As Good As It Gets

The greyest area of my thinking must have to do with purpose.  That is why, I would like you to believe, I write. A closer look might reveal the denial of mortality, the desire for approval and acknowledgement or the need to hear myself speak. At the end of the day, I know that I write to keep a record, as close as possible to the truth of my being, of my extraordinary life, an extra-ordinariness that has nothing to do with me – but rather the extra-ordinariness that is reflected back by all that surrounds me, the extra-ordinariness which some claim is nothing but a projection of my mind. Tonight I write about who I have become, without judging how or why. Tomorrow I celebrate my treadmill marathon. This is as good as it gets. No jokes.

ship of theseus
Boat on Godavari

During my teens, I used to write a lot of poetry. Books full of it. Much of it was mechanical emulation of the romantics and the avant garde, right down to multi-layered classical allusions and synesthetic mimicry. Where I ran out of source material, I invented it, sometimes masterfully. When I read my adolescent notebooks today, I wonder how, more than why, I indulged in such juvenile academic calisthenics. Yet, there was a strangely refreshing spontaneity and tension about it, which now visits me rarely - like a new budget airline setting up shop. Of course, I am also able to see how I was exploring the power of writing, how I was trying to seek and strengthen my own voice. From another perspective, also that of writing, it is a record of my evolution, an essential and perhaps private chapter of my incredible journey. If I have to seek a parallel, however, it would have to be that of painkillers.

I was barren but aware of a truth within that I had no access to, and I was trying to use all that I encountered to try and divine that well, similar to how the intensity of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law soap operas help cope with the vapid selfishness of the small world outside us. I have grown since then, as only a novice can claim, in my understanding of the art, the craft, and my content. Yet, the moments that would earlier have translated themselves into verse began to be spent more and more in silent wonder and thankful prayer. With time, and personal accomplishment, I began to shed what I considered baggage, to let go of the need to fit in and feel a part of. For a good part of my life, I became content with just being in the presence of the mystery of life. The artist in me, one could say, learned to see, and in sight, turned into a monk.


With contemplation, I came face to face with my hypocrisy, and the truth of my circumstances. I realized that not only have I summoned every storm, but that the larger crises that so concerned me were intrinsically outcomes of my choices, of grasping and repulsion, of keenness and withholding. I saw then that I had lost myself, like I lost you long before I knew I did. The conflict was no longer between action and inaction, being and nothingness, but between the rage at the amazing persistence of delusion and the need to expiate slander and right perceived wrongs. I smiled at those who professed non-judgment and stayed up nights wondering if they might be right. Rage and suffering tend to balance themselves out, and like moonbeams on muddy water, I came to a point where I began to see that the greatest debt I had to repay was to life itself, not to society, not even to my mother and father, since society or my parents are but manifestations of life. To concern one’s self with compassion and fairness begins and ends with respecting, nurturing, repairing, and redefining the ship in which my true self sails. This ship, my being, can have no ego, can perceive no duality, since it is nothing but a reiteration of millions of ships that have sailed before me, nothing but source material for millions of ships yet to sail.

This insight helped me temper my militant asceticism and once again, very gradually, accept my place in my world, to be able to see my environment as an extension of my self, and to embrace and love my being. Like many who have sailed before me, I was necessarily plagued by the apparent conflict between physical-material welfare and well-being and the need for asceticism. I had to ponder on the professed and fuzzy contiguity between contentment and abundance, much like the hotly debated poverty line in India.  It is as if the pursuit of pleasure, enjoyment, status and wealth are incompatible with the pursuit of, let us say liberation, truth, enlightenment. I saw myself as an independent clause, instead of a phrase in a song without beginning or end.

The trick, if one can call moksha that, lies in harmony, and that is the goal of all being. This quest for harmony is what I attempt to explore, understand and see through my writing. Much of this quest might seem like blind men describing an elephant, like selling soul, like getting stuck between a rock and a hard place. The springboard to true knowledge is being able to see that one is deluded, that the only way out of conflict is through it, that earthly desires are enlightenment. And the beauty of this insight is that it is but the first step.

[This post is a tribute to the work of Anand Gandhi and his film Ship of Theseus, experiencing which has given me the courage to embark on writing about writing. If you haven't seen the film yet, please do so at the earliest.]

12 comments:

  1. I do not know what to write in the comment. Just that it is good to have a peek at your trials and tribulations! The struggles, so many of them, I see within me daily as well. And unlike you, there is still so much more left to conquer.

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    1. Thanks, Rachna. The trick is to learn from the past and use it to deal with the present in order to build the future one dreams of.

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  2. I read so many pieces...like you experienced Ship of Theseus in a remarkable personal way, I try to experience your writing to make sense of of my journey; trying to cull out how what you write tell me where I am, this moment. And perhaps the starkest of all, a misty realization: the greatest debt I have is to life itself for I am myself the Ship of Theseus of the million ships that have sailed before me. This understanding will take a ton of time.

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    1. Thanks, Bhavana. We are but the collective expression of all that has gone before us, and our journeys are creating all that there will be. Sometimes, I wonder if we are not programmed to switch over to self destruct just as we reach the pinnacle of what we call civilization.

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  3. Hmm! I hear you Subho and I can mistily see how that process of struggling for self-realization can be. But only mistily - or even foggily. I have always been content with the every day small pleasures and the joy they bring me. Never had a thought about any separate spiritual well-being as opposed to material well-being. That, probably, is what separates a bovine being from an aspirant for enlightenment.

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    1. Suresh, material well-being is essential to survival and progress, even spiritually. Our desires are really guided by our survival instinct. If we do not take care of the urge to be and become, we are dishonoring life itself. Moreover, the complex web of cause and effect that we are part of demands that we work our way through our desires. They help us settle accounts and be done with things. My two cents. :)

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  4. Ahh too heavy for me to assimilate... may be I should watch the Ship of Theseus and give you a visit later :-/

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    1. Thanks, Anunoy. Will be looking out.

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  5. Very contemplative writing. I am sure many of us go through this phase of life searching for meanings to it.

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    1. Hey, Bushra, nice to see you here. Glad this post made you think differently about things. Hope you keep coming back.

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  6. Subho, the post resonates with all the though tribulations that I have in my daily life! Hope you are successful in achieving your Mokhsha and derive the harmony that you so desire:)

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    1. THank you so much, Ishita. I hope it also made you feel like watching the film again. It is out on DVD now.

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