Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'd give anything for the simple life

Period movies, 80s music, the Beatles, the oldest Pepsi commercial in India, Amitabh Bachchan movies, visiting villages, roaming around the countryside, listening to stories about how life used to be 'in those days', almost always evokes a happy feeling. Well at least as long as the Amitabh Bachchan movies stop at the era before Toofan and stop well before Lal Badshah and Sooryavansham. I have always wondered why because almost everyone tells us to look to the future and anticipate and enjoy the surprises it brings. They always say that life gets boring when things get predictable and by and far the future is the only thing exciting. Then why does nostalgia manage to bring on a smile all the time?

Going to museums can be a drag for many. Every museum has its own fair share of pots, pans, ceramics of white with blue ink, old tables, chairs, paintings and what not. But the underlying theme here seems to be the awe that people hold for the old. Just like wine and whiskey, old is always better. And even in terms of the way our lives have panned out, life in the 'days of yore' were decidedly better. 

The other day, I happened to read about the Japanese Tea Ceremony. And as chance would have it, there was an exhibit of the same at the museum. So there was the tea caddy, a small spatula like rod for spooning out tea into a cup, a small towel, a cup, a whisk, a ladle and so on. And the whole process, as seen on a video was mind blowing. Not because they prepare tea in some sort of superhuman way, although I haven't tasted the authentic thick and thin tea and so I don't know anything about the taste, but because all this ceremony was for the mundane act of drinking TEA! Something we do twice, and some of us do once every two hours! I could devote a whole post on the tea ceremony, but the key point here is the stress given to each piece of the process, for even so mundane an act. Cleaning the tea cup where the tea leaves are mixed and whisked with hot water is done in a certain way. The towel used is folded in a certain way. The ladle used to draw hot water is placed back after use in a certain way. The whisk is placed in and picked up by an odd twist of the hands. I was awed. More than awed. Again not because of the way it was done, but because of the simple product it was meant to produce. Simple. So the key here, was simple!

Again, I happened to see an exhibit of an excavation at Godin Tepe, near Iran, where they excavated 4 civilizations built one on top of the other in the same spot spanning several thousand years. The exhibits involved pots, pans, spoons, and other instruments of simple everyday life. A simple life, where one goes to hunt food anywhere as one knows no boundaries, one prepares a simple meal,uses  rivers to wash clothes, utensils and even oneself, enjoys a simple conversation, music is folk music with them singing and at times even dancing, warmth of a fire and sleep on a simple mat on the floor.

Cut to today. Both work or try to work assuming visas and permits that separate geographies do not come in the way, restaurants cook, dishwasher cleans, washing machines launder, maid cleans. Food is fatty, unhealthy. Music is that which is spewed by anything that catches people's attention, or else what can explain the fan following for a certain Macy Gray, Lenny Kravitz or even Amy Winehouse (God bless her soul)? We're too inhibited to dance for others to see and bathtubs are too slippery to dance for oneself. Everyone carries a phone and that too not any phone but smartphones, to check emails and update Facebook while driving a gas guzzling car in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Conversations are FB updates and vowel-less text messages. And that is assuming people have the temperament to have a conversation, without picking up a quarrel!

And I wondered. What will museums look like 400 years from today? A  BlackBerry, an i-Pod, an i-Pad, a life-size portrait of a Mr. Jobs, Pyrex and Tupperware microwave-safe utensils, with an aesthetic crack since they are in a museum, a big dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, vacuum cleaner? Or maybe just a website with all these pictures. Oh! With a copious amount of inexplicable Modern Art! Joan Miro, anyone? Or even the surreal Mr. Dali? Or perhaps Rothko!