Saturday, 14 June 2014

Of Appearances and Stereotypes

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  - John Keats

These immortal lines by Keats all but sum up our overwhelming fascination for everything that is beautiful. Although the great poet compares the eternal beauty of an object of art with the transient beauty of mortals, it is amazing how literally we have taken his thoughts.

It is definitely neither my intention, nor do I possess either the authority or audacity to comment on the words penned by one of the greatest poets English Literature has ever known. But these particular lines have always sparked several questions in my mind – questions that I always suppressed – out of loyalty to my love for the poet and awe for the great teachers of literature who were so passionate about their subject that to contradict a verse so lovely almost sounded like blasphemy.

But questions like these can never be contained for too long – as they torment the mind and force it to ponder deeper, to delve into the hidden recesses of our conscious and sub conscious experiences and arrive at a conclusion that is your own – that you can believe in and live by.

Why are we comforted by Keats’ simple logic? Is the answer to that question somehow connected with the fact that in all our beloved fairy tales – across cultures and geographies – the protagonists are always beautiful and the wicked witch is evil and ugly? So does that mean that beauty symbolizes truth and all that is true is beautiful too?

Is that why the world is kinder to people blessed with external beauty, quick to assume that beauty encompasses calibre, intellect and even character? These are the first impressions I am alluding to – but often times the first impression is the only one, if not the most important one.

There is no denying it then. We live in a world that is swayed by good looks – where we base our judgment of people by the colour of their skin, by how tall they are, how beautiful they look and uphold the age old assumption that character and intellect necessarily reside in a beautiful body.The media too plays its role by constantly bombarding us with pretty images that fuel our desire to compare and compete. The old want to look younger, the young want to look prettier (in the case of us Indians – fairer too) so much so that even childhood seems to have fallen prey to the obsession with beauty.

And here's what's most unfortunate - the greatest irony to have shackled our minds and enslaved our thoughts. Despite belonging to a civilisation that dates back more than 5000 years, from where has sprouted one of the finest philosphies considered to be the fountainhead of ageless wisdom for all humankind, we seem to have plummeted to being one of the most racist cultures on the planet.

Our ancient philosophy tells us that the body is a mere covering for the soul – a vehicle in its journey towards salvation. Yet we delude ourselves into believing the body to be paramount and it is this mistake that distances us from our souls, from realizing the core of our being, from knowing who we really are.

 Although I cannot change attitudes, I needed to make peace with my questions, needed to settle the confusion raging within me, accumulated over decades, which has finally manifested in the form of this outpouring.

This brings me back to the lines by Keats. What he really meant was eternal truth – the divine truth – it was this truth that he equated with beauty. And the body can never represent that eternal truth. It’s the soul, the divinity in us that is beautiful. All we need to do is look beyond the confining parameters of physical beauty and stay connected to our real selves.

The peace has finally been made – not only about appearances and assumptions but also with one of my favourite poets as I can now celebrate his famous words with complete honesty, without as much of an iota of doubt that might tarnish their timeless beauty.

So over to the readers now - what's your take on beauty, truth and stereotypes? Is being beautiful an advantage in our super materialistic world? Have your reactions, choices and decisions been influenced by external appearances? Or can you honestly say that you are free of such prejudices?