Sunday, 29 January 2012

Theme for a dream

Deccan Herald. Sunday Herald, Cover Story. 29 Jan 2012

I can watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins another ten times and be ready for more. But like my son, you might say, “ewww you’re such a guuuurl”, so no surprise there. Only, my husband still enjoys Star Wars, Iron Man and Voyager and will go to any re-release of them. My son and I would join him, as would thousands of others around the world, who filled up cinema halls to full capacity for similar fantasy movies like Finding Nemo, Enchanted, Twilight and apna Ra One. 

And how many of you, with children at home, have accidentally tripped over a sabremobile or strongarm detached from a form-changing ‘Transformer’? For novices, these are fabulous toys of various built-in superheroes ‘cum’ robots ‘cum’ supersonic vehicles ‘cum’ long range weapons – virtually indestructible man-machines that can be transformed from one mode to the other depending on the nature of the ‘mission’ the player is engrossed in. Of course, it’s all make-believe and thoroughly entertaining. In spite of the fact that my son got his first toy gun no sooner than when he turned nine, I have to admit that I enjoy watching him strategising at these war games and the hours of fun he and his friends get out of it. 

Now let me take you back to our doll days. Our elaborate gun-fights. House-house with all movable furniture overturned on the lawn outside and all available bed spreads made into make-shift tents. Think of a parent and remember horsie-horsie. Our childhoods are filled with stories of play-acting and dreams that make us swoon afresh in happy memory lane every time the lights go dim and four friends meet up after a decade of being away in busy lives. 

Most probably, even this meet-up would be at a themed venue, decked with memories of childhood tales or vibrant with the vivid imagination of someone who dared to ‘un’grow-up, gave flight to the child within and lived again. 

And that’s the purpose of dreaming, isn’t it? To live again, on our terms, amidst things that make us happy and fulfilled. Even if for just that moment. 

Many of you would be familiar with the Freudian theory that dreams are manifestations of ‘unconscious wishes of the dreamer’. Carl Jung took it further by suggesting that dreams ‘served to compensate for parts of the psyche that are repressed in waking life’. 

So, when Superman takes off ‘to the rescue’, it makes for heightened entertainment, not so much because a fictional character flashes his super ‘S’, but because at that moment, every member in the audience (irrespective of the constraining chair he or she is bound to or the miserable report that needs tending thereafter), subconsciously chooses to be either the saviour or the rescued victim and, in that glorious moment, lives out the role to complete satisfaction. It becomes a personal achievement and the popcorn is worth the money. Of course, no one else needs to know, but that’s how our mind works. 

As a race, we are a sentimental bunch and are never far from a fantasy. And much as we love to slight the possibility in conversation, we also love to indulge in them. Take a bad day at work, for instance. A myriad different scenarios will relive the moment in our minds, moments after the event. We will react all over again. We will deal with the incident in a faultless fashion. Mostly, it would be quite contrary to what really ensued. Familiar? 

Deny it all you want, but we really, really, love ourselves and the things we do. Which is why we dream. Because we believe we deserve more. ‘Dream big’, say the visionaries, ‘for yourself, for your land’. So, we dream of greater lives and do all in our might to turn what’s in our mind to matter.  

With so much available and so effortlessly, wishing is all we need to do before everything unfolds, as Amisha Bahl Chawla of BMI says, “magical, co-ordinated and exactly as we want”. A film-maker in the city, she weaves dreams for a living. She explains, “Apart from the regular corporate dish-out and TV advertisements, many come to us for a film rendition of what they would like to be portrayed as, to an audience. Everyone wants to be seen as the hero, the only hero, who can get you what you want”. 

It really is the business of happiness, this dreaming and living it up in tangible pursuits. And irrespective of our means and where we come from, everyone deserves a shot at it. So when singer Beyonce declares to the world that her wedding will be a lush multi-million dollar ceremony on the Caribbean island of Anguilla where one tenth of the cost will be spent on Beluga caviar alone, she’s not shy of anyone. To quote from a report, “She feels like she’s living a fairytale so why shouldn’t her wedding be equally magical?” 

But what about those who can only live their fairytales in dreams? Themes – the current raging trend! Let your passion speak. Throw a cowboy party with saddles for seats and hats for plates, doll up like a princess to a Cinderella Ball and do up your bedroom like Cleopatra’s boudoir to fit the queen in you. Or go Moroccan exotic! And why leave the kids behind? Launch your little astronaut into space in a rocket ship look-alike room – don’t forget the practical work desk, though. For the macho warrior souls among you, deck your bar with everything martial. Bring in the swords, put up those plaques. And, please, name your child smartly, for a lifetime of advantage. 

Even if it’s just downright exclusivity that you seek, it’s all there for the taking. Specialising in contemporary and colonial designs, Kabir Bhasin of East, prides himself in “materialising your visions for your home” into enviable works in wood. And though he personally prefers the slightly understated, the furniture he puts together for his clients, can be anything but. He talks of a client who lives and breathes sport. Images of Tom Brady and Micheal Jordon were printed directly onto the wood of the wine racks while the cabinets carried prints of cultural icons. The client’s appetite for the larger-than-life comes alive in every piece of practical furniture that peppers his home.  

It is the choice we have today and many will exercise it. And there is always the aspect of glorifying a favourite. Dawn Brindle, mum of three, quips from London, “Themed events lend a focus on treasured ideas … something to celebrate”. “Themes and make-believe”, says Psychotherapist Prathitha G, “serve to make a statement and get talked about. They are also fun and bring out our creativity. And they get more people interested in social participation”. Outside the professional analysis, she is all for “letting my hair down and having a good round of fun”. 

You might call it an ‘escape’ from reality, or a refuge from daily drudgery – the inner child's dream fulfilled in indulgences outside mere existence or a release into a world of make-believe, fantasy and magic. But the joy that excursion brings, however short-lived, is wholly real. So are its after-effects on our personality – almost always positive and productive. 

There was a time when ‘brands’ did us this favour. That was the theme then – brandishing labels that got us noticed. It gave us the edge. Soon, forget bags and shirts, even babies became an intrinsic part of brand-building. So now, while a Prada or an Armani ensemble is walked down the ramp at a high profile fashion extravaganza, there might be a walking, talking, flesh-and-blood city adding to the proceeds – wait, we are talking of India (Knight), Chelsea (Clinton) and Paris (Hilton) – inspiration and individual, place and person, both celebrated alike. The inner desire to be different and be inspired, rules here too. 

A good friend veers to another important aspect of this dreams-to-realty behaviour and refers to ‘Freakonomics’, the ground-breaking work co-authored by Levitt and Dubner. We get into a discussion on the phenomenon where certain sections of society, for improved prospects, started giving their children the same names that societies they believe to be superior to them, gave their members. And miracle or strategy, they found better acceptance in work and social circles, all the time grabbing a better chance at success. They too dreamed. And by adopting a successful trend, they too made their dreams real. 

It is the natural human urge, a primal instinct, to aim higher and, then, to exhibit success. We all like to stand out, to be noticed, to be sought after and respected. Some are subtle about it while others will be less discrete. From the days of the Masquerade to modern Halloween costume nights and Marilyn Monroe Karvachauths, nothing has changed. If anything, with expendable incomes, the scale is much larger now. 

But there is also a very clear shift. People are moving more and more inward. They are getting more in touch with what their true desires are. And considering that this prevalent ‘self-expression’ is largely an urban trait and with increasing popularity, the fact is that the more we indulge in pursuits of the heart and tend to personal gratification, the less we are inclined to care about the humdrum, the boring ‘normal’.  

Hospitals and counsellors are recording more and more cases of depression, delusion and other personality disorders radiating from unsatisfactory lives and a desire to escape hard reality. Those who get stuck in between, get diagnosed with strange sounding names for stranger ‘conditions’ that were previously unheard of. The fervent question that creeps up is: Are our urban conquests and efforts at making the most of everything, slowly moving into the realm of make-believe and mindless fanfare? More persistently, is this taking us further and further away from humane sentiments and ground reality? 

While some agree with the suggestion, many more, dismiss it. “Dreams are like opinions, we never run out of them. So it's great to indulge your dreams at any given opportunity. If it doesn't work out there's always reality to fall back upon”, muses Ujjwal Kabra, a Mumbai adman. Rimi Das is a marketing professional in the IT space and shares similar sentiments. “Reality has always and will always find a way to strike us so that we remain grounded. These theme pursuits and fantasy dos sprinkle that extra zeal and excitement to our daily monotony. They have an essential role to play in our lives”, she reasons. 

I couldn’t agree more – everybody needs a healthy distraction from time to time. Juggling between being a mother, homemaker and freelancer, I know I do. And thanks to our prospering economies, we now have the luxury and space to realise that the break we seek, is really within us, trapped. 

Calvin S Hall, the American psychologist who has contributed heavily to the field of dream interpretation, knits this thinking in, most aptly: "Dreams reflect the dreamer's unconscious self-conception which often does not at all resemble our trumped up and distorted self-portraits by which we fool ourselves in waking life; dreams mirror the self”. Other submissions say, “A dream is a work of art which requires of the dreamer no particular talent, special training, or technical competence. Dreaming is a creative enterprise in which all may and most do participate". 

So, if a natural behaviour such as dreaming, that is an intangible manifestation of the ‘inner’ self, becomes a tangible enterprise (like theme activity) and results in joy in the short term, evoking positive self-esteem in the longer term, participation in these, with conscious intent of gratification, might be the natural path of evolution that our race has embarked upon. 

Because, research proves that this trend is here to stay. In fact, a recent survey result, shared by a friend, shows that six out of ten people will spend days planning an event around a popular theme to celebrate a special day. And though there are many who would love to be part of themed extravaganzas “for a cause” as much as for the feel-good factor, most respondents are excited with the possibilities offered to them and are willing to pay substantial money for a complete experience. They welcome the opportunity to express their personal hankerings in their everyday and the increased involvement it garners. Sure, a lot has to do with showmanship, but what’s that in the face of focused camaraderie, some hearty laughter and a season full of cheerful banter?