The Goldfinch.

Gunjan Thapar

The simplest thing I’ve felt recently has come from a mess of emotions swarming my mind. The insignificance of the complications isn’t something we tend to acknowledge. Like a few words which take a forefront in our everyday vocabulary, the complications sit on an edge that seems to be the closest thing we tend to touch. A murmur of a complexity binds my being to so many others. The ones, who won’t even understand the existence of a pain that isn’t theirs.
The reading lists have been extending themselves to a long queue. A surprise is pending somewhere, hustling through their pages, something that I might never reach, with a peculiar desolation taking over the significant part of my days which should be spent learning. Existence is a virtue. Many of us seemingly exist in the painful loitering of the past, while the others plan towards a random ‘could be’. Amongst all that, still, we carry ourselves through the present. Existing, even if poorly. ‘Musings’, my mother would say. Time and again, she would try to understand the meaning of my thoughts, begging me to grasp simplicity in one form or the other, and leave all those people, places and thoughts which make my head burst through its speed. Today, my mind lies with a little bird perched up on a blue feeder. I had seen the painting twice before, heeding it as much attention as I pay my own needs. Almost none. I never thought that I resonated with it in any form. How could I? I’d never looked past the muddy blue box and the bird itself. It seemed too lonely. And in no way, could I look at a mirror in those days, without the implications of breaking down.
A famous Dutch artist had succumbed to the injuries he received in the Disaster of Delft. A quarter of city acceded too; the living raised to dust. It is believed that only a dozen of his paintings survived the gunpowder explosion. 1654. The year when he painted his famous ‘The goldfinch’. The beautiful little bird perched up on the blue-grey feeder. I am not going to delve too much on why the artist painted the bird. The why and how isn’t important. Nothing is important in the wake of me noticing for the first time in years of knowing about this painting that the bird is held to the box by a chain. That its eyes have been laden with a drop of white paint, glistening to the point of it shedding an ‘almost’ tear. I wouldn’t have ever noticed the most obvious details if I hadn’t resigned myself to the reading of Donna Tartt’s famous book by the same name. My simplest feeling today, has been that of gratefulness. To an author who let me experience a painting in the most obvious light it is supposed to be looked at.
Years ago, in the hallways of my school, I’d walked with a sense of fake determination to let everyone know how hardened an exterior this teenager could hold onto. Nothing going past the steely eyes of a girl in pigtails, with grit plastered across her face. The socks fumbling through the hairy legs, the chest wobbly with the newfound growth that ached with a profound dullness. The discomfort of existence as you walk with a chain of comfort attached to your being. A little orange butterfly had flown in the kindergarten section, whilst I made my way through throngs of little ones. The butterfly had settled on my hand, forcing me to stop. Its dusty wings gracing a touch to my skin. A few of the muddy little kids stopped dead in their tracks and looked at me in an awe. Maybe, that was the moment when I began romanticizing existence as a whole. The butterfly didn’t fly away, she simply died. Fluttering her broken wings on the back of my hand for a few precious seconds before falling to the ground, leaving traces of powdery orange in its wake. I picked it up and my fingers held on to more of the powdery remains. The insect having shed its existence, shed its beauty too. Like all others, paling away in death. The two kids whose eyes were fixated on the butterfly in my hand started calling me the ‘Butterfly Didi’ having never known my name. I didn’t bother correcting them. I liked having a new name, something that wasn’t my own. I questioned myself in so many ways today, wondering if the fleeting last moments of that butterfly’s life got attached to my own identity, purely for those little kids to acknowledge me, or maybe, in all the questionnaires I meticulously pose for myself, the analysis of a created self, began with that given name?
The Goldfinch reminded me of that hot summer afternoon; the warm background particularly synonymous with that sweltering dull weather; the little bird exceptionally synonymous with the girl who got named after a dead butterfly for the remaining of her school days. Metaphorically bound to memories and questions, nothing that could be too important for the world to stop and notice. After Carel Fabritius had died, another artist spent his days painting the city of Delft in its wondrous black and burning ruins. His paintings categorically horrendous, for what could have been more scarring than the reality itself? Egbert Van Der Poel’s entire identity now nestles around those paintings. Every other landscape made by him remains forgotten, the only means to know him goes through the knowledge of a Disaster which happened more than three hundred years ago. He had lost a kid in that blunder. I read somewhere that it drove him mad. The flames and soot stuck to his mind and in his own eyes, his self-reduced to being a father of a deceased son. I wonder about the dead artist and the one who survived. The dead was famous once, on his way to be known in ways better than his famous teacher, Rembrandt. His early death cut short his potential, his contributions were raised to the scale of his life, his identity veiled by his master’s success, the student having been served the uncertainty at its most uncertain. An identity that got defined by death. Oh, so ceremoniously, in ways mysterious and yet certain to the uncertainties that come with time.
Death identifies identities. Seals them for good. Packaged boxes of a person’s entire life with a ribbon of finality is passed on for the later generations to make perceptions about. The lucky ones get lost amongst their own generations, the fame sensitively eluding them and letting them vanish. A blessing. These boxes of identities are difficult to open. An extremely complex process of untangling the lies amongst a reality, a history synonymous with the truth. The identity of truth itself is supposed. Amongst everything, I’ve realised that the lies and perceptions conclude History. Anything that becomes a common perception, identifies as a fact. It becomes the ultimate truth. With no one to deal with the intricacies of past, with nothing to hold onto except the figment of ‘what happened’. Hear and say.
Fabritius’s identity passed on to us as an artist lost to a disastrous gunpowder explosion. A dozen paintings. A famous bound bird. Few take the pains to detangle his life from the mess left by the fame of a dozen paintings and an explosion. An artist with ambition. Must have been. An artist looking forward to forge his own identity in the world of Art, his own teacher having been a famous inspiration.
1654. The year he painted The Goldfinch. The little bird perched on top of the dull blue-grey feeder. The light chain latching onto its spindly foot. The eyes, as I mentioned before, seemingly tearful. A promise of a bound life, a gloomy existence with weakened feathers and trained manners. My perception of the painting, became my perception of this self in those few difficult moments. Bound by my own insecurities, a dull existence with weakened aspirations and a trained smile. I imagined the little bird flying the perimeter allowed to it by the chain. I imagined it fall, dead on that stifling night, hanging by the chain, swaying like a pendulum. Yet, it lives now, the art exceeding the limits of a life it has imitated. I wonder if the goldfinch itself was burnt with Fabritius. In his studio, perched up on the blue box, the soot having lined the crisps of the remains later. Of both the creator and the subject. The creation having survived. An identity forged even for the little bird. Without it having the ambition for the same.

 


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