“It is easy enough to refer to quotes on or by Einstein or Srinivasa Ramanujan or Beethoven or Carl Sagan while underscoring imagination. Yet imagination is not just about great scientists and great military generals and great architects and poets. Imagination permeates everyday life in every conceivable way.”
One likes to think that, finally, there are just two worlds. On the one hand is the world perceived through the five senses given to homo sapiens and most other living creatures. Beyond, or even preceding, the senses is the world of thoughts, emotions, feelings, imagination. This is a world that one cannot see, feel or touch or listen to, as we can with the other world. Yet, despite being intensely accustomed as we are to visibility and physicality, it is this invisible world that is a million times more powerful than the visible world.
What would we have been like if we were without this gift of imagination? Why is it that thoughts should matter so much? Why is it that, from this invisible but vibrant springboard called the mind, should arise what we call human imagination? What touchstone within us allows our minds to soar? Do we call them dreams, or, for those prone to cynically rooted dispositions, this, at the most, can be termed as flights of fancy? One does not truly know.
But what we do know is that more than a substantial part of human creation, in whatever form, arises from sheer imagination. My space, says the architect, is different from that of astronomers. Allow me an idea, says the fashion designer, and I will give you your dress. The capacity to conceive and the ability to transform conception to the physical realm are born in that unseen region inaccessible to all, except the one who is in its throes. From a child’s first attempts at crayons to a pathbreaking painter’s seemingly effortless combination of colours to that of musical scales that pound the heart and the soul, it is imagination, finally, that makes the difference.
Who was it who said that Creation (a capital C), including the universe, space and time as we know it, has neither a beginning nor an end? Can we think of anything that has neither of the two? Someone equally profound answered that it is the ‘inability to imagine’ that prevents one from acknowledging that Creation has no beginning. Or an end. It is only those fortunate few who are capable of entering this luminous tunnel, to realise that our ultimate understanding is born of ultimate imagination. Or, to be fair to the whole schemata there is, actually, a Beginning as much there is an End.
It is easy enough to refer to quotes on or by Einstein or Srinivasa Ramanujan or Beethoven or Carl Sagan while underscoring imagination. Yet imagination is not just about great scientists and great military generals and great architects and poets. Imagination permeates everyday life in every conceivable way. Imagination is not about something that has never been conceived of before nor is it only about conceiving things beyond one’s academic understanding of most things. Imagination, like breathing, is at work daily, every hour, awake or sleeping, allowing our existence that extra nano-second continuity, that life-saving difference between mere intelligence and the spontaneous ability to go beyond intelligence, the ability to make life so much richer, so much more bearable in every aspect.
During their heyday, many a storyteller has woven imaginatively powerful stories that have survived thousands of years. One can think of the Iliad or the Odysseyor One Thousand and One Nights or of our very own Jataka Tales. Or, of Lewis Carroll and his unforgettable Alice in Wonderland or Edgar Rice Burroughs constructing a whole universe while conceiving Tarzan. Or, Stan Lee and associated stalwarts who gave us Spiderman and Superman, once considered childish. Or, of the science fiction writers ala Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury who featured situations and characters from fervid imaginations.
One can think of the varied, supreme qualities of folktales and folklore, stories so very rich in their imaginative pathways that they are nothing short of breathtaking. Not just in our country, not just in our very own North-East, but throughout the world, from the earliest Eskimos to denizens in countries around the Nile and the Euphrates. Stories arise essentially because human imagination cannot be reined in. Is there any utility in conceiving stories, such as that derived from constructing a chair? None, really, except that utility is highly subjective. One may well go about without a chair because a floor exists for squatting. But there is no known substitute for a story, no metaphorical parallel.
If imagination can soar in a writer, it can, in a similar vein, decline. Great writers have fallen in their craftwork, from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Ernest Hemingway, to cite but two. It is as if they had been born only to exercise their imagination. In his later period, afflicted as he was with dementia, Marquez became but a hollow of his earlier genius. Hemingway, as most literary buffs know, shot himself. The world of imagination was to them more essential than the reality that we know of. Without the ability to continue with this faculty their very existence became meaningless.
Here is an all-time favourite quote of this scribbler’s from the mystic poet William Blake: “To see the World in a grain of sand/ And Heaven in a wild flower/ To hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour.” Imagine!
The writer is a novelist, short-story writer and a former member of the IAS.