Saturday, February 14, 2015

With No Cares

The Fort by the sea in Tranquebar (Tharangampadi) has a museum on the first floor. After a quick glance through the exhibits, I stepped out and sat on a bench facing the Bay.

The tsunami of 2004 had claimed a part of the beach. I could see the ramparts of the fort peeping over the water every time a wave receded.

There was a wall closer to the fort building and the waves hit the wall, jumped up vertically, spraying water droplets on the beach.

My eyes fell on two very young children standing safely on the beach side behind the wall, in just their underwear, urging the waves to rise higher and higher. The waves too gamely obliged. Sometimes, the waves felt tired and were more muted, just jumping enough to peep at the children. The boy, who stood in the front, would then wave his hands as if swinging a sword, and challenging the waves to get at him. Fresh and rejuvenated waves would respond with mirth and joy, making the children scream excitedly.

I watched them for a long time wistfully. This is childhood. No cares, no responsibilities, just their imagination and a friendly 'nature'.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Life - An Illusion

My heart, my belief system is rooted deeply in the firm conviction that the divine and I are separate. He, (She, if you insist - it is just a word at that level) is all pervading, and so in me, in you, everywhere. A part of it rests within me, but the larger part rests outside, like in a bank account - to be accessed when the Self is incapable of dealing meeting a situation.

The separateness is reassuring, as if there is someone watching over, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to pour the troubles into, an arm that envelopes protectively, a dark, reassuring night that soothes and cools, a bright light that guides... As if it is all not my responsibility.

So probably, 'Yoga Vasishta' was not the book for me.

Or, just the book for me. A treatise on Advaita philosophy, it is Sage Vasishta's discourse on the non-duality of the Paramatma and Jeevatma, of how it is the Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness that is manifest in every living and non-living thing not just in the universe but the various universes that exist in multifarious forms in parallel. The discourse is given to Rama when Sage Vishwamitra calls on King Dasaratha asking for Rama's help in killing Tataka.

Rama has been distressed and restless and feels a strange detachment that he is not able to explain. The discourse aims to enlighten Rama on the nature of non-duality of the world and the need to perform our duties with detachment and realisation of the true nature of the self.

Whether you are an atheist, agnost, or theist matters not; whether you go to temples or to war matters not; whether you act or not matters not. The gods are not gods, but like us, creation of that Supreme Imagination. Life, and even non-life, is but a dream. What matters is to know this Truth and to contemplate on it, be aware of it, and repose in that Supreme Consciousness.

While I read novels at least one a week, this book needed time - I took two years to complete it. It is the same idea repeated with many stories, instances and examples. Creation and dissolution of the cosmos are also mere beginning and end of a dream. There is no you, no me, nothing. We dream and think that is true and the waking world becomes a lie. When we wake up, the dream world dissolves and becomes a lie. So it is with the world.

Am I nothing? Just a puff who will vanish, has vanished and materialised again? Are you whom I love, hate, like, dislike, am indifferent to, don't even know you exist - really? Just the effect of a dream?

The mind is still struggling to understand how all that I see and experience are but a dream of some supreme being that is and is not; that life is an illusion, a mirage that vanishes the moment the dream ends. It all seemed so clear when I was reading it, but so hard to comprehend when I close it!

I love that God who stands by me. But if that God and I are a but dream...?

Yet another illusion or self-realisation?

Am I awake or asleep?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Us Vs. Them

I was probably 11 or 12. My friend and I were in a park in our neighbourhood in Delhi. I can't remember how suddenly we started talking about it, but I felt the south Indians were to be pitied more for the troubles they were facing in Sri Lanka, while she felt that it is the north Indians suffering at the hands of the Sikh terrorists that needed all the sympathy.

I am sure we did not understand the issues involved or the politics. But, we felt the need to support the underdog, to show solidarity with the sufferers, but most importantly, identify ourselves with the victims.

Today, I am sometimes worried, sometimes shocked when I see that even as adults, we seem to feel the need to take sides, constantly. That we maybe unfair to the other side be damned. That our own stance may shift with the winds is conveniently forgotten. That there are no absolute truths be overridden with one sweeping statement.

If perpetrators of so-called social crimes are evil, can taking the opposing stance be good? Isn't it only reversal of roles? Do two negatives become a positive, or are we simply tilting the balance?

If that is the way of the world, why should the past be judged? And if it is not right, why perpetuate it in a different form today?

Ironically, it also seems to be a time where everything Indian is either rubbished or elevated on a pedestal. "Oh I wish we were more like them," seems to be the tune of some, while the others seem to think "All that they know is because of us."

Education, access to technology, exposure to global thought do nothing to expand our views, open our minds. We will remain small and mean so long as it serves our purpose. So long as we can somehow show our superiority - either in aligning ourselves with the victims, or by negating our roots.

Forever, we will be forming teams to fight battles - either directly by throwing bombs or indirectly through the power of the pen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Honouring His Word - 'Paarthiban Kanavu'

If you help others achieve their goals, even if they clash with yours, do you win or lose?

Paarthiban Kanavi by Kalki is a fast-paced read. I suspect not many of my friends have read it or plan to read it, so I am taking the liberty to liberally sprinkle spoilers.

Paarthiba Chola is a vassal of Narasimha Pallava, with a dream of breaking free and reestablishing the Chola's lost glory. But alas, the 'titular lead' of the story dies in the beginning of the tale, fighting a battle with the mighty Pallavas. Narasimha Pallava, a wise and powerful king, seeks out the body of his dead rival incognito - maybe to make sure he is indeed dead, or to honour the brave king for having fought courageously. He finds the king breathing his last and promises that he will indeed help Paarthiban's son fulfill his dream.

And then though the story was very engrossing, a part of me sceptical. Why would a king go out of his way to help his vassal realise his dream through his son?

The ending took my breath away.

Narasimha Pallava declares Vikrama Chola, son of Paarthiba, free and also gets him married to his daughter Kundavi. But the author does not end the story there. Maybe he was also labouring with the question that kept intruding into my reading. Why indeed would Pallava pave the way for Cholas to become independent?

Because, even after doing that, Narasimha Pallava's reign continued to remain glorious. In fact, it would be another three hundred years before the Cholas would regain their glory and Pallava name would vanish into the annals of history. But during his reign, Narasimha's honourable act brought him greater name, fame and, most importantly, respect. He was not insecure because he trusted himself. Whether Vikrama was deserving or not - which he was - Narasimha had the vision, the generosity and the confidence needed in a king to know that he could hold on his own purely on his capabilities. Accepting an able man as his son-in-law and a near-equal gave him opportunities to expand his vision further, probably.

How relevant it is even today! If we lift someone up, do we risk going down or do we climb higher? That depends only on us, right?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Find Your Own God

Violence in the name of god, stories interpreted, reinterpreted, misinterpreted... Is this the purpose of
religion, of seeking god, of reading the scriptures?

I want to quote these lines from Vasishtha's Yoga:
"Not by the study of scriptures, nor by hearing the instructions of a preceptor, nor by charity nor even by the worship of god is the direct realisation of the supreme truth realised. Because that is beyond all these. However, I shall tell you how these, though not the actual means, have come to be regarded as the means to self-realisation. By the practice of the precepts of the scriptures, the mind becomes pure and transparent; then, without even wishing for it, one sees the supreme truth."

The other means are mere stepping stones, like the bath water, to be used to clean oneself and then discarded. If as individuals, we keep wallowing in the water, the result is what we see in our society - violence in various degrees. If the scripture does not make us feel pure, then it is not the right kind of water. It is already sullied. But if it does, for you, as an individual, then it has served its purpose. Never mind it did not work for some one else.

Even two siblings do not behave the same way, like the same things, take the same path. Then why should it be true of people from disparate backgrounds? Why cannot two people hold different views and yet find their truths? If it applies for religious fanatics, with due respect to intellectuals, it applies to you too. If a woman finds a stone divine, so be it. The problem is not that she finds the stone divine, but that she tries to beat you with it, forcing you to bow to it.

And when you do not like that stone that is divine to her, and try to turn it into mud, then, well... Aren't you doing exactly what she tried to do to you, though in a different way?

Utopia, I sigh, living and letting live. But if we dream enough, if we focus on our personal development, of connecting to the divine within without worrying about who else is following the same path, maybe we will stop killing each other, doubting each other and there will be more peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Making Sense of Nonsense

I am silent
I don't comment
I don't like
For I dislike

Extinguishing lives
Young and old alike
Driving through the hearts
Sharp shooting spikes

Can one even start to think
Of explaining all this stink?
Of hatred that runs so deep
That it has its own course to keep?

In the name of God, they say
Playing Devil's advocate
Revenge for our hurts, it seems
Hurting so much that heart weeps

Soothing can these words be?
These smooth, double-edged swords?
Raking wounds, reminders of loss
Reminders that it could be any of us all

In routine we find solace
In denial there is paradise
Just mind your business, friends
And we will be rid of this nonsense

And so we shout
And so we complain
Then get back to our lives
Till new irritants arise.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Man in the Mirror

He rolled down his car window for some fresh air. It was late in the night, less traffic, clearer air.

He saw billboards splashed with faces of leading actors and actresses dotting the skyline. The commercial capital ran on the wheels of commercial art - the cinema, he thought with a wry smile.

He turned the corner and inhaled sharply. The face of Jay Surana stared at him, face angled flirtatiously at the camera, a shining burgundy blazer stylishly draped on the shoulder, black trousered legs at an angle to indicate he was just walking away.

He couldn't help admiring the perfect expression on the handsome face and imagine its effect on the women in the room. He knew women loved that expression, had heard enough and more about it, seen several articles discussing just this very look threadbare. Jay Surana. He had used that very look to reach the top in the tough world of cinema.

He shook his head in disgust and rolled up the window. Popular actor but critics' pet peeve. "No stuff, all fluff" - sobriquets that Surana had brushed away with seeming ease. Women would die for a look from him. But the intelligentsia looked beyond that and saw only a man cool and calculative.

He tut-tutted. He knew Jay inside out, knew his guts, his hardships, his hardness - the armour he had cultivated over the years to get to the top and remain there. It needed ruthlessness. It was futile to discuss that point.

He grimaced in disgust. He turned the air conditioner dials to make it cooler. His mobile rang. His wife's name splashed on the screen. Mechanically, he turned the Bluetooth on, and spoke briefly. "On my way."

"You are late," she reminded him.

"Yes, it got late. Technical glitches."

"She was there?" she asked in a more hesitant tone.

He chuckled. "Of course, I told you."

"You are coming home, right?" she asked softly.

His chuckle swelled to laughter. "What a question! What did you think?"

"Nothing... I am waiting."

His smile died as the call ended. He became more aware of the pain in his chest. Not his a way, it was his heart, but not the organ.

She had been there - Shreya Samarth; the no-nonsense Shreya who did not suffer fools lightly and whose straightforwardness could cut through swathes of lies.

The moment she set eyes on him, the fire in her eyes died and they turned cold like icebergs fractionally before she turned to face her fans with her characteristic animation.

Oh they carried on with the show - Jay Surana and Shreya Samarth, Rekindling the Magic. They were veteran actors, acting was in their blood. They could rekindle the magic and make it look natural enough.

And it had strained every nerve to not show how much the fire was consuming him - striking the right balance of intimacy and yet the respectable distance of talking about a co-star. Reviving memories...

Was that a tear, making its way out? Did he still have it in him to cry?

He reached home. His wife came eagerly forward and scanned his face. His cool look was back. He patted her cheek. "I am tired. Would like to hit the bed," he said and left her behind to enter the bathroom.

When Shreya and he broke up, something else broke inside him. Or did she break up because she saw that nothing would break him, that he was beyond caring?

He looked at the man in the mirror. He realised that when he met his eyes in the mirror, the fire died and there was only coolness.

Jay Surana did not like meeting Jay Surana.
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