I have a little daughter. One of the most exciting things of my fatherhood has been looking at the variety of toys today’s children have and buying the ones which I think are suitable for her. Fancy role-play sets, dolls which look as if they have been designed by fashion houses in Paris, official remote-controlled scale model Lamborghinis, the list, as they say, is endless. Just the range of crayons that my daughter has in her possession could give any professional artist from the 90s a complex!
Once I buy the toys and get them home, starts the process of validation and my trepidation over the fact that will she like my purchase. Anyway, I am sure a lot of dads go through the same procedure. Since her summer vacations are on, we have been trying to find ways and means to keep her engaged and just like that one day we decided to make paper boats. Simplicity itself, brought out some old sheets of paper and made her a number of them and as is the case with all toys was wondering if she would like them when suddenly she came running to me and told me that she will use her old bathtub to play with them. It was in her the midst of her laughter that I was reminded of a rather poignant quote by Rabindranath Tagore.
“These paper boats of mine are meant to dance on the ripples of hours and not reach any particular destination”
What is the enduring charm of a simple piece of folded paper? What is the beauty in the gentle rhythm of boats swaying in the water? There is the obvious tug of nostalgia, sepia-toned images of our past when the first drops of rain would be an invitation for us to go out and make the puddles our mates. Then there is the embalming effect of water, gently soothing our soul. But is there something else with the aforementioned?
I am a fan of Javed Akhtar and really like to hear him speak. On this occasion, he was talking about youngsters taking up poetry. The interesting thing that he mentioned was that any form of art must be honed with craft, but art and craft are inherently contradictory principles. Art according to Akhtar is the upheaval of emotions that are in you which you want to produce primarily to be appreciated for its beauty. Craft, on the other hand, is the process which lets you control that emotion and frame it properly. A writer may be crying from inside on a topic, but he will be weighing words in his head so that he comes up with the one most suited for his writing. Music, with all its wonders and glory, rides on the backbone of mathematics. Each perfectly taken photograph is governed by the rules of Geometry. The stronger the hold on the craft, the more nuanced is the creation of art.
Paper boats are a very elementary form of handicraft. However, if you think about it, in a very few folds of a sheet is a very strong reflection of what Akhtar is trying to say. There is beautiful Geometry, there is simplicity and there is imagination. I can only envisage the thought that must have gone through the mind of the person who came up with this for the first time, crystallizing the idea of a voyage into paper. And I can only envisage what visions that paper is showing to my little daughter. Maybe she is thinking about seeing the world, maybe it is sowing the seeds of travel and know more about the planet that she lives in. Whatever might be the case, it fills her face up with a smile so infectious that it lights up the entire house, and if that is not art then what is?