Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

11 Aug, 2002

The beauty of “restructuring” by making a fresh start

Originally Published: 11 Aug 2002

One of the films featured at the recent film festival in Bangkok was “Wild About Harry”. Behind the relatively unceremonial title and an equally bland synopsis was a brilliant, deeply thought-provoking film of great relevance to society and humanity at large.

The central character is a hard-drinking, womanising, swaggering but nevertheless very popular TV personality who is loved by his audience but quite understandably hated at home. He gets mugged, suffers a concussion and wakes up with a memory blank. Bit by bit, he rediscovers the way he was and the price he was paying for it.

Encouraged by his lawyer, who tells him that he is one of the few lucky ones who genuinely gets a chance to put the past behind him and start afresh, he proceeds to try and do exactly that. With a new set of restructured priorities, he again woos his wife, makes up with his children, rebuilds his professional life and actually begins to like his ‘new, improved’ self.

As the film heads towards what appears to be a happy ending, his ‘reform’ process stalls.

What happens next is the twist in the tale. Track down a video-disc and see the movie. Unfortunately, good movies like this get only one screening, even though they are far superior to many of the dim-wit, commercial films that pass for entertainment these days.

The central theme of the film is the chance given to “Harry” to start over with a clean slate, without being held responsible or accountable for his past actions. In reality, that is an eminently difficult thing to do — while anyone anywhere can make a fresh start any time, getting rid of past baggage is never easy.

Interestingly, this applies equally to societies, communities and countries at large.

In July 1997, Thailand and many countries in the Asia-Pacific got a chance to make a fresh start after getting mugged by currency speculators. They did not experience the luxury of a memory lapse; rather they had to atone for their past mistakes and rebuild their economies and societies on firmer foundations. Unfortunately, many of them appear to be heading back in the same direction again.

Last week, a story in the August 7 issue of the Bangkok Post was headlined, “Let’s Start Afresh, Says Burma“. It quoted Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai as saying that Burma wanted to rebuild its relations with Thailand from a clean slate, and consider the recent verbal jousting as bygones. A political example of starting afresh, right here at our doorstep.

In a couple of weeks, the United Nations will hold yet another talk-fest in Johannesburg called the World Summit on Sustainable Development. There, thousands of environmentalists, non-governmental organisations and activists will rue the state of the global environment and the policies that are contributing to it.

They, too, will press for a change in the profligate consumption of natural resources and energy that are threatening the planet with global warming and climate change. As they have incessantly in the past, they will look for ways to dump the old ways and make a fresh start.

In the corporate world, accounting scandals are surfacing, claiming the lives of many companies and bankrupting thousands of individuals. Running through them is the common thread of greed that has seen a powerful minority benefiting handsomely at the expense of a so-far powerless majority.

No doubt, as it faces the prospects of arrest and media scandals, that small minority would welcome an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start afresh.

At an individual level, too, this chance to start afresh comes around every day. Usually, the soul-searching intensifies after turning 40 and the first rumblings of mid-life crisis. All the drinking and screwing around, which seemed so hip and fashionable in what once appeared to be never-ending days of youthfulness, suddenly does not seem to be such a good idea any more.

Certainly, many people out there suffering from cirrhosis, AIDS, gambling debts, drug-addiction and broken families or other such social and physical problems would gladly give anything for a chance to wipe the slate clean and make a fresh start. For them, it’s probably too late. But for millions of others, it’s never too late.

The religious principles are the same. Heed the warnings, analyse the past, learn from mistakes and as the toboggan of life begins heading downhill, decide whether that descent is going to be fast or slow. The concept of sustainability takes on a new meaning as the money spent on curing begins to far exceed the relatively small amounts that would have gone into preventing.

What economies call ‘reform’ or ‘restructuring’, religions call repentance. The tradition of ‘confession’ in Christianity, while not universally applied across the entire faith, does fit in with the catharsis of coming clean, making amends, seeking forgiveness and starting afresh.

Some religions refer to the cycle of day and night as a powerful and yet obvious symbol of this opportunity make a new start. Every day is a new beginning, a chance to get over the past and get on with the rest of life.

Harry’s advantage in the movie is that he never had to undergo the gut-wrenching, pride-swallowing process of saying sorry to anyone for his past misdeeds; he was forgiven everything because he simply forgot everything.

But as he was reminded, step by step, of the way he was, he just had to realise his mistakes, feel sorry within himself (not FOR himself) and then make the right decisions in order to avoid having to feel sorry again in future.

Real life, however, does not favour a forget-and-forgive philosophy. This is an age in which accepting responsibility for mistakes is simply not the done thing. Rather it is easier to play the blame game and find someone else responsible. Human beings are less forgiving than He who created them.

I enjoyed the movie because it imparted in a highly entertaining way a very simple but sophisticated message that mirrored the daily lives of thousands of people — if only they had had a chance to see it.

Movies are a very powerful medium in influencing thinking.

The tragedy of the past decades has been that they became mind-numbing and violent. The tragedy today is that great, thought-provoking movies with a positive, constructive message are being made all around the world but seldom shown in a Hollywood-dominated industry.

“Wild About Harry” was a British production.