Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A DISTANT REALITY

 A DISTANT REALITY

A number of friends observed that my last post ‘A Distant Dream’ was nostalgic and reminded them of their own childhood and the dreams that they had grown up with or the books that they had read. So I decided that I shall once again undertake an exploration through the lanes of nostalgia. There are two distinct emotions that come into play here – to relive those moments which have left an indelible imprint on my psyche and a travel down in search of my roots.

I have never seen my grandfather for all practical purposes. He passed away when I was only six months old. But I have heard a lot about him from my mother, elder brother and sister and others. What I did learn and realize was that he was an extraordinary and spiritually elevated person. It was in this context that I talked about my native village Gopalasamudram. Ever since I have nurtured a wish to write about him, but I also realised it can never be authentic for I have only heard and never really knew him. So I got down to writing what you may at best describe as fictional biography. I have a long way to go for I have just started but thought that I should share at least a bit of what I have begun. I do not know whether I will be able to go forward and complete it, but the journey is giving me immense joy. I find it extremely hard to reconstruct the socio-cultural milieu that was prevalent then. One of the reasons is that this can best be captured only by writing in one’s own native language.

How can I recapture the raw smell of the soil, the whiff of paddy from the fields, the fragrance of jasmine from among the tresses of women (so typical of Tamil Nadu) or watch the lazy and languid march of the cattle on their way back to their sheds as the sun sets with the cowherd walking along with his arms over the stick on his shoulders, the aging Brahmin standing on the banks of the river completing his evening prayers or listen to the bells ringing and the haunting drum beats emanating from the Shiva temple! It is very difficult. They reside there frozen back in time and in the corners of your mind. How do I bring them out through words?

‘SANKARA

Sankara slowly got up from his bed, the time was four thirty in the morning. He made his way to the puja room, opened the door and then prostrated himself before the pictures and idols of the various Gods that were enshrined there. He then washed his face and mouth went to the quadrangular, a common feature of the houses in the village, picked up his towel and a dhoti which were hung up on the clothes line to dry the previous day and moved towards the entrance. Meenakshi was also awake and was moving about in the kitchen, preparing for the coming day. Sankara called out to her and she went to close the door as soon as he left. This was a normal day and this was how it began. All these years the routine had never been broken.

It was still dark as Sankara made his way to the river to have his bath and be there to receive the first rays of dawn and say his morning prayers as an obeisance to the Sun God. As he passed the Siva temple, he bowed his head in reverence and continued. The silence that engulfed him was briefly interrupted by the rustle of the leaves as a gentle wind blew across the trees. For a man of lesser stature, the ghostly shadows and the silence would have been intimidating, but Sankara found his communion with God in that stillness.

He walked across the narrow bridge over the vaykaal(canal) and climbed the mound which separated it from the main river. He descended and went towards the mandapam ( a pillared outdoor hall) on its banks. The Thambiraparani flowed silently, and as the dawn slowly broke one could see the silver waters waiting for its first bathers. Sankara was alone when he stepped in. As he bathed he dipped his head thrice into the river and stood up facing the east as the sun slowly rose and the first rays danced across the waters. His hands folded he said a small prayer. He dried himself in the mandapam and sat down to do the sandhya vandanam. He loved this peace that surrounded him and as he did his pranayam he could feel himself breathing in the atmosphere of sanctity that prevailed, the gentle caressing sound of the Thambiraparani as it wound its way across the rocks on its bed. He picked up his clothes that he had spread out for drying in the mandapam and started his way back home. On the way he waved a greeting to a few of his friends who were proceeding towards the river. Sankara was a man of few words and his friends knew that and did not stop to talk to him but waved their hands to acknowledge.

Meenakshi had bathed by the time her husband came back from the river and set about arranging for his puja. She knew that he would not touch or have anything to eat or drink till he had completed his morning worship.  Having been married for more than fifty years now, she was used to his routine.

Gopalasamudram was a quaint little village though a panchayat in the district of Tirunelveli, in those days unspoilt by the intrusions of city life. The agraharam where Sankara lived was one long street, where everyone knew everyone else. The street was bound by the Siva temple at the eastern end and a Vishnu temple at the western end. The entry in to the agraharam was right in the centre literally splitting it in to the west side and the east side. Behind the agraharam on the northern side flowed the Thambirabarani river. One had to cross a small bridge over a canal which was called as the vaykaal of the main river before climbing over a mound to reach the river bank. The river was ever flowing and the water was crystal clear, one could see the bed of the river and the fishes. The river derived its name from the fact that it was said to contain copper. Though there have been various interpretations for its name, there was a sanctity attributed to it as it was believed to be as old as the puranas and epics. In fact it was said that it is mentioned in the Mahabharata as an asylum where the Gods had undergone penances for attaining salvation. It wound its way from its origin in the Pothigai hills in the Western Ghats and flowed to merge with the ocean in the Gulf of Mannar.’

I could not avoid repeating the last paragraph from the last post for the sake of keeping the continuity.

But I have expressed my desire to some friends that the richness of the native literature should be spread beyond the boundaries of its origin. Though the lyrical quality cannot be captured it will help in understanding the richness of thought and culture. Authentic translations should be available and I am sure there are enough scholars to do that now. It will be a great contribution in creating awareness among the non native population and as a legacy to posterity. The great writers and thinkers of the twentieth century though they wrote in their native language, their works were available to a large audience and spread beyond the boundaries of the country of origin because of the translations.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A DISTANT DREAM




A DISTANT DREAM

‘If wishes were horses then beggars would be kings’, I do not need a horse, neither am I a beggar, nor do I want to be a king. My wish is very simple but I know it can never be fulfilled. The simpler the wish the tougher it becomes.

I have always wanted to live in a small cottage beside a stream with the hills in the background and the lush green paddy fields in front and as the gentle breeze blew across, causing ripples on the sheet of water I would watch the paddy dance, a slow waltz. I would read ‘The Solitary Reaper’ and listen to the song of the lonely reaper waft across the fields. I would wake up to the morning sun just peeping out from the hills and the chirping of the birds on the trees in my backyard and then the milkman would arrive with the milk, fresh and undiluted straight from the udder. Then in the garden with a steaming cup of coffee on my rocking chair breathing in the freshness of the morning and then off on my morning walk to the village nearby being greeted by friendly faces. The unpaved street cleaned and sprinkled with cow dung mixed water with kolams in front of each house as if reminding one that the street was the canvas on which every house let their creativity flow. The only mode of transport, the bus would make its visit twice a day to keep you in touch with the outside world. The newspaper at least two days late ensured that you were always behind what was happening out there, not that one was really bothered about being out of sync.

You may wonder whether I am in a time warp. Does such a world exist? I woke up to the reality that this was a dream, a distant dream and would remain as such. But I remember that such a world did exist in my childhood not as a dream but as a reality. It is not that I was born and bred up there but every time I went to my native village during the school vacations I always returned with these images and may be these are recurring as dreams now. The first initial of my name is the name of my village and the second my father’s name. I never dropped using the first name as it tied me to my roots and an identity that I still treasure.  

Gopalasamudram was a quaint little village those days though now it is no longer so. It was a panchayat in the district of Tirunelveli, in those days unspoilt by the intrusions of city life. There was one long street, where everyone knew everyone else. The street was bound by the Siva temple at the eastern end and a Vishnu temple at the western end. The entry in to street was right in the centre literally splitting it in to the west side and the east side. On the northern side flowed the Thambirabarani river. One had to cross a small bridge over a canal which was called as the vaykaal of the main river before climbing over a mound to reach the river bank. The river was ever flowing and the water was crystal clear, one could see the bed of the river and the fishes. The river derived its name from the fact that it was said to contain copper. Though there have been various interpretations for its name, there was a sanctity attributed to it as it was believed to be as old as the puranas and epics. One had to travel by a bullock cart to reach the village from the nearest bus stop which was two miles away. I always enjoyed the holidays, playing with the others my age and older, below the trees. My grandfather spent his life there and I am sure my father would have wanted to go back and settle there. If you ask me whether I want do it, the answer is that it is not possible. I can dream but I also realise that I cannot now do without all the comforts, if that is what we can call it. We have been caught up in vortex of wants and wanting more and more. When I did get an opportunity to visit my native place I found that two distinct changes had taken place. One, the village was no longer a village but a small town by itself and the other a dilapidated village inhabited by old and mentally unstable elders because the succeeding generations had moved away to seek a new life to the cities and across the seas in keeping with the changing times. The remaining still held on to their past realities which had now become a dream.

I am not at all comparing the past with the present. I can only say that life was simple and the wants were fewer and it suited that generation. With the progressive evolution of the human kind, the succeeding generation’s wants have increased and life has become more complex. That is why we would like ‘If wishes were horses beggars would be kings’ to come true. Of course we are not satisfied with only horses and we want to be kings. Nothing wrong with that, for we have expanded the boundaries of our knowledge and may be we are in a better state of understanding of the working of this world. We have built our lives on Liberty Equality and Fraternity, but the quest for power and dominance still rules.

But I still dream for that is all I can do now. I know it will remain as a dream. I speak for my self only for I still ache for the simplicity and innocence that appears to have been lost somewhere down the line.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

IF

IF

A few days ago I received a mail from a friend which read “A two letter word in English has more meanings than any other two letter word and that is ‘up’. It is listed in the dictionary as an adverb, preposition, adjective, verb or a noun”. I enjoyed reading the paragraph with all the usages of ‘up’ incorporated in it. It set me searching for words that had great significance and impact on our lives. In the process I narrowed my search down to three words – a single letter word, another two letter word and a three letter word – ‘I’, ‘If’ and ‘God’. While we have always talked about the first and the third which represent the ego and the all encompassing, we have to recognize the role played by ‘If’ in the conduct of our lives.

For a long time I held the view point that the root cause of misery in our life is the word ‘If’. A majority of us spend our time thinking about the choices we have made in life and how things could have been different ‘if’ we had chosen otherwise. There are certain choices we have made because they were within our power to do so. These are mostly centered round marriage, love life, studies, career etc. Things could have been different and may be I would have led a better life than my present state. I am not happy, I feel miserable. I am helpless when I start questioning my origins and why I was not born under more favorable circumstances. I question God and blame him for all the misery that I am undergoing now. Of course there are no answers, when someone comes along and says it is due to my Karma and I am atoning for my sins in a previous birth. All the same I am miserable. Most of the time, we end up blaming extraneous reasons for our mistakes and retreat into a shell of self pity. In all this, ‘if’ is a post mortem of our past and dissatisfaction with the present reality.

Since then I have realized that I had been unfair to the word ‘If’. This is a word that is a philosophy by itself. I thought that ‘if’ I am in a position to accept the present state of existence than I have been successful in erasing out all negative effects of my past actions. So here ‘if’ lays down a condition to help us towards acceptance so that we move on.

I remembered a poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling which I had read during my school days. Though I did remember a few lines I had to do some search for the whole poem. I am reproducing only the first stanza and the last four lines here –

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating
 
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
-         - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - -
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

This perhaps is one of the most inspirational and motivational poems to have been written. It was written by Kipling to his son. May be a hundred years have passed since then but the message is eternal. Here ‘if’ lays down the path to a greater understanding and perhaps a way towards achieving the goals we have set for ourselves. Like Kipling says in the last two lines – “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And- which is more- you’ll be a Man my son”.  As per Khushwant Singh,  Kipling's If is "the essence of the message of The Gita in English.

When I read Kipling’s poem again after so many years I was also reminded of John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’.

  - - - - - - - - - - --
 Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Here one realises that this also talks about all the conditions to make the world a better place to live. ‘If’ all this can happen we can have heaven on earth.

When I had remarked that -‘if’ is the root cause of all the misery in this world, my friend replied “The word ‘if’ is an embodiment of pure atheism. Creating certainty is in our hand. Anxiety about future, punctuated by the word "if" is pure atheism, according to Mahatma Gandhi”. I had to take his word, for I have not read Mahatma Gandhi.

While I understand anxiety, I cannot accept that creating certainty is in our hands. Also that ‘if’ is pure atheism. I am sure some of my readers will have their viewpoints on this, which they can share on this space.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

WHY I BLOG – WISHING EVERYONE A HAPPY NEW YEAR

HY I BLOG – WISHING EVERYONE A HAPPY NEW YEAR

As the year 2013 ends, I wish all the readers of my blog A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR and wish that 2014 fulfils all the hopes we have nurtured and our goals achieved. For me personally this will be the start of a new year of blogging and I hope that I shall be able to explore, share and sustain your interest in what I write. It is not a selfish motive, for it is you out there, who have given me the encouragement and an opportunity to understand myself better. Your comments and active participation in the discussions on my posts have helped me evolve as a better writer. I am ever grateful for this, for I have discovered a joy in being able to write. When you blog you choose to share what you write in a space you feel is your own but something that you would like everyone to see. In that sense it is on the public domain and I have learnt a few lessons on the way. We may choose to write on anything we want, but ultimately it should connect with the reader. I learnt a lesson during the early stages of my blogging life. The first was from my daughter, who said that I write well but she is unable to comprehend what I write. The other was from a respected senior colleague who said nearly the same thing, but added that my writings were philosophical excursions that many may not connect with. I realised that I had indeed been languishing within myself and recording them there.

We have our own take on various issues that we like to write about. One has to remember that this is a personal opinion put up on the blog and comments from the readers will always be there. These should be looked at as the different opinions that exist. There is no question of a correct opinion, as these are always subjective, but we do learn a lot and realise that there are contrarian ways of looking at things. One thing I have consciously avoided is being judgemental or making sweeping statements. This is also a forum where the reader is heard.

A ‘blog’ is a combination of ‘Web’ and ‘Log’. In short it is a log of thoughts and writing posted publicly on the World Wide Web. It is not a diary or a book, for a diary is used to record your personal thoughts and a book is a long term project laid out and developed over a period time.
For me personally it has been a space to immediately transfer my thoughts on. The faster I do it, the more truthful I am to what my thoughts are. Of course it undergoes its share of editing to ensure that the grammar and spellings are in order and a relook at it to ensure that sensibilities of my readers are not hurt. For instance my post ‘A Walk in the Rain’ was written soon after I had really experienced the exhilaration on my evening walk along the beach. My post on ‘A conversation with my beard’ came naturally as I sat in front of my computer in the night wanting to write something and as I stroked my beard as is my usual habit. I found that these posts connected more easily with my readers as they could relate it with there own experiences  whether it be the sheer joy of living or looking at events happening around them. I have consciously avoided posts on political and financial topics for I am not really interested in them after having spent a major part of my life in their midst. I guess that there is a different forum for all this and ultimately I am not a journalist.

I have also found that it is important to have a proper heading for each post on your blog, for apart from the readers in your friends circle and other related ones, there is a huge audience out there who make searches through the net on topics they are interested in. I found that my posts on art, book reviews or on literary and philosophical personalities still continue to have page views long after I had posted them. I am saying this, because I acknowledge that I have found it important to have more and more people read what I write, for this is what motivates me to continue exploring and refining my way of looking at things. I also admit that I like it when people like what I write.

So let me thank you for making me richer as a human being who is able to understand and empathise with people out there. That is the truth and it is not vanity when I say that.