Recently I wondered, are we truly capable of experiencing what the senses bring our way?
Because it seems that when we encounter a sensation—pleasant, unpleasant, neutral—the mind faculty steps in to intercept the pure feel of the experience. It then relates the sensation to a past experience, or a future expectation. Or, a scene from a book or film. Or, the mind itself is transported to a past time and place. So, a plate of sev puri takes you back to Andheri railway station, eating street side chaat. A whiff of petrichor brings to mind Kerala, monsoons, loneliness… or perhaps “Rimjhim gire saavan,” featuring a tall, lanky Amitabh Bachchan and a petite, adorable Moushmi Chatterjee. Or you are drawn back to your own youthful romance conducted along the Marine Drive promenade, tetrapods and lashing waves for company.
It doesn’t really matter what images flash across your mind, or where you are transported. You are someplace else, no longer here and now. The taste/touch/scent/sound/sight sensation is not important any more because its sole purpose appears to have been to act as a connector to an ever-expanding trove of memories, ideas, hopes, expectations, fears. And it makes a real proper mess with our idea of time because we are no longer sure… Am I dreaming of the past? Did this event actually occur? Or maybe I am day dreaming? Is this from a film I loved? Or is this something I wished for but it never really happened?Ahh, it is a lovely mess.
This tendency of referring back from an immediate sensation to a story, an idea, a familiar concept is an old habit. These stories and ideas stand in for the actual sensory experience, and what we are feeding off are the stories, not that steel tumbler of filter coffee at MTR, or plate of rajma chaaval from Guru Da Dhaba, or a youthful Aamir Khan crooning “Papa kehte hain…”
(And this is a powerful habit… hence the inability to see that Andaaz Apna Apna is a silly, bad movie!)
And this is also why we sometimes continue to eat foods we don’t really enjoy, or watch films featuring our once-favorite actors, or wear clothes that don’t fit (literally and metaphorically). Why? Because of the compelling stories attached. (And we don’t even derive any actual pleasure from these activities.)
If these stories vaporized, we’d see the experience for what it is, and we could have a spontaneous response to it . “Oh, this sambar is too spicy for me.” “Sonu Nigam has a lovely voice.” “Why do I drink tea twice a day? I don’t really like it.” “I adore wearing my black skinny jeans, I just do!”
And we’d also be able to see that we are truly dynamic beings who can savor and draw pleasure from a variety of experiences… Unlike what the stories might have us believe.