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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Close Encounter of the Third Kind

These diaries came as a big surprise to me. Two volumes of these surfaced, almost of their own accord, it seems, while I was rummaging through old papers. I thought they had been put to the torch. And yet, after several clean-ups and umpteen bonfires of old useless papers, this mushy stuff has survived.

Plainly speaking, I was shocked, because I did not know the author even though he bore my name and lived at the same address. The handwriting was also identical. Was it me? But gradually I did get to recognize him and yet, I was unable to identify with him. It required no brilliant feat of memory because the broad details were already there. We only differed in the interpretation of their significance. It was like watching your own double in action, only you didn't fully understand the springs of his motivations. Things that seemed so important, concerns that were so urgent now appeared totally ridiculous, even imposed and superficial. And to think that a down to earth, at times almost cynical person like me could be capable of so much cant, humbug, even posturing does not actually reinforce my self esteem. (Check with me twenty years later folks!)

And yet, why should I try to reconstruct them and edit them or even pay attention to the outpourings made years ago? Admittedly a bit of narcissism is a fairly widespread weakness in human beingsbut more importantly, some kind of a reminder to myself that wordily wisdom or cynical attitude is not arrived at in one giant leap. Perhaps the process of becoming entails all of this. The intermediate stages have to be gone through and a nineteen-year-old is a nineteen-year-old no matter how much of Maupassant and De Sade, Sartre and Eliot, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, Krishnamurthy or Gasset he stuffs himself with. But what is lost in the process of growing up is a whole outlook on the world. A certain affable innocence, a freshness, a charming naiveté. The posturing remains in the older person also because to be hypocritical, to pretend to be what one is not is inherent in human nature, but these are more heavily guarded, better disguised. The egotism is not sloughed off but greater ideological justifications are found for it.

Another advantage of preserving the diaries of reminiscence is that one gets a point of view on one's own self. An amused slightly superior and self-deprecating ironical view from the standpoint of present. Recapitulation telescopes the details changing their shape and texture. It also colours the events from the standpoint of present and abrupt changes of states of mind and feeling are somehow evened out.

"Memory is the zest of life. It keeps the years together", said I.B. Singer, the Nobel Prize winning novelist, in an interview. But memory assumes the role of an editor also, leaving out details in the interest of uniformity. Diaries capture the experience as and when they were lived - in the raw; before caution, self esteem and a hundred other defense mechanisms take over. It is also sobering to realize that one was young, impressionable, and vulnerable to the whole portmanteau of failings that go with that stage in a man's life. This added dimension, this ringside view may perhaps help one to relate better to the next generation. But of this I am not too sure because one can remain of and relate only to one's own time. I am equally firm in my views that the attitudes that I have arrived at and the views that I have formed are the correct and desirable ones and the earlier view was just an aberration, or born out of ignorance etc. Hide bound through extensive system of thoughts and prejudices we just cannot jump out of our own appointed time. If it were
possible to make an astral projection or escape to a non-body state and have a view of ourselves through the eyes of an impartial observer. It were as if one could open a window on oneself, be the viewer and the person viewed simultaneously. But alas! That is not possible and therein lies the essence of the purely contingent, limited, fragmentary and relativistic nature of our experience. Our view of reality. Our very existence.
This may also perhaps explain why many of us are not open to conviction, or why some are opinionated.

The human organism is a great bonfire of living cells. The process of burning up of old and building up of new cells in the human body is the dance of Shiva on a miniature scale, creation and destruction held in a state of balance by some ineluctable mystery. The molecular biologists and geneticists have calculated that after a particular period of time. A human being becomes an entirely new system of congeries, an entirely new colony of cells, a new organism altogether. Bone, blood marrow, liver, kidney, spleen, heart, brain, nervous system everything gets completely replaced. The outward appearance also changes but ever so imperceptibly. The change is not immediately noticeable because the human sensory system is a very crude apparatus. An organism changes by the hour, by the minute but we can perceive changes in physical appearance only accruing over the years.
The point one is trying to make is why should we put such a premium on consistency of views, fidelity to a particular idea howsoever inspiring or brilliant. The human organism keeps changing by the minute so why shouldn't our views, our beliefs, and modes of thought, preferences, and priorities? Fidelity and constancy, is a property of the dead: change and inconstancy the signs of an organism which is living; inconsistency is a
profound concomitant to the living organism because it is constantly in a state of flux. After all, our thought processes must have some physical basis somewhere so they must mimic and reflect this state of impermanence, emphemerality and fleetingness. I can now understand the predicament of some of my friends who embark on a career with great hope and fervour and commit themselves to particular mode of behaviour and decorum and then gradually stray off course by miles. I can now understand the many soldiers of virtue and probity falling by the wayside. Understand but not condone. It also makes me wonder how people can live by a single truth; remain on a single level of obsession: tyrannized by the dominance of one consuming idea. What are the root causes of fanaticism? Can these phenomena be related to the facts of biology? I do not pretend to answer these questions; I merely ask them because they are large, general questions and in the ultimate analysis perhaps not amenable to any answer?

Or, at least, in the current state or our ignorance.