Humour by Rehana Munir: In defence of decadence
It must be the pandemic. Hardly a day goes by without my indulging in one of the seven deadly sins, and to resounding success. From diving into dark chocolate sorbet to immersing myself in hours of literary fiction, in my private universe, decadence is in. (Greed along with sloth is my favourite hybrid sin. Groth, if you will.) I recoil at my words as I type them; the world is full of horrors, and each one of us has a role to play in alleviating the general condition of humanity. But may I join the task force after one little nap, please?
The flaw in paganism
Every time I see a beatific Buddha idol in a tastefully decorated home or café, I’m doomed to revisit my own experience at a ten-day Vipassana camp, all those years ago. Equanimity was the name of the game as my fellow campmates glided beatifically between meditation sessions, half-starving but fully self-realised. My moksha-resistant mind, however, kept repeating this refrain: “What if these are my last ten days on earth? And I spent them in seclusion, without any books, cake or loved ones!” “Moderation is a fatal thing,” said Oscar Wilde, the patron saint of the decadent. “Nothing succeeds like excess.”
But here’s the thing with living every day like it’s the last; if you make it to the next day, you’re a bit stuck. And hungover. And just a bit poorer, with no prospects for a quick redemption. As the relentlessy dark and witty Dorothy Parker wrote in The Flaw In Paganism:
Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)
The docuseries The Century of the Self (2002), directed by British filmmaker Adam Curtis, looks at this unstinted focus on happiness in modern life, and links it to such 20th century phenomena as psychoanalysis, advertising and the political manipulation of the masses. And it all begins with a simple sparking of latent desires. The desire-advertising nexus brings to mind the sumptuous TV series Mad Men, that took us on a breath-taking ride through American capitalism and consumption, and its fallout on family life in the ‘60s – whiskey-swilling suits prone to deceit, cigarette-ashing frocks prone to despair, and ice-cream-obsessed overalls prone to rebellion. Materialism has its downside, but at least you’re well-turned-out when you’re suffering it.
The cult of Insta, which demands a regular offering of pouting and preening pics, is a grand stage for attention-seeking, and I’m as guilty as the next poser. If not with pouts, then with poetry. The temporary high of likes and comments washes over you like the first urak of the season in Goa; easy come, easy go. Until the next post – or drink – and the next. For those wondering about urak, it’s the distilled cashew drink, brewed from March to May, and shared by generous local families with undeserving outsiders like myself. For the less lucky, there’s bottled feni to be bought from stores. But true indulgence, as every Insta philosopher knows, can’t be bought.
Flirting with immoderation
With Lent in progress, a time of renunciation and repentance for Christian believers, its corollary, indulgence, slips slyly into focus. “Overdose at Christmas/And give it up for Lent” as Robbie Williams, that naughty noughties icon sang. But we all struggle with our own versions of Lent throughout the year, attempting to give up what we consider to be luxuries or indulgences with monotonous regularity. Trying and failing and trying again, we’re all busy with what Michelle Obama calls “striving” in the opening section of her must-read memoirs: Becoming.
It’s worthwhile to take one’s chances and flirt with immoderation and suffer its consequences like a struggling poet rather than an untemptable prophet. So here’s to breaking your no-dessert vow and no-daytime-drinking rule. To extending a seaside retreat till your skin flakes and friends mock. To feverish messaging in an unmade bed, leaving a trail of cookie crumbs as you laugh. Between the filing of the taxes and ordering of the groceries, between the assignments and commitments, there are little windows of light, which the unimaginative call “distractions”. We could do worse than open the curtains.
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From HT Brunch, February 28, 2021
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