Escapism as per the dictionary is a noun and its meaning is, as we already know is ‘the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially through entertainment or by engaging in fantasy’. Currently, real life happens to be full of troubles, not just because of the deaths of people around the world due to the deadly Coronavirus but also because of the heart-breaking fallout of social distancing and lockdowns, especially in our country. Take the starving migrant labourers across India, without jobs, without money and without hope walking for miles in the hope of getting to their native villages,in the absence of any transport. Take the exorbitant prices of fruits and vegetables in spite of government directives. Or consider the agony of people not being able to be by the side of loved ones who are ill or dying, the loneliness and the despair heightened by paranoia generating social media posts and WhatsApp forwards. It has all added up to threaten us with a downward spiral for our collective mood. And the struggle to hold up seems to be a never-ending one.
So how does one cope? Many say that this is the time to learn something new, like a new skill, perhaps cooking or origami or tap dancing. Others prescribe yoga, meditation, listening to uplifting songs on Youtube …The list keeps expanding as new ideas are shared over the phone or on Facebook. Perhaps many find these ideas useful. As for me, I have worked out a coping mechanism for myself that is somewhat different. I have been making it through this necessary confinement and inevitable gloom without losing my mental equilibrium by partaking of a healthy dose of escapism. It is something I have been partaking regularly in any case, for years, like my daily vitamins and proteins. And its success, over the years, has made me believe that the value of this antidote to depression has perhaps been underrated.
My all-time favorite author PG Wodehouse had said something about the kind of books he wrote which has really stuck in my mind. Wodehouse says ‘I believe there are two ways of writing novels. One is making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going deep down into life and not caring a damn…’ Over time, and after delving into the vast genres of literature beyond the Wodehouse kind, I have found that what Camus or Kafka or even VS Naipaul did was stimulate the intellect by probing the angst of human existence with its share of indistinct anxieties and worse, unfathomable despair. This sort of reading helped in coffee house debates when I was a firebrand college girl and made my bookshelves look impressive. At the same time, I would often reward myself, like one reward oneself on cheat days when on a strict diet. I would reward myself with not just Wodehouse but also the regency romances of Georgette Heyer and even the Enid Blyton books with their yellowing pages , tucked away with old albums and soft toys of a long forgotten childhood. Within the pages of these books I could escape to a world of sunlit perfection. The tears were all part of romantic adventures and just a prelude to humorous twists in the plot. No one in this world suffered the disillusionment of the real world which one was grappling with while going about the business of living.
Escapism is something that comes in many forms: Disney movies, , Hollywood rom coms on Romedy network , Kishore Kumar songs, a Zakir Hussain or Amjad Ali recital, a Herbie Hancock album. What’s common to all these divergent expressions of creativity is that they help you escape to a world of your choosing where you are in complete bliss, detached from the nitty gritty of work issues , health issues, financial issues, relationship issues…..
An escapist is obviously someone who escapes. But the world she escapes to keeps varying. There are passive escapists and active escapists. Passive escapists allow themselves to be transported to worlds created by others. And the world too varies, from Harry Potter’s Hogwarth to an old Bollywood comedy starring Mehmood. The active escapist on the other hand is a creator herself . She creates the world she escapes to : in the book she writes , where characters behave just as she wants them to, in the canvas where she paints a mood or memory or simply the daydream she weaves for herself. Here she is the arbiter of her own escape route. And she works with a singular tool : Imagination. It’s imagination which leads her to dream up possibilities and show her the path of anticipation and excitement and ultimately sheer joy to fill up her senses and nourish her spirit.
It has often been argued that escapism is something that all of us are free to resort to after we have taken care of our reality. Yes, watch your favourite cartoon show but finish your homework first. Yes, write a book or paint a picture but after you have made provision for the rent and electricity bill due at the end of the month. And one can’t really dispute this line of thinking. After all a poem by Wordsworth or a picture of sunny meadows cannot help fill an empty stomach or rescue one from homelessness. Yes, escapism ultimately will not take you away from grim realities . But when living itself is under threat and the whole world is furiously battling fear and uncertainties , it does replenish and re-energize our spirit if we perfect the art of escapism at least for some time every day . Till reality pulls us back as it always will.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.