Volume 10 : Issue 3

Published : Jul. - Sep. 2011

Group : And Life Goes On

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By Arun Babani

Rising And Setting

At 57, I ask myself today “what to put value on?” In life, I've continuously valued and then discarded the things and ideas I valued.

From the beginning, as a child I valued play. As I grew into teens I passionately valued my girl friend and the sexual encounters. Later I valued my new home and kept decorating and caring for it. Then the kid arrived and I found nothing more valuable than my little fellow. As he grew, I valued money; I had to keep his wallet flowing. Much later I put my entire value in finding a home and hearth for him. Now he is on his own and I find myself valuing my health and longevity perhaps for my grandchildren!

Nothing, that seems valuable today, ever stays valuable for long. A teenager values his shining motorbike, but by the time in his twenties, he eyes the neighbor's Ferrari. The girlfriend that smelt of spring begins to smell of fish soon after marriage. All these so called valuable experiences are the society's attempt to keep us going and living. Without these valuables life would surely be drudgery. All the same most of these valuables are temporary and fleeting. Before you realize, you have moved away from one value and replaced it with another juicier valuable.

By 50 your socio-cultural valuables become dim, they lose their shine. So you generally replace them with the otherworldly valuables. Markets smell? Come to Ashrams. Here you get a new 'powerful body odour'. Here you would learn to let go of your wealth along with your worries and catch a blissful glimpse into superconsciousness. Ten years on, with all the meditation, sadhana, practice, Samadhi, if you're lucky enough, the shine would go away even from the marble floorings of the Ashrams! The permanent pleasure you were in search of would sound phoney. That is the time you would find yourself wondering, like me today, what to put value on?

There, my friend seems absolutely NOTHING of value in life, beyond the small and simple everyday pleasures. The mundane drinking water can give you a very valuable kick, so can the ordinary walk by the promenade. Finally it is these valuables that stand with you and go with you. That does not mean that the things and the people you valued are bogus. No, but they stop being of value and importance to you sooner or later.

Whatever value we attach to various things, people and experiences are usually born out of our social conditionings. As we go along we keep replacing one valuable with the other, finally ending with the question of, what is truly, abidingly valuable? There appears no such thing of permanent value. All delicious food turns into garbage, doesn't it? Excitement of youth and boredom of old age are at a distance only of a few fast paced decades, a distance which sometimes may feel faster than the rising and setting of the sun! I trust UG's words-

“Fortunately you don't get anything from life.”

Work . . . Play. . . and Leisure. . .
Other Such Intersting Matters!

Human societies spend their lives on two dimensions. Work and Play. That is, duty and pleasure. Work usually falls under two heads: physical and mental. So society is divided in two types: Blue-collared or White-collared. Blue-collared are the manual workers and White –collared are the refined workers. Work as duty is a mandatory requirement for everybody living in society.

In the olden times work was simpler. Almost everybody worked with their own two hands, produced products, carried them to the market to sell and be paid. As societies grew and machines came on the scene the idea of work underwent a sea change. Industrialization in the previous century totally changed the way man worked and lived. He became smaller and smaller, while the machinery grew bigger and bigger. Like a cog in the wheel, man grew tiny, without any control on his products and cut-off from his surroundings. Work, which was worship till then came to be known as workload! Industrialization brought with itself new ideas of self in the form of ambition and success. Man's self-concept grew bigger and 'big' replaced 'good' (He's a big man).Since work is associated with man's identity it makes for a lot of meaning and passion to man. Man's first question to another is “What do you do?” meaning, what work do you do, how much are you worth? Man is known by his work.

On the other hand Play is the other polarity of life. Where the work is monotonous and heavy, play is spontaneous and light. Play in the olden times was simpler, with people spending their after hours in folktales, group singing and attending concerts and so on. Today, in the rising industrialized cities like Mumbai, play has attained a new avatar which is a heady mix of designer clothes, trendy jewelry, loud music, cocktails, credit cards, fast cars and traffic chaos. Play is associated with man's talents and hobbies. And so how a man plays depends much on his likes and dislikes. Unlike work, where such questions don't arise, in play, once colour and shades come into play mischief takes the front seat. Play, too, like work is either physical (blue-collared) or mental (white-collared). Each of these classes have their own ways to play and enjoy.

Work is supposed to be fulfilling particularly when it is acknowledged and appreciated by others. Play also has therapeutic qualities, and a good round of play rejuvenates the mind, body and soul. Then, apart from these two polarities, there's a third one-Leisure which is believed to be the foundation of all refinement and culture in man. Leisure comes from its root that is lazy. You are most creative when you laze around. Osho loved lazy people and said they are a nice lot, they don't bother with anybody and just sit or lie around the room doing their own thing!

Leisure is very potent space but the old proverb that says 'Idle mind, Devil's workshop' too has some sense in it. Even philosopher Plato had said something to that effect that man should not laze around too much. It has its dangers, but in normal regular dozes idleness can be energizing.

So work, play, leisure, added with sleep, are the four sections of each day, each life. Work helps us to earn, play sees us spend as leisure makes us learn. A proper balance in all the four sections means a well lived life. Often work seems to eat into the other spaces of play, leisure and sleep; or sometimes play seems to be heavier than work and leisure. Then one is a victim of what is now a well known disease 'Lifestyle problems'. A healthy mix of all four makes you healthy, wealthy and wise.

An Idiot’s Tale

Let us examine our situation. We human beings inhabit the planet earth. Simultaneously we also live in the universe. And above all we live and breathe, the phenomenon that keeps us going. This makes up our entire human situation. Now let us look separately at each of these situations, the world/society, the universe and the life that surrounds us and examine the kind of survival we are able to sustain, the quality of that survival and the price we go on paying for it.

The world we live in, the society that you and I are born into seems to be a heady mix of good and bad. Well, bad is not too bad. There is poverty, corruption, terror, but things go on inspite of all that. People are not too bad, traffic jams are not too bad, so also the pollution levels. We complain, we crib but we go on, onto some good moments as well. On the side of the good, things are good but not too good. Well, there is Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. But what the hell, only a handful of good souls in over 7 billion souls? Things are good but not too good. Marvels of technology, push button culture, but is that all we expect from good on earth?

The plain truth is that the world as we know it is an ordinary, average and superficial world, neither too bad nor too good, just an average and mundane society, with only an occasional spark of light that is quickly put aside for that everyday routine full of numb and dumb details. If you have ever walked on some busy street of any big city you must have noticed sad, poor and drab sights, with tired crowds rushing about in all directions. It is a depressing experience. The world, as the oldies swear, has gone to dogs. But where have all the Gods gone?

The next level is the universe we inhabit. The nature, the sky, the sea, the vegetable world. Here again the good and the bad persist, the positive and negative coexist. If there are bright stars in the universe, so are there black holes. If there are silent ponds, then there are flooded rivers. If there are enchanting waterfalls, then there are frightening volcanoes. The rules of nature also seem to be too barbaric for the so called human morality. Big fish eating small fish, big animals feeding raw on small and tender animals, the frightening snakes and dangerous dinosaurs. One cannot quite fathom the rationale of such creatures and their inherent necessity in the scheme of things. It doesn't look or feel like some grand creation made on the basis of positivity and excellence. It rather feels like an impaired and halfhearted attempt, neither perfect nor intelligible. Not too good, not too bad, an average, mediocre and ordinary universe it seems to be.

Proceeding to the third and the final level of our existence on earth, the life, the pure energy, the pure consciousness. Here again we find the same elements of not too good, not too bad. First of all, life as pure consciousness doesn't seem to bother or care about living beings. It is obvious, if one watches life one soon discovers that life as energy seems indifferent and aloof to everyday happenings in the world and universe. All the major and minor happenings seem to happen uncaused and have a randomness about them. Life doesn't seem to be touched by any of the events on earth. It seems independent of them. It goes about unconcerned as if it doesn't even realize or notice these events. The pure consciousness is totally above and beyond any happening in the world and the universe.

Another thing one notices is that the quality of life that is created in the world/universe/pure energy doesn't seem to be of great value. It is not too bad, not too good, an average, nondescript and almost an unintelligent entity. Scientists are now discovering an inherent defect in the genes and chromosomes of man, which makes for a helpless, handicapped and hollow human being, who can't change easily, can't make hard decisions and generally can't take care of himself and his fellow creatures. His own mind doesn't seem to be under his control, his habits die hard, and he is totally loveless and stressed out. Not too good, not too bad.

Now do you understand why we are generally bored and restless, why we need intoxicants to keep us going and why the world lives on hope for a Messiah? It is because our total situation is an average, mediocre and mundane situation with very little room for excellence and sense of wonder. All of us live ordinary, not too good, not too bad days and nights, with a few hiccups of pleasure now and then. It resembles a discussion I overheard one rainy evening, in a dingy Irani restaurant between four plumbers sipping hot glasses of tea on the next table, a heated and passionate discussion about drain pipes that get choked by the rain water! Irritatingly it went on and on for an entire evening. Such is life. No wonder Shakespeare found it to be a tale told by an idiot.

Missing Mother

Going down the narrow bylanes of memory… Going to Sindh Model High school… Our foundation… Our values… Such fine teachers we had…Jagatrai,who reached the school at Grant road from Ulhasnagar at 7 in the morning, our old and fragile geography teacher Kanaiyalal,who would make short poems from geography lessons so that we could easily remember them…I can still remember one of  them  by heart (Java, Sumatra, Bali, soni soni thali) implying that a lot of gold mines were found at these places! Then there was Kako Nathurmal…he carried a red cane and had named it Gaari kuaar… Kako Kitabanwaro who was a half bent old gentleman and carried a sack of almost 50 kilos of books on his shoulders… He not only sold books to us but did the binding as well and came all the way from Kalyan… Bhavnani Sir… the jovial guy… we would make him sing Sindhi songs in the class. The dignified Dharamdas… the Principal…he would smell of Afghan Snow cream! I got all bhav because my father Kirat Babani taught in the same school. Peons… Hari, Mohan would do the regular Ram-Ram, 'Sir jo putt'. The school bus and the telling of stories of films seen the previous evening…Eating papad bought at 10 paise from the seller. Even the bus driver was kind to me, he let me handle the steering at the Worli sea face… The slightly aged gent… Kako Toffeewaro… Deshpande Sir… the only Maharashtrian Drill teacher, who could speak broken Sindhi very well…Girls in white frocks and ponytails, speaking with hands on their lips… shy and hesitant…

We were innocent of what was to come… the calamity of our community… in the next few years… everything was to go away… Teachers, peons, driver11s went away… The Matko of Ram Punjwani went away… Kalaams of Master Chander, sweet smile of Bhagwanti Navani…Everything just closed down and went away. The Sindhi Jasoosi novels… Mandrik comics… the small Sindhi library in Malkani Mahal…The great spokesperson of the community, the Hindustan Daily with over 100 years of distinguished history…Simply closed down and went away… Gobind Malhi's Kalakaar Mandal…AJ Uttam's Sindhudhara…Lal Pushp's Prahaphuti… Everything, everybody… just left and disappeared, leaving behind the haunting echoes of Khandars and ruins, very similar to Mohen Jo Daro.The Sindh Model high school at the base of Kennedy bridge at Nana Chowk stands right there even now. I wonder about the huge peepal tree in the compound…The Sindhis however have all taken flights to various parts of the universe…Now only memories remain…Where must have all the photos and papers and records of the school gone? Where can you search for a fleeting glimpse of yourself in short pants sitting on the class bench and listening to Sindhi Bhajan in the music period?

History is cruel… unforgiving… Political history is also inhuman and violent. The terrible violence we have gone through feels worse than murder…We say we have come above all that… We have conquered… We have risen from the ashes… All that is fine… Commendable… But in one such moment, when you long to go back to your childhood…Your roots… Your forgotten world and you are not allowed by circumstances… It is pain… Tears and sorrow. The same sorrow you feel fondly remembering your departed and dearest Mom, who has gone leaving a very vital part of you dead… forever….!!