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On Darshan And LoveAtFirstSight
When you see something, and it makes you feel something, but you don't know what that feeling is, what do you do?
Words are tyrannical (1 r and 2 ns, not the other way round). I wrote last week about how the process of translation, even that of shapeless thoughts to crystallized words, is both radical and reductive. Perhaps what I meant was, radical because it is reductive.
Early on in the COVID19 lock-down I started staring at images of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, specifically Blue II (1916) below, and I didn’t understand why. It felt primal, inviting, and its inward spirals, and striking blue perhaps reflected my own mental state, where I was retreating into myself. My garrulous, excitable aunt complained that I am an out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of fellow. I have to remind myself that this is part of my personality. During my-university-days there was a spell of 4 months when my parents and I didn’t speak, not because we were mad or sad at or for each other, but just because no one initiated contact, and thus no one reciprocated. But of course, this inward repose seems to have just been heightened, become more shameless. I took some respite from the painting, even some distraction.
Such paintings have been criticized, especially by those who think the point of art is to express reality with as much clarity as possible. They are wrong for many reasons. One is with the advent of photography we did not need paintings to be ‘realistic’, and so artists veered towards impressionism and abstraction i.e. to show things not as they are, but as they are seen or felt. But also, most importantly, because the point of art is to just be as it is. (Jerry Saltz, an NY-based truck-driver-turned-art-critic always said something to the effect of, art has always existed, it was created for a purpose, and will cease to exist when that purpose is fulfilled. But my shady Saltz doesn’t tell us what the purpose is, because he knows, it might be something as simple as ‘to fuck with people’.)
It’s serendipitous that this week I found an endearing brainpickings piece on Keeffe, where she is quoted saying the following about this very debate:
If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small.
So I said to myself — I’ll paint what I see — what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it — I will make even busy New-Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.
So, when I see a painting like that of Keeffe, or when I look at the paintings of Rothko (people have wept in front of his paintings; while watching/listening to his son, a psychologist, lecture about his later-life paintings, often hazy rectangles floating in a field of textured colour, I had a similar gut-reaction sighting one particular blue-green one, below) and I feel something poignant, I am frustrated because I am unable to explain what it is. It is then that I am forced to stop myself. Not all things need explaining, and just because they cannot be explained, doesn’t mean they do not exist. (This same explanation is thrown at me by my mother about God, and I refuse to buckle down to that. I am not arguing in absolutes.)
And this is why sight is so important! It gives us access to so much beauty that translates into these deep feelings within us that elude speech or writing. Sunsets make me sad, and I hate them, and when my friend asked me why they made me sad, I did not know what to say, and she did not mind me not knowing why I hated what I hated.
Let me add a more, well, religious layer (oh how happy mum would be), which is quite relevant to what I am thinking. I am transcribing some of Devdutt Pattanaik’s talks into a compiled book, and in one of his talks he described darshan, the act of seeing god.
Word has form, meaning has no form. But if there are no words, how does one communicate meaning? … The ability to look at the meaning beyond the word, is Darshan.
In Durga Puja, the most important ritual is chokkhu daan, where you give eyes to the deity. The statue of Durga Puja has no value until that ritual; after that moment it stops being a statue but becomes a living, breathing entity.
The act of seeing and being seen is so important. Duryodhana spent his entire life not being seen. His father, Dhritarashtra was blind, not able to see, and his mother Gandhari, blindfolded herself, not willing to see. How will such a child grow up?
On the other hand you have Krishna. He has two fathers who adore him- Vasudeva and Nanda, and two mothers- Yashoda and Devaki. He is surrounded by love, and sees Duryodhana, and sees in him as a poor man. How do you deal with someone who has never been seen?
There is so much in a gaze, loving, hateful, questioning, blank. I have always had a soft spot for men with big, wide eyes. What really irks me is when people dismiss love at first sight. I did too, I always used to maintain it’s lust-at-first-sight. But people never realize that love-at-first-sight is not a reality, but a literary device. Falling in love is instinctive, almost random, and a bit dramatic, but it is spread over so much time that it loses its drama. Love-at-first-sight is about condensing all that time into one moment of peak-feeling. I love it when film characters fall in love when they lay eyes on each other as if they are seeing beauty for the first time, in Goliyon Ki Ras Leela: Ram Leela it was amidst sprays of gunshot and holi-powder, in Lootera with his injured self resting against the tree, and her repentant eyes looking back at him from the car window, in Saawariya even when the homeless lover lays eyes on the mysterious misery that he would pine for, and eventually with. Yes of course, in one sense the gaze is about wanting each other in lust, like a Gustav Klimt kiss. But in another sense it also about all the frenzied feeling they would feel, an invitation for a life of more feeling, less talking.