Wednesday, November 22, 2006


to Raphael
::Your close readings have been invaluable

When you are a child, your capacity for faith is infinite (probably because your senses have not been deadened, or because you don't even know there will come a time when you detest new experience for fear of having burnt out). That special capacity, precisely and weirdly called childhood, endows you absolutes.

The first of the absolutes ('givens') is your Granpa or, less commonly, your Granma or your Dad or Mom or any close relative with whom you spend a lot of time with, or look in awe of. Whatever the modality, you look up to the absolute in an unflinching, unquestioning way; you commonly learn to impute reasons for the absoluteness. This is the beginning of the dogmatic (theory-building) stage that will culminate in the reverses of teenage crush and hippie/grunge fallacies that tend to disregard, and disassociate from, parental or societal control.

Those who are denied the necessity of a stay during childhood (such as the ghetto kids or orphans) are born with a prematurely fragmented personality, a potentially dangerous an inverted value system, and a countdown to extinction mentality. [...] (How would a beggarboy like it if, in front of ICH building, I stoke his head of brown hair and give him a ten-rupee note... then do this often enough that when he grows up and becomes a criminal or a straightforward cobbler, he remembers me as the one who supported his difficult struggle to stay alive or the one who guided him down the path to righteous, albeit difficult, livelihood? But come, it's too romantic! No one ever died of hunger! And no beggar boy ever chose a righteous life of difficulties to an easy life of felony...And by this time, the beggar boy would have moved on.) The fact remains: such a train of thought never crosses my mind in the few moments (maybe 30 seconds) that it takes me to come out of the ICH, pass through the arcade, and kickstart my motorcycle. The only thought that constantly stays my hand from groping in my pockets for the most miserable coin, the most obvious shame to poverty, is the policy never to perpetrate begging in any form anywhere: seemingly cruel, but a bourgeoise can do no better most of the time.

However, this blissful age of forgetful absolutism is also the only stage in life when a person grows. His ideas build upon associations, mostly valid ones, and the person (the seed) is focussed on a few things. As Nietzsche said, 'To be as serious as a child at play...'

We are concerned about that blissful age of acquiescence, when the child masters the basics of a societal life; we shall stop a long way short of rebellion (notice the convoluted invitation to rebellion!), and the final deflowering of the ideological virginity of every youth by exposure and subsequent blanching. (A sword that has seen one too many battle is dependable but a bit lacks teeth.)

At this period, a boy (or a girl, for that matter: it's just that the the thinking variety is implied) encounters perfect atomicity of ideas. He also encounters absolutes in nearly every societal influence that bears upon his life, such as music, art, film, literature, celebrations, play, and so on. He encounters absolutes precisely by an act of choice: he wishes for absolutes, and in the absence of debilitating and mutilating controls, he gets what he wishes for.

On such a perfect moment as when the boy thinks he encounters an atom of truth (suppose he somehow olds himself together in front of Andrei Rublev: just suppose), he encounters God (though the young man might be least inclined to identify this particular apparition in the Godhead), he encounters the absolute, he encounters what is technically the most plausible and irreducible grain of volition. It is also the teething bone for his subsequent life. These are the basis of his ideas, his ideals.

Even if he remains unconscious about these influences, he will be shaped, and subconsciously regulated and tempered by this unique sensibility imputed by the most sublime (just suppose the kid doesn't have to live through the trauma of the ghetto) visitations of the absolute.

These grains are immutable, irreconcilable, pure, and completely unrelated (otherwise they wouldn't qualify as atomic). The relative strength of these impulses, and the visions they impart, may later on determine the profession the young man chooses (provided he has a choice, and he follows his heart).

The encounter with absolutes happens only at a period when the heart and the mind go hand in hand; these apparitions are evident and forceful only when the thoughts and impulses drive the same way.

Even if he cannot choose his profession, his aesthetic sensibility and ethical temperament will be determined mostly by these grains of essence.

When a boy encounters a grain of (immutable) truth, his mind is at rest, he stops yearning, he is satisfied within himself, he finds oneness with the outside, he realises the truth (more accurately, he lives the truth).

When the grain fades away in the invading confusion of existence, the boy soon grows wearisome, confused, multifaceted and dispersed, and irritable. He is irritable precisely because the immutable truth has been shown him, and prevailed on him, and gave him peace.

The onset of ego destroys the pellucid beauty of absolutes; the growing boy one day discovers the frazzled edges of the weapon of war and decides to investigate the whys and the wherefores. (He suddenly remembers that the weapon has a 'past.') Whatever his progression, it's a doomed quest and a fall from grace; the sword is never restored to its pristine glory, and the knowledge (the clash of two swords destroys the beauty of both) will never prevent the subsequent defilement of swords in a battlefield. (Small wonder that the ugly and flexible Chinese swords were unmatched on the battlefield by the glamorous and much-worked katana of the Samurai: the former was functional, the latter was meant more as a means of intimidation).

A boy's life may be likened to a flower: the bud, opening up, opening, opening, finally fully open. While he is opening, he is gradually opening himself to the forces, outside influences, and he just wants to experience; he opens himself out of an inner need, or by design, or he just opens up because he has to figure out the world (that is, he has to open up: think what would happen otherwise). And while he opens, he is greeted with immense sensations and facts, and also a few truths of immutable beauty, which later on guide his life and also become sources for unrest.

Again, from the simile of the sword: the sword is meant to cut and to kill and to spill blood; just as a finely polished virgin instrument of death is an immaculate piece of beauty, a deflowered sword wears true with her master, and prolongs the life of her master. Beauty is short-lived, but gives indescribable joy due to its purity; convenience is never beautiful, but wears long and prolongs a mediocre existence in a nostalgic decline.

A boy's quest for lost purity, or his search for a lasting peace as he had come to experience while confronting immutable truths, leads to conflict, identification with frivolous causes and companions, and ultimately, fragmentation of the personality and the dissolution of the Self.

In all these quests there is an echo of nostalgic idealism: the ideal beauty of things past, or the imputed beauty of the broken urn. It can neither be reclaimed nor verified because what matters exists solely in the mind of the protagonist. It cannot be argued.

And this is one way how the adult works around to reclaim that pellucid majesty of the young one confronting the absolute: by imagining an ideal perfection that can neither be proved nor experienced. By so doing, he is setting sail on the little puddles of unrest imagining it to be the ocean of infinitude. He is trying to reinvent greatness in his own intensely private, and totally irrelevant scale of carnality. Imagine an Einstein kickboxing, or Tyson designing a nuclear reactor!

The incredible attraction of contradictions: we have built the notion that contradictions somehow look good together. We have reserved places for them at the same occasions, we have in fact ensured their longevity by quoting them in pairs, and thinking them in pairs: thinking this way, we force ourselves to go that way.

  • First Edition
    Created Saturday, December 17, 2005
    Completed over a period of three weeks in about six hours
    The images that came to my mind as I wrote this essay are almost entirely of my old nursery (kindergarten) at MMRHS: the squarish buildings with tiled roofs, the big jack-tree in the middle, the nursery classes during the rains, the rain falling from the edge of the roofs... and us children clambering on to piled-up desks to look at the overgrown pond at the other side of the school wall: it was our first look at life, our first look at the world. These images are also absolutes, and they remain.
  • Second Edition
    Not really an edition, because doing so would be foolish... When you write something, you also decide its structure forever. I have lost the threads, and the context has changed a lot. The second edition merely attempts to clarify some definitions. These are like footnotes. Since footnotes, historically, are afterthoughts, these too remain lame, but might prove useful to someone not clear about the context.

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