Saturday, July 6, 2013

questions and answers

How is it that we don't ask questions, the big ones like what is the meaning of life, what does love mean, how do we fit into the bigger scheme of things, when things are going fine? When we are laughing with friends, or when we are totally invigorated in working on something, or when we are spending a very memorable day with the loved one, we are so involved with life, lost in the moment that we don't stop back, look at ourselves and think where we are heading. Living turns into such a huge pleasure that questioning it seems futile. Why do I have to care what anything means as long as I'm having a blast. Like when you are totally enamoured by your girlfriend that you don't even care to ask yourself if you are going to keep any of those promises; or when the other guy turns into such a great listener that you go on and on and don't even remember those days when you hated him so much. How does it work? If I was successful right now, looked up by friends, pampered by loved ones, would I even spend the time here, searching for the right words to get the meaning across? Is that why most philosophers, monks, scientists and artists have had such painful pasts that the only way they could be happy was to look inwards and shun the world away? Is the quest for truth, ethics and aesthetics more about escapism than liberation?

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the olfactory genius in Suskind's Perfume, is so enveloped in the pleasure of smell that he walks away from all civilization to a dark, dank place at the bottom of an extinct volcano where no life thrives, just so that he can summon various smells from his mental repository, mix them around and become ecstatic. Now, that is art for the sake of it. He asks for no appreciation, no reconfirmation of his gifts, has no need to change the world, demands no respect from his peers, requires no acclaim. If only all of us could find immense pleasure simply in the prospect of living, would we go through these phases of happiness and misery- making adjustments to ourselves just so that others would change for us, trying to adjust expectations so that those we want to love can fit in. I came across this phenomenal line a few days back, "Despite knowing that life would never go according to our plans, why do we continue making them". I think that when we make plans, we see ourselves living through them like we are now. What we do not take into consideration that living through a plan changes us and so we are not as happy as we thought we would be even if we reached a prior decided destination. I sometimes wish that instead of running, I could stop, get a sense of my bearings and decide on my course of action. But like Dheeraj's film trailer says, to live is to run, I simply can't stop. Which is probably why monks move away from civilization, to create a sense of suspension. How can you know if time has passed if you're living every moment the same way? Maybe that is what they call the ripple-less pond where they can see their true reflections.

Philosophers and evolutionary biologists say that humans are a restless species and that is what separates us from animals which are content to lie around and do nothing until they're forced to, either because of danger or hunger. Restlessness is what kindles our imagination and imagination is the source of everything any of us do. They say when a person's body decides for him, he turns into an animal and lives only for pleasure. He lacks the moral or aesthetic conscience to differentiate between right and wrong, beautiful and ugly. He is a slave to his bodily whims. And evolutionarily speaking, art, science and philosophy turned into our pursuits only after we started taking our daily need for food and pleasure for granted. The body was satiated, now the mind needed to be engaged. And that is when, apparently, our brain's structured changed from those of apes and our imagination started showing us things that didn't exist. Devdutt Pattanaik, in this brilliant speech, argues how our imagination has a phenomenal power over all our decisions. Almost all our mental pursuits are triggered by the idea of pleasure or pain and those are creations of our brain. We go out of our way to accommodate others, work long hours or adjust ourselves for a loved one simply because we are hoping it is going to give us pleasure later on and all this hardship is going to be worth it or because we are so scared of losing something, that we do whatever it takes just to keep it in our sight. We suffer heartbreak because we imagined someone to be a certain way and they did not end up being that. Like I was just asking Kishore, can I hate someone just because they did not behave according to my expectations? Which is probably why even a totally unexpected good thing is more a shock than a surprise.

Why do we ask questions if not to be entertained? Isn't curiosity just another form of indulgence? There is a little anecdote about Sadhguru which I absolutely love. During one of his discourses, one of his disciples asked him,  "Sadhguru, what is the meaning of life? Why am I alive?" to which Sadhguru smiled, paused, and replied, "One day God was playing with marbles. One marble turned into Earth, another into Sun etc." He then laughed at the incredulous expression on the face of his disciples and said, "You don't believe the story because it is too immature. But if I tell you a more sophisticated story, you will believe it. But how is it going to help you in any way? All you want to be is entertained." I have stopped believing when people say they create art to unravel the truth, or to find the nature of existence. It has now become fashionable to ask the big questions, to seem like an intellectual. I know, that is why I do it too. If I really wanted answers, why would I spend money marketing the film and my time explaining people what I've wanted to achieve. If prancing around naked on streets would give me as much adulation as talking about the meaning of existence does, wouldn't I be doing that? I don't know, maybe all this is wrong. But I know one thing; it is that I don't have to post this, I can keep this draft or even delete this piece because writing it has calmed me down, it has served its purpose. And despite that, I'll post this. To put forth my views, start a discussion, share, improve our knowledge and broaden our horizons. Or simply because I want to tell myself and the world that I'm not wasting away my life. That when my relationships and experiments fail, I have successfully learned a little more about myself. But have I?

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