By Devraj Singh Kalsi
So many times this question has been lobbed at me: Have you gone mad? I have not been able to confidently say — yes. I have not been able to vehemently deny it either. But I have taken serious note of it, asking myself this question again and again. At times I feel I do have it in me and sometimes I feel I am exaggerating my qualities to put myself in the league of big achievers who had a streak of madness igniting their flashes of brilliance. I express gratitude to the people who doubt my sanity. They are truly visionaries and genuine well-wishers, who managed to spot my innate potential before anybody else in the family did.
When a middle-aged man falls in love with a girl half his age, he has to answer the same question: Have you gone mad? When an old fogey leaves everything behind and packs his travel bags to go on a road trip, he is labelled mad. When a rich man relinquishes all his wealth, he is dubbed mad. When a professional quits a cushy job to pursue his passion, he is written off as a nutty nerd. Similarly, when an urbanite decides to relocate to a village and lead a farmer’s life, he is categorised mad.
Attempt anything unusual or unconventional and you stand accused of being mad. A person with the potential to shock the world is said to be in dire need of shock treatment. Thankfully, there are hundreds of people who cross the borders of sanity every day to come home saner. The act of flirting with madness is a rewarding experience to feel sane within – even if the world refuses to acknowledge the benefits of this exercise.
Higher than any recognition in the world is the honour of being called mad if you are engaged in the business of creativity. It is a source of ultimate bliss to be bestowed with this prestigious title. There are many creative people who have won covetous prizes and metal pieces but the world does not call them mad. Madness remains a streak of genius that remains elusive to most. It is like having all the riches of the world and still remaining unhappy. It is painful and melancholic for a creative soul who fails to get recognised and remembered as mad. There is no lobby, no committee to understand madness and celebrate its diversity and goodness. There is no national or global award or citation that recognises or honours the scale and magnitude of madness.
You must be really mad to spend seven years of life locked in a room, busy writing a big, fat novel and doing nothing else. You are chasing something when you do not have any estimate of success in it. Madness fuels the passion to keep going and without madness there cannot be anything magical. Not just once, you spend an entire lifetime doing crazy stuff without any assurance of success in the venture. With nothing going in your favour, with nothing glorifying your mission, you are on your own journey despite all hardships. Madness alone makes it possible to undergo the impossible. The act of creating involves madness at various levels – in choice, in pursuit, in suffering, in determination, in persistence, in creation.
There are phenomenal people in every field who are never content with the shower of praises simply because they do not have the crown of madness to wear. The search for the mad title remains an unfulfilled dream. We are not advanced enough to think of eccentricity as an achievement worth celebrating in life. Whenever this question about being mad has been hurled at me, I have felt happy from within. I have wondered how close I am to winning this label in my lifetime. Sometimes I feel, it is within reach and sometimes it seems beyond reach during the entire lifetime. Before a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction creeps in to create a void, I urge you to seek the company of friends and colleagues who, when persuaded, will flatter and provide temporary relief by calling you mad. Absorb the repetition to get a high.
Zero in on the glory of madness as it reveals a clear focus on the work and the possessed state that makes you refine the craft. It is not easy to say to what extent you are driven by the mad urge but the richness of the work shows you are deeply under its influence. Sometimes one piece of work brings you credit and sometimes the whole body of work makes people consider you raving mad. Keep the target high and celebrate your creative madness as a source of elixir that keeps you alive and fully charged to produce more specimens that demonstrate to a higher degree your long walk into the dark recesses of the mind, to make it suffer over a period of time and produce something timeless and unique.
You find creative people in the film or literary world who have not paid attention to anything apart from their work. They have not won any awards, big or small, not even made it to any shortlist, but their works live forever in the heart. Their readiness to immerse their lives in the work is a key indicator of creative madness. When lives do not matter, when commercial gains do not matter, when nothing else matters except the work and that is what their wide world is limited to. A plunge into such depths of madness is what makes them scale the heights of creative success.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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