Fugitive Spirits by Navina Anand

The history of American literature shows that a group of poets and literary scholars came together secretly at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee around 1920. They met on alternate Saturday nights as a poetry workshop. After a while, they felt confident that they had created a good enough body of work to be unleashed on the world and released their work through a magazine called the ‘Fugitive’. Allen Tate, Poet Laureate, a part of this club said: “…a Fugitive is quite simply a Poet: the Wanderer, or even the Wandering Jew, the Outcast, the man who carries the secret wisdom around the world”. 

In our lives, through the history books, we read about many fugitives. While the world certainly crucified them and made them miserable during their lifetimes, it wakes up to their greatness after their death, glorifying them through history books, by erecting statues for them, nominating days of the year after them, naming streets after them, holding festivals in their name, etc. But during their lifetime the fugitive may have struggled to make ends meet, have three meals a day, a roof over their head, or even hidden their most brilliant work from the public for fear of persecution.

The first fugitive spirit that comes to my mind is the Tamil Poet Subramania Bharati. A man who tried to influence the freedom movement and inspire the nation through this poetry.  A man who spent his entire life in utter penury despite his magnificent creations, unable to support his family, and finally died early at the age of 38. Many such fugitive spirits dot the landscape of Indian history. We see the non-conformists, the vagabonds, and the recluses. We also usually call them crazy as they do not fit into the template that society has created for them. 

All of us have a pinch of the fugitive in us. My 8-year-old son was absolutely comfortable wearing his sister’s pink colored pants that had the word ‘Princess’ printed on it. In fact, I was worried that he was going to get bullied at the playground and as he was getting ready to step out, I stopped him and told him to change his pants. He refused. These are comfortable pants and I don’t care, he said as he breezed out the door. But as we grow older it does get harder and harder to ignore the straight-jacketed expectations of society.

Fugitive spirits are born. That kind of spirit cannot be nurtured. While we can certainly try and stifle it, we cannot create it . They have the innate thirst to break stereotypes, push the boundaries, grab life by the shoulders and shake it hard out of its complacency. That kind of a spirit is just innate. A gene mutation, almost,  that refuses to be caged by the banal, predictable, un-evolved state of existence. That which transcends the herd mentality.

Thanks to social media and the evolution of the world overall, society is now exposed to more than ‘normal’. My jaw dropped when I saw the life of orthodox Jews in the series “Unorthodox”. Today through global media we are exposed to multiple cultures, practices, and views that are very different from ours. The positive result of this global connection is that it is improving our ability to empathize, understand diverse perspectives, and be open to choices that are different from ours. While there will always be fugitive spirits, hopefully this new world with all its exposure will be more welcoming of them instead of the brickbats that it usually wields to fend them off.

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