Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barso Re Megha


At lunchtime today I switched on the TV again, as I usually do, and there was Aishwarya Rai singing and dancing in the rain: Barso Re, Megha Megha Barso Re Megha Megha Barso Re, Megha Barso….

Aishwarya’s performance is scintillating in that dance – one of her best ever. What amazing flexibility, as though there are no bones in her body and she is all made of the most pliable stuff. And she abandons herself totally to the rhythms of the song, becomes one with it. As though she is not dancing, but the dancing is happening through her, as though the song itself is dancing through her.

Aishwarya is a gaon ki gori in that part of the movie and has all the spontaneity and innocence of the pure village belle. True, it is not the rural India of today that comes to your mind as you watch her in that song, but an India of bygone times – perhaps the India that Kalidasa describes in his Meghaduta, which by the way is my favourite among all his works, Kumara Sambhava coming as a close second. The first Sanskrit verses that I memorised as a teenager came from the Meghaduta, and I still remember the thrill that I felt as I first read them. It’s that India that Aishwarya in that song reminds you of – the India of the Guptas, the golden age of India, when every Indian lived and breathed poetry and dance and a subtle mixture of two heady perfumes hung in the air – of eroticism and of spirituality.

The song is from the Hindi film Guru, reputedly inspired by the life of modern India’s greatest commercial success, Dhirubhai Ambani. I find the film a brilliant study in leadership success in today’s commercial world. But it is not about leadership that I am going to talk about here, but something entirely different.

The movie shows her going home at the end of the dance and writing a note to her father. She has decided to run away with a boy she is in love with. She would live her life on her own terms and would not be dictated to by her father. The boy and she would catch a train and be gone far away, to live their life together.

The boy does not show up at the railway station.

We find a weeping Aishwarya alone in the train that is gathering speed. She has nowhere to go now and she just does not know what to do. She is a tragic figure. Life has struck her a great blow.

And yet we later realize what appeared to be a great tragedy, a great blow, is in fact a great blessing. When the boy loses his nerves and decides not to take the train with her, destiny was playing not against her, but in her favour. For his betrayal makes it possible for her to become the wife of another young man who would eventually become modern India’s biggest business success, head of India’s largest business empire, a man who dreams of becoming one day the world’s greatest.

Her lover’s betrayal was for her a blessing in disguise, as they say.

And that is how it frequently is. What we consider great blows of life are sometimes our greatest blessings. And vice versa too. What we consider great blessings are sometimes great tragedies in disguise.

You never know.

O0O

There is a Chinese tale I fell in love with the first time I read it in Lin Yutang’s classic The Wisdom of China and have subsequently come across in scores of other places.

The story says there was a poor farmer in China, who had a single mare which he used in his farm and also to draw his cart. One day all on a sudden the mare ran away.

When his neighbours heard of this, they came to him to console him. “What a terrible thing to happen,” they said.

And the farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no."

The next day the mare returned but she was not alone. There were six young wild stallions with her. The neighbours learnt of this and came to congratulate him on his good fortune. “What a wonderful thing to have happened,” they exclaimed. “Six young stallions! You are now the richest man in the village. This is called good luck!”

And the farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no."

The farmer had a young son – his only son. The next day the young man tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses. He was thrown off and broke his leg.

The neighbors once again to offer their sympathies. “Sad for your son! And how are you now going to do all the work on the farm all alone? You need at least one help. What a terrible tragedy!”

And the farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no."

The next day the emperor’s officers came to the village to enlist all healthy young men for the war. Everyone knew when young people taken away for the war, few of them returned. The officers enlisted every healthy young man in the village. But of course, they wouldn’t take the farmer’s son into the army because he had a broken leg.

When the officers had left, the neighbours came once a gain. This time they congratulated him heartily. “How fortunate you are,” they said. “Every youth in the village has been taken away. You are the only man in the village whose son has been spared. Surely this is the best thing that could have happened to you.”

And the farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no."

O0O

In spite of all our attempts to understand it over the last several thousand years, life is still a mystery. In fact, the more we understand it, the more mysterious it appears. I believe that is its greatest beauty, its greatest charm. A lot of things are not meant to be understood but felt and lived, their mystery allowed to seep into our soul. Like the aroma of fresh coffee in the morning, like the fragrance of the earth after the first rain, like the smile of a little baby, like the mystery of falling in love the first time, or like sex.

Drala, the Tibetans would say. Drala is a word the Tibetans use to speak of the magic of things, the magic of life.

Here is someone speaking of Drala: “Drala is the elemental presence of the world that is available to us through sense perceptions. When we open to trees, flowers, a creek or clouds we encounter an actual wisdom, though one that is not separate from our own. Beholding a river is much more than merely looking at a river; potentially, we are meeting the dralas.”

Drala comes to us when we surrender to our experiences, when we let go of ourselves and allow the experience to be all that is there. Drala happens when we permit the world outside to penetrate us and permeate us. When we experience the world, when we experience life, as though we are experiencing it for the first time. Looking at it with a child’s eyes.

The Mahabharata says about Draupadi that because of a boon she had received, after wedding Yudhishthira and spending the night with him, she became a virgin again in the morning so that it was as a virgin that she married her second husband, Bhima, and spent her nuptial night with him. The epic says that this happened repeatedly so that she married each of her husbands as a virgin.

Perhaps that is how we should approach life. As a virgin. Every time.

Then we live life fully, intensely, intimately.

Most of us try to understand life. That is approaching life cerebrally. Life is not to be approached cerebrally. It is to be encountered through the heart, through your senses, through your blood, marrow and bones.

In Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, one of my all time favourite books, the two friends, who are also master and disciple, part their ways, for as the master Narcissus explains to the disciple Goldmund, their ways are different. His are the ways of the sky, of the sun, of the father, of the head, says Narcissus about himself. And Goldmund’s, says the master, are the ways of the earth, of the moon, of the mother, of the heart, of the senses, of the flesh and blood. The master continues in his monastery to pursue his path through discipline, and the disciple goes into the world – to encounter life, death, love, hatred, passion, sex, pleasure, pain, disease, and the thousand other things that form life. And then years later the two meet again and the master looks into the eyes of the disciple and says that he can see that he, Goldmund, has achieved; whereas he himself, Narcussus, is far from his goal.

Perhaps the true awakening of spirituality happens when we engage in life intensely with the eyes of our heart open, rather than when we close them to life.

As I understand it, this is what spirituality means for Krishna. The songs we sing about Krishna and Radha are the songs of his courtship of life and encounter with life.

I have perhaps moved away from what I began speaking about. Or perhaps I haven’t. What the story of Aishwarya in Guru tells us, and what the story of the Chinese farmer tells us, is that life a mystery.

I vaguely remember something we all wrote in one another’s slambooks as school children: Life is not a puzzle to be solved…It is a mystery to be lived.

O0O

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