Sunday, May 19, 2019

Margaritas ante porcos

It is said that eyes only see what the mind is able to comprehend. The guru doesn’t appear until the disciple is ready.

There’s an anecdote of an interesting meeting between the popular anti-guru U.G. Krishnamurti, who derided everything holy & a profound yogi of recent times, Ramana Maharshi. This is from his memoirs : 
In 1939, when U.G. was 21 years of age, he went and met Sri Ramana Maharshi and asked him, "This thing called moksha [liberation], can you give it to me?" Ramana replied, "I can give it, but can you take it?" struck him like a "thunderbolt" and set him up on a relentless search for Truth that ended at the age of 49 with a totally unforeseen result.
Let me dissect this a bit. Unless one is prepared, one can’t handle the truth - the ultimate truth, that is. From a yogic standpoint, it requires a lot of preparation from an aspirant to attain the goal. It’s a lifetime of an effort. People who have gone searching for shortcuts have been beaten so badly. The symbolism of kundalini to a snake is very pertinent. Unless one knows how to handle it, one will be bitten badly and will suffer for the same.

There is one anecdote from Ancient Greece - that of philosopher Plotinus and his disciple Amelius. It’s from John Dillon’s book “Prayer and contemplation in the Neoplatonic and Sufi traditions”.
If it turns now abruptly to Plotinus, we can find from his pen or his lips scathing condemnations of what one might characterize as the ‘popular’ attitude to prayer - an attitude fully shared, it must be said, by contemporary Christians, whom he probably has in mind. First, there is his notorious response to his senior disciple Amelius, as reported by Porphyry, when Amelius invited him to accompany him on a sort of Temple-crawl, at the festival of the new moon: ‘The gods ought to come to me, not I to them’. ‘ what he meant by this exalted utterance, we could not understand and did not dare to ask’ says Porphyry. A Possible interpretation, surely, However, is that our relations with Gods should be based, Not on our going out of our way to solicit them for favors which we have not made an effort to deserve, but rather on our making ourselves ready, by the practice of spiritual exercises to receive their beneficial power. It is not the expression of impious or arrogant attitude to the gods; merely a properly Platonist one. We cannot except the gods to help us, maintains Plotinus if we are not prepared to help ourselves.
After the sacred, let’s come to the mundane: margaritas ante porcos literally translates into pearl before swine. The value of anything is apportioned by only the one who is capable of recognizing it. The entire idea of value is dependent on the beholder. This is applicable to so many things – knowledge, relationship, information, etc,.

There are two implications from this: First, we should be ready in all possible ways before wishing and realizing something; the second, we may be searching for great people but we may as well miss the great and exceptional people amongst us. 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Thoreau and the rebellious living

Thoreau lived a couple of years of his life away from the people, alone — minimalistic kind, like a hermit in the woods. Out of that experience, he was able to write “Walden”. When I heard about it the first time, I was equally stumped and impressed at the same time.

People disappoint you. That’s a given. Even the ones you think never will disappoint you. They say not to expect — that’s not possible and you know it. You should be either a real sage or a person in a comatose state to not expect anything. Relationships build expectation — in fact, relationships are built on expectations — big or small and is a continuous transaction. Over a period of time, they change. How one handles, fulfills or fails in handling or fulfilling the expectations decides what direction the relationship takes. That’s why relationships are a complicated affair.

Also, most of the people — even the ones that you love or those who love you are judgemental. There are few or if you are lucky enough a very few people who see and accept you the way you are. Mother Nature doesn't judge anyone. It embraces all. It is neither caring nor cruel, it just is. That's the beauty of nature.

Perhaps it’s a trade-off we all make — putting up with various disappointments, innumerable heartbreaks, the fakery of the so-called ‘civilized world’ just to be accepted. Then, there are various masks we don just to get along with the ways of the world. 

All of us would have our own moment of 'running away from the world' — away from the drama, heartbreaks, judgments, disappointments marooned and cocooned all by ourselves. Jiddu Krishnamurti had a very different take on this topic and it's difficult to summarize a man like Krishnamurti; So, here's what he had to say on the topic

Thoreau did not run away from the world  he had rather chosen to make a radical change in his lifestyle. He perhaps lived like what Camus said — The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Of Paradise — Of Kashmir (Conclusion)

The journey to Pahalgam from Gulmarg is about four hours by road. One of the main stops was the one we gave in Anantnag as described in the previous post. There was one more we gave where we visited a store that sold authentic Kashmiri spices, Kesar, etc. and another store which sold the famed Kashmiri Shawls, Pashmina (authentic pashmina shawls are too expensive). 

We had our traditional 'kahwah' for the second or third time - it was prepared in 'Samovar'. Kahwah has more than ten ingredients like almonds, walnuts, saffron, cinnamon, etc.


In Anantnag, our driver was conversing with some of the locals and they said that due to the increased snowfall, the vehicle movements were restricted — which meant the to and fro traffic between Kashmir and Jammu will be on alternate days. If this were true, it would definitely disturb our schedule. While the thrill-seeker in me was definitely happy that finally there was some action, I was also worried we may have to miss seeing some places.

Pahalgam was not so famous a few decades ago but of late it has acquired the attention it truly deserved. It's the starting point of the famous Amarnath Yatra. It's one of the most quaint places I've ever seen — untainted, unblemished, raw beauty. It was definitely the highlight of the entire trip.

We met a few shepherds the next morning and talked of the package details.  There are some 6-7 points of interests and two points are not possible to cover in this season of the year because of the deep snow which can be up to 10-12 feet. We were told these points couldn't be covered by ourselves and we had to take ponies. I wondered why — when I had the first glimpse of the terrain we were supposed to cover, it all made sense. 

At a point called mini-Switzerland

To say the terrain was very tough is to belittle the real danger it beholds. The ponies do a great job in a narrow, tough and slippery ground — as one wrong step on a good altitude like this can be really fatal. Your life hinges on the four hooves of a galloping beast — that is indeed intimidating and thrilling at the same time.

Most of the points looked they were straight from some fairy tale; A few of them were touted to be akin to Switzerland — not an unfair comparison at all. It's picturesque, bewitchingly charming. The beauty of Pahalgam is hard to encapsulate in words  it takes your breath away, both metaphorically and literally — it casts a strong spell on you and will take a long time to come out of it - better, you don't want to come out of it. It has to be in your must-see list when you visit Kashmir. It is totally worth it. 

Snowfall in front of our hotel
The next morning we caught the first glimpse of the snowfall and we were ecstatic but the happiness was short-lived as we were told the roadways were all blocked between Kashmir and Jammu due to severe snowfall and the only way available for us was to fly from Srinagar to Jammu. We had to book flights fast; we did book for the next morning for a premium price as there was no way out. 

We left the same day to Srinagar (we were supposed to travel to Katra per original schedule). The travel agents didn't help us in any way for the alternative arrangement. We had to look for the new hotel in Srinagar. Our driver helped us with this  we got a good hotel for a decent price. Since this was near his place, he insisted that we came to his home and had food. We couldn't refuse and we did oblige. 

Our driver cum manager, Ghulam Nabi
Ghulam Nabi's home was on a street not much far from the hotel we stayed in. He had two daughters and two sons. One of the daughters was a chatterbox and really kept us hooked and entertained by her animated talks describing her family and life in general in Srinagar. His son also engaged us with a lot of humor and wit; he had a pro-Pakistani bent and it became apparent after a while. The father and daughter's opinion, in contrast, was neutral. The talks covered life in general, politics, history, the exodus of pandits, etc. Considering there were two ladies in the group, I had decided from the beginning of the trip that I would not give out my opinions which I was sure would get us into trouble. So, I basically listened to whatever they had to spell out.

No matter what opinions they had, their hospitality was top-class. Knowing we were all vegetarians, they took the trouble of going to market, getting paneer and cooking for us. They did not let us go and insisted we have dinner too. Their warmth defeated us and we stayed back for dinner as well. They genuinely showed a lot of care, love, and affection toward us which all of us will cherish for a long time. 

The next morning, we left for Jammu from Srinagar as we bid adieu to Ghulam Nabi. The flight was postponed at least thrice due to bad weather and we reached Katra very late in the evening. We had our flight to Bangalore the next day — that left us very little wiggle room for any change in the plan or relaxation. 

Katra was different — "assalam ul alaikum" was replaced by "Jai Mata Di" everywhere. Jai Mata Di seemed like the ubiquitous word permeating all of Katra. Jammu seemed like more densely populated place than Kashmir. Our new driver was an old Punjabi Sardar who loved to listen to new-school Punjabi Hip-hop. He told us if we have to stick to the schedule and also do darshan of Vaishnodevi, we had no option but to skip sleep that night and start climbing the hill that very night itself.

Ponies here were bigger than those available in Pahalgam
The trek to the peak of the hill is about 12k.m. We took ponies to reach the top and decided to get down by walk. It was uphill and our decision to take ponies to climb instead of going by walk was right. It took some 3 odd hours to reach the top and we could do the darshan of Devi at around 3 a.m. peacefully.

The atmosphere throughout the uphill climb was electrifying, to say the least  many people, younger and the older alike were  climbing the hill which seemed effortless, with "Jai Mata Di" on their lips and steadfast devotion for the divine in their hearts. It's almost a wonder how faith and devotion move people. It can make them do the most beautiful of things in the world that make you feel proud to be human and also on the downside, the most horrific of things that make you squirm in disgust that you are one among the appalling species. 

We stuck to our decision of climbing down the hill by walk. The task at hand was arduous and daunting. Increase in pain with each passing step, deprived sleep made the 12k.m walk a formidable one than it already was — it took five odd hours and a lot of patience, energy to complete the walk. At some point in time, I was so tired that I was dozing off even while walking. It took some grit and a dash of determination to breathe a sigh of relief after reaching the foothills. 

The next day, at the Katra airport we learned that due to heavy snowfall, all the flights flying to and from Srinagar were canceled indefinitely. We thanked our stars as we narrowly escaped being stuck in Srinagar for an indefinite time. We flew back with all those memories we would love to treasure for a long time to come. On the whole, Kashmir is a wonderful place to visit - for the romanticists and adventurers alike - it has something for all.