Xmas is around the corner and end of a long year which I am not sad to get rid of. We were wandering around a Xmas shop this weekend, lot of pretty ornaments to hang on the trees, greens, red and gold. There was a kid running around the boxes of ornaments, calling out to his mother every other second, squealing with delight of discovering so many things, a bundle of energy. I watched him trot around, he had some difficulty in walking, which he was oblivious of. I had read somewhere that sometime seeing beauty brings you certain tinge of sadness too and it is due to the fact that you realize at the back of your mind that it is not permanent, not everlasting. I was thinking that this kid will grow up one day, the unbounded happiness will get mixed with expectations, pride, competition, jealousy, desire and all the other maladies which eats up the adult world. I distinctly remember the time when I thought none of those matters, all that the adults were talking about are exaggerations, and ours is the last generation which will do away with petty things like caste and corruption etc because we were incorruptible, pure at heart, incapable of harming anyone. It took a long time to grow up.
All these musings were following my latest obsession – J D Salinger and his short stories. I read that he stopped publishing for 30-40 years after getting attracted to Vedanta. It was probably act of renunciation. That he followed Gospel of Ramakrishna and practiced it. It seems he has left Vedantic clues in his last of the stories. And that maybe he didn’t stop writing, just stopped publishing and there would be some new publications coming up, including his notes on Vedanta. I am truly fascinated and puzzled by people getting bowled over completely by belief or faith.
I had a friend in college, someone I met on the first day probably, spent all of the four years with. Brilliant guy, but uninterested in marks and people worrying about exams, scoffed about people trying still to get to IIT, satisfied with life and silent and observing in a corner. But he is the kind of guy who experimented with everything, someone who would pick me up from home on Saturday morning to go to a bar, who asked me to try a piece of chicken because he couldn’t put up with the idea that I could go through life without tasting meat, saying it is not different from cauliflower – I did taste the chicken and true to his word he never asked again. He is someone I trusted to ride with him even when he is drunk (youth, right?). One time I remarked to another friend that his younger brother is so handsome unlike him, while I was getting behind the bike, he told me that I shouldn’t have said that and it must have hurt this friend – like a vintage photo, I remember the time and the place when he said that and I see the picture of us from that moment burnt into memory. Final year, I flunked the CTS interview and two of my constant companions including him got into it. He quit CTS within an year to get his MS. I got married and one time we visited him in his college in Syracuse. He had become deeply religious and was living with a missionary, in a seminary. He was lost to me. He was aloof and didn’t even call when he was visiting with a congregation near where I lived. He came back to TVM after his MS and started teaching, rather than going after lucrative jobs and settle down in US. Couple of years back, I went to his college for recruitment, primarily to meet him – he told me not to fail his students. After the interviews, when I told him I did reject one of them, he asked me the name and the details of why I thought so. Then told me that times are not the same as when we were studying, there is more drugs in colleges and it is easy for them to go astray.
One more friend from the college turned religious, shaved his head, took up saffron and joined ISCON. On my count, 3 out of 90 from my college batch now. What made them to take the leap towards religion and spirituality? Do they see something that majority of us don’t? I sometimes wonder if it is a mental condition itself – since one other of these friends with whom I playfully took up an argument about faith, tried to prove why I was wrong vehemently and kept trying since then for years to make me see the light. I saw a picture of Ambanis in front of Guruvayoor temple today, directly in front of sreekovil, without having to stand in queue for hours and getting pushed within seconds to keep moving – these are not like that. They don’t want anything from God, not to protect their wealth, not to ask for favors. They are content in their faith, there is some calmness and peace that has descended on them. Is that what God wants – to create all the material things for the purpose of testing, all of the imperfections to try and overcome. Like what Chekhov wrote, we are emotional beings and we suffer and rejoice and feel – why would we reject all that and become a stoic? Why should that be the only path to reach God? Why did He put us on earth, if the purpose was to find him by renouncing all the earthly things, in this life itself?
Anyway, I decided to read Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (PDF, 4MB). If I work through all 1100 pages of it, it will be the first time of its kind. I couldn’t suffer through the likes of OSHO, who takes up prime positions in all book festivals in TVM – I thought those are preachy about some secrets for pages upon pages without saying what the secret is. Now I want to see what drove JD Salinger over the edge..