Thursday, October 15, 2009


Seeing and perceiving.

Notwithstanding the detailed write ups on how the specific part or parts of the brain analyze those images that impinge on the retina, and are reconstructed in some smart place in the brain, there has to be a non-scientific, sociological Indian way of looking at things.

Seeing is what happens when your brain reconstructs the image. Perceiving is what you think about it.

I have often wondered about the custom in many Indian households, where photographs of long departed family members often have pride of place on the walls. Some of the very young family members don't even remember having "
seen" these elders. But the "perception" is that these folks are to be greatly respected and their blessings seeked.

Most Indian, middle class, god-fearing homes, will have a bunch of pictures of grandparents/parents etc, who are no more. They are not part of any decor or interior design, but occupy pride of place , regardless of the style of the frames, or age of the prints, very often, in a living room, and sometimes even close to the corner where the Gods are.

Growing up in the 50's and sixties, we always had two large photographs of my two late grandfathers , in my parent's room. My earliest memories, are of seeing my mother emerging from her daily worship ritual in a corner of the same room, where the Gods were, and she would climb on a stool, to carefully wipe each photo, with the edge of her saree (pallu), something freshly washed and worn for the worship ritual earlier. She would also do a moist wipe, and then would apply a hint of vermilion on each grandfather's forehead, and then touch her head to the lower rim of the photograph frame. Every evening when we came home after playing, washed and recited our prayers, the final thing we did was to bend down and do "namaskar" to each late grandfather.

Whenever we had final exams in school, any competitive exam, or even say, a musical performance we were part of , it was the
done thing to do namaskar to the gods, the late grandparents and then leave. It was assumed that they were looking out for you and that you were blessed. (Touching our parents feet before embarking on anything new, or examinations or a trip somewhere is always done, but we also believe that the older folks are involved in good things that might befall us). So ingrained is this in some families, that on a recent visit to the US, while saying goodbye to a 92 years old American lady, a family friend, my daughter automatically bent to touch her feet , doing a namaskar; she thought she had dropped something, and her son , had to explain, something which she knew, but age had made her forget.

Today we continue the tradition in my home, and the late grandparents on both sides, smile down and I like to think, indulgently look out for us. This tradition of displaying pictures of previous generations is fairly common across India, irrespective of caste, religion, or anything that might be perceived as dividing us.

While those who were in their prime in the mid-20th century, often show up in photographs , mainly from the waist-up, older photos often have elaborate settings, where someone sits centrally in a chair (with curved legs), with an arm on a table(with curved legs and a flower vase), wearing traditional headgear, and the extended family, complete with babies, gathered in an organized manner around him, resplendent in the sepia.

While this philosophy of honoring elders and those departed is an Indian tradition, it is now being followed, on a national level, in the breach. Most government offices will have huge photos of the various presidents and prime ministers, particularly the Nehru Gandhi family lined up behind the official desks. Various leaders owing allegiance to various political parties, again have photographs of their own leaders. Then we have several historical kings and emperors , who also figure on the scene in the form of busts, or say, riding a horse . None of these great images, intimidate any one from conducting unethical , and sometimes illegal actions , right there, under the gaze of the great.

The 20th century and the fight for Independence saw a whole bunch of statues erected to people, so highly regarded by the country, that millions respect them even today.

Unfortunately, the last few years of the 20th century saw the rise , of what one may call the politician "obsessed with presence". It didn't matter what your political philosophy was, it didn't matter that your personal integrity was indeterminate, but the public was bombarded with images of these politicians. This whole attitude has now been honed to a fine art, by the practitioners of statue politics.

Ms Mayawati, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh who set a new standard by erecting 6 statues of herself ( and some others), in various stateswomen poses (and counting) , in her state capital, obviously counted on the impression she would create on rural folk who came wide eyed to the big city, as well as those who would be daily faced with her stern countenance looking at them as they took turns on roads and so on. Constant clobbering of peoples' eyes with an image was expected to firmly entrench it in their minds. Most apolitical innocent citizens would associate greatness with statues.

The southern state of Andhra Pradesh, although ruled by another party, couldn't be seen to be falling behind. The late chief minister , who perished in a recent helicopter crash is all set to be eulogized in 36 statues to be erected across intersections in the state capital Hyderabad. While several other cities are angling for more of these statues, the large forest area where he crashed is scheduled to be cleared into a memorial , possibly with more statues.

One wonders, if the esteem in which the public holds these folks is ever proportional to the number of statues, that they "claim". One wonders if the statues give a false sense of achievement to those who continue to think that appearances are everything and that hard work is optional. One wonders if the whole idea is to impress everyone with what "power" can achieve, and to hell with the means of achieving it.

While folks in urban areas laugh about this, it is the 70% of the country's folks who stay in rural areas, who may get wrongly impressed. They eulogize, those departed and honored elders, and conversely, might conclude that if you are honored in such an "elevated" way, you must be great. These folks are the target of the statue obsessed politicians. And there is a sense that maybe, you can gatecrash history, regardless of performance and service.

Reminds me of the time, in my childhood, when we would visit the ancient Ganesh temple near the house, because , along with the possible blessings, the climb to the place , if attempted in a running manner gave us some excellent evening exercise. Those were examination days, and this trip with parents provided a nice quick break in all that desperate studying. We would often see a whole bunch of slightly older students, doing, say 21 rounds of the main sanctum, muttering stuff, with hands folded. My late mother, who was then a trustee there, once stopped someone to ask . And on hearing their explanations, advised them , that no God was ready to help anyone who didn't put in an effort himself/herself. You needed to study hard yourself, complete your school responsibilities, and then even if you did one round less of the sanctum in the temple, God would surely be pleased to help. Spending hours doing these rounds at the cost of your studies, was not likely to result in happy events.

We actually get what we deserve. Nobody wants to oppose these statue types, who seem to think that someone "seeing" you all the time, will automatically get you "perceived" as great. So more and more climb on the statue bandwagon, a lot of public money is wasted. Unfortunately, there is no one (like my late mother) to tell them, to cut out the statues and get on with work.

On a slightly more cheerful note, here is something that gives seeing and perceiving a new light. See this up close and from a longer distance . Very convenient if your chair has wheels. Two interesting people, who possibly never got involved in statues.

Happy Diwali !


  1. yes true
    what you see is what you get! WYSIWYG.
    It is always a great experience to read your blog.
    Happy Deewali .
    Raman Oza.

  2. Raman Oza Thank you, and wish you a very happy Divali too !

  3. Having statues made of yourself strikes me as the height of arrogance. What ego! But, as you explained, it is really a form of advertising and brain washing.

    They had better remember what happened to the giant statue of Saddam Hussein. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

  4. I'm not so sure that WYSIWYG in life. A glass of water with a stick in it looks as if the stick is broken, but when taken out of the water it is whole and straight.

    On a more self indulgent note, I had an an operating system that was a WYSIWYG and it made making web sites so easy. I loved that thing! However, it is now obsolete and no longer around.

  5. Happy Diwali to you & your family & ALL! Thanks for the messages you bring in your post!

  6. I love the music here on your blog and your mother sounds like a very wise woman with much common sense. I saw Einstein and Marilyn Monroe in that shot below. lol. Have a good week.

  7. Samhain (Pagan festival) or the Day of the Dead (also called Halloween) is a time when Pagans do the same thing with the photos or mementos of the family members who have gone on. They believe though that that day, the veil is thinned between the living and the dead. I usually write about it at that time of the year and found your explanations of your family traditions to be interesting.

    The photo changing like that was neat.

  8. I enjoy seeing statues when I go to a place of history. But nothing recent, otherwise it is arrogance. There is honor and there is arrogance..

    My parents have pictures of my grandparents in their home. It is a place of honor and I love to see those pictures. It's a way to remember and treasure.

  9. Misplaced reverence and respect is a universal problem....

    That photo is scary :)

  10. True! The idea is to impress the simple, rural voters with their reach and their power. The voter is more impressed with the candidate's position and power than with the what they will do for them :(