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Philosophy from a champagne glass, or 54,740 of them

A hotel in Dubai welcomed the new year by breaking a world record, and that’s wonderful. It made a pyramid with 54,740 champagne glasses, beating the previous record by a comfortable 4,624 glasses, and that’s wonderful too. It is now in the Guinness World Records, that Bible of the inane where many find validation: the long-nailed, the curly-moustachioed, and assorted freaks.

The temptation to stop when just one glass ahead must have been strong, yet the pyramid-makers kept at it. The danger of it all collapsing after being a mere 4,623 glasses ahead must have been strong too. Then there is the role of luck, or, as Sting sang, the sacred geometry of chance.

Yet the pyramid-makers kept at it. Five days it took, this precision work that, like so much of mankind’s effort, is a wonderfully pointless exercise.

Think sport – pointless, this business of striking a tiny ball into a tiny hole so many hundred metres away when you could so easily walk up to it and drop it in. Or gourmet cooking involving snails. Or making traffic signs everyone ignores.

Yet, there is a blessing in the pointlessness; too much of life is purposeful, focussed and full of significance, a road leading from A to B that has to be taken. You have to eat, you have to sleep, you have to fight with your neighbours.

But you don’t have to place one glass above the other till they reach 27 feet in height. And that’s its beauty, a beauty beyond the merely visual. Perhaps that is the attraction of sport too – its pointlessness is what makes it significant; you do it although you don’t have to.

It is futile, and we realise that futility is built into our lives. A whole philosophy can be built on those 54,740 glasses. But that would be pointless too. The circle of futility overlaps with the circle of life.

There is a danger, though. Other hotels might be tempted to top that to get into the record books. And they might not say it with glasses. What is the world record for piling up the guests one on top of the other? When that is established, we might have another hotel piling up guests one on top of the other holding glasses recycled from the original hotel pyramid. The next step is obvious: guests piled up holding such glasses while singing a specific song and reading from the first Harry Potter book and ...

It is this ‘and’ that is dangerous. For you can always add something and create a unique world record, limited only by imagination and availability of raw material. The degree of pointlessness is multiplied many times too.

If you have built castles in the air, wrote Thoreau, your work need not be lost, that is where they should be: now put the foundations under them.

Bubbly glasses piled up 27 feet must be a close relative of castles in the air. You have to look up for inspiration.

(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu).

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Printable version | May 23, 2022 9:15:40 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/philosophy-from-a-champagne-glass-or-54740-of-them/article38272954.ece