Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A DIGNIFIED EXIT - CONTINUATION

A DIGNIFIED EXIT - CONTINUATION

I continue this debate on ‘A Dignified Exit’ as there have been a number of responses from my friends airing their views.  Each has his own view as to what it is, ranging from - a human is a social animal and we feel insecure at some point in time when we come face to face with the fact that loneliness awaits us as we grow old, to a view point that the dignified exit is always a matter of how one faces it mentally, not what nature does to one’s body. Also expressed is the belief that, leave alone a dignified exit, an exit itself is a matter beyond our control and may be that is how the Creator intended it. A common strain recurring across all these views is that we have to plan our own path and what we would do en route, also a feeling that one should make one’s life more meaningful by contributing towards the welfare of the society. We can notice and broadly classify these feelings as being existentialist and religious. While one talks of leading an authentic life the other talks of destiny. To each one his belief, as long as it ultimately makes his life meaningful and helps him achieve a stage of fulfillment or hope, as he prepares for his exit.

In his book ‘The Death of Ivan Illich’, Tolstoy narrates the approaching finality of death experienced by a judge. The story leads the reader through a pensive, metaphysical exploration of the reason for death and what it means to truly live. For Ivan Illyich most of his life is inauthentic. When he finally comes to accept the finality of his death does he become authentic? This is a movement from seeing other people die, to the realisation that he is also dying and comes to accept the fact. In existentialist terms ‘authenticity’ is the extent one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures. As opposed to this is ‘bad faith’ where one succumbs to the pressure from the forces around him adopts false values and disowns one’s innate freedom to act authentically.

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect”, this is the opening sentence of Kafka’s story ‘Metamorphosis’. A man wakes up one morning and finds himself transformed into a giant insect. The story describes the reactions of Gregor Samsa to this transformation into an insect, the reactions of his family – at first horrified, then kind, wrathful, despising, and finally negligent. Towards the end of the story when the charwoman finds him lying dead on his bed, she shouts “Just look at this, its dead; its lying here dead and done for!” Metamorphosis is a terrifying story and is a parable on human reaction to suffering and disease. Why I have taken the liberty of reproducing Kafka is because I believe that when my friend mentioned dignified exit he actually wanted to know how one could avoid such a situation.

While in Ivan Illich it is a question of internalisation of the reality of death and acceptance of the eventuality, in the case of Gregor Samsa it is the physical suffering one is subjected to, where he is reduced to a dependency on the external world of relationships surrounding him, over which he has no control. This is precisely what I meant when I said in my previous post “As to a dignified exit one should ask oneself as to what he feels is a dignified exit, whether it is by a way of leaving behind a legacy, an everlasting contribution or an exit without suffering. While the first is in our hands, the second is beyond us

When all else is well we can always talk about taking on social responsibilities, making our life more meaningful by contributing to the betterment of the conditions in which our brethren live. When we say giving back to society does it mean you are giving ‘back’ after having received whatever you had wanted? This may sound a bit harsh but this is not for judging anyone’s motives, rather it is to emphasize the fact that it cannot be an overnight transformation. When someone told me that he intends taking up social work after retirement, I paused to reflect. It is possible only if we have developed those feelings of empathy and compassion during the course of our lives. It is not a pastime, it is a commitment.

Similarly when someone says that it is what the Creator intended it to be, try telling that to someone who is actually suffering from a debilitating disease. He has nothing else on his mind except the pain he is undergoing. I am a great believer in God and destiny but that does not take away the fact that when the pain is there, it is real. May be at the end of it all when the reality of pain is accepted, God and destiny will be a soothing balm and there will be hope. A man of faith will definitely derive strength to face up to the sufferings.

We have seen persons who are bedridden, paralytic unable to look after themselves. We have seen persons suffering from dementia and Alzheimers with the slow deterioration of their mental faculties reduced to a stage of non existence while existing. What happens to them? How is it possible for them to ensure a dignified exit? We have seen caring children and discarded parents. So there are no real answers. May be we ultimately have to run to ‘destiny’ to explain away the reasons for the human condition.


I take the words of one of my friends who asked the question “how well prepared are we to meet this situation?” and proceeded to answer this by saying “let us start with the self”. There are certain things in life that we cannot choose or change for that is what is destined and where there is destiny there is God. You may believe in Karma and many births or you may believe that there is nothing beyond this life, but your quest has always been to ensure you lead a better life and a dignified exit. I would quote here Dr.S.Radhakrishnan’s words in ‘The Hindu View of Life’ that “the cards in the game of life have been dealt to you and how you deal and play with them will determine whether you win or lose”. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

A DIGNIFIED EXIT

A DIGNIFIED EXIT

 A close friend of mine had to say this on facebook “I have been following news reports closely and observe that moral degeneration has slipped to moral depravity. Be it midday meal, health services, civic services, sheer callousness is evident. Values of children have changed materialistic. Can some philosopher like GS course through his beard and get some answers? I am presently nursing my mom in ICU with a fracture, but isn’t it true that when we grow old and helpless, a nightmare awaits us? How to manage our lives to ensure a dignified exit? Life's full of questions but no answers.” Though I did course through my beard while sitting down to write this, he (my beard) was a silent spectator for these were serious issues and he allowed me the comfort of his presence. My friend called me a philosopher (he says like GS, which I guess was me, after all my conversations with my beard) and in a sense all of us are the minute we start meditating on our ultimate end (Plato says ‘Philosophy is a meditation on death’)

I could understand my friend’s agony at seeing a near and dear one suffer especially when they become old and do not have the strength to carry on alone. This is a reality we have to accept. It happens to everyone and it will happen to us. It is true when he says that moral degeneration has slipped to moral depravity, but that is the viewpoint of a generation that is now in the throes of approaching old age. Each generation is a transition point when attitudes and lifestyles change. What was true for the generation before us though valid even now, would have undergone a dilution in the values which had been held sacred by them. The basic values of goodness and badness will always remain true. We know what hurts us and what hurts others. These can never change and that is what is to be taken care off

When we do a reality check to find out where we are heading to, we see a splintered society, a society where the interests of the individual is getting totally centred around himself to such an extent that nothing else matters. We also feel we are the last of a generation which held human values like compassion, empathy and duty especially towards our parents of prime importance. It was possible, for the world was much smaller and distances between people were smaller, conducive to a close knit society and relationships that mattered. We know that we have or a majority of us have taken care of our parents.

This is no longer true, for our children have moved away in search of opportunities elsewhere wherever they exist. They are not to blame for we have taught them independence, an independence that we know would be necessary for their survival when they take over from us. If anyone is to be blamed for the shift towards materialism it is us. With growing opportunities and competition we have pushed them into that vortex of comparative performances and may be we did the right thing, we could not have done otherwise for which parent would not wish that his child wins. The question is at what cost. We will not be here to see how they face up to their old age, but I can imagine that they will be better prepared to handle it alone.

When I was in the US last year I saw very old people, shopping on their own in Walmart or manning the cash counters and earning their livelihood. They would politely refuse any help offered to them. These were people who have learned to live on their own and with dignity. Well that is the society there, where the children move away as soon as they are eighteen years of age to make their own life. It is possible in a country like the US with their prevailing culture, welfare measures and an enlightened population, though they are also not free from different kinds of degradation and depravity. Though we seem to be shifting towards such an eventuality keeping pace with our economic growth, our stifling population and poverty is bound to create a traumatic makeover to the next generation. Moral degradation and depravity is I guess is a fall out of this shift. Ours and our previous generations I believe have had their share of such fallouts. No generation is an ideal generation.  

“Isn’t it true that as we grow old and helpless, a nightmare awaits us? How do we manage our lives to ensure a dignified exit?” this is a question that haunts us whenever we see our parents or other old people suffering from dementia and other physical ailments, unable to look after themselves. Lucky are those who have the affections of their close ones and the necessary resources to sustain themselves. In this connection I am reminded of my visit to an old age home in my locality.

The old age home run by a public charitable trust gives shelter to orphans and aged destitutes. The one I and my wife visited was for old people who had been abandoned or nowhere else to go. There were nearly fifty inmates both men and women and as we walked around they sat up on their beds and greeted us with folded hands and I noticed a slight trace of happiness in their eyes at seeing us. Obviously they do not get many visitors or someone they can call their own coming to visit them. They had a roof over their heads and food for their sustenance and nothing else. I was stifled by the atmosphere in there, it was as if each one of them was just waiting to fade away. This was no old age home, the kind that have been coming up to accommodate the elderly who were otherwise reasonably well off and could pay for their sustenance. These were people who had nothing to look forward to and who had nothing which they could call their possession. In short these were people who had no hope. One could see it in their eyes, an air of resignation and one could call them the living dead. The pamphlet that was given to me by the administrator said that one could make donations under various schemes and what immediately struck me was the scheme for funeral expenses. The reality of it all struck me, these were people who had come here to die. Better here then on a pavement where they would have been bundled of in a corporation van and disposed off like garbage. I realised that the Trust was doing an immense service to humanity and to these people in particular by allowing them dignity in death.

As to a dignified exit one should ask oneself as to what he feels is a dignified exit, whether it is by a way of leaving behind a legacy, an everlasting contribution or an exit without suffering. While the first is in our hands, the second is beyond us. While God and religion are sources of hope for many, the angst of the individual on the nightmares that await him as he grows old is real. There are no real answers.

It is because that life is full of questions that we live, the day we find all the answers then we will cease to be.


Friday, July 19, 2013

A CONVERSATION WITH MY DESTINY

A CONVERSATION WITH MY DESTINY

It happened today. Destiny always has the last laugh. He looked at me, my destiny, triumphant as ever as if to say “I told you so and you never listened, see ultimately what has to happen will happen.” This was a very trivial matter and even then he would never let me have my say. You see today as I was having my dinner, I bit on something hard. I told my wife “I think I bit a stone”. She looked at me quizzically and then said “its ok as long as it isn’ a rock.” It was only when I went to wash my mouth I found a gaping hole where once the tooth existed. There was nothing there. When I told my wife she asked me “but where is it, did you spit it out or?” as she tapered off I was gripped with fear. Did I spit it out or swallow it? I searched my plate and did not find anything so I decided that I must have swallowed it. But I was sure I did not swallow it for nothing hard had gone down my gullet. I remembered that way back in my childhood someone told me that if I swallowed the seed of a fruit then it will germinate in my stomach and grow into a tree and come out with the fruits all hanging out of my mouth. I was too young then and the only picture that stood before me at that time was that of oranges popping out of my mouth for I had just eaten an orange and swallowed the seeds. So where was my tooth? The mystery remains, I only hope that it does not pop out of my mouth making me buck teethed. I had been planning to see a dentist, for that particular tooth was troubling me, but I kept on postponing it, for a visit to a dentist is not a very pleasant one.

As I was still pondering over where my tooth had gone, my destiny spoke “you were destined to lose that tooth, for if it had been otherwise you would have visited the dentist, had a root canal done and had a ceramic cap (I am sure you would have gone for the costlier option for I know that’s what you would have done) and shelled out a few thousand rupees, all for a tooth that had come to the end of his days. You see I do not spare anyone for what’s to happen will happen. But I do not understand why you should be so upset, I have saved you the amount that you would have paid your dentist and to top it all, from the agony of having to undergo the drill of the dentist. For all this you only have to make certain adjustments to the way you live your life. You need not show all your teeth (of course now you cannot do that) whenever you meet a female on the road, you can just smile and you never know you may even be charming. Try to look at the positives, why do you brood? You will have lesser number of teeth to brush thus enabling you to save on time, paste and money. You will not have food particles sticking in the crevices for which you would have used a tooth pick every time you have a meal. Instead of looking at all the positives which I have listed out you still go on brooding over your lost teeth. I know your brooding will last for sometime, for every time you twirl your tongue and find emptiness within, you will feel sad, but I know in course of time you will get used to it and the absence of the tooth will no longer bother you.”

He continued “you see that though I lay down the rules I have also given you the freedom to adjust to some of my machinations as you may call it, so you cannot always blame me for the mishaps that occur to you. If you do not use it you are to blame”.


When he said mishap, I was reminded of what happened when I was in   Mumbai some years ago. I went in to the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror and ran the beard trimmer, adjusted to the deepest cut as I wanted to sport a week old beard. Like I have already told you that trimming a beard is a great destresser and since I was feeling listless I thought that I would run it through my head also since I planned to have a haircut of whatever hair was there and of course I had more than what is there now. But disaster struck for I had forgotten to readjust the depth of cut in the trimmer and lo! I ended up with a weeks growth of hair on my head. I might as well gone to Tirupathi and shaved of the entire hair in which case I may have earned some brownie points with the Lord. Well may be it was destined to happen this way. I can see Destiny smiling, seeing me recall this incident. But a bigger suspense awaited me, when I paraded myself in front of my wife waiting for a response from her to my new look. She was too busy in the kitchen and did not notice it initially and I thought that it was not so bad after all. Suddenly she looked up, appraised and understood what had happened, she only said “what’s wrong with you, what have you done to yourself?” what was to happen had happened and that is when I used the freedom which Destiny was speaking about. I said “this is the new look”. You see that what had been a mishap years ago has now become the done thing. Don’t you agree?  

Monday, July 15, 2013

THE JOY OF LIVING


THE JOY OF LIVING

Most of what I have written till now has been connected to the exploration of my own inner world. I had said “The responses that I get on my blog have helped me understand and appreciate contrarian viewpoints and have contributed to an enhanced awareness of my own inner world”. This is true and may be a selfish viewpoint. I had also said that it gives me the joy of connecting with my friends and others. Of course all that I have written centres around my own way of looking at things and that will also be true of anyone writing on subjects that interest them. These are debatable issues for everyone has his own perception and interpretation of life. So when you write people may read what you have written and arrive at their own conclusions. This is important, for a debate is always necessary to appreciate that there are other view points. Sometimes these end up being judgemental. So I sat down to review the lessons that I have learnt over the last two years in connecting up with my friends through my blog postings. What I discovered was that maximum connection happened when I wrote on topics that reflected a joy of living, small little inane things which we may have otherwise disregarded as inconsequential.

It all started with my ‘A Walk in the Rain’ and continued with ‘Me and My Beard’ and the last one on “A Conversation with My Beard’. Starting with the exhilaration of being drenched in the rain to the personification of what we all take for granted as something which grows on our face. Giving it an individuality and treating it as something very much alive gave me immense joy and what pleased me more was that it gave my friends the pleasure of an enjoyable debate. I am sure that my joy was transmitted to them also.

It will be true to say that each and every one has within him those moments of happiness, which he has experienced. We like to relive, share these moments with our friends. There is nothing more innocent than the smile and laughter of a child or for that matter even us grown ups when we share a hearty laugh. For at that moment the mind comes to a standstill and does not judge, the essential ‘you’ comes out. Perhaps, because it comes straight from the heart it is called a hearty laugh. Laugh and the world laughs with you. It is also a thing that can be shared without losing anything.

I remember and most of you will also remember that the two most likeable pages in the Readers Digest used to be ‘Humour in Uniform’ and ‘Laughter the Best Medicine’ and perhaps these were the first pages one used go to, on obtaining a copy. It is when you learn to laugh at yourself, that you will be able to laugh with the others. Some of my friends used to joke about my baldness and suggest that I wear a wig. My reply used to be that I did not need any camouflage as I was not fighting a war. I also used to tell them that whenever a photo was taken of me using the flash, one could see a halo around my head, which was only indicative of my angelic origins. I have also said that since all the grey matter was inside my head I did not need the hair on my head as an indicator of my wisdom. I have been laughing all the way along and the best compliment that I get from my friends is when they remark ‘you have still retained that laughter’.

In ‘A Walk in the Rain’ I had said “not only did I want to relive the exhilaration of childhood but also the romance of youth”.  But I have also relived a number of times ‘A Walk in the Clouds’ a spirit of adventure and a feeling of transcendence.


Way back in 1976 when we were undergoing a training program in Pune, a few of us close friends decided to spend a weekend at Lonavala. We did and after a spiritual excursion on Saturday night we set out on a spirited trek on Sunday morning to Khandala, the highest point on the way to Bombay. It had rained heavily the previous night, monsoon rain and you know how heavy that can be. The clouds descended as we started our trek and soon we were engulfed in a sea of mist. A very light drizzle helped to erase whatever hangover was there and we walked, taking care to avoid obstacles on the way, the visibility being very poor. That moment comes back to me even now whenever I hear the song ‘Dil Dhoondtha hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din’. Bhupinder’s haunting voice brings back memories of those moments, enveloped in the mist, the chillness in the air and the transcendental journey with a faint view of the valley below. I am sure many of you have such moments somewhere deep within and all that it needs is a touch, a smell, a sound or a word to invoke and relive them. Like I said these are pure moments of joy, when the mind sleeps and the heart speaks. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

A CONVERSATION WITH MY BEARD

A CONVERSATION WITH MY BEARD

Soon after I had related the story of my beard I became aware of a simmering discontent on my face. This had been building up and as I sat on my usual perch in front of my computer with only the desk lamp on and alone in the shadows, I started scratching my face or rather that zone covered by my beard. I knew it had to be him, my beard. This was his way of getting back at me whenever he becomes irritated and he passes it on. Tonight I did not caress him as I always do when in deep thought (that’s what I said when I related the story of his existence, isn’t it?) but scratched him in irritation. Initially I could not understand the reason for his restlessness, so I asked him “Hey what’s wrong with you?”. There was silence for sometime and then he erupted “What do you think? You tell people my story without ever getting my side of the picture. Have you ever given a thought to my feelings? Despite all the trials and tribulations you have put me through I have always been there and never ever complained or made public the relationship we share. Now you sit there basking in the success of having told a story about me and resting on your laurels.”

Luckily my wife was asleep for otherwise her suspicions that I am turning senile would have been confirmed. She would have been aghast that her husband was talking to a beard in the middle of the night after not having made much of a conversation with her the entire day. Of late she has complained that she has been having some weird dreams and this would have confirmed that I was the cause of it all. You never know for she may have decided that this was also a dream and gone back to sleep. That would have suited me fine.

You may have all along wondered why I have been referring to my beard as a masculine person. I guess it needs no explanation for a beard is a masculine trait and I am sure that there will be no objections on this count from the female of the species.

Anyway coming back to the conversation with my beard, I was silent, for this was the first time he had spoken to me like this and that too in a voice of protest. I decided that I would let him have his say and I would hear it. In fact at that moment what came to my mind was Kafka’s ‘Investigations of a Dog’. Whether it is a dog or a ‘Conversation with God’ or the protestations of a Beard, they all end by giving the other side of the story. I thought it fair. So I told my beard “look here I am here to listen to you and carry your words to all those people who have already read your story as related by me. You have to narrate and I shall put down whatever you say, truly. Believe me.”

For sometime there was silence and then the irritation subsided as I gently stroked him as one would do to a pet dog. I have to be careful here when I say this, for one of my friends during the course of our conversation about beards remarked that my statement “I fondle my beard and caress my head” sounded semi erotic. So the next thing I did was place a mirror in front of me next to my laptop so that I could watch him while he spoke. With only the desk lamp on, he was a ghostly apparition very much like Banquo’s ghost appearing before Macbeth, only I had not committed any murder here. I said “Okay, I am ready”

“First I object to you people calling me all sorts of names like-  sentimental beard, emotional beard, pessimism beard, religious beard, intellectual beard, rebel beard, aesthetic beard, functional and wannabe beards. Why can’t you people understand that we beards are just beards and we have our own character? All those adjectives you have used to describe us, is what you basically are and not us. For your own vanity you have been subjecting us to all sorts of torture. Clipping and cutting us and then completely erasing us from our existence on your face. If this isn’t sadism than what is? But you forget that our values are too deep rooted and we have the spirit to spring up again and again till you learn to coexist with us.

Next you had the audacity to call me a balancing beard. That’s the last straw. Have you forgotten that I was there even when there was hair on your head? I will be there even when all that hair on your head has gone. Our existence does not depend on what you have on your head or inside it.

We also undergo our cycles of birth and death. We believe in reincarnation for every time you razor us out of existence we are born again and you have to keep at it so that your lady love can run her hands smoothly across your face. But there is one thing I am grateful to you for and that is allowing me to grow and not completely exterminating me from your face, though I had to bear the ignominy of getting disfigured from time to time to suit your moods. But I have observed over the last two months that you have been allowing me to grow up to ten days only after which you ruthlessly trim me down. This has happened ever since you read in the papers that women swoon over men who sport a ten day stubble (may be you have been having delusions that you look like George Clooney, of course without the hair on the head may be you should now be called George Clowney!). So you have now reduced me to a stubble. I feel like a bonsai.

It is sad that though you have societies for prevention of cruelty to animals, cutting of trees etc. etc. there is nothing for prevention of cruelty to beards. The only people who have allowed us to grow without any hindrance and as per our natural inclination have been the rishis and munis of yore (and of course the fake sadhus of the present). I do not know about the Gods. But the objection I have about them is that they never really cared about us. I should also admit that there are also people now for whom our very existence is a matter of pride and look after us most affectionately.

Why do you differentiate between a moustache and a beard? Both of us belong to the same brotherhood, we are only separated by your mouth. You remember that I first appeared above your upper lip, benign and as innocent as your first teenage love. I say ‘first’ because I have seen you going through those periods when you thought that you were in love with every girl you met. Don’t worry your secrets are safe with me. I still owe you some loyalty. Then one day you wiped me out, may be you thought that you were getting rid of a witness to your escapades. Anyway all that is long past and gone. Now I am happy that our days are back again.

So for God’s sake (I don’t remember whether he had one or would need one now) let us be.”

I guessed that he had poured his heart out, for now I felt no irritation but only the soft velvety feeling of his existence. I knew that he had fallen asleep for Banquo’s ghost had vanished.


Friday, July 5, 2013

ME AND MY BEARD



ME AND MY BEARD

This is the story of me and my beard and I decided to write about it after a prolonged conversation on ‘Beard Facts’ with my friends on facebook. Weird isn’t it that a discussion on beards can generate so many opinions especially when there are more pressing matters to be dealt with? But I can understand looking to the fact that there has been a spurt in the growth in population of the bearded kind. Naturally the smoother ones feel threatened. Apart from increased cognitive ability to acting as a homing beacon attracting the admiration and jealousy of the beardless and other traits listed there what really made me look at myself was that it quadruples handsomeness. I stood up and walked to the mirror to appraise my handsomeness. As I peered at myself, I felt satisfied that I did not look bad at all. In fact I picked up a comb and ran it through my beard to smoothen some unkempt hair and returned to my chair a fulfilled man. As I write this, the discussion still rages on the subject of beards. They are now talking of a World Beard and Moustache competition and the creation of a bearded brotherhood to bearded Gods and rishi munis of yore. I am certainly in elite company.

I never knew that there were so many different kinds of beards- sentimental beard, emotional beard, pessimism beard, religious beard, intellectual beard, rebel beard, aesthetic beard, functional and wannabe beards, until my friend KV listed them out. I tried to find out where I fitted in but could not decide. May be I underwent all those phases since I have been having my beard for three decades now. Now I know that I can call my beard as a balancing beard, for I have no hair on my head and having been taught in the course of my carrier in the Bank that all books should be balanced, I thought it is only appropriate that to balance the amount of hair on my head there has to be a beard. Convoluted logic you may say, but now I have no better explanation.

Now coming back to the story of ‘Me and My Beard’, it all started with (now don’t get the idea that I am lifting something out of the ‘It all Started with’ series of books written by Richard Armour some time in the sixties) the sprouting of hair above the upper lip when I was in school. I guess that’s what happens to everyone. I was not born bald either for babies do have some hair on the head at birth. I remember that when I was in high school I had a fairly thin line of moustache like the filmy heroes in the south, especially with their pencil lined moustaches. I waited for an appropriate time to shave it off. It happened the day after my high school exams were over. I bought the necessary paraphernalia and proceeded with the operation. At the end of it when I looked in the mirror my first reaction was that I was standing naked. My face was smooth but I felt stripped. For the first few days my hands always went up to cover the place where once my first moustache had been. I got used to it and so did the others around me.

The moustache and beardless face saw me through my college days. My wife first saw me as a smoothly shaven and handsome(?) young man with stylishly cropped hair on the head. You see she had no choice but to get married to me. That was her destiny, I guess. When I was asked sometime ago by some of my friends as to how I came to grow a beard, I told them that it is a tale of ‘Three women and a man’ and I was planning to write a book on it (obviously inspired by Jerome.K.Jerome).

You see soon after my marriage I grew a moustache, not the pencil lined stuff but a thick bushy one. May be I wanted to look a bit menacing and show who the master at home was. What I found out subsequently was it had no effect, she was still the master. But thereafter I never shaved it off for I became fond of twirling it in my spare time of which I had plenty. I tried different styles, the favourite being the Kamalahasan type, may be inspired by ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’. Of course I used to look in to the mirror from time to time to ensure everything was in place. The second major event was when my first daughter was born, I grew a beard. I have had it ever since and do not remember shaving it off anytime. Of course the shape, size and density used to vary from time to time. With my spectacles, hair on the head and a thick beard I could have fitted in to any of the classifications listed above. It was with the arrival of my second daughter that I started losing the hair on my head and in course of time all of it had gone. When I relate this to them they retort saying that they have given me a personality where I had none before.

You see beards are great destressers. At time when you go through your lows as they call it you just need to walk up to the mirror trim your beard, shape it and admire your new look. When you feel bored you can always run your hand over your beard, this happens when you are in deep thought also. It is happening to me right now as I sit here writing all this on my computer. I cannot remember when I last visited a hair cutting saloon. There was no need, for you see that I trim whatever remnants are there on my head also by myself. Sometimes I sit down to evaluate the amount I would have saved in the process. I have become an expert at beard and hair trimming so much so that I am now having serious doubts as to whether I was a barber in my previous birth.



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

GOD, RELIGION AND OTHER THINGS- PART 3 RELIGION AND ART

GOD, RELIGION AND OTHER THINGS- PART 3
RELIGION AND ART

I have received some very thoughtful observations and views from my friends which I intend exploring to take me to the next level in my quest to understand the role of God and Religion in our lives. I reproduce a part of one of the comments, which I feel has a great significance on the way the human civilisation has evolved and for me in particular of great interest -

“In personal and social life the role of religion has been so profound that if you take it away, little will be left of what we call of our culture by way of food, festivals, music, poetry, art and implicit design which are religion suffused.” 

Very true, what we are today can be traced back to the evolutionary process that we have undergone as a people over the centuries. History is the progress in the consciousness of freedom. The spirit of a people, says Hegel is its culture – language, religion, art, music, poetry, architecture, morality, philosophy, science and law, this is what unifies them into an organic totality. Religion has had a large part to play in the culture of a people.

Long ago I went to Ajanta and Ellora and came face to face with the magnificence of the sculptures and wall paintings over there. At Ellora especially the monolith temple of Kailasa took my breath away, I stood staring at it for a long time. When I came back I still carried the images of all that I had seen, I did not have a camera then so I captured what I saw in verses. I reproduce a few lines of what I wrote in my poem called ‘Rapture’

There I saw Lord Shiva’s dance,
I was drowned in divine trance,
And my head in veneration bow,
To the Lord who rules above.

I marvel at these men who mould,
Stones that speak of ages old,
All the fervour of their heart,
Has poured in through their supreme art.

This was a place where the confluence of three great religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism took place by way of great art. When I speak of the fervour of the artist’s heart I speak of the religious fervour which they exhibited, without which it would not have been possible to bring life to these stones centuries afterwards. When I visit temples, I marvel at the architecture and sculptures, which are of Gods and depictions of the various manifestations and religious themes from the epics. It is not a question of whether I believe in God or not, but when I go inside these temples I am overcome by a sense of awe and reverence. The temples are scattered all over the countryside. The temples have been a sustaining factor in the life of the people for not only did they give them an identity and a place of solace, the temple was the centre point around which the economy of the village or town revolved and served to provide livelihood. This is where our classical dances, which still hold centre stage and represent the culture of our country, evolved. What about our classical music, bhajans, abhangs etc? I get carried away by Subbalakshmi’s bhajans or a Bhimsen Joshi’s abhangs. It is religion that has had a large part to play in the development of these arts and in all of them, God has been there in which ever form you conceive him. The foundations of our classical music of which we are so proud, has its foundations in religion. The bhakti bhav that percolated throughout the course of our history produced great composers who were also considered as saints, we can talk of a Meerabhai, Tulsidas, Kabir, Purandaradasa or the trinity of Carnatic music whose compositions have been purely religious, or the mystical quality of Sufi music. These continue to have great relevance even to this day. They were composed and sung with a fervour and a love to a divinity which they could visualise through their music.

One has to look at the magnificence of the paintings in the Italian section at the Louvre in Paris, religious paintings depicting episodes from the bible and the religious wars, or the sheer transcendent quality of Michelangelo’s sculptures at the Vatican and his paintings on the ceilings of St. Peter’s cathedral to realize the religious fervour with which these artists created their works of art. One can recall the film ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ based on the book of the same name by Irving stone depicting the life of Michelangelo’s life and the important part played by the church in the creation of his masterpieces.

The relation between art and religion dates back to as early as the Indus Valley and Harappan civilization, in India. Herbert Read in his book ‘The Meaning of Art’ writes “The relation between art and religion is one of the most difficult questions that we have to face. We look back into the past and see art and religion emerging hand in hand from the dim recesses of pre history. For many centuries they seem to be indissolubly linked and then, in Europe, about five hundred years ago, the first signs of a definite breach, appears”. Art then slowly moved to a more individualistic representation with the artist aiming to express nothing beyond his own personality.  Read continues to say “The answer to the question whether great art can exist independently of religion will therefore depend on our scale of values. The artist to achieve greatness must in someway appeal to a community-feeling. Hitherto the highest form of community feeling has been religious: it is for those who deny the necessary connection between religion and art to discover some equivalent form of community-feeling which will, in the long run, ensure an historic continuity for the art that is not religious.”

Religion played its part during the Medieval period and till the Renaissance when the patrons were the Church or the ruling aristocracy who commissioned the building of magnificent Gothic cathedrals. Similar is the case elsewhere with all religions. In India the rajas of the Hindu dynasties built magnificent temples while the Muslim rulers built mosques and similarly with the Buddhist and Jains.

When we trace the history of art from the primitive stage to what we call the most civilized achievement in Classical or Gothic art or from the cave paintings to the magnificent temples and sculptures of the Indian civilization we marvel at the evolution of the human mind. Herbert Read says that this depends on “the parallel evolution of man’s emotional attitude towards the universe – the evolution from magic and animism to religion”.

All the great civilizations whether it is the Greek, Egyptian, Indian and Chinese they all have had their Gods and more importantly religion which sustained their growth and held them together. After all, religion has been defined as an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality.

As per Herbert Read, the first breach between art and religion started towards the end of the European Renaissance. In fact the modern era started sometime towards the end of the sixteenth century with the Reformation movement and the dilution of the hold of the church in Europe. Even this breach can be felt in Indian art. From a patronage given by the church to art when religious themes were the order of the day, art moved slowly into being patronised by the royalty and ultimately it came down to the individual artist who saw nothing beyond his own perception and understanding of the world around him.


Though much more can be said about the role of religion in music and art, I reserve this for a subsequent posting. But here again I would like to end this posting, again quoting from Herbert Read “Even where great artists have created their masterpieces in apparent isolation from any religious faith, the more closely we look into their lives the more likely we are to discover the presence of what we can only call religious sensibility. The life of Van Gogh is a case in point.”

Monday, July 1, 2013

COMPASSION

COMPASSION

I first experienced it when I looked at a photograph of Ramana Maharishi, the intense compassion in those eyes. I understood it in Buddha’s words “Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys pain of others. It shelters and embraces the distressed”.

28th June is now designated as ‘Compassion Day’. As I sat down to read the newspaper in the morning, with my cup of coffee, I stopped before I took the first sip. The first page of the ‘Times of India’ read “You can turn the page or turn a life around” in bold letters. I did turn the page for it was easier to do that than turn a life around and it did not stop me from having my coffee. The paper also said ‘Today is not just a new day, but a new beginning’. How many times have I told myself that I should do something that could alleviate the sufferings of others? That thought has only stayed in my mind but never executed. There is a certain inertia which I guess arises out of the fact that I fear it may destabilise my position of comfort.

The first question I ask myself is ‘Can compassion be taught?’ No, you cannot teach a person to be compassionate because it is innate and rises from the core of your heart. You may pity a person for the suffering he is undergoing and try to mitigate this by offering your help in which ever way it is possible for you. But in all this a sense of doership arises. You can always pity someone but you can only ‘be’ compassionate. Compassion arises out of selflessness and when I say this I am reminded of Mother Theresa who had dedicated her entire life caring for the less fortunate amongst us. A touch or a look is enough to convey compassion or even lending an ear to the sufferings of others. The healing touch we call it.

The second question that arose was ‘How do I become compassionate?’ when I said that compassion rises from the core of one’s heart I recognise that it is innate in every being like all other qualities that we attribute as a characteristic of  an individual. That it is not recognised is because it has been buried under layers of all our selfish impulses cultivated during the process of our growing up. How do I dig out that compassion from the depths, I find the burden heavy.

Why did I have to write all this down? It is because after the disaster that struck Uttarkhand when thousands of lives have been literally washed away something has been tugging at my heart, not that there have been no disasters in the past, in fact I was there in Ahmedabad at the time of the earthquake. Every time such a thing happens there is an initial shock and a sense of pity at the suffering that had been unleashed. Subsequently I may have even nurtured the feeling that I was lucky not having been there at the scene of disaster and thanked God that my near and dear ones were safe. I speak for myself for I find that I drift back to my world of comfort and may be waiting for the next disaster to feel bad again.  I have always found excuses as to why it has not been possible to sustain that initial surge of pity that engulfed me

This is a confession, for I realise that the answer to my second question  lies in the acceptance of that element of hypocrisy that governs my life. That perhaps is the new beginning and the way to becoming a person capable of compassion