Friday, December 15, 2017

A VACANT PLACE



 A VACANT PLACE

I come to Hyderabad every winter as it is pleasant and a bit cold which I like, unlike Chennai where I stay. For the past four years I have been doing this since my daughter moved over here and the best thing is, it is relaxing and I love my morning walks in the garden near the house. I do fifteen rounds and it takes me about fifty minutes to complete and then head back home.

There are regulars and there are new faces I notice though I do not stop to talk to any of them except perhaps a ‘Good Morning’ or a smile of recognition, a courtesy I extend to a select few I have had the pleasure of seeing the previous years. I know some would have wondered where I had vanished the rest of the year leaving a place vacant in the garden. One of them did venture to ask ‘What happened? Where were you?’ I replied I live in Chennai and come only at this time of the year, a seasonal bird. I know what thoughts arise when one notices an absence be it of a man or material. Common to both would be the premise that they have shifted elsewhere, the most positive thought that could occur. But something of a more serious conclusion in respect of the man or woman especially the older variety would be that they have ceased to exist. Well that exactly how my mind works also.

Though I walk alone, for I like to be with myself or listening to the music on my Ipod, I do notice things I pass – the trees, the flowers, the birds, the stray dogs, the monkeys and of course the people. Each one of them inhabit my world of walking though I choose to remain silent. Over the last four years if there is one recurring image, it is that of the old man. You may think that I am obsessed with old people and old age especially if you have read my book ‘Darkness and Beyond’. But one can never deny the fact that as you age, you inch towards thinking more of the beyond.

But other things aside, I could not help notice the vacant place on the bench which I had passed so many times during the past years. In the Chapter on ‘The Old Man and I’ I had related something similar but the setting was different – I quote

“As I walked out of the park, I turned back to see him, a lonely figure on the bench as the dusk settled. The night was slowly creeping in. That’s what life is all about – the dawn, the light of the day, the twilight and then the all-consuming darkness.”

Now here it was a different scenario – the sun was slowly rising, clearing the morning mist and the day had just begun. But to me it appeared that the darkness which had preceded had consumed something and thus the vacant place on the bench.

I write this a month after I noticed his absence and therefore I have come to the conclusion that he had passed away to the beyond. He was a regular, at least eighty years and odd, impeccably dressed and a sweater to keep away the cold. Of short stature and a crop of white hair on his head and a cleanly shaven face, he reminded me of Jiddu Krishnamurthi. He would walk slowly towards the bench dust it with his napkin and sit erect. As I passed him on my rounds he would be busy with breathing exercises and then slowly get up from the bench stretch his arms and legs stopping only when someone passed him by. He would then move on to the lawns and stand facing the sun. the last thing that I would hear as I made my way back to the gate to leave I would hear his laughter loud and clear repeated rhythmically.

This was what it was over the three years but was missing this year. Though I find others occupying that bench, for me without that old man it was a vacant place. I knew that he was a permanent resident, not a visitor like me who was just a periodical occurrence.
That day as the thought struck me that he may have passed beyond and I was slowly walking towards the gate of the garden I met the young man and his wife both regulars in the garden. While the young man would be exercising vigorously, his wife would be taking her walk. The last time I was here I saw them walking hand in hand taking their rounds in the garden. She was pregnant and I guessed in an advanced stage. So now I was pleasantly surprised and happy to see a young toddler in between them holding on to their hands and taking his first steps in the garden. I waved at them and smiled.
I quote once again the last words of the old man from my book ‘Darkness and Beyond’ –

“You remember that the last time I met you I said that the night is creeping in. I know that it will soon envelop me and take me to the ultimate darkness. I do not know what lies beyond, but since light fades into darkness and the darkness melts away with the dawn of a new morning, I believe that there does exist something beyond this darkness and that is the hope I carry with me.”

Yes, life goes on – A Vacant Place and A New Hope


   

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

AND THEN I BECAME BALD




AND THEN I BECAME BALD

I don’t remember when it happened. It was so subtle, strand by strand, hair by hair, and then, there was nothing. In case you are still wondering about what I am talking about, I do not blame you. It happened to me also, I did not realize what was happening. I still cannot say when I became bald, but now I know I am.

Once upon a time there was a clean-shaven youth with a crop of luxuriant hair on his head. And that was the face his wife saw before she married him. All earlier attempts to grow some hair above his upper lip were shot down by a glance of disapproval from his mother, after all how could a boy from an orthodox brahmin family grow a moustache. If he had been born in an earlier era he would have been forced to shave the front half of his head with long tresses of hair at the back rolled up to a knot ubiquitously called ‘Kudumi’ and the three horizontal lines of the sacred ash ‘Vibhuti’ spread across his forehead. Well I guess I was lucky I missed that era.

Remember the Rishis of yore who never had the time to crop the hair on their head or face as they were deeply immersed in penance. Of course, that did not stop the scantily clad Apsaras from dancing in front of them and upsetting their spiritual quests (pardon me for any blasphemy on my part, but that is not my fault for I have grown up watching all those mythological films and led to believe that was how things were in the realm of the Gods, Devas, Rishis and the Kings who always seemed to hold court to the swaying of the dancing girls). And then there were the monks with not a hair on their heads also on a spiritual quest. I then understood that the quest for spiritual enlightenment was all about hair, with or without.
There was a time when premature baldness was the subject of ridicule until a smart bald man came up with the catch phrase ‘Bald is Beautiful’. Those were the days when ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ was being aired on the television. While this was catching on I came upon an article about five years ago which reaffirmed my belief that baldness is not only beautiful but also sexy (you can very well imagine why). I quote the first few lines and that was enough and I did not proceed further for fear of finding something to the contrary –

“Think of Bruce Willis, Andre Agassi or Michael Jordan, and you’ve got three famously strong, masculine men with plenty of female fans. They also have something else in common: they’re bald.

It’s often said that bald men are more virile. The popular theory is that they have higher levels of the male hormone testosterone, which makes them more masculine and increases their sex drive, but they lose their hair at a younger age than average as a result. The truth, though, is a little more complex.”
Since it said the truth was a little more complex I did not proceed further. I did no further research and since that day I have had long conversations with my beard while gently caressing my pate late into the night.

But of late when I go out shopping, to movies, to parties or just a stroll, I find Rishis and Monks (with finely chiseled French Beards) once again, and of course the Apsaras are there.

It all happened one fine (?) day ten years ago when I was in Mumbai. I have always been proud of my beard, so I thought keeping him good shape would contribute to my well being both physically and mentally (yes, I would keep worrying when the remaining strands on my head would disappear). I bought myself a beard trimmer and proceeded to ensure that he had a decent and uniform growth (nothing like the Rishis whose beards looked unkempt and unwashed). Well I did succeed for he looked real smart – uniform and the right length as desired by me. Happy that the trimmer had done a fine job I cleaned it by brushing off the remaining strands of hair on it and kept it aside. It was only when I looked in the mirror to admire my well groomed facial hair that I noticed the uneven growth of hair on my head (at that time I did have some noticeable growth on the sides and the back of my head: I still do, but to a much lesser extent). To set this right I picked up the trimmer and ran it through those portions I felt were not uniform. After the first run I noticed to my horror that there was a patch of ‘no hair’. In my hurry I had forgotten to clip back the depth adjustment cutter on the trimmer. I now had no option but to run the trimmer as it was, through the remaining hair on my head. And that was when I first became completely bald. Of course, when I came out of the bathroom, my wife had a curious look on her face which did not need any words to translate “So where has all the hair on the head gone?”


You see I had long ago made a compromise in my spiritual quest (Whisky or Old Monk) and took the mid-path to realization by becoming half a Rishi and half a Monk. So, what would you call me now – Rishimon or Monkrish? I wouldn’t mind for now I am at spiritually elevated levels only three pegs down.

Friday, December 8, 2017

SECRETS OF THE SOUL – 17 DELIVERANCE



SECRETS OF THE SOUL – 17
DELIVERANCE

I seek the secrets of the soul,
From within the depths of the ocean,
The pearl within the oyster,
Emerging headlong through the tunnel
Into the light, from the womb,
The first cry, the first sigh of deliverance,
And the umbilical separation,
Freed into a world of conflicting emotions,
To find its way, through the chaos,
Through this labyrinth of relationships,
To grow, live, to ultimate decay and deliverance,

But the ghost it continues to stay.