“I see the roots of a tree. But instead of digging deep into the stratum, it’s been laid on the land turned up towards the sky. To the left of it, I see a bottle of rum, with an iridescent aura about. And there is the face on the right, one that’s bereft of any features san a sardonic smile. Yes, that’s what I see, the roots, the rum and the sardonic smile”.
There was a pause as Tim finished putting forth his perspective of Mr. Umberto’s painting, and then with a voice crackling with enthusiasm Mr. Umberto said, “Very well my worthy lad. Very well said. I won’t negate any of your observations. At least, not yet. But my boy, tell me, what do you infer. What’s beyond what’s apparent. What do you think has the artist, which being me, pardon my immodesty, is trying to convey?”
Tim screwed his brows and thought for a while. Philip and Gracy, who were till then standing beside Mr. Umberto crowded about the painting and dwelled deep into it. They spoke not a word amidst self for Mr. Umberto had told them not to confer amongst themselves. Each were to form their own original uninfluenced impression. And it was for Tim to present foremost.
Tim started with his explanation, “Mr. Umberto, I think the upturned roots represent chaos, disharmony on earth. The sardonic smile, appreciating the disharmony instead of condemning it and the bottle of rum is the cause for it. Its like, you have tried to say that intoxication is the reason for discord and disharmony in the society.” And at this, Mr. Umberto burst out laughing. “Elemental Tim, elemental”, he quipped.
As he caught his breath, he spoke back, “Though one needs to interpret a painting at its most simple sense, simple by no means equates with naivety Tim. And for the sake of Vinci, give me some credit! You think that’s what I would try to depict. Ok, lets deal it your way. Tell me, shouldn’t the face have a serene smile instead of sardonic on the sight of chaos when it’s under the influence of alcohol? Alcohol relieves the person, there is no reason to feel any unwonted treacherous joy. All he feels is a pure pent up emotion, be it bliss or torment. Never the secondary feeling like the one’s which bring a grin on your face. Gracy, what do you think?”
“Sir, I actually see different things on the painting” said Gracy in a remorseful tone. Tim glared but Mr. Umberto gave her a big smile. He though let it off quickly and said, “Gracy, that’s a nice point. But presuming what Tim saw to be indeed the case, how would you explain?” Gracy was quick to come up with an explanation. She reasoned, “maybe the bottle of rum isn’t actually a bottle of rum. It’s a bottle of elixir. That’s why there is the iridescent aura about. And the tree stands for the societal beliefs prevalent around. By the upturning of the root, you are trying to say that, to realise the elixir, the state of blissful existence, the societal beliefs which actually are the social values of today, need to be upturned. And an intellect, one who has seen the truth but is beaming at the notion that how vain he will be thought of by the society if they come to know what he thinks, smile that sardonic smile in appreciation of his own vanity.”
Mr. Umberto had an enigmatic smile pasted on his lips. He savoured the moment. This is what he relished most in life. It gave him a ‘high’ every time someone touched a new height in intellectual conjecturing when faced with an obscure piece of art. It is simply astounding that in how subtle steps one can make a quantum perspective shift just by the virtue of a brave imaginative original mind. He pat Gracy on her arm and said, “wonderful my child. Wonderful.” And with a crook of his brow, he said, “this would also be a way of explaining it.” Tim, Gracy and Philip knew this beforehand though. They knew the height of Mr. Umberto’s perception. And it was a long long way more subtle and yet absolutely ironical than this.
Mr. Umberto turned to Philip and asked him for his version of the facts depicted on the canvas. Philip had already constructed his answer. He replied in polite submission, “Mr. Umberto, I see a fire. The root that Tim said, it looks like fire with flames spewing about to me. And the bottle with aura about, its actually a lion with a majestic mane about. And the face with smile is actually the moon. Sir, I see a fire, the moon and a lion in there.” Tim started to protest but Mr. Umberto quietened him. He said with an almost parental smile, “Tim, if there is one thing to which we have absolute and complete right for, that is to form an opinion of our own. Hope you won’t forbade that.” Tim nodded. Then Mr. Umberto told Philip to furnish the artist’s motto for his version of the painting.
Philip started, “Sir, the painter has shown a paradox here. All mammals except for humans are afraid of fire. But this lion is actually bathing in its warmth on a full moon night. They say, there are no paradoxes in reality. If one ever occurs, you must check your premises again. And if we do that here, maybe, the lions aren’t those that we see today. It’s a different world and in it, the lion’s are occupying the niche that humans do in nature. They are the master’s of fire, not us. Maybe we weren’t there on the planet at all. Or maybe we and the lions are co-dominating that earth. Either way, the painter has tried to convey that we can’t take notions for granted. The absolutes are relative. While when one thing appears true, another, though not mutually compatible, could also possibly be true. The only need for it to be so being, the right perspective, the right vantage point to view from.”
As Philip finished, Mr. Umberto again gave his enigmatic smile. He looked up at Gracy and she gave in saying, “Sir, given his version, I couldn’t have conjured better.” Mr. Umberto smiled again and said, “Philip, you make me feel proud about your flexible perspective. You could be very true. Maybe not. Lets request Gracy to present her version. So child, what do you see?”
As if a long before wish was relinquished, Gracy began in a content tone, “Mr. Umberto, I see a whole different picture. Tim’s root and Philip’s fire actually look like a bunch of weeds to me. And the lion with its mane is in fact a saint, a yogi with long hair and beard almost drowning his face. And the moon is not it or face, but a clock. Sir, I see the weeds, the clock and a saint in there.” Mr. Umberto knew, as well as he knew that Tim and Philip knew too, that they were in for a joyous ride along the contours of Gracy’s intellect.
Mr. Umberto said, “same query to you as well child. To what do you then ascribe the painter’s motive?” Gracy beamed a smile that very much resembled Mr. Umberto’s, at least in essence. She stated, “Sir, it’s a very simple logic that the painter is trying to showcase I believe. By saint, he is trying to say it’s the enlightened one. One who knows what’s behind the apparent, beyond the illusion of the real. One who knows the real. The clock is to bring in the notion of time. He wants to say that there exists truths, eternal one’s that the likes of the saints grasp. The purpose of the weed being to get a bearing of the saint’s intellect. Maybe the painter is trying to say that the saint sees the beyond. But doing that is not by uncovering some hidden treasure-trough of knowledge, it’s not in getting to know things that none knows, but its actually in knowing, in within what we know, what is weed and what isn’t. Enlightment is in knowing what’s significant from what isn’t. It’s in knowing what’s real and what’s not. It’s not in discovering a previously undiscovered real. But in realising what’s not real. Maybe that’s the essence of eternal knowledge. That’s the essence of enlightenment. Maybe that’s the real truth.”
Mr. Umberto was quiet. He did not smile. But still the look he had was one of appreciation. An appreciation that the able gives to one at par. As he regained his composure, he said, “that’s too a way of looking at it my child.” And he winked at her. Gracy was overjoyed at her version being accepted as that of others, because she felt it was bit stretched though seemingly subtle, but she, just as Tim and Philip were eager to know the real perspective with which Mr. Umberto had painted it. The real truth behind the painting. The real motto the artist had intended to convey.
When insisted, Mr. Umberto smiled. It was that big heartful smile that makes you feel to surrender in blind faith to the person. And with a warm voice he said, “my motto behind the painting was to make you realise that reality is a hallucination. A very creative ever-morphing tenacious hallucination for that case.”
All three looked stumped and puzzled. Mr. Umberto made most of the pause and let their puzzlement sink in. He continued, “tell me Tim, your version was just as believable and possibly true as your’s Philip, and very much as your’s Gracy. Then, why don’t we believe them to be truth, but consider only my intension to be truth. In fact, all three of you hallucinated. Given we consider hallucination to be faulty perception, all three of you perceived else from what I intended, but yet, you did perceive it as good as if it was real to you. You Tim, you saw roots and sardonic smile and a bottle of rum while you Gracy, you saw the saint and weeds and clock. Your hallucination was just as real to you as if it were reality indeed. But then yet, why do you insist on me telling my version of reality. What makes you think I hold special vantage point to observe. Why can’t my truth be just another hallucination, another version of reality?”
At this Gracy interrupted, “But Mr. Umberto, because it’s you who painted it?” Mr. Umberto expected this. He calmly said, “So what?! To interpret it, you need to observe. And there hides no truth in it beyond what the eyes can see and the mind interpret. While each did interpret of their own, so would I. While of certain you three hallucinated, so would I, because it’s just another way to explain it. As I put before, I need have no special significance annoted to my vantage point, by the very virtue of the simple fact that it is just yet another vantage point.”
All three were quiet but had an understanding look on their face. “Then what is the truth?” asked Philip. At this Mr Umberto, as if awaiting the moment said, “None!” All three were aghast. He continued, “There exists no real intention behind this painting. Just various versions for each to conjure. Similarly, there exists no absolute truth, just versions for each to believe.”
Tim, not able to restrain himself, “Sir, be it what it may, what was you intension, I mean your version behind this painting?” At this, Mr Umberto grinned. “My child, none again. I blind-folded myself and splashed ink. The painting is the result of it. All your interpretations added all significance and meaning as against its lack-lustre by its creator.”
Tim pouted but Philip and Gracy smiled in understanding. And they winked amidst themselves as if sharing a secret which Mr Umberto knew not. He told them it was enough for the day and dismissed them from his studio.
Outside, Tim said, “he was hallucinating so imaginatively so far and the end, wow! he did not have to plunge our expectations like that!” Gracy and Philip smiled. Philip patted Tim consolingly, “come on man, as if you did not expect that. Can’t believe you can still fall for it!” At this Gracy tugged at Philip, “actually we all fell for it right Philip”, and Philip blushed confessingly.
Tim asked, “do you think his intellectual ability and his prowess to argue could be brought about by the stroke?” Gracy thought a while, “it will take a while to know. We need to find some one from his past life and enquire. All that we know is, he is a left-handed left-dominant painter with a left-sided hemiplegia due to a stroke in his right parietal lobe and who has now transgressed into left-sided hemineglect. A classic case of anosognosia. And to top it all, he is defending his neglect of paralysis with Freudian confabulation. A rare, one-of-its-kind case. And a profusely philosophical intellectual one I would say.”
“But be it way it may,” Tim grinned, “Mr. Umberto doesn’t know the greatest hallucination of all! That there was no painting that we were discussing. There was neither a canvas nor easel. Our observations, we conjured from thin air. But for him it was all so very real.” Gracy said in a deep tone, “while we entered the room presuming its he who is hallucinating, he convinced us that right now, this very moment, even you and me are. Who is to say otherwise!”