He rang the doorbell; the smooth lines on his face were like ripples in sand—delicate patterns created by the passage of time. These patterns drew the face of knowledge. I bowed to him in traditional greeting, reserved for the elders in our community. As a child, I had often asked myself about why we bow to elders. What makes a person worthy of a bow? I much prefer egalitarian methods of greeting. I rebelled against this tradition through my youth. Till, I realised that rebellion is a reaction to the status quo. It counters social-inertia, but it cannot create sustained change.
While, I have acceded to bow the bow of reverence and conform to this tradition (no reason to fight it, given its non-violent history), in my mind the bow is to wisdom, or to slivers of it, roosting in each of us. And sure enough, shortly after the elder sat to tea, the sliver of wisdom awoke from repose. The face of knowledge transformed into the face of generosity, gently announcing the arrival of wisdom. Sanskrit words as refreshing and buoyant as morning dew touched my ears: Hitam Sahitam Iti Sahityam.
That which is accompanied by wellbeing is literature.
Literature is not just the written word, first recorded during the Sumerian civilisation, in 3400 BC. Neither is it artistic merit in prose and poetry that enlightens, entertains, or instructs. Literature gives words to experiences and insights that embrace wellbeing, as naturally as the wind embraces space, or tree roots embrace soil.
Marcel Proust (writer, early 20th century) said that, The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have experienced in himself.
Literature may help us discern what we have experienced, but to say that a writer’s work can enable us to discern what we would perhaps never have experienced in ourselves is limiting our understanding of experience to that which can be expressed.
Experiences reside on a different plane; the plane where we sense, not where we express, even if it’s in the vastness of our own minds. Experience precedes expression, and literature through its embrace of wellbeing can lead us to seek beneficial experiences.