If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, Einstein is once supposed to have asked: “Of what, then, is a messy desk?” I’m afraid this question has started to haunt me. Mine is a pristine desk, neat, free of paper, prettily arranged and always in frightening order. Until Einstein commented to the contrary, I was confident this was proof of virtue, discipline, structured thinking and high mindedness. Now I’m not so sure.
Let me, therefore, make a frank admission. I’m the sort of person who keeps his belongings in meticulous order. Everything has a place, often at right angles or opposite something else, and that’s where it stays. If guests move little ornaments around I, pretending I’m doing it unthinkingly, move them right back. After 25 years with me, even the help have cottoned on.
Take, for example, the gods on my bedside table – Mummy gave them to me when I left for England at the age of 16 and I accepted them as good luck charms. They sit in a carefully-contrived formation. Krishna before Lakshmi with Ganesh to her left. And all three surrounded by a rudraksha ki mala. The lamp is at 2 o’clock from Krishna. Nisha’s picture at 10 o’clock from Ganesh.
Now what does that say of my mind? My cousin Mala, who discovered this in 1976 when I was 20 and she was visiting Cambridge, has a very definite answer. “You’re mad”, she says. Whenever she enters my home, she starts moving things. “Wait and see what he does”, she primes the other guests. When I start restoring the objects, they burst out laughing.
On the other hand, there are people who haven’t the faintest idea where their belongings are. That they possess them is, of course, beyond doubt. But whether they’re in a cupboard or on the dining table, under the stairs or in the car boot is not just uncertain but equally likely. The odd part is it doesn’t matter.
Now, tell me, what does that say of their mind? Einstein’s answer – if I understand him correctly – is nothing. There’s no connection between the disorder in their belongings and the state of their thinking. A man can be shambolic, undisciplined, dishevelled and untidy but still a genius. On the other hand, he could be orderly, meticulous, tidy and a bloody fool.
Believe it or not, the Americans have started to study this. It’s called Mess Analysis. Irwin Kulla, the author of Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, claims that “order can be profane and life-diminishing”. In other words, the less you are like me, the more you’re bound to have spark and spirit!
Two gentlemen called Freedman and Abrahamson have published a book called A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder where they claim that “mess has a resonance … it can vibrate beyond its own confines and connect to the larger world.” Proof, it seems, comes from Alexander Fleming who only discovered penicillin because of the mess – actually filth – in his laboratory: “It was the overall scumminess … that led to his discovery of penicillin, from a mouldy bloom in a petri dish he had forgotten on his desk”.
If all of this is correct, it doesn’t matter how you squeeze the toothpaste, whether your desk is strewn with paper or your cupboard crammed with old clothes and forgotten sports gear. Analysts say it proves you’re interesting. And what’s the opposite? If you only squeeze your toothpaste bottom upwards, clear your desk each time you finish working and ensure your shirts are properly folded and your trousers carefully hung, you’re likely to be predictable and boring.
Well, hereafter, I’m going to start flinging my clothes all over the bedroom, scattering crumbs on the carpet and forget to raise the loo seat! Happy New Year.