Privilege

Have you been in love? I have. More than once. I think love is blind, but only temporarily. In my experience, the blindness invariably ended after a while. And so did the love. I am wondering though, if a mother’s love for her child is possibly an exception and perhaps only one of its kind.

Over the last two days, I have been physically exhausted. Yesterday, when I woke up, I had a headache. With India experiencing what they call a second wave of Covid, I wonder if it is inevitable that a lot of us become paranoid. I did feel this a few times last year as well. When any little deviation from ‘normal health’ would make me wonder if I had contracted the virus. Back then, regular prayer & meditation helped. This time around, it is back, perhaps more magnified given the way things are unfolding.

Yet, I was telling myself it is just fatigue. No fever, no cough, no aches. When I mentioned it to my father last evening, he wanted me to get myself tested for the virus immediately. He said that given the circumstances it wouldn’t be wise to ignore anything. I thought he was overreacting but once he had seeded the thought, I eventually decided to take the test. Why not?

He also knew that I was planning on coming home to be with them for a few days, starting this weekend. He asked me what my plan was, in light of this. I asked him what he thought I ought to do. He said he wasn’t sure. Of course he wasn’t, but I was. Until I spoke with him, I was a lot less worried. But once he wanted me to get tested, I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to come home. After all, if I am infected, I would much rather be alone and definitely far away from them.

A few minutes later, my mother called me.

“Just come home,” was the first thing she said. I wasn’t sure as the report would only be available after 24 hours. And there is a weekend curfew at my hometown. She persuaded me by reminding me that I have a separate room in the first floor of the house. “Even in those months that you worked from home, you spent most of your time there. This time, you can simply be there all the time. At least you won’t be alone and there will be someone to take care of you if you are sick.” I decided to sleep on it but also reminded myself to be grateful for such privileges. After all, how many people can even afford to quarantine in their own homes.

This morning, the sample was collected at 6 30 am. When I woke up an hour earlier, I was actually feeling a lot better. I was pretty confident it wouldn’t be the virus, but went ahead and gave the sample anyway. I was still in a dilemma. Should I go or just stay put was the question. Thankfully, I had other things to do this morning, and got busy doing them. By noon, it was time for a break. I didn’t let the thought bother me any more. I said a prayer and left for my home. It is a 3 hour drive, but today, I took almost 4 hours. I had stopped for lunch, and once again for a cup of tea, and driven much slower than I usually do. I was in a pensive mood. The dilemma wasn’t there any more. No fear either. I was just listening to the music playing and driving at speeds much lesser than I usually do.

When I finally reached home, she was at the doorstep, to welcome me with her characteristic “Hiiiiiiiiiii” and a bright smile. Many times, it is a grin, because I mostly don’t tell her or my father prior that I am visiting. I just drop in, because I feel the three hour drive that it takes me to get here, may mean anxious moments for them. This time though, given all the background, they both knew. They were masked up and ready.

“Welcome home. This time, you are more welcome than ever,” she said. From a distance of course. I could not say anything in return, except smile and feel a deep sense of gratitude for being so loved. A few hours later, I reminisced at those precise words again, this time, in wonderment.

Take charge

It takes a while for me to learn anything. Especially the important life lessons. “Take charge of your life,” a good friend would say to me. And I wouldn’t understand. I’d blame others which in hindsight seems the most convenient thing to do. I’d wallow in self-pity, and I realise being sad can be more addictive than anything else. I still struggle with this idea. I know that it is true that nobody is responsible for our life, but us. Yet, I fail now and then to put it to practice and slip back to my old ways.

The Bhagavad Gita is the most profound, powerful and useful text I have ever read. And if someone asked me if there was something I held total, absolute belief in, it would be the words of Lord Krishna. The strength of His words strike you as a thunderbolt. I have gone back to some of them over and over again, in awe as much as in at attempt to uncover the many layers in them. If I were asked the difficult question of picking one verse that I like more than any other, then it would be the one that follows.

उद्धरेदात्मनात्मानं नात्मानमवसादयेत् |
आत्मैव ह्यात्मनो बन्धुरात्मैव रिपुरात्मन: || 5||

uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet
ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ

Let a man lift himself by his own Self alone, and let him not lower himself; for, this Self alone is the friend of oneself, and this Self alone is the enemy of oneself.

The verse is from Chapter 6 – Samkhya Yoga or the Yoga of Meditation. I am happy to share the commentary by Swami Chinmayananda, one of the greatest teachers of this ancient wisdom.

“As a complete sastra, the Gita has to be faithful to Truth and Truth alone, irrespective of what the tradition of the country at a given period might have made the faithful ones believe. It is not very unhealthy to believe that the grace from an external source is constantly helping a true seeker striving on his path, but this is really healthy only when this thought is correspondingly complemented with sufficiently intense individual self-effort. To believe that Guru’s grace will land on us by post in packets is against the sastras and bigger the assertion with which such packets are presented, the more should be suspect the genuineness of the sender-saint.

Had there been a packet method, we should have a ‘packet-yoga’ explained in our scriptures; for our rsis were exhaustive in their treatment of the science of self-perfection. If at all some great saints of today are sending prasadam, it is not to be considered and misconstrued that those packets are ‘Atmika-powder’ which can be rubbed in through the skin between the eyebrows. With the right mental attitude, if we can approach them and make use of them, certainly we can gain a certain amount of mental equipose and self-confidence, which can be intelligently applied in our own self-effort.

‘Man should uplift himself by himself,’ is the open statement declared by no less a person than Lord Krsna Himself – not cooed in a playful mood in the company of the gopis of the Yamuna bank at a hilarious hour of laughter and play, but roared to Arjuna on the battlefield at a serious moment of His life’s fulfilment as an avatara. Man, if he wants to exalt himself into his greater cultural and spiritual possibilities now lying dormant in him, he has to raise the lower in himself to the greater perfection that is the true and eternal central core in himself.

Everyone has, in himself, a picture of the ideal. This intellectual conception of ourselves is always very vivid in each one of us. But unfortunately, this ideal remains only in the realm of thought and is not lived in the world of activity. Intellectually we may have a clear and vivid picture of what we should be, but mentally and physically we behave as though we were opposites of our own ideal concepts. The divorce between the idealistic ‘me’ and the actual ‘me’ is the measure of a man’s fall from his perfection.

Most of us are generally unconscious of this duality in ourselves. We mistake ourselves to be the ideal and are generally blind to our own actual imperfections. Thus, we find a notoriously selfish man in society warmly and sincerely criticising the slightest trace of selfishness in his neighbour. In a world of no mirrors, it is possible that a squint-eyed man may come to laugh at another squint-eyed person because the one who laughs knows not the angle at which his own eyeballs are facing each other!

Within ourselves, if we carefully watch, we can discover that intellectually we have a clear concept of a morally strong, ethically perfect, physically loving and socially disciplined ideal picture of the man that ‘we should be’; but in the mental zone of our feelings and emotions however, we are tantalised by our own attachments, likes and dislikes, loves and hatreds, appetites and passions. Hence we behave like a cur fed by the wayside gutters and ever quarreling with others of the same ilk over dry and marrowless bones!

As long as the individual has not realised the existence of this dual personality in himself, there cannot be any religion for him. If an individual has discovered that there is ‘enough in him to be divided into two portions’, and when he wants to keep the lower as brilliant and chaste as the higher, the technique that he will have to employ to fulfil this aspiration, is called religion.

Mind is the saboteur that enchants us away from our own known perfection, to be slave to the flesh and the external objects of brittle satisfaction. Mind is the conditioning that distorts the ideal and creates the lower satanic, sensuous self in us, which is the equipment for the higher Self to manifest. In short, when the rational and discriminative capacities of a limited intellect are brought to bear their authority upon the wavering and wandering, sense-mongering mind, the lower is brought under discipline and made to attune itself with the noble and divine in us. The processes by which the lower is brought under the direct management and discipline of the higher, are all together called the spiritual techniques.

This process of self-rehabilitation and self-redemption of the satan in us, cannot be executed by inviting tenders and giving the contract to the lowest bidder! Each will have to do it all by himself unto himself, ‘alone to the alone all alone’ is the way. No Guru can take the responsibility; no scripture can promise this redemption; no altar can with its divine blessings make the lower the higher. The lower must necessarily be trained slowly and steadily to accept and come under the influence of the discipline of the Higher. In this process, the Teacher, the scripture, and the houses of God, all have their proper appointed duties and limited influences. But the actual happening depends on how far we ourselves learn to haul ourselves from the gutters of misunderstanding in us.

So far Bhagavan has indicated an exhaustive treatment which may be in many of its aspects considered as equivalent to modern psychological process called introspection. Realising our own weaknesses, rejecting the false, asserting the better, and trying to live generally as best as we can the higher way of life is the process of introspection. But this is only a half of the entire process and not the whole of it.

The other half is also insisted upon here by Krsna. It is not only sufficient that we look within, come to note our weaknesses, we erase them out and substitute the opposite good qualities, and develop in ourselves the better, but whatever little conquests we might have made out of satan’s province, we must see to it that those areas are not again handed back to satan’s dominion. Krsna wants, almost in the same breath, ‘do not allow the Self thereafter to fall down and dragged again.’ to the old level of the cheaper way of existence.

The second line of the stanza contains a glorious idea shaped into a beatufy of expression, which almost immortalises the great author Vyasa. We are to be considered both as our own friend and our own enemy. Any intelligent man observing and analysing life will vouchsafe for the truth of the statement, but here more is meant philosophically than what meets the ear. Generally, we do not fully understand the import when we say, ‘The Self is the friend of the self’

The lower in us can raise itself to the attunement of the Higher, but the Higher can only influence when the lower is available for Its influence. To the extent the lesser in us surrenders itself to the influence of the Higher; to that extent, it can serve the lower as a great friend. But if the lower refuses to come under the influence of the diviner in us, the divine presence in us is accused of as an enemy of ourselves. This is so, because the dynamism of life provides us its energy, both for our life of higher aspirations and our life of low temptations.

Ultimately, it is fro the aspirant himself to accept the responsibility of blessing or damning himself. The potentiality for improvement, the chances for self-growth, the strength to haul ourselves out from the misconceptions in us are all ever open for employment, but it all depends upon how we make use of them.”

May we all take charge of our lives. If Bhagavan’s words are powerful, Swamiji’s commentary felt like a slap on the face when I read it.

Tapasya

Tamil is my father’s mother-tongue. Or do you call it native language? My mother speaks Konkani. Strangely, perhaps ironically and may be even sadly, I haven’t been formally tutored in either. At school, I learnt Hindi and Sanskrit, apart from English of course. I don’t regret it. It is just that I realise it makes life a lot easier to know the language of the people you are surrounded by. I can speak both the languages of course. And read a smattering of Tamil. The latter is mostly a spoken language, I am given to believe, and relies on Devanagari for the written word. Knowing Tamil better would give me the added advantage of being able to consume its literature, which I believe is ancient,rich and vast.

These thoughts were running in my mind as I read this couplet from one of the most famous Tamil literary works.Some are put up in buses run by the State Govt. This one, I remembered from my childhood. Reading it in exactly the same manner. It would take me about half an hour to memorise a couplet, and in that time I would have completed my journey in the bus. And as soon as I reached home, I’d ask my thatha for the meaning. He was an incredible man. He would explain the meaning in his own unqiue way, throw in some references from either Sanskrit, Tamil or even English. Not only was he well read, he was a delightful teacher and had an incredible ability to quote from what he had read. Which was a LOT. Even as a child, something struck me about the simplicity and depth of the couplets even though I hardly knew the language of this text, which is not used in common parlance.

I must have learnt all of half a dozen of them, that’s all. I never did go back to them in a systematic way. And that holds good for many things with me. I tried my hand at at least two languages, and I realised I might just have a flair for languages. I enrolled for at least three Masters Programmes that I eventually discontinued. My father thinks I am flippant. May be he is right.

I realise that I may lack perseverance. I believe it is perhaps the single most important requisite for excellence, and if one doesn’t care for it, then even success in the conventional sense of the word.

Today my prayer and wish, for myself and my fellow seekers, is for all of us to cultivate the ability to persevere. Whatever we take up, let us do our best and be nothing short of the best at it. Happy new year.

The tiny flame

This morning, I found an interesting mail from one of my teammates. This was a simple, yet powerful idea that he had thought of, and implemented on his own, perhaps with help from his Manager. I felt proud that my colleagues had started thinking for themselves, and not just doing what they’re told – something that we’ve always wanted for our organisation.

I was then reminded of a poem by the great poet Subramania Bharati. I looked around for my Grandma’s book. I remember it is signed by her in the year 1955. I wish I had it with me as I write this, I could have posted a picture. It took me a minute or so to search for this particular poem, because he has written a lot. And on such varied topics – nature, romance, human emancipation, freedom, caste, Bhakti, Vedanta to name a few.

I’ll come to the lines, now and they go thus, in Tamizh.

அக்கினிக் குஞ்சொன்று கண்டேன் – அதை அங்கொரு காட்டிலோர் பொந்திடை வைத்தேன் வெந்து தணிந்தது காடு – தழல் வீரத்திற் குஞ்சென்று மூப்பென்று முண்டோ? தத்தரிகிட தத்தரிகிட தித்தோம்

I had only heard these lines and expected more, but to my surprise, I realised that this particular poem ends with just these very powerful. I am aware that translating anything is a tricky business, and quite awkward when it comes to poetry. For my friends who requested, however, I try below, the literal meaning of these lines.

I found a tiny flame & placed it inside a tree-hole. The entire forest was reduced to ashes. When it comes to the power of the fire, what does it matter whether young or old?

Obviously, there’s more to it than the literal meaning. What did the poet have in mind, I wonder. Could it be the power of knowledge? Or, was he perhaps talking of a powerful idea pursued to its logical end? Perhaps he meant the power of intent, sankalpa? I wish I could ask the poet himself.

The loud silence

Her eyes were brimming with positivity. She had the most radiant smile. I believe certain physical attributes like height & skin colour come into play when you want to be an air-hostess, and therefore, many of them are ‘good looking’ in the conventional sense of the word. However, there was something striking about this lady. As I strained to read her badge, I couldn’t help but ask her what her name was.

It is Visachu,” she said, with a twinkle in her eyes.

It was the 15th of March this year. Earlier that morning, as I was driving to the airport, I remember seeing a large signboard – “Do not be afraid of Corona,” it said, in Hindi. My father who had called me once I reached back home, asked me if people were being checked at the airports. They weren’t, not yet. I did see a few people with masks on; though only a minuscule number.

Two days later, some of us at work got together and discussed the matter. We had decided that we would close down the office and ask people to work from home. The government had not yet announced any closure, but there were rumours floating around. Personally, I hadn’t thought much of it. I just went about doing the things I always do – cook, work, read and watch the occasional movie. In a few days, on 22nd March, the government announced a 14 hour voluntary lockdown. People were encouraged to stay indoors. Depending on which side you were on, one either frowned and mocked at or simply gleefully participated in the paraphernalia that came with this voluntary lockdown. Some said this was a preparation for what is to come. And rightly so, when 2 days later, the Prime Minister announced a 3 week lockdown, restricting the movement of 1.3 billion people of the country, as a measure to contain the spread of Covid19 in India. This lockdown would eventually be extended until 7 June, though some restrictions were eased after the initial few weeks depending on where one lived in the country. It was on 8 June, officially termed Unlock 1.0, that services would be resumed in a phased manner. Chennai, where I lived, wasn’t doing very well, and had announced a further lockdown, this time to be ‘strictly implemented’ for a further 3 weeks that ended on 5 July.

Given that I had just traveled before the announcement of the lockdown, I thought it wise right then to stay put and not travel home to be with my parents. I was told that people in their age group were at increased risk of contracting the disease. Little did I realise that I would spend the next 4 months at home and mostly by myself.

Humans adapt fast. And I am a person of routines. Work went on pretty much as usual, sans the travel that came with it. Another kind of routine was set and very quickly. There were designated spots at which you’d find me with my laptop during designated times. Before lunch, it was cross legged and on the floor in my bedroom. After I had eaten, it would mostly be on my dining table. The lack of appropriate furniture was an irritant, especially because it would cause my back and shoulders to hurt. I couldn’t do much, so I’d be conscious of my posture and ensure I workout enough days a week. Once a week, I would step out to buy some groceries, and on the same day, I’d permit myself to pick up some food from outside. At all other times, I’d be home, like a lot many others. My house help couldn’t come as public transport wasn’t available. That meant more work, and so the days became packed. I’d move from one task to another, whether official or domestic, and the days would pass very quickly but sometimes leaving me with a feeling of being perpetually exhausted. I wasn’t reading much, and I was conscious of it. That I was locked in the house didn’t help much, given that I am restless by nature. Work related meetings meant that there was some human interaction and I was grateful for it. At times though, such meetings also gave an artificial sense of ‘busyness’ and I began to be aware of this and reduce my meetings as much as I could. And there was a colleague who lived in the same street, who I’d meet and greet, from a distance of course, once or twice a week, when they would go for a stroll within the colony.

Looking back, I realise that some very good things happened to me. I started waking at least an hour earlier that I usually would right from the beginning of the lockdown. This meant I had a lot more time in the mornings. I would spend this time in exercise and sadhana. Once in a while, I’d go out for a short run too. Apart from keeping the body fit, I’ve noticed that exercise does something to the mind – it makes me extremely happy in the hours that follow. Although not entirely by choice, I also remained sober on most days. All this meant that my body and mind were doing alright, despite the isolation and poor work posture at times.  Given how easily I take to routine, I realise that these two things, exercise and sadhana, had become a part of my routine. I may miss them on occasion, yielding to sheer laziness, but I didn’t let that bother me and would quickly bounce back. That my parents were speaking with me more than once every day was also helpful I guess. Their well-being was at the back of my mind and knowing that they were doing well put me at ease. While I am not on whatsapp or facebook, I decided that I’d call and speak to some of my friends and relatives.

Two days ago, I decided to finally get home. Today, as I as sit in my room in my parents home and write this, I feel immensely grateful for all the help I had received from all quarters. I am a person of faith, and I have no doubt His Grace manifests as help. It may be some time before I leave home for Chennai. Until then, and beyond too, I hope to sustain the practices I have managed to cultivate. I also want to add new ones. Read more, and perhaps write a bit too.

As I reached the last page of one of the books that I have been reading, I saw a hurriedly scribbled note. It was from my flight on 15th March. As I deplaned, I had asked Visachu the air hostess what her name meant, because it was something unique.  Looking back, perhaps it was a timely message from me. I am in awe as to how we receive such messages, and it reinforces to me how Grace is ever present.

The unmistakable twinkle in her eyes grew even brighter, as she said, “It means, take the opportunity and fulfill it.”

 

 

Ma

Please allow me to introduce my favourite person to you. She is just about the nicest creatures I’ve known. Pa isn’t too bad. (Don’t tell him I said that about him). He’s a good man, really. Over years, our relationship has evolved. Among other things, it has mellowed now.

They’ve both retired after a hectic life as doctors and it is nice to see them relax and do their thing. Pa tends to be a lot more worried, almost paranoid about things, as much as he likes to travel. Ma is of a cooler temperament, one must say. They’ve recently been to London and Edinburgh, and from there, to the US to be my sister. Ma had worked in Edinburgh for a year. This was close to 3 decades ago. For sometime now, she has wanted to go back and meet the friends she made during her stay.

She sent me this note (edited) on email. It says a lot about her.

This was on our way to San Diego. We were in line for security check. The procedure is different in each airport. Here one had to remove foot wear as well. While one person told me I need not remove them, just a little away I was asked to remove them. Already am anxious and there is the difficulty in trying to understand their pronunciation. To my anxiety, my bag was kept aside. A lady opened the bag after scanning with a detector she was holding and picked the objects that one is not supposed to carry in the cabin. Scrutiny was thorough. She then placed all the items, may be 4, inside a plastic bag and returned saying “All yours.” I was so relieved that my articles were not thrown away. When I mentioned this to Nithya, she said the items were returned only because they conformed to the specifications to be met  with and not as any special favour shown to me.😊

Nithya, incidentally, is my sister. Life is beautiful.

 

Us

Those moments of intimacy

when all I knew was you, 

bereft of any privacy

though souls awake, there were few.

They may see like a long time ago,

if only I could just live on.

For I know I must go,

to the beyond, and on.

Those moments, the oneness

they come back to haunt me

with the sweet smell of togetherness 

that could only be we.

Was it us, I wonder,

now that you’ve turned away,

And I’m torn asunder

by that one sway

that’s come about in my life.

I ask myself, what do I do?

For there may be love, laughter, even strife,

but that’s that life, without you?