Friday, February 24, 2017

Let there be light ...

The young God started the year with a mixture of excitement and also slight trepidation.  

He had just come back from a vacation with his parents, which, he wished, had lasted longer. But as his Mom reminded the second year in the school was the most fun. It is here that they would learn the universal alphabets of creation, matter generation, lighting of life spark and all the other things.  If he wanted to grow up to be a important God, this was vital skill that he had to acquire early on.

The first day back at school was quite nice. Our young Hero spent fun time with all the other little Gods talking about the Divine vacations each had spent.  The more studious ones, spent their time studying, some created their own Time or Space or both with their parents. Some took a summer class on the principles energy flow.

Our little God, however, spent a lazy vacations in the shores of eternity creating castles using the sands of time. Sometimes he would just float about in the pool of Infinity that they had at the beach hotel where he was staying.

One time, during the vacation itself his Parents took him to a Universe Factory as a learning trip. He spent aeons watching universes form and disappear like soap bubbles, each a unique creation with its own size, colour and lifetime. His father explained that he himself had started his career at a Universe Factory and worked his way up in the divine corporate ladder. While at the factory, Father had told our young hero that he expected him, our hero, to follow in his footsteps.  Mother had chimed in saying becoming a successful God wasn't so easy and took many years of hard work at the school. Why did a God have to work hard in school and factory, he had wondered. Should Gods not remain on perpetual vacations? What was the fun of being a God then? He however decided not to voice his questions and hazard a long lecture from Mom...

***

"Being able to Create, is what makes you God", our hero was brought out his reverie by the booming voice of his teacher who made his dramatic entrance into the class.   To create an effect he lowered the window blinds with a flick of his hand and as the Godly children were adjusting their eyes to the darkness, manifested a few shiny new universes from his sleeve. In front of the wonder stuck eyes of the little Gods, a series of big bangs lit up the darkened class.

As they watched, the big bangs manifested, followed by the appearance of matter and antimatter, clumps formed inside the ever expanding bubbles, stars, star clusters and eventually galaxies formed.  At every milestone the children cried out in unison for the changes were wonderful to behold.  Every single universe was unique, if one was comprised of matter, another was of anti-matter, some other was entirely made of notions, yet other of certainties.  Some existed in a substratum of space, while others in imagination. Some started from a bang and expanded away, while others started as a all encompassing reality that slowly converged towards a central point.  As each universe was about to be born, the teacher infused each with a measure of energy, the essence of Shakti, the cosmic energy personified as Divine Mother. This energy enabled the birthing of the universe and once the universe was born, it was this very Shakti that would flow through the universe throughout its lifetime.  This Shakti was the soul of the Universe and as long as an Universe was able to support the flow of Shakti through it, it would remain in existence. At the point the flow of Shakti would no longer be possible, Shakti would exit the universe to merge with the Cosmic Shakti and the universe and all that it contained would come to an end.




As the last of Universes emerged from his sleeve, the teacher held it in suspension in front of him. The rest of the universes, created earlier, has already risen to the ceiling where a big pipe guided their path to a lab where they would play out their lifetimes.

He held his hand up signalling the class to quiet down. In a hushed tone he said - "I am going to give this one here, the biggest gift that a universe can have."

A long pause for effect.

"I am going to give this one the gift of Life."   With a special prayer to cosmic Shakti, he infused into the universe a special life creating energy.  Lo Behold, planets in different corners, in diverse galaxies, that could conduct this special energy came alive with life.  With life came a dynamism within the universe which the other lifeless ones could never match.  The universe itself became self aware, conscious of its existence, and began it own search for bliss.

As the universe slowly floated around the class humming softly.  It continually changed hues, as civilisations formed and decayed away, various lifeforms and belief systems came and went. Art and Science were discovered, as was Spirituality.  The class followed the universe's wake with mesmerised eyes.  At long last the teacher waved this spectacular universe away to a special section in the lab where living universes lived out their lives.

"What you saw today, is the entire syllabus of what you will learn through your stay in this School," said the teacher.  "The interplay of the Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti is the platform upon which existence of these universes, of our own universe and the universe that views ours as bubbles, ad infinitum, rest".  The kids coughed uncomfortably. Being omniscient, they no doubt understood what the teacher was saying, but as children the concept of infinity when extended to their plain of existence sounded little scary.  

"This year, we shall learn the Brahma principle of creation along with using the essence of Shakti.  Depending on how you all progress, we shall also work with the life giving aspect of Shakti"

And finally, "Class dismissed.  Review what we did today and I will see all of you here tomorrow".

*** 

Through the year our hero worked hard in class.  He was among the first to manifest an universe and send energising Shakti coursing through its veins.  The first few he created were incredible explosions, while some just disappeared with a whimper.  But before long he had perfected his skill of determining what was the right amount of energy for each kind of universe that he created.  Some of the specimen that he created drew appreciation from is class and teacher as well.  Before long, the universes that he created started turning out to be the most extraordinary ones in the class.

Finally the day came when the class had create their first living Universes.  As the teacher entered the class there was some last minute nervous laughter.  This was the first test they would have to pass as Gods.  Clearing this level would take them to the next classes where there would understand the ways of Shakti at a deeper level, advance to Vishnu and Shiva levels.  Those who wanted to continue studying further would specialise in master level study of the Brahman and the complete manifestation of Brahman- Krishna.  

But before any of that happened, this class had to be passed.

The first two children came back dejected, they had created beautiful universes for sure, but these proved to be bad conductor for Life Energy.  The teacher kindly asked them to repeat the class. Time, of course, was no object.

Then came the turn of our hero.  Nervously, with a prayer to Krishna, he came up to the class podium where he was to manifest his universe. 

Slowly, with his entire concentration, he created a beautiful big bang using Shakti energy from which emanated a neat universe.  Not too crowded nor too sparse.  He created time and space for matter to form and exist. In a short time there were beautiful galaxies that studded the whole universal space. 

It was finally time for Prana Prathista, to give the universe Life.  Invoking Goddess Shakti, he passed in a bolt of Consciousness giving Life Energy, the Prana Shakti into it.  But with increasing dismay, he realised that this Energy was not flowing through his creation.  In one or two planets it did show some movement, but before the life could grow beyond single celled organism, some asteroid or supernova would snuff Life out of existence.  Was he destined to create a lifeless universe too? 

When all seemed lost and he had all but hung his head in defeat, these was a collective gasp from the class.  He looked up to see that in a minor peripheral galaxy, there was a dwarf yellow star around which eight or nine planets circled.  In the third planet, Life had all of a sudden established hold ...

Even as he looked down at the planet, he saw that Life Energy had truly found a conductor and the planet and the universe itself, came alive.  At the touch of Life the planet itself turned a beautiful shade of blue and from a distance appeared as a pale blue dot.

Our hero, who was also named Krishna, after the absolute, smiled and murmured, "Let there be light ..."

The Beginning 

Today is my Rudraditya's birthday and I did want to write something to celebrate the day. Hence this story about a young God.  As I wrote about the young God, I am sure you know whose face I visualised in my mind :)

This story is result of mixing of multiple thought process in my mind - Vedanta and Fermi Paradox, Love of Krishna and Advaita, Creationism and Evolution and many many others.  I have tried to provide a few layers to this story, I hope I infused some sense as well....  

The Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan has been an inspiration for me and many others for long. I couldn't resist coming back and adding a reference to it  as an inside out view.  Please do take a few minutes to watch it, it is just amazing.



Monday, December 26, 2016

I and The Father are one - His Deepest Message for Humankind

There is an universal appeal about Lord Jesus Christ that cuts across religions and belief systems. Whether you see him as a Redeemer, a Messiah or a Divine Guru,  his life and his message are mesmerising to any seeker who is on a spiritual path. This appeal has been celebrated by the Greatest of Indian Spiritual masters of modern times like, Swami Vivekananda, Yogananda Paramahansa and Srila Prabhupada.  Though each of these giants followed a different path within the Dharmic system, they all found inspiration and validation in the messages of Lord Jesus.

Among his many messages, one of the deepest and most profound is one that was considered blasphemous when he made the utterance and I feel is misunderstood even to this day.  Lord Jesus had pronounced bravely  (John 10:30)

I and The Father are One. 

What could he have possibly meant by a statement so revolutionary?  At the time he had said it, many in his audience steeped in a Judaic concept of God, found his words full of blasphemy and "picked up stones to stone him".  A quick web search will show that mainstream Christian scholarship hasn't understood it much better even today. So while the words of the Saviour are not longer termed as blasphemous, scholars today typically try to explain this statement away as a metaphor for things such as - Unity of Purpose, Unity of Message etc.. While such explanations obviously are true in themselves,  I feel that turning this statement into a metaphor completely dilutes, what I think was, the true purpose and meaning.

However it is strange that the exact words that Lord Jesus had spoken are found in the Vedic Mahavakyas.  Take for instance the following Mahavakya that appeared first in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Aham Brahma Asmi (अहम् ब्रह्म अस्मि)
meaning
"I am Brahman - the Infinite Reality"

Doesn't it appear to be an exact translation of what Jesus had said?  It most surely does.

In Vedic thought process this saying of Jesus is neither blasphemy nor mere metaphor.  Instead it is an eternal and verifiable truth, and establishes the unity of the macrocosm and microcosm, and is an statement about the nature of existence as it is. Just pure unadulterated Truth.  It is also absolutely clear that by the I, the Lord means the spirit soul which is really our true identity.



Understanding this Truth takes long Sadhaana, reading multiple points and counter points, mediation and self analysis until the consciousness starts to  recognise its own true identity. But I can think of no better starting point than the following TEDx talk by Swami Sarvapriyananda of Ramakrishna Mission.  It is a short one, please take a few minutes to hear him out...



So how was it possible that Lord Jesus echoed the eternal truth that the Vedas and Upanishads had thundered to the universe, centuries earlier, and that too at a land that far far away.  Well there are many theories that a mere web search will reveal, but what I believe is that Universal Truths are Universal Truths, not just anywhere in the world but in whole of the Universe and Creation itself.

Divine inspiration, Brahma Gyaan are same whether Lord Jesus, Sri Chaitnaya, Lord Zarathustra or Swami Vivekananda delivers the message.  As Sai Baba had said -  Sab Ka Malik Ek

The Truth shall indeed set us free. Wish you all a Merry and Enlightening Christmas Holidays.

Jai Shri Krishna.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Pursuit of Pleasure, Spirituality and Religion

One of the greatest truth of human existence is the Supremacy of the Pursuit of Pleasure or Happiness. There is nothing that motivates humans to do impossible tasks as this pursuit. Fear is an equally potent motivator, this arises out of the prospect of losing things through which pleasure may be derived and thus is a corollary. All other pursuits such as Love, Money or even God consciousness is secondary to that core single minded pursuit. If that sounds sacrilegious I shall show you below our quest for spirituality and the institution of religion are built on these concepts as bedrocks.

The Hunt for Paradise

Imagine Paradise.

What are the first thoughts that come to your mind?  Being contented? Being happy and relaxed? Think a little more, can you not see yourself stretched out happily in front of a large ocean as the waves gently crash into the shores unleashing a pleasing sound to ears?  Or is being inside a green silent forest as beams of sunlight fall all around and birds chirp at a respectable distance please you?  Are the first thoughts of paradise that you get take you to a dance floor where you dance the night away with a loved one?  Or is it playing with your children? Climbing a mountain? Writing a book (or a blog which few read anyway)? Meditation? Company of beautiful people? Serving someone? Discovering strange new worlds and boldly going where no one has gone before (High five if you recognised where this is from)? Being with parents? Siblings? 

Well, each of these is well and truly a paradise. Which paradise we choose to be depends on how deeply we have dissected the concept of pleasure.  (I almost wrote, depends on how much our consciousness has evolved in its eternal journey, when I suddenly released that is the kind of bunkum that makes religious text so tedious to read).

Finding Pleasure in Senses:  The most basic sense of pleasure is derived out of our senses in other words sensual pleasure.  The sound of music, the touch of satin or silk on our skin, the taste of an exquisite wine accompanied by the choicest food. Starting from the little baby which coos as its mother places it in a cozy bundle to the town drunk who can be found sleeping at random pavements to the compulsive eater whose jaws are always at work pleasure enters the human system most easily through senses.  The kind of pleasure has been called Kama in scriptures.  Some get trapped by this and is never able to leave. The addicts for instance, drugs or alcohol, are sorry beings who are not strong enough to counter Kama’s snare.

Finding Pleasure in Mind: However most people having experienced sensual pleasure quickly tire of it when given in excessive amounts. Sensual pleasure is pleasurable only in small quantities. How many of you have experienced work-sickness while in a long vacation, like a cruise or something? It is natural for most human minds to seek meaning in life. Be something. Gain new understanding. All enterprise, inventions, philosophies and even this blog that I am writing is because of the pleasure that Mind derives out of seeking meaning.  Wikipedia has an amazing article on Meaning of Life, which I like much. Earning money and wealth, starting the next kick-ass start up, or writing cool code for that startup, performing amazing athletic feats, or inventing science or creating art or creating a comic book superhero, or acting as one are all examples of our eternal search of pleasure that we get when we mean something in this creation. Perhaps that is why the second pillar of human life is called Artha in the scriptures.  Again like Kama, Artha is ensnaring, which is why some people are never satiated in their quest for wealth and take to crime and dishonesty when all else fail, some turn workaholics and feel a pride in that personality disorder, or in some cases spend the whole life in the quest of meaning through relationships without really ever finding the ideal partner.

Finding Pleasure in the Heart: Some are able to move past the quest of self-achievement to the quest of contributing back. A person is contributing back to the society when he is setting up a family and is providing for it. For the basic unit of society is the family and the grihastha (householder) has been put in a high pedestal our culture. Caring for one parents, nature, society at large or altruism, volunteering, donating at temples are all part of our Dharma, or that we are “supposed” to do – our duty to ourselves, our society and to creation in general. The pleasure that is derived out of dharma easily overshadows what you can get from the previous two levels and in fact subsumes them.  How many of you know that hot girl who was a topper all her life, had an amazing job and career and gave it all up to be with her husband and his family? And seemed happy too?  Or that guy who gave up everything either to become a preacher or naturalist or to help with getting drinking water in some remote village?  You will never be able to talk them out of what may seem to you a waste of talent because they have found their dharma. And once someone has found dharma in their hearts, logic of mental debates or the pleasure of sipping scotch, can’t easily derail them. However it must be noted that one’s assumed Dharma sometimes may take self-defeating forms (e.g. thinking that it is one sacred duty to “save” one particular person and messing up ones’ own life in the bargain) or destructive form (e.g. my way of life is the only way to live, all else is false and you have no right to exist because of your belief to the contrary)

Dissecting the Hunt

Finding Dharma is typically the highest form of pleasure that majority of people get to. And typically most stay there as well.  Dharma has all the ingredients that can enable one to lead a contented life.

But is it all?  Is everyone contented within the confines of Kama, Artha and Dharma?  The answer is a resounding NO to both questions. 

To understand the lure of the next level of pleasure a little back analysis in needed.  So let us recap the facts:


  • Kama is the state when I find pleasure in indulging, in my senses.
  • Artha is the state when I find pleasure in achievement, finding meaning to life, in my mind
  • Dharma is the state when I find pleasure in contributing, nurturing, in my heart


If we analyze these facts a few deeper thread of wisdoms may be discerned (In olden days these were called the Sutras, hence I call them Jim’s Paradise Sutras)
  •    Pleasure derived out of each of these three approaches is fickle and transient
o   Sensual pleasure is the easiest to turn poison: The hangover follows every binge, a life time of love of food typically shows in the waistline.  There are few things that can make one feel as hollow and useless as continuous indulgence. Even excessive laziness which is a form of sense indulgence in my book, makes one feel real worthless
o   Pleasure of Achievement pales with time:  Most have heard of the famous adage that no one in their death-bed complains of not having spent enough time at office. Whoever said it pretty much nailed it.  Doc Hudson’s three piston cups in garage is an example that tried to tell this truth to children.  Doc later found happiness in his Dharma as mentor to McQueen.
o   Even the fruits of Dharma are not permanent: Unhappy marriages, delusion arising out of the futility of trying to do good, cynicism that typically assail social workers are reminders that Dharma can’t guarantee permanent happiness, though the chances of getting long term happiness though following rta compliant Dharma is perhaps the highest. 
  • Each level of pleasure depends on my own efforts or Karma
o   None of these pleasures come to me without performing some form of Karma, good or Bad.
o   Each Karma starts a cycle of implication that is almost ceaseless in its extent.
o   If I do a Karma, I have to be ready for its results.
  •   It is all about I
o   All this pleasure seeking is directed to me and me alone, and let there be no denying the truth
o   I drink because I enjoy, I work because I earn, I do good because it helps me feel good about myself, I love my son because the feeling that comes from loving him is pleasurable to me.
o   It is all about I, me and myself and that is all that matters
o  But pursuit of happiness often leads to sadness or Dukkha at the end, until the next cycle of happiness starts. That too ends.

These realisation, even partially achieved flummoxes many and some turn atheists or get attracted to atheistic principles. The lure of emptiness of Nirvana is perfect example of desire to rid oneself of this unending Hunt.

Going beyond the Hunt

Thank heavens that emptiness is not the end.  That would be sad and bit of an anti-climax. There are those brave hunters who want to go beyond and analyze deeper.  The more intelligent among them catch that single thread that may prove to be the path as well as source of permanent happiness.

What is that that one thread then, you ask?  Why, it is I.   

(I, not as in Jim, but I as in your Self.  I clarify so as it is not misunderstood like the Lord’s saying - no one reaches the father except through me. He too meant Self but the church twisted it to mean a figure the access to who they could control and therein hangs many a tale.)

But who on God’s universe is this Self and why should you be bothered? Well it is Elementary my dear fellow. You have spent your entire life making that Self happy, failing often in that quest, should you not be finding who is he is and what he wants so that you actually get a shot real happiness?

That then takes you the final level of pleasure which is called ….

Moksha: Finding Pleasure in the Soul or Self.

Who am I, is the ultimate question that one needs to ask.  In that one question, that one quest is the promise of eternal, unparalleled happiness.  And that quest in the essence of Spirituality …

But this quest is not for the faint of heart, it takes nerves of steel and will of a Lion.  As Lord Krishna, the Supreme himself, said in Bhagavad Gita  (7.3)

manuṣyāṇāḿ sahasreṣu
kaścid yatati siddhaye
yatatām api siddhānāḿ
kaścin māḿ vetti tattvataḥ


So the question really boils down to -  Do you really want to aim for permanent happiness? Do you have it in you to proceed further?  

To be continued …


Today is the birthday of my little Princess Misha.  Happy Birthday my Shona Angel.  

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Madhusudhan Dada of the Forest

(This is a retelling of a Popular Bengali folk tale.  Submitted by Rudraditya as his class project on story writing)



 Once there was an small boy, named Jotil, who lived in a small village. The village was in the middle of a forest.  He lived with his father, mother and little sister.  His father was a farmer and mother a housewife.  The village had about 20 other huts and a small shop. The shop was run by the village headman and Jotil’s father helped out in the running the shop.


Jotil used to go to school to a nearby village for which he had to pass through a forest through a small path. In the morning his mother would take him to the school and in the evening his father would bring him back in his cycle. Those were happy times and he used to look forward to riding in the cycle with his father.





One year the rains were less and it was not possible to farm. Jotil’s father has to leave for a faraway town to earn money for the family.  Jotil, his mother and sister stayed back in the village.  Once Jotil’s father left his mother’s work also increased since she not only had to do everything at home, but also work in the village shop to make sure she earned some money.

Jotil was required to go to the school alone.  He was just about 8 years old then.

He was very afraid and on the first day he ran all the way to school and back, sobbing and shivering with fear. In the evening he set near his mother and narrated his trip to school, how scared he was and that unless his mother came with him, he wouldn’t go to the school any more.

His mother smiled gently at him and told, - “Silly boy, why are you scared. Your brother Madhusudhan Dada stays in the forest. If you are scared call him, he will accompany you.”

The next day, Jotil cautiously entered the forest and started running towards the school crying – Madhusudhan Dada, Madhusudhan Dada.  No one came and presently he reach school. In the evening the same thing happened. 

He came and told his mother about Madhusudhan Dada’s nonappearance and all she told was that you mustn’t have called hard enough.  Somehow Jotil didn’t believe her but thought he would try anyway.

Soon Jotil got quite used to crossing the forest and would make a call to Madhusudhan Dada before starting and then run all the way to the other side.

One day after the classes he got to playing with his friends and didn’t notice that the sun had almost gone down.  In panic he run into the forest to go to home. 

In the darkness he lost his way and realized he had no idea where he was, where he should go and what he should do. The dusk was fast becoming night and the forest creatures were waking up.  He could feel that he was being watched by numerous eyes of the forest creatures.  The big trees of the forests rose up like big and dark monsters whose arms swayed as the wind passed through. 




He stood crying for he didn’t know what to do.  He called out for his mother but he knew that she wasn’t there to hear him. He hoped his father would come and find him, but father was at a faraway town. 

He finally remember what his mother had told, that Madhusudhan Dada stayed in the forest and that he had not called him hard enough. 

So with all the might in his small body Jotil cried out – “Madhusudhan Dada, please show yourself. Please show yourself.  I have no one else to turn to.  Only you can help me."

“Mother has told me that if I need you, you will come. Why are you not coming?”

Every sound appeared to him the footstep of his Madhusudhan Dada and he fully expected him to appear before him.  He called out him nonstop and with his mind only on him.

Suddenly from distance he heard the soft music of someone playing flute.  At the melodious sound of the flute all his fear went away because he knew help was near.

Presently he saw another boy just a little bit older than Jotil himself come and stand in front of him. Jotil was so overcome with relief that he jumped up and hugged the boy, who hugged him back. 



“I know you are my Madhusudhan Dada”, Jotil said.

“Yes, I am, Jotil”, said Madhusudhan Dada.   He was slightly taller than Jotil, had a flute in his hand and a feather was stuck in his hair on one side.  Somehow even in the darkness he looked as if he was shining.

“Why did you not come before Dada?  I have been calling you for so many days.”  Jotil asked.

“I was always there, keeping an eye on you Jotil.  However I didn’t think you really needed me to be present with you.  Today you did and called out. Here I am. Simple.”  Madhusudhan Dada smiled.

Hand in hand they crossed the forest and reach Jotil’s village.  Jotil thanked his Dada and ran straight home to the arms of his waiting and worried mother.

From that day Jotil was never alone in the Forest, since he had learnt how to call out for his Madhusudhan Dada.

***

Saturday, August 08, 2015

The Lady of Lake Barapani: Part II

The Story So Far:  Lady of Lake Barapani: Part I


I can feel the chill even today when I think of that fateful night on the banks of Lake Barapani. A heady mix of adrenaline in my blood and raw fear in my mind drove me to physical feats that I can never imagine to have done on a normal day. Or night.  But when you have literally seen a Ghost and have had it follow you, it is no longer Normal. Reason leaves you completely and primal survival instinct takes over.

Coming back to my narrative, there I was, knocking like a mad man at the door of that solitary hut that I had run to in order to save myself from a chasing Ghost. 

No answer.  Though I could see that faint light was seeping outside through the cracks in the wall, nothing inside moved.  All around the wind was getting worse by the minute.  I dared not look back, but I could feel it in my bones that the lady in while was standing but a few steps behind. After a while the door opened slightly and a small kerosene lamp was shoved at my face. This momentarily blinded me as I had been in pitch darkness for so long and I didn’t know who it was behind the lamp.

Kon? Kya mangta hai?”, a rough rasping male voice asked me who I was and what I wanted.

 “I am trouble. Please may I get shelter for a little while?” I stammered in Hindi with a voice shaking like a reed.

Silence. 

I still couldn’t see who I was talking.  After a minute the voice spoke again in the same rasping voice that comes of years of smoking cheap beedis and God knows what else.

“Come inside.”  I could feel the reluctance in the voice, but I was past caring and rushed inside. Once inside I saw the only other source of light in the room was an earthen stove in the room that we call chulah, fueled by firewood. It was also little smoky inside making me cough. The side of the wall close to that stove was broken to let some of the smoke out, which is how I had possibly seen the light from a distance. I closed my eyes and took great gulps of air.  As oxygen reached by lungs and from it to the rest of my body I could feel life seeping back slowly into my body. 

Only to rush back out again!

As I opened my eyes I saw the most grotesque face ever regarding me intently.  The owner of the disembodied voice, my reluctant host had raised his small kerosene lamp to inspect me and in doing so had exposed his own hideous face.  Believe me when I say that as a surgeon there’s little I haven’t see and it takes much to rattle me. But now it totally did. The fellows face seemed to have been half eaten by some strange fungus. One eye was completely clouded while the other, the seeing one was blood shot. Lips upturned on one side into a permanent snarl. Shrunken cheeks, grey hairs on a balding head, he look around sixty five to seventy years of age. An inadvertent gasp escaped my throat which appeared to anger him slightly.

To cut the tension, I asked him whether I could get some water to drink.  Again the same silence for a minute as he bored into my head with his one seeing eye. 
Slowly the man ambled over to a dark part of the room and returned with an earthen pot with water.  The water of Shillong is very palatable even normally because of the minerals that it contains, but right then it seem nothing short of being pure nectar. I finished the pot and handed back to him with a thanks.

Paisa lagega”, in broken Hindi he said, will cost you money.

“Eh?”

Rukne ka paisa lagega”. Will cost you money to take shelter here.

Kitna”, I asked ready to pay.

Pachas Rupiya”, 50 Rupees was a princely sum in those days but I immediately paid.

This however brought down my tension level as well. If someone was after your money, at least they were human. 

After a while I asked for some water to wash myself as I was caked in mud from head to toe.  He pointed at the same general direction from which he got my drinking water. Outside a low doorway I found a small tin bucket in which rain water was being collected at the back of the hut. On it was floating a pot like the one from which I had drunk water!  So that’s where my water came from I thought. Well, no matter. I thoroughly washed myself and took a full bath even with my cloths on to rid myself of the mud. I was soon clean and completely wet. As I returned I found myself facing the same weird gaze.  I slowly averted my eyes and kept looking at the fire burning on stove.  Outside the wind howled like an angry beast and the walls of the small hut shook with each gust.  The rain had eased a bit but the lighting and thunder continued.

Chai piyega”, he asked me for tea.  I knew it was a ploy to get more money but I said yes. Not only was I unwilling to make him angry but also it was true that the prospect of a cup of tea didn’t sound too bad, wet and miserable as I was.  I nodded my consent. As the old man left the hut to get my cup of tea, I moved closer to the stove to warm up a bit. I was still soaked from the fully clothed bath that I had taken.  

***
I must have dozed off a little was I sat cross legged in front stove. I woke up with a start when the main door opened behind me and a gust of cold rain soaked wind hit my back.  “Ah Tea,” I thought as I shook off my slumber, got up and slowly turned out.  It wasn’t one person who had entered room.  About ten to twelve people had silent got in the room and were looking at me with looking at me with piercing murderous eyes. 

If I had experienced panic before, this time it was sheer mind numbing terror that gripped and totally immobilized me.

Each face was as hideous to behold as my host’s if not more and around the same age as him.  No words were needed to explain what they wanted, for in every hand there was a knife or a club. None in the group was even trying to hide either their murderous intent or the implements that they were planning to accomplish that with.  I looked on back at them like a dumb statue, my knees shaking violently in fear of my impending death.  I felt just like what a rat feels in the final moments before a snake sinks its fangs into him. My host came forward from within the group, with the promised tumbler of tea in his hand.  With a quick movement he thrust it towards my face and barked.'

Pi Le!”  Drink!

With hands that were shaking I took the dirty glass tumbler but instead of drinking stared back at the old man dumbly.

“Drink”. He spat the word again in Hindi, as the rest of his fellows started closing in.

A miracle happened at that very instant.

The rickety door flew open, accompanied with a flash of lightning.  There standing on the threshold was the Lady in white dress with her clear unblinking eyes fixed at the gang.

There was a collective exclamation of fear from the group as they screamed, shouted in fear.

Ruh, Ruh!  Issai Janana ki Ruh!”   Ghost, Ghost. Ghost of the Christian Lady! 

 I noticed then a large wooden crucifix was hanging from her neck.  I remember wondering - wasn’t the cross supposed to scare ghosts away, then why was this lady wearing one.  The gang moved away from the open door in their fright towards the back of the room to where the water bucket was.  Taking advantage of the confusion the Lady beckoned me towards her. I can’t explain why, but something in me told me that I could trust her.  Breaking out of my fright induced stupor I ran out of the door.

Seeing me escape the gang also regained their senses and rush out behind us screaming and screeching.  With that started perhaps the most horrific but absurd chase.  A lady ghost wearing a cross and surgeon frightened out his wits, followed by a gang of hideous old men armed with knives and clubs. “Maro, Bhagne na paye, Pakdo”, Kill, Don’t Let him escape, Catch him – the air ranted with their screams as I ran for my life.  Sure footed they were too.  Though we had almost a 2-3 minute head start, their knowledge of the terrain and the blood lust had some them catch up with us soon enough.   But all through the chase the lady demonstrated her other worldly powers as she would cause these people to slip and fall or put some obstacle in the path if they came too close causing them to shout out in anger.

There was a sudden chain of lightning flashes that lit of the area like day, clearly showing a sight that I can never forget.    In front of me was the Lady, who appeared to be floating in air, eyes fixed behind me at our chasers with two arms upraised as she made nature bow to her will. Leading me where I knew not.  Chasing undauntedly behind us brandishing their weapons was a gang of hideous men, their anger and blood thirst clearly visible as they ran, stumbled, and rolled behind us in the wet, slushy hilly training. Every time the Lady waved her hand making one of them fall they would get right up and jump back into the chase.

That’s when I realized that during this escape I hadn’t fallen down even once, while on my onward trip I wasn’t able to take two steps without slipping down. Was it the Lady who made this happen both times?
***

All of a sudden, it was all over.

I have no recollection how but I was inside the car shivering uncontrollably.  I tried starting the car and it magically responding immediately. Perhaps a final gift from my saviourWithout wasting a moment I zoomed away from the accursed place.  My control of my vehicle is legendary, and I used all the skills at my disposal to get away as fast as I could.

I never saw the Lady or the grotesque gang after that, but still I didn’t stop until I reached Sharmaji’s house at about 7.00 a.m.  Both Sharmaji and Aparajita had been up from 3.00 a.m. waiting for me, worry clearly visible in their faces as I pull up almost 4 hours late. I don’t know what they saw in my face but both of them rushed to my side as I came out of my car and without saying much led me to a deckchair which was placed in the veranda. While Sharmaji went into get someone to take my luggage inside and get me some team.  Aparajita remained by my side in a chair on my left. 

As I sat there mutely looking at her, for the first time ever, she took my left hand and held my palm between hers and said, “Whatever it is, don’t worry.  I am here.”  The tenderness in her voice and eyes drove away all residual fear that I still had.

I fell into a long, deep sleep.

I woke up at about noon.  I still was in the deck chair but a pillow had been placed under my head and a light bed sheet put on my body. Aparajita was still in the chair by my side, reading a book.  As I stirred, she gave her trade mark sunny smile, “Up?”  Much later, after a shower and lunch, I sat with her and Sharmaji and told them of my adventures. Sharmaji’s hand rose to his forehead and he chanted a short prayer of thanks to Lord Krishna.  Both Aparajita and I joined with folded hands. “Son, you are very fortunate. It was the blessed Sister Emily who saved you.”   He then proceeded to tell us the most incredible story.

***
The Blessed Life of Sister Emily

Emily Mary Bhattacharya was born to an English mother and Bengali father in Calcutta of 1900s. In a few years after her birth her mother took her away to London to be raised, while her father stayed back in Calcutta and remarried.  At London Emily excelled in her studies. Both she and her mother would visit Calcutta every winter for vacation when London became dreadfully cold and return back at the onset of spring.  Emily became one of the first graduates of Mathematics from King's College for Women at Strand and totally distinguished herself in her scholarship.  At a time when everyone expected her to find a suitable husband and get married, she shocked her family and friends by declaring to devote her life to Lord Jesus as a Nun.  Her father and step mother, who rushed to London and her mother all tried to dissuade   her but to no avail.  Soon she was Sister Emily, a novice of an Anglican religious order.

Her life as a nun in London, she found spiritually unsatisfying.  And once her mother had passed away, she decided to travel back to India to spread the Lord’s message.  She landed in Calcutta and spent a few months with her father, step mother and step brother and sister, who thoroughly adored her.  From there she proceeded to Shillong where the church apparatus was rapidly expanding and they needed teachers for the convent schools that were springing up.  The Church she belonged to had no problems finding her a position at a Convent where she joined as a senior teacher of Mathematics.  Her sweet nature and piety quickly made her a favorite with students and other teachers.  Even after schools she would spend long hours talking of Christ to both Christian and Hindu students.

And then one day she discovered Thakur RamakrishnaParamhansa. One of her Hindu students told the story of how Ramaskrishna had attained a vision of Lord Jesus. She of course knew who Ramakrishna was of course, since her father was a devotee and she had accompanied him to Dakshineswar a few times in her childhood, but she knew next to nothing about him, except that he had a famous disciple named Swami Vivekanada. The more she read about him, the more she became fascinated. She became frequent visitor to newly constructed Ramakrishna Mission at Laitumkhrah.  Ramakrishna she realized was a Christ-like spiritual giant who had lived and preached just about fifty years earlier. In Sarada she found the wisdom of a loving mother. And in the words of Vivekananda,  in her discussions with the monks with the Ramakrishna Mission on Vedanta and the Gospels, on Bhagavad Gita and Imitation of Christ, on Ma Kali and Lord Jesus, and finally on the universality of Lord Krishna the heavenly Father of us all, she finally found her answers to her spiritual quest. 

The more she understood about the Sanatana Dharma, the more her adoration of Jesus also increased.  Her discourses to her students and fellow teachers, to the parents of the students and visitors to her church became more engaging. She would draw not only from the life of Jesus and the Apostles, but from Mahabharata, from Gita, from Ramayana and from Ramakrishna. The crowd swelled.  While until her awakening her speeches were thinly disguised messages to encourage conversion, now they because truly the words of the Divine – The one creator who is our father.   

This continued for a couple of years.

Finally the church management woke up and took notice and decided that this “pagan nonsense” had no place at church and had to stop.  Sister Emily was called to a hearing and asked to repent for her sinful ways.  She left the meeting after a stunning speech of spirituality and its universality.  “Jotho mat Tatha path”, she told the dumb-founded audience before she left.


The Mother Superior of her convent came under tremendous pressure to have her thrown out. The Mother was a staunch Christian with no time for “Hindu beliefs” and “false Gods” but stood firmly behind Emily. She had heard what Emily had been preaching and could find no blasphemy. Nothing that Ramakrishna had preached was contrary to what Jesus himself had preached. Nor was Ramakrishna’s love for his Mother, “Ma Kali”, any less intense that Lord Jesus’s love for His Father.  The other nuns were also equally firm in their support, for they loved Emily and believed in her piety and Love for Jesus.

The students and the parents came out to streets in Emily’s support, which, of course, the British Government of the time didn’t take kindly.  In Anglican Church circles in Shillong, Calcutta and London there were intense debates on the Hindufication of the Church. The Church of England issue a rare statement denouncing the “happenings in Shillong”.   It was around that time Emily decided to leave Shillong and go back to Calcutta for some time.  A few months back, her father had died and she wanted to get away from this all and spent some time with her brother and sister. She wanted to visit Dakshineswar Kali Mandir as well. She promised her tearful students, their families and fellow nuns that she would return soon.

But she never did.



On her way to Gauhati from where she was to take a train, her car met with an accident and she died. Some believe she was killed.

“What happens since can only be speculated,” Sharmaji continued. “A pious person like Sister Emily could have moved on to a heavenly abode anytime she would have wanted. Her soul was the purest and she truly was God’s own child. But in her infinite benevolence we believe that her spirit remained back in the area where her earthly body had met its demise to help anyone who was in danger.  You are not the only person she help Dr. Chatterji, she has helped scores of people over the years. That’s why I said you are fortunate that she appeared in front of your eyes.”

“The travelers on the road, particularly the truckers consider her to be their Guardian Angel.  In fact they have even built a shrine where she is worshiped. Make sure you stop on your way back and pay your respects.”

What of the gang that attacked me?

“They are unfortunate souls. During the closing years of British just before a vicreagal visit to Shillong by Linlithgow the local administrator rounded up all local beggers and lepers they could find and had them bundled out of the town and warned never to return. The townsfolk also supported this move.  These people established a colony somewhere along the road and would terrorize wayfarers. With passage of time most of these people had perished, the ones you unfortunately met must have been the last remaining ones. They were blood thirsty lot. They would not only rob and kill their victims. Some believed that they practices cannibalism too.  Govt. of Assam had made a few attempts to catch them, but the way they hid themselves their colony had never been found. In you they must have seen a feast.”

“Sister Emily must have known you were in danger, so she was with you all the way to protect you.” 
While are father looked the other way for some reason, Aparajita briefly put her hand on mine. I turned to look at her and saw her smile at me with tears in her eyes.
***
Imly Mai Ki Mod

On my way back I stopped at Sister Emily’s shrine at Imly Mai Ki Mod. Imly means Tamarind in Hindi, and many people wrogly assume that Imly Mod (Tamarind Turn) has something to do with a Tamarind tree, while what it really means is the Turn of Mother Emily.

The shrine was a typical miniature roadside temple that you will find all over India. The presiding deity of the temple was Ma Kali in the Raksha Kali form, a form that Protects. Curiously the temple also had a Cross, a Picture of Mother Mary and Infant Jesus. Also worshipped in the temple was a faded black and white picture of a Lady.  As I peered closely I could clearly make out her features.  It was Sister Emily, the Lady of Barapani Lake who had saved my life that fateful night.


In the months and years to come, I have made numerous trip through that road, but never again did I ever get to see Sister Emily. But it is also true that there hasn’t been a single time that I didn’t stop and bow down at Sister Emily’s shrine.

The tides of time, landslides, road widening and finally loss of recollection has contributed to the fact at some time in the late nineties the shrine disappeared. Today a road runs through the very place where her shine used to be taking thousands upon thousands of travelers to and fro who are unware of Sister Emily’s benevolence. 

But there are still a few old truckers who remember Sister Emily, and also a few like me, my Aparajita and our children, whose hands never fail to touch ever our foreheads whenever we pass through Imly Mai ki Mod.




Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Lady of Lake Barapani

remember this as if this happened just yesterday. Not many remember an incident that occurred such a long time ago. The minor flutter that it had created in the local media at that time has long receded from popular memory. But I was thick in the middle of it and feel that this truly is a story that needs to be told lest it be forgotten.

It is not often that one actually comes face to face with what can only be called a Ghost, stare at sure death or experience mind numbing fear that changes ones world view. Such a tale must be told if only for us to realize that there are still things for which we have no rational explanations.

But along with all that this is also heart-warming story of unity of different faiths that bears to be recounted and remembered.

The year was 1974, the Sankirtan movement of Lord Chaitanya had all but died in Shillong. Gone were the days when Bengalis and Kashis alike swayed in the divine beat of the Mahamantra as the Sankirtan processions swept through the beautiful lanes of this hill paradise. The refrain of Hari Bol that could once be heard everywhere in Shillong of my boyhood had been all but silenced.  The steady stream of money that flowed from the West, the strategic marketing of an all forgiving Saviour had turned many Khasis towards a new belief system, away from the simple path of Bhakti that only promised Krishna-Prem or Love of Krishna as the means and end. 


We were a motley bunch of 30-something self-proclaimed and wannabe intellectuals who were still holding out against what we could recognize as the turning of an innocent populace from the way of Bhakti to the way of plain material barter with Divine. As a group of Professors, Doctors, and small business owners we were committed continuing to chant Krishna's name with the firm belief that sooner or later the nectar filled name of Krishna (Madhumay Krishna Naam) would draw back all true seekers.


Those days I was a young Surgeon at the Shillong Civil Hospital. The state of Meghalaya had just been formed and since many of the senior doctors had chosen to move to Gauhati (that's how it was spelled those days), we were left in charge. I was the HOD of my dept. with all my residents being fresh graduate doctors. The hours were long, our duty cycles almost back-breaking but we took our charge as a command from the Lord. Was it not Swami Vivekananda who had said - Jive Prem Kore Jai Jon, Shai sabache Iswar - “It is verily he who has served Mankind, who has truly served the Divine.”

Before long the peddling of the Saviour had turned its attention to Assam. In front of every temple or Naam Ghar, overnight would mushroom a House of Healing or an Altar of My Lady of Unfathomable Grace. We took it upon us to frequent the Naamghars that were within our reach, on every possible occasion, in a bid to either promote or in some cases even restart the Kirtans. Such participation in the Kirtans for most of us would require a drive down from Shillong to the plains of Assam.

My encounter with The Lady of Lake Barapani happened during one of these trips.

***
It was late one August evening that I finished my last operation for the night. Since I was off-duty the next day I had promised to drop by to a Naamghar which was managed by the father of one of my erstwhile seniors.

Prabhu Achinta Kumar Sharma came from a long line of Shankardev Vaishnavites. After retiring from the Railways he had taken over the management of the Village Naamghar. He was a widely respected person and within the first hour of my first meeting I became a fan. What touched me was his devotion, knowledge, humility and sense of humour that comes so easily to the people of Assam. In his village too, lately people proclaiming Good News had started their foray.  We had re-doubled the effort from our side in ensuring that Naamghar remained a beacon of hope for all seekers.  Prabhu somehow had developed a tremendous fatherly affection for me and often would ask his son to send me for the Kirtans.

Today was one such occasion.

As I started my trusty Ambassador it was almost 10.30 at night.  A light drizzle had started. Still I expected to make good time and reach Gauhati in about 5 hours give or take. (It takes much less time these days).  I was famished but decided that rather than stopping for dinner at the hospital canteen, I would grab something at Nongpoh from some still-open eatery.  

By the time I reached the outskirts of Shillong the rain had become rather heavy.  For a moment I did contemplate whether I should turn back but continued onwards since few things were more rejuvenating and life affirming as a Kirtan session with Prabhu and his disciples. Since I had lost my father a few years back, I also craved the paternal affection that I received from him.  Of course there was Aparajita, his youngest daughter who had just completed her MSc in Botany. With her my budding friendship held the promise of something more in a not too distant a future.

At Mawlai the rain turned torrential, slowing me down to a Snail's pace. My car loudly protested the frequent braking and moving that I was forced to resort to. By the time I reached in the vicinity of the Umsaw Madan area near the Barapani Lake, my trusty Ambassador, a friend of so many journeys, sputtered to a complete uncharacteristic and unexpected stop.  Much as I tried I couldn't get the engine to restart. 

I was stranded in the middle of nowhere in a dark rainy night!

I quickly took a stock of my surroundings.  It was pitch dark everywhere outside broken occasionally by the flashes of lightning and the sound of thunder that inevitably followed.  There was not a single vehicle on the road from what I could see. The Barapani Lake which is normally a source of pleasure due to its beauty stretched on one side of the road like an ominous expanse of unknown dread. Its dark waters looked angry and agitated by the torrents of water that fell from the heavens. Everything else was just black. No moon, no stars, no people. I was alone submerged in an ocean of darkness, with my headlights making a feeble attempt stay lit.

Before long I too switched off my headlights to conserve my car battery.  The rain pounded heavily on my car roof making the sound like someone was incessantly beating a drum, while I sat kicking myself for having left Shillong in such an inclement weather.

It was about then that I saw her first.  For some reason my eye had strayed to my rear view mirror during the flash of a lightning.  On my back seat was sitting a lady with wearing a white sari and some kind of white head gear.  With complete deadpan eyes she was staring back right into my eyes through the mirror. My heart froze at the suddenness of her appearance. In the dying light of the lightning flash I looked back at the mirror to see that she was still staring at me. Without blinking.

I gathered by courage to turn on the cabin light overhead and looked back.

There was no one in the back seat.

I chuckled softly  to myself at how situations could even make doctors see things. As I mused on the workings of the brain and its relation to the elusive entity called Mind, I saw her again.  Another lightning flash. No mistaking this time, there was someone else in the car.  And she was staring at me like there is no tomorrow.  There was an unspoken message in that cold hard stare that I couldn't read.

I switched on the cabin light again. Again no one. I even peeped behind my seat to see if she had ducked. But no, there was no one in the car that I could see.  Though the weather had gotten quite chilly, I was literally sweating by then.

Without another minute's thought, I rushed outside into the torrential rains. I locked the car and started walking back fast towards Shillong.  In a few steps one of my shoe laces came undone.  As I bent down to tie it, my spine chilled when I realized the same entity who was with me in the car was standing right behind me!

***


I broke into a mad run on the dark road, unmindful of what I went. The only thought in my mind was that I had to get rid of the entity that was following me.  As I ran for dear life I could hear the foot falls of the entity as it kept pace behind me.  This went on for about 10-15 mins, though at that time it seemed like an eternity.  Finally I had to stop out of sheer exhaustion. I didn't know which way I had run or where my car was.  The ground was slushy under my feet so I definitely was not on the highway anymore and neither was the lake visible in my immediate vicinity.

Just then I saw what could be my salvation.  A dim flickering dot of a light at far distance at some height on a hillock. Never before had I have such a feeling relief. If only I could reach there I would be back in company of humans.

I knew not what lay in between me and that dot of light but I cared not. I leaped headlong toward that.  No sooner had I done so, I felt a wave of anger flowing at me from the entity behind.  Heaven's my witness but the roar of the thunder got louder, every two step I would slip and fall headlong into the slush, the trees around me were swaying wildly.  I could swear that there were hands trying to retrain me from moving ahead.

Suddenly it clicked to me, the famous lines from Hanuman Chalisa -

bhūta pishācha nikata nahi āvai
mahābīra jaba nāma sunāvai

Evil spirits (bhūta) and meat-eating ghosts (pishācha) do not come near those chant the Mahāvira name of yours.

With every bit of piety I could summon in my state of utter terror I started chanting the hymn loudly. Lo and Behold, I actually felt the entity fall behind me.  I could still hear the swaying of trees and the noises but my progress towards the light was unhindered.

By now my eyes had adjusted to the darkness and I could make some sense of where I was going.

Before soon I came up a small clearing on which stood a small hut from whence the light emanated. As I neared the hut I could almost hear a wail of frustration all around me but still at some distance. My reverential prayers to Lord Hanuman, hadn’t left my lips even for a moment.

Desperately I went up and frantically knocked on the door of the hut…


(To be contd....)