Friday, August 31, 2012


Born in Meerut on 12thJune 1961
Died in Bombay on 11th August 1977

Yesterday I was cleaning and rearranging the first of my bookshelves, taking the books out dusting them and putting them back in their rightful place in the shelf. They are arranged more or less in chronological order with the date of purchase and the place on the first page of the book. They help me travel back in time as each book has a tale to tell apart from its own. I skim through them before placing them back. I stopped as I took out the book ‘Poems of Gitanjali’, kept it apart for I wanted to go through it again and I did. As I went through it at night I could not help control the emotions that resurfaced once again after a lapse of twenty eight years. Yes, this book was presented to me by one of my friends when she visited us twenty eight years ago, the date 19-4-1984.

I am named
After the famous book of Tagore
I wish and pray
Oh! help me God
I so live that……..
I live up to the name.

In his introduction Pritish Nandy writes, “Gitanjali went through the prolonged agony of dying of cancer, but not in vain. Her poems are a testament of youth in all its courage and faith. Only by knowing she would die could Gitanjali have achieved these poems which speak for all who have died young and to all who grieve for them. For the rest of us they have an uncanny power of putting life into perspective”.

It appears that her mother found these poems several months after Gitanjali had died, hidden under the mattress in the little corners of her room.

When I go through these poems which I have done a couple times before I am moved by the utter simplicity of the language and the extraordinary in ward journey of a child who was only sixteen, who had loved life and all things around her and ultimately accepting the finality of death – a conscious death one may say. And when she went, she went finally in peace with herself her only regret being that she would be leaving behind her grieving parents and friends. Some of the poems also reflect the extent of concern she has for people awaiting a similar fate as hers. All the poems are introspective, there more than a hundred of them. There are no pretensions which a lot of us resort to sometimes to sound authentic, the poems are pure and come straight from the heart. Her belief in God is un wavering and she speaks to him often and that was her constant source of strength till the end.

I can only reproduce a few lines here from a poem titled ‘Farewell my Friends’

“It was beautiful
As long as it lasted
The journey of my life.

I have no regrets
Whatsoever save
The pain I’ll leave behind.”

Or these lines from the poem ‘Dreams of a Dying Heart’

“Beneath the heavy
Load of pain
Beneath the emotional
Stress and strain
Beneath the ache
Lies a heart
Inside this heart
Lie the dreams….
….the dreams……
Of a dying heart
Dreams of a……
Budding flower.”

I suddenly realised that this is the twenty fifth anniversary of her death, this month August. And why does this move me so much? Coming close on the heels of my last posting on Akash Dube  who also died young of the same ailment, it makes me wonder at the kindling of the inherent strength in them which helped them face the finality of death and accept it with dignity.

The wonderful foreword to the book written by Pritish Nandy sums up saying “Despite our different Gods, our different perceptions of life and truth, each of us walk the same way. Poems like Gitanjali’s occasionally light up the darkness and show us that all sorrow is universal. Just as love is”. It was he who had first published Gitanjali’s poems when he was editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India.

Need I say more. Tagore would have been proud of her.

Monday, August 27, 2012


26th AUGUST 2012
The weather Gods smiled today after having shed their tears last night. The morning was beautiful, cool with a faint inkling of a drizzle after last night’s heavy thundershowers, in the pristine campus of IIT Madras. The crowd was already there in the open air auditorium with the Army band playing, waiting for the run to start. Today for the first time since the ‘Run’ was started by him in Chennai he was not there physically, but his spirit hovered around as you watched the faces of the crowd gathered there. It was a fitting homage to an inspiring soul. One could see the joy and the sense of satisfaction in the eyes of his parents who were present there, his dreams having been translated into a reality.

I repeat what I had written in my earlier posting ‘Akash Dube – An Obituary’

“He represents the indomitable nature of the human spirit. How I wish that we can make our life as authentic as his. May be we are too comfortable in our situations”.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Today the sea seemed nearer,
And the waves angrier,
As the chill wind slapped my face,
The grey clouds hovered around,
A quiver shook my soul.
Forebodings of a tsunami?

Friday, August 17, 2012


Oh, God!
This may be considered as a continuation of my last posting on spirituality. Despite all the books one may have read or all the discourses one has attended, you end up still trying to understand what all this means. I think it is really very simple to understand whether one believes in God or not. When one says there is no God he has unconsciously given rise to a concept called God through his very negation of the fact. In the last posting I talked about the tamil film ‘Anbe Sivan’ and how in a very simple way one talks about who or what God is. But there is another film an English one which I would consider as one of the all time great movies that I have seen, not because of great cinematic values like production, photography etc, but on account of the dialogues and how in a very simple way the concept of God is sought to be brought out, though there have been sequels, there is nothing like the first time. That film is ‘Oh, God!
It was a film which came out in the year 1977, with George Burns and John Denver. George Burns acts as God (dressed in a jacket and jeans and wearing a cap and with spectacles), he appears as a kindly old man and is visible only to Jerry Landers(John Denver) who is an assistant supermarket manager. The picture takes you through really comic situations at no time becoming serious or melodramatic. While it is not the scope of this posting to tell the story or describe the situations, I shall only put down only those dialogues which stay still fresh in my memory.

JL – I don’t belong to any faith or religion
God – Neither do I.
JL – You control our lives, then why do you permit so much suffering.
God – I gave you the world and everything there. Now its up to you. I don’t permit the suffering, you do. Its your choice, free world and all that. You can nourish, help or kill each other.
JL – You perform miracles?
God – Lots of it is luck. Miracles are too flashy, they upset the natural balance.
JL – Did you take six days to create the world?
God – No. Actually I thought for five days and then created it in one day.
JL – which of the world’s religions is closest to the Divine truth?
God – Divine truth is not a building, book or a story. Heart is the temple where all truth resides.
JL – Is Jesus the son of God?
God – Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and others, all of you, are all my sons.
JL – What is the meaning of  a man’s existence?
God – Your existence is what you think it is, what I think does not matter.
God – Everything you  see, hear, touch and smell around, you should delight in them as these are the best things that I have made.
JL – Don’t you have a physical form?
God – Is my physical existence less probable than yours? The devil you could believe but not me.
God – I do not understand the whole idea that anything connected with me has to be miracle. This only makes the distance between you and me greater. But if it helps you believe I am who I am then I will give you one.

God disappears as he walks out of the courtroom to the astonishment of the judge and the others present, where he had come as a witness to prove that Jerry Landers was not bluffing when he said that he had been talking to God.
The events and situations in the movie are hilarious. In the end when Jl asks God why he had  lost his job despite believing in him, God replies “ that’s the ways it is, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose” and walks away.

Monday, August 13, 2012



I was intending to contribute my mite to a discussion on ‘spirituality’ that was going on in one of the email groups to which I happen to be a part of. A lot of rationalising and intellectualising was on and I was feeling left out as I did not have anything to say. One view was that if one really wanted to know what spirituality was, it was enough if you could go to the bar nearby and have a few pegs of your favourite spirit. Though stated in a lighter vein I thought about it – is it the same state of drunkenness one experiences in rapture? I could not bring myself to define or describe spirituality, for me it was only an experience, an inward journey and how can you express it in words? As far as I am concerned you can call it as a process of inward transformation. I guess this occurs to everyone at some stage in life, whether you believe in God or not. Can we not leave God out of it? Whether you are an atheist, theist or agnostic you are not free from the facts of life and death, you are not free from the feelings of anguish in life, you are not free from the need to express yourself. You experience the same pleasures and pains, then why this debate on spirituality and the existence of God. Why cannot we ask ourselves whether we are happy or not, and is’nt it a fact that all of us want to be happy, perpetually happy? And how can we achieve that elusive happiness?

Spirituality is not about God, it is not about religion though it forms an integral part of religious practices. Why all this furore about spirituality? The India Today Conclave on ‘Spirituality – Halo or Hoax’ held in February 2005 threw up a very interesting debate between two eminent personalities – Javed Akhtar and Sri Sri Ravishanker, one a poet and intellectual and the other considered as a modern day spiritual Guru, one an atheist and the other a promiser of salvation, and both had their points to make, falling short of a direct conflict.

Akhtar was vehemently opposed to the word spirituality itself, he says, “I am asking to change it, leave it, drop it, make it obsolete but why so? I will tell you what is my reservation. If spirituality means all this then there is no discussion. But there is something else which makes me uneasy. In a dictionary, the meaning of spirituality is rooted in a word called “spirit”.

So in order to find out what is it that made him uneasy about the definition of spirituality, I looked up the Wikipedia definition which says, “Spirituality is belief in an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the "deepest values and meanings by which people live." Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual's inner life. Spiritual experiences can include being connected to a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; joining with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world.”

I wonder what was it that made Javed Akhtar livid about the meaning of spirituality itself. From the definition above, I can see that it encompasses all the possible interpretations and aspirations of everyone whether he is a theist, atheist or an agnostic. The key sentences have been highlighted  by me above. Whoever you are, can it be denied that you live your life because you have found a meaning in its continuation and have set yourself a value system by which you want to live it? Can you also deny that you have always looked for a source of inspiration and orientation in your life? you have always looked for these from external sources, call them experiences or from role models, before you take the inward plunge. Well you may be an atheist as affirmed by you, but I am sure you have all along listened to your inner self for inspiration for your poetic instincts. I am totally in agreement with you when you state that –

Let us try to decide on the meaning of this word spirituality. Does it mean love for mankind that transcends all religion, caste, creed, race? Is that so? Then I have no problem. Except that I call it humanity. Does it mean love of plants, trees, mountains, oceans, rivers, animals? The non-human world? If that is so, again I have no problem at all. Except that I call it environmental consciousness. Does spirituality mean heartfelt regard for social institutions like marriage, parenthood, fine arts, judiciary, freedom of expression. I have no problem again sir, how can I disagree here? I call it civil responsibility. Does spirituality mean going into your own world trying to understand the meaning of your own life? Who can object on that? I call it self-introspection, self assessment. Does spirituality mean Yoga? Thanks to Patanjali, who has given us the details of Yoga, Yam, Yatam, aasan, pranayam…We may do it under any name, but if we are doing pranayam, wonderful. I call it healthcare. Physical fitness.”

See you have already defined spirituality. If it is only a matter of semantics as you say, then why bother. I can understand you ire against the modern day Gurus as you call them, but aren’t we all that, only we do not have the same attire. See I would consider you also as a modern day guru, you have different set of followers. But then I cannot understand why you call spirituality a Hoax, as you can see from the above definition that there is no mention of the word spirit. Even if it had why do you get put off by the word, you cannot deny that there is something which makes you say there is no God, what is it. What is the need to label yourself as an atheist, for whose benefit. It is not necessary when you are sure you are doing the right thing and you are happy you have been living by the dictates of your conscience ( what is conscience and being conscious is another question that has to be debated separately) you may call it ‘Humanity’ or whatever you will, after all it is a question of semantics.

I can well understand your ire against the modern day gurus who sell salvation and in the process are themselves on the way to the gratification of their desires. I accept they exploit the gullible and the affluent who are on the search for instant salvation (for them of course salvation means getting all that they want). But generalisations are not called for – can we say that all theists are bad or all atheists are good?

It is in our nature to look to someone to show us the path, starting with the parents at home and then the teachers in our schools, and if we are a failure (judgemental of course) then we blame them for not having discharged their duties. At different stages in our life we need catalysts to take us forward. Gurus fulfil this need, what is a guru is again a question of semantics, let us not label him. We may say that he is someone who through the conduct of his own life inspired you  and made you look up to him for emulation. That is simple I guess. The list of such people is endless. Through the centuries we have had extraordinary beings who we revere even today and place them on the highest pedestal. Who can deny a Shirdi Sai Baba or a Ramana Maharishi or a Ramakrishna Paramahamsa the reverence and awe they have generated and the solace that they have brought to simple folk who live with the burden of sustenance and the anguish of living and who do not have time for intellectualisations nor understand. You may not believe in salvation but it is the hope that there is something like that which has made them face upto to the demands of life. I guess understanding them and accepting them as they are is humanity.

Generalisations are bad and that is what Akhtar has done. I respect his intellectual abilities and the courage to speak out against what he considers as ills in this present day society. I remember a tamil film that I saw some years back ‘Anbe Sivan’ with Kamalahasan’ in the lead which left its imprint on my mind. There is a scene depicting a road accident in which a child dies despite the best efforts of the doctor. One of the two main characters Madhavan is seen sitting next to Kamalahasan crying. Looking at him Kamal smiles and says “I never said I do not believe in God, but the God I believe in, I see in the tears that are rolling down your cheeks. Tears for a child you never met before or knew.” I guess that says it all. The title of the film translated in English simply means ‘Love is God’. You will be surprised to note that is what you will find on the gopurams or towers illuminated in neon lights in the Siva temples in Tamilnadu.

Though it was the bounden duty of Sri Sri Ravishanker to refute Akthar’s statements and which he did briefly, to his credit he summed it up by saying “Spirituality is not a matter of the head, it is a matter of the heart. I had two choices: to argue and turn the conclave into a conflict or to keep silence. I chose the latter”.