|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.]