The toil of Sisyphus

He climbed out of his makeshift bed, and with great difficulty rubbed his sleepy yet painful eyes. This was a routine he was more or less accustomed to. The thought of providing a cemented roof for his 5 year old and psychological security to his loving wife motivated his hands to splash cold water on his unrelenting eyes. It was 4 AM and he didn’t have the luxury of a relaxed morning routine to board the first bus to work. Hurriedly completing his morning drill, he steps out of his quarters only to find that the infamous desert winter had set in already. He covered his face with the tattered shawl, the only one which he could afford from his meager means of livelihood. Realizing that he was late by 5 minutes, he begins to jog to the bus stop which at 4.20 AM is a symbol of man’s steely will against the odds. Men and women, wearing shawls, torn pullovers and sweaters with gaping holes fighting everyday obstacles to work. Each had a story which revolved around debt, lack of education or escape from native tyranny. Fighting the winter chill, people board the first bus to the work site which is over-crowded almost as a rule than an exception. The hour long journey gives some of them an opportunity to catch up on lost sleep provided they could bear the cold winds blowing on their faces through the broken windows of the ride. Once they reach the destination, the migrant workers are welcomed with hot tea and bun which doubles up as the brunch for the day. Then begins the arduous part, lifting bricks, wood, cement and steel. Each worker is expected to put in 12 hours straight, often working against environmental and physiological impediments. The shift ends at the strike of electric horn which is made pleasant only because of what it implies – the end of the toil. Not long after the shift, the same bus arrives to carry the workers back to the city bus stop. He gets off the bus, wiping sweat from his brows. With almost a natural action he strides to the Indian tea stall at the end of the road. The hot tea was almost a constant companion through his journey in the alien land. Tea represented the experience of the peaceful scenes back home in his quiet village. He soothes his nerves with the cuppa and heads straight to his quarters. After a quick bath and a plain meal, he dropped into his makeshift bed. Happy and content that his month’s salary would contribute to the walls of his house in progress back home. This is the brief insight into the life of Sisyphus from Ramnad.

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Faltering and falling into infinity

The evening prayer call floated through the starry sky and gently filled up the East park. She was sitting on one of her favorite benches right opposite to the central fountains observing the scenes around her. A family of four had just entered the park, and the youngest of the lot jumped into the grass lawns while teasing her elder brother to join her. Maybe it was the way in which she gestured to him that she was reminded of similar scenes on the beach back home. Her mother used to tell how she tugged her dad’s khakhi trousers in an effort to make it all “sandy”. She could faintly remember how she used all the might of her little fingers to clutch the crease of his pants while he carefully guarded the little one from getting hurt. A rush of emotions filled her head and she had to focus on the fountain to regain her balance. It was all ironical to her – the whole process of life. The more she held on to thoughts, people, places and love the more it eluded her grip slipping away into the far corners of the universe. The elder brother lifted the little one up and trudged far away from their parents. Then she began to ponder on the whims and wishes of her own which seemed to pull her away in different directions. Yet, she clutched on to each one of them in the hope of making peace and showing her affection. Far from it, she was affected by serious bruises and some unrelenting scars that are a constant reminder to her futile plans of clutching and wailing. At this exact moment, she could spot the little one escaping her brother’s clutches and her parents’ frantic bid to return to them. The cute one in pink frock, who a while back was uncomfortably wrapped in her brothers arms now broke free and ran to the central fountain. First in slow paces, and then picking up speed as the cool splash of the fountain neared. Her feet began to grow restless, and the next thing she could feel was the cool air blowing across her face as she dashed towards the fountain. In the sense, it didn’t seem like running away from people, their plans and egoistic battles but running towards the only constant trickle of the fountain at the center. As she sprinted across the lawns, she could almost hear her own folks cautioning her about the stumbles which lay ahead. But this time, the little girl on the beach had let go of everything and running to the waves – the symbol of constant cycles in her life. She was free.

An evening by the stream

As he walked on the stone pathway, he could feel a sense of anticipation and nervousness combined. It gave a very weird feeling and he wasn’t sure if there was an apt word to describe it. Poets have tried, and so have playwrights but they have been able to vaguely describe this feeling as “love”. Maybe, the smiling saint of Assisi described it better, he thought. Again, he wasn’t sure if all the saints felt this way. The slow gurgles and swishes of the stream flowing nearby brought him back to the present. Rather, he was always in the present which made it all the more beautiful. Her face. He could witness every feeling of exhilaration and joy contained in that lovely index of her heart. He could feel her presence in him all the while, but when he met her in person it was a different world altogether. Her face made him realize that it was possible for the sheer brilliance of the universe to be emanating from one source. Her. He pulled her close to verify the truth of his intuition. And Voila, he could see the whole expanse of space and galaxies, feel the presence of a million nay, a billion souls. As the eyes locked, words stopped and so did interpretations and expectations. There was no thought. Only feeling. When the two embraced it was difficult not to feel the overwhelming sense of peace and oneness that prevailed. It was almost as tangible as the sweet fragrance of dewy rose petals on a misty morning. For thousands of years, poets and playwrights have tried in vain to describe this love. Indeed, it is the fool who discusses and relates while the lover dies and only love prevails.

What’s in a life?

Born in a good family, loving parents.
Schooled in one of the best institutions, and the same applies to college as well. (Well, its subjective really!)
Work towards a good (Great) career.
Start a family.
Buy a house.
Raise good kids.
Become old.
Retire, Invest and be nice to the visiting children and grandchildren.
Die.

On close analysis, this would seem minimalist. But end of the day these things matter, maybe only these things. If one were really lucky one would encounter questions like “What is life? Who am I?”. Although the second question is never on the same plane as the first. It is much more rare and on a higher pedestal. Only those who had moments of rare suffrage/boredom would be led to the “Who am I”. What is so special about this question?

For starters, it destroys the belief that one is the physical form, which one has assumed to be in the whole scheme of things. It gives rise to the possibility of  an unknown. Now, this is ridiculously simple and does not cost any money. It is the simplest scientific experiment possible. When you contrast this approach to building neutrino labs for understanding the evolution of matter, the intention is the same. Genuine curiosity for the truth. However, it is not so easy because it would involve shaking the very basic idea of yourself.

You would probably become mad wouldn’t you? It is laughable really. We spend money on intoxicating ourselves to lose the idea of who we are. Breaking free from inhibitions. But we would never ever do this process of enquiry. Self enquiry opens up the possibility of embracing a higher and infinitely vast field of existence rather than limiting it to the physical form. But to do so, existence should be freed from the possession of this idea that limits it to the physical form. How to do this? By observing this “idea of I” changing into various shapes and forms. It is not easy to spot the change, because it is very rapid. The power of attention should be higher than the power of the idea taking shape. It is stupid really. Rather it is a wonder how much free reign that “we” have provided to this “I”. The I is inertia. It is accustomed to looking at the external world. Hence it would start reacting in a hyper-tension mode if we tried to make it look inward, upon itself. Its fun actually. But we would never take to this process till the “idea of I” beats itself to the ground, weaving a sob story around its life. Only if the going is bad can the attention be turned inward. As long as the going is good, the idea of I has its play things – “the world and others”. Once in a while, it does help to pause and ask.

What is life?

Maybe it would lead to self enquiry, maybe not. What’s the harm in trying?

Familiar faces – The End.

The clinking of the temple bells could be heard at the distant. He usually preferred this spot for drinking the experience through his senses.

The  colourful half sarees dancing alongside brisk colored cotton shirts, and every now and then a white & gold angavasthram. The smell of the “fried nei”  from the karpagamabal mess wafting through the east car street interrupted by the strange flavoured cotton candy smell sold by the hawkers. It was not exactly peaceful with the loud honks of the vehicles struggling to get past the street while each vehicle stopped for 2 seconds before the gopuram to communicate to Iswaran using the famous hand and chin signal. It was an experience – the Mylai Kapaleecharar koil. He couldn’t help but secretly admire this whole setting, while realizing the feeling that he was a thair sadham at heart no matter how many “cool” masks he wears. Amidst this blissful scene, he could spot a familiar face walking from the temple tower towards the Rasi silks store. He almost waved a “hi”, but he was thankful for not doing it. It was only 10 seconds later he could see that person in a blue and green checked shirt walking along with her. He had seen his face in one of the whatsapp conversations with his close friend, “The US maplai”. It was at this exact moment, she turned her head towards the spot where he was standing. She gave a blank expression as though she was staring into an abyss. He didn’t flinch, instead all he could see was the pair of eyes that he had once loved. Words didn’t matter.

A scene of memories rushed to her consciousness. Familiar scenes. Scarily real like the college stores, canteen, yellow colored buses, dim-light coffee shops and midnight phone calls. She almost teared up. It was not out of any love for the (now) stranger standing opposite to the temple, but this was simply overwhelming. She was always an emotional person too proud to show this side to him. She cursed herself for choosing this place, date and time. She felt awful but she didn’t know why. She had to be literally pulled out of this thought cloud by the familiar touch of her fiancée. It was only then she spotted that pretty face standing near that stranger of an ex. Clad in a parrot green saree, clearly much younger to her. She could not help but notice the eyes of that girl, there was an unworldly sparkle. A spark of “love, life and happiness” maybe she thought. She smiled to herself, “at least everyone is happy”. She felt betrayed. Maybe she would have been happier if she didn’t notice that pretty girl. She had almost entered the saree store and that was the last scene she could see. The stranger had a smile. She liked that smile more than she hated that sarcastic laugh.

There he was standing with his destiny beside him. She held his forearm tightly with her head nestled on his shoulder. His smile widened. Or maybe that was a laugh – it was really difficult to say from all that hustle of Mylapore.

Why should we take notice of the modern day Charvaka and VAma mArgis?

Somwhere in Dravidanaadu, 800 AD

“Show him, where is he? That holier than thou prick who pretends to have figured out life itself “, the coarse voice mixed with smell of toddy was too inconspicuous.

A band of Charvakas from Southern India, boisterous and belligerent, demanded an audience with the teacher of Vedanta. But they were not lucky for the advaitins did not entertain inebriated debates. Infuriated by this, Charvakas started hurling abuses and loudly criticised the guru who was seated, an inaudible distance from the mob. Looking at the commotion from the distant, the Acharya could guess the unwelcome visitors to be Charvakas or vAma Margis. The usually poise Acharya, was taken aback by this unruly behaviour and asked the advaitins to permit the mob for an interview with the Acharya.

Having granted the permission, the ones who worship the body and lived by ideals of sense-gratification rushed toward the ochre-clad sanyasi. The loudest one, who went by the name of Shkagata spoke to the Acharya thus.

“Oh Brahmin Sanyasi, thank you for allowing us an interview with lesser mortals like us (Laughter from the mob). You, who have never tasted the pleasures of the senses sit on a high pedestal demanding to restrain oneself and turn towards god. Pray tell us where and when is your God going to impart bad karma to us”

The Acharya who usually listened compassionately to arguments and counter-arguments, was in no mood to entertain the mob of Charvakas. He assumed the tone of one who was angered beyond control and spoke to them thus.

” We (Acharya uses a collective term since he was realized) have granted audience not to debate or discuss with you, but to warn you not to cross your limits of debauchery. Too often, it is our experience that drunkards and adulterers who go by the philosophy of senses, are slaves to sense-gratification incapable of debating with impersonality and logic. Neither direct nor indirect knowledge could appeal to the Charvakas or vAma Margis. Know thus, the lord does not differentiate and give you bad karma due to debauchery. It is your own perversion and attachment to the senses which will eventually destroy your bodies and minds in the long-run. Therefore, there is not one good which arises from debating with base philosophers such as yourselves. It is better for the communities to not take notice of your “philosophy” whereby your poison can be prevented from reaching our households and our communities. Go away now, or incur the wrath of the people assembled here”

The unruly mob was stunned by this treatment from the holy seer. They had plans of unleashing their adultery to the common public through acts of love making for all to see. For they knew the power of the senses was hard to be overcome except by seasoned yogis. Shocked and afraid of an impending thrashing they quickly retraced their steps shouting slogans against the philosophy of advaita and against “the fanatic” Sanatana Dharmis.

Somewhere in Parasuramakshetra, 2014 AD

The protesters were all wearing white t-shirts and jeans. The t-shirts painted with a picture of red lips, above which were the words “Kiss of love”. Several men and women, married and unmarried had converged at a place in modern day Kerala to show their solidarity against “moral policing” by a public act of kissing. Several brusque policemen were standing guard as a precaution to prevent “goons and ruffians” from attacking the peaceful and non-violent protests. Ironically enough, these events were happening in Sankara’s birth place.

Charvaka philosophy in a “harmless” form, was showing up its head in Kerala, followed by Delhi, Chennai and many other places. The damage was already done, Charvakas had achieved what they couldn’t a thousand years back – painting themselves as liberators at the risk of being victims of aggression from Vedantis. Of-course that is not to say that Sanatana Dharma now is in the hands of Sankara on the other end of the spectrum. Rather it is much worse, in the hands of unsophisticated brutes who do more harm to modern day Sanatana Dharma than really any benefit. By beating and causing physical harm, these brutes cause “moral” outrage thereby confirming the version of modern day Charvakas. It is now given that Charvakas cannot be ignored, lets see how they can be defeated.

No! I will not fight!

Madhusudhana! How could I think of using my bow against honourable men like Bhishmapithamaha and Dronacharya, even if it were for a retaliation leave alone offense. These men, I hold in very high regard for each is a soul noble beyond compare. Can the lust for land drive me to do such a thing? In the event of victory, can I ever imagine to celebrate pleasures of a kingly life after killing righteous men? Wealth acquired through this war will be cursed by the blood of pure men who were killed for an unjust cause. This does not make any sense to me now, and I am at a loss to understand if wining this war is really good for us. Would it not be better to let the sons of Dhritarashtra to win over us? That way I would be saved from the sin of killing my brothers.

Save me from this torment of choices, for my thinking is clouded by fear of making the wrong one. Either ways I cannot fathom this situation, it is beyond me! I surrender myself to you Janardhana, kindly instruct me on what is to be done in this terrible situation. I am sure the wealth of this whole world and lordship over the Devas would not soothe my heart with peace and calm. 

While Arjuna poured out his tormented heart to Sri Krsna, he could notice that his whole being was tortured by a strange sense of anxiety and panic. He could feel his back hurt and a slight chill through his limbs. He knew the source of his pain was beyond his body.

Help me tide over this anxiety that is sucking the life out of my senses. Fighting this war will not make it any better. I will not fight!

While saying this, he couldn’t stop his tears which gushed out of the eyes red with hurt and pain. Arjuna controlled himself from sobbing on his friend, and now teacher Krsna’s shoulders.

The Kurukshetra was now filled with silence – one that characterises the interval between two consecutive waves of the ocean. Silent yet expansive. Then the Lord in the form of the cowherd-charioteer wore that familiar yet charming smile while standing between a few hundred thousand men ready to kill each other. Sri Krsna who chided Arjuna earlier for his unexpected behaviour, now looked at him with compassion.