The daughter pranced into the home one evening a few months ago, her eyes agog with excitement. She had auditioned and been cast as Willy Wonka, the eccentric chocolate factory owner in Willy Wonka Jr (the musical based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). They say Art is Transformative, and it is true. Every time I see the children pull off something spectacular, my heart soars.
Come with me and you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination
We’ll begin with a spin
Traveling the world of my creation
What you’ll see will defy explanation
As she sang her songs from Willy Wonka around the house, there was a pleasant hum in my brain too. I remember reading the little book with her when she was in elementary school. The years in between have smudged into a blur in which I remember doing a lot of things, cherishing a few memories, and before I knew it, my little girl towered over me in height and ability.
In a world of pure imagination: how would that world be? It must be a world in which all things vile are wished away, and only pleasant striving has a place. A canvas on which the best is to be painted and awaits the strokes of our creation. Maybe that is how we must view life. Every aspect of ours a stroke on our canvas – the true nature of the painting ever changing to be revealed to us as we go along, giving us a subtle choice here and there on whether to put in that jarring, wrong stroke or a mellow, right one.
There are many marvelous things that I can attribute to imagination (and immigration). One that ranks highest is the fact that I get to read American Children’s literature as an adult. As a child, in the lovely hills of South India, I loved curling up with Enid Blyton’s books, and often escaped into fairy lands on wishing chairs and ran into magical forests. It was easy imagining an adventure, while swinging on tree trunks that had fallen in the last storm. We had plenty of time, and had no one but ourselves to rely on for entertainment. State television made its entry a few years later, but it was agreed fact that our own flavor of entertainment was far superior to what we saw on Television. I sometimes played alone, but not once did I feel lonely. There were always imaginary friends who’d drop in for a cup of tea and we’d bake some scrunchy scones and whip up some tea cake, though I had never seen the inside of an oven.
The Indian comic books, Amar Chitra Katha, Chandamama added flavor and beans to the curry pot of imagination. It was a wonderful time in the head. The pressures of wanting to make something of oneself had not yet begun to exert itself, the only lures were those of nature as it enclosed us. The trees were friends and frequently doubled up as props in our adventures. Many a scraped knee was soothed away with scratches from brambles.
I entered my teenage years, and my imagination left some of its whimsy behind. The teen years and the early twenties were dedicated to much serious reading, and I spent a good portion of my time striving and wondering what to make of myself.
“That’s the worst of growing up, and I’m beginning to realize it. The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them.”
Then, I realized that all those years that I had spent wondering what to make of myself had actually made me. Just like that, I could embrace all that happened to me. It was liberating, and then the more whimsical side of my imagination swooped in once more. I took tentative steps into Wonderland when I became a mother in the United States, and indulged the child in me with my growing children.
Dr Seuss graced our tongues and teased the brain (What if I had duck feet? Did the elephant hatch the egg finally, will Zooks and Yooks ever become friends?), we sang poems by Robert Louis Stevenson set to the tunes of the old hymns in our school hymn book (To be written), we giggled with Bernstein Bears, hoo-hoo-haa-haa-ed with Curious George, and marveled at the friendship between Frog & Toad. The children and I read Charlotte’s Web when I was in my thirties, but I enjoyed it even more than I would have as a child.
For a long time, I had meant to read Anne of Green Gables, but for some reason, did not. The daughter had not shown inclination towards this series, and there was no one to tell me how I absolutely must read it. Then, one day I read a quote from Anne of Windy Poplars, and I was intrigued. I have always loved that style of uplifting writing weaving the tendrils of imagination with subtle humor: the gentle breeze of the soothing powers of nature to nurture our soul wafting through every page. It is why I like Miss Read’s writing so much.
I identified keenly with how much Anne prized the gift of imagination. Somehow, we lose that streak of imagining as we grow older, much like we forget to skip while walking. I now have that pleasurable thrill of reading all the remaining books by Lucy Maud Montgomery. It is a sustaining thought.
No giant or dragon
Is bigger or stronger
Than the human imagination
P.S: If you have not already listened to J K Rowling’s commencement speech, it is definitely worth listening to: The Importance of Failure and Imagination