Saturday, January 3, 2009

This Above all
No New Year resolutions

My father was a great one for making New Year resolutions. I inherited the habit from him. His resolutions were earthy, usually connected with food and drink, which he relished but did not agree with him. A hardy annual was: "I will not eat achaar any more". He loved achaars of mangoes and lime. They gave him a bad throat, which gave him a cold. Every winter he had injections of catarrhal vaccine to get rid of them. His resolutions lasted till the cold was gone, and he was back asking for achaar with every meal.

I, too, like achaar with my meals. My preference is achaar made of shalgam and gajjar (carrot). They do not give me a bad throat or cold. I catch a cold anyhow, four or five times a year. I don’t have anti-cold injections. I fight them with vitamin C tablets, aspirin, rum, honey and lime juice. No matter what I take, it takes a week for the cold to go. My New Year’s resolutions have a higher moral calibre: "I will not say nasty things about people I don’t like. I will not tell a lie. I will not lose my temper," etc, etc.

They were of short duration than my father’s—a little more than a week or so. Before going to bed for the night, I went over what I had said during the day to find out whether I had maligned anyone or told a blatant lie. My friends soon found me getting more and more boring by the day. How can you be an interesting conversationalist without bitching about people? How can you be a story-teller without adding mirch-masaala to your narrative?

So, after a fortnight or so, I would return to lying and malicious innuendos about everyone. My friends find me a good company. Now I am past 94 and well beyond redemption. So I have made a final New Year’s resolution: "Hereafter, I will make no New Year resolutions".

Seekers’ path

Eightyeight-year-old Acharya Mahaprajna is the 10th head of Terapanthi Jains based in Rajasthan. He was only 10 when he decided to become a monk and an itinerant teacher, walking bare-foot from village to village, delivering sermons on different topics. Some of them have been translated from Hindi to English by Sudhamani Regunathan and published under the title The Sun Will Rise Again (Penguin-Viking). The translations read very well. To be honest, I rarely read books on spiritual topics. I read this one because it has an introduction by our former President APJ Abdul Kalam, whom I respect greatly but don’t quite understand.

He is an eminent scientist, and at the same time deeply religious, respecting religions besides the one he was born into—a man with his legs in two boats and yet manages to keep them on course. Our differences are summed up in one of Acharya’s poems:

Scientists have brought the typhoon of change so fast;

That boats of the old beliefs have lost their moorings in the ocean of the past;

Scientists have brought the typhoon of change so fast;

That boats of the new faith are wandering aimlessly in the ocean of disbelief.

I do not know if Acharyaji watches Indian films or antics of our political leaders, but he gets them right:

Such a waster today’s actor is one;

Who does not know how to laugh or even how to make others laugh;

Such a waster today’s politician is one;

Who does not know how to wake people up or even how to let them sleep.

He rounds up the confusion in our minds in a few lines: Difficult it is to live in the present;

Desiring summer in winter and winter in summer;

The name of desire is tension;

We do not know how to live in the present;

Nor to desire what is, but want only what is not.

Happy New Year—2009

In the dead hour of the midnight;

When the weather is foggy, cold and old;

To see anything new, fresh and bright;

The trees are barren;

With very few dusty and dry leaves;

And no flower at sight;

Finding nothing new in the nature;

The crazy people of western culture;

In the total darkness of the season;

Have no reason to bear, to say: "Happy New Year"

(Contributed by Om Prakash Trehan, Delhi)

Unholy intentions

A Sikh lad, standing on the roof of his haveli, saw a young girl walking down the street below, and shouted: Aaja, kothey uttay aaja (Come, come up to the roof). The girl was enraged. She took off her slippers and shouted back: Laawaan juttee (Shall I take off my slippers for you)? "You don’t have to do that,’’ replied the lad cheekily. "This is not a gurdwara".

(Contributed by Amarinder Bajaj, Delhi)