Saturday, July 14, 2007

This Above all
Faith has its reasons

MY grandmother used to say her morning prayer (Japji) while churning a large earthen pot to make butter and buttermilk (lassi). She often paused to examine its contents to see how it was turning out. I wondered if her mind was more in makkhan, lassi or in prayer.

My mother said her morning prayer while doing household chores, She often gave orders to servants or tell us to hurry up and get ready for school. I wondered if her mind was in her prayer or on
mundane affairs.

My father said his morning prayer while taking his bath. He was equally devoted to pouring water over his body, soaping and washing off the leather. I wondered what pre-occupied him more, cleaning his body or his soul.

A distant relative who was a keen golfer said his morning prayer while driving to the golf club. I wondered if his mind was on the road, on traffic signals or on what he was reciting. I felt that this was not the right way to pray and there was a point in Hindu tradition of sitting padmaasan (lotus posed) in complete silence with eyes closed and concentrating on the meanings of the verses one chants. Many Sikhs do the same: they take their prayers seriously and not treat it as a routine ritual.

This is more pertinent when it comes to congregational prayer. Islam emphasises the need for everyone to join Namaaz in mosques. Besides ignoring individual status, it creates a sense of brotherhood. So also are assemblages in temples
and gurdwaras.

The sangat becomes a fraternity of the like-minded. Sikh Gurus laid great emphasis on sangat and pangat ó eating together in the Guru-ka-langar.

A popular form of prayer is to recite it in a loud sing-song manner. It has its own charm but the sound often smoothers the sense inherent in the words.

Guru Nanak, though supporting sangat prayers and kirtan (hymn singing) was very particular about understanding the meaning of the words of prayers. He wrote:

Aklee sahib seveeai aklee paayey maan

Aklee parh kay bujheeay

Aklee keechey daan

Nanak aakhai Raah eh

Hore gallan Shaitaan

(Use your brains while worshipping the Lord

Use your brains and earn merit

Use your brains while giving the charity

Thus says Nanak is the real way

The rest is all the devilís sway.)

In another verse Guru Nanak was more downright in condemning those who recited prayers without trying to understand what its words meant. He called them fools:

Na sudh na budh, na akl Sar

Akkhar ka bheo na lahant

Nanak, say nar asl khar

Jo bin gun garab karant

(They have no awareness, no knowledge, no brains in their heads

They do not care not to find the inner secret of words they pray;

They are real donkeys, does Nanak say).

How not to relax

I have to periodically visit the beauty parlour of Hotel Le Meridien to have my feet pedicured. I am no longer able to cut my own toe nails. With age nails become harder and harder and need to be soaked in warm soapy water to become soft enough to be clipped by a man with strong hands. I look forward to these visits because besides seeing which trees are in flower at the time, I also get a chance to see people in the parlour who come for haircuts, shaves, facials, manicure and pedicure. What I enjoy most is what follows clipping of toe nails and scraping of dirty, dead flesh on the feet is the oil and cream massage of the soles and legs from ankles to the knees. It is so sensuous and soothing that I have to prevent myself from nodding off to sleep. I do so with the assurance I will sleep soundly during the siesta. It is a most relaxing exercise.

The last time I was at the parlour, I saw a middle-aged businessman undergoing simultaneous treatments because he evidently wanted to get over with them as fast as he could to return to his office. He lay sprawled in a rotating chair. A hair dresser was clipping his hair, a barber giving him a shave, a manicurist cutting his nails and a pedicurist massaging his feet. Every few minutes he would free his right hand from the manicuristís grip, pick up his cell phone and ring up his office to give instructions. Then he jotted something on a pad. He interrupted his shaver and manicurist at least four times in the half hour I was sitting facing him. He was obviously a regular customer who left handsome tips to men attending on him. They kept their mouths shut. I wanted to shout "Silly ass! Donít you know how to relax? Your business will not go to pieces if you take a short break."

As we grow old and are unable to take the exercise required to keep the body in reasonable shape, a good alternative is to get a massage regularly. I have it twice a week with oil and cream. I have an expert masseur who knows where tensions build up in those who lead sedentary lives: behind the neck and between the shoulders. A vigorous rub along the spinal chord really tones up the body. When having a massage a person should concentrate on the part of the body being ministered to and not think of anything else. Ideally, it should be done in complete silence.

Unfortunately, my masseur, though he does a great job, is a non-stop talker. I have no choice but to let him babble on and on. Otherwise, he would cut short the exercise and leave me frustrated. The day I have a massage followed by a hot bath with a loofah to scrub off the oil, I sleep like the proverbial log lost to the world.

Not cricket

There was this agriculture minister

Whose inactivity was quite sinister:

The World Cup loss

Sent him for a toss,

And he became an angry culture minister.

(Courtesy: Prabhat Vaidya, Mumbai)