Sunday, August 22, 2010

Imageries of Surreal Beauty

Let’s begin with the familiar

Take one: 20-days economic blockade for a judicial probe into a firing incident and others paint the highways with stones perfectly in harmony with the spirit of justice.

Take two: Promises such as all measures undertaken to ensure availability of essential commodities in adequate quantities in all parts of Manipur perfectly in harmony with gesture of benevolence.

Take three: A polished politician on the floor of the parliament replying to queries that all is well in Manipur – no scarcity of essential commodities, trucks are plying smoothly on the Highways with security escorts – and that the territorial integrity of Manipur shall be safeguarded; Armed Forces Special (Powers) Act shall be amended is typical imagery of an ideal politician fantastic and completely in harmony with the spirit of the Indian democracy.

Take four: Petrol bottle-vendors in front of closed petrol pumps

Take five: Burnt down trucks or a smashed good-laden trucks in a deep gorge juxtaposed against a panoramic lush green hill are typical imageries fantastic and completely in harmony with the nonsensical will of the advocates of democracy demanding democratic rights.

Master strokes one should call them painted in surrealistic imageries except that the events continue to be real not some abstract works of art.

Absence of imagination

Demented minds lack imagination, for example, suffers from the inability to form mental images of something that is not perceived as real and is not present to the senses. Paintings, images on television and pictures in newspapers, etc. do not necessarily constitute a part of the real for such people. For that matter, real for them can only be touched as in holding a gun or pelting stones or burning down something. Or else, reality constitutes in getting hurt or feeling pain of being hit by bullets. Beyond the world of the touchable and feel-able real, as well as the defined self, others do not exist. For example, hunger experienced by others, suffering endured by others do not carry any meaning for these people. Simply unthinkable, let’s say.

Thangjam Ibopishak Singh makes an attempt to define such a place inhabited by people that lacks imagination or even any sense of humanity. Body and head are separated from such a people figuratively meaning they simply exist. As we know, living is different from existence. Plants and animals exist just like stones and mud. Human beings strive to live, one step ahead of existence, for they not only think but also imagine a world free from suffering based on equality and propelled by a sense of justice. Empathy and sympathy, concern about life after death, etc. differentiates a human being from other creatures. Surely they strive to elk out a living out of the miseries and sufferings inflicted by nature as well as co-human beings.

Ibopishak pleas for a thinking people as well as one who can imagine albeit in satirical way with political inflections.

To quote a few lines from Thangjam Ibopishak Singh (The land of half humans):

For six months just head without body, six months just body without head, has anyone

seen a land inhabited by these people?

No? I have; it’s not a folktale; I’ve not only seen but have been to that land.

For six months to talk and to eat is their job; like a millstone grinding.


When the head walks, its two broad, fanlike ears, spread wide and it flies like a bird,

beating its wings. When they speak, we can comprehend their language; they speak the

language of men. But when the headless body speaks, a voice that no stranger can

recognize emits from an orifice of the body. This voice is also accompanied by an odor.

A land such as this one is in the news; a land much talked about. The moon shines at

night; the sun shines in the afternoon.


These days, we hear lots of people speaking. Press release after press release and coverages on electronic media continue to bombard us. Empty words, threats and false promises devoid of imagination continue to fool around with our grey matter. For example, sample any press release by any of the so called civil society bodies from the hill areas. Opening lines are with threats and ends in threats. Same can be said about the rhetoric of the so called valley based civil society bodies (term given by the believers of human rights in the hill areas), except that they carry an appeal to universal human values. Then, about the promises by the people at the helms of the public affairs (civil servants and politicians included). Sample, this by Hon’ble Minister P. Chidambam: None will be spared! This was uttered expressing his will to end insurgencies in the Northeastern India. Then again, his lies about the smooth flow of goods on the two National Highways, simply demonstrates mockery which is inflected with a mind purely poverty stricken.

Beyond the bounds of narrow domestic walls

Apart from Thangjam Ibopishak Singh, who indulges in the world of imagination, Yenning would like to take you to two other personalities who stand as the epitome of creativity and positive imagination. First, we are all familiar with a popular character from the Hollywood. Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin (April 16, 1889 –December 25, 1977), popularly known as Charlie Chaplin, enthralled the world with his genre of silent movies. Chaplin used mime, slapstick and other visual comedy routines, traits belonging to the realm of imagination and creativity to instill sense of humanism against the fragmenting forces of industrialization and reign of terror spearheaded by Adolf Hitler. His most famous roles were that of The Tramp and Adolf Hitler.

In 2008, Martin Sieff, in a review of the book Chaplin: A Life, wrote: “Chaplin was not just ‘big’, he was gigantic. In 1915, he burst onto a war-torn world bringing it the gift of comedy, laughter and relief while it was tearing itself apart through World War I. Over the next 25 years, through the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler, he stayed on the job. ... It is doubtful any individual has ever given more entertainment, pleasure and relief to so many human beings when they needed it the most”. George Bernard Shaw called Chaplin “the only genius to come out of the movie industry”.

The story continues and says that once Charlie Chaplin was asked about his nationality and citizenship. Chaplin replied: I am a citizen of this world.

Let us come closer to the Indian sub-continent. Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861–August 7, 1941), was an Indian Bengali polymath. He came from a wealthy family of intellects and creative people. He was a popular poet, novelist, musician, painter and playwright who reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As author of Gitanjali and its “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse”, and as the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Tagore was perhaps the most widely regarded Indian literary figure of all time. He was a mesmerizing representative of the Indian culture whose influence and popularity internationally perhaps could only be compared to that of Gandhi, whom Tagore named ‘Mahatma’ out of his deep admiration for him.

A quote from Tagore, shall surely qualify our fascination for him and put to rest our flirtation with imagination. The following verses are from the poem “Where the mind is without fear” in Gitanjali.

WHERE the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Yenning believes the verses are self explanatory. One does not need to be a poet to understand these lines. One only needs imagination, not brute force, to understand the lines that enthused the Indian nation to come out of the world of casteism, religious segmentations and other forms of segregations including ethno-nationalism.

Towards a pragmatic world of action

If thinking and theorization are taken to be purely mental exercises, then one is wrong. Praxis denotes translating an idea into action at least in Marxist theory of social change. Well, material conditions are bad for us and forces of production are beyond our control. However, in order to bring about a better world free from suppression and oppression, we need to think. Yes, think beautiful thoughts. Let ideas dance around us as chipped in by the Italian Marxist poet Yannis Ritsos (1909 - 1990), in his Moonlight Sonata.

Insanity and demented minds can be cured only if one tries to reconnect with the world around us. Lets be frank, in the century old existence of the Nagas and other communities, nothing positive could be attained through blood-shed. Blood begets blood. And finally, the Nagas have never achieved any of their demands (political as well as trivial) through the imposition of economic blockades or robbery on the highways. It is time all of us start imbibing in us the capacity to be imaginative. Let’s see if we can be surrealistic and paint a more colourful world – of course beautiful and vibrant, not the one mentioned in the prelude.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, August 22, 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment