Follow your own passion – not your parents’, not your teachers’ – yours.
~ Robert Ballard.
Now let me tell you, straight off the bat that I had no idea who Robert Ballard was until I came across that snappy quotation. For the record, he is a retired US naval officer and an expert on oceanography. And going by his views, I am sure he was an extremely competent oceanographer. Any scrap of marine life that escaped Mr. Ballard’s minute attention was probably not worth knowing about. Amongst his many substantive achievements on ocean exploration and underwater archaeology, Ballard is widely credited with the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic, the battleship Bismarck, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109. I well remember the Hollywood film, PT-109 during the early ‘60s starring Cliff Robertson as Kennedy. It ran to packed houses at a time when the young, flamboyant President of the United States, who captured the world’s imagination, rose like a Phoenix from the ashes and fell like Lucifer from heaven.
So much for Robert Ballard, whose contribution to this essay was primarily to kick off this subject of being ‘driven by passion’, such that you would go to any lengths to achieve your life’s ambition – even down to the bottomless depths of the ocean bed. Consequently, it occurred to me to discuss some luminaries in certain fields of endeavour close to my heart, a purely subjective list of my own making; individuals who have pursued their goals with unswerving commitment. Of course, for every person I choose to talk about, the reader could well have a fistful of alternative options. Invidiousness does not come into play here and many names will be conspicuous by their absence. The idea is to demonstrate what undiluted passion can do to elevate a person from the humdrum to the humdinger.
Let’s take a subject that all of us in India are only too familiar with – Cricket. Over a hundred years and more, cricket-playing nations around the world have produced outstanding sportsmen with great inborn skills. The passion of a cricketer shines through when he fights the odds, inspires other team members to play above themselves and seal victory. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman were passionate about representing India, making worthy contributions towards India’s wins. Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli have all been inspirational and driven leaders, having their own, unique way of displaying their passion. Gavaskar wore his patriotism on his sleeve, Kapil Dev was just a happy, preternaturally gifted individual, Ganguly and Kohli, emotional and demonstrative, while Dhoni was a monk – totally understated. It must be said that when representing the country, players find an additional boost of adrenaline and testosterone to spur themselves. I mean naturally, and not through aided substances! Similar stories demonstrating passion abound in tennis, football, athletics and other sporting endeavours.
Let’s turn to music. Musicians, their genre notwithstanding, must necessarily deal with emotions when they perform – be it their own or the audience for whose benefit they are strutting their stuff. It is the nature of the beast. Whether you are a singer or an instrumentalist, bringing out the emotional aspect of music that touches the listener’s heart is an extremely difficult task. There is a difference between conveying emotion and merely emoting. Many musicians resort to playing around with the lyrics, which have an in-built emotional quotient, without the requisite musical heft or skills. If it is an instrumental piece, then one tends to rely on the quality of the composition. If you sit and listen undisturbed to Ludwig van Beethoven’s monumental 9th Symphony or the peerless Violin Concerto in D, your emotions soar to inexplicable levels – that which cannot be articulated. All you can feel is a lump in the throat. When you further consider that Beethoven was deaf, imagine the passion and the frustration that must have gone into producing something so ethereal, the fruits of which only his audiences could enjoy, and Beethoven himself could only hear in his head!
Pop and Rock music, the experts aver, arouse the senses rather than genuine passion. I am not sure what the difference is. It all depends on the skill sets of the artists. Listen to some of Eric Clapton’s elongated guitar solos (Layla), or Duane Allman and Dickey Betts (dual guitars) jamming together in a jazz-rock magnum opus, Mountain Jam, or the ineffably beautiful acoustic Little Martha, and you will feel your spirits soar. The dexterity and plucking involved are indescribable. Even a simple song, with beautiful backing, composed and sung feelingly, will elevate you. Key in Van Morrison’s Village Idiot (he’s got a simple mind) or Tired Joey Boy (of the makings of men), and tell me your heart didn’t miss a beat.
Finally, on music and passion, let me come closer to home. Top gun Carnatic maestro Sanjay Subrahmanyan literally moves audiences to tears of joy, particularly when he launches into his impassioned renditions of Tamil songs and poetry. There are many musicians who sing well and are hugely respected and admired, but Sanjay provides that indefinable X factor, that brings men and women of all ages in droves to his concerts. They feel at one with him, and his intensity, joie de vivre and single-minded ability to ‘stay in the bubble’ for the entire duration of the concert. Qualities that keep audiences spellbound and emotionally glued to their seats. Is he passionate in his renderings? Does the audience experience rollercoaster emotions during his live concerts? That’s a no-brainer, to employ a present-day argot. Those of you who are not too au fait with what I am talking about, just take in one of Sanjay’s concerts next time he is in your neck of the woods. That is, if you can manage to cadge a pass.
I would like to round off this dialectic on passion with a few thoughts on fine art. In particular the paintings of the great masters are worth looking at from the point of view of their ability to stir emotions and in many cases, drive wealthy people to spend millions to obtain some of these masterpieces for themselves. After all, owning a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh canvas places you in an exclusive and exalted league of gentlemen! What is it about some of these paintings that moves one so? Let’s dwell briefly on Van Gogh’s impressions. I have been fortunate enough to visit the master’s museum in Amsterdam. One blinding canvas after the other, the daubs of paint, the brush strokes – Wheatfield with crows, Starry night, Irises – the reality of the unreality in the impressionism, makes you go weak in the knees. To say nothing of the Dutch master’s disturbing self-portraits. Was it pain or passion that drove Van Gogh, with no thought of pelf or profit, to produce these magical paintings? That is a question for the ages. There is a scene in the 1967 film Night of the Generals, when the protagonist, Peter O’Toole (he of the blue, blue eyes) cast as a German general, stares intently at a Van Gogh self-portrait and goes through a plethora of heaving emotions. A moment of extreme and controlled passion, brilliantly portrayed by the late Irish thespian.
I conclude with a brief observation on the written word. Can something as sterile and dry as mere text move people to extreme emotion? I exclude news items of death, crime and destruction which is merely reportage that could propel people to take to the streets. I am talking about using language that lifts your spirits and makes you go, ‘I wish I could write like that.’ This one example from Shakespeare would suffice:
Write till your ink be dry, and with your tears / Moist it again, and frame some feeling line / That may discover such integrity.
~ Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Reproduced through the kind courtesy of Spark Online , 10th anniversary issue, January 2019.