Saturday, August 14, 2004

Aai Mere Pyare Wataan, Tujhpe Dil Kurban
Tu Hi Meri Aarzoo, Tu Hi Meri Aabroo, Tu Hi Meri Jaan

Friday, August 13, 2004

Meditations on Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra (The Chant of Immortality)

India is truly a magical land. As an Indian the aspect that strikes me the most is the matchless Indian Philosophy that sees Divinity in the mundane and Pure Truth in every facet of existence.

An unique aspect of Indian Philosophy that I have noticed in almost every school of thought (with possible exception of purely materialistic thought processes such as those of Charvaka) is visualization of the Divine as the One who has both creative and destructive attributes. The eventual destruction of everything that exists is neither considered in a negative light nor is considered final. For with destruction the universe (or as I always like to point out,- multiverse) collapses into a state of suspension from whither the cycle of creation starts anew. Thus the One becomes the single Constant or Nitya of existence, the bedrock which holds up the eternal cycles of creation and dissolution.

Lord Shiva, regarded often as destructive aspect of the divine trinity, is therefore seen also as the protector and giver of boons. This apparent contradiction doesn't result in the Philosophy breaking down, for Shiva is existence itself and encompasses all its forms and aspects.

Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is an example of such a prayer wherein Lord Shiva's healing and protection potentials are meditated upon. It goes thus:

OM! Tryambakam yajamahe Sugandhim pushtivardhanam;
Urvaarukamiva bandhanaan- Mrityormuksheeya maamritaat.
Roughly it translates to:

Om. We worship the Three-Eyed One (Lord Shiva), who is naturally fragrant, immensely merciful and who is the Protector of the devotees. Worshipping Him, may we be liberated from death for the sake of immortality just as the ripe cucumber easily separates itself from the binding stalk. By your Grace, Let me be in the state of salvation (Moksha) and be saved from the clutches of fearful death
This childlike plea for protection from death from a powerful deity, however has a much deeper meaning than is immediately apperant. In Indian Philosophy the third eye is associated with pure consciousness even as ignorance and bindings are regarded to be synonymous to death. Immortality is achieved through awakened consciousness. With this back ground, the mantra takes a entirely different meaning (even to someone as ignorant as me). Can it not mean something as follows:

O personification of pure consciousness, who pervades the entire creation as a sweet fragrance of truth, bestow the Amrit (nectar, elixer of life) of Knowledge unto me that I be delivered from the death-like bondage of ignorance.
It is wonderful how the hue changes altogether as soon as the frame of reference is altered slightly.

As I sat listening and chanting this mantra last night with my mother, another thought stuck me, does this mantra mean something even deeper and closer. It is the word Sugandhim (fragrant) that fired my limited imagination.

The musk deer, found in Northern India, is particularly prized for the fragrance it gives out from its body at maturity. The folklore goes that once it starts giving out its fragrance, the deer itself being unaware where the scent comes from, runs around seeking the source. (There's a Bangla song also on this). While I am not really sure of the authenticity of this behaviour (I mean, c'mon), it makes for a very poignant metaphor for someone who doesn't know his own potential. Adviata claims our union with the one is separated only by our degrees of ignorance. So can this mantra be directed to the One who is within, whose power is evident all around us (First principle) but who we due to our ignorance fail to perceive as the in-dweller in us and everything else. So maybe the mantra means:

O divine one, whose majesty I perceive as the fragrant creation all around me, not realizing that you dwell within me, open thee, my third eye of unalloyed consciousness, so that I realize my own nature as the nectar of immortality and thus gain deliverence from my bondage
Philosophy or rantings? You decide. :)

Truth be told, it is in times of challenge that one often remembers the divine and last evening I was quite bothered. In such times I find that meditations are of tremendous help.

My father had written a song many years back, which possibly holds true for me.

"Aadhare tor rup bujhi Ma, Aaloy tore bhule jai",
"O mother I remember you only when it is dark, and forget you in the light of day."

Maybe my hunt shall lead me to that paradise where pure consciousness becomes my constant companion. With that shall come deliverence. Amen.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Fried Chicken, Rain-drenched Bombay

Bombay welcomed me back with a drizzle and a message from Airtel Mumbai as Rajesh and I stepped out onto the tarmac at 10.30 pm on a friday evening.

It had been a long time since I had been here. Years. But the sights, sounds and smells that engulfed me, as we clambered into an auto outside the airport, were all too familiar. It was as if I had never been away and the intervening years dissolved into some memory at the back of my mind. The auto did make a couple of wrong turns but finally deposited us outside the hotel. Having secured a room, we headed downstairs to provide fortifications to the sundowners that we had met at Bangalore airport with a generous helping of nightcap. And we philosophized. A lot. Philosophy, I always maintain, blossoms when spirits are rekindled and the mind wanders free.

Bombay never sleeps. When we went out for a walk at 1.00 am at night, the streets were alive and vibrant though it was still drizzling a bit. The traffic was thin, but there were people everywhere, drinking tea, having chats at trolley-shops, and just hanging out and chatting. Common people like us, people determined to prevail in the face of the daily pressures, resolutely seeking out their own special time, demanding happiness at their own terms. This is the magic of Bombai Nagri, it shows you life for what it is and strengthens you with its own vibrancy to face life every day. You have to stay in Bombay as a resident to know what I mean. When I lived in Bombay ten years back, I had tuned in to that vibrancy and that evening I tuned myself back. And after a long time I took a good look myself and took stock. The rain had drenched me and water had gotten into my shoes, each step making a squishy-squashy sound, but I felt good. It is not everyday find yourself equal to challenging your own convictions.

Evening, the next day. It was still raining persistently. The day had been a tiring one, but I just had to see the Gateway one more time. It was just after seven that we got into the taxi, which transported me instantly to nostalgia-ville. So many memories were tied to the Gateway and Fort. Among the most precious was the time that I was there with my Dad, Mom and Tutun. One of our last outings with Dad. There were memories also of hanging out there with friends in Bombay and of that one new years eve spent in the shadows of the Gateway, shouting in the new year alongside thousands upon thousands of people. Rajesh and Srinivas Aravili, joined me on this pilgrimage. The taxi winded its way through Mahim, Worli, Siddhi Vinayak, Haji Ali, Peddar Road, Marine Drive (now called Netaji Subhas Bose Road) and finally stopped in front of the gateway. The ride lasted for about two bone rattling hours.

The Gateway was, as ever, a hub of activity. Unmindful of the drizzle, people were generally milling about taking leisurely walks. Some were sitting on the parapet munching on corn or peanuts, which people here call time pass. A group of kids were getting their picture taken and a dogged street vendor was chasing a group of white tourists, who were stoically ignoring his sales pitch. There were a few horse drawn carriages hanging about the place, waiting patiently for their fare. The horses shook their heads once in a while to get the water out and created mini-showers of their own. In the background, fashionable people in expensive cars made it in and out of the Taj with a unceasing regularity. I wondered how many of them were even aware of the dreamlike magic that was unfolding just outside.

The Gateway of India, which was erected to welcome the British royalty, in a wondrous twist of fate, had also served as an exit route for the British Military as they finally left Independent India. We circumnavigated to the front of the gate facing the wind swept sea front and stood awhile in silence watching the dark sea. Talk was irrelevant, as we all soaked in the Gateway experience. I relived old memories and formed new ones. After a while a growling stomach reminded me of my promise to take my friends to my old haunt - Bagdadi. Tucked away in a nondescript street right behind Taj, this is a place, which for generations have been the veritable heaven of chicken delicacies. The place looks rather ramshackle, but the cooks there are real magicians.

What can I say about the food, it was transcendental. The fried chicken is a must there, which they serve with fried potato and so is Chicken Masala. Therefore I had both. Rajesh had a Kashmiri Chicken and Srini, the ever staunch vegetarian, a potato preparation. I overate. Actually if there was any space left I would have eaten more, but as it was, my stomach was looking dangerously bloated. My eyes, however were half closed and I was smiling a blissful smile of a Yogi.

Lightheaded from a heavy dinner, we walked lazily through the rain drenched and dimly lit Fort Bombay streets, once in a while making a comment when something caught our notice. We walked past Regal theater upto the Police Headquarters, when suddenly the rain intensified a bit and we took shelter inside Cafe Royal, a rather up market watering hole. It wasn't there when I lived in Bombay or maybe I hadn't noticed. Time flew nicely along once we settled inside in a cosy corner and we conveniently lost track of its flight path. The cafe appeared to be the hang out of the hep crowd of Bombay and hummed with the typical Bombaia high class talk. We, being true Bangaloreans, discussed the finer points of J2EE clustering rather loudly. We left quite late and noticed that even then there were people who were just coming in. Any plans of resuming our walk that we may have had were scuttled by the continuing downpour and we hastily made our way to a Taxi.

On our journey back, we saw the waves on Marine drive were lashing up onto the road and predictably people were still there, enjoying it all in the true Bombay e-style. I sang the whole way back. It was a cruel thing to do - for Srini was looking rather faint, Rajesh stopped the taxi to procure some serious fortification and the driver took us back through a short-cut. Once back Srini went away to sleep. Rajesh and I sat down to re-philosophize. Rajesh asked me some deep questions that I have been afraid to ask myself and for which I had no ready answers. But I was grateful that he had asked. He also made a number of sage pronouncements, such as - Pee Pee Jab Tak Hai Gee, Jab Nahin rahega Gee, Tab Kaun Kahega Pee and many such like others. I am sure it was the effect of my singing in the Taxi that had shocked out the hidden sage in him. We laughed a lot. Not wanting to end the day we talked deep into the night.

Next day evening, it was already time to head back. As the plane took flight I summarized in my mind what this trip had done for me. Besides being a long overdue change of scenery, Bombay had prompted me to look at myself with objectivity and ask some rather unsettling questions. I don't have the answers yet, but if I didn't ask these I would have never had any. Now, I would like to believe that I have a chance at finding at least some answers and effecting some course corrections. And after a long time I felt light hearted. In hind sight I suppose these were the best gift Bombay could have given me. Salaam Bombay.

The plane made it to Bangalore in time. Armed with a rose and the promise of a surprise gift if I made a purchase at a big store, I stepped out into the cool night of the place that in my heart I call home.