MAGICAL ANDES

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Sometimes there is a wealth of meaning in coincidence.

Mid-July, 2020 as one of India’s biggest online AGMs (Annual General Meeting) got underway – the company in question also seeing it as opportunity to showcase its technological capability – I was watching a docuseries set in distant South America.

From my little apartment that has been address cast in stone since the nationwide lockdown began, I traversed the 7000 kilometer-length of the world’s longest mountain chain, taking in a multitude of fantastic ecosystems and the people in their midst. Watching Magical Andes, currently available on Netflix, was without doubt an uplifting experience.  In my early fifties and freelance journalist to boot, I am resigned to the fact that I won’t see the places I have marveled at in the pages of books and the videos of the Internet. My earnings season on Earth is over. What I have left still, is an imaginative mind. Like the Andean Condor, recently reported in The Guardian as capable of flying 100 miles without flapping its wings, a window to the world’s wild places with few people therein, is a high that is strong enough to keep me happy for a few days. It gives me something to dream about; a counterpoint to latch on to and stay afloat in world locked down by virus.

To be honest, the 2019 docuseries although lovingly shot and narrated, is not exceptional. It is an edited view that diplomatically evades the negatives of life. Let’s face it; the countries the Andes passes through have known their share of trouble. At the same time, the series doesn’t drip sugary, like a tourist brochure trying to attract visitors. Its idiom stays midway between brochure and documentary. It is a nice balance of abject wilderness; wine country, adventure sports, Martian landscape valued in space research and a variety of human characters happy to be alive and working in the Andean environment. It is more or less a place as it is; emphasis on geography’s power to shape life. I don’t know how the series may work on the tourist but it worked well for this journalist. Had it been too journalistic with life’s troubles spewing forth, maybe it wouldn’t let the bird in me escape lockdown’s gravity and fly.

On that same note, the reason this docuseries engaged me at this juncture in time was the journey outdoors – albeit on the Internet – it offered, just when tech companies have been promising a contact-less future authored by data, digitization and advanced telecom. Those last three have few complaints about the lockdown upon us. No thoughts of whether we miss being human. They have the capital and political patronage to make things happen their way. So what if humanity can’t move about? We have you in the cross hairs and everything will be home delivered as long as you pay for it.

Well Magical Andes was a case of home delivery for me. But the good thing about documentaries of this sort is that they help me stay true to my wiring – life is outdoors; not indoors. Not to mention – there is a difference between future trends as sought by you and trends rendered inevitable by the power of corporate capital. The first is a choice; the second is an imposition. The first celebrates freedom; the second doesn’t care if world is free or not. Series seen, I am already off on 7000 kilometer-journey in my head, riding imaginary bike bought with imaginary money. I nurse a small fear though: how long before them with capital control the space between my ears as well? How long before they kill my imagination?

Magical Andes; try it, if you haven’t already.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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