I reproduce an excerpt from my book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ where I talk about my association or rather the relationship I shared with my motorbike. Later, when I read Pirzig’s ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ I could fully relate to what I shared with it. It had become a member of the family so much so that my daughters also shared the same feeling. Today when I read my younger daughter’s what I would call A Motorcycle Diary did I fully realize the impact it had on her growing up. I thought that I should share this on my blog because it sensitively recreates those years and the reality of the present. It was all the more amazing that she wrote it all, sitting in the showroom waiting to take delivery of what she calls the new Avatar, a memory reborn.
Thursday, February 10, 2022
THE SILENCE OF THE SAGE – RAMANA MAHARISHI
“Who is that,” I asked my father, pointing at a photograph in the puja shelf, one among many there. What attracted my attention was that out of all the pantheon of Hindu God pictures in the shelf this was all too human – that of an old man with benign eyes and a graceful smile. The photograph had been there always but this was the first time I was drawn to notice it. I was a boy ten years old. The puja shelf was filled with images of various Gods. At that age, I could relate to most of them from the stories told me by my parents and the numerous temples which we visited and offered prayers. It didn’t matter there were so many of them, after all, they were our guardians and they were our Gods.
“That is Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi,” my father replied.
“What is a Maharishi?” I asked
“He is someone who is full of wisdom,” my father replied.
“Is he a God also?” I asked.
“Some believe him to be so, but that does not matter. He is a Sage who lived in Tiruvannamalai. Now his ashram is situated where he lived at the foothills of the sacred Arunachala hill,” my father replied.
At that age, I did not have further questions to ask, for I assumed since he was in the Puja shelf, he was also a God. Ever since Ramana Maharishi became a constant figure in my metaphysical meditations. As the years passed, I came to know more and more of him from the various books written about him and his philosophy.
More than the books about him what had an everlasting impact on my mind was the photograph and the eyes that spoke so much, that words were not necessary to commune with him. I remember I was so fixated with the glow in his eyes that I ended up sketching a portrait of him, and the minute I finished, I felt he had looked deep into my soul. That moment brought a satisfaction I had never felt before, after finishing a sketch or a painting. I felt fulfilled.
The constant refrain in Maharishi’s path to Self-Realization is contemplating on the question ‘Who am I’ and turning inwards to find the answer. The first few lines in my book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ express my dilemma and feelings of inadequacy in trying to answer this - “Sir, you asked me who I am. What shall I say? I have been asking myself this question for quite some time and reached nowhere. After all, I am no saint to throw away everything that I have and go in search of an answer. If I had, I would have been a saint. Don’t you agree?
It is always enlightening to read the experiences of aliens to our culture. People who have come to sincerely understand our philosophy, culture, religion, and the secrets that define who we as a people are. Their views and findings are bound to be more authentic and critical when they come with an open mind freed of the prejudices that had been painted in their minds of a country of snake charmers, faqueers, fake magicians, and fake godmen who hold sway over a gullible population There have been many who have written on Eastern Philosophy which has been more academic than experiential. Our own accounts are bound to be influenced by the familiarity with the secrets of the land we have been born in.
Of all the books I have read about Ramana Maharishi, two stand out – ‘A Search in Secret India’ by Paul Brunton and a number of books by Arthur Osborne on the Teachings of Ramana Maharishi. Both of whom stayed back to be in the close proximity of Ramana Maharishi, since they found in him the Great Master.
‘Remote from the haunts of men, deep in the jungles to which- or to the Himalayas- the holiest men in India always return, Mr. Brunton found the very embodiment of all that India holds most sacred, The Maharishi- The Great Sage- was the man who made the most appeal to Mr. Brunton.’ From the foreword to the book.
From the book ‘A Search in Secret India’ in Paul Brunton’s own words-
‘I can say only that in India I found my faith restored. Not so long ago I was among those who regard God as a hallucination of human fancy, spiritual truth as a mere nebula, and providential justice as a confection for infantile idealists. I, too, was somewhat impatient of those who construct theological paradises and then who confidently show you round with an air of being God’s estate agents. I had nothing but contempt for what seemed to be the futile, fanatical efforts, uncritical theorizers.’
‘This faith was restored in the only way a skeptic could have it restored, not by argument, but by the witness of an overwhelming experience. And it was a jungle sage, an unassuming hermit who had formerly lived for six years in a mountain cave, who promoted this vital change in my thinking.’
Nothing describes ‘The Silence of the Sage’ then Brunton’s first interaction with the Maharishi-
‘There is something in this man, which holds my attention as steel filings are held by a magnet. I cannot turn my gaze away from him. My initial bewilderment, my perplexity at being totally ignored, slowly fade away as this strange fascination begins to grip me more firmly. But it is not till the second hour of the uncommon scene that I become aware of a silent, resistless change that is taking place within my mind. One by one, the questions which I have prepared with such meticulous accuracy drop away. For it does not now seem to matter whether they are asked or not, and it does not seem to matter whether I solve the problems which have hitherto troubled me. I only know that a steady river of quietness seems to be flowing near, that a great peace is penetrating the inner reaches of my being, and that my thought-tortured brain is beginning to arrive at some rest.’
I have chosen to talk about Paul Brunton because his is a fascinating search through the length and breadth of our country to find the real master through this labyrinth of holy men, some self-styled and some genuine, who could guide him in understanding Yoga and the purpose and meaning of life. His meeting with the Paramacharya of Kanchi himself a great sage, is the turning point in this search, for it is he who directs him to meet Ramana Maharishi. When Brunton asks him where he can find the real master, Paramacharya tells him –
“He lives in the interior, farther south. I visited him once and know him to be a high master. I recommend that you go to him. He is called the Maharishi. His abode is on Arunachala, the Mountain of the Holy Beacon. Promise me that you will not leave South India before you have met him.”
After meeting Ramana Maharishi for the first time Brunton continues his travels throughout the country and ultimately returns to the abode of the Maharishi for in him, he is convinced he has found the true master.
“Again and again, I become conscious that he is drawing my mind into his own atmosphere during these periods of quiet repose. And it is at such times that one begins to understand why the silences of this man are more significant than his utterances. His quiet unhurried poise veils a dynamic attainment, which can powerfully affect a person without the medium of audible speech or visible action.”
Since I Paul Brunton’s words have struck a chord and deep inside me, something stirs when I look at the picture of this great sage. The eyes say so much, so much compassion and so much silence. This silence speaks directly to the soul.
I have been to Tiruvannamalai years ago. I have had the opportunity of experiencing the silence and stillness in the hall where once the Maharishi sat gazing into infinity at the same time looking into the soul of every person assembled there just to be in his presence. The Arunachala hill stands behind, as silent and still as the Maharishi, a beacon lighting up the darkness in our lives.
Thursday, January 27, 2022
There is a story everywhere, if we only care to look around, listen, and learn. This is one such story. The Chair’s story is an allegory of the human condition, the process of aging, and the discarding and destruction of things that once we deemed precious.
When I sat down, the chair creaked as if protesting my weight when I suddenly descended on it. I couldn’t understand, for this has been happening quite often over the past few days. I had, in fact, checked it thoroughly for any cracks on its legs but it seemed in perfect health. Today this worried me, for the sound was louder as if it was letting out a cry of pain. This was again late into the night when I sat down to write. I still cannot comprehend why this always happens to me in the middle of the night, whether it be a conversation with my beard or a conversation with a cat. But this was for the first time the interaction was with an inanimate object: Or so I thought.
I remember my wife telling me the other day “why do you cling on to this chair still? It’s so old and does not gel with the other furniture in the house. For example, that new writing table and chair you bought last month. The new chair is lying in one corner of the bedroom and you still continue to sit on this old junk”.
“Don’t call it junk. You are witness to the fact that I have written all my books sitting on it. It has been a companion and helped to make my creative juices flow. Moreover, you said it is old. Yes, it is, that’s what makes it special. It’s older than my grandfather who got it from his grandfather and now passed on to me, a legacy. It must be at least more than a hundred years old. It has withstood the ravages of time and seen many a person perched on its lap from time to time. You know, my grandmother wanted me to have it, especially since I was her favorite grandchild. She said that grandfather would have wished the same. After I got it polished and done up, you used to show off whenever your friends came home, saying that it is an antique and valuable,” I replied.
“I did so in the beginning, but slowly as we went about refurbishing the house and redesigning the interiors, this became an eyesore. One of these days I am going to call the carpenter and ask him to take it away for whatever price he offers.”
“Don’t ever do such a thing. You know I already had the carpenter in when I asked him to look at it and polish it. Of his own volition, he told me ‘Saheb do not ever throw this chair away. We don’t get such furniture with all this craftsmanship, nowadays. One more thing Saheb, it is made of Rosewood. People don’t make furniture with Rosewood now, it is very costly, one of the costliest woods. If you ask me, it is an antique. You know how people go to auctions trying to get one of these antique furniture which they can keep in their Living room as an exhibit. So, take my word, don’t sell it’”
“Ok. It’s your decision, but don’t blame me if one of these days it gives away and you find yourself on the ground,” my wife replied.
That was the end of the conversation. But today when it creaked again, I got up and shook it to see whether it was indeed in its last throes. What my wife said earlier was still playing on my mind. So not wanting to take chances I pushed it to one corner and replaced it with one of those plastic chairs to continue my writing, but I found that I did not feel secure. It felt strange as if someone who had been with me for such a long time had suddenly left.
“Don’t worry, I am still here,” the voice emanated from the corner of the room where I had left the chair.
“Who?” I asked.
“Who do you presume will talk to you at this hour of the night! I am your Chair,” he said.
As I continued staring at him, he continued “You heard right, I did creak. It’s old-age, I guess. It happens to everyone, even you. I heard you talking to your wife the other day and what she said about me, that I am of no use now and occupy only space in the house. Well, I will not deny that I felt hurt, but I am grateful to you for taking care and refusing to part with me. It proved that you still value our relationship. But today I noticed an inkling of doubt creep in when I creaked. I am not sure how long I will be able to continue like this. When I really break down one day, you may utilize my parts whichever way you want. You know I am still valuable as a deadwood. Till then I hope you continue to treat me as a revered antique. I don’t mind remaining in this corner”.
I stared at him. Like I said before, it was nothing strange for me to talk to things, be it a cat or my beard and now a chair. He must have sensed my discomfiture.
“You only know me as being handed over to you by your grandmother saying that I was ancestral property and so valuable. I was an heirloom. But you do not know my origin. So let me tell you a story.
Two hundred years ago, I was born in a forest somewhere near a river in South India. At the time the area was densely forested and a lot of us thrived. My parent was one of the largest and cast his seeds all around. It was from one of them that I sprouted and had the first peep into this world. There were many of us and in the midst stood the parent tree. It was only later that I learned we were called Rosewood. You know, I belonged to one of the most exclusive species of flora in the forest. We were hardy, tall with a wide girth and veneer. We were a privileged lot. I later realized that maybe because of these qualities we were ruthlessly mowed down to cater to the greedy needs of your species. My saddest day was when I watched my parent who was already a hundred years old cut down and transported away from the forest. That was to be the fate of all my siblings as one by one vanished. I was perhaps one of the last to go. I was fifty years old, stood tall, and had all the inklings of a fine specimen when they came and cut me down. I heard them talking among themselves that I would fetch a good price.
Thus ended one phase of my life. I was forced to leave my roots behind and s taken far away from the forest and kept in one of the warehouses where I found many of our kind already lodged there. Of course, not all of them were Rosewood, there were others. Only then I realized that I was special and kept separately along with other royalty. To cut the story short, each day some would disappear and others brought in. Then one day I overheard two men talking. The gist of which was that the king of that province wanted new furniture made out of the finest Rosewood available. Soon I was picked up and taken away to a carpenter’s shop and there began the painful process of splitting me into different sizes, then sawing and cutting me into different shapes to suit their needs. What was whole was split into parts, but I survived by whatever name they gave me – Chair, Cabinet, Table, Bed, or other furniture as per their needs, my soul however is still intact and I am still Rosewood. Now you own one of my many avatars as a Chair. My other parts in whichever form I exist I believe are still around somewhere occupying pride of place and now maybe suffering the same fate as mine.
I was a part of the furniture in the King’s palace. You should feel privileged that you have for so long sat where once the King sat. When the palace furniture was replaced, I was given away and picked up by one of your ancestors, maybe around a hundred years ago. Ever since I have been with your family and occupied pride of place. Though I now find misgivings about my place in the changed scenario.
If now some of us have survived still as a tree, it is because now it is illegal to cut us down. We are an endangered species. But human greed does not stop. But I have to tell you that Karma has its own way of paying back and that’s what is happening now. Unless all that talk of protecting forests, Flora, and Fauna is taken seriously, I foresee difficult times ahead.
Sorry for rambling on for such a long time. And it all started just because I creaked. I know it’s now time for you to go to sleep. But before I also sign off for the night, I should confess that I am quite comfortable where I am now, but I know things will not remain as such and one day I shall have to leave. Maybe I shall take a new form or be consigned to the flames. Good night.”
I did not go to sleep for a long time after that. The Chair had touched a chord deep inside me. Whether as a royal Rosewood or an ordinary tree that one finds strewn all over the roadside the process is the same. Only how privileged you are, differs. I have also lived my many avatars – son, brother, husband, father, grandfather and now as an antique I know I am precious. But at the root of all, I am still ‘I’.
There is a story everywhere if we only care to look around and listen and learn.
The painting reproduced here is
Van Gogh’s Chair (1888) by Vincent van Gogh. National Gallery, London. Source Wikimedia Commons
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
A CAT’S LIFE
After a lapse of nearly a year, I have ventured to write and post something on my blog. For that matter, my laptop has been craving for attention. I dusted of the cobwebs and started to write. I had been bereft of any constructive thought and it had taken me this much time to summon up enough courage to break through this period of freeze.
It had taken a cat to wake me from my slumber. During the last three months here in my daughter’s place I have learned, interacted and in the process found a new friend, to the extent I started speaking to him. Well, how does one speak with a cat?
If I could speak with my beard, why not a cat. Readers of my blog will recollect ‘Conversations with My Beard’. But he (my beard) has not spoken for a long time. Maybe age is catching up, he has turned completely white.
He (the cat) has a name but I shall address him only as a cat respecting his need for privacy. Even now as I write this, he is sitting near the door, wondering what the hell I am up to.
A CAT’S LIFE - CONVERSATION WITH A CAT.
I must have dozed off on the sofa while watching the TV which often happens. Why must have! I had actually gone to sleep when I was woken up by a scratching sound, the sound of something scraping on the upholstery near my feet. I knew what to expect, for this has been happening quite frequently. I looked down and gazed into his eyes and said “Hello, there is still time, half an hour to go”.
“Meowww!” he purred and started rubbing himself against my legs and looked at me pleadingly. That was the final straw. My daughter says that is emotional blackmail, don’t give in, let him wait till it is time for his feed. As it is, he is putting on weight.
It was approaching feeding time and he was very punctual as if there was an alarm in his stomach. Well, I gave in to his entreaties as he went on meowing. When I got up and walked towards the shelf, he ran after me and then sat looking up expectantly. Once his bowl was filled, the external world was lost to him as he set himself to fulfill his gastronomic urges.
It was one of those nights when I went to sleep early. I woke up suddenly around midnight as I felt something (couldn’t have been someone since there was no space for two heads) sitting on my pillow and tapping me on my shoulder. I turned to look and there he was staring at me.
“Meowww” and then he purred as if he did not want to disturb the other person in the room, which happened to be my wife.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than to wake me up from my sleep. You have been sleeping nearly the whole day. I have read somewhere that cats sleep for nearly fifteen hours a day and watching you I believe that is so. You could have reserved a major portion of it for the night and let me get along with mine,” I murmured.
“You see I do not get enough time to talk to you during the day, not that you are busy. In fact, I see you dozing off on the sofa with the TV on. There is not much difference between us,” he replied.
For a moment I was taken aback. He was speaking and very clearly.
“What! I never knew you could talk. All the while I have only heard you meow”.
“Who said we cannot talk. We do that when we need to. You see I have been privy to all the conversations you have with the others in the house. With all that cacophony around me, you think I could not have picked up the language. It is better to keep quiet and listen, that’s a lesson I have learned. You know, sometimes I also need to get things off my chest. But there is no other cat in the house. The closest thing I found was you. I have been observing you for some time and I came to the conclusion that you are the cat I have been searching for”.
“What! I am not a cat. If you ask me, I can only say that ‘It’s a Dog’s Life’. I would have loved to be a cat though. After all you guys have nine lives”.
“What bunkum! Do you believe that? Just because some Willy guy said that you take it to be the truth. I guess it’s all because you take things literally without trying to understand. Well, have you heard of an ancient proverb that claims ‘A cat has nine lives, for three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays.’ That’s closer to the truth. It’s true for you also. So why all this fuss about nine lives. If you look at your life you will be having many more,” he replied.
That made sense, I thought. Of course, I have played and strayed more than I have stayed.
“I always thought that your ilk does not carry any worries. Very evident from the way you sleep, all curled up, so peaceful. The only time I see you all worked up is when it is time for your feed” I said.
“Well, that’s what you presume and never really try to understand that we also have feelings. You know, every time you guys go out leaving me alone at home, I feel lonely and a sort of depression descends. That’s when I feel the absence of another of my kind. But I should admit I am well looked after. You feed me on time and sometimes play with me, cuddle me and call me all sorts of endearing names. I like it. But don’t you realize that I have not seen the world outside the walls of this house. This does stifle me sometimes and that’s when I feel low in spirits. I often wonder what the others of my kind, especially the outdoor ones do. There must be a lot of excitement in their lives, hunting for food, meeting other cats, and learning to survive in a hostile atmosphere. How would you feel if you had been locked up inside the house, not going out or meeting people, working to sustain yourself? That would have been an exciting life. But I have watched you for some time now, the only thing you do is eat, sleep, again eat, sleep, watch TV sitting in one corner of the sofa. I at least walk around the house and chase flies to keep myself fit. I have seen you go for days without a bath. We never allow such a thing. You would have seen me grooming myself when not sleeping. We are more organized and disciplined. So don’t say ‘It’s a Cat’s Life’ you are leading. I am much better than that. Though I do sleep a lot as cats normally do, I am still agile and alert. That reminds me of the time you fell down and landed on your butt, it never happens to us. We always land on our feet: in that sense, we are well-grounded.”
I listened to him in silence. There was really nothing much I could do to refute or say something in my defense. I realized that I had indeed become what he said. But I could not give up without putting in a word.
“Well, if not a Cat’s life, at least a Dog’s life?” I asked.
“I have nothing more to say. You keep comparing yourself with beings other than a human, which you are. I don’t blame you. You have willed it and you are turning into one, may it be a cat or a dog. It will not be much time before you say you are leading a Pig’s Life. You can wallow in the dirt and mud and feel happy about it.”
“Well, it seems you have now got all that off your chest
, you must be feeling relaxed now?” I said.
“For the present yes. But I will be back periodically to wake you up and pour my woes to you. As it is you are the only cat around with whom I can talk.”
I watched him as he got off my pillow jumped down and made his way to one of the chairs and retire for the night.
Thursday, February 11, 2021
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.
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Friday, February 5, 2021
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)
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Saturday, January 23, 2021
LIBERATION FROM THE TYRANNY OF TIME AND SPACE
BY P.V. RAGHUNATHAN
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’
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.
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".
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