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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Ignorance Drives Regressive Behaviour

Recently, I added a WhatsApp DP that created some conflict within my family. In the picture, I am seen sleeping, holding a book on postmodernism. Firstly, I was playing with the colour scheme that my bed cover, my T-shirt and the book cover was forming. But beyond that, it was an attempt to represent a conceptual art displaying absurdity concerning display pictures. The caption that went with that picture was a quote from the Spanish artist Francisco Goya - The sleep of reasons produces monsters. Friends who are well aware of my eccentric behaviour thought it was funny and others with a sense of humour sent me an emoji; smiling at it. Both reactions are practical and well accepted. However, my mother is among those people who does not see creativity but is blinded by her own prejudice.

One morning, my mother calls me and even before checking if I was in the middle of something important, decides to scream at me. She first commands me to remove the picture because she thinks that it represents death. She supports her proposal with a superstitious belief that has been religiously passed on to her by her mother - One should never take pictures of a child while he/she is sleeping. According to the mothers, a picture with closed eyes can only represent death. I immediately argued that it could also represent sleep or meditation. Then she reminded me how important a mother is in every one's life and how mothers would only wish the best for her child’s well being. I argued that as well. In this case, a mother was imposing her beliefs on her child without its consent. Well, the  funniest part of it all is that this child is 39 years old. Even at the age of 72, my mother likes to boss around. Welcome to India! 

My mother did not stop at that. She called my sister and reminded her of this superstition. Now, I had two people asking me to take this picture down. This was soon turning into an ego issue. Well, I am not painting a picture of a mother that you have perhaps seen on WhatsApp or Facebook posts. Sorry to break this news to you, but there are several narratives that are floating around in our world that are not necessarily true. Common on! you seriously thought that mothers are angles on earth? They are as much humans as we are. They make as many mistakes as we do. So, let’s not burden them with such unrealistic expectations. So having established that mothers are only human beings like everyone else, I would like to explore why this is a bigger issue than it seems to be and what makes my mother react in such a manner? 

As an artist, I am sometimes driven towards dark themes. I feel that human psyche could be better expressed through such concepts  Therefore, black paintings of Goya are intriguing to me. My favourite painting of his, "Witches in the air" has a fascinating theme that experts are still trying to decode. When I was 17 years old, I was attracted towards a painting that my aunt had done. It was a recreation of a famous painting called "The weeping girl". I expressed my desire to paint it. My aunt taught me this unique painting method that involved spraying colours through a toothbrush. It took me several weeks to complete that work and I was delighted by this experience of painting for the first time. I was even more happier to ge it framed and display it in our living room. I even taught this painting method to another friend of mine. Several years later, I learnt that my mother always hated it. She considered it to be evil or something that displayed negativity. Fair enough! I decided to bring it to Bangalore during one of my visits home. However, my mother did not stop at that. She influenced the thoughts of my wife with similar opinion. The painting was therefore discarded away from sight. I was extremely hurt because this was after all my first painting.

People have no idea of what a painting means to its creator. There is an emotional bond that an artist develops with his work while he is creating it. To tag these works as satanic or evil is a direct insult to the artist himself. And, when these insults are irrational and driven by superstitions that are being imposed on us from generations, it bothers even more. Because now it is an issue beyond a personal opinion. What my mother does not understand is that she is projecting the negativity within her as a response to something. Because, I do not see sorrow as negative. It is just one of the human emotions. Therefore, superstition has skewed the thinking of most Indians; which in the name of religion and traditions is being transferred from one generation to another. I wonder if Goya could ever paint his masterpieces if he had an orthodox mother inspecting his work?

A simple and basic fact is that an artist, famous or not, needs freedom. He should be allowed to express himself. His works may not be always appreciated or accepted by everyone, but he still needs that freedom to create what he believes in. I strongly feel that many viewers lack this sensibility. Superstition cannot drive my decisions. So then what drives such a behaviour in my mother? Why does she see only death in that picture? Why does she refuse other perspectives? I do not think I can answer these questions. So, I decided to ask myself - Why do I not see death in it? Why do I not believe in such superstitions? These questions, I thought would rather help me answer the original questions.

Since the age of 21, I have lived away from home. I have been totally independent since then. I have traveled the world and read several concepts to broaden my understanding of this world. This has facilitated in developing my personality. It was when I began to travel that I saw how all the stereotypes that surround us through various mediums is nothing but a narrative that holds an opinion but never the truth. When I went on my first backpacking trip to Sri Lanka, I was told by people how dangerous it was to travel alone in an unknown country. I was asked to be extra careful in Jaffna because of the civil war that had taken place, only a few years ago. Some informed that I needed a special permission to enter that region. To be honest, I did have a slight fear on what I was getting into. I think it is that fear of the unknown that leads me to take up such adventures. But as I traveled across the entire country, including Jaffna, I realised how wrong people were about the situation there. Hence, our ignorance is our biggest enemy. Because, we lack the knowledge of something, we fear it. We consider it to be harmful or dangerous. Once you have conquered that fear through knowledge, that fear is replaced by contentment. Those who nurture their fear by promoting ignorance and denying knowledge will always see the world in that single perspective. When my mother said that it is the education that has made me turn this way, I think she too agrees with this theory. But hey! everyone should be allowed to have their own beliefs, including my mother.

However, just like I would not impose my beliefs on someone else, I must be allowed to freely practice mine. But this world has condemned the free thinkers as rebels or outcasts. When Victor Hugo broke away from the rules of classicism and created a play with his romantic heros, it invited a lot of pushback from the defenders of classicism. Impressionists were tagged as untalented lunatics. Even today, there are people who might laugh at paintings of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. The very reason for such an act is that we do not have a full understanding of this art form or the reasons that lead to the development of such art movements. If we dig a bit into its history, we would understand the thought process that went behind a Surrealistic art or a work of Cubism. But, most people are happy in their state of ignorance and therefore, they tend to laugh at something that they do not fully understand. I am not saying that we must appreciate these works of art but we must understand what they mean and what concepts they behold before we pass a judgement. Only then, our knowledge would allow us to appreciate the process even though we may not necessarily appreciate the work itself. In other words, we will not mindlessly laugh at Picasso’s painting but we can credit him for his thoughtfulness even if aesthetically they do not go well with our taste. 

Therefore, ignorance does drive regressive behaviour in us and only knowledge can supersede this stupidity. Whether it is those great artists or common men like us, we all suffer such criticism on a day to day basis. Most of these judgements are passed by people who do not comprehend certain things and refuse to broaden their knowledge. There are quite a few friends of mine who pass judgments without fully understanding a concept. Moreover, in today's world, on social media, we see a growing sense of insensitivity towards one another based on one's beliefs.

The Bhakts are trolling the liberals and the minorities while the latter are focusing only on the negatives of the current Government. Sensible debates have vanished. Fake news and discriminating contents from either sides are taking centre stage and affecting the minds of the citizens. Obsessed by their respective beliefs, they remain ignorant towards rational thinking. We simply do not understand that we cannot hate a person and everything he does just because his opinion differs from that of ours. I am not saying that I am perfect. In fact, only when we accept that we have flaws in us too, it would allow us to be sensible in our interactions with others; we can be rational in our approach to anything. Therefore, as Goya aptly said, when the reasons go to sleep, monsters (irrational behaviours) are produced. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Are We Moving Towards A Common Language?

In the story “Tower of Babel”, it is said that once upon a time, everyone on earth spoke only one language. As people migrated from the east, they settled in a land called Shinar where they began to build a tower towards the heaven. God, clearly disliking this act of man, recognised the root cause of their efficiency in the common language that they shared. So, it is said that he created different languages, as a result of which they would never understand one another, and scattered them over the face of the earth. The authenticity of this narration is not in the interest of this writing but it sure does mock at the chaos, that existence of multiple languages have created and thus making one wonder if world would be a much better place to live in, if we all had a common language to share our thoughts and feelings in.
The origin of this question finds itself in a debate that I had in my French class against the need to create native lexicon in French for every new word of English origin. On one side of the coin there is a need to conserve languages and facilitate their enrichment and on the other side, there is an opportunity to drive common terminologies across the world. With a rate of globalisation that refuses to slow down, world today has almost begun to work like the Tower of Babel. Interdependency and immigration has made the need for a common language more than just a comfort. However, not everyone would agree to this.
On the contrary, a section of people would argue that a common language would pose a threat to many other languages that would subsequently become obsolete. With a language, disappears its literary works and its history. Moreover, a language is not only a means of communication but also a foundation of any culture and tradition. That argument is valid. However, we are also aware of the fact that change is inevitable.  

Cultures and traditions around the world have always been changing or rather evolving. Over the years, we have seen several old languages like Latin and Sanskrit slowly becoming limited in usage. Even English has evolved continuously since its origin and by adopting the modern day English, man has almost abandoned the works of old English. He has adapted himself to a newer and better way of expressing himself; relevant to the time he lives in. Another argument presented by the defenders of languages is that the current state ensures diversity in this world and that makes us interesting; with different perspectives on same things. 

As far as the need for diversity goes, there would always be other avenues to create them; just like there exists diversity between an American, a British and a New Zealander. Besides, a distinctive melange exists within a country that speaks a common language. So, though I do deeply appreciate the diversity that these beautiful languages bring, I also believe in the ephemerality and evolution of things. We simply cannot deny change!
Additionally, it is clearly visible that with technological developments and influences driven by globalisation, all cultures are beginning to converge. For example, the cuisine of one region or a country has traveled beyond its borders. People around the world share a similar virtual image of themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn or other social networking sites through which they prefer to communicate in common grounds. However, with a world full of egoistic countries, it would be interesting to see which language will dominate and which all would be willing to yield. Perhaps it was the prediction of this conflict that once led to a creation of a new language all together.
In 1887, a language called Esperanto was developed in order to facilitate communication between people of different languages. This effort of constructing a new language from the scripts of various other languages has not proven to be very successful. One may argue that the mistake was probably in creating a language from scratch.
But in today’s world, we can notice a different type of blend between languages. “Visage”, “Encore” and “Sans” are some of the French words that are frequently used in English language. While “Parking”, “Weekend”, “Stop” and “Pub” are some of the English words used in French language. Sanskrit or Hindi words like “Guru” and “Mantra” have also made their way into the English dictionary. Therefore, we are in the process of effectively blending the languages and hopefully constructing a new global language. Clearly in this case, the language that is most willing to accept foreign words and that which is increasingly open to changes in its structure would be a winner. That makes us ask ourselves - On one side as we try to bring the world closer, must we, on the other end, by translating every new word in different languages, separate it? Life would be much easier if a USB, computer, Laptop, Nano technology or a tablet is called the same elsewhere in the planet. However, it is important to understand that the problem here is not in some languages gaining prominence, but with many others loosing their functionality. Therefore, the bigger question is - Would having multiple languages serve any purpose in the future?

To retain something, one has to have a strong purpose. History teaches us that anything that has lacked a robust motive has always failed to sustain. Humans, while adapting to the times they live in, have always acclimatised to better and simpler ways of dealing with things, by gradually discarding the older methods. Therefore, the defenders of a certain language have to come up with a reasoning that is profound, or at the least relevant to the times we are living in. Nostalgia simply cannot survive as a sole reason for this retention. 
Even though there is a necessity to have a common language to work effectively with one another, a universal language for humans does not appear to be a reality until several centuries to come. World would mostly be multi-linguistic until one of the dominant languages would slowly but certainly take over. With a world well connected, this forecast is highly likely to be true. This thought might be frightening or even offensive to some at the moment, but change unwinds itself at its own pace and this would only be a reality perhaps more than a thousand years from now. We would no more be alive to react to it and the people living then would not relate to this debate at all; just like how we remain ignorant about Latin and Sanskrit.
From few basic languages to a variety of them; from a variety of them to fewer modern languages; from those few modern languages, maybe to one ideal language in a distant future. Time, therefore, seems to spin like a wheel. Consequently, maybe one day, man might after all complete the Tower of Babel.