Monthly Archives: July 2013

That Bizarre Thing Called ‘Reason’

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Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

I bet every penny in my pocket that most of us, at some point in our lives, have been impulsively drawn towards things and moments that might have seemed of little value to the ‘reason-able’ mind or even on the ‘normality’ index that is drawn up by the most mediocre of all laws – the law of averages. It simply means that one needs to be at an average level to be ‘normal’. We have often quietly watched our minds wander about in the obscure wilderness of the lesser-acknowledged world that doesn’t promise anything in return but only an honest experience, even if it may be as short-lived as a moment.

We are sometimes irresistibly drawn towards the unaccepted and the unacknowledged terrain, in our unguarded candid moments, perhaps for the unadulterated rectitude these experiences make possible. Yet, most of us have mastered the art of kicking such unattributed inclinations under the carpet even if their secret scent may linger on our fingers for the rest of our lives. The weight of reason impudently tramples over the delicate and exquisite pleasures of an unadulterated moment, and the matter rests there most of the time for most of us.

We seem to have forgotten who we most instinctively are, who we were born to be, or who we so ardently want to be. What matters to us instead is who others want us to be, and what would be the most reasonable thing to do. We know exactly when we are caught in this slippery scheme of things when we explain ourselves with a ‘because’. At such times, the meek rationale-addict within me prods me with the questions, ‘Where will this take you?’ or ‘What will you get out of this, anyway?’ Questions that have haunted and disturbed me, and whose answers have eluded me on several occasions before being kicked in their butts and tossed back into oblivion once again. These questions have slowly spread their venomous tentacles inside the human mind only to surface as the powerful dictators of the human will.

Seriously, why must everything have a reason? Reason breeds comparison and judgment, and I have never seen much good come out of these two vices.

Well, in my case, this inclination towards having my heart wander has perhaps seemed a trifle illogical to others, but thankfully the tendency continues to thrive, much to the chagrin of well-wishers. I have grown attached to and even attracted to people and moments that have, in fact, held better reasons for me to do just the reverse! Perhaps it is my maverick heart that would never kneel before this bizarre thing called ‘reason’. Ask my heart why it loves the colour blue and it will almost always reply – ‘simply!’ My heart keeps tormenting me, even today, with its outrageously wilful ways that I cannot explain or suppress; you see, once again, for no reason at all. And without a single plausible explanation in its favour, my heart (or wherever that logic-less world within me resides) still seems to be getting its way with me effortlessly and shamelessly without a hint of remorse.

Ever since I learnt that I could make my own choices (though I fail to recall where or how I got that impression) I have been plagued with the perpetually unrequited need for sounding and acting sensible where practically everything is governed by an obvious and almost unassuming rationale. There always has to be a reason for doing or not doing something. I eat because I need nourishment. I sleep because I need rest. I went to college because otherwise I would die penniless. And many other things that I simply have to do because that is what everyone does. This indefatigable list manifests consternation and contempt for my life and me, managing to mock me in my face each time I decide to humour the logic-obsessed world around me. Being myself and owing no explanation to anyone, I know, comes most naturally to me. But that comes at a cost, though much smaller than what I would have to pay otherwise, I realised with age.

I have sensed soft murmurs from behind closed doors, tagging me as a girl ‘getting-out-of-hand’ in college, and a disrespectful youth for weighing respect against actions irrespective of one’s age or assigned/assumed status. Some have revelled in the thought that I lack a mature mind simply because I decided to remain my playful and candid self even as I quietly noticed every person’s vulnerabilities and strengths. And thus I have realised that ‘reason’ often leads us to misleading conclusions and deceptive proofs for inferences. But it has mattered little to me. It has mattered little to those I hold very close to me. That is why perhaps I dare to talk about it without a pang of guilt or embarrassment (wow, reason again!).

It is reason that tempts us to judge a person. It is reason that fogs our deepest desires and steers us away from who we were born to be, though thankfully for a little while, as life steadfastly and invariably shows up as the strongest antidote to this human invention of reason. Reason restricts and restrains a creative mind. Ever seen a child imagining his pencil to be a rocket? That child contains the potential to invent one too! But before she does it, we slap ‘reason’ right into her face and she relentlessly strives to be good in every subject that is thrown at her.

But there are occasions where the reason for a ‘reason’ seems quite unconvincing. Like: she is my closest friend BECAUSE she understands me; I married him BECAUSE our thinking matched. We even pray or meditate BECAUSE we have a need for peace within. It is not a question of right and wrong. It is simply an observation that every little detail in life runs on a REASON. We seem to need a reason for everything. So much so that, I am told, we are all here for a reason! Why would life be chasing an element that is purely defined by our addiction to assurance? Every choice seeks a reason for comfort and solace when solace merely awaits the mind that can act beyond reason or a motive.

But there are times when it does seem as if nature too revolves around reason. Why else should a flower attract bees with its sweet nectar if it weren’t for scattering its pollen? Hmm…now that makes me suspicious of my own understanding and practice. Perhaps among the few things that don’t seem to have any reason is this post of mine since surely it is no surprise to anyone that I haven’t the faintest clue as to why I wish to bring out and validate this absurd notion that has stalked me all my life.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Beauty In The Beast Called ‘Life’

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Source: wonderfulbuddha.wordpress.com

Source: wonderfulbuddha.wordpress.com

As it turns out, the concept of working-from-home comes with its own set of privileges and downsides. The lesser known truth remains that most of these basic privileges that seem to convince naïve minds of their potentially pleasing nature are in fact seldom exploited, highly assumed and vastly overrated rather than being frequently enjoyed. On the contrary, it is these privileges that most often become the greatest challenges and distractions for a person, the minute the others step out. As for the most conventional downsides, however long or unpleasant the list may be, they remain strangely unnoticed and even unacknowledged by others and by us too.

One such downside is the visit to the supermarket to buy household supplies. And trust me, these include the most uninspiring things like the toilet brush, dental floss, mothballs or bread and eggs! But sometimes, even the most mundane places can surprise you with a brilliant story idea. In my case it was a topic for my blog post.

As I waited in the taxi queue after concluding my purchases, I noticed a young Chinese couple waiting for their turn before me. The young gentleman was in charge of a pram, which carried an adorable toothless infant. I wouldn’t be wrong here to assume that it was their daughter. If there was one thing this tiny tot had learnt in these few months it was to stare at her father with the eyes of a devoted fan, as if the rest of us remained invisible to her.

Craning my neck over her daddy’s shoulder with unpractised artfulness I tried my best to grab the little one’s attention. But nothing seemed to distract her from looking at her daddy in complete awe. Occasionally she even wobbled her toes and arms as she chuckled to win some attention from the young man in return. It was so endearing that it distracted me from all the weight that I was carrying.

Her father seemed to know exactly when he should look at her and smile back, which he did quite frequently. He just knew when he should gently move the pram to and fro, or airlift the little frame into his arms and kiss her and sway her in his arms as they all waited for a cab. The mother like the proud concubine of that happy household watched quietly the two most important people in her life interact. At regular intervals she stroked her little one’s soft head, and her eyes remained focused on her companion as she spoke with him.

It was an effortless exchange of love, compassion, faith and complete surrender between a parent and an infant. What made those two grownups so capable of loving and nurturing a complete dependent? Where had the young infant learnt to trust another person so blindly and surrender to them so completely? There surely had to be a force within life and nature that inspired us to show such greatness with such humility. It had to be more than mere ‘attachment’ and petty ‘bondage’.

There are a zillion moments like these that one lives through during a lifetime. It is in fact these seemingly unassuming instants that fill me with gratitude for having got the chance to see life so closely as there was no way I could have fathomed the meaning of life or love in any other language. It is through the myriad emotions and diverse experiences that life puts me through that I learn to discover myself, even as I retain my ability to question it too, from time to time. And so I fail to understand the reason why many of us aspire to free ourselves from the circle of life and death.

My glance returned to the infant now, who seemed taken care of, loved and made comfortable.

“What a lucky baby you are to have got such caring parents. How else would you have learnt the meaning of love?” I thought to myself.

I was reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s words on children –

‘Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.’

It was difficult to imagine that the little infant could have a ‘background’ and history so profound, detailed and independent of his parents or even his present life. Perhaps if I could look more closely, beyond the deceptive young age of his exterior, I’d perhaps meet the soul of a wise philosopher or a stoic warrior or even a caring parent or lover. And yet, it had returned as an innocent and dependent child to be nurtured with love and care once again.

And thus as I continued to reflect on the circle of life and death, I once again struggled to fathom why we feel the need to be in a state of suspension where we don’t matter and where nothing matters to us anymore, where we are unable to appreciate the morning mist or enjoy the intoxicating rains or the comforting embrace of a five-year-old. Only in our human form do we learn to love and laugh, to lose and submit, and also to forgive and forget. Are these not great learning and experiences worth defending or returning to?

It is as a member of the human race that I am able to create another life. It is as a human being that I am able to nurture it selflessly only to let go of it eventually. It is only in my imperfect mortal state that I appreciate the strengths and vulnerabilities of others and myself and get the closest glimpse of life and its mystifying inexplicable ways! And in my material self alone do I retain the ability to visualize a much greater governing force and bow down to it. I become a philosopher, a poet, a parent, an ascetic, but only until I am within the circle of life and death. Then why must I treat this circle with fear and disdain, and mindlessly reduce its meaning to a handful of fancy words like ‘attachment’ and ‘bondage’. Our journey surely means more than that!

Judge me, if you must, but I deny and disown my right to obtain spiritual liberation by escaping the world. Instead I choose to be a part of it each time so I may return once again to feel the bond of love and kindness through every string of attachment and every reminding wound caused by loss. It is after all not so much about the beauty and the beast as it is often about the beauty within the beast called life that is of any consequence.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Psychedelic Desires: Ad For A Suitable Companion

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Source: angrylambie.buzznet.com

Source: angrylambie.buzznet.com

An educated, emancipated and feisty woman seeks a suitable companion who possesses qualities that rarely meet the naked eye and who values the same subtleties in others and in life. She eagerly looks for a friend who values the simplest things in life like the scent of wet mud, the quiet night sky, or the touch of cold breeze just before a heavy downpour. She seeks a comrade who can count on her on the gloomiest days and celebrate with her during moments of inspiring madness.

She seeks a friend who, just like his companion, is able to follow the simple expedient of preserving his dignity and propriety before he ventures to vindicate himself; one who has the strength to speak his mind, the patience to hold back his judgement, and the intelligence to tell the difference. She is in search of someone who has the compassion to understand, and the humility to feel gratitude; a person who shares a delightful sense of humour and a selective bad memory, qualities that neatly qualify as indispensable for a beautiful friendship.

Above all, she looks for a companion who has the eyes to look beyond the whiteness of the skin or the curves of the hips and thighs, whose smile does not rely on the size of his wallet, whose mind can soar above the clouds even on the cloudiest day, and who can laugh and love sans a single petty condition. She seeks a friend who can accept and rejoice in a companionship along with its differences; a person who can forgive and yet retain the ability to suffer remorse after hurting another. She seeks a person who notices the unbearable weight of a single teardrop or the unsettled glance of a pair of eyes that refuses to sleep.

She desires a knowledgeable mind that thrives on the perpetual hunger for greater wisdom and a thirst for the finer arts; one whose existence relies heavily on the power of spiritual wisdom and the exploration and appreciation of the unfathomable beauty of nature. She seeks a person who has an independent mind yet possesses the strength to confess his complete dependence on his companion out of love. She seeks a person who lends more air to her wings as she makes her flight, while he too possesses wings of his own and has a flight to make. But most importantly, she desires a companion who, just like her, is determined to work on a relationship with patience, compassion and hope, and give it everything it needs just like raising a young child.

Our girl promises the same commitments to her companion-to-be even as she also assures that a constant disregard for the other’s sense-of-pride could be a single unfortunate reason to dissolve everything that could have mattered, only for a handful of things that should not have mattered at all. This alliance will only survive until it is carefully carried with care and not unmindfully dragged by its hair.

Last but not the least, she is open to both men and women from any cultural background to contact her for this possibly lifelong alliance. Additional attributes and qualities like practical self-reliance and knowledge of music and poetry, love for food and travel, though not absolutely essential, will be preferred…rest all remains immaterial.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

The God I Saw

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an infant i saw

under the staggering light

of the earthen lamp

on that still callous night…

when meaning had crept

out of every human heart

when hopelessness ‘n’ remorse

had ripped open every vulnerable part…
she had arrived
to save us all

and lead us
to a fresh new start

no weapon she bore

not a crown she wore

only a pure innocent heart…

patient ears to hear our woes

dark eyes that exuberated joy

her four little hands held aloft

a book

a flower

a flute

a toy…

yet familiar to me she seemed

while in blinding radiance she beamed

i recalled alas
that frail ‘n’ hungry cry

of a newborn girl

discarded and left to die…

(another poem from Madhurima’s book ‘Goddess & Whore‘)

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

Credentials Of A Critic

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Source: geneanderson.blogspot.com

Source: geneanderson.blogspot.com

I am gravely sceptical about the touted significance of the role of a critic in literature or the arts. However I wouldn’t dare to completely tag the outsourced inference or even the paid-for favour of a critic as entirely obsolete since I do believe that a qualified feedback could fuel meaningful literature, protect unique writing styles and storylines from commercial slaughterhouses, and also engage minds in a meaningful comparison between the varying styles and formats. While one should remain open to criticism, unwarranted vociferous opinions and disapproval of so-called flaws and faults are distasteful and downright offensive. Is this policing necessary? Well that’s a completely different point altogether. My contention here rests on the unsettling premise that the role of a critic will not be reaching its extinction anytime soon.

These days everybody seems to have donned the expert’s hat and it is the rising score of self-invited advice and opinions that are frivolously thrown at the writer, with complete disregard for the latter’s craft, which has led to the steady decline of my regard for this venerated role. Perhaps it is the dearth of deserving critics that makes the presence of these unqualified opinion-dumpers increasingly unacceptable to writers and other professionals. In fact, I suspect it is the overuse or even abuse of this role and the very nomenclature ‘critic’ that has prompted me to believe that there exists a perpetual negative connotation to the word which was rightfully introduced to accomplish a more productive role however arguably redundant most of it still remains most of the times.

It is interesting how certain words, originally intended to mean something entirely different, begin to represent a separate meaning depending on the examples its users, or in this case its abusers, have set. For instance, criticism or the role of a critic was initially designed as an act of evaluating and studying the merits and drawbacks in an articulate manner which on an ordinary day would seem far more scrupulous had it not turned into a severe judgement or even an unqualified advice from a complete stranger, like it is the case now. The last one, of course, would barely qualify as ‘criticism’ in the proper sense. It is like the word ‘romantic’ that most invariably reminds us of a fizzy-eyed dreamer when the word also represents one of the most glorious eras of the literary landscape, with far broader connotations than the conventional definitions of the word. Another word that has come to be closely associated with the negative is ‘politics’ when primarily it implies the art or science of governance.

Besides the spilling out of the intended definitions and scope of the ‘critic’, it is also the overwhelming reach that another’s opinion bears on one’s work that concerns me. I have noticed, both as a reader and a writer, the sudden progression in the number of critics aka advisers as also in the amount of lethal power they possess over a piece of literature that a writer may have taken years to compile. The literary wheel seems to be spinning more often around the critic’s verdict that then somehow dictates the details and choices for a writer and a reader. We seem to be in a shadow-worshipping world where the actual work is liberally despised or judged.

I have come across a fair number of television and print ‘journalists’ (another word very loosely used these days), who drool over their own fanciful and snippy argots as they go about on their verbal rampage that is more entertaining than intelligent or insightful. They assume the right to denigrate a writer and, sadly, that sells more. I wish we knew that among the few things besides Rome that could not be built in a day it would be a manuscript and most definitely a published book! I wish we knew of the long hours of disciplined writing, the rigorous and brain-numbing rounds of editing and proof reading, and the frustrating wait for the cosmic forces to return the favour before we dismantled all the blocks of a lifelong dream with a single judgment. For me, a writer must always be respected for his attempt. Surely, a person who makes herself or himself that vulnerable deserves to be regarded in a more reputable light.

A few weeks ago, I happened to share one of my poems ‘Poetry vs. Cigarettes’ on a social forum for poetry readers, which turned out to be one of my greatest misjudgments. I was appalled at the level of highhandedness people assumed. One ridiculously concerned and presumptuous gentleman pounded me with his disgust for cigarettes and me, since he had managed to somehow perceive my poetry very literally and derive the most unimaginative implication from it, overlooking the entire metaphor that I thought I had so intelligently crafted. Wonder what would happen if I posted Mark Twain’s Art of Masturbation without the acclaimed author’s byline!

Among the violations that the struggling writer in me has suffered, the most entertaining one was a feedback I received from a blank-faced e-stranger who conveniently rewrote my entire poem for me, robbing it of its rhythm (not rhyme). He retained only the title as a kind gesture so I would understand how I had to do justice to the title. In the end, he messaged: ‘Remember, it is Poetry vs. Cigarettes’ not ‘Cigarettes vs. Poetry’. I am still to figure out the depth of that sentence. Their confidence baffles me even as I battle to survive their unfinished sentences and obstreperous conduct. Though to tell you the truth I’d be far more worried or even devastated had he left a poem that seemed better fit than my own work. It was a scary stunt to have pulled over a writer, and surely a foolish one too, in this case. As the diva Madonna puts it (for Lady Gaga) under a similar circumstance, ‘It seemed reductive’. Touché to that!

As most of my literary wonderments invariably trail back to Virginia Woolf, in this case too she has, for me, remained the best example of a truly qualified critic. Firstly, her own views as a writer have been discussed, criticized or even left unnoticed just like the highly complex and bold painting patterns of the great Vincent Van Gogh, which were much ahead of his times, had been dealt with. This meant that she had faced the vices of criticism herself. Secondly, no criticism seemed to have dissuaded her from expressing herself (once again, like Van Gogh), which meant she knew the difference between a good critique and a bad one. Her ideas and writing style, even today, stand firmly as a hallmark of excellence in literature surpassing the lifespan of several critics and their opinions.

Virginia Woolf took the opinions of only a few writer friends like Eliot and chose to overlook the views of journalists, critics and fans too, since she feared that too much flattery, just like too many critiques, would influence her intent as a writer. She clearly did understand the roles of a critic and a critique. In her diary (Diary of a Writer) Virginia Woolf has neatly defaced many big names in the world of poetry and professionals whose works have overlooked the nuances of human emotions while they have solely glorified physical strength and valour as attributes of human strength; elements like emotional complexities and relationship subtleties have largely been ignored. For her, those intricacies of the human mind are in fact the true protagonists. She has discussed the writing styles of her contemporaries even as she has candidly dissected her own moods and works effortlessly. She has, in several cases, reassessed her own work and expressed her excitement or disappointment over it. To me that is a ‘qualified’ critic.

It is solely for the likes of Virginia Woolf that I remain hopeful of this probably-redundant-yet-not-completely-pointless effort and so I voluntarily continue to prevent myself from fully despising this role as an entirely wasteful occupation. After all, for the writer in me, none is more dangerous than the critic that quietly watches me from within even as I continue to write.

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013