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February 30, 1997


Farzana Versey

Dominic Xavier's illustration

Intellectualism is a part-time hobby. Only, they call it a passion or a way of life

If you flaunt beauty and sheer physical prowess, you are accused of vanity. But what of those who use their minds with lethal power?

The worst offenders are the artists and the intellectuals. The artists invariably believe that since God has provided them with an easel, a canvas, a few brushes and some paint, they are superior to the rest of the species. Therefore, you are likely to come across them looking either lost or with fire in the eyes. Both these are legitimate expressions. No one will ever bother to insinuate that they are either uncomfortable and constipated or have had one too many.

And even if they have, it is only to deaden the voices of conscience, to drown sorrows or to get further inspiration from Monet or Picasso. Never ever suggest that an artist is a social drinker. Even if he lives in a duplex apartment, he still believes that he is living in a garret in a small lane of Paris. But don't judge the artist too rashly. He is always ready to paint for a social cause. Don't forget he is a thinker who has an opinion. So with one slash of red he can convey blood, gore, mayhem. And if it is only that one slash that graces the canvas, his work will be hailed as minimalistic.

Which brings me to the intellectual. His silences are long, his words brief. Time was when you pronounced a person an intellectual if his ideas set you thinking, or he had something original to say. Today, anyone in front of a computer with his hand under his chin is called an intellectual, be he in films, journalism, advertising (even client executives!) photography or even corporate honchos. Barely has a sentence escaped their lips than there is a round of hushed applause, "He is such an intellectual." It usually means you haven't understood a word of what has been said.

Intellectuals are freer individuals than artists in that they do not necessarily have to sell their work. Intellectualism is a part-time hobby, only they call it either a passion or a way of life.

The ones who call it a passion always like to see things from the psycho-sociological point of view. After they have had their say, there is always a pregnant pause in which they chew their own thoughts.

The ones who say it is a way of life look as though they have swallowed a bottle of castor oil. And not even by mistake. All their actions are deliberate. They walk slowly, talk slowly, eat slowly. They are a great hit on the social circuit largely because they arrive late and leave early.

Oh, I forgot, these days even fundamentalists of every stripe as well as secularists of any sort are dubbed intellectual. Thinking people use their aloofness as a defence mechanism and the moment they have fooled the world that they are lost in a different world, they might just strike to win.

This is all very well, but it often gives rise to a major feeling of superiority. All of us value our mental prowess and I would be a hypocrite if I did not myself confess to feelings of superiority over, say, a woman obsessed with external embellishments. But the 'Look at Me' kind of brain is likely to rock your boat and promote himself as the most eligible anchor!

Illustration: Dominic Xavier