Humour: Of imagination and fantasy – brunch columns


Twenty-twenty has widely been regarded – in lighter conversation – as the Year of the Introvert. But the ones who are truly geared to handle the unhandleable are another modern subspecies altogether: the fantasists. Weaned on a diet of Game of Thrones and armed with their mandala colouring books, this breed can teach the poor realists a thing or two about coping with the apocalypse.

The inklings

As the real world retreated into a shell, the need for make-believe grew like a beanstalk before Jack, or like Alice tasting a bite of that trippy Wonderland cake. But like all luxuries, this one, too, is reserved only for the lucky few. I speak for all those long-suffering realists, for whom magic and fantasy spell nothing but tedious, unsatisfying departures from the believable. Bored of fairy tales in childhood, we recoil from magic realism as adults. Ghosts and ghouls, leprechauns and lightsabers – all so obvious in comparison with the subtle and surprising twists of “real life”.

But this, of course, is not an indictment of a beloved literary genre. I have a deep affection for JRR Tolkien – without having read the trilogy That Must Be Read. Having been force-fed The Hobbit as a sceptical teen, the magic just didn’t take hold. That didn’t stop me from going all misty-eyed while visiting the author’s favourite pub in Oxford, The Eagle and Child (nicknamed The Bird and Baby) – where he and his fellow “Inklings” like CS Lewis met regularly for about three decades. “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost”– the famous lines from JRR’s most famous work – are my distillation of the King of Fantasy. And they work just as beautifully without the one thousand and one plot details that a sieve-like brain can never hope to retain.

The reluctant fantasist

The fantasies of a realist, however, have their own underrated charm. Take, for instance, lockdown fantasies, that contemporary brand of daydreams that even the most hardened pragmatist cannot resist. Mine, predictably, have circled around food and drink, whether it’s a decadent platter of sushi in a paper-lanterned restaurant or a steaming glass of filter coffee at a streetside eatery – both as unrealistic, at the moment, as levitation or invisibility. Like all fantasies, these, too, have their dark side. You pay for the brief thrill of indulgence with a far longer bout of disappointment. But what is life if not an endless cycle of contradictions? Here’s one: for all my fantasy-phobia, I’m as uplifted by a Harry Potter confection as the next curmudgeon.

Weaned on a diet of Game of Thrones and armed with mandala colouring books, the fantasists can teach realists to cope with the apocalypse

Pleasures, as Uncle Freud has tirelessly pointed out, have several sources and interpretations. Of these, the revenge fantasy seems to provide a catharsis like no other. You know that feeling when someone says something really cruel, yet undeniably witty, and you stand there tongue-tied, cloaking your hurt in a fake grin? Those delicious fantasies of delivering the perfect acerbic comeback provide an unrivalled solace in the dark hours that follow. Sadly, one’s revenge reflexes are often as slow as those of a hungover fielder in the slips. The slur grazes you and speeds away, like a ball hurtling towards an unguarded boundary.

Rock ‘n’ roll fantasy

It is in the realm of music that the question of sweet escape is best addressed. Preferably with a deafening guitar solo. The rock ‘n’ roll fantasy catches you early – in that numinous adolescent space, where the mind is without fear and the soul without direction. From The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the pleasures of the surreal are amplified by the music of the brave. Who are these rocking horse people and why are they eating marshmallow pies? Does Beelzebub actually set aside devils for individual people? None of it really matters – you simply go with the flow. Plausibility is the affliction of the unimaginative, you tell yourself, and allow yourself a flight of fancy.

Glam rock, that style of exaggerated music and performance that the ’70s exemplified, perfected the art of high artifice for electric thrills. Outrageous and androgynous, the genre mixed materials like a pav-bhaji vendor does ingredients (lockdown fantasies die hard). From ABBA’s sweetness to David Bowie’s weirdness, and from Prince’s mystique to Kiss’ masala, its avatars all flaunt a kind of magic that’s hard to resist and way more satisfying than even the revenge fantasy.

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From HT Brunch, August 30, 2020

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