How do we choose? Do we really choose? Or is the idea of choice conceived by humans to give themselves the solace of being in control in this steer-less life? It’s difficult to recollect the exact moment when my life’s academic journey re-routed its path from literature to law. What compelled me or propelled me towards a change of discipline, I can’t remember for the life of me.
Try hard as I may, a sort of momentspecific amnesia, if you will, interrupts any effort towards unraveling that ominous moment. How Charles Dickens gave way to the Indian Penal Code or Shakespeare gave way to the Indian Contract Act, is an inquiry sure to baffle even the likes of Poirot or Sherlock Holmes; they were, after all, detectives of the mind, not of the heart.
The bookshelves in my home have declared war against my betrayal. Dias’ Jurisprudence succumbed before The Count of Monte Cristo in the analysis of the nature of law; Legal treatises on mens rea bowed down before Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in the study of intention, guilt and reformative power of punishment. After all Dostoevsky was known as a pneumatologist among his peers and critics alike, a researcher of souls.
Czech novelist Milan Kundera in his seminal work The Unbearable Lightness of Being posed an ever-recurring question: what can life be worth when the first rehearsal for life is life itself? What he meant was we are destined to face situations and events as and when they occur without any opportunity being afforded to us for preparedness and improvement (based on some past life’s experiences) for this life.
So, the decisions we take and the way we act are choices which have no anchor and float in this universe with no destination in sight. So how are we supposed to endure this destiny? Literature helps some of us in making sense of this existence, the nature and purpose of which is elusive. It provides at least a temporary anchor which makes moments bearable. My eyes wander longingly, the gaze falls upon The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje and my heart is filled with a warm assurance of a melody which lies hidden in the pages of the novel whose words are no less delicate and elegant than that of the petals of daffodils, flowers made immortal by Wordsworth.
The wanderer in Wordsworth’s poem of the same name fondly recollects the memory of the daffodil flowers he happened to see, and my heart nudges me towards the quiet yet breezy presence of literature on my bookshelves and a realization dawns that I have my own daffodils to fall back on in solitude in the same way as that of Wordsworth’s wanderer: For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
(The writer is a P.hD candidate at the Indian Law Institute, New Delhi)