Friday, June 27, 2014

WAKING UP

WAKING UP

“What happened?” I asked, waking up to the gentle nudge of an elbow of my colleague.

“Nothing, the speech is over. You may now rise and shine.” He said.

For the past one and a half hours I was in Neverland and an observer would have decided I was in a comatose condition. That’s what happens whenever the bosses speak and especially if he is the one right there at the top. When we came out of the conference hall I asked my colleague once again “What happened?”

“Forget it, you didn’t miss much.” He replied.

I remember going into the hall and taking my seat only to get up soon after when the Boss entered and then sitting down again. The next thing I was aware of was that nudge. What transpired in between is not even in my memory. I never went to sleep and that’s the truth.

Frankly there have been many such occasions when I did not need a knock on my head to become comatose. . I still remember the various times when I had fallen into induced comatose condition especially when I was studying. These occurrences were mainly during the afternoon sessions, after a hefty lunch attending the ‘Magnetic Fields’ class. As the professor waved his hands in a bid to illustrate how the magnetic lines of force flowed from one pole to the other, I would feel them pass through my head on their way . As the intensity increased I would slowly be pushed into an abyss. Then all would be dark. Once again it was that gentle nudge from the person sitting next to me that would indicate the class had ended. I would wake up to a deafening silence around me and as I stared at the blackboard filled with what resembled hieroglyphics, a strange feeling of having travelled through a time warp and landing in the midst of an ancient Egyptian civilisation would envelop me. I would turn towards my friend and ask him ‘What happened?”

“Nothing” he would say and grin “The class is over and you may now prepare for the next period. Don’t worry the professor was too involved in his magnetic fields to notice you. But I should say that you do have a wonderful knack of appearing awake and paying attention to what is happening in class and I guess those specs of yours are a big help.” I have never been able to recollect what happened during those classes and my subsequent performances in that subject will bear testimony. It was when I opened my note book to study for the exams that I would be confronted by those blank pages.

Sometime ago I saw a very interesting Tamil film ‘Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom’. Translated in English it means ‘A few pages are missing in the middle’. It is a comedy about a man who gets injured in his head while playing cricket with his friends just two days before his wedding. Though outwardly no injury is evident and he gets back on his feet after the fall, his friends realize that though he remembers events just before the fall, like his bid to catch the ball, he is unable to recollect anything that happened during the one year preceding the accident. As a result he does not recognize his girl- friend of the last one year and the fact that he is to be married to her. The events leading to his marriage in the end and the efforts of his friend to ensure that the others do not come to know of his condition is just hilarious. Every time they try to make him recover his lost memory, he only narrates his bid to catch the ball and falling down and ending up asking ‘What happened?’ This is repeated so many times during the movie that you also find yourself asking ‘What happened?’ after the movie ends.

I have tried to understand how this happens and did refer to a few books especially Dr. V.S. Ramachandran’s ‘The Tell-Tale Brain’, a masterpiece like his earlier work ‘Phantoms in the Brain’ on neuroscience. But I should admit that midway through such scholarly works I once again lapse into those Neverlands. Ramachandran says while talking about amnesia (that’s what we are interested in right now) -

“Almost everyone has heard of amnesia following head trauma: The patient has difficulty recollecting specific incidents that took place during the weeks or months preceding the injury, even though he is smart, recognizes people and is able to acquire new episodic memories. This syndrome –retrograde amnesia – is quite common, seen as often in real life as in Hollwood.”

Well that’s what I was looking for – whether Hollywood or Kollywood this is a favourite – amnesia. There is so much more in the book and so much more to the head that if we try to delve into the mysteries of our lost memories we are sure to become comatose. I have tried to understand it my own way.

Leaving aside the trauma part of it due to a head injury most of us suffer memory loss as we grow older. This is attributed to the progressive death of those little grey cells we keep hearing about but have not seen –

“So what’s happened to him? He keeps forgetting things.”

“Poor guy, he is suffering from Alzhemiers.”

I don’t mind if they are referring to me. It suits me fine. For me now there are only two states – absent mindedness and selective memory loss. Let me clarify - my slippages are always pardoned, for I suffer from this syndrome ‘Poor man!’ they would say. While I have the last laugh for I choose what to remember and what not to.
But I should accept that I do suffer from short term memory loss distinct from the other two I mentioned above.

There have been occurrences of recent origin that would evoke snide remarks from those around me, that I am growing old. On quite a few occasions I have searched for my mobile in the pouch on my belt and panicked without realising that I was actually talking on the phone or say the time when I ended up searching for my spectacles while wearing them.

Putting aside all that light hearted banter this loss of memory due to an injury to the head or due to a sickness like encephalitis etc is a serious condition. I read an article ‘Waking up from the big sleep’ by Shobita Dhar  in the TOI few days ago. Of course this was on the heels of the news that Michael Schumacher has woken up from an induced coma but that it’s going to be a long and painful road to recovery. The article talks of those coma patients who are slowly rebuilding their lives. Waking up is never like they show in the movies. There is no miraculous recovery. Recovery is a long process and is also dependent on the extent of brain damage. In the most severe form of injury to the head patients rarely come out of coma. The article highlights the fact that though advances in critical care have resulted in better chances of recovery from coma the steep cost of such treatment keeps it restricted to a few.

That brings me to the question – where do memories go when they are lost? If it is because the brain is damaged they are lost, they ought to be somewhere or are they wiped out completely? Such an inane question you may say, but doesn’t it bother you also?

Talking of brain damage reminds me of one of my favourite Pink Floyd compositions ‘Brain Damage’ from the album ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ a theme based on mental disorder -

The lunatic is on the grass.
The lunatic is on the grass.
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
Got to keep the loonies on the path.

The lunatic is in the hall.
The lunatics are in my hall.
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more.

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.

The lunatic is in my head.
The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade, you make the change
You re-arrange me 'til I'm sane.
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There's someone in my head but it's not me.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes

I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.

Thursday, June 12, 2014






THE ABSTRACT THING

“How do you like it?” J asked me.

“It’s beautiful. I like it. Whose painting is it?” I asked.

It was a photo print of an abstract painting. I have always liked abstracts. They are colourful and at the same time you could never find the form, something like KV’s briefs always colourful but out of shape. Don’t ask me how I know about those briefs, you can never miss them as you stand on your balcony and look at the clothes line down below. Another great thing about abstracts is that you need never go into details and your interpretation remains yours only whatever other people say. You can never be wrong or can never be right and that’s where the beauty of the entire abstract thing lies. I remember the time when I had hung the painting of a famous artist in my living room, an abstract painting and very colourful. Any visitor to my house would stand in front of it, gaze at it for some time and then nod their head in appreciation saying that it was very beautiful and I would look on with pride at my possession till one day my daughter came visiting and the first thing she said was “By God! Papa you have hung that painting upside down.”

For a moment I looked at her and then at the painting. I gathered my wits around and not wanting to sound like an ignoramus told her “But that’s how everyone likes it.”
She didn’t let me go off with that excuse for she continued “Ok, why don’t you turn it around and place it the correct way? Let’s see what they say now.” As luck would have it, just when I had finished turning it around one of my friends landed. He took one look at the painting and then said “Hey where is the other painting? I can see you got another one there now. Frankly I liked the earlier one better. Where is it? Did you sell it off? You should have told me earlier I would have bought it.” I just gave him a sheepish grin and turned towards my daughter with a ‘I told you so’ look. She just nodded her head in exasperation and went to the next room.

Well coming back to J and his abstract, he avoided replying to my question as to who the artist was. He just said “If you like it, get it framed and just hang it in your living room.”

That’s dangerous I thought, so I asked him “But at least tell me which side is up.”

J looked at me with a look that seemed to say ‘why did I have to give it to this guy’ but then he said “Just hang it whichever way it suits you, it will still look good. You can change it every fortnight so that it does not become monotonous.” With that he even promised to let me know who the artist was after making sure that the painting had found a place in my living room.

So I did. The first friend who walked in asked me whether it was a Klee’s painting and when I asked him as to what made him say that, he replied “I just guessed for that is the only name I know when it comes to abstract painting.” I said that I was not sure but it is a present from a friend. Well the next guy who came in gazed at it for some time and said “I know it. It is by Gsski.”

For a moment I kept quiet for it did sound familiar at least the first three letters. Then it dawned on me “You don’t mean to say you think that this is my painting?”

“Oh! Of course dear chap, who else can churn out something like that!” he replied.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Come on, don’t be upset. It’s so colourful and I can’t understand it, just like I can never understand a word of what you write in your blog.”

A few days later KV landed up at my house. I am always scared of this guy for you can never anticipate what he would rattle away and especially after what I have been saying about his colourful and out of shape briefs. But whatever he would say will never be brief. As he settled down on the sofa and his gaze went to the painting on the wall, he perked up and I could see the glitter in his eyes. I knew then it was coming and prepared myself for the torrent that flow, with anticipation.

He gave me a look and a smile which suggested that he knew it all. He said “I know this is by Yana Ndgovinni who did this painting in an Italian village Milazzo in Sicily in 13 days in November 1985. You know he did this painting for reasons other than artistic and was later hauled up for sexual harassment by the model, a young and good looking woman who posed for this painting. Yana in his defence said that he was painting her soul and he asked her to disrobe only to see the soul more clearly.”

He sounded so convincing that for a moment I did not know whether to believe what he said or that he was just pulling my legs, which of course was his favourite pastime. I realised that the latter was true when soon after he had left I turned to my favourite friend, philosopher and guide ‘Google’ who told me that even he did not know of any such artist or such a sexual harassment case.

That was it. I rang up J and insisted that he tell me the name of the artist as I was being bugged by all these guys turning up at my house and offering their learned opinions and in the process making me look like an a------e. I could hear his chuckle on the phone and then he asked me to come over to his place “Come over to my place and we shall discuss this over a peg of single malt or any other malt that you prefer.”

And so I went and when I returned home I was an enlightened man. This is what J had to say after that second peg “Boss, have two more and you will start seeing that all things around here are abstract. My advice to you is to let things be as they are. It is always nice to be in a state of suspended animation and that’s what everyone wants. Life would be boring otherwise. Anyway I shall let you know the secret of that painting if it will ease your mind.” He paused to have another sip from his glass and then proceeded to unravel the secret hither to untold –

“It is not a painting after all. It is just a photo that I took of a pattern painted on one of the fishing boats when I had gone on a photo shoot to Kasimedu. Some poor fisherman must have painted his boat in these bright colours and with the passage of time and the effects of the elements especially the salty deposits has given the boat this look. But in case you still insist on knowing the name of the artist you can always give me the credits and say it is J. You will notice that I have written J at the far right hand corner.”

Yes I said to myself, it’s the way we look at things around us and how authentically we are able to capture those moments as they come and go that determines the artist in each one of us. The boats were there, the sea was there and the colours on the boat were there and it was left to J to capture some of those patterns through his instrument of expression- the camera. Yes J was the artist and so also was that poor fisherman who made it happen through the colours that flowed from his soul.

The next time my daughter came home and when I told her the secret of my new abstract, she said “I know your pal J is a great wildlife photographer. How did he end up capturing boats?”

Though that was a light hearted look at the abstract in art, abstraction as a movement in art was a fall out of the parallel development of the existentialist philosophy. While realism involves the transcription of the scene or character as the eyes see it avoiding any selective bias, abstraction involves the emotional response freed of any imitative intentions and that’s where it relates so closely with the primal responses of the prehistoric man or peasant art. They are indications that the artistic impulse is a natural impulse in even the least cultured of folk. We may surmise that while realism is all about the perception of the external, abstraction is the realisation of all that is internal in our psyche.
  
Any movement into abstraction is always associated with the spiritual. It was Kandinsky the Russian painter and art theorist who in 1910 published his book ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’. He says ‘an exploration of the deepest and most authentic motives for making art, the “internal necessity” that impels artists to create as a spiritual impulse and audiences to admire art as a spiritual hunger.’