Tuesday, August 27, 2013

CONVERSATION WITH MY BEARD - CONTINUED

CONVERSATION WITH MY BEARD - CONTINUED

I was upset and irritated over the last week for having been conned into a discussion on a topic in which I have no interest nor have any knowledge. My naivete was exposed. All because of this guy, my beard, he got me into it. I had made the mistake of letting his feelings known to everyone as per his own wish and now see what it has got me into. Last time after I had narrated the events leading to his existence he cribbed, cringed and protested that his side of the story was not heard. So under the threat of his continued irritation and making my life miserable I went ahead with making public his views. Ever since he has been amiable, in fact certain smoothness has been evinced in his existence. But tonight I was irritated and scratched him awake.

“What’s the problem, you seem annoyed?” he asked

“Boss, I have had enough. You be where you are and I shall remain where I am, no more conversations.”

“Now, now don’t take any drastic steps. You know we have to co-exist and there is no way you can stop talking to me. You will acknowledge that I have been behind all your inspirations. At times when you have got stuck in the middle of a sentence, you have gently nudged me and I have responded. Tell me why you are so desperate today.”

“See ever since I told them how you feel they seem to be more obsessed with your existence and in the process I am slowly fading into obscurity. There is this guy, whom someone has termed a beard maniac, I am frightened for his obsession with you is so deep that he seems to talk only about you. Of course you have been called all kind of names something like Namo, which I have been told by some is a sort of bad word, while others feel that it is an endearing term. They have even insinuated that you have great aspirations and are trying to outgrow and dominate the scenery. A number of people like you and an equal number do not, for they are jealous that they do not have your looks or traits. These people say that you hide a number of things for example my face. But I know otherwise, you have given me a new look by hiding my insignificant chin. The only solution I see is that you should start sprouting on their chins faster than they can shave.”

“Still I do not see why you should be so upset. See it is a choice that they are free to make, whether to have me or not. You remember you were reading something which was sent to you by one of your friends. Didn’t it say that the beard is a man’s follicular armour and provides a visual display of physical strength and stature. So it is for them to decide whether to have me or one of those smooth, and slippery faced guys. But strangely I find that they have also started to acknowledge my existence. But you can still see through to their baby face, they try to have me on their face to hide their vulnerability. Anyway I think that the people are smart enough to judge which is the more original and a beard with deeper roots. Let them choose the best beard that they want to have.”

“All well said. You seem to be basking in your own glory. But I am all confused when people say different things. Only the other day I told you that I let you grow for a period of seven days only after which I trimmed you because I read somewhere that it turns on the opposite sex. Even so I did not have any luck on this count. Today I read that even though all those famous personalities have started growing beards and longer ones, that ‘while 92 per cent of women preferred men without beards, 95 per cent of women found men with a stubble a turn-off’. Now what do I do? I cannot afford to have you of my face for you have always been there at least for a major part of my life. Of course in the same article it was written that Freud’s personality was accentuated by his beard which was a ‘hallmark of phallic power’. I am comforted by the fact that Freud must have with his knowledge of the workings of the human mind decided to grow his beard. But what really galled me was this statement from the same article that ‘Men with beards may be having more fun but its not with women’. Doesn’t it bother you?” You see in all these, a person should be in a position to choose what he thinks is best for him, whether they want a beard or not. To hell with what you hide or not, after all it is my face.”

 He was silent for sometime and then said “well I understand your dilemma. You feel that it is going to be a battle of the beards but you can wait and see who gets shaved first.”

“I am sure that the beardless will be relentless in their attacks on the bearded ones and vice versa. But that’s all politics isn’t it?”

He said “I can only say hold your ground, I mean your face” and went to sleep.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

ME AND MY SLEEP

ME AND MY SLEEP                                  

Tonight I was staring into the darkness surrounding me, sitting at my desk with the table lamp on, lost in thought, yes you can be sure of that, for my eyes were open and the drowsiness had still not set in. Of course some people have the capacity to sleep with their eyes open but I had failed to learn the art of sleeping with my eyes open. It would have stood me in good stead back in college for I was invariably caught while sleeping in class, especially during the periods after lunch. But I remember that there was one subject when I never got pulled up for this offence and that was during the ‘Magnetic Fields and Tensor Analysis’ class, not because the professor taking the subject was a very liberal minded person. You see that when he started talking about magnetic fields, electromagnetic waves and the applications of tensor analysis (pardon me these are the only words I remember from what I learned back then) I used to experience fields and waves around my head and a buzzing sound very conducive to inducing one into a trance, try it some times it works. The next best thing for experiencing such spiritually elevated states I found was during the period of probation in the Bank when I was asked to read the Book of Instructions and the Exchange Control Manual. I never went beyond the first page. In fact I found that next to lifting the accounts ledgers, handling the Book of Instructions did in fact contribute to whatever muscular structure (believe me it was not great but adequate) I developed, though the same cannot be said about my job knowledge. I am sure a lot of my colleagues in the bank would also be grateful to these manuals for their physical well being.

Well coming back to the professor like I said it was not because he was a very considerate man that he allowed me to sleep in class, it was because he was so immersed in the fields that he wove on the board and around him and the class, that he never really noticed whether anyone was paying attention or not. But all this had a problem which I realised only when I sat down to study for the periodical class tests, for when I opened my book I could never make head or tail of what I had written in my note book. You see I used to take only one thick notebook to class, a sort of master book in which I used to take down the notes (this was to save the trouble of lugging around a pile of books subject wise). One had to just open the notebook to find out which classes I had slept and the duration of my sleep. Only the first word in each line would be visible as slowly the writing would taper of into a scribble as sleep overtook me. At the end of the line when the pen struck rough surface on the desk, I would wake up and the process would be repeated over again. The pen acted as control mechanism to wake me up at the end of the line. It was may be because of this that I became a night bird, an owl (anyway not a wise one as all owls are supposed to be).  

The art of sleeping with your eyes open was perfected by one of my colleagues. I realised this when talking to him one day and getting no response shook him up and he awoke with a start and started where he had left off earlier and now here I mean the conversation and not the sleep. Then there was another one who would dose off in the middle of a sentence leaving it unfinished, not only that for before long he would be snoring.

In the good old days when we were used to travelling by buses, my wife used to complain that as soon as we were seated I would fall asleep. Of course since she was there next to me we could get off at the right place. But it did happen to me when I was travelling by the suburban train back from VT to Chembur, I kept awake till Kurla one station before my destination. But I do not know what happened for I when I woke up I had passed beyond and had to catch another train to come back. Luckily this time I did not fall asleep and got down at Chembur.

Like the good old pen which I talked about as a control mechanism I have found that the wall and the bars on the window of a bus are equally effective. I cannot remember the number of time I have banged my head against the window bars on the bus, though painful it was effective to make sure I got down at the proper place. Banging against the wall is something that I have developed over the last few years (don’t mistake that I have resorted to this to overcome my frustrations or set things right in my head) especially while watching the television. It has woken me up in the course of watching a movie or a serial so that I could pick up the trend of what was happening on the screen. Of course whenever I ask my wife as to what had happened in the interim she would glare suggesting that I should go back to sleep.

But all this sleep, when others are awake vanishes when others go to sleep. That’s why I am still awake writing all this. I have tried understand the genesis of all this and I have found that all this dates back to the time when I was in school and Macbeth was one of the books on our English curriculum. I had the whole book by heart and was even nick named as Macbeth though I did not commit any foul deed. But may be this soliloquy of Macbeth was what did me in –

“Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep”—the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” – from Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A CONVERSATION WITH MYSELF

 A CONVERSATION WITH MYSELF

“You have been conversing with your beard (imagine, no wonder people find that weird), with your Destiny (please I think they have had enough of that stuff about everything being destined) and only God knows (sometimes I also wonder who or where he is and what he knows) to who else. But you have never really sat down to talk to me. I wonder why? I do have a faint idea that it is because you are frightened to do so. Seriously, I feel abandoned.”

This happened when I sat down for my meditation this morning. Though for a moment I was upset, I recovered and said “honestly, I never really thought you would be so offended. I always considered that you and I are inseparable, that you have always been with me through whatever has happened or is happening. So let me set things straight and for a start we shall have a conversation tonight and I promise to clarify whatever you believe that I have kept away from you”. I felt a slight vibration and I knew that he had receded back to his abode within and would resurface again tonight to put his questions to me.

‘At the stroke of the midnight hour’ he came and sat before me on a pile of books near my computer. Bald, bearded, bespectacled and the size of the glass of water on my table, that for a moment I thought that I was looking into a miniature mirror. He smiled as he looked at me and said “well here I am, and shall we talk?” I said yes and settled down for a long chat.

“I am not in the habit of asking too many questions. I always let you do the talking, to me of course. I can always make out when you are truthful and when you are being dishonest with ‘yourself’, that is me. So I am here to hear you. For a long time I have been intrigued watching you performing things which you never seriously believed in. Why so?”

“Seriously can you be more specific? I am unable to comprehend what you are saying. I always thought I am doing what I believe in.”

“Well, for instance I watch you as you sit before that cupboard of yours containing some idols and pictures of various Gods and performing certain rituals before you close your eyes and start your meditation. You have always maintained that you do not believe in rituals then why?”

“Oh that! If you say that cleaning the idols, decorating with flowers, burning an incense stick and making an offering of food as a ritual, you are right. I do those things. Have you ever wondered why I remain silent at those times, so silent that I do not even wake you up? Of course you must have been awake, for how else could you have observed that I do these things. But you will agree that I never did disturb you at such times.
When I am in the process of performing these things I have found that even my mind becomes silent. There is no thought as to the futility of the entire exercise. I do it because one fine day it just happened and I asked myself why not, as long as I do not have an agenda. You are right when you pointed out that I do not believe in ritualistic prayers. But let me clarify that I do not believe when there is an agenda attached to the exercise. It has become a part of my daily routine like my daily long walks and it keeps me focussed. Now in the recent past I even visit the temple next door daily after coming back from my walk and having my bath. You had noticed that though my wife goes to the temple daily, I used to go there only occasionally. One fine day I asked myself, why not? Not because I believed that the God over there was going to help me tide over crises or grant me boons. I found that it was a sort of commitment that I made for you, myself. I recovered a sense of purpose and discipline creeping into my daily activities. I would call it ‘Zen and the Art of Praying’

Long ago I read Herrigel’s ‘Zen and the Art of Archery’ where he says

The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art”.

You will ask me what bearing this has on what I am doing. Well though you pretend, I know that you are aware what I am trying to explain. The key operating sentence here is ‘This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self …..’. This entire process has aided me in the process of my daily meditation.

It is through years of practice, a physical activity becomes effortless both mentally and physically, as if the body executes complex and difficult movements without conscious control from the mind. Zen emphasises the suspension of all judgemental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them. I would call that one hour in the morning my Zen time. I believe that each one of us has his own Zen time whether it is gardening, cooking, making tea or maintenance of your motor cycle (refer ‘Zen and the art of Motor Cycle Maintenance’, Robert Pirzig’s classic novel). One sentence from the book still keeps ringing in my head “Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value”

So you see that I am still doing what I believe in and I also believe that each one has his own way of expressing his commitment to a cause he believes in and through which he hopes to attain a freedom from the bonds that tie him down and realise his entire potential.”

As I finished I found my Self sitting on his perch in front of me with his eyes closed. For a moment I thought that he had gone to sleep with all this long winded speech of mine. So I cleared my throat in a bid to wake him up. He slowly opened his eyes and said “so you thought I was asleep? I heard every word you said, I always knew it but I wanted it to come out from you. You will see there is more clarity now.”

“So what next?” I asked.

“For now, that is enough, I can see your eyelids drooping. Isn’t it late now? We shall keep the rest for some other day. I am watching.”


He vanished and I stopped.

Friday, August 16, 2013

ME AND MY MOTORCYCLE

ME AND MY MOTORCYCLE

Let me start with a disclaimer “The contents of this post has nothing to do with the book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, but I can always say that it provided the inspiration”. The book itself is a modern day classic which was published first in 1974. Written by Robert Pirzig it is a philosophical novel in which the author explores the Metaphysics of Quality. Two types of personalities are brought out in the book, one being in the present moment and not on rational analysis and the other seeking to know the details, understand the inner workings and master the mechanics (in this case motor cycle maintenance). One sentence from the book still keeps ringing in my head “Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value”.

So really I do not have anything philosophical to say and nor am I going to post something profound. As I was cleaning my bookshelf today, and that I do infrequently, I took this book out and while dusting it, turned to the first page. I usually sign there and write the place of purchase and date. This was purchased on 13th May 1982 at Bombay (Mumbai only later on), a good five years after I had bought my motorbike and that’s where it all started.

After living together for nearly twenty two years (I mean me and my motorbike) I watched him being ridden away by that Parsi mechanic who of course had through the years was there to ensure his well being from time to time, again I am talking about my bike. You have to understand that he was very masculine what with his robust body and a roaring voice and everyone called him ‘Yezdi’. I still do not know what it means, even the Wikipedia could not give me any satisfactory answers. But of course what’s in a name ‘an Yezdi by any other name will still be an Yezdi’ (sorry borrowed that from Shakespeare – I hope that’s right). Well any way he had to go and all partings are painful. It was like leaving behind a pet dog behind with someone, for you cannot take him wherever you go (I hope the loved ones do not take umbrage at this statement for I thought that this was the closest analogy I could give).

Well the Parsi mechanic disappeared with my bike into the distance leaving behind a vacuum in my life (let me clarify that I am talking about my motorbike and not the Parsi lest I am misunderstood). Like all flashbacks (like in the movies) my mind went back to that day in November 1977 when we first met. You see that the motorbikes are always the first acquisitions as soon as one gets confirmed in the job (I am talking about those days when acquiring an Yezdi motorbike was the second most macho thing to do, the first being the ‘Bullet’. Taking my physical build into consideration I had to settle for the Yezdi, also I rationalised (this is where the rational part comes into existence) that in case the bike has a puncture or suddenly stops it would be easier to push it to the mechanic’s shop than the ‘Bullet’ and also he was less costly. So I hope you get the point – wives come in only next. But in my case, wife came first and then only the bike (two months later). In case you are wondering whether I had acquired him after waiting for the dowry, I am sorry to disappoint you for I did not receive any (I hope my wife does not read this).

For the next nineteen years he served the family, which grew from two to four over the years diligently, till finally taking note of his advancing age and his increasing protestations on the road, I had to go in for a car to accommodate all of us. But I never let go of him for the next three years. I gave him a new look, painted and plated and a thorough check up, of course by the same Parsi gentleman. He did a very good job for I think that he was sure that one day he would be taking him away.

We shared a lot of great moments together and a few mishaps though nothing serious. I will never forget the day when he suddenly sat on the road and refused to budge. Though I coaxed him by cleaning his spark plugs and other little things which would have him all excited once more, to become active (don’t get me wrong on this also) and take me back home, nothing worked. So I had to engage an ambulance (a mini truck) and have him taken to his doctor for treatment (the Parsi one of course). It appeared that he had had a stroke and his shock absorbers had given away. After he was discharged I took him home and put him in his corner. I should also place on record here that he also contributed to my physical well being and fitness. I remember a particular episode when I was trying wake him up by kicking repeatedly and the guy next to me at the vehicle stand  looked at me, sitting on his new snazzy bike with auto start and said ‘That’s always the problem with these old bikes, see I just have to press a button for mine to start’. He was a plump overweight little fellow and I was of a slim and healthy build. What audacity I thought and replied ‘see that’s why you are like what you are and I am like what I am’ and as my bike started with a roar I looked at him and smiled. He had got the message – no one fools with my bike!

I cannot relate all the adventures we shared and the feeling of togetherness which grew over the years, but for me he was something very real, alive and kicking. So it was sad to see him go, but that’s the way things are and we move on and I moved on to my car. Well that’s another story.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

THE HUMOUR IN OUR LIVES

THE HUMOUR IN OUR LIVES

My friend said “You sound more honest when you bring humour into your writing”. This was after reading my post ‘A Conversation with My Beard’. Perhaps the most telling comment came from my daughter “The best post ... there is something about the absurdity of it all ... life lessons hidden in plain sight amidst all that crazy rambling and imagery ... total honesty in humour --- like a "Hearty Laugh". It is very hard getting a comment out of her and like all daughters (that’s a presumption) they can be your harshest critics. They will say what they feel, sometimes brutally frank, for they know you well enough. So I sat down to read my post again to reassure myself that the message was not lost. She had got this one right, I mean the metaphors hidden there. But it was also a fact that the humour of it all could strike a chord with the reader.

When I was in school we had four books for English literature – drama, poetry, grammar and a collection of essays titled ‘Patterns of Prose’ with selections from various authors like Stephen Leacock ,Jerome K Jerome and others. Of all that I had to read for my English literature class my favourite was ‘Uncle Podger hangs a picture’ from Jerome k Jerome’s book ‘Three Men in a Boat’. To this day that episode of uncle Podger is still fresh in my mind not only because of the unbridled humour but also the felicity with which the author narrates it. Podger’s final statement at the end of the episode - “There you are” he would say, stepping heavily on to the charwoman’s corns, and surveying the mess he had made with evident pride. “Why some people would have a man in to do a thing like that!” keeps coming back to me especially now ever since I retired and offer to help my wife about the house. Wiser counsel prevails as she does let me handle certain things which she feels will not be worse off even if I did handle it.

A few days ago (everything happens a few days ago, isn’t it. I still can’t get down to the fact that it happened only yesterday and am still recovering the colour on my face which had turned red after the event) the electricity shut down suddenly in my house. This is not new in Chennai for we are used to power shut downs, but mercifully we know when the shutdown is to occur. It goes off for two hours at a certain time during the day (I should admit that things have improved and the power shuts down unannounced). So right from checking whether there was power in the neighbours flat to yours truly paying a visit to the Electricity office and giving a piece of my mind that we have been prompt in paying our bills and leaving them flummoxed, then coming back home bringing the local electrician to have a look at the fault, I was filled with a sense of purpose (maybe I wanted to prove to my wife that I am not afterall a couch potato, that of course does not include the various times I have had to sit at the dining table peeling potatos feeling like Sad Sack) and energy and of course perspiration and frustration and panic, for my wife had stopped cooking and was waiting for the power to be switched on. She had great faith in me for I was proud of telling her that I was an electrical engineer from one of the most prestigious Institutes in the country. The electrician came went directly to the switchboard and turned on the switch and the power was back, you see the circuit breaker had tripped because there was a short circuit in the washing machine (which was switched off after identifying the fault). I smiled at him and he went away without charging anything for his services. And as I slowly turned my face to my wife who was standing at the kitchen entrance and the look said it all “so what did they teach you back at the institute?”

I remember the time when I offered to dust and clean the ceiling fans. I went up the ladder and started dusting them with my wife waiting down there to ensure I did not fall down for there have been enough episodes in the past of a different nature where my bravado had landed me on my butt. I did sway here and there but at last the mission was accomplished and I came down the triumphant look on my face as if to say “There you are”. When I came down my wife laughed and I asked her why. She asked me to have a look in the mirror. The dust and cobwebs had settled on my head and for a moment when I looked in the mirror it appeared as if I have had a hair transplant.

Of late, my younger daughter says I am zoning out and am more in la la land (I sincerely do not know what it means, but I guess she wants to say that I am becoming absent minded) and my wife sincerely believes that I am a bit hard of hearing, as she has to repeat whatever she wants to convey at least twice. I do not disbelieve them for they appear to be pretty serious when they say this, but of course they have a good laugh when my response is quite contrary to the reaction expected by them. May be they are seriously concerned that the signs depict the onset of Alzheimers. The last time when my brother and sister-in-law had come home, my wife and she exchanged notes as to how their husbands are slowly becoming deaf. Of course I and my brother (who is sixteen years elder to me) could hear every word of what they said. My brother looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes and said in low voice and which only I could hear “Let them continue to believe that, it suits us fine doesn’t it? Selective hearing that is the key.”

As you grow older you come to appreciate those little things and laugh at your own idiosyncrasies. It is when you are able to laugh at yourself you move towards a total acceptance of who you are and life becomes easier and comfortable. Your relationships become genuine, for you do not hide much.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

ABSOLUTION

ABSOLUTION

This is the last poem in the first compilation of poems written by me over the years ‘Secrets of the Soul’. Absolution is defined as the act of freeing one self from blame or guilt, a release from consequences and obligations. Though the word itself has its origin in Christian theology, the concept is equally applicable to all religions – a confession and a pardon. Absolution to me is the state of having emptied yourself of all the, secrets of your soul and now you stand shorn of the cloak you have been wearing, exposed and undaunted.

Absolution

I stand exorcised
Of the ghosts of the past,
That haunted and hounded me,
Through the corridors
Of the path I had tread,
And through the halls of time.

I stand exposed,
Shorn of the cloak of desire
That had veiled my gnarled face,
With not a stitch to cover,
The nakedness that lay within
The confines of my existence.

I stand alone
In the midst of the swirling waters,
Hugging the protuberance,
Avoiding the final fall,
And vanishing over the edge,
To be swept away to oblivion.

I stand absolved,
Of all the guilt and shame, that eroded,
The entrails of my conscience,
As I shake the shackles from my ankles,
Break away from the bonds
That held me down.