Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Importance of Imagination

In the continuing quirks of the blogosphere, I came across a post of another Pottermaniac (yes, if I haven’t ever mentioned it here before, let me do so now…..I am a diehard Harry Potter fan!!!). In this post, the blogger includes J. K. Rowling’s recent speech at Harvard’s 2008 commencement ceremony. It is a self-deprecatingly humourous and humble discourse titled ‘The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and The Importance of Imagination’.

What really grabbed me was Rowling’s impassioned advocation of imagination. Defining the term more broadly than its usual meaning, she says, “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

She then goes on to share some heartrending incidents from when she worked for Amnesty International, a time that she describes as “one of the greatest formative experiences” of her life. At Amnesty, she witnessed both the incredible evilness, but more importantly, the tremendous goodness of humanity towards humanity; a goodness which is possible because we can imagine what it would feel like to be persecuted and tortured, and therefore empathise with those who have actually undergone such brutalities, and therefore act..... act in whatever way possible with our talents and abilities to prevent such horrible crimes against humanity.

Rowling’s audience of Harvard’s graduating class of 2008 certainly have more talent and ability than most of us, and will assuredly hold important places in their societies. To these shapers of tomorrow, she asks that they use their power to fight for the powerless, because “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

I was so deeply moved by these words that I had to pass it on immediately to family and friends for one, simply because it is an inspirational message, and two, because we could all use a reminder now and then that we each have a moral responsibility to lend a helping hand to those lesser privileged than us in whatever way we can.

I was also curious to see how the speech had been received and so, came across this article on NPR. While most of the Harvard seniors were blown away by Rowling, some were less than impressed. It was interesting to see the reasons why some people took objection:

“…we’re Harvard….we should be able to get anyone….we’re settling here.”

They should have picked a leader to speak…not a children’s writer.” And so on.

Here are people to whom appearances matter much more than the message, people so full of their own importance that the importance of imagination just passes them by. They may have completed their education from the best university in the world, but are yet to mature to the point of understanding that wisdom can come not only from “leaders”, but from others as well, a “children’s writer” included.

Ultimately, we survive and thrive as a species because in some way or the other, at some point or the other, we help each other out. Without these simple values of humility, empathy and compassion, Harvard-educated or not, you don’t amount to much as a human being.

Monday, July 07, 2008

In Bloom

A few years ago in Bombay, I realized how much a room came alive just by placing some flowers in it. I was lucky enough to have several small-time florists (and by florists, I mean guys with bunches of flowers and a tarp for a roof) all within walking distance from home. So picking up a few flowers became a weekly routine......nothing extravagant, just a couple of carnations, or some gerberra stalks, or a single shoot of orchids. Going about daily chores, or coming home after a long day and seeing those cheerful blooms always put the cheer back in me too.

In the few months that I've called Bangalore home, last week was the first time that I bought some flowers - 2 rosebuds to be exact and a sprig of fillers.

I miss the easy accessibility to flowers that I enjoyed in Bombay; florists - big and small-time - aren't exactly within walking distance here. But in all fairness, they're not too out of my usual way, and after seeing these babies, I'm definitely willing to go the extra bit to get them!