“In our highly complex modern conditions, mechanical forces are organised with such efficiency that the materials produced grow far in advance of man’s capacity to select and assimilate them to suit his nature and needs. Such an overgrowth, like the rank vegetation of the tropics, creates confinement for man.”
The next few sentences are just so finely written and the metaphor of the simple nest was just so stirring. I feel I might be the proverbial pig to which pearls have been cast at, only somehow, this pig seems to appreciate the value of the pearls somewhat. The paragraph below is one of the many pearls that are hidden all over the book only to be discovered by leafing through those pages in Rabindranath Tagore, An Anthology, Edited by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. Where have you been Poet, I ask.
“The nest is simple. It has an easy relationship with the sky; the cage is complex and costly, it is too much itself, excommunicating whatever lies outside. And modern man is busy building his cage. He is always occupied in adapting himself to its dead angularities, limiting himself to its limitations, and so he becomes a part of it.”
This really makes me want to just throw the handphone out of the window. I think, fearfully, of structures, scaffolds onto which this insatiable society has put in place and its really like a matrix unto which we live out our lives and teach our children the ways of such a structure; you must be someone in this world so you can own. You must become a successful consumer; well, its safer that way. Then what is the measure of our success? The car we drive? For this the Poet has another beautiful metaphor of the silkworm and the butterfly.
“The silkworm seems to have cash value credited in its favour somewhere in nature’s accounting department, according to the amount of work it performs. But the butterfly is irresponsible. The significance which it may possess had neither weight nor use and is lightly carried on its pair of dancing wings. Perhaps it pleases someone in the heart of the sunlight, the lord of colours, who has nothing to do with account books and has a perfect mastery in the great art of wastefulness.
The poet may be compared to that foolish butterfly.”
This reminds me of someone I know and it reminds me of those soul-killing year-end work reviews and somehow, impact factors. For what use is this, some people may ask? Here’s Tagore on the pictures he drew.
“The prudent people, the utilitarian people, say: ‘What are these, and what use are these? What does the picture stand for?’ I say do not bother about what they are. You do not ask the jasmine what is the philosophy of jasminehood, but when you see the jasmine you rejoice in its beauty, and the wonder and satisfaction is that it should be there at all. Creation is art in its most literal meaning, for it is the meaning of reality.”
The last paragraph really freed me from a very burdenful debate about the value of science or at least the value of certain sciences over the other; or perhaps more deeply how I really interact with my surroundings. Such is the power of Tagore’s phraseology. I felt elated after reading it and read that over and over again; elation in repeat. At last there is no more definition and that scientist has been exorcised, metamorphed into a butterfly to exist, and not to debit into the account books like a “contributing” silkworm.