| ‘Hangouts or addas like the ones in the College Street Coffee House or Khalasitola in Calcutta had attracted the likes of Allen Ginsberg, among others’ |
Escaping from or into is about the same thing, as they are plain and simple escapes, but they are necessary to keep us from surrendering to conditions beyond our control.
Discounting the easy ways out, we may consider the nature of those that are written or philosophised about.
Escape routes are mapped, practised and rehearsed in military manoeuvres and chess games.
There are also legendary escape artistes like Houdini.
Lee Falk’s Phantom can outdo Houdini any day, but everything is allowed in a comic strip.
However, stretched out on an easy chair with a thriller and a steaming cup of coffee or something more inebriating can do a world of good to tired souls or to plain lazy people with no pretension to a soul whatsoever.
Work can really be soul killing especially when it is not enjoyed in the least and not doing anything is also curiously exhausting. Hangouts or addas like the ones in the College Street Coffee House or Khalasitola in Calcutta had attracted the likes of Allen Ginsberg among others.
Hangouts are perhaps the nearest equivalents to our addas, but the place gets prominence here unlike the people and their interests because addas have exclusive coteries of adherents.
They are enjoyable and part of one’s lifestyle and these life-style enclaves give one a sense of community away from proper communal addresses. Each hangout has a special vocabulary but addas have individual topics and interests.
The tacit or underlying belief is that meanings are corporate. The adda at Mitra and Ghosh Publishers in Calcutta was literary and social, while the one at erstwhile Madhumita in Gauhati was journalistic.
There are “escapes” safe from the intrusion of reality. It is reality that one escapes from which engenders the no man's land surrounding it.
There is also a distancing which is existential as well as aesthetic.
Visual analogues may not prove all that helpful as the film The Fifth Seal. A painting or a film signifies an object or objects, but a piece of music is complete in itself without depending on anything outside itself and could serve as an analogue for the kind of retreat or escape I have in mind.
Ginsberg had also raged and wailed about the best minds of our generation going stark, hysterical, and mad!
Hemingway’s proclaimed escape was his Smith Corona, but drinks were often his solace as tracking black lions in Africa or making heroes of matadors in Spain. But he couldn't escape “nada” or nothingness or the general meaninglessness of life.
Life, meaning, nothingness are abstractions and most people feel unabashedly superior to such concerns and pooh-pooh the very idea of meaning being threatened.
Lexical entries alone may suffice for them or the office code. But a word has meaning only in a sentence and even then it keeps on changing its connotations depending on the community of speakers.
Addas are perhaps escapes from the impersonal communal requirements, but they also constitute a community and make meanings and even meaningful living possible, and escapes are for the outsiders, those perfectly capable people who somehow don’t quite fit in, or do not want to.
In the parlance of the sub-continent communal is already loaded with ideological baggage and is spoilt and that is the fate of outsider, too, because of territorial politics. Those who believe that the whole outsider phenomenon is a fad and they happen to be the majority also dub the social outsiders outcasts. That makes the outsider a minority but their fan following far outweighs the unthinking hordes.
It cannot really be explained to all.
It is well nigh impossible to tell someone who is short-sighted how to get to a place because you can’t say look at the dome of the temple two miles away over there and go in that direction.
It is best to let them be the characteristic escapist stance. But it may also be due to an ideal coolness like a temple providing a setting for the passions without meddling with them.
I think it was Ram Niwas Awasthi who said, “Bheer mein rehta hoon/main viraane ke sahare jaise koi mandir kisi gaon ke kinare”.
Moreover, you cannot lead people to the good; you can only lead them to some place or other, the good lies outside the space of facts.
It is best to lead them to an adda.
It is not necessary either to escape from anything to have or like a hangout.
The impulse behind it always remains a search for meaning even when that is not conceptualised or even thought about. This is because it is in the nature of meaning to be corporate.
Industry and business houses are also perilously close to appropriating that word.
A recent print media cartoon went to the extent of claiming that people have stopped belonging to the human race because they have joined the corporate race.
Be that as it may, this corporate nature of meaning should at least expand and extend the range of what we accept. That would include meanings beyond the dictionary and realities beyond the codebook. This is what civilization is supposed to guarantee. But do the outsiders really figure in the fabric of those they are outsiders to?
The answer is no and if they matter at all it is as having a kind of holiday value. But they, the majority, do continue to figure in the fabric of the outsiders. The outsiders alone keep the pristine human values intact without contamination by social, political, and commercial expedience.
These values had evolved to perpetuate communal comfort stations but have ceased to perform that function since perhaps from the emergence of the European Renaissance and the rise of the individual. In the present it is the individual who holds values dear for society seems to have passed that stage. This is entering a contested area because not everyone believes that personal meaning is possible. Escapes can’t help being personal spaces even if they are only consoling illusions.
But then why not?
In an adda or a hangout, individuals find common meanings for a while. This is an artificial space as it is historical. The context necessary to understand it militates against it.
These are things difficult to write about in a bottom-line sort of way. The example of a known and celebrated figure may come in handy.
Vaclav Havel, poet, philosopher, and playwright was jailed for his views under the communist government of Czechoslovakia.
After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, he rose to become President of Czechoslovakia and then of the Czech Republic.
He was allowed to write one letter a week while he was in prison, and he wrote to his wife, Olga.
In one letter of January 1980, he wrote about what he thought constituted human freedom.
It was the human sense of responsibility, a responsibility exercised by the individual not to oneself or even to the community, but to something ultimate, which is not god, and cannot be explained in religious terms.
Exercising a sense of responsibility makes on an individual, willing to act and to take responsibility for his action.