Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Deconstructing our Everyday Images

This is from a mail written not so long ago.

I have a lot going through my head when I seem to look at my surroundings consciously with all my senses and it is disturbing/surprising too. I feel there are so many things around that pass implicit messages into our heads, that they just pass through without us even noticing or thinking about them consciously. I have been taking notice of certain images and sounds, certain spaces, patterns around, which are not such irregular sights or sounds, the problematic systems and structures are still a part of our conscious world but these!? I have been seeing and listening to them for almost all my life. But nowadays, they have several more meanings hidden that make me feel I have absorbed so much without thinking much, without ever feeling the need to question them. So many contradictions keep surfacing and surprise me. It's like rediscovering the world.

One of those days, on our trip to Tirupati, my mother was reading a book sitting in a waiting room. It had whom we call Goddess Lakshmi on the cover. I had nothing else to do, and the picture caught my attention. I made some observations which I wondered why never occurred to me earlier.

1. The picture is that of a lady
2. A lady with a fair complexion (A popular South Indian goddess never the less) - Fair and lovely cream would have liked to claim the fairness (fair is beautiful, we ask? since when did fair become our idea of beautiful? since when did such images become our gods?)
3. A lady who looked slim (again the popular idea of beautiful?)
4. A lady who wore a silk saree and lots of jewellry (she seemed pretty rich)
5. A lady who wore a crown (seems to match our imagination of a queen? class differences had already entered our imagination when we started praying to this goddess yet we say it is one of the oldest religions since time immemorial. Yet, we 'know' the human race wasn't born with class differences, at least I'd like to believe that from what I have read)
6. She was a goddess and she blessed with gold coins (so currency too was taken for granted as a basic necessity, but we 'know', it's only when property was privatised and trade expanded into vast tracts of the globe that currency in the form of gold coins or now in paper cash has become so widespread)
7. To go on, she was I guess wearing a golden mangal sutra too (a wife, the institution of family, a unit consisting of wife and husband has also been something that started since times immemorial? has it?)

To put it in a perspective that occurred to me then, she seemed to be a rich benevolent upper class woman who people looked up to and probably aspired to be in the next life if not this one. Yet, the religion here or any religion for that matter asks us not to be pompous or indulge in material riches. The point is, many of us pray with this image in mind, an image which makes inequality based on gender, race and class immemorial because the image itself is associated with times immemorial, it gets in deep and settles where we take it as natural and forget to question it. Religion is a different debate but here, I'm just talking about the everyday images around us.

Nowadays, in many cities and some villages close to cities, radio is a media people are well exposed to. The other day, when I was coming back to Khandwa from a village, we were tuned in to the radio and there was an ad, "Oonche log, oonchi pasand, Manikchand!", it asserted! It seemed to add one more meaning to what it means to be big through what we like, our pasand, also makes us big or at least makes us seem like we are big, it would afford us the imagination of being big. It adds to the several meanings that breathe oxygen into inequality and make it live like a monster it has become today.

Why. Just take our roads, which occupy most of our imagery of cities. Who has control over these roads? How do we understand control over these spaces. Who honks to whom, who can get aggressive on the roads and get away with it making others, usually the pedestrians and the people with smaller vehicles, exposed to pollution and honking most of the time?

Coming back to our favourite, organizations! Lets take a group photo of an organization. It seems like a harmless photo. But you see a pattern there too. Who is at the center? Does it become difficult to identify that it is a hierarchical organization? Most of us may also be able to identify who the head of the organization is from the picture.

The body language? Who looks meek? Who looks confident? Is it so natural? What made it that way? Who pays when we stop by for tea but who brings the tea? Does it add up? Doesn't it make the monster live in our heads and add to its image, its immemorial existence?


  1. We live amidst heavy conditioning and one has to make a conscious effort to break out of it and rebel!!