Saturday, 21 January 2017

9

[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here: http://a-weekend-in-chicago.blogspot.in/2017/01/1.html]

I still remember the affection with which I was woken up that Saturday morning. It was a kick to my backside that made me open my eyes, only to see Ptom mock scowling at me with a command: “Get up or you miss breakfast!”.

Breakfast? Already? It was Saturday morning for crying out loud and it certainly didn’t feel like I had been sleeping for that long. So I pulled myself up on my elbows rather unwillingly, rubbed my eyes as I looked around the room to see everyone else already up and about, and asked what the time was.

The Sun’s up, that’s what time it is.” said Sonali as she walked across the room.

(It was only around 7:30 AM! Lest anyone get the impression that I was slumbering beyond acceptable limits.)

This was something Sonali used to be particular about: waking up early. I had once asked her why. What was it that motivated her to get up early? Was it that she liked to go for an early morning walk or jog? Or did she do Yoga? Meditated? Studied? Her response was none of this. It was far simpler: “It’s beautiful in the mornings”, she said, “I like to see sunrises and enjoy the dawn.”.

Remarkable innocence, simplicity and straightforwardness in that response, isn’t there :)?

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I myself have never been too early a riser. Fell into the habit of reading or studying late early in life and that tendency still persists. Yet I have to accept the truth in what Sonali said. Whenever I do wake up early enough to see the sun rise and experience the silence, freshness and beauty that the dawn holds, I remember that conversation. I do recommend the experience to you if you haven’t had it earlier. Wake up early once in a while with no agenda, with no plan, but to just quietly enjoy that half an hour or so in which the Sun comes up. Just observe, experience and let the beauty, silence and freshness sink in. If this experience is deeper for you while taking a walk or jogging or doing Yoga, so be it. If you would prefer to just sit and observe then that’s fine too. But soak in the dawn as fully as you can. That’s the part I’m emphasizing. Fall silent for a moment and feel beautiful and new. It’s really quite something.

Then, let go. Let go of all that is unnecessarily occupying space in your mind. Yes, there are those who have genuine problems to deal with. There is a whole population out there who is not even guaranteed three square meals a day. Many don’t have a roof over their heads. Many who do live in conditions that are worse than how we would allow our bathrooms to be. In addition the whole wide world seems to have made it its business to hurt and humiliate them further, to show them what being treated with coldness and inhumanity really feels like. They have genuine pain and distress to confront. Many of us have not a worry in comparison. Compared to them, we are outright blessed with good fortune.

What is it that bothers us most of the times? He said this and she behaved like that and how could they be how they are? He has that and she has that too and I just have this? Why am I not more good looking than I am, or maybe: why is it that people can’t see just how good looking and smart I really am! Or perhaps: why are people so shallow that they can’t see the depth of heart I carry… What else? Why am I not more intelligent? Why don’t I get appreciated for my intelligence? Why am I here and not there?

This level of junk deserves simply this: Locate it in your mind, mark it, right click, move to trash. Then, empty trash. Be done with it. People are who they are and you are who you are. As long as you have your chin up and are giving it your best, it’s all good. You’ll likely win some and lose some. That’s just how it goes. Smile through it. Be happy.

You want to forgive and stay connected? Fine. You are ok with forgiving but not with staying connected? Fine. You would prefer that you neither forgive nor have anything to do with some? Fine. It’s really your choice to make. Make it. But offload all the negative emotions. Make your inner real estate more expensive than any out there. Space is limited. Resolve: Thou shalt not fill it with junk. Thou shalt fill it with beauty and benediction instead. It’s your choice. Make it.

And once you are done forgiving (or not) others reflect for a moment on your own life, times when you may have brought pain to others, acts for which you ought to be seeking forgiveness. See if you can reach out to such people, reconnect and seek their forgiveness. See if the past can be let go and friendships renewed. If yes, good. If not, then accept that eventuality gracefully. Learn your lessons and resolve to never repeat your mistakes again. Then that's it. Move forward. Move forward each day with a purer intent and character than before. Live a life of some caliber, some standard. You have all the right and opportunity to express the pinnacle of humanity, nay, divinity itself, through you. Do it.

As I said, let go. Soak in the dawn.

Am I saying that you and I don’t have challenges to face? That all is hunky dory? No. I’m fully aware of all the fights that need to be fought. There is gender inequality, persisting elements of racism, religious conflicts, caste oppression and conflict, poverty, excessive patriarchy in some places and maybe its contrasting scenario in others, workplace harassments and exploitations, limited opportunities, corruption. These are all real challenges and the last thing I would suggest to anyone is that they don’t meet them head on. I fight my fights every day as well and go through my share of frustrating moments and heartburns.

But think: What’s a better strategy? Face all these challenges while being burdened down and feeling depressed and negative or face them with a clear mind, sharp intellect and a firm attitude?

I don’t think what I’m pointing out is anything new. Isn’t this what Krishna also teaches Arjun in the Gita? Be centred within, then fight.

Experiencing a dawn silently and fully is one way to become silent and feel renewed. Then with a clear and calm mind, plan the day out. Meet its challenges with a firm resolve. Yet, try not to lose your centredness and smile through it all. Win or lose at the end of it all, whatever amount of joy you do have right now is what you have right now. Letting that go too wouldn’t make for sound economic sense, would it?
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Did I snore too much?”, I asked, since all three of us (Prosh, Lan and myself) had slept on the living room carpet. They just gave me a silent look that indicated that the answer to that question wouldn’t be a pleasant one but Ptom didn’t hold back:

Like an elephant with sinus!”.

Honest chap, he. Huh.

Anyway, what’s a few snores between friends? So let’s not dwell on that too much now.

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Ptom, as in Amartya Saha, was a senior of mine at IIT Bombay. We stayed in the same hostel and as you may have guessed based on almost everyone I have introduced you to so far I had gravitated to him and his small group of friends because of my interest in music. I was learning how to play the guitar at the time and these chaps were all about music. Amartya used to play the bass as well as the acoustic guitar. His sense of rhythm and groove was extraordinary and there were many an evening when he would be seen sitting outside his room and quietly strumming away. Then there was Zulfiquar Hyder Ali (we just called him Zulfi or Zulf), who wasn’t a fellow student at IIT Bombay but used to visit often. Hailing from Shillong he was evidence in person of the lore that music runs in the blood of people from the north east. A Master guitar player, he held the distinction of having played lead guitar for a legendary rock band from the north east called Blood and Thunder when he was just eighteen. A physicist by academic training, turned IT and software professional later in life, he had an elaborate repertoire of songs that he had mastered on the guitar. He used to often improvise as well and it used to be a great pleasure to listen to him. There was Shekhar, or just Freak Sheek, another non-student friend who was learning his ropes as a sound engineer at the time and I believe has now made it his full time profession. Ranjit Roy, or Usam, wasn’t a musician himself but was a great guy who used to love rock music tremendously. And of course, Prabhakar Kolli, who was a friend working in the middle east at the time and used to bring along cassette tapes as gifts whenever he visited. CDs and MP3 files hadn’t come around then and these tapes were gold for us.

It was a great group of guys to hang out with. I was younger than all of them but they absorbed me in their group quite nicely and I used to enjoy spending time with them. If there is one quality that I can pin down with this group of friends, it was non-pretentiousness. These were people who were frank, open and honest. They were living lives of genuine interest and had neither the time nor any inclination towards small mindedness of any sort. They kept it real.

There was also a sense of largeheartedness (or perhaps I should say what many of us would think of as largeheartedness; for them it was perhaps just the normal way to be). As an example, consider this: After finishing his M.S. in Environmental Science from Indiana University, Bloomington, Ptom took up a job in Chicago for a few years while Sonali worked on her PhD. Then after she had completed her doctoral program, he enrolled himself in a PhD program and earned himself the title of "Dr.". Can you see the level of maturity I am pointing at? And I doubt he even thought that he was being "mature" or "good" or "largehearted" or anything like that. I'm sure it was all just a normal course of events for him. He loved Sonali. They were happy. And that was that. Just normal life. Plain and simple.
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I decided to take my shower after breakfast and joined everyone in the kitchen after quickly freshening up. There was milk and orange juice to choose from along with bananas and toasted bread on which we spread honey, cheese or butter to our taste. There was also a box of cereal on the table for those who preferred some with their milk. We all lived lives that were fairly packed at the time and there hardly used to be time to cook ourselves more traditional Indian breakfasts. But we still kept it healthy and ensured a fair amount of variety by shuffling between different fruits, juices and types of cereal.

We dug in and discussed our plans for the rest of the day as we ate.

Sonali had to go to the university for a bit to attend to some experiments in her lab and the plan was to head to the festival after lunch. The rest of us decided to do some grocery shopping in the meanwhile and stock up for the weekend. So after breakfast and a round of chai, we all picked up a backpack each and stepped out. It was about ten in the morning so the weather was nice and warm. The Sun wasn’t high in the sky and bearing down with full intensity yet, so it was a pleasant walk as we made our way to Jim and Soo Jung’s organic food mart about a mile and a half from Ptom’s apartment.


(to be continued… Link)

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