There are things to do. And there are things to think.
There will always be things to do. We are adept at inventing them.
Things to think. Well, those are always there too, I suppose. But the mind isn’t always willing to think.
Things to do are relegated today. But I don’t know if things to think took precedence. Am sitting here in a soft spot of sunshine on campus, just watching things. No, am not thinking things. I see three groups of school children playing volley ball, two groups playing cricket, and at least one other group discussing something amongst themselves, what I presume to be fantastically interesting, for I see them burst into occasional peals of laughter. There are the two new pups on campus playing around amidst the grass, chasing butterflies and all manners of insects. Even the occasional honking of vehicles on the road nearby and the definitely-cold-breeze aren’t strong enough to uproot me from where I am perched. There’s nothing to think now. Yet, there are things to think. Strangely enough, am reminded of Robert Bly.
Things to Think
Think in ways you’ve never thought before
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.
Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged: or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.
When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.
S. is a sprightly kid, cute as a button. She is in the IInd grade.
We talk about her school often whenever I see her. I mostly catch her doing her homework assignments though. A good kid — does her assignments by herself, and then busies herself in her own games.
The other day, she came into my room asking if I would help her with her assignment. When I said yes, she placed her notebook in front of me. It was an English assignment.
The little monkey wanted to become big and strong.
State true or false.
That was the question she wanted an answer to. I smiled.
“Where’s your textbook?” I asked.
“In my bag,” she said.
She didn’t seem to understand that one would need the textbook to read the monkey’s story first in order to answer her question. But soon enough, she produced her textbook and the next thing I know, I was reading the monkey’s story out loud to her.
There was apparently a little monkey who wanted to become big and strong. A wise woman gives him a magic wand, with the help of which the monkey could become whatever he wanted. I don’t remember the correct order of events, but enamoured by other animals in the forest, the monkey with the help of his magic wand transforms himself into a creature that has an elephant’s trunk, a giraffe’s neck, a zebra’s body and so forth. And it then so happens that this ‘transformed’ monkey looks at his reflection in the river and cries out believing himself to be a monster. The monkey’s mother then pacifies him and makes him understand the futility of wanting to be someone else. The monkey with the help of his magic wand, becomes his usual monkey-self again.
That is the gist of story little S. had in her book. And now I (and you) know the answer to the question S. wanted help with. Both of us went through this and the remaining questions in her assignment, and that was the end of that.
Or, was it? Sometimes, I think, we too are like little S. here, looking only for the answer. The story remains forgotten. And without understanding the story, what good would those answers ever be to us?
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.
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
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?
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.
Warning: This post contains hideous little-known secrets (redundancy is fun). Read at your own risk.
Going crazy on a Monday like every other day? Well, not any more. Read on, and you’ll finally find the courage (protip: look behind the sofa) to self-administer a full frontal lobotomy.
Mark Twain once famously said: Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. A prescient man, Twain. But it’s not just the so called health books. Any book can prove fatal. Think: paper cuts. Ouch! Or even think of two-thousand page tomes classified as handbooks. You just have to drop (up) one accidentally on your head. And the rest will be an admixture of mangled anatomy and sad irony.
Read this. (Again, at your own risk.) The author here recounts several anecdotes confirming the dangerousness of reading. As you begin, you’ll see how The Brothers Karamazov is capable of inflicting more than just spiritual injury. And do have a look (or two, or ten) at the cartoon accompanying the article. Here it is for your viewing pleasure. Have a gander. And while you are at it, have a goose as well.
And finally, here’s a cautionary poem by Barbara Hamby titled Reading Can Kill You. Decide for yourself if she is half or quarter or three-fourths kidding.
Curiosity killed the cat, they say. I am beginning to wonder if Curiosity is a book.
So. The proof as you can see has long migrated from the pudding, and now rests squarely in this post. Like a wise person once said, the moral of Snow White is never eat apples.
(Originally written on 1 September, 2013.)
That titular question.
Turns out one needs to have humanity to sign up to receive newsletters from a certain site. In the days of yore (hah!) it used to be enough that one be a human to get newsletters, but times evidently, are a-changin’!
I was on the trail of a newsletter earlier in the day, when the following popped up, making me chuckle.
Made me think of this real exchange from many moons ago.
Q: How big is your heart?
A: If it were any bigger, I’d risk getting canonised.
And oh, yes, my humanity is now machine-confirmed.
not Galileo –
for this G post.
But a gallimaufry.
to gyrate to distant strains of