Wednesday, January 23, 2013

To Be

The question, ‘what is the greatest blessing in life?’ will receive as many different answers as the number of people in this world. Well, almost. And different answers at different times.

I stumbled upon my answer recently.
And it seems to have a feel of finality to it.

To be able to do what you want to do, without constraint, is certainly a great blessing, if not the greatest.

I quit my job early this year. And decided to take a break for a few months, as I usually do in between jobs, so that I can do what I like to do in that time - read, write and travel - basically.

This time, the break has been the longest. And it has been most unexpected.

I had once thought I would resign someday for one year, especially to read. This was when I had finally laid my hands on those elusive 11 volumes of ‘The Story of Civilization’.

The resignation happened long after.

I read.
Not those scholarly works I had in mind but others.
I read 5 books simultaneously. All of different genres. History, literature, spirituality, economics and one coffee table book on general knowledge. A few pages from each book every day.

I wrote.
Not just the usual travel posts that my other engagements generally permit, but substantial expressions of thought and experience that leisure and carefree state set in train.

I slept to my satisfaction. Peacefully.
Except for 30 days, when the characters of ‘Gone With the Wind’, a powerful story I happened to be reading then got all mixed with my dreams.

‘Creating something out of thin air’, we all know, but ‘creating thin air out of something’? That’s a challenge I am faced with every few months.
The last time I had created space in my small room, already full, for the pile of new books that I had accumulated, I thought it was the last and final time.
But once more, as I set about the task, I ‘created’ space for 50 volumes, as if by magic.
It’s amazing how much satisfaction creating ‘nothingness’ can give! Two cubic feet of space!

When it was summer, the time to go to the mountains, I left for the Himalayas; not for 1 week or 2 weeks for which I had obtained leave approval as in previous years, but for 42 days! I usually don’t have a fixed plan, just an outline; this time, even the outline was nebulous. I stayed for 4 days in Badri instead of 3; I went to Auli twice because it was so charming; I added to my itinerary a place I had never heard of, just because a fellow passenger dangling before me in a crowded bus said it was ‘Mini Switzerland’.
And what a lovely place it turned out to be!

I went to the cinema, sometimes twice a week, and was in raptures over some really good Bollywood movies they seem to have begun to make. I went on Wednesday noons when the tickets were priced 80 or 100 rupees : ), something I always believed in doing but could not quite do.

When I felt like doing nothing, I did what I usually love to do at such times – stand before my bookshelf and look and look at my most prized possessions, wishing - I could read them all now; thinking - which one I should pick up next; wondering - how long it will be before I can pick up that one; and hoping - that ‘this one’ will not be among the “thirty five books, that are (according to a study) found unread on a book reader’s shelf, when he dies”.

And then, I soaked in culture – the Bombay Jayashree music concert, after which I became her fan, the Shobhana dance drama where I wept for Gandhari, after which I became her fan, the Bangalore music festival where I saw Vidya Bhushan of Udupi sing, whose fan I already am and then the most brilliant of all singing I have seen – by Ranjini Gayathri sisters whose fan my father has been and now, I have become.

Having no fixed plans meant allowing life to happen and be surprised at every small and big thing that came unexpectedly.

I met a friend with a plan for lunch but ended up spending one whole day with her. After having Andhra full meals at Nagarjuna over some good conversation, we took pictures of each other by a wayside tree and finding it growing on us, we walked to a nearby park and took some 50 to 60 pictures more. And in the evening, we went to a hi-fi jewellery exhibition at UB towers, dressed like supermodels. There were two things I saw there for the first time: one, modern jewellery for which I have to acquire a taste yet and second, page three characters.
A cameraman, perhaps taking me for a page 3 character, asked me to pose for him, which I gladly did and lo! the next day newspaper paper carried my picture!
After that we went to ITC hotel and I was wowed by it, although I had used Leela Palace as my backyard when I used to live on airport road.

Over dinner with a friend, I conceived, from an experience she shared, an idea for a short story and then after I came home, 2 more stories from my own life, and felt exhilarated as I moved closer to my dream of authoring a book.

I learnt that I was an influential blogger from some event organizers! who invited me to a Stand Up Comedy Show and then a cooking event by a celebrated French chef.

After a few weeks, I received an invitation from a Delhi based online newspaper to write a letter to the prime minister along with other celebrities. I wrote and it was indeed published!

I went to brigade Road on New Year’e eve to buy plum cake from Koshy’s and Nilgiris, and also to see new year lighting on Brigade road which I had never seen before. I took pictures, and returned home to learn from a friend the next day that it had been an adventure; friend also said I had lost my mind, I was pushing my luck too far... going alone, a woman, to Brigade Road, on new year’s eve!

I redeemed the prize I had won for an article I had written for an Indiblogger/Kissan contest.
What a prize! A tour in North Kerala – everyday a new experience – living in a bamboo cottage in the middle of 20 acres of coffee estate, speed boating in the largest earth dam in Asia, swinging on garden swings suspended from branches 20-30 feet high, tea estates, the possibility of a difficult steep trek outside of the Himalayas, a heart shaped lake on a mountain, colourful mosques and churches, backwaters and beaches!
What a way to begin new year!

Certainly, it is a great blessing to be able to do what you want to do.

But there is something greater than that. I learnt of it in these months, since my quitting work.

It is the blessing of being able ‘to be’. Who you are and who you want to be.
And it is the greatest of all blessings.

All throughout our lives, we are situated such that we can never afford to ‘simply be’.

As little children, as students, as employed men/women, or as married ones... we always have someone or something tugging us in all directions, exacting small and big duties, influencing our ‘being’, exerting, even in the best of situations, a small amount of stress and most importantly, enveloping us in their own touch, pull, words, sounds, feels, impressions, views and hence keeping from us, the knowledge, the feel of who we truly are.

There is always some stress, some obligation, some compulsion, some external influence that won’t allow us to be simply ourselves, but make someone of us.

Even when we have been free to make our own choices, and have chosen say, the best university, our favourite subject and a job we love, we are still ‘engaged’ to what we have chosen and ‘obliged’ to do what is expected.
We don’t even know what it is not to have anyone to answer, not to have any expectations to deliver to.

Some of us, the luckier ones, may manage not be puppets – of other people, of circumstances, but even in the best of times, we are carried about by the circumstances of our own choosing, even as we think we are free.
Most of the time there are strings pulling us. Even one or two, even the faint ones, gossamer like, are enough to keep us from that state of free suspension, free float.

When I started living all by myself, gradually and with the passing of time, all shackles fell one by one and I released myself from all influences that had made me who I was and flowered to become who I am, the true me.
But I never realized that an obligation that I had chosen myself, my employment, was a shackle too, a shackle that still remained, influencing me even as I believed I was free.

But with the falling of that shackle, the last one, I experienced zero gravity, for the first time.

The past few months have been the first time ever in my life, that no one/nothing has had ‘expectations’ from me, not even myself.

There is no stress, no fear, no anxiety, no hurry, no worry, no expectation, no anticipation...

Living alone all by myself, being single, not having to go to work, no definite plans for the future, and parents that have given up : ) has proved to be a special experience.
And unlike other powerful experiences that make an impact, that hit you, this one does not even make itself felt.
For, by definition, this experience is all about the absence of impact.

Only one in a thousand people (if not one in a million) get ever to see this phase of life, to experience this state of being.

And it is this that I am most grateful to, after I have thanked Providence for all the rest...

And I don’t know if I will ever see these days again in my life. It’s one of rare things that happen once in a lifetime.


Nitish Ratnam said...

Good one Sowmya. There is a lot of "Action" in the so called "Inaction"! At last now I came to know how you ended up being in that cooking event :)

Sowmya said...

Thanks Nitish for stopping by to read such a long post :)

Anonymous said...

Super Soumya ! kushi aythu ! u r on the right track to be a writer..let words come out of the depth of your being and create a musical effect on everyone who reads ur book !

Anonymous said...

Also -- "New Research Suggests Loneliness Bad For Health, May Lead To Heart Disease"

n one study, a group of blood cancer survivors were tested for the cytomegalovirus, a herpes virus. LiveScience reports that the virus can remain dormant for years and may not even show symptoms when active. The virus does cause the immune system to produce antibodies in order to kill the virus. Lonely people had higher the levels of cytomegalovirus antibodies in their blood which indicates higher levels of the active virus.

Last March, a similar study came out of UCLA that pointed to loneliness as one of the causes of a weak immune system.

John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago social psychologist, said that the immune system is divided into two parts: One that fights viruses and one that fights bacteria. Cacioppo says that the immune systems in lonely people have changed to focus more on bacteria threats rather than viral thrates, which makes them more vulnerable to diseases like cancer.

Jaremka said that the study shouldn’t be viewed as all doom and gloom. On the bright side, according to Jaremka, “people who feel socially connected are experiencing positive outcomes.”


Anonymous said...

Surprisingly i was reading this interesting link when i read this blog of NO IMPACT -
ALso read this book -

Anonymous said...

ನಮ್ಮ ಬದುಕು ದೊಡ್ಡದಾಗದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯ ಎಂದೂ ದೊಡ್ಡದಾಗದು.
-ಶಿವರಾಮ ಕಾರಂತ

Sirisha said...

Interesting ! Good to have lots of me-time.

Pramod said...

I am happy that at least one person I know has come close to discovering the meaning of life. You are brave, and guided by a deep and beautiful instinct.

I wish I could be more like you!

Sowmya said...

Thanks Pramod for the nice and encouraging words : )
What you have seen in me helps me to discover what I did not know I have.

Andrea D. said...

Hi Sowmya,

your post is really brilliant! I admire your capability of breake pre-concepts and give you the chance to experiment "yourself". I admire your will power to do things, I admire your imagination, to always find a new adventure/challenge to ride, I admire your hability to write so nicely all your experiences for people like me, that enjoy from the distance all those places, smells and colors that probably will never have the chance to experience with such intensity as you describe in your post.
Thank you for that. See why your post is brilliant? it brings light to a bored IT lady sitting in front of a screen. May all the blessings be with you Sowmya!

Sowmya said...

Thank you so much Andrea for your superfluous compliments... keep coming here :)

Vishal said...

Euphoric, for most of us it's ephemeral. Glad it had a long run on you.