I spent the mid-week Independence Day holiday on Wednesday, August 15, at a family friend’s new home. It was a small group that gathered for lunch on a relaxed day off. We discussed, amongst other things, the power of imagination. The host’s two-and-a-half-year old daughter, Aditi, recently joined a play home in the neighbourhood. The little girl’s mother complained about how Aditi wouldn’t let go of her stuffed toy, and even took it to school with her. She had to take special permission from the school teachers to allow Aditi to carry the stuffed toy with her. Aditi simply refused to leave the house without her imaginary friend.
The stuffed toy was an old, battered copy of the spinach-eating cartoon character, Popeye. Popeye had been in their house for the last eight years. Aditi’s elder brother first played with it and then, as all hand-me-downs go between siblings, passed it on to her. Aditi’s relationship with Popeye is reminiscent of the relationship between Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes (whom Calvin thinks is alive) in Bill Waterson’s famous comic strip.
Aditi’s parents spoke about how she takes Popeye with her everywhere, talks to him regularly, cares for him, feeds him, tells him stories before putting him to sleep. When the family makes travel plans, Popeye is included without second thought. As a result, Popeye has travelled to Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Kerala, and even sought the blessings of Lord Venkateswara in Tirupati, etc.
Aditi does not allow Popeye to be washed, by hand or in the washing machine. Her mother once managed to take Popeye away from Aditi and put him in the washing machine. The sight of Popeye tumbling and spinning in the machine was too traumatic for Aditi. She asked for the machine to be stopped immediately and for Popeye to be rescued.
It is believed that when we’re younger, only a few years into our birth, we still connect to the spiritual realm, and divide our mental time living both in the spiritual and physical worlds. Highly creative and intelligent children are known to have very high imagination. Coupled with the courage to follow their dreams and desires, these are also the children who often grow up to be achievers and thinkers of significant importance.
Maintaining relationships with imaginary characters keeps that window to the spiritual realm open, which is what kids mostly do. This is also a source of creativity, in which kids question, wonder, think, and feed their curiosity. As they grow older, they are taught that it is ‘normal’ to live in the physical human world and spend more time here, which is how they gradually outgrow their relationships in the imaginary world and connect with the ‘real’ world.
However, how we break free from this imaginary world during childhood is what determines how imaginative we continue to be as adults. This is an important process to retain creativity drawn from imagination.
Imagination is essential for the human mind. Without imagination, it’s impossible to create anything, or to even know progress the way we know it today. All adults, once in a while, might be able to connect with their creative sides by communicating with their own Popeyes. Just imagine the number of ideas that could come to the fore!
Who knows, it might even purify us of our love for reality.