Sunday, March 22, 2015

A conversation at Charlotte Airport...

Adi Shankara sings with profound anguish these deep words of wisdom in his philosophical masterpiece "Bhaja Govindam".
I was sitting in the Charlotte-Douglas Airport yesterday morning, making notes on this verse for an essay that I writing, when I was interrupted by an voice sitting beside me. He was an young Indian , with prematurely greyish white hair, clad in immaculate black suit with a glittering brown leather laptop case resting nearing his legs. He was saying:
" Interesting that you are actually studying this poem. Is this not a poem by one of those Acharya's who lived in India centuries ago, who institutionalized Hindu religion in four corners of India. My wife keeps listening to this song every day morning sung in the voice of old singer named MS Subbu or something. It is a morning ritual for her. She puts it on and goes about her daily work. I don't think she ever listens to it ( He chuckled!!). It just keeps playing in the background like some kind of drone. I was never into all this, until I got married a few years ago. My wife hails from Karnataka... Educated, but you know how it is, she carries family traditions with her (he chuckled again!!). This is one of it, I guess.. I have been in US for nearly fifteen years now, and all that I care is that these Hindu saints have now given a legitimacy to a BJP government who seem to profess their creed and pursuing an militant Hindutva agenda.."
I closed my laptop and the book and humbly asked him :" So what do you know about Adi shankara, or this poem in particular".. "
H seemed a little taken aback. He was hoping that I would respond to his political insinuations. He answered: "Nothing much, but I know he founded these Hindu Institutions.."
I smiled at him, and gently told him : "You see sir, this is the problem when you get judgmental without adequate understanding or knowledge. While Shankara may have established institutions of Learning across India, the idea was not to form a cult or a sect . It was more of a symposium to talk,discuss and contemplate on the mystery of Life - the non-dualistic mystical insights that had their genesis on Indian soil. Here was a man, who walked the length and breadth of India in a short span of 39 years - pleading, urging, chastising, proselyting - trying his best to awaken Man to a different dimension of living and working. His treatises, commentaries and popular poems resonate with deepest truth about Man's existence - without any distinction of race, religion or creed. Gnosticism, Sufism, Buddhism, Hasidim all other mystical traditions find the same thread of thought in Shankara's writings. It is unfortunate though (like you said) that we have lost the verve, inclination and energy to read and understand him - and relegated his words to monotonous repetition, and nothing else."
"This Poem - "Bhaja Govindam" is perhaps the finest and deepest outpouring of a human heart on the predicament of Human life in general. Each verse hits the listener like a thunderbolt, pregnant with meaning and common sense, rarely found in a philosopher. It is unfortunate that your only exposure this poem has been the daily ritual od hearing it being played in your living room, but My sincere request to you would be to read this poem with a commentary , and try and see if it makes sense to you. I am confident it will.. Our problem today is that most of us are becoming "second hand " human beings relying more upon hearsay, half baked opinions and biased conversations.
"And finally for heaven sake, do not equate the work of Shankara to Hindutva or what is happening in the name of religion today In India. It is not only extremely disrespectful of the man, but diametrically absurd interpretation of his wonderful life's work... Also, by the way the singer's name is MS subbalakshmi - and she was one of the finest exponents of Classical music in the last century. There have numerous renditions of this spectacular poem, but none to match the commitment, passion and voice that MS bought to it. If you listen to it attentively, it will feel the sound of eternity in her mellifluous tone..."
My boarding announcement was made, and I had to excuse myself.. I think he was a little taken shaken and not happy with my long monologue. He was probably expecting a placid acquiescence from me to his high-browed comments. Well, that did not happen..
God bless....

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