Empathy is a feeling of compassion outside of our own bodies. The idea is that if my arm were numb, and you were pinched, I’d feel the pain. This distinction between you and me blurs when our conscious mind is overwhelmed by some other external factor. We thus move beyond sympathy, where we understand another’s pain, towards empathy, where we assume the other’s pain.
I step out of an auto, as the late afternoon heat sticks to my cheeks. My auto driver demands an extra 10 for hobbling through the Khirkee village, which goats and men alike transform into their living rooms: lazing, smoking, eating, wedging one thing into another. I relent.
The whitewashed walls and green drooping trees of Khoj provide a clean, quiet shade: a welcome relief. There is a video of a field of golden daffodils, with a few blooming and traveling up the screen slowly as they grow, as though they are in a bottle of honey.
It calms me instantly. I forget the chaos outside as society merges with nature. I turn the corner, and the back of the video plays in a courtyard. The image is so compelling that I step in to travel to this golden land again. A little camera in the centre stares up at me, and suddenly, I am watching myself float amongst the daffodils.
And so I stare at this new universe, no longer sensing the earth below me, or the weight of my bag or the heat. I watch my body fill up with liquid, then get eaten by teeth, swallowed by eggplant, recreated by brick. It is a visceral experience. I feel, physically, each sensation. I feel the energy of that which I watch; I feel empathy towards a being outside of my body, within my body; I connect with everything around me, and as the world outside subsides, I re-enter the field of daffodils, my body sways a little and I walk out with a smile.
The video is called ‘Bhogi/Rogi’ or Consumption/Disease, where I am being consumed by that which I consume, and being destroyed by it. The video comments on greed and destruction, on body and image, on finding yourself outside of yourself, of seeing yourself as another, distinct human being, and internalizing this found compassion.
The auto driver is still outside, the light is more slanted now. He asks if I need a ride back home. Yes, I say, but first lets sit with the washerwoman and her goats nearby and drink a cup of chai. The dust settles, and the warm liquid fills my being.
-- Himali Singh Soin
(Image courtesy of the artist.)