Let them in. Get them out.


Life’s basic questions start with a simple What. (My first post was titled that. Remember?)

Whats are basic, simple and, often, the easiest questions in school exams. Children who keep asking What, get report cards from teachers that say: ‘An inquisitive and curious child. Always eager to learn anything new.’ (But comments from neighbours are likely to resemble Mr. Wilson’s on Dennis the Menace.)

What is necessary. But it has its limitations. It lacks the ability to take a conversation ahead. Had the world stopped with What, there would have been no discoveries, inventions, progress and even life.

Here are three examples to prove that.

Eve: ‘What are the apple and snake doing in Eden, dear?’

Adam: ‘I believe they are here to make us have babies.’

Eve: ‘Oh, how exciting! Let’s sleep early. We’ve got to wake up to bawling babies, don’t we? Goodnight, honey!’

Adam: ‘Goodnight, dear!’

*  *  *

Mom: ‘What are you staring at, Isaac?’

Newton: ‘An apple just fell on my head, mom!’

Mom: ‘Oh my baby, hope you didn’t get hurt. Move away from that stupid tree, baby. It keeps dropping apples for no reason.’

Newton: ‘Sure, mom.’

*  *  *

Archimedes: ‘Eureka!’

Wife: ‘What happened?’

Archimedes: ‘Water just spilled out of my bathtub.’

Wife: ‘You idiot! That’s the new bathroom rug that you just drenched!’

Archimedes: ‘Oops!’

*  *  *

That’s why the big Q. What after What?

How about How?

How is what makes the earth spin, hearts to beat, planes to fly. If What is theory, How is practical. If What is a seeker, How is a doer.

The Whats in exams carry 1, 2, and 5 marks. They will at best take you to 20%. It’s the Hows that come with 10, 15 and 20 marks, and have always failed us.

Even in life, Hows are the most difficult questions to answer. Here are three examples.

Wife: ‘What do you think, am I as fat as your colleague?’

Husband: ‘No way! She’s much heavier.’

Wife: ‘Really? (Deathly pause) How do you know?’

Husband: ‘Umm…er…that…she…’

(Way out: Solitaire?)

*  *  *

Boss: ‘What should we do to increase sales?’

Employee: ‘Simple. Sell more, sir!’

Boss: ‘Excellent! How?’

Employee: ‘Er…I will…I mean, we will…’

(Way out: Monster.com?)

*  *  *

She: ‘What is the meaning of LIFE?’

He: ‘ Keep laughing until the end!’

She: ‘How?’

He: ‘Huh…ha ha ha…I guess…’

(Way out: Read on?)

One day, a few years ago, I had travelled with my wife and kids within Kerala. Our day-trip started from Thachambara. We drove to Pattambi and back, halting at Ellamalacherry, Mannarghat, Guruvayur and eight other stops for reasons that varied from family visits, biological needs, mechanical faults, political protests, religious faith, touristy acts and, mainly, calming the maniac driver.

Kerala roads and drivers can convert even the staunchest rationalist. By the time we reached Guruvayur, all I wanted to do was fling myself at the feet of the Lord, to thank Him for the trip so far and to pray for the one back. But I couldn’t. Here’s why.

At the entrance of the temple, one of my biggest paranoia at security checks came true. The alarms went off. My wife and kids had passed peacefully, but I failed. So there I was, surrounded in no time by the local version of the NSG, clad in sacred threads and dhotis. I had suddenly become a bigger spectacle than the Lord inside. Even today I haven’t forgiven my wife for the look on her face as she turned back to see me being whisked away. It was a look that said: ‘Rum, you a terrorist? All this while? And I didn’t know?’

Actually the whole drama was just because I had simply forgotten to take my shirt off. That temple allows no shirts, no trousers and no cellphones inside. They believe that the temple is no place to differentiate between the branded and unbranded, the expensive and the discounted. Noble thought. But tell me, how does nakedness be a leveller? Far from it, I think it is the biggest differentiator. Even half-nakedness can be extremely discriminating. Well-toned torsos vs. Roly-poly ones. Hairy chests vs. Clean-shaven ones. Sweaty armpits vs. Well-sprayed ones.

By the time I stripped and got in, the men’s queue was estimated to take me two hours to get to the Lord. That’s longer than it would take me to fly back to Mumbai.

I gave up. I stepped out feeling rejected by the Lord. It was this guilt that made me do a mad act. I dropped a thousand-rupee note into the bowl of the first blind beggar I came across.

Without waiting to see him overwhelmed, I made a quick exit. Only because I didn’t want onlookers to wonder what ‘grave sin’ I might have committed that warrants such a ‘redemption’ with ‘ill-gotten wealth’. Petty things can assume huge significance in small towns. I for sure didn’t want the local newspapers to carry it the next day: Mumbai Sinner Seeks Redemption In Guruvayur!

I had barely taken a few hurried strides, when I heard him shout out for me. I thought it was to make me his Lord. Little did I realise then, that in the next one hour, it would be the other way around.

“Please take this back, sir,” he said, freezing me mid-way. I didn’t want to be the world’s first man to beg a beggar to accept alms, or start a reverse bargaining of sorts with, ‘Please accept at least 500, okay 100, how about 50?’ I snatched my note back and was preparing to flee, when he spoke again.

“Sir, will you do me a favour? Will you take me to the kulam (Temple pond)?” he asked, ruining my second getaway.

I hated this. This was becoming a mega charity show for the idle onlookers. But I had no choice. ‘Beggar Refuses Sinner’s Money, Prefers A Walk’ reads better than ‘Beggar Drowns In Kulam After Devotee Refuses To Help’.

So I held his hand and we walked towards the Kulam.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said. “Your big note would have destroyed my ability to be thankful for the one and two-rupee coins that drop into my bowl everyday, and to be thrilled with the occasional five-rupee coins. Happiness is such a bitch! It never comes to us. We need to pursue it, you see.” He laughed a full-throated laugh. “And mind is such a monkey! We will have to train it to be happy on command.”

‘How?’ I asked instinctively.

The sermon that followed until we reached the kulam is the best I’ve heard, read or understood. The only one simple enough for me to try and practice.

The problem with remarkable experiences is that they become so only in hindsight. I wish I had the foresight to know what was coming. I’d have recorded it. Nevertheless, here are the highlights of whatever I could retrieve from memory.

He on Mind: “Spirituality is not about turning our mind into an impenetrable fortress or an emotion-proof metallic ball. It is about imagining our mind to be a simple, porous bowl. Letting everything pass through, but retaining nothing. Greed, hatred, envy, grief, desire, ego, ambition, anger…let them all in, get them all out. If we let them remain, they cause stains. Stains mean guilt. And guilt is the big, bad Devil- the only one.”

He on Karma: “Anything that passes through our mind smoothly is Good Karma. Anything that causes turbulence and leaves a stain is Bad Karma. Even charity can be Bad Karma, if it is a symbol of pride, righteousness, generosity, magnanimity or patronage.”

He on Prayer: “It is the worst clog of mind’s pores, the cause of most permanent stains. Prayer is nothing but a cunningly disguised plea for miracles, an attempt to change the rules and policies of this universe in our favour. At the core of any prayer is absolute selfishness, favouritism and an attempt to influence power. It is a close cousin of greed.”

He on Faith: “Unshakeable faith, whole-hearted dedication, selfless devotion to anyone or anything are the best known cleansers. When done without an eye on results or an accompanying request for miracles, they work like high-pressure water jets to clear mind’s pores and remove all stains. These should become our daily rituals, our life’s religion.”

He on Happiness: “Happiness is not ecstasy, laughter or smile. It’s contentment. It’s the ability to keep our mind’s bowl empty, unclogged and stain-free. Often described as a state of nothingness.”

He on God: “When mind celebrates its powerlessness, and doesn’t try to wield any influence on the happenings in life, it becomes omnipotent, omnipresent. Mind becomes God.”

“So as you can see, God is nothing but this clean, empty, porous bowl of mine!” he said, flashing his begging bowl at me. He laughed his full-throated laugh again. “Thank you, sir. I’ll go my way from here. I’ll starve today so that I can accept a one-rupee coin tomorrow with child-like glee.”

I let go of his hand. He walked away. I stood there long enough to see if he vanished, like they do in religious films. But nothing of that sort happened. He groped, stumbled and walked on.

On our more-peaceful drive back home, my wife asked me, ‘So did you get a good darshan of the Lord?’

‘Yes, I did.’ I said.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Naren on December 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Found you!!


  2. Posted by radhika on December 15, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    wow…u are one deep thinker,blogger and writer…keep it up…good work.


  3. Posted by kumar ganesan on December 28, 2010 at 10:45 am

    I’m forwarding this post to Aastha Channel. They are always on the lookout for new spiritual talent. Your guess is as good as mine. LOL.


    • Now, that’s a friend! Frankly, this screenwriting thingie is going nowhere, and I’ve always wanted to be a Nityananda! Oops, I meant its meaning- nityam anandam 🙂


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