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  • Ninay Desai

The Charm of Whimsy

A bespectacled garden gnome seated on a wooden railing looks into the distance. A quote by Bob Goff is printed on the out-of-focus backdrop. It says, "It's whimsy that spreads hope like grass seed in the wind."

Every now and then, burrowed into the prosaic paths of the commonplace is nestled something whimsical. Amazing and amusing in its quaintness and imagination, it makes us smile and adds a sparkle to the humdrumness of everyday life. I’m very easily charmed by whimsy – a quaint café, an interesting bookmark or a delightful hobby or trait is all it takes.

A few months ago, a friend, Shruti sent me a link to something called a literature clock. It’s a website that operates as a clock, telling you the time. It updates every minute without the user refreshing the page. Before you judge me as particularly simple-minded with a roll of your eyes, let me clarify that while I am easily amused, it is not quite that easy. This online clock’s beauty lies in its revealing the time as part of a quote from a piece of literature. 

A graphic to depict a page from the literature clock website with a quote from James Jayce's Stephen Hero, "The bursar was standing in the hall with his arms folded across his chest and when he caught sight of the fat young man he looked significantly at the clock. It was eight minutes past eleven."

Which means that someone searched for quotes from thousands of works of literature that would represent every minute of a day. To me, watching it change from one timely quote to another is gratifying. Is it strictly necessary? Of course not. But then, neither is dancing. To the best of my knowledge, nobody dances to cover the distance from point A to B!

Speaking of going from A to B reminds me of a company that goes from A to Z, Amazon (check out the logo and you’ll see that the arrow travels from A to Z). It’s a multi-billion-dollar corporation with a dismal reputation for profit-gouging and fostering a toxic work environment for a majority of its employees. I’m certainly not a fan. Even so, I came across a page on its site quite by accident which managed to humanise this global profit-squeezing, mega-corporation. The humanising effect didn’t last long but given my opinion of Amazon, even that ounce of goodwill generated was no small achievement.

A screenshot of the Amazon Error 404 page with the picture of a beagle called Barkley against a white background.

The page in question is an Error 404 page which basically pops up only when Amazon can’t find whatever you’re searching for. Except that this page has a picture of an employee’s dog and a little write-up about it. Apparently, Amazon has a Dogs at Work program allowing employees to bring their dogs to work. The whimsical charm of this webpage was enough to make me forget for a while what I was searching for in the first place.

An image of Zack MacLeod Pinsent against the backdrop of a garden.

That is the power of whimsy. It fires up our imagination, emotions and turns the run-of-the-mill into something memorable. And sometimes, it can also turn into a lifestyle and a business.

Like it did for Zack MacLeod Pinsent, a 29-year-old British man who, at the ripe old age of 14 ditched his denims for bespoke 18-Century clothing. He chooses to dress like a Regency gentleman every day, regardless of quizzical looks from strangers and the effort required to tailor his own clothes in a fashion that has been out of fashion for a couple of centuries. But it’s obvious that it makes him happy. And frankly, he cuts quite a figure. More power to him.

We can all sprinkle some whimsy into our lives in whatever manner we like. Most of us already do, I’m sure. It could be a playful pair of spectacles, reading Wuthering Heights or Harry Potter every winter or gifting hand-made dreamcatchers to friends and family. It’s quirks like these that spark joy even if nobody else understands the point of them. Carry on regardless.

As did, Edwin Hubble, the brilliant American astronomer who is often credited with having revolutionized mankind’s understanding of the Universe. He has the rare distinction of having an asteroid, a crater on the Moon and a space telescope named in his honour. Here on Earth, the planet of his birth, a planetarium, a stretch of highway and a school were named after him. His was an exceptional mind.

However, by most accounts, he was also quite eccentric. After a stint at Oxford University in England, he adopted a fake British accent and began to go about dressed in a cape and carrying a cane. I suppose you could call it an affectation but I find it both droll and delightful!

To me, whimsy is like stardust. Even a dash of it catches the light, making everything shimmer.

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Jan 05

@Ninay DesaiWhat a delightful journey through the enchanting realms of whimsy! Your words paint a vivid tapestry of the extraordinary hidden within the ordinary, transforming the mundane into a source of joy and inspiration. Your appreciation for the simple yet profound, like a literature clock, mirrors the essence of finding joy in the details that others may overlook. Here's to the serendipity of stumbling upon the extraordinary in the midst of the everyday. Cheers to the magic of literature and the delightful surprises it brings, turning each passing minute into a literary adventure!

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Jan 05
Replying to

Thank you, Portia! I find the whimsical absolutely delightful. I'm sure you do too.

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