Saturday, December 15, 2007

"The Sleep of Reason"

The Spanish painter Goya, well known for his satire, once said, “The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” These days we are seeing the sleep of reason on many fronts and I am at a loss to describe some of the domains in which reason has been sleeping, a tired and fatigued sleep. All my own slightly egoistic, biased, and wafflingly meandering gleanings.

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Taslima Nasrin the embattled author has been under attack from Muslim fundamentalists, and she talked of separating the church and religion, as if it can ever be done in India. Can’t she see that religion is what bankrolls the political process of the religious extremists? The politicians are sleeping the “sleep of reason” mentioned above and the monsters are at play. People who haven’t read a word of her work whip up a frenzy over some offending lines in her book. If they don’t like what she writes then why don’t they stop reading her books, and stop trying to take this country back into the first century?

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Narendra Modi may have caused the deaths of thousands in the genocide attempted in Gujarat, if the Tehelka expose is true; however, thumbing his nose at his detractors he is soon set to come back to power. Here again reason has gone to sleep and the monster has been awakened. Imagine a Modi, high on the adrenaline of success, focusing his eyes on the next big position in his ambitious campaign – the Prime Minister-ship.

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Meanwhile Nandigram and Singur continue to fester and here again the sleep of reason has brought forth the monsters. I recently read an essay by Ramchandra Gandhi, governor of West Bengal, where these two towns are situated. He said that one of the defining characteristics of modern India is the way the markets have been manipulated to create new needs where none existed before, say the need to look fairer, and the need to dislocate people to put up giant economic zones. I guess this is also a “bringing forth” of monsters that devour our mental faculties and disturb our perception of ourselves.

Can we perceive ourselves as a nation of fair people? How can we when a big majority of our people are dark skinned? Skin lightening creams are f*****g up the minds of girls in Kerala. Here also, I guess, the sleep of reason has brought forth monsters. “Fair and Lovely” is the substance of which mythologies and folklore are made of in Kerala. I watched a Malayalam play recently which mentioned the skin cream, and there are queues outside medical and retails shops when fresh supplies of “Fairandlovely” (pronounced as one word) arrive. People use the word in everyday conversation such as: “Why don’t you buy your daughter some “Fairandlovely”, see how dark she looks”.

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I was in an art gallery to view the paintings of one of India’s foremost painters. (Since Goya inspired the theme of this post, I might as well end with the painter.) The painter, perhaps out of a much-bloated ego, had told an interviewer that he doesn’t like to discuss his painting. Fair enough. I know artists and writers find the job of explaining their paintings tedious, and, well, um, challenging. But what artist is he/she who can't discuss his/her painting? What made me think of the “brining forth of monsters” was a little incident that happened in the gallery. It happened thusly:

An aspiring artist came to the great painter clutching a few photographs of his paintings. The famous one, the one with the shock of frizzy hair, gave one look at the paintings and asked him where he came from. The boy named the place, somewhere in the boondocks, obviously, as the painter scathingly replied:

“Go back there, do some farming, cultivate something, you will be happy.”

Obviously with the sleep of reason the monsters are on the rampage in Indian artland, too. The painter Goya would be satisfied that his observation, hmm, still stands.

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