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Tuesday, Jan 21, 2020
Home / Columns / Shashi Tharoor’s Word of the Week: Paracosm

Shashi Tharoor’s Word of the Week: Paracosm

Some of the best, and worst, minds dream up their own parallel realities

columns Updated: Sep 06, 2019 19:31 IST
Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor
Hindustan Times
(HT Illustration: Gajanan Nirphale)

Paracosm, noun: a detailed imaginary world created inside one’s mind

Usage: My little daughter spent much of her hours not merely day-dreaming but conducting entire conversations and incidents in her own paracosm, with people and pets only she could see.

Paracosms are more common among imaginative children than you can imagine, so it is not only novelists like JRR Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings or JK Rowling in her Harry Potter books who have created convincing imaginary worlds peopled with their own characters, clans (Tolkien’s Hobbits, Rowling’s Muggles), traditions, geographical features, historical events, invented language and even habits and prejudices – including, in some cases, incorporating real-world characters and conventions.

A child’s imaginary paracosm is very real to her, and she has a profound and complex relationship with it; one friend’s son claimed his best friend was a girl who for the rest of us didn’t exist, but he spoke of her as if he was completely serious about his accounts of exchanges and experiences they had shared. Though adults are often bewildered by the conviction a child shows in her subjective universe, it can often continue beyond childhood.

Paracosms are not merely infantile fantasies, as the successes of Tolkien, Rowling, the Game of Thrones series on television and lesser-known children’s authors confirms. They often serve as a way for grieving people to cope with tragedy, especially the death of a loved one, when bereaved people retreat into a paracosm in order to more safely process and understand their loss.

It is said that famous writers like Emily Brontë, James M Barrie, and Isak Dinesen created their widely read paracosms after the deaths in their childhoods of family members who were close to them.

Today, one of the best-loved paracosms is the one inhabited by the cartoon-strip characters Calvin and Hobbes – a little boy coping with the stresses of daily life, parental instructions and onerous demands of the real world by talking to, and receiving support from, a friendly tiger. Sometimes we wonder whether some of our politicians live in paracosms of their own – how else to explain some of their more bizarre decisions and actions?