Shadow of an Illusion
It was dark already. A long journey had led them here. The room was cozy and welcoming though it was bare and bereft of any luxuries of modern life. They sat on their wooden cots. It was cold outside and it seemed like snow was about to fall. The candle at the corner of the room burnt dim and it seemed not to bother them too much. They had done dozens of such journeys together. It was almost a fetish with them to travel to ends of the world, no matter how desolate the destinations were. The more isolated the destination the more determined they were to travel. Maheshwar was one such place, far away from civilization and its banes. It had no electricity, no running water and there was no question of internet or television.
How peaceful is it here remarked Kaya. Peace is in our souls, no place can be peaceful if our soul is not at peace retorted Maya. Kaya pulled out her Old Monk bottle and drank straight from it. She made a face as she downed the dark colored alcohol. No sooner than she gulped the liquid she held the bottle in her hand and proclaimed, Peace is Here! She opened the heavy wooden window of the room, extended her hand out of the window as if she wanted to fetch something.
Kaya, can you please close that window; it is getting cold in here. That woke Kaya out of her little reverie. In such places she always thought of things that she knew could never be accomplished by infallible human beings. She wanted to know how this universe was created. Who could have created so many celestial bodies and hung them in vacuum. She wanted to know if at all the creation was a secret or just a series of concomitant activities that just happened without any purpose. There were millions of questions she wanted answers to. Simply put she wanted to have a conversation with the creator of this universe about whom she was terribly unsure of. At times she thought of him as the most creative genius who created this colorful and breathing universe, yet there were times when she saw in him a feudal lord who like a dictator controlled every single activity, no matter how insignificant and destiny of every single inhabitant on this planet and elsewhere too if at all life existed elsewhere. She often had a grouse with God that he had created a violent world that was unjust, cruel and never at peace.
She closed the window and looked at Maya. Maya like her name was mythical, from being an unbeliever (she preferred the word rational) she had come about to being a complete theist, the praying types as her sister would say. She had always lived her life in dreams. That’s because she spent most of her free time either reading or sleeping. She lived a lazy life, let us call it easy going, had very few needs and hardly ever felt a need to fulfill even them. A few years back no one could have even hazarded a guess that one day Maya would be a complete believer; one who would spend hours in meditation and prayer. Even in this state she had little empathy for fellow human beings. It is a fruit of their Karma that they are suffering she would often quote verses from the Gita to support her edict. It was a complete turnaround for someone who would only a few years back say that Dashavatar was a myth, an illusion, a Maya like me.
Maheshwar was indeed beautiful. It had timeless pine trees reaching out to azure blue skies. You could see the entire Milky Way in the night. But the best part was it had no road coming into it. One had to walk a good five kilometers to get to this village of about a hundred odd people. A small glacial brook, the only source of water for the village flowed near Jamadhar Bisht’s house, the one where they lived as paid guests.
So, where was I? Maya….
Kaya, you were looking for your usual answers. You see, the way you are today, you are never going to get anywhere close to getting your answers. These are secrets which only those who delve deep into themselves know. They are like pearls hidden deep in the ocean. You are seeking answers to the deepest mysteries my dear.
And you believe you know the answers to all these mysteries?
No I don’t. I accept I don’t. But I know if we delve deep into our selves we will reach a stage where there will be no need to answer these questions. Reflection alone will be enough.
And what will be this reflection of yours like, Kaya said with a tinge of sarcasm in her voice.
Each one will have her own reflection Maya answered rather sagely.
Are you therefore saying that my reflection of the universe will be different from your reflection of the universe? So your God’s universe is different for different people. Doesn’t that sound a little awkward considering we are looking at a physical entity?
You are right. You will see the universe as your own reflection and I will see it as mine.
Ah that’s not too bad. Your present reflection will be the boring you, who neither drinks, nor smokes is even afraid of casual flirting. Your stars will be dull and your galaxies will be moronic but mine- baby, they will be rocking. The stars will be drunk and the galaxies will be smoking. The Andromeda could even be biting into a piece of mutton you see. She laughed and her sister too laughed. She lit her favorite Gold Flake and began to sing.
Main Zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya
Both were fond of music, they were terrible singers though. The sisters began to sing loudly. There was a knock on the door.
Kaya used to wake up early. She loved the mornings for their freshness and whenever she came to the mountains she would make sure she sees the sun rise. She would invariably find a place or a point on the hill tops from where she could clearly see the sun rise. This day was no different. She was walking up to a small precipice when she heard Maya shouting her name and asking her to wait for her.
They sat on a large stone looking in the direction of the sun. A strange stillness had filled the environment around them. Maya sat with her eyes closed concentrating on her breathing, Kaya with her eyes open kept concentrating on the color of the sky in the east. Mild ochre appeared on the horizon and began to expand. Kaya jolted her sister and said see, the sun is rising. In an instant the redness spread across the breadth of the Mahadev mountain range. As if on cue Maya started reciting “Yeh sindoor parag punj pihetaam…….” Both sisters had memorized these verses from Panchastavi-the pentad of hymns in praise of mother goddess. The two coalesced in these verses. Panchastavi united the two sisters. Kaya was an absolute Mother Godist. She believed in all the mother goddesses and saw a lot of them as her own mother, at least two in particular. Of late she had grown extremely fond of one of them. They recited the verses from there on. A tearful recitation it was. Meanwhile they had forgotten all about the sunrise. A red ball was filling their respective reflected universes with light of whichever kind they were reflecting on.
It is not that I do not believe in the splendor of this cosmos or its creator. I marvel at each of her creations. I am in absolute awe of the millions of galaxies, billions of creatures and myriad forms that the creator has brought forth into physical forms. When I think of it I wonder what keeps all this in order and what gravitational pulls and pushes would it need to keep a limitless universe from collapsing. And here we stand seeing the sun rise in its magnificent glory day after day, every day without fail. This is a wonder, no doubt, a miracle greater than any other, undoubtedly. A million more suns would be rising and setting in millions of solar systems not just in our galaxy but galaxies across the universe about which even Stephen Hawkins knows little. Our own planet, but a speck of dust in the universe has so much pulsation and life and here too we know little. Look at you, the Maya of her dreams, you mythical creature sitting silently listening to my monologue. I know what you think of me. You think Kaya is walking the wrong street, standing in an inverted queue, a loud thinking idiot. Maya still did not say a word. She adjusted her spectacles to get a better view of the valley below. Let us go down and a have a cup of tea she finally broke her silence. I am not going anywhere Maya, you go down. I will sit for some more time. The sleet was melting. Maya walked down carefully, leaving Kaya to contemplate.
It was almost mid day when Kaya came back to her room. Maya was sleeping blissfully her fingers ensconced in her book. It was almost a routine for her to fall asleep like this. She would often say, I can sleep while standing in a Metro train. There was no duality in her thought. She did not want to deal with this world at all so she kept ignoring it all the time. She had created her own universe on her own canvass. She did not seek answers to any of the questions that her sister had. They did not seem to bother her at all. She lived, rather slept peacefully on the canvas of her universe.
Jamadhar’s wife was busy in the kitchen. A middle aged jovial looking woman Saswati had been married to Jamadhar when she barely eleven. Can I ask for some breakfast, Kaya meekly enquired of Saswati. Yes please come in. I have made paranthas for you. Saswati put the pan on the hearth and began adding Ghee to the paranthas. The aroma of carom seeds filled the kitchen. She wanted to wake up her sister but knowing how much Maya loved her sleep, she ate her breakfast alone. She felt a little sad eating alone. She always wanted someone to be around no matter what she did. Other people’s company and approval meant a lot to her; possibly so much that she could never live the life she wanted to.
She went to her room. Maya was in sleeping like a baby. The book had slipped from her fingers and was lying on the floor. The beautiful book mark with Persian calligraphy was on the floor too. Maya was an adept with languages. She picked them naturally. Her inclination towards learning was immense and she had voracious appetite for knowledge. Kaya sat on her cot leaning a little backwards to the wall. She was reading Primo Levy’s book on Jewish Holocuast. She read a little and kept the book away. She started humming…
Dhoop main niklo ghataon main naha kar dekho
Zindagi kya hain kitabo ko hata kar dekho
She was a walking encyclopedia of Urdu poetry though she could hardly read a grade 5 Urdu textbook. It was all in her mind. She had memorized so many poems and couplets of Urdu poets that she could quote at will. She had Ghalib,Majaz and Allama Iqbal almost adlib. She walked out of her room aimlessly and lost herself in the mountains. She must not have gone too far when she saw a young girl, with her cows in the forest. The girl’s face looked familiar although Kaya had never been to this place before. The girl was humming a local folk song and kept attending to her cows. Kaya kept wondering whether she had seen the girl before or if she knew someone who looked like this girl.
A carpenter by the name Ramdin would be a regular visitor to their house in Kolkatta. Even for small jobs like fixing a nail he would be called for. One day when they had to get a new book rack made they rang Ramdin up. There was no answer. They made umpteen calls to Ramdin and yet there was no answer. It was very uncharacteristic of Ramdin not to answer calls. They were worried a little but thought, maybe he has gone to his village or maybe his phone number has changed. A fortnight later the doorbell rang. It was Ramdin. He looked disheveled and many years older than his age. I am very sorry I did not answer your calls. They asked him to come in. He kept apologizing and was weeping inconsolably. Saheb my daughter is lost. I have registered an FIR with the Police but so far they haven’t been able to do anything about it. I have met all the local politicians and women’s organizations but to no avail. There wasn’t much they could have done to help him. The feeling of helplessness had taken over their entire family but left Kaya particularly devastated. She was thinking about Pragya, Ramdin’s daughter all the time. She would call Ramdin every day and even spent time with his family. It was here that she came face to face with what it means to be poor and helpless.
One day when she was returning from work she got a call from Ramdin. We have found Pragya. She stopped her car and started crying. After collecting herself a little she drove straight to the slums where Ramdin lived. Pragya the child had been lost forever. She hugged the Pragya they had found in the farmhouse of a powerful politician. There was nothing to be said. No words would suffice for the agony of the little girl who was picked up from the street.
Oh you are sitting here, don’t you want some lunch? It took me sometime finding you, you seeker of truth, Maya was being playful. Doesn’t this girl look like Pragya? Maya knew something was coming. She remembered how distressed her sister was for months after that incident had happened. While Maya was always at ease answering Kaya’s spiritual questions it was questions about suffering and pain that she found difficult to answer. Maya looked at the girl grazing her cows. She wanted to avoid the conversation that was about to begin. Kaya’s eyes were already brimming with tears.
What wrong had she done? What did she do to be abused in this way? Is this the law of Karma? Isn’t God supposed to be Rahim and Rehman? Even if she had done something terrible in her previous life could he not have pardoned her and stopped a series of another sins from happening? Every moment I think of her I feel as if I am being raped over and over again in the most brutal fashion. There are thousands like her, there always have been. Throughout history women, oh wait a minute, why just women, men too have been subjected to brutality that is indescribable. The sheer helplessness of one individual or a group as against another is so recurring a theme that is almost a norm in God’s universe, at least this planet. Maya knew this phase of hers. She did not even attempt to calm her sister down. They have had these conversations before.
You see it is not important whether I know the meaning of this Sutra or that one. It is not that I disregard them or underestimate their power. I may not be a realized soul but I know what it means to be one. Honestly I don’t care what about this scripture says or what that book says. The truth unfortunately is despite Buddha walking this earth we have had no peace. The world has suffered chronic wars and all the debasement and depravity that come with a war. Strange that even Muhammed who held the promise of an egalitarian society to the feuding Arabs did not abolish slavery. Even as we sit in this beautiful forest hundreds of Yazidi girls, some young as ten are sex slaves to fellow human beings who believe that are accomplishing a religious duty by having sex with infidels.
This whole universe is the body of the supreme power, Kaya. The manifestation is an objective state of the consciousness. So there is no other here. The oppressor and the oppressed is the same. You are a follower of Kabir, who would know it better than you. Don’t you keeping humming Tu Ka Tu all day. You see all this pain and suffering around you because you see the world as duality. The moment you start seeing yourself as one with the creator this pain and suffering would seem ephemeral and fleeting, actually even ephemeral also is incorrect. The happenings around would seem like you are seeing a theatre or a movie.
Are you saying that the pain that Pragya suffered wasn’t real? Maya, Is the suffering of all these people akin to the people acting out their parts in a theatre? Now that is not fair. I think you are being an apologist for the creator. The pain of losing someone, of being exiled, of being humiliated is real and there can be no explanation for it. Gross injustice has and continues to happen in the real World which could be eternal and that worries me more than if it would have been ephemeral.
Yes there is pain and it is real. Real like this tree, like you and me. If there would have been no pain Siddhartha would have not become Buddha. But what thereafter? An enlightened person understands that trials and tribulations will happen and pain is inevitable. That’s being Buddha. Why I cannot answer, but suffering will always be there. Your anguish and the questions arising from them are all correct. Anyone who lives a life deeper and more meaningful is bound to ask them. The adepts say being affected by suffering and seeking answers to it is also pursuit of God. In a way you are walking the path that Buddha did. But did Buddha’s enlightenment end suffering?
Transcend the tattvas and you will see yourself as the creator. Then in that universe you will have what you want. There will no fear of tomorrow and no regrets of past. Your will, will decide what it will be like. I am afraid you still haven’t invested enough in your questions. Think, contemplate and reflect more on them and you will need no Omar Khayam to answer them. You yourself will be the Shams Tabriz and you will be the Rumi too. The scriptures though important are guides like the Master but it is you who is the light. The power of consciousness is inside you, awaken it.
Now if you will please can we eat. I am dying of hunger Miss Virginia Woolf. In her growing years Kaya was greatly influenced by Virginia Woolf so much so that her friends often called her Miss Woolf. They held hands and started walking back to habitation. They recalled their days at school and how one boy Vimarsh tried to woo both the sisters. If at that time I knew what Vimarsh meant I would have gone with guy, I quite liked him. Maya was the boy among the two girls. As a young girl she was flirtatious and free unlike her elder sister who was tentative and bound by tradition. Even today she was the one who was unbound and free.
That evening as the sun was setting the two walked up again to the precipice. Both closed their eyes and reflected. A soulful Kaya sang
Roshan Jammal-e-Yaar se hain anjuman tamam
Dehka hua hain aatish-e-gul se chaman tamam