Beauty as a Basic Need

Yesterday, the discussion that meandered through censorship, cultural policies, art and society left my mind racing through out the night. My mind was working through the ideas expressed in the forum, sifting through, scrutinizing, recalling statements, evaluating…maybe like my family feels, I am just plain mad. Or I am just one of ‘them’. So who are ‘they’?

I would like to call ‘them’ as people whose basic needs are slightly different, or more than the others. I really have no idea, if the people whom I meet day in day out, people who seem to have everything, and people who don’t seem to have anything, have anything in common with me. Do they really want the things I want. Have they got them? Are they happy?

Do people feel beauty is a basic need? When I say beauty, i don’t mean the way some men are hung up on some fantasy woman with 32-28-32 figure Naomi Campbell types, or women dreaming of some male equivalent,(whatever their measurements are…) I mean do people want beauty as expressed in nature, in art, in the diversity of our smiles? Do we search for it, the way we search for truth, freedom, justice, identity?

Some of my colleagues expressed that in our community, spaces for social communion and sharing have been erased. Our families are emotionally sterile grounds, a simple site where a struggle is for survival alone. I wonder if it is merely the economics of it, why someone wouldn’t really consider watching a movie every now and then, a need? Or going to a play? At least some of these movies, plays, books, poems,paintings and music fulfill in me a sort of a hunger; they ease my pain a bit; make me reflect; give my mad meandering mind a meaning to hold on to. Why do people around me not want these, the way they want food, clothes, jobs, sex or religion? Or is this only normal, and it is again myself, slightly eccentric in my needs, slightly complicated, doomed for a bit of mad meandering?

Great thinkers have already said that basic needs goes beyond the requisites of basic survival. Maxneef says its well being, freedom, identity, love etc. But why is it only Maxneef and the like, a minority, and not the whole lot of us? Is there no common human element in us six billion?

Sunil says it’s a very Sinhalese-Buddhist disease, this negation of complex needs, as you find in Sri Lanka. I can call it Capitalist-Nationalist disease. I mean, Cancer or Aids; whichever, right?

After the forum, on my way home, I chat up the cab driver. He’s a shaken chap. Locked up in his small car, pushing into middle age. He’s no Maxneef. But his mind has started questioning. He says he hasn’t seen a movie or held the hand of a girl in a long time. he says he feels like living dead. Hacked. Tired. Hopeless. Lost. Lonely.

And I meet so many people like that day in day out. Tired, hopeless, lost, lonely people. It’s like we carry a tiny glass capsule around ourselves, and trapped inside we all feel the same.

And I really don’t know…when I get this feeling, which is not even loneliness, I go watch a film or read a book and it temporarily gives me the beauty I lack in myself, in my life. So, I recommend the same pill to the cabby, ‘there’s Akasa Kusum, go watch it…and about a girl, i don’t know really the way around that one, but i wish you luck!’

Ha ha ha! (Just a way of finishing the whole thing, in wanting better words…)


Mother of Sorrows; Mother of Joy!

Christmas makes me sing a few hymns from my convent days. Among them, the hymn I love most is ‘Ma Mavuni’. It’s a Sinhala hymn, calling to Virgin Mary. I have no idea if it has an English version.

Ma mavuni athi premaniya

Me loke mage adhaara

Shoken ma nithi santoshaya

Yangyave mava sundara

(My most beloved Mother; you are my help, my refuge in this world; you save me from sorrow and lead me to joy; you are the Mother of prayer, most beautiful)

As I sing this, I recall the little statuette of the madonna, that all of us sang to as young girls. These expereinces have led to a story found among the pages in this blog as ‘silent night; whispering night’. I never realised the ‘mother cult’ we were so much a part of in the convent, simply becuase it was never really interpreted in a feminist light. I wonder if others who were a part of the same expereince, who sang along with me to Virgin Mary, our mother of sorrosw, our mother of joy, recall these moments the same way as I do…

There’s something about those sad eyes and the blue robe…and how many women from around the world must be praying to her in the same vein…Tarkovsky captured this on a celluloid poem in Nostalgia, in the scene ‘The Madonna of Childbirth”. In an old crumbling church in a remote  Italian village, a statue of  Mary is carried in by women, praying fervently; among them is the one who hosts the ritual, praying for a child…at the fever pitch of their prayer, the robes of the statue is flung open and a flock of tiny sparrows fly out to freedom from the virgin’s womb. 

I’m deeply moved by this scene. Is it becuase I am a woman? Is it because I was in a convent? Is it because I resonate with the yearning of a woman? When women want, they want so badly, so madly, so completely. They pray, they fight, they cry. As if wanting is the be all and end all of exisitence.

Do men want things to the same degree? Do they ever pray? In the same fervour I mean? Does a man ever want to be a father as much as a woman yearns to be a mother? And is it correct to say, that all women want to be mothers?  What about those who don’t want to be mothers; but yearn to be loved as women, as madly and as fervently, as those who pray to become mothers?

I read somewhere that to live, is to want.  

We pray for wanting; for the joy of wanting; for the sorrow of wanting;

So this is for the Mother of mothers…

Madonna of Childbirth from Nostalghia by Andrei Tarkovsky

All in a day’s run

Yesterday – Saturday – was an exceptional day, and I will tell you why. From nine to three was at Trans Asia for the workshop “How to Retire Rich” organised by Colombo Stock Exchange. The market’s devastated so they want people to come in and pick up stocks. The workshop was great. I mean for the material girls and boys. The first session convinced us that our kids will not be able to look after us, our government will not look after us (for purely demographic reasons, if not for others), the inflation will suck the value of what we earn and save and that by the time we retire in say 2030, at the rate of 20% inflation you would need more than five million bucks a month to survive. Ofcourse before that, you got to build your house in say, Boralasgamuwa, and buy a Toyota Corrolla at least and send your son to Middlesex for his IT degree, and oh, you have to afford at least a Pomenarian, right? Say your EPF runs out by 75…if you are a woman your avarage life expectancy is you’ll live till 76. And if you live till 80, HOLY SHIT! 

So in one slide:


So basically, there were more graphs, calculations, predictions, speculations, analysis. The bottom line was you got to have an investment portfolio. Then, you got to calculate: diversify your invenstements. Plan. Research. Strategize. Invest. Buy low – sell high. Shave off. Cut-loss. Re-invest for highest interest rates. If you loose money, don’t worry, the world is not going to end tomorrow. Think Long Term. Think Real Income.

See, now I know a thing or two about Financial planning.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not mocking this whole logic. It’s probably right; it;s probably true; it’s probably sane. But I cannot live on DELAYED GRATIFICATION!!! I cannot forgo life in order to live rich in retirement. I don’t want a house, unless it is a creative excersice to build one. I do not want dependents. My whole counterpoint was that: you get started on that line, you gonna go sleepless, baby. SLEEPLESS NIGHTS FOR A SECURE FUTURE. Sounds like a way too late sequal to FOR A FEW DOLLORS MORE!

So I walked out saying that I got to have my kinda strategy. Live Simple. Die Early. While living simple invest as much as possible in food, sex, wine, travelling, movies, books, good music, good clothing, make up, friends, good art. (I might be missing a lot here, but anyway…)Also help a couple of people who are needy, who are around you…say the security guard at your office, or the cleaning lady, for instance. Talk to them! My security guard has a wife with cancer. She cries every time when he bathes her propped on a chair. The cleaning lady wants to send her son to Abu Dabi. See… 

So that was nine to three, Saturday. In the evening, I went to join a group of friends. the art house crowd, ofcourse. No flashy mobiles dangling in their hands like in those in the workshop in the morining. Jesus, it’s like a diffferent planet. So they talked politics for a while. And then, they start singing. Sunil sang a Russian song from his college days, playing the guitar…raising his voice to a pitch that would make any woman’s heart toss!  I was mad about him for those moments, sitting beside him!

And loosing myself in that revelry, I just felt, a fleeting sensation, my heart skipping from on clapping pair of hands to the other, that THIS  is happiness. This is life and the best it could ever be. I loved every one in that room, yet I was not attached to any. I was not aching or pining for anyone, or anything. I had no dreams of things to achieve, personal or higher. material or intellectual. No more money to be earned, cars or houses, no more exams or certificates, no more need for husbands, babies, or even the urge to travel more…or live more…to change the political system of sri lanka…or anything really…i did not want, crave, need, yearn, pine, for anything, or anyone.

Driving back home alone in the night, with Sunil’s voice reverberating in my heart, I decided for myself: I will live simple (like a queen). And die early.

And the rest of the world can keep calling me insane for the rest of my life.