Today the individual has become the highest form, and the greatest bane, of artistic creation. The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance.
I must confess I suffer from this peril. Being an affirmed objectivist, I cannot get away from this self-obsessing over my being. Among the many socialist and humanist influences which could have shaped my social self were three major voices which swept me to the opposite pole. The first culprit was that most humanitarian of men and artists, an unlikely candidate, Rabindranath Tagore. Then came along Ayn Rand: this one obvious. Last, the very nature of creation embedded in the meiosis of genes. Humour me, let me explain –
Back in the 70s, when I was a pre-schooler and life was aimlessly unphilosophical, dad would often come home from office and recite from Sanchaita, Rabindranath’s anthology of poems. Weekday evenings were short of entertainment for an office goer. Bridge meets, adda, football leagues were reserved for the weekend. Globalisation and privatization hadn’t widened the life versus livelihood divide till two decades later, work-life balance was an un-invented phrase and leisure was more than a poem.
Tagore’s Ami (I) was one of dad's favourites. This is a hard one to crack – how a man so entrenched in his social image, who never took one private decision, from the make of his gas top to his wife’s investment plans, without consulting ‘friends’, practically a voiceless spineless social outcrop who paid solemn attention to every third party opinion that flew by – became enamoured with Rabindranath’s radically individualistic words still beats me. But, for reasons unimaginable, he did.
Amar chetonar ronge panna holo shobuj
...chuni uthlo ranga hoye.
Ami chokh mellum akash’e
Jole uthlo alo
Golap’er dik’e cheye bollum, Shundor
Shundor holo shey
Lying with the book tucked beneath his chest, me sitting hooked before him, he explained: 'the emerald and ruby got coloured green and red by my senses; I opened my eyes to the sky and light appeared in the east and west; I looked at the rose, called it ‘beautiful’ and beautiful it became.'
There began my self-rapture.
Ayn Rand happened in the fag end of adolescence; bruised by a wave of friendly betrayals, downcast and disgusted by human communion, still vain glorious in my self-belief but needing a stronger voice to validate my sense of self-worth. I borrowed The Fountainhead as just another storybook, but then
…As selfishly as the fact that I exist. As selfishly as my lungs breath air. I breathe for my own necessity, for the fuel of my body, for my survival.
wrote Ayn Rand. There was no holding back my narcissism past then!
I thought deeply over her words as the book continued, reading some passages twice thrice a dozen times. When it was time to return the book, I photocopied select pages and kept returning to the bunch. After my heart…hear, hear! She chiseled my haphazard ideas with her eloquent pen, gave shape to my brigand’s core. Did I have it in me to dare the padosi-s, mausi-s and even mama’s staid notions of ideal Indian personhood? There was no longer any corner in my spirit for doubts, I do.
The third, a cross between mathematical and medical realities, is a brutal number game. In a lifetime, an adult man can produce five hundred billion sperms on an average. A woman is born with the potential to harbour two million ova on average, of which about four hundred fifty reach maturity. The cross between five hundred billion and two million prospective matches makes a complex math. You do the sum.
The bottom line remains, I am the unique combination possible to have been produced from that one lucky sperm and that one hapless egg! They mated and dated and no one knows meiosis ordered which genes to be swapped in the first zygotic DNA strands…and, viola!
Here I am, the un-imitated, the inimitable.
There is no other copy of me in the universe known to man.
(Thank God, my long-suffering mother would say, if she were to read this.)
Nature has armed me with this solid fact to gloat over my existence, this triumphant uniqueness, as it has done every living creature on this earth, every bird, every tree, every ant, every whale, every chimpanzee. In making me, in making you, Nature has broken the dice and cast away.
There never shall be another ‘I’ in this world.
These arms, this tongue, this backbone, this brain, never in history, never again in infinity.
I will not live to know what eternal is, Mr. Bergman, I am my own eternity. Everything about me is important for me, I know the world as it mirrors on the surface of my still water.
It is important to record each pinprick of sensation that passes through me, each transience of my finite moments in this universe, like you did. Nature couldn’t have orchestrated this elaborate conspiracy, worked out such painstaking maths but for a purpose
Because there will never be another me, Mr. Bergman, as there’ll never be another you.
Halleluiah to that!
To quote in parting, from the inimitable Rand:
…the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.