As a child, I was extremely scared of caterpillars (may be I am still, I don’t know. I now live in the midst of debauched concrete jungle where there are hardly any trees). In my childhood, I lived in houses with gardens. Caterpillars were crawling everywhere making my life a bit difficult. So, I wanted to run away to America because in my imagination there were no caterpillars in an advanced nation like America. In today’s world, I would have been called anti-national wanting to run away from India. Even in the face of fear. My greatest fear now is fear. A part of me now wants to run away.
As a little child, I used to love singing the national anthem without understanding what it meant and I used to think that it was written in polished Oriya (far far more evolved than the language (Oriya) we spoke at home). My heart was broken when I came to know that it was not. I was crestfallen for days together. I wanted to born once again in Bengal. To parents with Bengali surnames. In my mind, I started calling myself as Deepika Chatterjee/Deepika Banerjee (depending on my mood).
I am a teacher’s daughter and grew up in campuses. Every Independence Day and Republic Day, my father used to go for flag hoisting ceremony in the campus. Once my elder sisters organized a flag hoisting ceremony at home. Even though I was dying to give a passionate, fiery speech in front of my siblings, my ‘oppressive’ elder sisters did not give me a chance. But I was not the one to be a victim of this undemocratic process. I boycotted their ceremony. And I boldly organized my own.
I gave my fiery ‘azadi’ speech in our common study room addressing the tables and chairs. I told the tables and chairs to soak in the spirit of ‘azadi’ and move away from the suffocating small room with one window to the blooming garden under the open sky. I asked the tables and chairs to revel in the swaying guava trees in the garden, to enjoy the lazy breeze, the chirping birds. I urged the stationary furniture to have a life and just start moving to have a taste of azadi. (It never occurred to me that they just can’t move on their own). Looking back, I find it funny that I did all these things as a child.
Well, that’s the power of imagination. It makes you fly over snow-capped mountains, dance along with the waves of Bay of Bengal and swim across the Nile river on a dark, still night even though you are confined to your room in a sleepy little town of this country. There are no borders, no boundaries, no limitations. The power of human imagination fascinates me. It’s something that defines me, moves me deeply, inspires me, hurts me and empowers me. That’s something which is mine, exclusively mine. No one can draw a boundary. Not my parents, not my husband, not my friends, not my superiors at work… nobody.
How does one love another human being without imagination? When you are in love, even when you don’t have any idea of the journey ahead, you imagine. As a lover. You imagine of sharing a home (doesn’t matter whether it’s 1 BHK or a penthouse facing the Arabian Sea). You imagine of brewing tea together. You imagine of waking up seeing his/her face next to you in a room probably which has no furniture. You imagine of a life of togetherness, sharing, empathy. You love is your imagination. Your imagination is your love. They are connected. They are inter-wined. They embrace each other. They take steps forward holding hands.
Even as India boils in the midst of aggressive talks of nationalism, what’s a Nation without imagination? Why did Gandhiji write ‘Hind Swaraj’ when we had not even got Swaraj? Why did Gandhiji talk of village economy, ecology, cottage industries? Gandhi imagined the nation in his beautiful mind. And is that imagination absolute? No, like love, death, imagination is not absolute. That’s why nations are collages of collective imagination. That imagination could be of Ratan Tata’s and that imagination could be of a tribal woman’s in Bastar district. That imagination could be of my gay friend fighting for decriminalization of Section 377. How can love, civilizations, nations flourish, evolve without human imagination?
Now all around me, I see death of imagination. I see all around me only programmed men and women. They are scared to imagine. They are no different from computers, tablets, smart phones having a software. They are happy to operate within the framework of software.
When human beings are expected to ‘live, love and die’ like gadgets, a society needs to worry. A society needs to stop and think. And yes, it needs to imagine.
(This photograph is clicked by Samim, a JNU student).