Saturday, 23 March 2013

A Note

A message from Nature on a certain day in February
This is my letter to the World 
That never wrote to Me – 
The simple News that Nature told – 
With tender Majesty   

Her Message is committed 
To Hands I cannot see – 
For love of Her – Sweet – countrymen – 
Judge tenderly – of Me

– Emily Dickinson

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Child Awakens

Acrylic on Cardboard
Panicking alone in chloroform,
The child awaking, when the fire is
Weak as a jelly and barely warm,
Calls, but sees in its parent’s iris
Equal alarm, and so begins to cry
For solider reassurance than a worried eye.

And finds, since sympathy only shelves
Skeletons into cupboards deeper
And comforters talk to cure themselves,
The waker must walk as alone as the sleeper;
Pains are not charmed by visitors in furs,
Nor devils conjured out by passionate amateurs.

– Nightmare by James Michie (1954). From the Times Literary Supplement archives.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Gift

Great Crested Grebe. Watercolour pencil on crumpled sheet of paper.
Great Crested Grebe mating display
(The photographs of great crested grebe mating display are posted on the Facebook page. I shall not be re-posting them on the blog becasue cross-posting the same photograph across plaforms is wasteful as explained in an earlier post.)

“Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.”
― Dante Alighieri, Inferno

In the twilight of the previous century someone gifted me a box of 36 Staedtler watercolour pencils. He had spotted something that, quite frankly, had eluded me. But then he has a rare gift– he possesses impeccable creative judgment. That evening I surprised myself by drawing a great crested grebe on a crumpled sheet of paper. The rest of the story isn’t available for free. Moreover, it doesn’t serve the purpose of this post, I only refer to it to illustrate the fact that some gifts are fully appreciated only with the passage of time.

Last week a pair of great crested grebes performed their mating ritual for an audience consisting of just me. They gifted me a moment of pure bliss. For a few minutes the world was infused with grace and beauty. Even though I was standing a stone’s throw away from the office towers of Barclays, BP, Morgan Stanley et. al. The gift that the great crested grebes bestowed on me was timeless and inviolate.

Some gifts get misplaced or are discarded over time – we seem to outgrow them. Of the many gifts humans may accumulate, a sense of wonder is the one that seems to be least missed when it is lost. That has perhaps sealed humanities fate.

And then there are those times when we simply are unable to realize that what we have is a gift – we refuse to accept it. This blog that you are reading now too is one such gift from me to you, regardless of its eventual fate.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Wingless Man*

Pigeon wandering aimlessly in snow.

(I absolutely love the poem posted below. Only humans are perplexed when they don't understand, or rather when all their efforts to arrive at 'a final answer' to life's (assumed) mysteries come to naught. Knowledge is conditional- bound by time, place, and that perplexing thing called 'understanding'. The more we seek to know, the less we will understand. No wonder looking at birds we wish we had their kind freedom– the freedom from doubt, the ability to just be.)

Anthropos apteros* for days
Walked whistling round and round the Maze,
Relying happily upon
His temperment for getting on.

The hundreth time he sighted, though,
A bush he left an hour ago,
He halted where four alleys crossed,
And recognized that he was lost.

"Where am I?" Metaphysics says
No question can be asked unless
It has an answer, so I can
Assume this maze has got a plan.

If theologians are correct,
A Plan implies an Architect:
A God-built maze would be, I'm sure,
The Universe in minature.

Are data from the world of Sense,
In that case, valid evidence?
What in the universe I know
Can give directions how to go?

All Mathematics would suggest
A steady straight line as the best,
But left and right alternately
Is consonant with History.

Aesthetics, though, believes all Art
Intends to gratify the heart:
Rejecting disciplines like these,
Must I, then, go which way I please?

Such reasoning is only true
If we accept the classic view,
Which we have no right to assert,
According to the Introvert.

His absolute pre-supposition
Is - Man creates his own condition:
This maze was not divinely built,
But is secreted by my guilt.

The centre that I cannot find
Is known to my unconscious Mind;
I have no reason to despair
Because I am already there.

My problem is how not to will;
They move most quickly who stand still;
I'm only lost until I see
I'm lost because I want to be.

If this should fail, perhaps I should,
As certain educators would,
Content myself with the conclusion;
In theory there is no solution.

All statements about what I feel,
Like I-am-lost, are quite unreal:
My knowledge ends where it began;
A hedge is taller than a man."

Anthropos apteros, perplexed
To know which turning to take next,
Looked up and wished he were a bird
To whom such doubts must seem absurd.

–W.H. Auden, The Labyrinth

Friday, 1 March 2013

To Read Yourself Stupid*

It is possible to read too many books. Or perhaps it isn’t. But it is possible to be totally consumed by the books and lose sight of the world. And it is entirely possible to read yourself stupid*.

All the people who read a lot in my acquaintance are prisoners of what they read. I haven’t, unfortunately, seen anyone of them come up with a single original thought. (My friends who earn their living by creating original work naturally don’t fall in this category; also they rarely have time to read ‘a lot’.) It seems most of these book readers are looking at someone else to think and feel and describe what life is like to them. They are incapable of doing so on their own.

I am sure you too are acquainted with people of this disposition. The kind who when we talk about art will bring up John Berger’s book, as if to say that if you haven’t read Berger you are incapable of truly appreciating art, which is strange, especially given the fact that most art that Berger talks about in his book was considered great by people who didn’t need a book to tell them what art is or how one must look at it.

Such ‘avid book readers’ see books as an escape– it is worth asking the question ‘from what?’ Most will say it is from the insipid conversation of others around them. Which is most amusing given the fact that they themselves are incapable of conversing about anything other than what they’ve read in a book, written by someone else.

Don’t for a moment consider that I don’t want people to read books. Please, read often and read a lot. But don’t become a prisoner to what you read, moaning the end of a book as if it is the end of existence itself. And most importantly please don’t be limited by what you read. Absorb it, love it, re-read it but never for once replace it for your own thinking. For aren’t books simply repository of other people’s ideas that may help you think of some ideas of your own? So, read but more importantly do take a break from reading to do some thinking of your own.

After writing this I came upon an essay by Arthur Schopenhauer titled ‘On Books and Reading’. Here is an excerpt:

“When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. In learning to write, the pupil goes over with his pen what the teacher has outlined in pencil: so in reading; the greater part of the work of thought is already done for us. This is why it relieves us to take up a book after being occupied with our own thoughts. And in reading, the mind is, in fact, only the playground of another’s thoughts. So it comes about that if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, and by way of relaxation devotes the intervals to some thoughtless pastime, he gradually loses the capacity for thinking; just as the man who always rides, at last forgets how to walk. This is the case with many learned persons: they have read themselves stupid*. For to occupy every spare moment in reading, and to do nothing but read, is even more paralyzing to the mind than constant manual labor, which at least allows those engaged in it to follow their own thoughts. A spring never free from the pressure of some foreign body at last loses its elasticity; and so does the mind if other people’s thoughts are constantly forced upon it. Just as you can ruin the stomach and impair the whole body by taking too much nourishment, so you can overfill and choke the mind by feeding it too much. The more you read, the fewer are the traces left by what you have read: the mind becomes like a tablet crossed over and over with writing. There is no time for ruminating, and in no other way can you assimilate what you have read. If you read on and on without setting your own thoughts to work, what you have read can not strike root, and is generally lost.”