If you need to attend to a phone call, an email, a Whatsapp message or a Facebook post, do not waste your time glancing at this post for, at the end of it, this may take you nowhere. It is not my wish to add to your own chronicle of wasted time and this essay is not for those who try to extract significant profit out of all they do. They won’t turn up here, anyway.
I will disappoint the readers if they infer that my purpose is to write ‘descriptions of the fairest wights’. That is not what I propose to do. Instead, I’d labour to draw a pen-picture of my own wasted days and how I see in them a reflection of occupying my time with inanities. I am beginning to believe that it is in the inherent nature of technology and tools that they would throw at their users a bewildering quantity of puzzles that an average folk would be hard put to solve and then would keep them absorbed in trying to solve those riddles.
I am scribbling in the hope that perhaps my chronicle will help to identify what I see as a pervading and fell disease that is consuming us and gradually killing us. Its effect is like what the dreaded tuberculosis once has been, for it will kill us slowly but inevitably. I allude to a mental state of breathlessness that the majority of us seem to be in.
After toiling all day at the computer, when I take stock of what has been accomplished at the end of a work day, I find that nothing has been done. This happens day after day. I have worked hard, yet have produced nothing that will endure for a few days, let alone a few years. As soon as I realise this, my mind is enveloped in a pall of gloom.
What did I do then all day? I don’t know. Compared to earlier times, in our effort to make life simple, we have made it more complex. I am running from one small job to the other producing nothing that can sustain my mind. My daily life is thus a summation of processes — small acts done in the hope of achieving small goals. A little comfort, little savings, a little security. These are what I run after?
This is a painful realisation that I can share with none. For people these days have become accustomed to disruptions. Some even appear to thrive because of them. I lack the inclination to understand the extent to which modern technology proved to be disruptive for the human mind. That our mental faculty is not accustomed to run from one small image, one piece of text or sound to another right through the day seems apparent to me. It may not be so clear to others.
The so-called progress of civilisation will thus produce fragmented minds.We will have fewer and still fewer people able to appreciate or comprehend philosophy, literature, the arts or the theoretical sciences — those fields of activity that have been the offspring of a contemplative mind. Optimists try to assure me that we still have men and women among us who are thoughtful and engaged in creative work. That is true. Yet aren’t their numbers dwindling? The study or practice of any field of human mind that needs contemplation cannot be performed in a vacuum. Behind a great scientist, there are many men of science who perhaps didn’t attain that greatness but made small individual endeavours all along their lives to bring clarity to our understanding of a subject or in trying to answer some yet unanswered questions.
What do I mean by this? How the presence of people who can appreciate a genius can help him produce great creations? Let me offer you a concrete example. I have a print of an old black-and-white photograph of Rabindranath Tagore and Amiya Chakravarti. The picture depicts the poet sitting on a couch with a book in hand and a few more books on his lap. Amiya Chakravarty, the literary critic, academic and poet is standing by the poet with a notebook and a pencil in hand, taking notes. Chakravarty, a D.Phil of Oxford University, taught literature and comparative religion in the universities of India, England and the United States and served as the literary secretary of Tagore for roughly a decade.
While in Santiniketan, Chakravarty took care of the visitors from abroad. He took classes, helped Tagore in collecting information and books, preserved the poet’s manuscripts, tirelessly copied the poet’s many drafts and supervised their publications. He also accompanied the poet on some of his foreign tours. This ‘citizen of the world’ who married a Danish woman and whom Buddhadeva Bose called the ‘poet’s poet’ had selflessly devoted his time and energy for the greatest of the Bengali poets.
It won’t be beside the point to recollect here what Sibnarayan Roy wrote about Chakravarty: ‘ Amiya didn’t have his own literary journal or association. Although this frail and reticent man had some deep convictions, he had no enthusiasm for or faith in arguments. Yet, he did not shun company like Jibanananda. About men and women, birds and beasts, towns and cities, the various inhabitants of the world and the diverse manifestation of natural beauty wherever he travelled, he had a boundless curiosity. He loved company, even though some deep dispassionateness in the centre of his being always kept him moving. He would consciously avoid an excess of passion or emotion.’ (translated by the writer of this blog post)
Human beings need a society and an atmosphere to prosper. Artists and scientists too need an environment where there are others who have the time and the skills to embrace or sympathise with them. Modern technology is destroying that habitat. We are not producing enough insignificant yet devoted bookworms so we can hope for one great scholar.
That is why I believe that our optimists are now dreaming of miracles that will be a rarity. A miracle may produce one great thinker but can we go on generating enough such marvels to save civilisation?