Thursday, February 11, 2021

A STORY RETOLD – PART 2 SEASONS OF LIFE




 A STORY RETOLD – PART 2

SEASONS OF LIFE

Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work. Stephen King

 

While the first part of ‘A Story Retold’ covered ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ and ‘Darkness and Beyond’, here I continue my journey through ‘Autumn Leaves- Seasons of Life’ and ‘The Diary of Mrityunjay’.

The colors of Autumn has always fascinated me. I first had the opportunity to witness and be a part of it in October 2011 when we went to the US to be with our daughter and the newly born grandson. I did not have much opportunity to go out. I had the first glimpse of the colors of Autumn, though it was only towards the end. The colors were still there. When I looked from the balcony at my daughter’s place, I saw a lone tree with all its leaves turned yellow standing as a lone testimony that autumn was still there. I later learned that it was a green ash tree whose leaves turned yellow and slowly to brown and fell as winter set in. I watched daily as the leaves fell one by one, strewn on the ground. The first inklings of winter appeared, and as the chill breeze blew, the remaining leaves fell. And when the snow came, it was for the first time that I was witnessing it. Though it was exhilarating to watch the snowfall, it was for me an ominous sight to see the tree outside stand bare and its branches holding the remnants of the snow that fell on it: stripped completely of all color and the ground around it covered with a white sheet.

The next time I went, I saw Autumn in full bloom and was enraptured by all the color that surrounded me and this time when winter set in, the same feeling of despondency overtook me. It was while listening to Nat King Cole singing ‘Autumn Leaves’ in his hauntingly captivating voice capturing the poignancy of loneliness and a lost love, that I decided to translate those emotions into the written word in my book ‘Autumn Leaves- Seasons of Life’.

I recalled the poem ‘The Human Seasons’ by John Keats, which I had studied in school.

Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;

There are four seasons in the mind of man:

In Keats’s poem there is an indication that man is aware of every stage of life, he finds himself in, but never really accepts the transition from one to another for he foresees that at the end –

He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,

Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

With the younger generation moving further away and the older ones slowly learning to cope with being by themselves, the disintegration of families from what was once a joint one, with a ruling patriarch and the other members strewn around not far away, to single units ultimately spread out in far and distant lands, and the slow but perceptible shifting away in distance and relationships and acceptance of which as a reality was unalterable. The advancement in knowledge and the growth in opportunities away from home, contributing to a more independent individual learning to live life on his own terms, though desirable, has led to the splintering of families and in a sense an inevitable reality.

Krishnan tells his daughter (in my book ‘Autumn Leaves- Seasons of Life) – ‘When I was young, no longer a child, I used to listen to my grandfather’s narration of his childhood. How he spent his holidays in that small town where his grandfather lived as a patriarch of a large family. The house was filled with uncles, aunts, and cousins. He would say that he missed those days spent playing with his cousins on the banks of the river, the temples, the gods, and most of all the festivals which looked more as a celebration of life than mere rituals. As he grew old and shifted away, all these were consecrated to the shelves. He had accepted the changing times though reluctantly. As we grow older and see the years slipping away, we tend to grasp on to things that we have left behind us. We slip into our own fantasies as to how things could have been different and regrets do arise”.

Over the generations, the freedom of the individual to choose has only grown. It has been a natural process of evolution. I have also learned to accept that my beliefs will go down with me to be replaced with different beliefs and value systems and a different way of life. I can already see it happening around.

But despite all that moving away somewhere deep inside lies buried an ache to understand who you are and where it all started. It is best described in the words of Anu, Krishnan’s daughter who goes to the land of her ancestors to discover her roots – “Two years ago, I had undergone a period of depression. Maybe the result of doing the same old thing day in and day out, a Sisyphean situation. I needed answers to pull me out of this angst. I decided that it has to start with understanding myself and for that, I needed to go back to where it all started, my parents. And that was what took me to India, to search for the great Banyan tree under whose shade generations had come and gone, the sacred Peepal under which the Buddha attained realization, the burning ghats of Varanasi where one understood the meaning of life and death and the heights of the Himalayas which promised a peep into the unknown”.

 

It was a strange dream, the only thing of which I remember is of a woman who appears therein and when I ask her name, she replies ‘Amora’.  I thought that was a unique and lovely name sounding like ‘Amour’ the French word for love. I do not know whether my subconscious was at work or whether hidden infatuations had surfaced.  

Adolescence is that time of growing up from a child to adulthood. The onset of puberty brings with it, apart from physical changes in the human body, a need for exploration of one’s sexuality. This is a time when one does not distinguish between love and infatuation. Infatuation is a passing phase that we realize only when we move away. For some, this takes a long time, in the course of which they exist subjecting themselves to procrastination and in the process unfulfilled. Even what we call love is a fixation that accompanies us as long as we believe it exists. Once it ceases to exist, we are shattered, for there is always an expectation of reciprocity. A sense of betrayal of trust is predominant.

Aparajit finds himself bound between two women ‘Amora’ (love) and ‘Maya’ (illusion). Unable to initially accept the truth, he ultimately realizes that relationships are based on understanding and acceptance and that alone is permanent.  When Maya leaves him for the second time she says - “What for Apu? The moment we both wanted has happened. We both understand each other as we are and that is more important. We have met after a long time and we meet as friends. There are no goodbyes or farewell this time. I shall only say ‘We will meet again”. But it is Amora who sums it up, “Growing up is wiping off the cobwebs of the past and moving on”.

 

Atulya was an enigma. Once considered a maverick but a brilliant one and life was to be lived to the full was what he believed in. It is when he confesses to Amol, his dearest friend and alter ego after emerging from a long hiatus during which he undergoes a life-changing experience, you realize that the maverick in him, at last, finds his authenticity and meaning in life. In his confession to Amol he says -

“Once I used to think that the world revolved around me. That’s no longer true for I have now come to accept that there is another world, a world in which you are also an inhabitant. Amol you belong to the other world. I remember saying that you live in a cocoon, but I realize I have also been in one. I now yearn to be the butterfly emerging out to explore the freedom that awaits. Soon Amol, you will also realize that you have to break out from the world you have built around yourself. Real freedom lies in understanding the world as it is. In a sense, though we have been different in our approach to life, you will agree that together we have been in harmony. We needed each other but now I am in search of yourself within me like I am sure you will also do in course of time.

I have hurt many people during the course of my journey through this life. At this point, I can only say I am sorry. Sorry for what I had been. But I learned my lessons and, in the end, I shall be leaving with no malice or regret in my heart. I have only one wish that I should continue to be useful even in death. For it is the only thing that will ensure I continue to exist in the hearts of those I have touched while alive and will touch others after death. In the end, when I go, I wish to go as one who lived life so as to perpetuate the basic goodness of humanity and leave this world a slightly better place to live in.

I wish that just as I have tried to be useful during my life, I should also be useful thereafter. I have registered myself as an organ donor and wish that after my death this wish be fulfilled. Maybe it shall ensure the prolongation of the life of another human being. It will be difficult for my family to accept that it will be just a shell they are cremating and that my soul will not attain salvation. Forget all that, for me, this will be salvation.”

 

Beyond all that austerity and the accumulation of knowledge in our search for self-discovery Mrityunjay realizes that there is also a life where the reality of our existence in this physical world must be accepted. Our emotions are real, our needs as human beings are real.

It is more important for me to live this life rather than speculate on the origin and existence of a higher power, of rebirth and redemption. It is more important to recognize values and live a useful life. Whether it is the Bhagavad Gita’s Karma Yoga or the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, the message of rightful action and rightful living is a universal message.

Mrityunjay concludes “I have learned my lessons. I have realized that the world is real and our existence a necessity.  Life and death are certainties and so are all the gamut of emotions that we experience on our journey. The earlier we accept this, the easier would it be to live. One does not learn by moving away. One learns by sticking it out and facing the truth of our fallibilities and that alone is the only way to overcome them. I have also realized that relationships are pure when there is understanding and acceptance. Relationships are based on trust and empathy, to support each other and being there for each other”.

My journey does not end for I can still see the road ahead and wonder what lies ahead. It is Hope that has brought me so far and it is Hope that will take me forward.

 

Friday, February 5, 2021

A STORY RETOLD – PART 1 FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT



 A STORY RETOLD – PART 1

FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT

My friend asked me why my writings are always on the darker side and felt that maybe if I shifted my genre to something lighter, I would find a larger audience. I understood what my friend was trying to convey. Accepting reality is not easy and we would rather read to escape the daily anxieties that surround us and enter a world of mystery and romance. True, these keep you occupied without leaving lingering effects of angst. Two questions arise here – why we read and why we write. While I can answer for myself, it will differ from reader to reader and writer to writer. As a reader, I have read all genres and as I aged it shifted and settled down to an exploration of life itself, a peek into reality, the need to understand before time passes by.

In his book ‘Why I Write’ George Orwell says that one cannot assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. If he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write.

I told my friend, that at this stage it is not possible for me to write something that takes me away from my desire to see things as they are. I have long since known that my writings get across to a minuscule of the large audience out there and this fact has steered me away from the thoughts of commercial success. More importantly, I realized how true Orwell was when he said ‘If he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write’. There are people who read, there those that connect, and for me, it has been a journey of life through my books and it is still on.

And as I once again travel through that journey, I have taken a slight pause to recapitulate and look at the road left behind. That is why I call it ‘A Story Retold’. For those who have read my books will recognize familiar words and passages as I have tried to tell this story by culling out portions from all my books and stitching them together.

The first part of this story covers the journey from ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ and Darkness and Beyond- A Medley of Many Lives’

 

I am a passionate man. I am a hopeless romantic and I have remained like that ever since I remember. I have my life, my experiences, and above all, my fantasies.  I have my own world to which I retreat and seek my own answers about life and death; after all, both the ordinary and the extraordinary merge at the point of death. It is my journey and I have traveled it. I continue to question and the only way I release my angst is by writing letters to God, who I am not sure is reading them or is listening to me. The journey of self-discovery that started with the lighting of my father’s funeral pyre was still on. But I have traversed a long distance since then.

If you ask me whether I believe in Karma, I will say yes, but at the same time, I have not acted in a manner with the expectation of better things to happen as a result of my good actions, for that would have been selfish. I have acted as per the callings of my heart and not by the machinations of the mind. I do not want to be judged by what I have done. I would rather be accepted for what I was.

I have been a dreamer and at times travel back to that village on the banks of the river Thamirabharani. I had always wanted to live in a small cottage beside a stream, with the hills in the background and the lush green paddy fields in front, and as the gentle breeze blew across, causing ripples on the sheet of water, I would watch the paddy dance, a slow waltz. I would read ‘The Solitary Reaper’ and listen to the song of the lonely maiden waft across the fields. I would wake up to the morning sun just peeping out from the hills and the chirping of the birds on the trees in my backyard, and then the milkman would arrive with the milk, fresh and undiluted straight from the udder. Then in the garden sitting on my rocking chair with a steaming cup of coffee, breathing in the freshness of the morning, and then off on my morning walk to the village nearby, being greeted by friendly faces. The unpaved street cleaned and sprinkled with water mixed with cow dung, and kolams (a form of drawing that is drawn by using rice flour/chalk) adorning the front of every house as if reminding one that the street was the canvas on which every house let their creativity flow. The only mode of transport, the bus, would make its visit twice a day to keep you in touch with the outside world. The newspaper, at least two days late ensured that you were always behind what was happening out there: not that one was really bothered about being out of sync.

Then I would wake up to the reality that this was a dream, a distant dream and would remain as such.

I have learned a lot from my encounters with people; they stayed in my mind and their lives touched mine in a way that opened my eyes to the fact that each one is a piece without which this puzzle of life can never be completed. I realized that it is essential for me to know from where I come in order to look ahead and see where I am going. I remembered my grandfather and the little village where he lived and the values he had passed on to his progenies. I understood the meaning of ‘Roots’.

My chance encounter with an old man made me see ‘Hope’. His parting words still ring in my ear “I believe that there does exist something beyond this darkness and that is the hope I carry with me”.

Soon after his mother’s death, I met Ambi to offer my condolences. His mother had been bedridden for a number of years and he had looked after her as much as he could during her last years. His words were poignant “We are also growing old and my wish is that when I go, it should be just like that, in a flash. I dread becoming a burden on my children. Despite all the love they have for me, they should not be put in a position where they feel that it would be better if I passed away. It is a reality that we have to accept”. Yes, I said to myself, the reality of it all is stark.

It was during my college days, a youth full of energy and aspirations to make it big in life, that I came across Satyajit an idealist and a rebel with a cause. His life and his travails in the course of sticking to his ideals and the resultant suffering was a lesson that the authenticity of life can be realized only if there is a cause, no matter what the odds against you are. Years later after I had graduated and settled down comfortably, I had the chance of meeting him again. Though physically he looked weather-beaten his spirit was not. His eyes still shone with that same old fire and purpose. During the course of our conversation, he told me –

“I still believe in my ideals and what my father taught me - the equality of all human beings. I believe that exploitation takes place because of the deeply ingrained feeling of subjugation and inferiority inculcated over centuries of class and caste domination. Violence will only lead to another type of domination. But I did learn a lot during those five months I stayed with them; a commitment to a cause and a sense of sacrifice to achieve their goals. I was surprised to find a number of them belonging to what we have usually termed as the bourgeoisie. They had thrown away a comfortable existence to join what they thought was a just cause. I did talk to a few of them to understand the reason for their doing so. I have arrived at a conclusion that theirs was an existential problem. Most of them faced with the absurdity of routine existence not knowing where they were headed to, found rebellion and revolution as an outlet to authenticity. The majority of the people in general, do not want violence to upset their lives forever. Even the peasants who had initially been at the forefront of the uprising are slowly withdrawing themselves due to the uncertainty in their living. The police persecution on one side and the violence unleashed by the Naxals on the other side. It is as if they have been caught in the crossfire.

You see at last I feel vindicated that my belief in educating people and raising their awareness and making them believe in their own strength will one day bring about a radical change in society and not through violence, is proving correct. A number of those people I know who were part of the revolution and survived have themselves settled down to the bourgeoisie life against which they had fought. I am happy that despite all the tribulations, I have been able to remain as I was and that’s my success and the meaning of my life.”

Whether it be the visually handicapped Raghav, the patriarch Periachamy, Swami Ekantananda, or the child widow Rajam, all showed me that darkness can be dispelled by the light of hope.

I understood pure love when Jyothi talked to me about her relationship with Raghav

“What attracted me to Raghav was that he could connect directly with my innermost feelings and he spoke to me through his violin. His physical disability never came in the way of how I related with him. But I knew that he was always hesitant because he thought that he could be a liability in a relationship. His parents have played a great role in making him what he is today. He can take care of himself and he has had them with him all along. His parents have shown him the way and like he has brought happiness into my life, I am sure I can bring a bit more light into his.”

Periachamy attributed all his success to one person – “Arumugam was the first person in my life who made me feel that I was valuable, and like I told you before, he gave me shelter when I needed it most, but above all, he was a father that I never had. He made me realize that life was not all darkness and that it can be dispelled with the light of hope. I learned the value of faith and loyalty in the conduct of one’s life, for that was how he led his”.

But perhaps the most poignant encounter was with Rajam, widowed in childhood and the dark days she faced before she found her redeemer in Parvatham. She told me –

“It has been ten years since Parvatham passed away, but I still feel her presence guiding me, telling me that there is no such thing as eternal darkness. Though she was only fifteen years elder she was more like a mother to me, for it was through her that I was reborn. She found me when I was just seventeen years old and parted fifty-three years later. I still believe in God for he has created people like Parvatham, her father, and others who have made it their life’s mission to lead people like me from the darkness into which we had fallen to light. They have shown that there is a purpose in life in the midst of all the adversities one is surrounded by. They have been beacons of hope in what would otherwise have been a hopeless world.”

I have often wondered how traumatic life must have been during those dark periods of a patriarchal society. A woman was dependent on the man and hence his property and hence on his demise continued to remain so. The shackles imposed on her through the institution of marriage held her in bondage till her death. The widower still remained a free man.

(To be continued)

 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

BOOK REVIEW - LIBERATION FROM THE TYRANNY OF TIME AND SPACE BY P.V. Raghunathan



BOOK REVIEW

LIBERATION FROM THE TYRANNY OF TIME AND SPACE

BY P.V. RAGHUNATHAN

 

BLURB

The book deals with the eternal question: ‘What is the purpose of existence?’. It dwells upon Man’s unceasing efforts to understand this universe and beyond, through Scientific discoveries and evolutions of philosophies and knowledge of psychology, psychoanalysis, and even parapsychology and how all those relentless pursuits are unable to answer this question. This book goes on to explain that because Man’s vision remains clogged by the finite material manifestation making him look at everything from the point of view of a beginning and an end, he is unable to see the dimensions not visible to him. The moment Man is able to realize that there could be many more dimensions other than those meeting his eyes and that everything is part of a single static continuum, he is able to liberate himself from the limiting constraints of Time and Space. At this stage, the Soul realizes at the ‘micro-level’ its immortality: ’Aham Brahmasmi’, ‘I am the only Truth’

 

THE BOOK

I had earlier reviewed Raghunathan’s ‘My Many Trysts with God’, an autobiography, which takes us through the trials and tribulations that life had chalked out for him: an extraordinary journey of courage, pathos, success, and finally towards enlightenment. In his second book ‘Liberation from the Tyranny of Time and Space’ he takes forward his inquiry, seeking and understanding the purpose of existence. In the very beginning of the book, the author acknowledges and accepts that the ultimate purpose of all of us is the search for the truth of understanding ‘Who am I’. and very aptly the last chapter in the book is titled ‘Who am I’. He also says that the book is a simple depiction of the thought process for those trying to liberate themselves from the tyranny of Time and Space.

All of us are caught up in the web of a beginning and an end. But at a point in time, we are unable accept that there is an end to our existence. Our entire thought process is conditioned to this eventuality. Breaking free from this conditioning is what is referred to as ‘liberation’. It is only through transcending the concepts of time and space, which we start realizing, serve to define only our finite existence. Trying to understand the process from the basic structure of the atom and the behavior of the subatomic particles through quantum theory and relativity, the author is at ease putting forward his views leading to the concept of Maya or illusion. The randomness that exists at the minutest level of our existence is amplified by what Fritjof Capra says in his book ‘The Tao of Physics’ - “Subatomic particles do not exist but rather show 'tendencies to exist', and atomic events do not occur with certainty at definite times and in definite ways, but rather show 'tendencies to occur'.” The author takes us through the theories of Dalton and Rutherford on the structure and behavior at the atomic level, Wave theory, and Max Planck’s Quantum Mechanics. It is not within the scope of this review to talk about these, but a few sentences picked from the book will serve to illustrate the author’s intimate understanding of the relationship between Modern Physics and Eastern thought especially the Hindu view of life –

 The theory of Maya according to which the thing in existence is an illusory perception, but in reality, it is nothing. The Hindu theory of Nataraja’s dance subtly describes the oscillation between the thing and nothing perceived as the wave theory and the quantum theory going hand in hand or as matter and anti-matter! This beginningless and endless dance is scientifically and logically described by Gary Zukav in his book. The beginningless and endless cosmos baffles him since he is unable to find and tag a point and another as its end.

The most fascinating part of the book is where he writes about the magic and significance of numbers and how they are indelibly connected with our existence –

Since Man had the need to measure and quantify acquisition and attainment, he had to invent numbers. But he also knew that he has to strike a correct formula to measure the finite by excluding the infinite which he could not understand, within his finite domain the numbers should remain valid so long as he could denote the unknown infinite by an appropriate approximation.

Each of the finite numbers 1 to 9 has its own uniqueness. Here he writes about the significance of the Chakras and Kundalini. The hidden power of certain constants of Pi and Planck’s Constant Alpha –

 Two constants remain enigmatically important: the first is Pi, the fraction 22/7. In measuring the area, circumference, and volume of circles, globes, and cylindrical objects, this constant is a prerequisite. And most celestial objects are globes! For him to understand the expanse of the universe Pi is a sine qua non.

The second is Planck’s constant Alpha 1/137 – intersection of key areas of physics ‘relativity, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics’, it has an extraordinary importance in defining the material existence of the finite.

An important chapter in the book (which I will term as a treatise) is Chapter 7. Unknown Dimensions and Coincidences. which covers the author’s own experiences with Telepathy, Random Occurrences, Synchronicity. This has also been covered in his first book, but here it flows along as a logical consequence of the author’s understanding of scientific thought. Reinforcing his views, he says that Carl Jung was not willing to accept ‘random occurrences. Coincidences were to him, meaningful events that could not be explained only by cause and effect, but by an additional force outside of causality, which he called ‘Synchronicity’; he called it an ‘acausal connecting principle’.

The book then slowly eases into Indian Philosophy – the concept of the Atma and the Paramatma, Dvaita and Advaita philosophies, Individual and Total Consciousness. There is a whole chapter covering Karma theory and the different paths to liberation. I can only say that the way the author has woven modern physics, mathematics and eastern philosophy towards understanding that our existence is not restricted to the finite level and that there is an infinity merging with which, will liberate us from the constraints imposed on us by Time and Space. In his own words –

Those who realize early the mirage of the ‘thingness’ and the reality of the ‘stillness’ of ‘nothingness’ the state of beginningless, endless single, all-encompassing existence, there is no need for liberation. They are already outside the tyranny of ‘time and space’, because they have consummated themselves with the ‘timeless, spaceless, ‘Tat tvam asi”.

I should confess that it is after a very long time that I have come across a book that has given me the satisfaction which I derived after reading Fritzof Capra, Gary Zukav and Stephen Hawking.

“If physics leads us today to a world view which is essentially mystical, it returns, in a way, to its beginning, 2,500 years ago. ... This time, however, it is not only based on intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.” Fritjof Capra

This is a book for the serious reader and thinker and I am sure it will ignite if not refresh their own journey on this path of inquiry.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

P.V. Raghunathan, also known as ‘Raghu’, is an Engineer by qualification and a Banker by profession. After a distinguished career with the State Bank of India as a Senior Executive for 24 years he moved to the National Bank of Oman in Muscat, Oman where he served for nine more years before retiring before finally settling down in Gurgaon, in the National Capital Region, Delhi.

His first book ‘My Many Trysts with God’ published in October 2019 although autobiographical in nature, his quest for God remains the underlying theme throughout the book.

‘Liberation from the Tyranny of Time and Space’ is, in a way, a continuation of the quest for understanding the meaning for human existence, the manifestation of Cosmic Expanse as an unending continuum and of the connection of the inner self to the Total Consciousness.

He occasionally contributes articles and poems to a few magazines on subjects of social relevance. An avid reader, his reading encompasses a wide range of subjects. Besides being proficient in English and Tamil, he speaks Hindi, Gujarati, Telugu and Malayalam.

An intrepid traveler he has traveled across Europe, the US, Egypt and Kenya, Nepal, Bhutan, and many South Asian countries and also across the length and breadth of India. He is passionate about trekking and mountain climbing.

 

FOOTNOTE

Mr. Raghunathan’s book to say the least has rekindled my own inquiries into the purpose of life. While reading the book, I recalled David Platt’s article on ‘David Bohm and the Implicate Order’ which I have posted previously in my blog. I am reproducing an extract here since I feel Raghunathan’s book seeks to convey a similar trend of thought –

The fundamental idea that beyond the visible, tangible world there lies a deeper, implicate order of undivided wholeness. There is evidence to suggest that our world and everything in it -- from snowflakes to maple trees to falling stars and spinning electrons -- are also only ghostly images, projections from a level of reality so beyond our own it is literally beyond both space and time”

Bohm gives the analogy of a flowing stream:

“On this stream, one may see an ever-changing pattern of vortices, ripples, waves, splashes, etc., which evidently have no independent existence as such. Rather, they are abstracted from the flowing movement, arising and vanishing in the total process of the flow. Such transitory subsistence as may be possessed by these abstracted forms implies only a relative independence or autonomy of behavior, rather than absolutely independent existence as ultimate substances".

 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A JOURNEY THROUGH MY BOOKS

 



A JOURNEY THROUGH MY BOOKS

Of late and even earlier as long back as six years, when I wrote my first book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ the need to understand ‘Who am I’ slowly intensified, and naturally, this took me back down the years to my childhood from where I tried to trace my journey to who I had become and ultimately what I will be in the years to come. This was an inward journey and it took me back over the years to that little boy who would sit on the banks of the river Thamirabarani, with the others and feel the flow of the cool waters caress and the little fishes which were in abundance, nibble his feet. This was a vacation which I looked forward to every year to spend some time at my ancestral home. The memories of these annual vacations still inhabit the recesses in my brain, to be called upon, to relish in solitude and remind me of my roots.

It was a passage from Alex Haley’s book ‘Roots’ that set the momentum for my second book ‘Darkness and Beyond – A Medley of Many Lives’ where the longest story is titled ‘Roots’ and in which I first travel back to my ancestral house with the intention of selling it and realizing that one cannot erase away the generations and cut yourself off from the reality of who you are. Haley in his book says –

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” – Alex Haley, Roots

 

‘Roots’ is not autobiographical but a fictional biography of my grandfather and his times. Most of what is written about Sankara, my grandfather, is true. It is fictional in the sense that I was only a baby six months old and never seen him. I reproduce some passages from the first story ‘Roots’ in my book ‘Darkness and Beyond’ –

‘This is where my grandfather lived till the end of his days, and this is where my father said he wanted to settle down after retirement. It was not that I had come in search of my roots or to relive those moments of my childhood which I had spent here, for that was a long time ago. Now I was quite comfortable and satisfied with where I lived. The trip was primarily commercial as the house was lying unoccupied for a long time: for more than three years now. I wanted to explore the possibility of selling it for whatever it was worth’

‘I had felt a strange presence when I first entered the house. It was as if someone was beckoning me to come inside. Now as I sat there, I felt the presence once again; only this time it was stronger. Beyond the silence in that room, I could hear the chanting of Sanskrit shlokas (prayers) emanating from the puja shelf. I remembered it was here that my grandfather used to sit and do his daily worship. I imagined him sitting there with the vibhuti (sacred ash) smeared across his dark forehead with his eyes closed as if he was in a divine trance. I remembered sitting near and watching him. I was too young when he passed away. Whatever I knew of him was through my father, mother, and grandmother. Now as I sat there, he seemed to come alive and the house once again resonated to the sounds and voices of those years gone by.’

‘Now when I look back, it is with a deep sense of sadness that I remember him. To me, he symbolized the last of a lost generation, a generation that took pride in belonging, a generation proud of its roots, its temples, and its Gods. It was strange, but Sambasivam uncle’s last words to me “I do not know when or whether we shall meet again” keeps ringing in my years even to this day. It was as if he had decided that he would keep his date with destiny in the village of his birth and the house of his ancestors and that his ashes would also be consumed in the sacred waters of the Thamirabharani.’

 

‘Autumn Leaves’ in a sense is a continuation of ‘Roots’ depicting the disintegration of the joint family system and the movement away from the villages necessitated by the need to seek a source of livelihood and the presence of opportunities outside our comfort zone, in the process moving further away from where our roots lie –

I needed answers to pull me out of this angst. I decided that it has to start with understanding myself and for that, I needed to go back to where it all started, my parents. And that was what took me to India, to search for the great Banyan tree under whose shade generations had come and gone, the sacred Peepal under which the Buddha attained realization, the burning ghats of Varanasi where one understood the meaning of life and death and the heights of the Himalayas which promised a peep into the unknown. -Autumn Leaves

The seed for my book ‘Autumn Leaves – Seasons of Life’ was sown when I sat listening to Nat King Cole singing ‘Autumn leaves’. The hauntingly captivating voice captured the poignancy of loneliness and a lost love. The falling leaves symbolized the drifting away of relationships, of life itself. Autumn or the Fall had always fascinated me with its colors, but at the same time, there was a despondency that it would soon come to an end. When I asked two of my friends their views as to what Autumn symbolized for them, one said it was the full attainment of all that life can offer you, with all its colors it was a ‘beautiful life’. The second view was that it represented sadness, as after all this achievement, the leaves would turn brown and fall to the ground, a symbol of our approaching end. Two divergent ways of looking at life itself. While the first reveled in the present moment, the second despaired at the approaching darkness.

A quote from Ernest Hemingway- ‘You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.

 

Ultimately it is through Mrityunjay that I arrive at an understanding of what it is to live. The Diary of Mrityunjay in a sense is a chronicle of a man’s search for a meaning in life –

I have learned my lessons. I have realized that the world is real and our existence a necessity.  Life and death are certainties and so is all the gamut of emotions that we experience on our journey. The earlier we accept this, the easier would it be to live. One does not learn by moving away. One learns by sticking it out and facing the truth of our fallibilities and that alone is the only way to overcome them. I have also realized that relationships are pure when there is understanding and acceptance. Relationships are based on trust and empathy, to support each other and being there for each other.’

The journey through my four books has taken six years, but it has opened my eyes to the need to understand where I came from, what I have been, and where I will be going.

I thank all those who have been there with me on this journey, encouraged, understood, and accepted me for what I am.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

SISYPHUS AND I

 


SISYPHUS AND I

I sat under the shade of the banyan tree gazing at the lone figure rolling a rock up the hill. The sun was blazing hot and I was the only human in sight other than the figure which was now halfway up the hill. When at last he reached what appeared to be his destination, after a few hours, he paused, as if the task had been accomplished. All the while I sat in the shade watching, wondering what would happen. It was not only curiosity on my part but it was also a welcome escape from the boredom which had engulfed me. He had been there for only a few minutes when the rock started rolling down and came to rest at the bottom of the hill to the place where it had originally lain. I saw him walking down the hill following the path that the rock had taken. Still, I sat, not moving, more out of lethargy and listlessness.

I perked up as soon as I saw him come down and walk towards the stone. I knew that he would once again start rolling it up the hill for I had watched the same exercise being repeated over and again for a considerable period of time now, from dawn till noon, and I guess I felt more exhausted than the subject who was under my observation. Out of sheer exasperation and as beads of perspiration trickled down my face, I decided to accost him.

 “Hello,” I called out.

For a minute he seemed perplexed and stopped in his tracks. He then slowly turned towards me.

“Who are you?” he asked, annoyed at my intrusion.

“I am sorry. I have been here, sitting under the shade of that banyan tree since morning and my attention was drawn to your seemingly endless motion,” I replied.

“You still haven’t told me who you are. Have you been sent by the Gods to spy on me? In that case, God help you,” he threatened.

“No, no, no!” I cried out, “in fact, I am just an ordinary man and am on a journey to understand the meaning of life. Seeing you has made me wonder as to whether this is what life is all about.”

“Ha, ha, ha! You are a fool if that is what you are searching for. I don’t mean to be harsh, but that is the truth,” he replied, a hint of arrogance in his demeanor.

“Sorry, but can I talk to you? Hope you have some time to spare?” I asked.

“Strictly speaking, no. I guess I can spare some time for you since you seem to have been waiting here for quite a while. Whatever you have to say, make it quick. I have to get back to my work soon. But first tell me who are you?” he asked.

“I told you that I am just an ordinary man. For the moment I think that would suffice as I do not have anything great to talk about myself. You can say I am a representative of the majority of the people living in this world. But I am curious. Who are you?” I asked after mustering up enough courage. Despite the fact that he was tall, muscular, handsome, and reminded me of the sculptures of the Greek Gods, there was something intimidating about him, a pent-up fury in his eyes.

He looked at me with an amused look and said “I really don’t know how that is going to solve your problem. But since you seem so persuasive, I will tell you. My name is Sisyphus”.

“Sisyphus? I have heard that name before. Oh yes, now I remember. When I was reading stories from Greek mythology, I did come across a character named Sisyphus. Maybe you were named after him,” I said.

“What do you mean named after him? I am he, I am that Sisyphus,” he replied with a hint of irritation creeping into his voice.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. But how is it possible? If what you say is true, then you must be at least five thousand years old,” I said.

“How does it matter whether I am a thousand years or just a day old? Isn’t it all the same?”

“I am just curious, since it’s midday and you do not appear to slacken and stop this senseless exercise,” I said.

“You find my actions absurd?” he retorted.

“No, no. Not like that. You seem to be repeating the same thing over and over again,” I said.

“The sun and the moon have been doing the same thing day in and day out, ever since this world came into existence. So, what’s the big deal? My actions are similar to what they have been doing”.

“But they are heavenly bodies and not subject to our laws. You are still a human being, I presume.”

“Heaven and Hell, I have seen them all. They are no different from this world. And the Gods, they are no different from the human. They get angry and curse you if you go against their wishes and try to exercise your freewill. They reward you when you appease them through offerings by way of gold and sacrifice. Tell me how different is it from what you have here? But you see over the course of time I have gotten used to this routine. Now it does not affect me,” he replied.

“I don’t believe that. There must have been times when you had questioned the futility of your actions?” I asked.

There was a prolonged silence, I waited. I could see that he was in deep thought. I was sure that something disturbed him.

Breaking the silence, Sisyphus said “Initially I did not mind it. Of late I have wondered what was the purpose of all this. But the reality dawned on me that I did not have a choice as I had been punished by the Gods,” he replied.

“But don’t you realize that you are now an immortal and cannot die? Well, that must have banished all the fear of death,” I said.

He gave me a curious look and then laughed, and asked “Don’t you want to be an immortal also?”

I was caught off guard. I had never dwelt on the subject of immortality before. I was puzzled by the suddenness of his question and stared at him.

“Well take it from me, you are better off as you are. But tell me how you live, and what is it that you look forward to? We can then talk of immortality,” he said.

“Like any other human being in this world. I do my duties,” I replied.

“And what might they be?” Sisyphus continued.

“Well I look after my family, earn my living and father children. Of course, I want to achieve something and be somebody of consequence,” I replied.

“And why should that be?” he pursued relentlessly.

“I want my existence to mean something, something authentic,” I replied again.

“And do you think you have achieved something, and do you believe that you have enough time to achieve all that you want to? Do you have a goal?” he asked.

“I really don’t know. Every time I achieve something, it fades away, and I relentlessly chase other goals.”

“Let me ask you what your typical day is like?”

“That’s not really a question. I get up in the morning when the sun rises, have my breakfast, go to my place of work, have lunch, come back, relax, have dinner and then go to sleep as the night settles down,” I replied.

“And you want to carry on doing this endlessly?” he asked again.

“What else? Is there really a choice? These are the basic actions to keep us living,” I replied.

“Do you think there will be an end to this? I guess that you will grow old, maybe sickness strikes you, and one day your life comes to end. You die.”

“Yes, I guess that is what will happen?”

“Then why did you break the routine and come all this way and sit under the banyan tree? Is it because you found that it was absurd to carry on like this?” he asked.

“Yes, it is something like that,” I answered.

Suddenly he laughed and said “I know you are puzzled. You really do not know what it is to be an immortal. Believe me, immortality is a curse,” he said.

“But tell me truthfully, why did you have to leave a life you were leading and come over here, sit under that tree, doing nothing? I cannot understand. Were you also cursed by the Gods?” he continued.

“No, no, our Gods do not curse nor bless. They just watch the fun. You see if we ask them a question, they say that the answers have all been laid down in the scriptures and it’s our lookout how we interpret and live. In that sense, they do not interfere like your Gods. There are many others like me. Day in and day out we have been reduced to doing the same thing,” I replied.

He laughed again and this time louder. It echoed around all the rocks and hillocks surrounding us.

“So, your state is no different than mine. Then why did you call mine a senseless exercise?”

“I did say that, yes. And as I speak to you now, I am more convinced that it is so. You see yours is a futile exercise and there does not seem to be any end to your state of being. You do not have an option. For me, though my present condition is absurd, it cannot last forever since as mortals we die. We have a choice,” I said.

“You mean to say that as a mortal, you have a choice and as an immortal, I do not,” he asked.

“Exactly”.

“You mean there is no redemption for me?” he asked. His tone betraying an inkling of self-doubt.

“That depends on you. As long as you believe you are an immortal there is no redemption. In your own words, you said ‘Immortality is a curse’. Now looking at you I believe it is indeed so. But I believe that you can still beat it,” I said.

“And how is that?”

“A wise man once told me that when you are faced with the absurdity of life there are only two options. You end your life by committing suicide or rebel against the forces that seek to control you. His idea of the rebel is one who searches for order and clarity, and in the process comes into conflict with the universe. Maybe it is this conflict which would take him nearer to understanding this life. But I guess you do not have the option of ending your life since you are an immortal,” I said.

“So, you want me to stop what I have been doing all this while and go and sit under the tree and contemplate? Zeus will be enraged and punish me again, maybe something worse,” he replied.

“Does it really matter? You would make him sit up and take notice of what’s happening. Maybe he is waiting for you to think. In any case, something will happen, and that is better than continue in the state you exist now, till eternity.”

He remained silent and looked around him, maybe for the first time. I knew he was confused. For the first time since I came to sit under the banyan tree and then talk to Sisyphus, I saw the inklings of clarity dawn on me. Immortality was not unending existence, being exempt from death, but ultimately accepting one’s mortality and transcending death through an authentic and meaningful existence.

This was what I was waiting for. I decided that I should leave him to his thoughts which had for the first time occurred to him since he started rolling the rock up the hill.

“Is life really meaningless?” he asked me.

“It’s for you to find out. Now I shall leave.”

As I started walking back, I turned to look at him one last time. There he was sitting under the banyan tree and looking towards the top of the hill. Maybe contemplating on ways to overcome his predicament. Maybe it was for the first time he had moved away from the rock, lightening the burden he had been carrying for so long. I was sure he would find a solution.

I had found mine.

Image courtesy - sisyphus by thechewu watch digital art mixed media fantasy sisyphus 

 


 

 

 

 

Friday, September 25, 2020

A QUESTION OF CONSCIENCE –2 THE REALITY OF AGING AND CAREGIVING

 

A QUESTION OF CONSCIENCE –2

THE REALITY OF AGING AND CAREGIVING



 I and my wife, at last, visited the old age home in our locality for donating all the old clothes that we had been accumulating over the past few years. Though my wife had been reminding me from time to time, my inertia had got the better of my altruistic motives. It had come to a point where there was no more space in the house to store them. Our intentions were good but the execution was flawed. We had been postponing this due to sheer lethargy, and that is how all the good things that you want to do never get done. It requires tremendous effort to veer away from the normal course of leading our lives and take up an activity that would require us to compromise on many of the comforts we have been enjoying. I realized that I was all talk and no action, despite my self- proclaimed empathy. I have avoided the beggars, on the streets, on the doorsteps of the temples, at the traffic junctions, and when they tap on my car windows. I avoid looking at them because I feel uncomfortable. You are really not sure as to who is a genuine sufferer and who a fake. You do not want to be taken for a ride. What is the option if you really feel and want to contribute to the alleviation of this suffering with whatever resources you have with you? I keep asking myself as to how and what difference I could make. I have always shied away from taking the final step.’

This is an extract from my book ‘I AM JUST AN ORDINARY MAN’ published six years ago. If you ask me how far I have proceeded thereafter, the reply is, not much. Whenever I read what I have written it’s with a sense of unease. It’s all words and no deeds- a question of conscience perhaps? Or rather pangs of conscience.

When I wrote about the old age home, it was a home for the destitute. People who have been abandoned by their near and dear ones, to be taken care of in homes set up by some charitable trust.

I had earlier made a review of a book ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande. This book disturbs you. It lays bare the reality of aging and increasing dependence. In the chapter ‘Dependence’ Gawande says “It is not death that the very old tell me they fear. It is what happens short of death – losing their hearing, their memory, their best friends, their way of life.” He says we do not think about the eventuality that most of us will spend significant periods of our lives too reduced and debilitated to live independently. As a result, most of us are unprepared for it.

 In the beginning of his book, Gawande talks about his grandfather who lived till the age of a hundred and ten years and ultimately passed away surrounded by a large family in the midst of the people he loved and in his home. He says “My father’s father had the kind of traditional old age that from a Western perspective, seems idyllic” He continues “But in my grandfather’s world, how he wanted to live was his choice, and the family’s role was to make it possible”. In a splintered world this is definitely an idyllic if not an impossible situation.

In ‘The Philosophy of Loyalty” written by a Harvard Philosopher Josiah Royce, Royce wanted to understand why simply existing – why being merely housed and fed and safe and alive – seems empty and meaningless to us. What more is it that we need in order to feel that life is worthwhile? The answer he believed is that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves. This was to him, an intrinsic human need.

Those who have read my book ‘Darkness and Beyond’ will be able to connect the following narration with the story ‘Waiting for Deliverance’ in the book -

Sometime ago I dropped in at my friend’s place as it was some time since I had seen him (all this while I was waiting for an opportunity to visit him). When I enquired about his mother, he took me to her room where I found her lying on a cot totally immobilized. There was a nurse in attendance. My friend then told me “She has been like that for more than a year now, partially paralyzed and failing eyesight. Of course, over the years she had been suffering from a slow deterioration of her mental faculties. Though she can recollect certain things from the past, the present to her never really embeds itself in her memory”. When my friend told her my name there was a faint acknowledgment with her movable hand. When I leaned close to her, she said in a faint voice “why God does not take me away, why does he make me wait like this?”

We now have hospices, palliative care and assisted living for those whose children can afford it and have the inclination to do so. At the higher end of the spectrum, we have senior homes where you find those who have opted to be there and have the resources to do so. They come in two categories – those who treasure their own space and live within a community as they age, and those, whose near and dear ones are in a faraway land for whom it is possible to come down and meet them once a while. In these cases, despite the loneliness of living alone, there is always the comfort that there is someone and a sense of belonging. What about the destitute you find on the street? The luckier ones are those who have been taken to the doorstep and abandoned thereafter. What about the man on the street? Left to himself on the pavements, living on the scraps and leftovers and the charity of passersby, too infirm to do any sort of labor that could sustain him to an extent, to one day disappear: an inconsequential existence. Is it possible to alleviate or decrease such an existence, or do we just let it be, for we convince ourselves that’s what life is about? A philosophical musing indeed! As long as poverty exists the disparity in the quality of life will continue. But in a country as diverse and populated as ours to what extent can these disparities be removed? Is it possible? It is a Catch-22 situation. But should it be? Can something be done collectively? There are of course individuals who from their own experiences of tending to an aged parent or a spouse, strive to find ways and means of improving the quality of life of the old and infirm. A welfare state should address this problem for as the years progress the gravity of the situation will only increase, with an aging population. It is not only a question of Individual conscience but in the larger scheme of things it is a Question of Collective Conscience

That day before I left, my friend said “It is very difficult watching her suffer like this. I should not say this, but the truth is I am also waiting for her to pass away so that she is spared of further agony.” I felt sad for him.

This brings us to another question – When there are no means of extending life even when it is known that the patients have passed beyond a stage where subjecting them to painful processes will only end up in extending the suffering without allowing them to go in peace, is Euthanasia an answer? Another question of conscience perhaps?

I intend to examine this – ‘A Question of Conscience – Euthanasia’ in my next post.

A STORY RETOLD – PART 2 SEASONS OF LIFE

  A STORY RETOLD – PART 2 SEASONS OF LIFE Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own person...