निर्बल के बल राम
The other day I realised to my utter chagrin that I had long moved away from my routine--a writer's routine. Don't they say somebody serious in this field must write at least a few hundred words every day so as to be able to beat the chill of inertia? But then where was the inspiration? And where was a topic to ramble about?
Gingerly I went near the bookshelf that had never ever failed to emit the pleasing smell of creativity, nay the vibes of nostalgia. Sooty and disarrayed, with CDs competing with books for space, the alcove of mine desperately needed a couple of hours of my time to wear a clean look. Stacked there were the titles that I had once bought for reading, the scent of my hard-earned money that had gone to buy them still wafting from their mint-fresh pages. Not all of them were classics. I must admit once upon a time I was a compulsive buyer in the guise of a bibliophile. Those were days when everything associated with socialism was trendy and a few nicely bound red proletariat books had also found their way to my stack for the simple reason that they were extremely affordable. Now the situation is different; yet, despite the sky-rocketing price of books, I continue to be a compulsive buyer even to this day. The scale is, of course, a limited one now. A slow reader, a fellow with wavering concentration, I consider myself a moody reader. No wonder, as I rummaged my bookshelves I found so many titles lying there to be read, many of them left bookmarked and partially finished. There were complimentary copies too, books in English, Oriya, Hindi and Sanskrit, that I received from the self-published authors while I attended their release functions. Looking at those unfinished books I felt sorry, for I had not done any justice to them. More so as I considered the fact that they contained the hope of the givers that I'd eventually devote some of my time to go through their works and give them my feedback. In a way, my keeping them permanently shelved could be construed as a mark of disrespect to their authors, howsoever unintended it may be. As usual I renewed my promise to myself: 'One day I'll read them.' And the promise sounded shallow, so I had to, once again, qualify my resolve, 'When I've the time I'll definitely devote some of it to reading all of them.'
And then a book riveted my attention. It was "An Autobiography Or The Story of My Experiment with Truth" by M. K. Gandhi, ISBN 81-7229-008-X, published by Navajivan Mudranalaya, Ahmedabad and subsidised by Navajivan Trust. It's a book priced at Rs 30 only. I remembered, it was a gift from a friend who gave it to me considering my reputation as a good reader. Oh yes, people think I'm a good reader--maybe it's so as they think a writer has to be a reader first. Be it as it may, I have already read the Oriya version of the opus some thirty years ago or maybe even earlier than that, but a book of this fame has to be read again and again--this is my firm belief. I have seen movies on Gandhi: Attenborough's "Gandhi" and the latest one "Lage Raho Munna Bhai" of Vidhu Vinod Chopra--both rekindled my love for the soul and the principles he stood for. But nothing like reading "My Experiments...". It's like Shri Krishna himself uttering what to do in a situation like this and that, and a confused Arjun getting the knowledge to judge what precious little could be done without fear or favour. Gandhi's own words are the words of conviction. This is to be read and reread at various stages of life. I picked up one whole chapter [Chapter XXI. Page 65] to reproduce here: निर्बल के बल राम and if I'm to explain why I decided to do so I'll quote one proverb from Oriya.
In this chapter Gandhi, before recounting his experience, gives the gist of what he is going to say. In his words, "Though I had acquired a nodding acquaintance with Hinduism and other religions of the world, I should have known that it would not be enough to save me in my trials. Of the thing that sustains him through trials man has no inkling, much less knowledge, at that time. If an unbeliever, he will attribute his safety to chance. If a believer, he will say God saved him. He will conclude, as well he may, that his religious study or spiritual discipline was at the back of the state of grace within him. But in the hour of his deliverance he does not know whether his spiritual discipline or something else saves him. Who that has prided himself on his spiritual strength has not seen it humbled to the dust? A knowledge of religion, as distinguished from experience, seems but chaff in such moments of trial."
Then he goes on to recount his experience, and a serious one at that. To quote him, "It was in England that I first discovered the futility of mere religious knowledge. How I was saved on previous occasions is more than I can say, for I was very young then; but now I was twenty and had gained some experience as husband and father.
"During the last year, as far as I can remember, of my stay in England, that is in 1890, there was a Vegetarian Conference at Portsmouth to which an Indian friend and I were invited. Portsmouth is a sea-port with a large naval population. It has many houses with women of ill fame. Women not actually prostitutes, but at the same time not very scrupulous about their morals. We were put up in one of these houses. Needless to say, the Reception Committee did not know anything about it. It would have been difficult in a town like Portsmouth to find out which were good lodgings and which were bad for occasional travellers like us.
"We returned from the Conference in the evening. After dinner we sat down to play a rubber of bridge, in which our landlady joined, as is customary in England even in respectable households. Every player indulges in innocent jokes as a matter of course, but here my companion and our hostess began to make indecent ones as well. I did not know that my friend was an adept in the art. It captured me and I also joined in. Just when I was about to go beyond the limit, leaving the cards and the game to themselves, God through the good companion uttered the blessed warning: "Whence this devil in you, my boy? Be off, quick!
"I was ashamed. I took the warning, and expressed within myself gratefulness to my friend. Remembering the vow I had taken before my mother, I fled from the scene. To my room I went quaking, trembling, and with beating heart, like a quarry escaped from its pursuer.
"I recall this as the first occasion on which a woman, other than my wife, moved me to lust. I passed that night sleeplessly, all kinds of thoughts assailing me. Should I leave this house? Should I run away from this place? Where was I? What would happen to me if I had not my wits about me? I decided to act thenceforth with great caution not to leave the house, but somehow leave Portsmouth. The Conference was not to go on for more than two days, and I remember I left Portsmouth the next evening, my companion staying there some time longer."
Having recounted his story Gandhi again comes back to the spot where he was before beginning it. He says, "I did not know the essence of religion or of God, and how He works in us. Only vaguely I understood that God had saved me on that occasion. On all occasions of trial He has saved me. I know that the phrase 'God saved me' has a deeper meaning for me today, and still I feel that I have not yet grasped its entire meaning. Only richer experience can help me to a fuller understanding. But all my trials--of a spiritual nature, as a lawyer, in conducting institutions, and in politics--I can say that God saved me. When every hope is gone, 'when helpers fail and comforts flee,' I find that help arrives somehow, from I know not where. Supplication, worship, prayer are no superstition; they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real, all else unreal.
"Such worship or prayer is no flight of eloquence; it is no lip-homage. It springs from the heart. If, therefore, we achieve that purity of the heart when it is 'emptied of all but love', if we keep all the chords in prayer tune, they 'trembling pass in music out of sight'. Prayer needs no speech. It is in itself independent of any sensuous effort. I have not the slightest doubt that prayer is an unfailing means of cleansing the heart of passions. But it must be combined with the utmost humility."
After going through this I reflected. Isn't it a statement of truth? All of us go through difficulties and come out of it unscathed. As Gandhi says, if we are believers we attribute the phenomenon to the grace of god and if we are not the ones, we still attribute it to chance. But then when we swerve away from a course of depravity, it is always out of our good sense. Who activates that? It may be out of our ability to listen to our voice within, but not all of us are the lucky ones to benefit from our own little abilities. We often go to buy a pencil from the shop outside without taking the pain of rummaging through our own alcoves where many of them lie hidden. Ratnakar the robber becomes Valmiki the poet and composes the epic of the Ramayana. And who makes him so? He just listens to both: the sage he is going to rob and the words of ungratefulness of his own family members. In any case he listens to the right voice...the voice from within. A saint with history can say it better...and a sinner should always know that there is future even for him, a future of respect, one that is compatible with the inner voice.
A N Nanda