Yes, there is a lot going wrong out there and sometimes I feel guilty and shallow for enjoying things. But at the moment all I can do is pray for the sufferers, choose empathy towards friends and strangers and live and enjoy all that life has to offer.
Long ago I remember buying a book, a book which I usually would look down upon as I thought it was shallow and focussed on things that are not important. The book was the best of Vogue pictures of parties, people and places. Once it was bought I thoroughly enjoyed admiring the pictures, I remember telling a friend, “Why must one feel reality is only the struggle, poverty and the suffering? Reality also lies in beauty and perhaps indulgence.”
So, here is my indulgence at the moment, pontificating on my favouritest painting in the world. (I know favouritest is not a word).
It is called “Cafe terrace by night” by Vincent Van Gogh.
I don’t remember when and how I fell in love with that painting, perhaps during art school days. And over the years it is a painting that I love deeply and somehow it just calms me to see it. It is not an unhappy or a happy painting, it is just a sombre snapshot of someone’s neighbourhood cafe, these days we may see something like this on instagram with a hashtag of #myneighbourhoodcafe or something like that.
I have been looking at the painting and realised that my first impression was that of emptiness. The cafe looks like a place busy during the day but the quietness of the night makes you want to get away from it. The patch in the canopy gives it a feeling of well used and well lived a place by people and its owners and it looks nestled in a typical European street with houses around and people coming in and going out. I would like to think, like me Van Gogh was also focusing on the emptiness with vacant tables in the foreground, people and the quiet humdrum of activity at the back is incidental, like when we take a picture, we focus on one thing and many a times when we look at that picture later we realise the stuff that was happening around the subject.
There is so much of quietness in the painting that I feel even the sound of breath itself will bring life to it. When I look at it I don’t even hear the sound of shoes against the cobbled stones in a far away distance. The painting is from a point of view of someone who is distant, smoking a cigarette and with no thought just looking at the on goings of the cafe. Probably if you asked the observer what he saw he may not be able to recall as the painting feels like a moment when you are among a crowd but don’t feel your own body or mind and later on won’t even remember being in that crowd. The painter feels closer to the emptiness and not the people.
And most importantly, because oil painting in the only medium in which you first paint with dark colours and paint light colours at the end, it is similar to a spiritual journey in life. Yes, this is me overthinking it but going from dark to light and to lightness.
So indulgence is a journey, whether of enjoying places, things, people, moments and so on and so forth, but if we let it, it can take us to observing our indulgence and give us a sneak peek in who we are. It is just a matter of how close we are and how far at the same time.