The human brain is a very interesting organ. Among the many things that it is capable of doing , what really amazes me is its ability to bring the sense organs together and perceive things that go beyond the the normal action of that organ. Let me explain this a bit more.
We all know about how the sense of smell can trigger other senses. For example when we smell something delicious we automatically start feeling hungry. This sense of hunger can also be triggered by pictures of food. But the most amazing thing is that sometimes even words describing food can make us salivate in anticipation! The credit goes as much to the person who wrote those words as to this wonderful organ inside our head!
I have always been a person who is very susceptible to the imagery of words. When I read a book I actually see the characters in my mind. I can almost taste some dishes simply by the descriptions. But I must say that sometimes the real thing is a let down! I used to read a lot of Enid Blytons as a child and one of the things that I thought might be the most delicious dish in this world was – buttered or jam muffins. I used to read those parts over and over again particularly the sections about how the butter or jam would be oozing out of the muffin. But unfortunately, when I actually tasted a muffin, it was rather disappointing! Of course, I tried to console myself saying that maybe we don’t get the real thing in India.
My grandmother was a great one at creating imagery by her mere words. She often described to me how as a child, she and her friends used to take tamarind and roll it on the mortar used to grind spices along with some salt and chill powder and then stick to the end of a “irkuchi” ( the mid rib of a dried coconut frond often used in the making of broom sticks) and suck it like a lollipop! Believe me folks, no lollipop tasted nicer than what this tamarind one tasted in my mind. Ofcourse I tried doing it at my grandparents place but once I dropped the pestle on the ground and was scolded badly I never again went near that piece of granite! But the longing remains.. even today.
And no it is not just food that is susceptible to imagery. Good imagery can also trigger our sense of smell. I remember reading a book by Anita Nair about a Kathakali dancer who had to spend a few years in London. He misses his home and everything about it. There is a section where she describes beautifully how he misses bathing in hot water “fragrant with the smell of burning firewood”. It took me back to my childhood at my grandparent’s place in Srirangam where there used to be a huge copper pot in which gallons of water would be heated on a firewood stove for all of us to have our oil baths. The entire room would smell of burning firewood and so would the water. Of course you might say that I was able to relate to it because I had a previous experience to fall back on . But one must give credit to the writer for triggering that memory. And yes, in the same book she describes how our hero misses eating hot rice with “ More kachi” .. comfort food at its best! I could almost smell the coconut being ground to make that curry and the smell of mustard seasoning it after it was off the fire!
But are words the only medium through which imagery is created? I would say not. For me music is another medium which does it. The ear hears more than mere sound. For those of you who have heard the Hindustani Raag “ Pahadi” ( literally meaning mountainous) may understand what I mean. Whenever I hear this Raag I am transported to the mountains. There is one instrument that creates in my mind the image of flowing water– the Santoor! I have never been on the Dal Lake but whenever I hear Shiv Kumar Sharma play his Santoor I can see myself on that lake. Similarly are there are raags like Poorvi, Yaman, Pooriya which make me watch the sunset in my mind. I also see the cowherds coming home with the cattle. Raags like Lalit can almost make you see the first rays of the sun while Raag Megh can bring the dark clouds of the monsoon sky in front of your eyes! Ofcourse if you are so inclined you may even feel those droplets touch your eye lids!
While music and words can trigger the imagery, there are times when it happens rather spontaneously. How many times have you listened to a person with that lovely voice at the other end of the phone and been disappointed by the way s/he actually looks?
The human mind is very creative. We just need something like a small trigger to set it going in a certain direction. Ofcourse how far it would travel depends on the mind’s own desire to travel that path. The ability to associate a thought with an image is a kind of coming together of the senses. This is what I guess makes humans so special.
And with something like this between our ears, who needs a magic wand?
( Do share with me what triggers your mental images and what are those images)