Thursday, May 28, 2015

BOOK REVIEW : More than a life – SADHGURU by Arundhathi Subramaniam


BOOK REVIEW : More than a life – SADHGURU by Arundhathi Subramaniam
He baffles me and continues to do so. He is a mystic but still a mystery. He is referred to as Sadhguru. In his own words “When someone comes from their scholarship, they are referred to in different ways. If someone comes from an inner experience, they are referred to as Sadhguru. The word “Sadhguru” is not a title. It is a description. Sadhguru means “uneducated Guru.” I am almost hundred percent spiritually uneducated. I don’t know any scriptures, I have not read the Vedas and I didn’t bother to read the Bhagavad Gita. I come only from my inner experience and the only thing I know for sure is this piece of life from its origin to its ultimate.”
For many of us brought up on a diet of the archetypal saffron clad sloka chanting Gurus, Jaggi Vasudev remains an enigma – the jeans clad motorcyclist mystic, the snake handling charmer, a fakir dressed in long flowing robes, a turban on his head, an overgrown white beard or a modern day Moses.
All this aside, he is a charmer. He seems to have the answers to all the questions thrown at him by the media and the likes of Barkha Dutt or the retorts of die-hard atheists like Javed Akhtar. What captivates is his erudition and his slightly nasal but deep voice which holds the listeners attention. Whether I believe all that he says or not, I like to listen to him.  
Arundhathi Subramaniam in her brilliant Introduction to ‘More than a life – SADHGURU’ says that “the book is an attempt to share some of that sense of wonder that these years of knowing Sadhguru have been about. More fundamentally it is an attempt to tell the story of an exceptional man.”
The blurb on the back cover says ‘This is the extraordinary story of Jaggi Vasudev or Sadhguru – a young agnostic who turned yogi, a wild motorcyclist who turned mystic, a skeptic, who turned spiritual guide. It seeks to recreate the life journey of a man who combines rationality with mysticism, irreverence with compassion and deep self- knowledge with a contagious love of life. Pulsating with his razor-sharp intelligence and modern-day vocabulary, the book empowers you to explore your spiritual self and could well change your life’.
Arundhathi says that her book is a subjective account of one man’s life journey – or more accurately, life journeys and is based on conversations with the Sadhguru and with those acquainted with him, as well as archival material from the Isha Yoga Centre at Coimbatore. Herself a skeptic she says “Gurus didn’t happen to us urban women. Psychotherapists happened to us. Books and conversations happened to us Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard and Krishnamurti spouting friends happened to us. Gurus belonged to another era – a simpler world where there were simpler divides between the leader and the led. The only guru I could envisage was the sage in a B-grade Indian mythological movie with a candyflos beard and an air of constipated benignity.” Strong words one would agree, but that was all before she met with the Sadguru.
It was in 1997 that she says something decisive happened in her life, she felt she was dying, nothing physical or psychological or depression. In short, one can decipher it is that strange feeling of impermanence of one’s own existence in this world. I may equate it with Sartre’s ‘Nausea’. She says “This strange encounter with death had brought with it an unambiguous picture of what really counted.” She became seeker for she did not want the comfortable uncertainty of the committed agnostic; she wanted the clarity of one who knew. After a prolonged experimentation with various methods and yoga, she came to the conclusion that the answers if any, were to be found within oneself. Then in May 2004 she attended a talk by someone called Sadhguru. That perhaps was the starting point for this book – a way of understanding who this man was and what was it that he conveyed. A skeptic in the beginning, one gets a feeling of a slow but a steady transformation into a believer.
This book is a fascinating journey of a man born Jagdish Vasudev to a Sadhguru. One may or may not believe all that is written in the book about the life of Jaggi Vasudev especially where he talks of his various previous births and the quest to establish the Dhyanalinga, which reaches fruition only in this birth. I am a skeptic, but I also want to believe. I have not been able to grasp the significance of the Dhyanalinga being made up of pure energy and the processes involved in establishing it.
After listening to his various conversations I cannot but agree with Arundhathi when she says “What has always fascinated me about Sadhguru is his breathtaking sweep of knowledge about varied aspects of life and the effortless manner in which he seems to garner it.”
It is not my aim to put down here the life story of Jaggi Vasudev, it is done in a riveting manner by Arundhathi. I found the book engrossing felt totally involved reading it. But I would like to quote some portions from the book here which I found illuminating and of significance to our own questions.
“The mystic is just someone who has realized what is there. Others don’t because they’re too self-engrossed to pay any attention to life”
“Liberation is not my idea; it is the fundamental longing in every form of human life.”
“Destiny is hundred percent your creation. Even now that is so. It is just that you are creating it unconsciously.”
“Self-Realization is less about getting somewhere than about realizing there is nowhere to go. It entails not an acquisition of knowledge, but an unlearning of received wisdom. What was limited knowing has become boundless unknowing. That’s wonderful enough for me.”
As a conclusion I quote Arundhathi once again “I remember what I wrote in my first article on him five years ago: ‘Let’s say we disbelieve the whole story about his yogic mastery and enlightenment. We’re still left with an interesting deal. There’s brazing wit, a refreshing lack of piety … a razor sharp intelligence … a contemporary vocabulary, the teaching of a meditation process that requires no faith, only committed practice. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev wears the air of a man who’s figured out how to lead a life of sanity. Perhaps that is enough?’
 About the Author
Arundhathi Subramaniam is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Where I Live: New and Selected Poems. She has written a prose work, The Book of Buddha, and co-edited an anthology of contemporary Indian love poetry in English, Confronting Love. She describes herself as a wondering, protesting, but committed Isha yoga practitioner and perhaps more of a devotee than she lets on.

Poet Arundhathi Subramaniam on Saturday won the inaugural Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry for her work When God is a Traveller. – THE HINDU  January 25, 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015

FINDING NEEMA – by JULIET REYNOLDS - BOOK REVIEW AUTISM




FINDING NEEMA – by JULIET REYNOLDS - BOOK REVIEW
AUTISM
On my walks on the seashore I have come across challenged children being escorted by their parents or caretakers for an outing on the beach. I have seen a father and son running alongside. The son, a handsome young f ellow taller than his father, was obviously autistic. But what attracted me to them was the care and love for the son that seemed apparent on the father’s face. Often I have wondered as to the travails that parents of such challenged children have to face, the sacrifices that they have to make in the process of ensuring that their child is brought up in the best possible manner within the limitations imposed. I have also tried to place myself in the position of the autistic child and what the world means to him. There is a passage in my book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ which I take the liberty of quoting here – “That night I had a dream. I was a young boy on the beach, holding my father’s hand lost in my own world. The people who passed by, looked at me strangely. I wanted to talk to them, but they moved away. I did say something but they seemed not to understand what I was trying to tell them. The gentle pressure of my father’s hand comforted me.” That, I agree really cannot give the actual picture. But that’s how I felt. Of course subsequently I read somewhere that ‘People with autism have said that the world, to them, is a mass of people, places and events which they struggle to make sense of, and which can cause them considerable anxiety.’

Ever since, I have tried to read about autism, but these were all technical, describing the disorder and the various methods and avenues available for dealing with this condition. I was on the lookout for a book which would give hands on experience in dealing with it. That is when I chanced upon ‘Finding Neema’ by Juliet Reynolds, on the recommendation of a friend.

To place the book in the right perspective it would be necessary to reproduce here the blurb that appears on the back cover –

“Honest and unsentimental, yet funny and compassionate, Finding Neema is the story of an autistic boy from the eastern Himalayas, brought up by the author and her husband, a gifted Indian artist.

Set against the backdrop of the art world in India, and interwoven with reminiscences of her own unusual life and marriage, Juliet relates a compelling story: the couple’s unplanned adoption of Neema, son of their maid, Poonam; their endeavors to have his autism diagnosed and treated; and Neema’s emergence into adulthood as a valuable – though still dependent – human being. The book also delves into Neema’s background and tormented early life with his dysfunctional family, thereby touching upon some of the more lurid aspects of developing world poverty and introducing into the narrative an assorted cast of characters, some appealing and some appalling, but all of them colorful. Poonam’s story of abuse, self-destruction and faltering redemption – at once poignant and astounding – forms an important strand of the book and is related with special insight and frequent exasperation. Not only does the author tell a story of autism quite unlike the many already told, she also places it in an Indian and South Asian context.”

The author who is of a mixed Irish and English descent decided to make her life  in India and has settled down here and shuttles between Delhi and Dehradun where she has her home. She is a writer and art critic specializing in Indian art and cultural and political issues. An occasional film maker and married to the reputed Indian artist Anil Karanjai (who died in 2001), apart from writing in various publications in India and abroad, she has authored another book ‘In the eyes of a Rasika’ a book for the lay reader on the relationship between art and politics and art and science.

‘Finding Neema’ is a poignantly written book where the author sketches her unusual life in this country of her choice, blending with its various colors and smells, customs and practices and above all choosing to remain and live here. Neema forms a very important and integral part of her life and therefore though this book comes out as an autobiography, it is all about Neema. In a sense one comes to feel that in him Reynolds has found her calling for therein lies the authenticity of her life. There are portions where she has been brutally frank about her own feelings of desperation and helplessness in dealing with Neema’s condition and his growing up. There are times it appears, where she subconsciously feels whether the agony of it all was worth it all. But her fortitude and single minded purpose sees her through. One of the most poignant portions in the book is when her husband Anil passes away suddenly leaving her all alone.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Autistic people suffer from impairments from to severe and have difficulty with social communication, social interaction and social imagination. This of course does not mean that they lack imagination as many people with autism are very creative and may be, for example, accomplished artists, musicians or writers. As they are prone to cycles of progress and repression, it becomes all the more necessary for the parent or caretaker to be accustomed to such ups and downs.

‘Finding Neema’ gives us a caretaker’s account of bringing up an autistic child and in the process discovering that innate compassion lying deep inside  us and the inner strength for finding a true meaning in life. I am quoting portions from the last lines in the book, which serve to summarize the author’s feelings –

“Neema lives in his own special world – free of ideological angst, innocence of humanity’s follies, not fearing cataclysmic events – he restores to me a sense of optimism, keeps me anchored in a saner reality. I couldn’t have asked for more from a child of my own”


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

THANK GOD IT DID NOT HAPPEN


THANK GOD IT DID NOT HAPPEN

A calamity was averted today. Maybe I should have said a fatal accident was averted today. I would have been in the midst of what could have been a disaster.

Thank God the brakes held.

Thank God I saw it happen just in time, I was alert.

Thank God I wasn’t speeding.

Thank God I did not hit the bicycle or the cyclist. Not my mistake, he was on the right extreme side of the road and he skidded and fell just in the way of my car, both cycle and he.

Thank God I was wearing the seat belt. I could have had a whiplash.

Thank God no other car rammed into mine.

Thank God I was saved from all the messiness that accompanies such accidents – Police, Insurance, Hospitals, court case, injuries and etc. But perhaps the most calamitous would have been carrying the guilt of having been responsible for someone’s death, throughout my life.

You will notice I thanked God seven times today. I did not know who else to thank. I could not have thanked my wife, she had no role to play and ‘Thank God’ once again she was not there on the scene. I think that the first exclamation that comes to mind in such situations is ‘Thank God!’ whether you believe in him or not. This comes automatically and may not mean anything except affording you a release from all that pent up sensations that have built up within you in such situations. Try putting in some other word other than ‘God’ and see how you feel. A small exercise but would be worthwhile.

You may of course say “Bullshit man, what are you talking about? How does God come into any of this? It’s a freak incident, you were just plain lucky.”  But definitely when you want to express your disgust or disapproval of what is happening, the first exclamation that comes from your lips is “Oh shit!” and you will find more colorful four letter words to vent your anger or expressing extreme disapproval.

On second thoughts I found that I could have said ‘Thank my stars’. I have never owned a star so how could I thank them. Or you could have said to me ‘Thank your stars’ after listening to my escape from a very messy situation. There are billions, trillions and more of them out there, so which one should I thank. The only stars I know are the filmy kind, who of course may end up thanking their stars for having made them into a star. For all you know I could have averted the situation if I had gone through ‘What the stars foretell this week’.

On third thoughts I could have said ‘Oh Gosh!’ or ‘By Jove!’ exclamations I remembered hearing from the more Americanized amongst us, both exclamations of surprise. So to really comprehend what they meant I sought refuge in the Free Dictionary. Well I did learn that both are exclamations of surprise and excitement. But the really revealing part is that they are somehow related to God (may be minor Gods but all the same God). ‘Gosh’ is used to express surprise or emphasis, you can always say “Gosh she’s a stunner” or something like that. It is North American in origin and used as a euphemism for ‘God’. So I could have said “Thank Gosh” but somehow that does not sound as lyrical as ‘God’. Then I experimented with ‘Jove’ and it didn’t sound alright for the situation on hand. But again ‘God’ did not leave me as I found that ‘Jove’ is derived from the old Latin word ‘Jovis’ another name for Jupiter the king of the Greek Gods.

“Wish you Godspeed” I heard someone say when I started on my journey. He could have said “Wish you speed of light” or if he wanted me to take some more time “Wish you speed of sound”. But it was explained to me that it had nothing to do with speed, only expression of good wishes for my journey. I thought that maybe they had missed an ‘O’.

So why does God creep into all this again and again. May be I got too carried away. Now where did we (sorry that should have been I) start all this rambling. All because I felt relieved that nothing untoward happened. But the moral of all this rambling should not be lost and may be the entire episode can be condensed to two words ‘Drive Safely’, which of course is in your hands and hope the other guy on the road also does, which of course is in his. Well ultimately leave the rest to God. Rest in peace or rest in pieces.

My atheist friend said “What Crap! If at all you have to thank someone it should be the manufacturer of the car, for the brakes held and the driver of the car behind for not ramming into you. There is no such thing as a God, who had come down to save you. As for the cyclist it would have been enough to let out some choicest abuses at him for that would have given you immediate release. Who is this God anyway that you have to thank him?”

Then it came to the turn of the existentialist in my group of friends. He was silent for some time as if he was in some deep thought and ultimately opened his mouth “There is no sense in trying to analyze what happened or what would have happened or what will happen. What happened just happened, that’s what life is all about, nothing more nothing less. There was nothing before and there is nothing beyond. You will discover your authenticity when you stop driving your car and avoid such situations.”

The Agnostic butted in “I do not know whether it happened or did not happen for I was not there to witness it. I only have your word for it and I am skeptical of things that I have not seen.”

So you see it all started with that episode today. I never knew that ‘God’ would generate so much discussion on such a small happening. I wish I had never said ‘Thank God’. By the way the truth is I never said anything except stopping for a moment to ensure that the cyclist was not injured by the fall and once satisfied that he had not hurt himself, I drove away. I should confess that I was though shaken up for the moment.

 As a small exercise can you count the number of times that I have used the word ‘Happened’? I have not yet done that, for what I wrote so far just happened.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

CONFESSIONS OF AN AUTHOR



CONFESSIONS OF AN AUTHOR

Of late there has been a disquiet surrounding me. The atmosphere is stifling and I gasp for breath. It is not a physical ailment I know, for it was only last week that I had been to my physician and he certified that everything was fine. I have been staring at the computer for half the night and not a single word has found its way on this expanse of white in front. May be it’s the Writer’s Block once again. So I found the only way to break it is to write something even if it is incoherent. You are the best judge.  I had for long rejoiced and reveled in the achievement of having at last become a published author. It does not really matter that it was self-published. You see there was no real choice here. But I was happy that I had the book in my hand and it was even more gratifying that some people did buy and say nice things about it. Well I really liked what I had written for I had put my heart and soul while doing so. May be that was a mistake, for now when I delve deep into my being I find that I have nothing much to explore within. The process of writing was the process of living and that’s what I experienced with my first book. But then it dawned on me that I would have to continue writing if I had to continue living. That said, the question before me was ‘What do I write?’ That shows that I have come a long way in the two years from the time when I wrote ‘Why I write?’

Today I felt happy. I found my book on the coffee table in my relatives place. After all any visitor to her house would have at least out of curiosity picked it up and wondered what it was about or who the author was. I thanked her for having given it a visible place in her living room. I was sure she had not read it and I was not wrong. But I was happy it was not confined to a place along with the old newspapers.

A good friend of mine over the years, called up to tell me that she had at last purchased the book and finished it within two days. She said she liked it. But when I asked her to make a review and put it up on the site, she had only this to say “I have known you for such a long time and could connect with a lot of what is written there. But it is not possible for me to write a review for it could be a very biased view and therefore not an honest one.” I respected her view point and did not pursue, but still I could not understand her logic.

A debutant author and one who gets his work self-published looks for ways and means of getting people know about the book. Apart from the social media setups he looks to his friends and relations for support. He does not have the luxury of funds to have his book on the shelves of a bookstore or for promotional marketing campaigns. I have earlier moaned about getting more number of likes on the social media than the number of books sold. I could emotionally blackmail some of my friends into buying the book, but most of them have been shy of putting up reviews. As for relatives, the really close ones in the inner circle, I am sure that except for one or two none of them have read it though I have found a copy in each one of these households. When some asked for a copy, I just told them to go online and order for it if they were really serious. I said there are no freebies.

Sometime ago there was a large gathering of colleagues in Mumbai which I could not attend as I was preoccupied. They were gracious enough to hold a book launch and I did connect up through Skype with them when they did that and thanked them. It was a wonderful gesture on their part and everyone applauded. There were about eighty of them present. That was all. Nothing more happened. The few who had purchased it had done so earlier, of course by now you should have guessed how. 

Why all this castigation from my side? I have at last arrived at a sense of propriety. I have accepted that’s how it is. Each one of us is busy with our own problems, with our own priorities. Ever since, I have been at peace with myself. Now I do not talk about the book when I meet people, except when they ask me about it and I tell them where to get it.

Now to the question which I raised in the first paragraph – ‘What do I write?”. I found that I lack imagination. I am unable to disentangle myself from my immediate surroundings and the exploration of the meaning of life. Connecting with a large number of authors through social media especially, I have found that the predominant genres resorted to are Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Vampire and Murder mysteries. Writing Sci-Fi and Historical fiction requires tremendous amount of research and imagination which I found I was not capable of doing and as for the others I am still not tuned to them. I have concluded that I am better off writing immediate and direct experiences, for that is charting out a way forward for me to understand an individual’s place in this world. Well you may ask why publish the book at all, if it is all about understanding myself. I might as well write it down and keep it to myself and read it whenever I feel in the dumps. You are right to say so, but I also write for some people out there and that’s why. I also confess that it feels nice when you know you have connected on the emotional plane. May be it is also because I have started writing at a relatively older age and these are the thoughts that occupy my mind day in and day out. I have been discovering (like I said in my first book) that every person has a story to tell. May be I tell it for them as I see them, though of course there is a possibility that they may see it differently. I have stopped writing about a possible future, I write about present reality. But perhaps I shall one day write about how to change the present reality to a possible future.

Some of my friends and a few reviewers have asked me whether I planned a sequel to my first book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’. I could not answer them then but when I look at what I have written subsequently I might as well say yes. The thrill of living is in experiencing, the thrill of a journey is the journey itself. Life is one long journey to a destination. It might involve a series of journeys, a series of destinations to reach the final one. So that could be the answer to ‘What do I write?”

Ultimately I did find my calling. While the first book was an inner journey, the sequel would be a journey out into the external world where lay many lives that needed to be understood, for only then would my comprehension of what life and this world is about, would be complete. While the first one was all about introspection the second one is about being part of a larger process, a process of experiencing. No knowledge of life is complete without introspection and experiencing. This book is all about that. This is a book of ‘many lives’, simple ordinary lives, nothing dramatic or sensational. It is about people whom we have met sometime, somewhere; people who have left an imprint on our minds. It is about people of whom we have heard and cherished their memories. There is nothing like a better life, a life is a life and has to be lived within the constraints of each individual’s boundaries that define the circumstances of his birth, where he has had really no choice and the subsequent choices he makes to deal with the vagaries of a life that is indeterminate.