“You know na that perfection does not exist.” My voice was sounding strange to even me. Like it was echoing the same words over and over again. I lost count of how many times we had this exact same conversation with the exact same outcome. I am sure I could even predict the exact words he was going to say next.
“That’s not true. That’s something mediocre say to pass off their half-ass efforts.” Well, I can’t say I didn’t know what he was going to say. I have heard this way too many times.
“Do you remember the story we read in our school textbook? The one about how perfection is not made for humans.” I don’t remember which grade I read this story. But I have been thinking about it a lot lately.
“Does it matter if I remember? You are going to tell me the story anyway right?” Well, it seems he too is getting better at predicting me.
“Since that’s clear, let me start the story.” Maybe the story will at least distract him for a while.
Long ago in a small village in India, there lived a mason. He made really beautiful sculptures. Most of his statues were sold at the monthly market in the nearest city. But sometimes he got orders to make something special for some big merchants. He was gaining fame and was getting orders from big people from far places as well.
A new temple was being constructed in his village and he got the order to make the statue of Lord Natraj. He started his work with great dedication. He got a piece of beautiful black marble. He started carving and polishing and then carving again. He worked on it day and night, ignoring basic human needs like hunger and sleep.
Months went by and he was focused on only this statue. He stopped making anything else. He stopped taking any other order. In fact, he even stopped going out of his house. Day and night he just took his chisel and worked on the statue.
After almost a year, he declared that the statue was finished. He finally went out of his house and called the chief priest of the village. The chief priest was the one placing the order and he brought many other priests and other village elders with him to go see the statue of Lord Natraja.
The statue was impeccable. Absolutely perfect. Every line, every curve just as it should have been. It looked divine. Everyone was instantly mesmerised. The mason was tired but basking in the glory. The chief priest started making preparations for the statue to be moved to the newly constructed temple. A big ritual would take place before the statue and the temple would be opened for public.
As he gave orders he noticed that the eldest man of the village was eerily quite. The old man was just looking at the statue from every angle with a troubled expression. The chief priest asked the old man what was bothering him.
The old man was a simple man. He has seen life and seen how time leaves its stamp on mortal men. He simply said that the statue was too perfect. Everyone was confused at his objection. Wasnt being too perfect a good thing? The old man then explained that perfection was not meant for humans. Only the divine had a claim on perfection. Humans can not lay claim on anything perfect. He then went ahead and asked the mason to make a small crack or something like that on the statue else the village would invite wrath from powers beyond our understanding.
The old man was dismissed by everyone. His words of divine wrath sounded like the paranoia of a crazy old man. The statue was moved to the new temple and preparations for the rituals started in full flow. It seemed like the entire village was doing something or the other to prepare for the grand day.
But everyday something would happen that would dampen the efforts. First, a huge group of wild elephants trampled through the village. No one died but a lot of fields and huts were damaged. Then a minor earthquake shook the village. The old man kept insisting that things would keep getting worse until the statue was altered to add some imperfection.
No one believed the old man initially. But as the days went by and brought new problems, people started getting worried. The oldest tree of the village suddenly died for no apparent cause. The cattle got sick. Even the water in the wells suddenly turned red.
And then came the storm.
Non-stop rains along with winds threatening to uproot anything coming in its path. The winds and the rains were what got everyone scared. Fear leads us to believe so many things. Maybe that’s why the entire village suddenly believed the old man’s words and blamed the perfect statue.
Everyone but the mason. He had been observing how the mood of the masses changed with every disaster striking the village. He was worried that the villagers would blame him and his statue. At this point, he did not care about what happened to him but he was devoted to the statue he had created with so much devotion. He had poured his sweat and blood in its creation. He just couldn’t let anything happen to the statue.
The villagers followed the old man and marched in pouring rains to the temple. They brought hammers and chisels and were ready to add imperfections to the statue. That’s where they found the mason. Blocking their path. He knew that the villagers were going to demolish what he had created with so much love. The mason was weak but he was ready to fight. He would fight to protect what he loved more than himself.
The standoff happened at the gate of the temple. No one was ready to back off. It looked like the villagers would destroy the statue along with its creator. But right then something divine did happen.
Lightning struck. Lightning hit the central chamber of the temple where the statue was kept. The lightning scared most of the villagers who ran away fearing their own lives. The mason remained. Still holding his ground. The old man remained along with the chief priest who was worried about the destruction caused by the lightning.
As the chief priest ran inside the temple, the mason followed him while the old man came slowly.
The temple was intact. Nothing was damaged. Or so it appeared.
The mason was the first to notice it and he fell to the grounds screaming and wailing. The smallest toe of the statue was cracked. It was hardly visible but it added the imperfection just like the old man wanted. The chief priest was worried if this was a bad omen. But before anyone could say anything the old man pointed to the sky and brought to their attention that the rains had stopped.
The storm that had tormented the village suddenly vanished. The sick cattle suddenly got better. Everyone was happy. Everyone but the mason.
The mason was still on the floor in front of the statue. He had stopped crying and was now sitting dejectedly.
The old man went to him and said he knew how the mason felt. After all, the old man was the one who made the statue for the old temple.
“Well, what do you think about the story?” I asked but his expression told me exactly what he thought of the story.
“So this is the big story you thought would help me finish the design? What is the moral of the story? That I am not good enough to make a decent design? Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
I could feel the anger radiating from his entire body. It was like his anger was hitting me with heatwaves. Why did I tell him this story? He never likes the stories with metaphors or even with unexplained phenomenons.
How do I explain that I told him this story so that he would sit and eat a little or even drink a little water? Which he did so I got what I wanted. But he has been so immersed in making the design for the competition that he has forgotten sleep and hunger for weeks now. That certainly can’t be healthy.
He was still brooding about the story.
“So the mason created something so perfect that even divine powers had to notice. And I have been working on my designs all my life even without getting any attention from random population online. What’s the point of anything? Why do I still think that I will amount for anything? Artists like me are dime a dozen. I am nothing. I can’t even get a single design ready on time.”
He was rambling now. This was not good. His whole body was shaking. Was he cold or was he having another attack? It didn’t look good. If it was like last time then his anger will flare more and get more focused on himself. Maybe I should call his doctor. Just in case things get out of control.
As I was finding the number on my phone I heard a loud crash. I turned for one second and he managed to grab his digital drawing tablet and smash it on the floor. I didn’t know these tablets could shatter like glass. I thought only the screens got cracks. But the floor was covered in tiny pieces. Did he smash something else too? Did all this come from one device?
I was lost in my thought when he came and held me by my shoulders. “I give up. I am done with art and design and whatever it was I was doing so far. I am just done. You are right. There is nothing called perfection. I was a fool trying to be perfect. Now there is no art, no deadline and I can finally rest.”
He said all that then calmly went to the fridge, took something out and started eating directly from the container. When he saw me staring at him, he gave me a smile.
Well, a smile was not something I was expecting. I called his doctor even though he looked calm now. The doctor came in 30 mins and told me he looked fine for now. But I was supposed to keep a close eye on him for a few days at least.
He started talking about the competition and how now he felt free. It didn’t seem like he minded that he missed the deadline despite working so much on the project. So I decided that today was not the day to tell him that I had submitted his design for the competition three days ago.
His finished his design the first week itself. Since then he has been chasing perfection and worrying about making it better somehow. Could it have been made better? Maybe. But his outburst showed that he should have moved on from this design long ago.
He let his desire for perfection rob him of the joy he used to get from creating his designs.
I think I’ll let him rest for few days before telling him that his design was already shortlisted for the second round. Or maybe I’ll tell him only if he wins. That will be an easier conversation anyways.