My journey into the Silhouette

Italian Journey by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Credits: Wiki_Images

Dearest Aastha,

I read somewhere that it’s not the pen that’s mightier than sword but it’s the pencil, which in turn is mightier than pen. I wish life’s a paper on which we can sketch the croquis of our journey with such a pencil and rub the unwanted parts off with those snack-bar sized erasers. Too bad it’s not. Scars remain as scars while cars remain as cars. Unerasability is one of the bullet points carved into the fundamental laws of nature.

I would like to tell you about my journey to a deserted location. We seldom go on a trip to such a place. Incidentally, journey, which etymologically differs from travel, has no destination. Journey leaves a residue which continues, intangibly, in our thoughts, in our actions. Till we live. May be death marks the destination to the journey. Maybe not. Who knows?

The trip I am going to describe doesn’t contain flowery passages about chirping birds, twilight sky or water drops dripping down from a mountain cliff simulating a Beethoven’s string quartet. The location of this trip is intangible. But it’s not unimaginable. There’s a difference. It’s a trip into a negation space. Negation of ‘Why me?’, i.e.,“Why not me”.

Courtesy: Google images.

Everyone, at least once, would have journeyed to the location “Why me?” A lot of us are pilgrims to that place. We often go there when we feel low. When we lose our job. When we fall sick. When our beloved ones suffer. There are endless such shuttle services (AC/NON-AC/Sleeper) that take us there. Often we end the journey by consoling ourselves in the spirit of book of Job (Old testament) that it may be a test of my faith in HIM, which is a belief a lot of Abrahamic religions uphold. Including Islam. If you’re a philosopher (a variant of solipsist especially) or a physicist you either deny that a reason to such a cause exists or you would throw away the good time & bad time labels and submit yourself to the underlying randomness and probability that governs our life. After all an electron doesn’t have a good/bad time.

There are others who go to other extreme of sacrificing animals to meaninglessly bribe the universe. Or sanctify oneself by throwing all sorts of things into Holy Ganges which ends up being unholy or toxic. Sin would be mere debit/credit bank transaction if taking a dip in a river or drinking sacramental wine as the blood of Christ on a Sabbath would erase it. It’s not.

Sin is a tattoo on our soul. There’s no consolation. Period.

We reap good or bad for our doings. No one can deliver us from the sin. It’s even against the laws of physics. The concept of God can utmost help us to stay away from redoing the sinful activities. It’s a different thing that our very existence throws us into a framework which makes us a sinner, without us doing anything. Nada. For instance the building that I am living in can be a result of labor exploitation or evacuating (many a time killing) other living things which stayed here previously. The meat or rice that comes into one’s plate can be a result of an immense torture, other living things have endured to make it possible. And the list goes on. From cosmetics to cosmopolitan life. The idea of sin having a causal influence dates back to Buddhism and thereby to Hinduism. The concept of Karma. Karma, as they say, is a bitch.

Reasons apart, we often don’t end up taking the sister-journey into the negation space. It is a well defined logical construct, “Why not me”. It’s more like not visiting Medina after visiting Mecca during those Hajj pilgrimages. We barely take such a journey. Why ‘we’? I myself barely took that journey due to a lot of solacing propaganda that religion’s misinterpretation spreads or due to a misleading hope that some self help book promises. Neither of them teach us the accountability. In the purest sense of the word.

Thinking about Why me? is never complete without thinking about Why not me? In fact answer to former lies in latter. Deleting the latter would be more like pulling off a strand from the double helix structure of DNA and throwing it away. They’re exceedingly entangled to be separated.

‘Why not me’ is a important part of SWOT analysis. I always tried to enumerate some items in it. After a serious scrutiny I hoped to have very less items in such self-flagellation list. The last one I remember was me catching a lot of butterflies and grasshoppers during the rain and pushing them into my compact metal compass box, when I was 12 years old. I was afraid that butterflies and grasshoppers would fall sick if they remained in the rain. It was one of those dumb moments in our life as a kid. Butterflies lost their wings and would never fly up. I thought I saved them but I didn’t.

After some serious conscious effort, I don’t remember hurting any living thing. Be it a human or an ant or a mosquito. Consciously. Though I do curse people who harm any living being, I ignored many situations that would trigger anger in me. I didn’t even hurt those who deserved to be hurt. I took a lot of things in my stride to avoid conflicts. Until recently I addressed a security guard as an “idiot”. I never acted so mindlessly.

It was that security guard who would do a body check with a metal detector. He isn’t well trained. He thinks that groping the pockets and elsewhere forcibly would show him a trace of gun or bomb rather than using the handy sophisticated metal detector. He touched me inappropriately. It was a reflex that made me shout “Hey stop, Idiot!” during one such embarrassing moment.

Hearing me other securities assembled and scolded him. His face was put off. Like those incandescent lights which would die off slowly after the power supply ends. I felt terrible. I went back, held his hand and whole-heartedly apologized. Others consoled me and told me that I was right. He was also fine by the end. But I knew that I could never bring back those few moments in his life where he felt bad. Where he felt rejected. May be I was right, may be I had to give him a feedback. But I can’t repay it even with an eternal apology. There are other ways of dealing in such situations. Without hurting anyone. That’s the deal. It’s hard but one can always find an alternate way. The principle of least resistance.

I wish the reading from Ramayana would have come to my rescue. But it didn’t. We are more interested in debating about the existence of Jesus or Rama. What clothes they wore. Did they brush their teeth? etc., We barely end up grasping that essence housed in between the lines of the scripture. This incident from Yuddha Kanda makes me very emotional. Hanuman goes to Lanka to visit Sita, who’s tormented by the female devils. They insulted her and provoked her. Yet she is patient. Hanuman met her and after the conversation about Rama and after collecting the Chudamani he was about to leave.

Courtesy: Oleograph of Raja Ravi Verma’s painting (archived).

He stops and requests Sita to permit him kill all the female rakshashis before he goes away. He was quite angry at them. Sita with a compassionate voice replied, “Calm down. They are doing their duty. They are instructed by Ravana to torture me and they are successfully executing his orders. Forgive them, for it’s my fate. They have nothing to do with it”. She then added, “Na Kaschin Aparadhyati”, “There’s no one who doesn’t err”. It’s a variant of Jesus’s saying on cross “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”. We really don’t know what other person is going through. So all the more, we have no right to hurt anyone.

I always use the red circle test. Like a Litmus test. Draw a red circle on the ground. You promise on your heart and recollect every incident. There’s no judge but you. You are allowed to stand inside the circle only if you have never spoken ill of any human being at their back and never intended to harm anyone. One can tighten the constraints to include all sorts of commandments. That’s a different point. I am dead as a human if I can’t stand inside it on a daily basis. Physiologically I may be living but I am living dead!

It’s not the religion or God that comes to my rescue when the penetrating question “Why me?” stands upright in front of me. It’s the list under the heading “Why not me?”. It shoves the reason right in my face. That we all are fallen and I am not a saint to be spared. After all even the saints weren’t spared. It was a revelation when I realized certain connection entailed by humility. No other person inspired me as deeply as St. Francis of Assisi. He hails from a rich family but left all his wealth to serve poor. There are endless anecdotes elucidating his character. His teaching primarily was about love. Being compassionate to both humans and animals. He is the humblest of humanity.

Courtesy: Google Images.

On one occasion St. Francis was heading up towards Mount La Verna. He was sick and felt very weak. His disciples thought they would borrow a donkey from the nearby farmer and carry him on it. ​While the farmer was happy lending the donkey, he at one stage went up to Francis and asked him “Are you the same Francis that people talk so much about?” ​Francis said​ “​My son,​ ​yes I am Francis”. Then the farmer in his naive and direct way said​ “​You know how much people have much faith in you?​ ​Do​ ​not do ever any thing wrong and make people feel that they have admired the wrong person.​ ​These people are simple. Do​ ​not let their simple faith down.” ​And then the unusual thing happened.​ ​Francis came down from the donkey and FELL at the farmer’s feet saying humbly “Thank you son for your wonderful admonition.​ ​I shall always remember what you have advised and​ ​I shall try never to do any thing that will destroy the faith of the simple people”​.

It was a display of immense humility. In fact “Why me not?” pushes one to be humble. Because you mayn’t spared. If not today, some other day. As the adage goes, “ When the water rises, the fish eat the ant; when the water recedes, the ant eat fish”. Balance sheet of the nature is tallied at the end.

There’s a passage from Plato’s critias that comes to my mind:

“I shall argue that to seem to speak well of the gods to men is far easier than to speak well of men to men: for the inexperience and utter ignorance of his hearers about any subject is a great assistance to him who has to speak of it, and we know how ignorant we are concerning the gods.”

Let alone god, we don’t know about our own fellow beings. We don’t know ourselves. We just remember the positive things we have done. We easily forget the negative vibes we have sent out into the universe by our wrong doings. Anyway adhering to the Latin quote “De mortuis nil nisi bonum — Nothing but good should be spoken about the dead” we don’t let anyone remember the bad things we have done once we are dead. At-least lets ruminate them while we live. Let’s keep a note.

Having said that, the catch is that we don’t need to know someone to wish him/her well. Love doesn’t presuppose an exhaustive description of the features/specifications of the object. Love flows. Love is.

When I returned from the journey of “Why me not?” yesterday I had a ticket. The ticket bore on it a description of the mistake and an unknown cost to be paid. I don’t know when. But I have to. It’s not one of those tickets that we would throw away after we get down from the bus. The invisible ticket collector is always checking. Let’s be clear on that.

One has to be, therefore, sharply perceptive to realize one’s own mistakes. We all are sinners. The very fact that we are sinners and we aren’t perfect should console us. Imagine a perfect being, who is totally perfect and ideal. How would he be? Would he speak? Would he eat? We can’t fabricate his existence nor categorize him. Perfection is an entity that is good for dreaming. Life would be boring if everything is ideal. Ideal gas. Ideal friction-less plane. Ideal markets and economy. Laws won’t emerge from it and neither does the divergence which thereby leads to diversity. But we should always remember the the Yin and Yang. “Why me and Why not me”. They are inseparable.

I would end this letter by thanking you for giving me a chance to write to your wonderful initiative “Homeward_bound”. I would also thank all those who have been kind towards me and those who weren’t, for they all, in their own ways contributed to my betterment.

Take care of yourself. For its own sake and for the sake of loved ones.

Lots of love and Godspeed,

Shyam.

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