Friday, June 3, 2011

The Truth About Beauty

A handsome person, a scenic location, a magnificent structure, a fascinating movie – all leave us with a sense of satisfaction at the end of each encounter, and an urge to relive the experience. All such experiences, in the dazzle of those incipient moments, seem to give us an impression of true beauty. Yet, as the encounters repeat, our delight seems to fade, and we begin to feel that something is amiss, something to sustain our pleasure at that initial, euphoric level, which might make us think: was that true beauty that we had seen, or was it just an illusion?  The variegated gifts of this world to Mankind have always had the potential to charm and enchant our hearts and minds, but if treated only as visual delights, such objects may become nothing more than mere sources of superficial pleasure, enjoyment, entertainment, and even ecstasy within the moments that these entities are fresh to the eyes and the mind; which again broaches the big question – what, then is true beauty? Surely, ephemeral visual delights, destined to drift out of sight with the waves of Time, cannot qualify for that exalted appellation? This brings to mind the words of the immortal romantic of the Victorian era, John Keats, who had so famously said,

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever

Keats’ words are wrapped in more profundity than this simple sentence appears to suggest to the cursory glance. Here, he eulogizes the eternal influence of beauty on the mind, doubtlessly an allusion to beauty at its most subtle, most enduring; beauty that has stood, and forever will stand the test of time. Some look for beauty in form and appearance, while others look beyond the façade and “feel” for the inner beauty of a person, creature or object. The latter view, held by a fortunate few in this world, can reveal beauty in its truest form, and renders the embellishments of the façade virtually redundant. Human experience has proved beyond doubt that the true beauty of any natural entity, or anything that is borne of natural artifice can be truly appreciated if that entity is viewed in its entirety, rather than reveling in the transitory appeal of the exterior, which can be deceptive to the senses in more cases than not. There is far more to a human being than a face; a great deal more to a colorful garden than its colors; more to a monument than its gorgeous façade; and unless we realize this basic fact, the core of beauty will elude us, and the mind and the eyes will continually crave for something more, something different to recharge the senses, but in vain. It is very much like praising a book by the gloss and decor of its cover, rather than reading its contents. Delving deeper into the object of interest will reveal facts that may not necessarily be in consonance with the impression that the outer façade had implanted.

I have always felt that the power to live is God’s greatest gift to this world. What can be more beautiful than life, which brings every being, however small, however big, into this world with a course to chart and an act to perform that is disparate from each of the billions of others? When I meet a person, and look at his or her face, and the mind behind that face, and the heart and its emotions, passions, ambitions, frailties and strengths, my impression of that person changes at every step, and soon I realize that nothing in this universe can be more admirable, more amazing, more beautiful than a human life, with all its powers to change the world and itself, all its powers to create and destroy, and that nothing can be more unjust than to judge a person by his or her face and form. The face is but an identity, and never was meant to be a measure of beauty; which is why its effect on the senses is nothing more than transient. The true beauty of a person, a quality that will remain a quality to be admired irrespective of the time or the place, can be gauged in a true measure only by the way he or she feels, thinks and acts. When I think of this fact, I feel that Mother Teresa must surely be the most beautiful woman that ever lived; and Gautama Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and many such personalities who changed the world with their goodness and sense of sacrifice, must undoubtedly rank far above the person with the handsomest face ever born. A person with average looks but possessing a beautiful mind will always come through as more beautiful over a period of time than another with handsome features but a corrupt mind.

Even as I dwell upon the topic of beauty of the human mind, a little girl with big eyes and a glowing face comes floating into my senses. It was one of the many aid camps organized for the benefit of children infected with HIV through their parents, most of whom are dead. I had the occasion (and the good fortune) to attend one such function in which this little girl, who has not known life without HIV, squatted on the floor of a hall along with many others of her kind, with her eyes reflecting the consciousness of her condition, the knowledge of her past and present, and a bit of her foreboding future, and yet unable to suppress the sparkle of innocent childhood that shone through her eyes, as if in resolute defiance of all the gloom that Fate has cast her life into. Her serene visage is symbolic of everything that is beautiful about life – hope, innocence, acceptance, determination mingled with unadulterated cheer. This is an image that has endured in my mind all these years, and I am sure will endure as long as I live. If this is not true beauty, then nothing is.

The whole of creation itself is abounding with instances of everlasting beauty. When we understand the true nature of Beauty, we find that it is all-pervasive, and shines through in every creation of this universe. It is without doubt, a precious asset, and all that is precious in this world is covert, and needs to be discovered. When I gaze at the clear night sky of a pleasant evening, letting my thoughts wander among the twinkling stars, and the bright planets, and I feel the vibrations of the wonderful universe in constant motion - the planets revolving around the stars, the stars revolving around bigger stars, and even the tiny electrons in constant motion around the nucleus of every atom - I get the feeling that the whole of creation itself is a masterpiece of timeless beauty; a work of art that has fascinated Man ever since he emerged into this earthly air, and will continue to do so till there is Time itself.

Whenever I visit an ancient monument, I am enthralled by the ambience of the place, not so much due to the monument being imposing of size and craftsmanship, as due to the history that led to its creation, and the history of the years that it has lived through. The magnificent Taj Mahal could hardly have sustained its position as one of the Seven Wonders of the World for so many years, and could not have held so many people in fascination for so long unless it bespoke of a history that still vibrates within its walls. This must be what true beauty is all about.

Beauty, as elucidated by Shakespeare, “lies in the eyes of the beholder”. We, as beholders, will experience true beauty if we have the “eyes” for it. I prefer to say “experience” because the depth of beauty is not fathomable merely through the eyes. True beauty is sublime but subtle, and I feel that it can be much better appreciated in the mind, and by looking beyond the veil, always.

Trapped in The Web

With the turn of the century, I graduated from inland letter cards to email; from landlines to mobiles; and from social visits to socia...