“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” (R.E.M.)
Let’s talk about paradigm shifts. Let’s talk about the end of one world order and the start of another. Let’s talk about Mary Poppins.
In 2013, Mary Poppins, a 1964 movie about a magical and loving nanny of the same name, was selected for preservation on the grounds that it was ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’. Why was that? I think that maybe it’s because it epitomises a well-loved theme in movies – that of transformation by virtue of the introduction of a profound change factor.
In other words: things were bad -> something happened -> things were good.
If you want to write a story or novel based on this theme, here are the major elements to include:
- Kaliyuga. The book starts here at, literally, the age of death, a time when energy has reached its nadir. Paradoxically, the characters in the book must not be aware that they are that their lowest ebb. For the tension in the story to be maintained, they must believe that they are living a life of luxury and ease. Any disasters or catastrophes in their lives, either on a global or personal scale, must be capable of being explained away; and the minor triumphs and transient feeling of happiness must be seen as being the normal state of affairs.
- Sangamyug. The turning point of the fortunes in this book begins here. Often it is the arrival of a stranger that sparks a series of events that lead to the vast majority of the population (the unbelievers) turning against the new arrival, but that inspires just a few faithful ones to embrace the new ideas that the visitor brings. These ideas, when adopted, begin to make a huge difference to the lives of those few. But, because of the resistance by the many, and the entrenched old ideas – even in the hearts of the few, the new paradigm leads to many trials and tribulations on the path to transformation. Often, a tragedy of widespread magnitude is the only way that a lasting change to the new order can come about. The faithful, with their new way of living – divorced from the sins and mistakes of the past, triumph and become part of the new age. The unbelievers, who stubbornly cling to their old ways, typically perish.
- Satyug. This is the start of the new world, a place that is, largely due to the huge population drop but also attributable to the new value system, a land of plenty. Industrialisation, with its attendant polluting effects, is absent, but some high end, non-polluting, self-sustaining technologies may still remain in circumstances where they enhance the lives of the small band of survivors and thrivers. This is typically a time of carefree innocence and extraordinary artistic expression, which leads to great happiness and peace. It is a time of golden beauty where earth, animals, skies and people are replenished and full of energy.
- Tretayug and Dwapuryug. Then comes the inevitable fall. Then comes the hatred, wars, peacelessness and the eventual return to the age of death. You can invent your own reasons for this. Look around yourself today – check the TV, radio and the stories of those around you for inspiration – if that is the right word, and write about what you see. The cycle closes and we await the return of the stranger in the second three-volume set of your epic tale.
This plot is immensely popular, but not just in the book and film industry – it is all around us. Virtually everything goes in cycles – the seasons, night and day, our own lives (see The Lion King), eating and the opposite of eating (yeah – that), police sirens – everything. Nothing remains in pristine condition forever – it is always subject to birth, growth, decay and death.
But ultimately, this is no reason for sorrow. We can either get attached to stuff and then mourn the passing of it, or we can recognise that this is the nature of all things and prepare to let go in advance. The choice is ours to make. What are you going to let go of today?