Thursday, October 15, 2009
By Farzana Versey
Covert October 15-31
Look anywhere. There are ‘special’ people, a few being touted as prodigies only because they can do some stand-up comic act – “Boss, what a genius”. What surprises me is that the term genius is used so carelessly.
We live in a world where research is developing a thinking cap that will unlock the hidden brilliance it believes all of us possess. It’s a switch on and off device that allows parts of the brain to be calmed down or jump-started. The primary reason is to tap the extraordinary skills of those with severe mental disabilities, but it will also be beneficial to a society fed on pre-digested insight.
The problem here is not only that it equates the old theory of madness being related to genius, of which we have several examples, but that the supposedly normal too is not quite normal and can spark off feverish ‘heady’ activity.
This is reminiscent of John Travolta’s character in Phenomenon, a film about an ornery chap who, struck by a light (nice ecclesiastical touch), transforms into a genius. He potters around in his home lab, produces a hybrid variety of juicy tomatoes, breaks a top-secret intelligence code, reads three to four heavy-duty books a day and masters the Portuguese language in 20 minutes.
Yet we feel pity for him. Instead of examining it as a serious contrast between average and amazing, the poor guy is made to feel like he has dropped cutlery at a fancy sit-down dinner.
It is true that many geniuses are uncomfortable with their gilded brains, but that is because they have always been that way – outsiders who know more about insiders than the insiders themselves do. Marcel Proust explained: "The man of genius, to shelter himself from the ignorant contempt of the world, may say to himself that, since one's contemporaries are incapable of the necessary detachment, works written for posterity should be read by posterity alone, like certain pictures which one cannot appreciate when one stands too close to them."
There is scope to explore deep melancholia rather than the jealousy aspect. You don't need to be a genius for people to be jealous of you. In fact, fewer people are, relatively speaking, envious of geniuses simply because their edginess keeps them at a safe distance.
In a celluloid world peopled with men in black and Ramboesque caricatures, a phenomenon can only be a tragic figure. So, he gets ready to die. They are telling us something. That genius cannot survive, that the world is cruel towards it, that what is assumed to be superior has to prove itself again and again.
The fascination with them is not about the vibrations and magnetic abilities of the body and certainly not the normalcy. The very fact that a person of 'above normal IQ' is considered a genius proves that.
Take John Nash. He got a Nobel in Economics for his games theory in 1994. By then he had spent two decades in psychiatric treatment and was living in obscurity. There must have been some extra spark to his work that allowed for his resurrection.
Those who have experienced an unusual life, whether it is through an illness or any intense experience, would be more inclined towards original thinking. For, they have nothing to lose but their equilibrium, which has supposedly been lost anyway. Go through the roster: Dostoyevsky was an epileptic, Maupassant was deemed crazy, Sylvia Plath suffered from severe depression, Ayn Rand went mad, and Ghalib, on the basis of an analysis of his work, was later diagnosed as manic depressive.
Some people do well because of their sanity. Whereas insane people – and I use the term to include those with idiosyncrasies – succeed because they do not care whether they do or don’t.
Nabokov's perceptive dictum puts it in perspective, "I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author and I speak like a child."
The ‘thinking cap’ scientists are aiming at giving a child’s peek into the world. This is the purest way of seeing. However, as a mass market product, it will be no different from an intellectual version of LSD. Just another mind-expanding experience for the thrill of it. Or as a designer label to flaunt.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Maverick: How to Make a Pakistani Peace Meal
By Farzana Versey
Covert October 1-14
Invective is the last refuge of the revivalist. Those who do not believe that
At the scene of an Indo-Pak peace meet of the media in
This ought to worry us more – the delusions of the sham peace industry. It highlights completely mofussil issues, and in that there is a patronising attitude. The media and entertainment industries suffer from it most.
Without having made the slightest dent, Lollywood wannabe Bollywood actress Meera had begun fantasising about her role as harmony-maker. Her little lip-lock with a “Hindu” actor was promoted by her. In her case it can be attributed to ambitiousness.
The press and electronic media audaciously believe they can solve the problems besetting the two countries. They claim to speak on behalf of civil society. What is civil society? The non-military? Are all civilians alike? What keeps us apart? Cussedness and insecurity.
Jamborees by a handful of demagogues come dangerously close to peace evangelism. We have student exchange programmes. How do groups of young people visiting each other under ‘controlled’ circumstances translate into educating the new generation? Those born after August 1947 too constituted the new generation once. What do they have to say? Visit each decade and we see that political acrimony has seeped into the common person’s psyche.
Playing cricket matches is about a sport, not détente. If Lata Mangeshkar sang for Noorjehan over the telephone, it was a personal gesture and nostalgia. Getting their musicians here will only widen our exposure to music. Same goes for films. And if creativity is the great leveller, then let us recall a film called Sarfarosh where the ghazal singer character was later revealed to be a Pakistani terrorist.
Such fork-tongues do the most talking. They pontificate about pain of separation and sing paeans to oneness yet will be the first to run down similarities between people within their own society. How many of the activists from our side are Muslim and from their side non-Muslim? We have fishermen’s forum, no-visa forum, no passport forum, let’s share recipes forum, sing-along forum, but those people waving desperately at relatives who make it near some border area are not represented. They will have to wait for politicians to start bus services and hope that those buses are not bombed.
Oh, we are told, taxi drivers don’t take money, restaurants don’t charge you, and there is so much hospitality. Just for the record: Everywhere I went I was not only charged for services, but sometimes even filched, as I am in
The 7.1 percent who have internet access in
Why can we not find a mutual ground with
hamaare darmiyaan aisa koi rishta nahin tha
tere shaanoun pe koi chhat nahin thi
mere zimme koi aangan nahin tha
koi vaada teri zanjeer-e-paa ban-ne nahin paaya
kisi iqraar ne meri kalaai ko nahin thaama
havaa-e-dasht ki maanind
tu azaad tha
raaste teri marzi ke tabe the
mujhe bhi apni tanhaai pe
dekha jaaye to
poora tasarruf tha
magar jab aaj tu ne
to kuchh aisa laga mujh ko
ke jaise tu ne mujhse bewafaai ki
- (Parveen Shakir)
There was no such relationship between us
where your glory would be diminished
nor was I burdened with an empty open space
no promises bound your feet in chains
no confessions held my hand
like the desert winds
you were free
the roads followed your will
I too was fully engrossed in myself
but today when you changed your path
I felt betrayed