The universe is full of stray thoughts happily travelling through time until someone somewhere latches on to one and attempts to tame it. Poets do this all the time. Writers too. And yes, even artists, speakers, researchers, lovers, and almost everyone else, including politicians. These stray thoughts are charming entities and can be turned into lines of words, paint, or even chiseled out on a piece of marble. Being stray then is not as bad as one might have thought… but it is quite a different story when a stray thought is harnessed to lead us astray.

Look at the mess that Nupur Sharma has created. It was a stray comment that was possibly thrust into a notion that did not suit its constitution at all… and the outcome is now ricocheting all over the place, threatening to hit harmony. This is just one instance of a stray comment harnessed to lead us astray… and our world is full of many. One important lesson while entertaining stray comments is that they can be used to bind us all or to destroy bonds.

Stray comments are just as destructive as stray thoughts and ideas that make one religion or faith seem superior to others are just as harmful as those that make other belief systems seem inferior and deserving not to exist. Jihadis, for instance, are fed with such nonsense all the time and they walk around with convictions that do no one any good.

It is not just stray thoughts and stray comments but even stray animals that have made it to social media hullaballoo many times. There are tweets where people express their concern over inaction over stray dogs attacking morning walkers or stray cattle causing traffic snarls at the most inopportune moments. Then there are instances of wild animals straying into areas of human habitation. We know how disconcerting these stray incursions can be. This does not mean that any stray animal does not have a right to live… we have the POCA or the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 with fines ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 75,000 or ‘three times the cost of the animal’ besides prison sentences to help a helpless stray animal. If we have laws to protect stray animals, we also need laws to protect us from stray comments and stray thoughts finding their way into our tightly woven social matrix.

If you have not noticed this yet, stray thoughts are not much different from stray animals. They are often shy and standoffish and maintain their distance from the mainstream of ideas floating around and it is the job of the political and religious leadership to make sure that they stay leashed and not be allowed into public spaces or at places where they are liable to create a ruckus. Yes, I agree that even the media can and must make sure that unresolved issues do not take the form of arming themselves with the express purpose of harming others.

Stray thoughts, stray comments, and stray dogs - artwork by Arvind Passey
Stray thoughts, stray comments, and stray dogs – artwork by Arvind Passey

While we are on the subject of stray stuff, there are cases that show how stray voltage/ current/ frequency electrocutes, a stray swish with a knife leading to a fatal stab, a stray twiddling of fingers caressing a loaded gun becoming a killing machine, and even stray weaving in-and-out of the traffic leading to accidents. Stray waves in the ocean and stray buffets of strong wind are just as life-threatening as stray updates and replies on the social media and stray encounters with strangers in airports. Stray is a powerful word.

On the other side of this scenario are instances where a stray choice of book picked up at a stray moment leads to a beautiful transformation of the psyche. Plenty of my friends feel that some of the best passages that they have read are from books they were simply flipping and happened to stray on a page that simply had to be read and retained. A stray meeting of eyes has led to life-long love affairs. A stray moment spent with a stranger, a stray sentence read or spoken, a stray word uttered, a stray glance when speed-browsing the internet, a stray set of lines drawn on a paper are just the surface of a potential that otherwise might have remained undiscovered and unexplored. So yes, stray is a powerful word that can lead to a poem or an artwork that lives forever… or cause untold miseries. Like that stray stroll into an ice-cream parlour even when we are not looking for extra calories, we choose.




Arvind Passey
07 June 2022