The purpose of life

 

I remember myself as this weak-minded, vulnerable and sensitive girl who was almost terrified of pain as an emotion. When I see little Swathi shielding her eyes from the TV screen because she cannot bear to watch the scene where a little child is being kidnapped, I am reminded of my own self.

I feared pain. I feared having to feel pain. Perhaps I believed that I would eventually learn to build a fence around me- a fence that would not let pain in.

For most of us who are brought up in a protected world, the first contact with pain comes in our adolescent years. Somehow, this predator that we have been hiding from, deceives us by disguising itself in a cloak of love. Vulnerable that we are, we let ourselves be lured and we wander astray. When we have wandered far enough from the safety and security of our protected worlds, the predator suddenly removes its cloak, and there we are- face to face with pain!

This time, there is no escape from it. We run, but we have traveled too far to even know the way back to the safety and security of our homes. However hard we run, pain manages to eventually catch up with us. There comes a point when we can run no more, for we are exhausted and we have lost the fight in us. So we give up and confront pain. At first, we cry. We wonder why it happened to us. We protest at the unfairness of life. As pain gnaws at us, many of us even think of giving up on life; we lose hope and optimism.

We do not realize that this is the true beginning of the journey of our lives.

Until that point in my life, I had always seen things, perceived them, absorbed them and even stored them. But I hadn’t processed and internalized most of what I had imbibed. They all lay hidden in my mind, an invisible ‘barrier’ existing between ‘me’ and ‘them’.

That barrier constitutes ego.

Pain was painful. It was like a little fire that threatened to slowly burn all of me. It succeeded in burning a little of that barrier (ego). I remember feeling like a ‘nobody’. I remember the ‘nothingness’ that replaced months of sorrow. I was neither happy nor sad.

Only empty.

In that emptiness, I could feel something rising within me- an uprising from that quiet corner where I had tucked away all that I had stored from the world outside. In that emptiness and silence, ‘they’ made noise.

They knocked at my molten barrier and I let them come in. They spoke and I heard. They said beautiful things to me. Hidden in all that I had stored, lay deep messages- the deep philosophy of life. My mind had suddenly learnt the art of decoding these messages.

It was a moment of supreme elation. I suddenly felt that I contained within me a person I did not know. A person who had absorbed so many things from the external world without my awareness. A person who had been dormant all these years. That person had woken up and was wanting to be heard. And when I turned around, it was to find my predator- pain, laughing at me. I smiled back. We have been companions ever since. Whenever he comes up to me, I know that he brings with him something beautiful. Just that it needs to be decoded. And thus, I have lost my fear of him. I have grown enough to carry his burden until I can make sense of it.

With new eyes, I see the world around. I realize that the purpose of life lies in internalizing as much of the external world as we can.It lies in creating from this internalization and therefore, enhance and sustain creation. We imbibe, process and give back. This is the only right we are entitled to. When we are born, we are only ‘self’. Our motives and drives are selfish for they only cater to the needs of the self. As we grow, we slowly learn to fit into the larger scheme of things.

For the creator, his creation is supreme. There is more value to the overall masterpiece than to the individual elements of his masterpiece. The invisible thread between the individual elements is what sustains the masterpiece, breathes life into it and makes it beautiful. At each level, creation is not an independent assortment of elements; it is a profound and delicate interplay of elements. Take for instance, the human body. No doubt the individual organs go into the making of the whole individual, but only their mutual interplay can sustain the life of the human being. If we extrapolate this to the universe, we would understand that our identities lie in being a part of this universe.

Each day is in reality a process of internalization of the external world- be it places, people or experiences. Internalization generates emotions. Emotions are in reality, coded messages. If we were to listen closely to our emotions, we would understand that they are trying to speak to us- trying to unveil something hidden in them. Our mind decodes these emotions into thoughts; here lies our potential. Thoughts give us a direction in life. When we take that direction, we burn a little more of our ‘ego’ and integrate a little more into the larger scheme of things. Our goal in life then is to find our proper place in this universe- that place where we fit best so that we are able to use all our potential to sustain creation without creating conflicts with the self.

In this regard, an artist (be it any field of art) has the greatest potential to internalize the external world and thereby to ‘recreate’. An artist imbibes infinity. His emotional spectrum is wide and each shade of emotion is deep. An artist has the power to see the invisible- to see that delicate, invisible thread that operates between all the elements of this universe and to bring to visibility this invisible aspect denied to most ordinary people. An artist’s medium may differ, but his art will always contain this invisible element. An artist has the ability to get into the crux of things and to decipher the hidden inner meaning in every phenomenon that surrounds us, for he is able to see the universe as a whole.

Love is not a destination or a goal. It is only an inspiration that rejuvenates us and renews our drive and motivation when we are exhausted or depleted in this journey of life.

It is the banyan tree beneath which you can rest when weary…

The spring from which you can drink when thirsty…

The fire that keeps you warm on a cold night.

You have mail!!!

I get back from work, unburden myself of the bags I carry, and sink into the sofa. An assortment of envelopes stares at me from the table- they have arrived in the afternoon post. I go through them disinterestedly, and find a telephone bill and some letters of official significance. I make a mental note of the things they demand of me, and place them back on the table. In a couple of weeks, during the course of a dusting-cum-cleaning session, they find their way into the bin. An occasional greeting card or a parcel breaks the monotony of these mails.

I think back to the days of inlands, airmails and telegrams….

To the days when the ring of the bicycle bell in the afternoon saw us waking up from slumber in a fit of hope and enthusiasm….

To the days when the postman carried on his bicycle a bundle of scribbled emotions, and greeted us with a knowing smile when he had a ‘gift’ to deliver….

To the days when the sight of letters peeping from the slits of mailboxes brought with them an abrupt shower of joy in our hearts.

Letters addressed to my parents were received with less enthusiasm, but if a letter was addressed to me, I would hold it close to my heart and speed off to read, as if I had just won a lottery!

The immature handwriting of a friend or a cousin stared at me from the address, and I trembled in excitement as I slit open the letter. I am sure I read each of these letters a hundred times, and I read them for days on end. I would enthusiastically hunt for an inland at home, and if I was lucky enough to find one, I would set out on the joyous task of writing out a reply, the very same day. Next morning, on my way to school, I would promptly drop it into the mailbox, and shove it extra hard to make sure it went right in.

And from that moment, commenced the impatient wait for the reply. The postman in his khaki uniform, with the ring of his cycle bell, was such a welcome presence in my life.

We had pen friends too. I was proud of mails from friends in Bhutan, Malaysia, Finland and America. My Finnish pen-friend sent me a beautiful postcard, and also a picture of her, and they fetched me the envy of my friends.

Over the years, the culture slowly faded away, to be replaced completely by revolutionary technological inventions in the form of the internet.

The last hand-written mail I received was from a classmate from school, while we were both in college. It finds place with older letters I had preserved, as an antique that I am proud of.

The world that was childhood

Very recently, I stumbled on a copy of ‘Swami and Friends’ by R.K.Narayan, and that book effortlessly transported me back to my childhood. I blended with ‘Swami’, and re-experienced the bliss of my childhood.

The anxiety with respect to teachers, parents, textbooks and exams…

The joy of the 3 o’clock bell, when we dispersed from school, to run home, and to break free from a world we didn’t understand…

The joy of finally teaming up with friends, and experiencing freedom in its most absolute form-

The freedom to run, jump, bake in the sun, drench in the rain, soak in mud…

The freedom to be a child.

We grew up in the outdoors, in the sun and the rain. Our toys were simple, and in any case, they were only accessories.

We dreamt ardently- of owning a hoop or a catapult or a tricycle, and we would fantasize over it day and night, as if that was the ultimate goal in our life.

Holi, Diwali, and Christmas were all special, because holidays signified unrestricted freedom. We would break loose from our homes early in the morning, and celebrate our togetherness with colors and crackers and cakes.

Childhood, to me, was a perpetual celebration of togetherness and freedom.

It was an effort to let go of ‘Swami’, and to get back to myself. But when I finally did, I realized that we were fortunate with respect to childhood. It might have been a bit of an ‘urban childhood’, but it was far from being a ‘technological childhood’.

Today, childhood has a completely new dimension.

My colleague’s son was only an year old, when the computer made an entry into his little world. He was fascinated by the gadget, and this fascination turned into an obsession. To the extent that the child lost interest in his physical environment.Over the next couple of years, when he should probably have been growing up amidst his grandparents’ love and pampering, amidst other children, amidst his parents’ care and attention, in a world of stories and pets and parks, he grew up with a machine. His parents reveled in his computer skills, until the teacher at his playschool identified a subtle speech deficit in him. A visit to the paediatrician confirmed a speech deficit, predominantly with respect to comprehension. Inadequate environmental stimulation and communication were identified as part of the contributory factors. In the subsequent months, the child was subjected to an overdose of speech therapy, and it was agonizing for the parents.

A documentary comes to my mind. A girl child, with her tresses uncombed, falling on her shoulders, sitting by a pond studded with water lilies. There is silence around her, and that serenity is reflected in her being. She dreams as she plays with a water lily, and nature caresses her in its lap.

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In stark contrast is the picture of a boy who sits in his room, playing a game on the computer. The room echoes with noise, as the boy fires bullets in the game. There is something profoundly disturbing in the contrast between the two scenes.

Somewhere along the line, childhood moved from the outdoors into the confines of a room. A child now grows up within the four walls of his room. There are stress lines on his face, as he desperately tries to fit into the world. He goes to school with a heavy burden on his shoulders. The 3 o’clock bell is no longer exciting, because he has to rush for tuitions.

In the emptiness of his plush apartment, he finds solace in machines and gadgets. There is an entire spectrum to choose from. He grows up with gadgets. He develops technical skills at the expense of emotional intelligence, at the expense of artistic creativity. He struggles at all his relationships, and battles with stress in his day to day life, unable to deal with the pressures. Relationships break and marriages fail.

And my mind wanders back to the little girl by the pond, feeling her peace, her contentment, her joy…