Every morning our alarms go off with military precision waking us up to another day which usually promises to be as full of event schedules, office rosters, to-do lists under fridge magnets and a stainless steel routine as the day before. Or the day after. Every morning, like Del Amitri said, ‘the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before.’ An impermeable membrane of sameness envelops our daily lives.
Ordinarily, from this predictability we draw comfort of the known and warmth of permanence. A pattern is manageable. The known is a blessing. The next step ready. The train of schedule running smoothly from Platform A; never derailing on to Plan B. It is what lends our life a solidity, like the big teak dining table standing on its four strong legs. Dependable. Or the three kinds of latches on our home doors. Secured.
But someday, say once a month, you digress from planning the day’s menus and meetings over your morning cup of tea to thinking … thinking how growing up feels good. But how come settling down seems so unsettling, at times? How come what we aspired for, worked towards and built on our own terms suddenly seems like a record of monotony, turning and turning and turning? Where is the sound, the music, the beat, the spontaneous dance?
Where is the … the … extraordinary!?
And the thought leaves in its wake a shot of yearning. The tea turns tasteless. The biscuit unappealing. The ritual of consuming them boring. Just like the day that looms ahead. Same-to-same-to-same.
That yearning? For something different. For a ripple of excitement. For a breath of change. For a charge on every atom. For stimuli which enliven. For awe that lasts even if for a blink. Like a cross stitch that suddenly interferes with the beautifully sewn pattern of the peaceful running stitch, to only add to it the uniqueness of a positive disruption. A moment to remember. Or something said. Or done. Or felt. Or not done. Some … interruption!
Funny how when the ‘extra’ is married to ‘ordinary’ it makes it not extra, or more, ordinary but actually beyond ordinary. Which means the starting point is the ordinary. So someone would have you believe that within the folds of the ordinary hides the special extra. Now surely we can’t go hunting for the extraordinary in the ordinary, right? I mean it isn’t like picking up the brown rug and finding gold doubloons under them. Or using the broom under the bed to get the magic wand out.
What does it take, then, to find the extraordinary beyond but from within the everyday?
Gaston Bachelard, a little known French philosopher of the twentieth century, wrote ‘The Poetics of Space’, which is full of passages which celebrate housework. Yes, housework! See what he says:
‘The daydreams that accompany household activities … keep vigilant watch over the house, they link its immediate past to its immediate future, they are what maintains it in the security of being.’ And this happens during the most mundane acts and most mechanical actions, like dusting the table, because our consciousness is woken up. We want to set the objects right! We want to shine them, lend them beauty, or what he calls ‘a human dignity’ for the role they play in preserving a comfortable continuum. In the regular act of polishing the china, then, ‘we can sense how a human being can devote himself to things and make them his own by perfecting their beauty. A little more beautiful and we have something quite different.’ Thus, even plain housework becomes a creative activity, not just for the thought-processes it gives birth to but also for the objects being re-imagined anew, with intimacy and with love.
It takes being a truly and fully conscious person to see the extraordinary. Marry that to a thirst for observing and perceiving and with an openness to pick and experience the “different” stimuli in the humdrum, and the impermeable membrane of sameness becomes porous. You almost feel more … awake!
Usually, my milk man with his thin moustache and even thinner frame exudes impatience. After all, he’s a milk man in the morning, an electrician during the day and if we are to believe his reasons for absenteeism, a hassled husband the rest of the time. And so his feet are always moving even when he’s still. So I always keep the change ready. Recently, when my son walked to the door I noticed that all his hurry vanished. He shook his hands like an old friend and asked him about the plans for the day. That connection-over-little-in-common was brewing over time, right under my nose and next to my busy hands. I hadn’t noticed it before! And when I did there was something delightfully warming about the unhurried conversation happening at the slightly ajar door.
Just like a mere sprinkle of vodka is all it takes to make the water melon more divine.
Like opening a suitcase of old clothes and feeling the rush of warm memories from a decade back, the sensation akin to travelling. Feeling charged on reading a message from a stranger - ‘you looked into my soul when you wrote this’. Sitting idle on a sidewalk in a busy market just watching the world’s side-profiles go by. The moving, the still, the profundity of it all! Or taking the SLR for a walk in the park, to catch the squirrels playing peep-o, or the good-looking father with his child. Come on, the weather demanded it! Or simply going for a coffee date with your book, drinking it ever so slowly, because 30 minutes away from schedule, in your own company, on your own sofa, is precious time gained.
Wonderful whorls swirl around our lives waiting to be found (indeed, like magic wands under beds!) And readiness to see them is all it takes to actually see them. When these conscious epiphanies of thoughts or surprising spectacles for the eyes unfold, they are like the gentle wind which suddenly turned excited, making the grass shiver and the sleeping fire flies rise up in the air to fill up the skies. Their torches aglow.
Kafka said this to a friend –
‘Life is as infinitely great and profound as the immensity of the stars above us. One can only look at it through the narrow keyhole of one’s personal existence. But through it one perceives more than one can see. So above all one must keep the keyhole clean.’
An extraordinary thought!