Light Will Guide You Home
For Femina’s 62nd anniversary, we got some of our favourite authors and poets to share their interpretation of light.
The Paradox Of Light And Dark
By Namita Gokhale
Writer, editor and publisher Namita Gokhale’s debut novel released in 1984. Since then, she has written fiction and nonfiction and edited nonfiction collections. She is a founder and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Her twentieth book, The Blind Matriarch, released in October 2021.
The quality of light is elusive and relative. The owl and the pussycat can ‘see’ in the shadows. Bats have small eyes and sensitive vision which is attenuated to darkness. The night vision devices industry is growing every day. Yet light remains crucial for humans, it is equated with the path of spiritual evolution, while the primordial darkness inspires fear and trepidation.
My new novel, The Blind Matriarch, has the invincible octogenarian Matangi Ma presiding over her brood with wisdom and compassion during the dark times of the pandemic. Matangi Ma has lost her vision over the years, but even though she is sightless her heightened intuitions and other faculties compensate to the degree that she can see more than any of the other characters. She inhabits a world of darkness but is a source of light and illumination.
The novel opens with an epigraph that reads ‘For we walk by faith, not by light’. The lines are from the Bible and imply that it is surrender that guides us through the darkness. ‘Tamso Ma Jyotirmayi’ – ‘Lead us from darkness to light’ – is the exhortation of the Gayatri mantra. Light and our human vision enable us to be aware of the material realities around us – but the world around us cannot be defined only by the extent to which our biology and vision apparatus allows.
Visible light refers to electromagnetic radiation that can be detected by the human eye. It is a stream of energy, an electric field tied up with a magnetic field, flying through space. To quote Terry Pratchett, “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it’s wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds that the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.”
Light and dark, night and day, share an integral synchronicity and we cannot deny the power and importance of either. Darkness is the absence of light. Darkness is important for restful sleep, and to activate our immune systems. It has its own joys, and many people find it soothing and restful. I personally like the dark, although I’m not so fond of the creepy-crawlies that might show up or things that go bump in the night.
As a novelist, I found myself drawn in my imagination to the image of an old woman, blind but wise. I wondered what it must be like to live in darkness, to have one’s memories erased, to be drawn so deeply into one’s interior space. As I explored the inner landscape of Matangi Ma, I entered new layers of consciousness and understanding. After I had completed an early draft of The Blind Matriarch, and was recovering from the first of my two attacks of COVID, I found my vision turning blurry. It was as though a light had been switched off from inside my eyes. The doctors were puzzled, and I was distraught. My thoughts returned again and again to Matangi Ma, who I had in some strange reversal of roles begun to inhabit.
My eyesight recovered gradually. I was chairing the jury of the Dylan Thomas Prize at that time, and had a stack of books which I had to read within the month. The joys of the backlit screen, or of my trusty reading lamp, were denied to me. I turned to audio books and discovered a new addiction – to lie in the comforting dark, with my eyes closed, and listen to a story being told to me.
It completely changed the axis of the narrative to have the nuance of a voice articulate the writer’s thoughts. Reading in the dark made me deep dive into the innards of the book.
Light and dark. Dark and light. Day and night. They inhabit each other, and illuminate us all.
Also read: When Hidden Weeds Flower By Melody Razak
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