On mansions and masters, institutions and adornments
are times when I lament my abysmal acquaintance with Greek and Roman
literature and of course the political and historical tracts it contains
and indeed which makes much of it. I see a quote here, a reference
there, that’s all. I then look it up somewhere. I had heard of Cicero
and had come across a quote, a reference, yes. Not this one though, sent
to me by my vocabulary-enhancer, Errol Alphonso, made me dig deeper than
I am usually persuaded to do
‘The mansion should not be graced by its master; the master should
grace the mansion.’
It reminded me of the following remark made about a man who was MC of
sorts in a literary trust: ‘samahara aya aayathana valata aabharanayak
venava, samahara ayata aayathana abharanayak venava’ (some people are an
adornment to the institutions they are associated with while others use
institution as accessory).
Look around you. There are name-droppers. There are people who wear
designation on their person, through dress, accessory, language, word
and accent. There are people who just have to throw the CV at each and
every stranger they encounter, if not by subtle reference, by handing
out a visiting card. These days ‘importance’ and ‘institution’ (or at
least location in an institutional structure) is evidenced by entourage,
a security detail and escort vehicles.
Then there are people who get un-noticed precisely because they
either don’t have what it takes to be noticed, or choose not to wear
institution, profession, job-title or social status as badge and
Those of the latter kind do get noticed eventually, for CVs have a
way of getting passed around, making those who did not notice earlier
turn their heads, look more carefully and inhabit a moment or two of
self-doubt. Well, to be honest, not all. Just some. That’s the way it
What of the others? Just do their thing. They come from dust and end
up as dust. If they’ve done anything of significance in their brief
earth-residency, that’s good. If they haven’t, that’s not bad either.
The world moves. People come and go.
Nations are made an un-made, civilizations are birthed, they grow up,
grow old, weary, fall sick, die. The dust of forgetting falls, as
sprinkle yes, but give a dust-drizzle time and it will obliterate all,
event, personality, metaphor, narrative, narrator, institution,
adornment and the adorned.
On the other hand, we all live in the here-and-now, most of the time.
We see people and are blind to others because some come advertised,
others just materialize without entourage or notice. It is not easy for
us to figure out who is an adornment and who is adorned all the time.
Sometimes, all it takes is for a person to open his/her mouth and we
just know, we can conclude ‘Adornment!’ or ‘Needing Adornment’.
Sometimes we have to do a mental-visual trick: undress the person of
frill. Remove clothes, remove skin, suck out perfume and delete
embellishment. Sometimes we have to discard claim and promise,
deconstruct CV and endorsement.
Sometimes we have to read silence, the moments when voice was so
necessary but was not raised, moments when this was word was needed but
that was used instead. Things like that.
Kings and kingdoms
It is not impossible. In most situations, it is not important. On the
other hand, if we are talking of kings and kingdoms; rules, rulers and
the ruled; offices and officers; designations and the designated, then
it is probably important for all our here-and-now affairs (into the
reasonable future), to think of what Cicero said and draw some
Let me re-quote: ‘The mansion should not be graced by its master, the
master should grace the mansion.’
Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman philosopher, Statesman, lawyer,
political theorist and constitutionalist. During the chaotic latter half
of the first century BC in that part of the world, marked by civil wars
and the dictatorship of Gaius Julius Caesar, Cicero championed a return
to the traditional republican government.
Let me not cast the first stone. Let me not judge. I am going to do a
mirror-check. Perhaps after that I can talk of particular mansions and
particular masters, institutions and adornments.