Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Thousand Suns in the City of Joy

Two weeks ago, we celebrated Guru Purnima, the auspicious day held in remembrance of the sage Vyasa, who was believed to have been born on this day. Legend has it that Vyasa was responsible for 'dividing' the ancient sacred texts known as the Vedas into the four major components that we have come to know them as today- Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. Hence, he is also known as Veda Vyasa, and in Hindu tradition, he is regarded as a guru of gurus, a teacher of teachers. Not unsurprisingly, Guru Purnima became an occasion to reflect upon the greatness of one's guru and pay respects to that teacher. The term guru, in this context, is used to refer to a spiritual teacher- the syllables gu and ru referring to darkness and removal respectively. A guru is one who can destroy the darkness of ignorance and bring you to the path of spiritual enlightenment. This year, however, I came across a different perspective- learn to view everything as part of the guru's divine form. Seek divinity in everything, for the entire universe is a manifestation of the divine. I thought about this for sometime.

It's very difficult to look at everything positively, especially if a particular incident is not up to our liking, let alone seek God in it. And then I came across something that exemplified the very essence of Guru Purnima. I just finished reading Dominique Lapierre's A Thousand Suns. The book is a collection of memoirs, various anecdotes from Lapierre's journalistic career. He writes about his meeting with Larry Collins, a meeting which led to this 'literary duo' giving us many a best-seller; From a chance interview with Henrique Galvao, a 'modern day Don Quixote' to his epic journey across Soviet roads behind the Iron Curtain to his own battle against prostate cancer, the common thread that binds all the chapters in the book is 'the will, buried in human hearts, to fight for what we believe in'. The stories in this book amazed me- to come across anecdotes as inspiring as this is indeed like a breath of fresh air. But none inspired me as much as the story of Gaston Grandjean and his journey to the City of Joy.

Following the success of his book Freedom at Midnight (co-written with Larry Collins), Lapierre and his wife travelled to Mother Teresa's home for leper children, in Calcutta. There he chanced to meet with Gaston Grandjean, a social worker from Switzerland, who had come all the way to India to do his bit and help those less fortunate than us. In that Calcutta slum, marred with leprosy, tuberculosis and other fatal illnesses, it was difficult to live. Food, water, shelter, everything that we take for granted were the least of the concerns of the slum residents, for everyday survival was their immediate priority. Yet, there was so much joy, so much vitality, so much life in that slum. Lapierre writes about a man who used to beg outside the Kali temple- he was almost blind, and yet, he took a little 3 year old orphan under his protection. These people, to whom living itself was a burden, were actually 'life- LIFE in capital letters, life pulsating and bustling and throbbing' away. Sample this anecdote from the book- Lapierre was sitting with Grandjean, in front of his room in the slum, when he saw a band comprising of people dressed in festive attire. The band followed a procession of musicians. When they enquired what it was all about, pat came the reply. 'We are celebrating the birth of spring!' Lapierre writes 'In this slum, where I had not seen one single tree, one single bird, one single butterfly...people had the guts to celebrate an event of which they would never see the manifestations!' If only all of us were able to look at things in the same way!

Grandjean indeed was able to see divinity in that slum. After meeting an old woman, whose flesh was ravaged by the savageness of leprosy, and seeing her attitude of hope and happiness, he wrote in his diary- ...My prayer for that poor woman can no longer be sorrowful. Her suffering is like that of Christ on the cross; it is positive, redemptive. It is hope. Every time I come out of my sister the blind leper woman's hovel, I do so revitalized. This slum should be called 'the City of Joy'. (And that was how Calcutta actually got its sobriquet!)

I do not know whether it was a coincidence that I came across this chapter in the book just a few days after Guru Purnima or not. Serendipity, I would like to believe. But it did drive home the point. There is divinity in every single incident, every single creature, every single place. Lapierre concludes his story with this lovely message- The proverb I had discovered in the torrential rains of the monsoon had once again proven to be right. There are always a thousand suns beyond the clouds.

3 comments:

  1. Right on target. I too have something to share on a similar vein. I had gone to get the puncher fixed on my scooter wheel. I was searching for a shop and was directed to a quaint little shop. There was an old man and his wife sitting there. As soon as I reached, they very enthusiastically toiled away to fix it. I was wonder struck at their sense of work even at such a ripe age.I will be posting a blog on this incident soon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's amazing how much we can learn from people all around us! Every morning, in my university campus, I used to see an old uncle picking cans from the trash bins. I would smile at him, and slowly we began talking- He would always greet me with a 'Morning! No class today?' and grin. So infectious was his cheeriness. There's God for you! :)
    PS: Thanks so much Karthipaaa, for the comment :) But I'm sure you are referring to a puncture. :P Sorry, I sometimes become a Grammar Nazi. Yes, you should write about this incident soon. Looking forward to reading it!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Me too have been reading this amazing book the last month and I have been wanting to write something myself on my blog, but life has been taking me away from any writing. So it was refreshing reading your thoughts and I thank you for that. Having lived in India for that years from '86 till 96 although pampered in the Osho ashram , I regret not having visited Calcutta and spend time with Mother Theresa and her sisters. But God always answers your prayers in the most unexpected way so now I find myself dividing my time volunteering in a hospice in Amsterdam where I live and flying to Italy to care for my aging parents. As I was there for 3 months this summer 6 people passed away amongst my family and friends and I was grateful to have been able to bring some comfort to the family. Reading this book had increased my deep longing to come back to India and I I hope one day God will answer this prayer.
    In the meantime Namaste to you
    Ciao Milena
    http://truemilena.blogspot.nl/

    ReplyDelete

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Thousand Suns in the City of Joy

Two weeks ago, we celebrated Guru Purnima, the auspicious day held in remembrance of the sage Vyasa, who was believed to have been born on this day. Legend has it that Vyasa was responsible for 'dividing' the ancient sacred texts known as the Vedas into the four major components that we have come to know them as today- Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. Hence, he is also known as Veda Vyasa, and in Hindu tradition, he is regarded as a guru of gurus, a teacher of teachers. Not unsurprisingly, Guru Purnima became an occasion to reflect upon the greatness of one's guru and pay respects to that teacher. The term guru, in this context, is used to refer to a spiritual teacher- the syllables gu and ru referring to darkness and removal respectively. A guru is one who can destroy the darkness of ignorance and bring you to the path of spiritual enlightenment. This year, however, I came across a different perspective- learn to view everything as part of the guru's divine form. Seek divinity in everything, for the entire universe is a manifestation of the divine. I thought about this for sometime.

It's very difficult to look at everything positively, especially if a particular incident is not up to our liking, let alone seek God in it. And then I came across something that exemplified the very essence of Guru Purnima. I just finished reading Dominique Lapierre's A Thousand Suns. The book is a collection of memoirs, various anecdotes from Lapierre's journalistic career. He writes about his meeting with Larry Collins, a meeting which led to this 'literary duo' giving us many a best-seller; From a chance interview with Henrique Galvao, a 'modern day Don Quixote' to his epic journey across Soviet roads behind the Iron Curtain to his own battle against prostate cancer, the common thread that binds all the chapters in the book is 'the will, buried in human hearts, to fight for what we believe in'. The stories in this book amazed me- to come across anecdotes as inspiring as this is indeed like a breath of fresh air. But none inspired me as much as the story of Gaston Grandjean and his journey to the City of Joy.

Following the success of his book Freedom at Midnight (co-written with Larry Collins), Lapierre and his wife travelled to Mother Teresa's home for leper children, in Calcutta. There he chanced to meet with Gaston Grandjean, a social worker from Switzerland, who had come all the way to India to do his bit and help those less fortunate than us. In that Calcutta slum, marred with leprosy, tuberculosis and other fatal illnesses, it was difficult to live. Food, water, shelter, everything that we take for granted were the least of the concerns of the slum residents, for everyday survival was their immediate priority. Yet, there was so much joy, so much vitality, so much life in that slum. Lapierre writes about a man who used to beg outside the Kali temple- he was almost blind, and yet, he took a little 3 year old orphan under his protection. These people, to whom living itself was a burden, were actually 'life- LIFE in capital letters, life pulsating and bustling and throbbing' away. Sample this anecdote from the book- Lapierre was sitting with Grandjean, in front of his room in the slum, when he saw a band comprising of people dressed in festive attire. The band followed a procession of musicians. When they enquired what it was all about, pat came the reply. 'We are celebrating the birth of spring!' Lapierre writes 'In this slum, where I had not seen one single tree, one single bird, one single butterfly...people had the guts to celebrate an event of which they would never see the manifestations!' If only all of us were able to look at things in the same way!

Grandjean indeed was able to see divinity in that slum. After meeting an old woman, whose flesh was ravaged by the savageness of leprosy, and seeing her attitude of hope and happiness, he wrote in his diary- ...My prayer for that poor woman can no longer be sorrowful. Her suffering is like that of Christ on the cross; it is positive, redemptive. It is hope. Every time I come out of my sister the blind leper woman's hovel, I do so revitalized. This slum should be called 'the City of Joy'. (And that was how Calcutta actually got its sobriquet!)

I do not know whether it was a coincidence that I came across this chapter in the book just a few days after Guru Purnima or not. Serendipity, I would like to believe. But it did drive home the point. There is divinity in every single incident, every single creature, every single place. Lapierre concludes his story with this lovely message- The proverb I had discovered in the torrential rains of the monsoon had once again proven to be right. There are always a thousand suns beyond the clouds.

3 comments:

  1. Right on target. I too have something to share on a similar vein. I had gone to get the puncher fixed on my scooter wheel. I was searching for a shop and was directed to a quaint little shop. There was an old man and his wife sitting there. As soon as I reached, they very enthusiastically toiled away to fix it. I was wonder struck at their sense of work even at such a ripe age.I will be posting a blog on this incident soon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's amazing how much we can learn from people all around us! Every morning, in my university campus, I used to see an old uncle picking cans from the trash bins. I would smile at him, and slowly we began talking- He would always greet me with a 'Morning! No class today?' and grin. So infectious was his cheeriness. There's God for you! :)
    PS: Thanks so much Karthipaaa, for the comment :) But I'm sure you are referring to a puncture. :P Sorry, I sometimes become a Grammar Nazi. Yes, you should write about this incident soon. Looking forward to reading it!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Me too have been reading this amazing book the last month and I have been wanting to write something myself on my blog, but life has been taking me away from any writing. So it was refreshing reading your thoughts and I thank you for that. Having lived in India for that years from '86 till 96 although pampered in the Osho ashram , I regret not having visited Calcutta and spend time with Mother Theresa and her sisters. But God always answers your prayers in the most unexpected way so now I find myself dividing my time volunteering in a hospice in Amsterdam where I live and flying to Italy to care for my aging parents. As I was there for 3 months this summer 6 people passed away amongst my family and friends and I was grateful to have been able to bring some comfort to the family. Reading this book had increased my deep longing to come back to India and I I hope one day God will answer this prayer.
    In the meantime Namaste to you
    Ciao Milena
    http://truemilena.blogspot.nl/

    ReplyDelete