On imagination

1.

I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.

— J. G. Ballard

+++

What is the good of curbing sensuality, shaping the intellect, securing the supremacy of reason? Imagination lies in wait as the most powerful enemy.

— Goethe

2.

I have been thinking of imagination with reference to two movies. The first is the 1993 Tamil heist movie Thiruda Thiruda. It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, and the plot itself is a little iffy in my mind. But what set off this particular train of thought was the sequence in this caper story when the movie’s two protagonists – two burglars – along with the woman they save from committing suicide, get their hands on a big loot. Their joy on being in possession of such money is portrayed as a song. Vairamuthu’s mettle as a lyricist shines through here as the trio gush on screen about what they want from this newly-acquired money. This song is proof of what splendid magic human imagination is capable of.  Please have a listen.

I tried to translate the lyrics into English with my working knowledge of Tamil, and I knew I was coming up short. These are after all thoughts of wanting a brand new earth, a new sky everyday, twin moons, colourful twinkling stars and flowers that speak that I am attempting to constrain. That said, here are the concluding two paragraphs of the song in English, knowing all too well that I have taken away the beauty of the original. This translation is to show you some more of the things this trio desires.

panjap pasi poakka vaeNdum
paalaivanam pookka vaeNdum
saandhdhi saandhdhi endRa sanggeedham
sugam aendhdhi aendhdhi vandhdhu vizha vaeNdum

Want famine and hunger to go away
Want deserts to bloom
Want a song that is peace
to come flitting with its carriage of happiness

poanavai ada poagattum
vandhdhavai ini vaazhattum
thaesathin ellai koadugaL avai theerattum
theyvangaL indhdha maNNilae vandhdhu vaazhattum

Let bygones be bygones
Let that which is here, live
Let the boundaries of nations fade away
Let the gods descend to live on this earth

3.

I am often reminded of that scene from The Italian Job (2003) when Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton and the entire gang is standing atop the Alps celebrating their successful heist, discussing what they would do with their share of the loot. Everyone has plans for things to do with their money, except for Norton’s character. It’s another thing that he betrays his gang, but when he does get to live the big life, his house has the exact things his friends had dreamt of.

Here’s the scene that unfolds atop the Alps.

Left Ear (Mos Def): So come on, gentlemen, shopping list. Who’s doing what? Spare no dirty details.

John (Donald Sutherland): Come on, guys. Take a lesson from an old man. Don’t spend it. Invest.

Left Ear: In what?

John: In gold.

Left Ear: What are you getting, Rob?

Handsome Rob (Jason Statham): Ah, I don’t know. There’s a lot of things you can get with a lot of money. You know, I’m just thinking about naked girls in leather seats.

Left Ear: Obviously. See?

Handsome Rob: Suppose I’ll get the Aston-Martin Vanquish. There’s not a lot a girl won’t do in the passenger seat of one of those things.

Lyle (Seth Green): I’m gonna get a NAD T-770 digital decoder with a seventy-watt amp and and Burr Brown DAC’s.

Left Ear: [at a loss] Yeah…

Lyle: It’s a big stereo. Speakers so loud, they blow women’s clothes off.

Handsome Rob: Now you’re talking!

Left Ear: Thirty-five million dollars, you can’t get more creative than that, man? I’m going to Andalusia. The south of Spain. Right over there. [points] Get me a big house, get me a library full of first editions, get a room for my shoes… What about you, Steve?

Steve Bendel (Edward Norton): I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.

Left Ear: You haven’t decided yet? Come on, man. Is it the mountain air? Just —

Steve: I liked what you said. I’ll take one of each of yours.

Left Ear: [Laughs] Well here’s to two of everything for Steve!

Much later in the movie, when the team is planning their revenge on Norton, here’s what Wahlberg’s character says to Norton’s. I find it very, very telling and symptomatic of what’s missing and what’s wrong with life in general.

You’ve got no imagination. You couldn’t even decide what to do with all that money, so you had to buy what everybody else wanted.

Sometimes I wonder if the predicaments we go and entrench ourselves in are the result of a woeful lack of imagination. Stay real, they say. But do we even know what is reality?

4.

A few years back I was attempting to write a story. And as would be expected, I kept losing track of what I wanted my story to do over the course of the writing. I don’t seem to remember why, but to steer the story forward, I kept telling myself: Put in a monkey there. That was a supremely genius move. Not! Predictably, the monkey pranced around with my characters and a lot of fun was had. And not surprisingly, the story only remains in my head till date. The monkey was just all over the place. Maybe if I can refurbish a purpose for that monkey, I can have that story move from my head on to paper. Maybe. Does that mean Icarus should have been told what the Sun would do to his wax wings?

PS. A synthesis of thoughts old and new, some from my old blog, repurposed for this post.

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