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  • Writer's pictureShailja Chandra


Updated: Jul 14, 2021

THE shrapnel of words was in free fall by now. I had limited choices. Get buried under them or make a dart. In the nano second that seemed like infinity, I quickly made two calculations.

One, that words hold enormous power to scar us – I will be judicious with selection of words in future if I survive this befalling of serrated words. But the second one was deliciously exhilarating and liberating; that people (relatives, our dearest friends, our boss) hold unduly emotional powers over us only because we believe WE are all virtuous and good. That they have the power to hurt us only because we believe THEY are all virtuous and good.

Both hypotheses are incomplete.

On that momentous eve of Diwali, amidst the heady scent of marigolds and spicy whiff from the monumental deep-frying, as we gathered around the ‘parliamentary’ dining table, when I was a nano second away from getting scarred by her words, a magical ‘mithrill’ shield insulated me. Of the acceptance of ‘duality in us’ and the epic realisation: That we remain blind to all personalities being a mean of ‘mean and nice’, ‘yin and yang’, ‘goodness and evil’, ‘noble and devil’. We don’t want to ‘mine’ the truth that we all are alloys of mettle of ‘heroes’ and mental of ‘villains’. That we are not Ram,nor are they; and that they are not from Ravan lineage either. That an exquisite duality exists in all of us! ‘Ek myan me do talwarein kaise rahti hain’ – prehaps Gulzar is referring to the duality in us in this Nazm?

Gaining sight of this instantly widened my private screening of reality. The B&W reality where I was constantly in the centre of the screen as the sole beneficiary of the experience turned into an Eastman Color, Dolby Surround, 3D reality of a multistarrer. Where I could be either Gabbar with those garish spiky shoes or Thakur*. It’s just a matter of circumstances – the roles swap and the climax changes.

Why we are always narrowly concerned with ourselves? Why we forget our ‘darker’ dimensions, the more complex aspects of our personality, the evil in us? This is a discussion for an unending day, but I do believe that we are hardly to be blamed for this myopic view. The multi-layers of our social conditioning render us shortsighted to the subtle colour gradations of personalities.

Barring good literature, most things we read, hear, watch – including TV and print media – are designed to either instantaneously crucify ‘dark’ shades and shoot them as ‘bad guys’, or applaud ‘the hero’ and pin them on pedestals. Which is a perfectly fine practice, only if it wasn’t all about propagating polarisation, and only if the elegant mutuality of ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ in the subject wasn’t left uncelebrated.

The turmoil that most audience are feeling about how to feel for Haider or Ghazala in a recently released Hindi movie called ‘Haider’ (based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet), is a sign of an all pervading mind-set that finds it difficult to ‘root’ for protagonists having shades of grey. Our minds are designed to seek lovely patterns, certainty and heart-warming messages. We want to root for something. Someone. We are eager to use the million shiny labels we carry in our pockets of ‘Hero’ and ‘Villain’. Our minds lose plot when we see flaws in our favourite characters, aunty, dad, brother, friend, politician, sports idol.

Only good literature and art offer us some respite from this fragmented experience. Writers and artists are honest to acknowledge that people have many dimensions. “To harmonize the whole is the task of art” said Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky.

David DeSteno, co-author of ‘Out of Character’ wrote;

“The analogy of color is an interesting way to think about [character]….Ultimately, what determines what colors we see are the frequencies of light waves entering our eyes, so it’s along a continuum. It’s kind of the same with character. Things blend. We assume that if someone is good, that we’ve characterised them as good, that’s a discrete category, they can’t be bad. And when they are, our categories shatter. That’s because we have this illusory, arbitrary idea of what vice and virtue mean”.

Without sounding like an all-virtuous all-chakra energy healer, I am sharing what I experienced. The moment we recognise and celebrate the panorama of colours in us and others, a sense of buoyancy is experienced – buoyancy of lifting of tonnes of weight of expectations that we have from others, and from our ‘self’. Bringing us in more harmony with the moment and endowing us with a new, vibrant colour pallet — to be able to paint a moment that is more full, whole, complete and a shade more real.

So, on that eve of Diwali, in the auspicious presence of marigolds, I will smile with a quiet and calm, witnessing of a ‘light’ moment, celebrating the glorious panorama of colours in us.

Reference and Credits:

*Gabbar/Thakur the iconic bad guy & good guy respectively from Hindi Film Sholay.

-Gulzar’s Nazm from Raat Pashmine Ki

-Mithrill from ‘Lord of the Rings’

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