it to the deserted gas station in the middle of nowhere that will save your life and enable you to continue on your journey, all the way to the Promised Land you are hoping for!

Please do check out my series of web videos, Exploration with Uday Gunjikar, inspiring one to continue to travel and explore and pass through new horizons and into unexplored territory. In this modern world, with all the amenities that civilization offers us, one might imagine that there is no more room for exploration or adventure, but that notion couldn’t be further from the truth! As long as there are human beings on the earth, there will continue to be new horizons to explore, because all experience is subjective and civilization is always in flux!

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

The Medium is the Message

In my previous blog post, I promised that I would be making a major announcement about my friend, novelist Ashwin Sanghi’s first novel The Rozabal Line, and my reconnection with him after several decades.

So here goes:

For the last several months, I have been developing a feature-length screenplay based on the novel. I have collaborated with the novelist, Ashwin, on this project, in an attempt to capture his authorial vision as authentically as possible in the cinematic medium and language of screenwriting. If you happen to have followed the news in India, you might even have read a news article in the Indian newspapers in which Ashwin made press statement to this effect.

If you have read The Rozabal Line, you would have noticed that, in spite of being a pretty brief novel, it is extremely dense and complex–packing more ideas into its two hundred or so pages than most novels do in twice as many. As such, adapting the novel into a screenplay, with its interweaving plot-lines and its non-sequential structure, was particularly challenging. However, I am proud to say that I think we have succeeded in developing a really engaging and enjoyable fast-paced thriller screenplay that is currently undergoing its final edits and should be complete very soon.

If you are familiar with this novel and the content of the story, it would be pretty apparent to you that it is very controversial in its subject matter. It is the sort of story that challenges all your assumptions and dares to take you to places you might never have imagined before. Truly, the story is about challenging and engaging you at every level, daring you to question your belief system and ask yourself some pretty tough questions, such as, “Why do I believe what I do? Am I accurate in my beliefs and assumptions?” and so forth.

This story is not and never has been about undermining anyone’s faith or beliefs. However, I realize that when one asks difficult questions or addresses sensitive issues, such as religion, one will inevitably provoke a hostile response from some quarters. In an attempt to anticipate and preempt any such misinformed or ill-informed assessment of this screenplay, I am going to attempt to clarify some points here and, hopefully, prevent the kind of uproar generated by novels like The DaVinci Code, which, in fact, treads on similar territory as The Rozabal Line, though the two novels are completely different in most other respects, such as theme, style and structure.

Firstly, this is a work of speculative fiction. Spelling out what that means–it is a story, a narrative, meant to entertain you, the audience, while, hopefully, broadening your horizons at the same time. So in no way should this story be regarded as factual or journalistic, though it contains many factual and historical elements embedded within its narrative thread. Basically, it is intended to be a fun exercise in which one speculates on certain possibilities and, in doing so, one comes to a deeper understanding of the way things are by asking oneself some tough questions through the process of suspension of disbelief.

Secondly, this story is not intended to preach any kind of doctrine to you or dogma at you. I fully understand that there are people out there who don’t get what this means and who perceive any sort of narrative as some sort of religious tract or testament of faith. That’s not what this is! Rather, it is designed to challenge and encourage you to think critically! “The medium is the message,” to quote Marshall McLuhan. There is no explicit message here other than the challenge to ask difficult questions! If you pay close attention, you will notice that the story undermines itself at every level. This is by design–it is about challenging you, the audience, to play the detective and dig up the clues to what’s really going on here!

Finally, as I suggested earlier, this story should not be regarded as a statement of our personal belief systems. The words and ideas expressed by any of the characters in the story cannot and should not be ascribed to the novelist and/or screenwriter themselves! Personally, I consider myself to be a moderate Christian (who believes in the tolerance of all religions, philosophies and belief systems–even ones I may disagree with or object to–as long as they don’t violate the law or human rights). And as for Ashwin Sanghi, I believe he is a practising Hindu, who shares many of my own points of view on matters of tolerance and human rights.

One of the central themes in this story is the distortion of words and ideas, and how a nuanced, accurate view of history and current events is essential to promoting peace and understanding across the world. I can only hope that the same principles apply to my words and those of Ashwin Sanghi! The reality is that we live in an age of mass media, and in this echo chamber, distortion and oversimplification are inescapable! I can only hope that when people realize the true consequences of distortions and inaccuracies, they will make a greater attempt to discover the truth!

That said, I hope to get this movie made in Hollywood, once the screenplay is completed. Stay tuned for further announcements!

Meanwhile, please feel free to check out Horizon Cybermedia’s website, http://www.explorationtheseries.com, for our ongoing video series, Exploration with Uday Gunjikar. A new episode is currently in the editing room and should be online pretty soon.

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

Radical Islam Threatened by Hollywood

Not long ago, I ran across an article on the web—an Associated Press release—that included the following passage (quoted verbatim):

Elsewhere in the northwest, a car bomb exploded close to a movie theater in the city of Peshawar [in Pakistan], killing at least six people and wounding 80 others, witnesses and police officer Saleem Khan said. Authorities blamed militants that have targeted theaters before in the region, believing them to be un-Islamic.

The article, entitled U.N. seeks $543 million for Pakistan refugees, was originally published at this link. It has since been updated by the Associated Press and no longer includes the passage cited above. The same news story, Bomb at Pakistan movie house kills 6, may also be found at this link, which also contains a similar passage as follows:

Militants have targeted movie theaters in the region in the past, charging that the businesses violate the tenets of Islam. Pakistan’s Dawn News television channel reported that some theaters in the area have recently received threats from the Taliban, and that a few theater owners have shut down.

I find these passages to be particularly eye-opening as they clarify and put into sharp relief what radical Islam and, for that matter, any sort of religious extremism, represents to the world of culture and the arts—which naturally includes cinema. Religious extremists are invariably threatened by the arts because the arts represent freedom of expression and a representation of the truth. Religious extremists, like the Taliban and other repressive theocracies of the world, which base their very existence on propaganda and authoritarian dogma, invariably find themselves at odds with artists and artistes of all kinds.

Islamic radicalism has always been about repression—the suppression of individual freedoms and the violation of human rights. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the same fanatical theocracies that have no qualms about resorting to outright brutality to protect and further their social, political and religious agendas—a fact that the world is witnessing only too clearly with recent events in Iran—would feel threatened by culture, the arts and, most recently, by Western cinema, as evidenced by the recent bombings of movie theaters in Pakistan orchestrated by the Taliban.

From the earliest of times, Islamic culture has been characterized by a particularly intense hostility towards imagery or rendering. Some of this fanaticism may be justified by Islamic apologists as an attempt to assert the peculiar brand of monotheism that Muslims adhere to. And, of course, there is no denying the cultural achievements of the past, in such Islamic cultural centers as Beirut, Lebanon and Baghdad, Iraq. However, it cannot be denied that the radical Islamic movement of recent times, as epitomized by the likes of the Taliban and Al Quaeda, have displayed a pretty ruthless hostility towards all forms of artistic representation. And this destructiveness has been felt only too keenly in such Islamic cultural centers as Beirut and Baghdad, which are now wastelands thanks to decades of sectarian violence and brutality.

In March 2001, in fact, the Taliban ordered the destruction of two gigantic, ancient statues of the Buddha in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan—an act of ruthless vandalism against art and culture—against historical artifacts of immense archaeological importance and cultural value—an act that many believe was an ominous precursor to the destruction, only six months following, of another pair of monoliths of immense socio-cultural importance, namely the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the great Western cultural center of New York City. Arguably, the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 is an undeniable expression of a deep-seated hostility for Western art, culture and, in this case, architecture, on the part of radical Islamic factions.

After all, if Islamic radicals like the Taliban, Al Quaeda and the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran have no problem with murdering thousands of innocent civilians (by sponsoring terrorism) or engaging in brutal misogynistic practices or controlling their populations with an iron fist through religious dogma, can it be at all surprising that they would find Western cinema threatening? One has to wonder: how many Hollywood movie stars would feel the least bit comfortable having any dealings with the likes of the Taliban or Al-Quaeda or the Iranian regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? And, furthermore, how agreeable would Hollywood or Las Vegas, with their culture of over-the-top extravagance, be to the average Islamic radical?

I have no doubt that when the likes of Osama bin Laden condemn Western and, in particular, American culture as inimical to the tenets of radical Islam, what they have in mind are such cultural centers as Hollywood and Las Vegas—cities whose culture has always been about extravagance and excess of every kind. For a religion that enforces draconian dietary regulations and forbids the consumption of alcoholic beverages, Hollywood would have to be a profound anathema!

No wonder that the Taliban and other Islamic radicals feel compelled to bomb movie theaters in Peshawar, Pakistan!

Horizon Cybermedia, on the other hand, is about preserving art and culture in the face of brutal religious extremism. We are about championing the cause of freedom, especially in the venue of artistic self-expression. For us, the worst possible of all scenarios would be to be subjected to an Islamic theocracy that denies us our basic freedoms and human rights—freedoms such as those that enable us to produce art, culture and cinema!

Check us out at our website http://www.explorationtheseries.com, which features our ongoing film series, Exploration with Uday Gunjikar, a travelogue documenting our sojourns to remarkable venues the world over.

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar,
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.