Handling compliments have always been a tricky affair for me. There is a queasy quality about praise that gives our ego an instant fillip and in the very next instant, makes us pause and wonder if we are deserving of it at all - that niggling sense of self-doubt that never lets us take credits wholeheartedly. The scepticism that surrounds praise makes it additionally hard for me to accept the good word because in a world that has made sycophancy a creed, it has become difficult to tell the difference between the genuine and the phony. Many are said to complete courtesies, and some even meant to be left-handed. But occasionally, a compliment comes by that lingers in the realm of the exotic, one that could lead me to a path of meaningful contemplation if received and regarded with humility.
‘You are a perfect, complete woman.’
It is a compliment that I would have dismissed as hyperbolic and ridiculous had it been handed out by an anonymous reader or a remote admirer with low scruples. I could also have been miffed at the rawness of the statement and launched a tirade against it for being uncouth. But when it came from an erudite, decent individual for whom I have immense regard, I sat up and listened. I was stunned by its enormity, but it wasn’t the frills the compliment added to my profile as an author that intrigued me. It was the idea of ‘perfection’ that stood out and begged to be put under the scanner and be understood. The statement soon assumed a lot more significance to me than it had at first. It wasn’t mere commendation anymore. It was a signpost to knowing myself. Am I really perfect? What does ‘completeness’ mean, after all? And where does one find it in this melee of daily survival?
Stripped down to its bare bones, our life is nothing but a constant pursuit to accomplishing completeness. It is what we are all seeking with every act, word and intent, at work, in love and in all our everyday engagements; that state where we are convinced about being fully sated and have no feeling of dearth or deficiency; that point where we could sit by the river, drop a line and wait for hours for the fish to bite, unfazed by the prospect of returning empty-handed at the end of the day. It is not about the fish, it is not about the time, it is not about the river in spate. It is about us, at peace, feeling as if space and time converged into that all-consuming moment. This is the moment of completeness where no external factors are incumbent on us to make us believe that we are whole by ourselves.
Completeness is not an aggregate of our human attributes or a summary of our wonted accomplishments, although we have come to loosely equate it to these. It is probably this misled perception of finding perfection in the wrong places that has made us increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated ins spite of major breakthroughs in life. We are investing our resources in the transient aspects of our life – in wealth, in power, in pleasures – and attempting to define us within these narrow confines. It Is a pursuit in vain. Our completeness doesn’t comprise of what we have, either in terms of disposition or possessions. That which we call perfection isn’t an absence of faults, but an acceptance of what we are despite them.
It reminds me of the Japanese art of Kintsugi in which a broken pot is not discarded as imperfect or flawed but is mended with golden lacquer and given a completeness that makes it exquisite. I am thinking of the compliment I received at this point. A perfect, complete woman. If ‘complete’ and ‘perfect’ mean ‘lacking nothing’, I barely fit the bill given my inconsistencies and predisposition as a human to err. Yet, when I scrutinise it in moments of profound recollection, I realise that my completeness doesn’t come from being perfect in the eyes of others or projecting an image of being flawless. It comes from knowing that I am a consummate piece of art that may have developed cracks from use, and those are cracks that can be fixed by a layer of golden lacquer.
It is this golden lacquer that we need to find in our lives to restore us to our impeccable states, be it in the form of love, faith or selfless service. Hankering after anything else with an expiry date or short shelf life can only lead to a perpetual sense of inadequacy and incompleteness. It would be a pity, considering we are all fundamentally whole universes by ourselves, and not partial pieces of existence.
- Asha Iyer Kumar is a Dubai-based author, children’s writing coach and youth motivational speaker
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