[3 MINUTE READ] A few thoughts and memories on the universal voyage towards self discovery
My earliest memories of human life involve a kindergarten class teacher. Before words inspired a visual image and faces invoked a memory. Almost like I was born and magically delivered into a corridor filled with shadows and sounds jostling into a classroom. As she shepherded us in, she looked at me and smiled.
My desk was right next to the door. At the end of the class she paused on her way out, leaned over and asked me for a kiss. Amusement and disapproval murmured around the room. My lips touched the soft skin of her cheeks. Her gentle eyes lingered over my small face. Then she was gone.
In my imagination of that brief memory, what remains is an imponderable happiness.
The kind that makes us accepting of the frailties we carefully protect and the disappointments that climb in and out of our minds.
Chanakya said we must treat children with unconditional love until they are five, mould them with discipline and values until they are sixteen and as friends thereafter. Advice to prepare children to navigate the world of consequences.
Of imagined possibilities and practical realities. Of optimistic ideals and realistic goals. Snaking its way through these constructions in our head, incessantly flows the world of what is.
At school, my shoes were polished black. My shorts and shirt a crispy white. A thin blue tie with a knot carefully wound around my neck.
There were a spell of influences that surrounded me. The culture at school, validated through repetition and articulated through routines, travelled into class rooms and multiplied until we became predictable reflections of each other. I negotiated through most of them with unfinished sentences and unknown fears. Obedient and uninspired at school. Confident and curious at home. Uncertain from the lack of something in what was unfolding before me. Unaware of that uncertainty.
The garden behind school was a land of uneven sprawl and undiscovered corners. Occasionally men and women, seasoned by suntanned dirt, would loiter around trees and crouch into small circles. When we got close to see what they were doing, a man with knotted hair and a scraggy beard rose to chase us away. We stayed far away from them. Without knowing who they were or what they did, we could still feel their sense of desolation. Children understand things that often exceed the scope of their vocabulary.
The question of why God made the world kept returning. It seemed like an unfinished project. Like a pulley in motion without a rope. A rope without the tension of a bucket. A bucket crashing on the dry floor of a well. There was always a missing element in the larger picture that robbed all the activity of meaning. The fleetingness of human life converged with the pointlessness of perpetuity – both emptying back into a black hole of questions.
The real questions in life rarely have a straight answer. They ignite a journey. The first spark that will one day burn down a forest.
Walking through the outskirts of Ooty after reading the words of Indian Sages, I was more open to allowing the trees – wrapped in the density of the forest – to connect with me. When I returned home to Bombay, I saw that trees made to writhe over cracked walls and jostle with bitumen pavements were not the same as those raised in harmony with their natural habitat. I could say the same about people. Our natural habitat is more than just a utopian land soaked in nourishment, simplicity and freedom. It is the embracing and inert screen on which the relentless activities of the world play out. Where illusions are allowed their time. Where questions dissolve without waiting for answers.
“Men express themselves in harmony with their land. And superiority, as far as culture is concerned, lies in this harmony and nothing else.” – Albert Camus
The long shadows of commerce around consumption and opportunity rearrange our collective priorities. Make me rank the value of my qualities based on their utility instead of the joy they bring me. Constrain the spontaneity of human nature into a quiet struggle between normal habits and unpredictable desires.
What inspires me amidst all this is the culture of this land – to travel to the root of who we are – a journey of infinite layers and surprises. Steeped in the rejection of the apparent and the exploration of the obscured. Nothing is as it seems. Every contradiction is a call to investigate, every experience an opportunity to understand.
The basic questions keep growing simpler – Who am I? If not the body that returns to the cold and the mind that runs out of charge. A question that has dominated and defined our culture. Shaped the way we live, share, love, fight, suffer and die – with a universal acknowledgement that we don’t begin or end at the doors of this world. That we are not what we perceive ourselves to be, but the uncontained which is beyond perception.
From a body that is as biodegradable as the core of a half-eaten apple. Through the endless movement of electrical impulses that weave into the hypnotic mind. We struggle with and flow into the constancy of experiences – in search of our own true nature.
The ultimate human paradox. We must surrender the limiting ideas of ourselves – to discover who we truly are. To return to our natural habitats.
The greatest adventure known to humankind. The final migration home.