The sublime and the ridiculous

The other day, I watched an interesting documentary on the life of nomads who live in the deserts. They were answering several questions regarding their history, demography and relevance of their lifestyle to a keen interviewer. When the next phase of the show began, the group was asked what they thought about random subjects. Their treasury of knowledge oscillated between the absurd and the astute.

For instance, some of them did not know the name of the region where they had camped; but seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of the natural resources of the land like where to find water and supplies for their caravan. They hardly cared that their kids were not going to school. Yet they seemed to have been made of grey cells all over. They were able to tell the time and weather without any contraption; they reeled off a dozen home remedies ranging from a bad cold to scorpion bites. They seemed to know a repertoire of words from a series of languages including English, useful for their survival.

The tribe did not bother about lack of potable water or sanitation facilities, but were perfectly capable of optimising what came their way without obstructing or polluting their environment. In other words, they epitomised the concept of wild wanderers to the core!

Then there was a query on lord Ganesha. The interviewer called upon an elderly woman in the group and asked her why she thought the lord was pot-bellied. Pat, came the answer; “Because, he has the earth in his stomach.” Even as the eyes of questioner lolled with disbelief, a slow and deliberate explanation as if to a child followed. The lord protected the world by placing it in his stomach; it was but natural that the round world bulged over his middle. I mulled over the outlandish answer. For a while, it appeared as if the lady had reduced the sublime to the ridiculous.

Then, I was reminded of Thomas Paine who said, “The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately, one step above the sublime makes the ridiculous and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.” The words which had seemed like a cryptic code to me until then suddenly came alive.

I was able to appreciate their interpretation of the deity despite seeming unsual. It was pretty much on the lines of what the devout would say, about the lord protecting the universe. In retrospect, I realised that their set of life skills and knowledge albeit different, were on par, perhaps even superior to the so called civilised society.

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The sublime and the ridiculous

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