Shivakantjha.org - PORTRAIT OF MY MOTHER
PORTRAIT OF MY MOTHER
When my memory calls up that fragrant spring,
It enchants me with aroma which lingers to last..
My memory goes back to 1942, when I was about five. Father
was the headmaster of the High School in Rosera, a small town in the North Bihar.
We lived in a small cottage of wattle and daub built in the school campus itself.
It was well fenced: it was spread over with green leaves with exquisite inlay
of flowers and fruits. In the north east corner of the courtyard stood a massive
Seesaw tree turning the corner into an enthralling bower of boughs some of which
embraced by luxuriant bougainvillaea. The tree had not been pruned over years.
Underneath the tree I had my world to my hearts delight. None else had time
ever to enter the bower which had quite a few honeycombs with bees frequently
on wings. I was most often a busy bee building pyramids and castles under the
shade of the tree. Once I had a bee in my bonnet. My mother rushed to me on
hearing my cry, and I was saved from the concession. This memory-trace made
me wonder how “a bee in one's bonnet” became an idiom to describe someone's
obsessing idea. Once I found that my mother and my father were conversing in
voice not clearly audible. I wondered at their trespass on my domain where I
lived playing the monarch or the fool, or both in varying proportions. Its encoding
in mind was deep enough to make it a lasting engram which I often recall to
study in perspective.
That conversation must have got as its subject something extraordinary
as was clear to me by what followed immediately thereafter. We boarded a bullock-cart
on way to our village, Kurson at a distance of about 80 kms. Later I could know
that the journey by road was to evade the vigilant eyes of the authorities of
the British Raj who kept a close vigil on the activities of the nationalists,
and created problems without a cause. For me the journey on the bullock-cart
was a wonderful experience. The journey through villages, groves, and paddy
and sugarcane fields was extremely delighting. The cart moved on the cart-track
with its languid rhythm. We munched, when we felt hungry, the mixture of Chura-gur,
and the green grams we plucked from the fields. The clouds kept us under their
canopy till we reached our village. It was a pleasure to play for fun as a bullock-cart
driver. Of the two bullocks Shelebi was sharp and stallion-like, and needed
just a touch to respond well, whereas Kaila was fat but dull-witted whom even
strong goading failed in providing a spur to move forward at a matching speed.
My dog accompanied us, almost the way the dog accompanied Yudhistar to heaven.
It concealed its movement by confining itself within the shade of the chassis
of the cart. Whenever we through villages, young boys and girls formed a beeline
behind the moving cart enjoying dust-bath, and the pleasant smell of the clods
recently upturned by plough.
It took me several years to know what was being discussed
in the conclave under the Shesham tree. My eureka. I must say it in short as
it brings out a lot of ideas of abiding relevance in life: By 1942 the Struggle
for Freedom had reached a crescendo. Even Mahatma Gandhi had developed a mood
of passionate militancy against the British Raj. On August 1942, the All India
Congress Committee adopted a resolution for initiating a mass struggle on the
widest possible scale. In the early hours of August 9, prominent Congress leaders
were arrested. The Congress had not by then structured it strategy for a mass
struggle. Even before the formal call given by the All India Congress Committee,
words spread like jungle fire that some great leap in the Freedom Movement was
the demand of the hour. Bihar was on the vanguard of the Freedom Movement. Father,
a true Gandhian, thought of making his own contribution to the nation's struggle
for freedom. He had his natural apprehensions of cruel retaliations. He needed
my mother's consent to it. He needed her counselling also as our tradition contemplates
that the best counselling comes always from wife. If Ravana could have heeded
to his wife, Mandodari, he would have escaped his tragedy. If Bali would not
have spurned the advice given to him by his wife, Tara, he wouldn't have courted
his ruin. My mother, like most ladies, took, in crucial moments, decisions only
in intuitive flashes. The voice of the soul never fails. This accords well with
what Lord Krishna said in the Gita:
indriyani parany ahur
ndriyebhyah param manah
manasas tu para buddhir
yo buddheh paratas tu sah
[The senses are greater than the flesh; greater than the
senses is the mind; greater than the mind is the intellect; and greater
than the intellect is the Soul.]
My mother endorsed my Father's ideas without a moment's faltering.
She told him in the words of Vidula in which she had advised her son Sanjay
in the Mahabharata: Muhurtam jvalitan sreyah, na tu dhumayitam ciram (Better
to blaze for a moment than to smoke continuously) to embark on his duty unconcerned
with the distractions of life.
She was named ‘Draupadi' by her father. In our society it
is conventional to name a daughter after the name of a goddess like Gauri, Tara,
Sita or Radha. But to call his daughter ‘Draupadi' must have been my maternal
grandfather's conscious choice surely after some deliberations. He himself was
a firebrand, and must have wished his daughter to fiery. Who could be fierier
than Draupadi who is said to emerge from fire itself? He was a devotee of Lord
Krishna. He must be aware none our literature is shown to have achieved that
total surrender to the Lord which Draupadi had reached ( as the Mahabharata
says) when she, after losing all hope to save herself from discomfiture in the
court of Duryodhana in the ample presence of her husbands and elders turned
hapless onlookers, prayed:
Naiva me patayas santi, na putra, na ca bandhvah
Na bhrataro, na ca pita, naiva tvam madhusudana.
[ I have no husband, no sons, no kinsmen, no brothers,
no father, not even you, O Krsna] [Translated by Dr S Radhakrishnan in
his The Bhagavadgita p. 97.]
But my maternal grandfather wouldn't have ever thought in
the strange cavalcade of life, his daughter would be driven by destiny to situation
where her state of mind was no different from Draupadi's.
Osho, reflecting over ‘Draupadi' wrote: “ The fact remains
that in the history of world there is none comparable to Draupadi. It sounds
strange. One remembers Sita, one remembers Savitri. There are many others in
our memory. Yet I say Draupadi is incomparable. Draupadi is extraordinary, she
possessed the sweetness and grace of Sita, and salt of Cleopatra. She did have
beauty of Cleopatra but she was endowed with logic of Gargi. In fact the whole
of the Mahabharata moves round her as the axis. The whole war was fought with
she as the central point…… This Draupadi is really nonesuch, a paragon. After
the war Bhishma was lying on the bed of arrows. Krishna asked the Pandavs to
seek the secrets of Dharma from the great man on the bed of arrows. And then
Draupadi laughed. Her laughter resonates over whole of the Mahabharata. She
laughs at this counsel to know the secret of Dharma from Bhishma. She feels
: when she was being unrobed he sat drooping his head low. Draupadi's irony
is bitter. She is an extraordinary lady.” [Translated into Hindi by the
author.] My maternal grand father must have discovered something extraordinary
in his eldest daughter. And her life proved her name most appropriate.
My mother had no formal education in any school. But hat astonished
me was her sharp intelligence, practical insight, capacity to take difficult
decisions, and fortitude in facing consequences even if inclement.
My mother belonged to a traditional rural family which those
days believed that the women's job was merely to run the household. In her days
girls were not permitted to go to schools. Elementary knowledge of three Rs
acquired at home was considered enough. Mother learned these from her youngest
brother Jageshwar Mishra whom she loved intensely which attachment made her
almost made when, while still young, he died of cardiac ailments. Whenever she
could steal some time from the sprawling domestic chores, she would conceal
herself in a bush behind the massive barn to learn from the books which her
youngest brother had preserved for her. Her remarkable creative plasticity expressed
herself in the making of the clay images, and the exquisite and expressive patterns
drawn with the white paste of rice on the floor. On the occasion of the puja
of goddess Durga she used to draw this image on the doors. It was a suggestive
imagery the profundity of which got revealed when my father explained the purpose
of looking at the palm as the first conscious act after getting up. It was a
suggestion that karma alone would mould the course of the events, and would
give significance to life. I was surprised to discover later that this imagery
occurred even in many other civilizations of the past as a metaphoric declaration
of karmayoga. An outline of hand was discovered in El Casillo, Stantander in
Spain. Reflecting over this, J. Bronowski writes [The Ascent of Man p. 56
“There are many gifts that are unique in man; but at the
centre of them all, the root from which all knowledge grows, lies the ability
to draw conclusions from what we see to what we do not see, to move our minds
through space and time, and to recognise ourselves in the past on the steps
to the present. All over these caves the print of the hand says: ‘This is
my mark. This is man.”
She learnt knowledge, and acquired wisdom, under India's traditional
protocol. Those days almost everyone read or heard the Ramayan of Valmiki, the
Ramacharitramanasa by Tulsi Das, the Mahabaratha and the Gita, and the great
Bhagavad Mahapurana. Afternoons were mostly devoted to such pursuits. As they
read, or heard, them with devotion and concentration, they had sufficient guidance
on the art of living through the twists and turns of their lives. These works
provided them a manual of ethics, sanctuary from the whirls of existence, source
of inner strength to do appropriate duties, and wisdom to face the challenges
of life. They shed light on people's duties, and inspired people with indefatigable
vigour. What is said about the Bhagavad Mahapurana in these lines [The Ascent
of Man p. 56 (Boston)] , can be said with equal relevance about all others:
That destroys the lust for the pleasures of the senses,
That develops detachment, wisdom and purity,
That enlightens the realities of the cosmic order,
That supreme light of the science of the Absolute
Ladies narrated them with flourish and quoted the pearls of
thoughts as guiding precedents. My mother developed her interest in the Ramcharitmanas
by Tulsi Das , and she got in it something to help her solve the problems of
life. If one's soul is defectively organised, one would surely be the victim
of outward unrest, disorder and revolution.
Her meditative reading, done everyday, helped her to organise
herself to maintain poise and balance without which one develops even a wish
to die. Boltzman, the physicist and author of the celebrated S=K log W, wouldn't
have committed suicide, he would have learnt the grammar of existence. I never
heard anybody committing suicide in Maithil society despite the adversities
and frustrations of life. A few recent cases which I know are all on account
of gross consumerism bred by unbridled materialism of the west.
She was extremely fond of what is popularly known as the Ram
Gita which consists of a few chaupais in the Lankakand of the Ramcharitmanas.
In these chaupais Sri Ram tells Vivishan what constitutes the real chariot which
ensures victory. Vivishan was disconcerted on seeing in the battle-field Sri
Ram on foot but Ravan mounted on a mighty chariot. Sri Ram assuaged him by telling
him that the chariot which leads one to victory is of another kind. Whether
it is the life of individual or of a nation the qualities which Sri Ram mentions
are of the greatest value, always to be remembered whatever be the sphere of
one's actions, science, art, or commerce. She made me recite these Chaupais
several times. With film of tears in my eyes, I recited these lines for the
last time to her when she was lying dead near the holy bush of Tulsi. The beauty
and the depth of wisdom cannot be communicated through translation. However
I quote these lines as rendered in English by Dr R.C. Prasad:
‘Seeing Ravana mounted on a chariot and Raghubira on foot,
Vibhishana was disconcerted, his extreme affection for the Lord making him
doubtful of mind; he made obeisance to his feet and spoke tenderly.
‘My Lord, you have no chariot nor any protection either for
your body or for your feet. How, then can you expect to conquer this stalwart
hero?' ‘Listen, friend,' replied the All-merciful, ‘the chariot which leads
one to victory is of another kind.
Valour and fortitude are the wheels of that chariot, while
truthfulness and virtuous conduct are its enduring flags and pennants; strength,
discretion, self-control and benevolence are its four horses, harnessed with
the cords of forgiveness, compassion and evenness of mind.
The worship of God is its skilled charioteer, dispassion
his shield and contentment his scimitar; charity is his axe and reason his
fierce lance and the highest wisdom his relentless bow.
A pure and steady mind is his quiver, filled with the arrows
of quietude, restraint and religious observances. Homage to the Brahmans and
to one's own preceptor is his impenetrable buckler; there is no other way
to ensure victory than this.
He, my friend, who rides upon such a chariot of righteousness,
has no enemy to conquer anywhere.
Listen my resolute friend; he who owns so powerful a chariot
as this is a hero who can vanquish even that mighty and invincible fore, birth
This chariot is needed to go ahead both in the world in which
we live with others in God's creations, and to evolve in the universe of one's
own being. These together constitute the very phalanx of existence: to this
theme I would come latter in a more appropriate place. It is enough here to
say that if these principles, to which Lord Rama refers, are integrated with
the subject-matter of study of what is now most sought after subject in this
consumerist society led by the corporate imperium: I mean the MBA (the Master's
degree in Business Administration). Allan Bloom, the author of The Closing of
the American Mind, had reasons to consider MBA ‘a great disaster' because students'
lives were ‘never radically changed by it, as they should be in a proper education.'
[Peter Watson, A Terrible Beauty p. 723] Even a slight advancement
towards the goal would be great as steps towards the right cause are never lost.
I couldn't have thought of anybody else for receiving diksha
mantra. The great Sankaracharya had received the sannyas diksha from his mother.
Manu had observed: “An Acarya or a Vedic teacher excels ten upadhyayas or salaried
sub-teachers in glory, a father excels a hundred acaryas but a mother excels
a thousand fathers.” On the Vijyadasmi day of 1970 I received my mantra from
my mother. This spiritual experience I received in terms of the Tantric tradition
of Mithila. Under our received tradition tantra and yoga lead to the same end.
With passage of time I felt that the Mahavidhya Tara acquired a living presence
for me. Whenever I was in crisis I sought light from Her which I got without
fail. When I am alone she is within me. I pray She comes to my mind at the point
of my death for which I pray ya Devi sarva bhuteshu mirtiu rupean sansitha [Durgasapta
My mother was the eldest daughter of a rich land-owner in the
village of Shernia on the bank of the Ganges in the district of Monghyr. She
was married with a poor man's son. My mother adjusted with her circumstances
without ever grumbling against anything. But she had her worry of the most agonizing
kind. Elders of the family eagerly awaited her to be blessed with a child. Years
passed. At that time a barren womb was the worst crime. If no child was born
within 2 or 3 years, it was customary to pierce the young lady with frowning
look and caustic comments. They believed that as a barren piece of land is worthless
for husbandry so is a barren wife of no use to a family. Till her thirty-first
year my mother had no issue. She faced, with remarkable resignation, the slings
of fortune. Her in-laws were very considerate but there were limits beyond which
their humane considerations could not go. They wanted my father to marry again
but he declined.
The members of her in-laws' family had their reasons. They
believed that a son is needed most as a support in old age, as the protector
and maintainer of the family tradition, and, the most important, as the saviour
from the hell to which one be destined after death. When after my mother's death
I heard the Gadurpurana I was all aghast at the ghastly imagination of those
who composed it. After hearing the most macabre description of the hell which
son will not be ready to perform the karmakanda rituals even if that meant selling
himself for money to incur that expenditure? For us it may be difficult now
to understand all these. That world-view has gone, though even now we find this
craving for son in our society. The idea lingers but now we know that the present-day
sons do not believe in the hell which is to be crossed in astral body, nor do
they have any wish to be a support to the aging parents. The expectation to
carry on tradition these days is futile as now find the individual talents all
up against all traditions. There was a stupid desire to have a son to carry
the family tree further still, even there is only one tree of life to which
Lord Krishna refers an the Samsarvrichha, and to which an evolutionary biologist
refers as the enormous arborescent bush of life.
Mother was advised to perform all sorts of religious and
tantric rituals to propitiate gods for a son.. She ate all sorts of herbal preparations
made by the Vaidyas and the Sadhus. She heard the Harivansh Puranas as it was
believed that on listening to it a son is sure to born. She spent a month at
the Baidyanatha Dham worshipping Lord Shiva. Several days she lived on bel leaves
alone. She gave away all her jewellery to the abjectly poor in her mood of total
surrender to God. Then in her 31 st year, ‘I was born, squalling, into the world.'
She was, deeply attached with me. She did for me all the good that homo sapiens
can think of ever. I wonder what a tragic waste it was to add to the world's
population one more creature to become ‘a patient etherised upon a table' [T.S.
Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock], or mere ‘helpless and fragile
beach-ball.' [The expression is borrowed from Donald D. Glad: “Mind as an
Organismic Integration” in Theories of Mind by Jordan M. Scher (New York)]
equipped to encore what the Painter said in Shakespeare's The Life of Tymon
Poet……how goes the world?
The Painter: It wears Sir, as it grows.
But there was one thing good. She suffered for me, and brought
me all through, without any expectation. I cannot describe her state of mind
in words better than these I read in Khalil Gibran's his Prophet:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls.
I do feel that Khalil Gibran expressed the right perspective
which all parents should have towards their children. I am not sure whether
keeping these lines in mind would serve any purpose, but, perhaps, some may
be able to avoid those moments which wrench most by cutting at the deepest strings
After a very rough journey we reached our village. A short
account of this travel is mentioned in the chapter dealing with my father. We
were the members of a large Hindu undivided family of which my grandfather,
Grihinandan Jha, was the karta wielding vast unquestioned authority. But he
was ruling over a bankrupt empire. The family was managed with the trickle of
finance which my father and my eldest uncle used to provide out of their earnings
as School Teachers. When all of them assembled in the courtyard, they seemed
a colony of earthworms which I had discovered by upturning clay to find out
these to hoist them as baits on the hooks for catching fish. We realized then
that within a few years, malaria and cholera would take many of them away from
Our house had mud walls and thatched roofs with creaking doors
not strong enough even to withstand a child's push. Those days people bothered
more against the vagaries of nature rather than the knaveries of men. . We lived
following the principles of peaceful co-existence with a lot snakes which roamed
freely in the house and its courtyard. Once I saw one big snake coiling on the
top of our mosquito-net. We had a full view of his antics. Its agility, and
its brilliant shine, made it a thing of beauty. But these snakes were much less
treacherous than most human beings. Mere clapping was enough to make them go
away from us. My mother planted a lot of creepers both on the fences of fern,
and on the roof of hay. Their leaves and fruits stood us in good stead to keep
the wolf from the doors. Some boiled rice and green poro leaves became for months
our staple food. The green stain on the boiled rice seemed the patterns of emerald
particles inlaid in the white marble.
We owned a small farm which was cultivated by sharecroppers.
Those days the Brahmins never ploughed fields. Once I asked the reason for this
taboo. My hilarious cousin said that if they plough the land there was a risk
that Sita might emerge from the furrow as she had done when Janaka was tilling
We were in difficult financial straits. She could have left
for the house of her parents to ward off her difficulties. But she decided to
be in her village disseminating the nationalist ideas amongst people there.
As she had a wonderful sense of discrimination and as she was always available
to help solving problems of myriad types for solving which many ladies sought
her counselling. Her worst problem was to finance litigation which a sequel
to father's arrest. As it happens most often, her helpers in the matter were
most often blood-suckers. Those who looked after the litigation needed a lot
of money for this or that. She could obtain money only by pawning her jewellery,
the final resource of a Hindu lady before being reduced to complete penury.
The moneylenders and the pawnbrokers are everywhere alike, callous and blood-thirsty.
They adopted heinous stratagems to extract super profits. They would do everything
somehow to gulp the pawned jewellery by forging pretexts. With an iron in my
soul, once I had once a wish which had led Roskolnkov, in Dostoevsky's Crime
and Punishment, to finish the cruel pawnbroker in a fit of frenzy. Besides,
she had to raise money on high rate of interest. Quite often gold jewellery
of 22 carat pronounced just to be of 14 or 18 carats, even 9 carat. Our men
who took the jewellery to the shop found the marks on the touchstone beyond
their comprehension. They believed that neither Shaligram could speak a lie,
nor the person with the holy stone in his hand could say untruth. Where ignorance
prevails, Deception rules.
What caused most agonizing concession was our lack of knowledge
about the way the freedom-fighters were being dealt with by the British government.
No newspaper reached our village. Once in a while someone returning from Patna
or Darbhanga brought some information distorted by every tongue and ear that
carried it ahead. None in the village had a radio. The HMV Gramophone Record
was a magic box for the village folks. The postman in his fortnightly his visits
brought some words which passed for news. Words of mouth went round in the small
world. Hearsay held the way. Rumour rather than information multiplied, and
got circulated the way Pope describes:
The flying rumours gather'd as they roll'd
Scarce any tale was sooner heard than told
And all who told it added something new
And all who heard it made enlargement too.
Men would assemble on the green grass of the Shri Ram Temple
or under the massive Banyan tree to hear about happenings in the British Raj.
Rumours passed for truth. Rumours become more palatable and believable when
they are embroidered with skill. For months my mother did not know whether her
husband was alive, or dead. Perched on the Bunyan's long fat roots crooking
into the water of the Rani Pokhar, and playing at fishing I often stretched
my ears to hear others talking about the events which concerned us most. Something
said immediately became a matter for gloss. When a great leader, like Nehru
or Gandhi, was in prison, even their minute details were reported in media.
In our village we lived in total darkness. In that hallucinatory ethos we were
made to hear that so many persons were hanged., so many tortured, so many whisked
off to some unknown destinations, so many killed…….. The villagers feared reprisals
as our village had a band of freedom-fighters. I carried to my mother tales
and rumours believing them true. She always allowed to say what I heard, but
she never reacted. Mother kept her calm even in the most trying moments believing,
perhaps, in the assurance that Lord Krishna has given in the Gita: na me
bhaktah pranasyati ( my devotee never perishes).
This helped her to remain unruffled under circumstances which
could break even a brave heart. In 1942-43 she received a series of severest
shocks. Her father was a patriarch of a great family in village Shernia now
in the district of Khagaria in North Bihar. All his four sons were persons of
exceptional abilities. They got embroiled into some land dispute which turned
into a fratricidal war. My mother's father was ambushed, and killed while going
somewhere on horse. Soon after his death, my mother's eldest brother, Baldeva
Mishra, was killed. He had saved Dr. Rajendra Prasad from a brutal attack by
the imperial police while passing through Parbatta during the Freedom Movement.
Shortly after her second brother Bateshwara Mishra, an eminent advocate practising
at Monghyr was killed by their adversary. My mother's third brother, Kaleshwar
Mishra, was preventively detained in jail as measure to provide him security.
My mother's youngest brother Jageshwara Mishra was a minor. Mother bore the
waves of tragedy. She had, at intervals, to go to Shernia to console and support
her relations in the household rent with the sobs and lamentations of the three
Her capacity to face adverse circumstances with a tongue-tied
patience was amazing. Perhaps she could do so as she had from her tradition
a coherent philosophy of life. An ordinary event conveyed an extraordinary message.
It was a cruel summer afternoon when we were gazing at the hexagonal structures
of the ceiling made mostly with bamboos, supported by two columns stationed
on a sturdy wooden beam. A sparrow came in through a window in the south; it
relaxed, played pranks with its feathers and tiny beak; and then it flew away
going out of the room from the window in the northern wall. My mother told me:
“You have seen this. This is human life.” The bird had done its duty, and had
gone. That event and my mother's comment got encoded in my mind for ever. When
I read, years after, in the Bhagavad-Gita, the same idea felicitously expressed
by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita (II.28):
tatra ka paridevand
[Being are unmanifest in their beginnings, manifest in the
middles and unmanifest again in their ends, O Bharata (Arjuna), What is there
in this for lamentation?] [Dr S. Radhakrishnan, The Bhagavadgita p. 111]
Decades after I read Bede's Ecclesiatical History where similar
ideas have been expressed in almost similar imagery; to quote -
‘“ Such,” he said, “O King, seems to me the present life
on earth,” as if …on a winter's night a sparrow should fly swiftly into the
hall and, coming in one door, instantly fly out through another….Somewhat
like this appears the life of man. But of what follows or what went before
we are utterly ignorant.'
Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone found the idea so suggestive
that he not only quoted the above in his autobiography, but even named his memoir
A Sparrow's Flight [Published by HarperCollins Publishers]. He ended
it with the Sparrow's prayer which is, in fact, his own. The first four lines
express the sparrow's plight:
Father, before this sparrow's earthly flight
Ends in the darkness of a winter's night;
Father, without whose word no sparrow falls,
Hear this, Thy weary sparrow, he calls.
Mercy, not justice, in his contrite prayer,
Cancel his guilt, and drive away despair;
The Mundaka Upanishad says:
“Two birds, beautiful of wing, close companions, cling to one
common tree: of the two one eats the sweet fruit of the tree, the other eats
not but watches his fellow.” [Translated by Aurobindo in his The Upanishads
p. 205(Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry)]
I can not think of an imagery more expressive of my parents'
life-style than the imagery of the two birds on a tree, one busy at work, and
the other just a detached onlooker. They, in their wedded life, constituted
one creative agency as under our Hindu system a wife and her husband are complete
only when one: wife being viewed as her ardhangini (half of the self). The other
bird is the observing agent: he is often called the karmadhyksha (the supreme
observer of that is done). I would modify it a little by saying that God is
more than an onlooker. He is the supreme catalytic agent also. The two birds,
to whom the Upanishad, were perched on a tree of creation ( Samsarvrichha ).
The leaves of this tree adopt two tracks for their growth and evolution. The
leaves evolve in their inner universe acquiring gradual ascent to the Supreme;
and also on the track of social growth and evolution achieving better social
solidarity, inter-dependence, and public good. This inner evolution leads one
to feel, what Swami Satyananda Saraswti expresses in his kirtan [Some of
the stanzas from the kirtan as translated by this author]:
That which is the Supreme Soul of the entire Universe
That is the Soul of all the Creatures
That Immortal Soul Sachhidanand I am
Eternal is the Soul and perishable is the body
The Soul which pervades through the selves of all
That Eternal Soul Sachhidanand I am
That which can't be cleaved by weapons nor burnt by fire
Nor wetted by water nor destroyed by Death
That Eternal Soul Sachhidanand I am
That which is paramount and dweller in all the atoms
That which perishes not in the divides of the time
That eternal soul Sachhidanand I am.
It is really difficult to appreciate the quality of life
that the bird in action reveals unless we rise above the jarringly discordant
backdrop of our modern life safeguarding ourselves against:
' this strange disease of modern life,
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
Its heads o'ertax'd, its palsied hearts. . .'
Those days the preparation of food, and the way one eats food
had a clear dharmic dimension. Cooking in every household was done in the room
wherein the family deity was worshipped. One could cook anything only after
taking bath. Purity of mind was considered an essential ingredient. Cooking
was a sacred function. The common practice was to dine on the mud built veranda
washed with cow dung mixed with water. Those who went for food had to remove
their shoes in the courtyard itself. None could squat on the wooden plank for
food without washing one's feet. It was obligatory to offer silently the food
to Govind by chanting a mantra humming in a low voice. None ever grumbled against
the food provided. It was believed that criticise the food which becomes a prasada
of Govind is a sacrilege. One ate with concentration, mostly silent. It was
considered a misdemeanour to talk on the sundries. This attitude was mainly
because food is considered God Himself (annam brahmah). My mother was a strict
task-matter so that none deviated from the prescribed norms.
We lived on food frugal by all standards. While at school I
read about the concept of balanced diet containing appropriate proportion of
carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins and other minerals. The concept of balanced
diet did not accord well with the food I found many of my relations eating.
We never got balanced diet over years. But there were many persons who lived
on mere boiled rice with salt sprinkled. I saw most persons who lived full life
without ever getting a balanced diet. Many did not get bellyful of bare carbohydrates.
Once I asked Dr. S.M.Nawab, FRCS, to clarify how they live
long without a balanced diet ever available to them. Dr Nawab was not only a
distinguished doctor; he was also a thinker with deep insight. Before answering
my question he asked me a question to know how the ate, and what was their attitude
towards food. I told him what I have just narrated. He found in what I said
sufficient material to find out an answer to my problem. He explained to me
Einstein's theory of Relativity and his famous equation E= mc 2 . If the Universe
is dramatised with twice the velocity of light the whole Universe would melt
into Energy obliterating all formal distinctions. In the ultimate analysis,
the formal differences do not exist. As a matter of hypothesis it can be said
that it is possible to draw from carbohydrate alone all that body needs. It
depends on one's conversion mechanism. It is largely a psychic affair. It is
the outlook towards food, and the state of mind of the person, that matters.
We have heard stories that many Rishis lived without food. Scientifically it
is possible. Air could provide them with requisite energy as in the ultimate
analysis air and food are the same energy. It is said that Villavmangalacharya,
who sang the famous “Govind Damodar Strotam”, lived on bel leaves for twelve
years! My mother who was listening to our conversation, to our amazement, came
out with an excellent illustration. Meera was given poison as prasada, so that
she could die. She took it as prasada. It is said that it became amrita the
moment she gulped it. Two decades after when I learned from Swami Satyanand
Saraswati about the Chakras I felt that the Visudhi Chakra must have transmuted
the poison into amrit. Mind controls and conditions the chemistry of food we
eat. Dr Nawab said that the concept of the balanced diet is based on the law
of average. As most persons do not possess highly effective conversion mechanism
the concept of balanced diet is useful. It refers to what an average man can
achieve at grosser level. At subtler level things become different. The western
medical science contemplates the possibilities of the average man at grosser
level. He stressed that state of mind at the time of eating has a powerful role
in the functioning of our body chemistry.
It was the late evening of December 8, 1973. I was at Patna,
and my parents were at Laheriasarai. My wife was cooking food. I was studying
W.W.Buckland's A Textbook of Roman Law from Augustus to Justinian. In a flash
I saw my mother standing before me, dressed in white, her face beaming with
mystical smile. I was bewildered. I didn't know whether I stood on my head or
on my heels. I told my wife my strange experience. She was nonplussed. Throughout
the night I remained awake trying to understand the mystery that I had seen.
The first thing I did on November 9, 1973 was to ring up from my office to my
son living with his grandparents at Laheriasarai. He told me that my mother
was well. She asked him to convey her blessings to me. It was about 9.50 a.m.
I came back to my residence. At 10.30 a.m. a friend of mine came running to
my house. He advised me that I should immediately proceed to Laheriasarai where
my father needed me at once. In fact, my mother had expired shortly after my
phone call. After listening to her grandson my welfare, she ate rice and milk
(as she used to do every Sunday), and sat on the wooden plank reciting Harinam
and counting her beads. Perhaps she had a cardiac arrest. Nobody saw her dying.
Her death was sudden but sublime. The great Sri Billvamanglacharaya in his ‘Sri
Govind Damodar Strotam' had wistfully prayed [Translation mine.]:
I seek, O Tongue, your this sole benefaction.
When the Lord of Death catches me in His jaws
Sing the sweet loving song with deep devotion
Of Govind Damodar and Sri Madhava.
Life flowers in death. It is the culmination of a process which
begins with birth. Rabindranath Tagore's words come to mind: Maran re tuma mom
Shyam saman (O Death, You are like Krishna Himself.)
The day she died was the purnima ( full moon day) of Agrahanya
Death, the Reaper, could not have come at a better time. Keats in his sonnet,
Why did I laugh to-night, said
Verse, Fame and Beauty are intense indeed
But Death intenser - Death is Life's high meed.
She was cremated on the bank of the holy Ganges at Semriaghat
when lakhs of devotees were having their bath in the holy water: perhaps to
pay homage to her departed soul.
This daughter of Mother India lived thus, and died thus. Her
life had become, during the short period she visited this earth, a focussed
serenity of great creative joy. She achieved the highest bliss to which Lord
[The Supreme Spirit is rooted in that man who has achieved
the calm of self-mastery; ever serene is he in the face of cold and heat, pleasure
and pain, honour and dishonour.]