Jan 5, 2010

Love thy things as you would love yourself

A thought from the lady of the house struck as revelation one morning. How do we relate to the things around us? The refrigerator that keeps the food fresh, the cot that gives a good nights sleep with its warm embrace, the work desk that keeps us in good posture all through the day, the mobile phone that keeps us connected and all those devices and contraptions that we interact with every second of our lives. Do we respect them, do we thank them for their services. Does ownership give us the right to be inconsiderate and mistreat them ?.

At the dawn of civilization there were only a few equipments that our forefathers had to interact to – a couple of twigs and leaves to create fire, maybe logs of wood that helped them move heavy objects. The post-industrial society that we live in now has spawned millions of tools and devices that make living simple and comfortable. One way to look at the world that we live in is as the manufacture and distribution of devices/equipments to live our lives. They are every where and we touch them at every point in our lives from the scissors that the doctor uses to cut the umbilical chord and mark your entry into the world, to the spade that fills up mud into our graves and takes to the unknown – our lives could be read as a serial relationship with things.

Things have a grey, genderless, cold, non-living existence in our mental map. We don’t go kiss our refrigerators good bye before a holiday. Neither do we say thanks to the car for having driven us three hundred kilometers of rough country terrain. But they create a range of positive experiences and emotions in our lives. Imagine going into an air-conditioned room after walking through the streets of Madras in May or seeing world cup football for the first time - mine was a brazil match in 84 on a Sony TV. Things always give their intended output without much fuss. A reclining chair always gives a comfortable seating without asking to be fed and taken care of. At times it is their absence that reminds us of their presence. Try forgetting your toothbrush when on an overnight train journey or try making coffee without a gas stove. In being able to create a mood or sensation the objects fulfill one of the primary traits of living organisms.

A lot of our memories have links to the objects. One of my recurring images about paternal grandmother is a wooden chest in which she kept all her clothes and other precious things locked. She was very protective about it and only her favorite grandchildren among the fifty odd had the permission to have a peek inside. There were rows of white clothes, reading glasses of grandfather who had died earlier, some documents and sweet smell of attar ( perfume ) everywhere. On a recent visit to a close friend’s house the large sofa in the living room and meat safe in the dining stood out. He had changed homes about three or four times in the last fifteen years. But that sofa and meat safe were my locus standi to the fact that it was the same house where we spend endless nights - smoking cigarettes, sharing stories of first love.

Adaptability another cornerstone of the Darwinian world view fits well with object world. Any new TV could be programmed to thousand different set of color and sound combination. Washing machines now have intelligence to control the spin and amount of water to be used. If we look at adaptability from a higher perspective there is the equivalent of evolution in living organisms. The simple pen has evolved from a quill to the ball point variety through a process of mutation and inventions over centuries. Understanding of gravity, capillary action and metallurgy helped inventors of the time create the earliest fountain pen and since then the pen has gone through a cycles of adaptation. And with age of the computers pen is facing the threat of extinction. Maybe the pen might transform with another technology to create a device that will fit the new age. It is not difficult to imagine things as having a life of their own.

The concept of Ayudha pooja inherited from our tribal past – bears testimony to the importance our ancestors gave to these tools and objects in their way of life. In the Adivasi way of life they had a place almost on par with their deities and were worshiped with due reverence. Compare this with materialistic society we live in, where objects are to be possessed and disposed of at will. It is somehow reminiscent of slave trade from our not so distance past and success is judged by the possession of the latest gadgets and things –flat screen TV, petrol guzzling SUV’s and washing machine that can do small chat. They are not there for the value they deliver, but more as show pieces for others. The industrial complex thrives on producing and obsolescing things at a rapid pace. Ten years back tea was still served in steel tumblers and china cups at parties. Now we have the ubiquitous plastic cups. The tumbler could be washed and reused many times where as the plastic cup is use and throw. The average life span of a car was more than twenty five years in the seventies while average life of the cars now is less than ten years. Remember the second-hand Ambassador or Lambretta scooter which had the pride of place when it came into the family. Constantly bombarded with advertisements for newer models we are branded losers if things are not cycled rapidly. Fat with slim. Twenty four inch with thirty six inch. Where is the time to form an engagement? When was the last time we washed the cars ourselves?

The question then is to discover their rightful place in our lives, without being overtly attached to them. A deeper commitment to them can help in breaking the churn of things and use them better. When we wake up after a good nights sleep, do we ever think that that the comfortable cot and bed played their part well. Yes it was our hard or easily earned money. But in reducing it to a purely transactional model aren’t we falling in the same rut of not acknowledging what gives us happiness and comfort. What if we wink at the cot and say thanks and smile at the tooth brush and say good morning. The story of Prahalada and Narsimha is a testimony to the underlying sanctity of everything we consider as non living. Like a sculptor who gives life to a piece of rock every object can take a living form when steered by the right hands.

The lady of the house had to once dispose a red refrigerator that she so liked. She went around identifying proper suitor for the lady in red and found a young couple who couldn’t afford a new one. The money was inconsequential, but the bride would be respected and looked after well in the new home - the marriage was arranged. You see love blooms when it is given without restraint and so I love.