My Guest Column at The Viewspaper
Location: Inorbit Mall, Madhapur Village, Hyderabad
And sometimes, it takes darkness to open your eyes. Paradoxical – very much. Exaggeration – not a bit.
Conceptualized in Germany, ‘Dialogue In The Dark (DID)’ is a unique exhibition that takes place, as the name suggests, in complete darkness. The participants, usually in a group, are aided by a walking stick and a blind guide, as they travel through a life changing experience in a completely dark room – so dark that you cannot even see your own hands, you can only feel them. They visit a park, a super market, a road-side flee market; then take a boat ride to arrive at a cafeteria where they are served food – without actually seeing any of them. In most exhibitions, you would usually carry back a lot of visual memories. In an exhibition of this kind, there are no visual memories – there are only perceptions and experiences and that is precisely what distinguishes DID from other exhibitions.
With light, and consequently vision, cut out, you realize that there is so much to feel, smell, listen and taste in the world that we otherwise identify only through their visual image. Life suddenly becomes dead slow as you amble through complete darkness. As you listen to the sounds of the birds in the park, smell the odor of things, that you use daily, in the supermarket, touch the objects, that you casually throw a glance at, in the road side stalls, feel the cool air and the drops of water that hit your face as you take a boat ride, taste the hand brewed coffee in the cafeteria and sink in the aroma of java, you realize that there is so much beauty in and around us that we tend to overlook every single day. We see them but we do not notice them. In darkness, with our vision gone, we can no longer see them. And hence, slowly but surely, we start noticing them.
Our sense of sight has definitely made us dynamic and fast moving. But at the same time it has robbed us of the inherent beauty of many things around us that we no longer perceive. It would not be wrong to say that our sense of sight has altered our definition of beauty, making us associate it with only those things that are soothing to the eyes. The forty-five minutes of dialogue in the dark restores the true sense of beauty back in us by making us aware that beauty does not lie only in the eyes of the beholder. Generalized, it lies in the ability of perception in the observer, not limited to his sight alone.
Not only that, it is our sense of sight, more than anything else that brings in the various differences among us. It creates visual barriers in the name of appearance. Once inside the dark room, when you do not know how the people in your group look like and identify them only by their first name, suddenly all the distinguishing factors like religion, ethnicity, affluence and appearance disappear and it becomes so easy to talk to them, so easy to communicate. Almost every group that goes inside goes as strangers but by the time they come out they, more often than not, become friends. Much like our school days, when we were little and did not know of the worldly rules of who should be loved and how much, all of a sudden it becomes so easy to make friends. DID does not explain; it leaves you to draw the inference as to how stupid we have been in differentiating men from men.
And all this while, you are guided by a blind guy. In that dark strange room, there happens a role reversal of sorts when you realize that the blind guy is no more challenged. Instead you, who had relied on his eyes for almost everything every day, are the one who is challenged. And that makes you understand and appreciate the fact that they are no more challenged in light than you are in darkness. Realization dawns – no one is challenged, people are just differently abled. A lesson every moral science book aspires to teach and the one that DID elucidates – respect the differences!
On a very personal note, DID made me nostalgic about the many lazy evenings of my childhood when we had no electricity in the entire town for two hours because of load shedding. Having come from a very small town and from a family that still does not believe that people have power backup for 24 hours in the cities (“Why do they need it all the time?” my mom innocuously asks), I have many a fond memories of such evenings – of the games of hide and seek, of the spooky stories that we narrated to each other, of the abuses that were hurled if the power cut was in between the cricket matches, of how I had to read and narrate the headlines from the newspaper in front of my dad and the way I used to hate that, of the radios that were tuned to Akashwani for the national bulletin which was aired precisely at that hour, of the many evenings when we sat at our terrace, me and my friends, looking at the stars and making shapes out of them, of the dreams we saw – some realized, some shattered and some still in the queue. I wonder if kids these days will ever be able to understand the beauty of those two dark hours – sometimes welcomed and sometimes abused – and how important it was to the lives of people who have lived them.
For people who still cannot not fathom as to how interesting darkness could get, here is a simple exercise. Take a white sheet of paper and a box of colors. Switch of all the lights in the house – ensure that there is enough darkness that you cannot distinguish one color from the other. Now paint a picture – anything that comes to your head. Once you are done, switch on the lights and have a look at the colors that you have used. Darkness, as you would observe, has redefined the whole concept of painting. And guess what? No matter how many times you do this exercise, you will always have a new painting, even though you paint the same thing again and again.
You may call it an imperfect piece of art but imperfection sure has a beauty that perfection can never match. Black n White is not always boring, you see!
A few irrelevant notes:
1. For people who loved the part on power-cut, read Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story by the name ‘A Temporary Matter’ (Book: Interpreter of Maladies). Beautiful story.
2. So after the beautiful curvy roads around the KBR Park in Banjara Hills and the sunrise at Hussein Sagar early in the morning, I now have one more mesmerizing experience for people who visit Hyderabad. Guys, what are you waiting for?
3. This post is intentionally made to appear as it is to give you a firsthand experience of having a dialogue in the dark – when you know that there are things, people and experiences around you but you cannot see them.
To experience them you have to walk the extra mile – try feeling them with your eyes closed and let their sensation sink in through touch, sound, taste or smell. In this case, however, all you have to do is to scroll to the top and press ctrl+A!