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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Who Needs A Guru When You Have Bollywood?

The Search

You and I ultimately looking for but one thing: happiness. All our actions, all our thoughts, all our planning, in fact all our energy goes into finding that one elusive state of being, which cannot be defined, only experienced. It's unpredictable, it's non-repeatable, it's unique.
So I immersed myself into books that were supposed to tell you how to achieve happiness in this mortal existence. Starting off with the Bhagwat Gita, I read copiously. Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, Ramana Maharishi and the Dalai Lama were as the dust beneath my chariot wheels. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying fell on the way, as did classics like Play of Consciousness and Autobiography of a Yogi. Heck, I don't even remember the names and authors of most of the stuff I read, but they all had two things in common:
  • Each book made intellectual sense. I could resonate with the ideas the author was putting across and understand them clearly.
  • Each book left something to be desired. It was satisfying intellectually, but when it came to putting the practices into, er, practice, some key connection between my life and the yoga delineated in the book was, inexplicably, not to be found. I could see the waterfall, hear it and swim in the pool, but the taste of the water itself escaped my tongue.

The Guru

Hey, if the books don't have it, maybe a living Guru can open the channel to the Supreme Consciousness, right? Ah-ha! Let us go and find the Guru, and leave everything to her/his vision. Find a giant to stand on the shoulders of, presumably one will automatically see further.
I'm fortunate to live in a land where there is no shortage of Gurus, both acknowledged and self-styled. So I went Guru-hunting. Well, not really – at that phase the Masters (and Mistresses?) themselves came into my life, as if the desire itself was drawing them into existence. Some talked about compassion and acceptance, some about formulae and rituals; there were those who advocated insight as the path to enlightenment, those who counselled worship and prayer, and those who spoke of detachment from action. Some asked for absolute commitment to their ideas, while others only pointed at a possible path and asked you to tread it as your inner light guided you.
These were the True Leaders. None of these people ever asked for anything material in return; most of them didn't even require you to be exclusive or regular in your interactions with them. But, as with the books, something was still missing. The melody was perfect, but where were the drums and bass? The beat that got your feet tapping instinctively and your legs to move and sway your body involuntarily?

The Song

Talking of drums and bass, no one can set up a complex beat quite like S D Burman. Combine that with the haunting poetry of the erratic Gulzar and you can't help making a winner of a song. One movie they worked together on was Bandini. It's difficult to pick a favourite among so many stellar compositions, but if you forced me I'd choose:
मोरा गोरा अंग लईले
मोहे श्याम रंग दईदे।
छुप जाऊंगी रात ही में
मोहे पी का संग दईदे।
Impossible to translate either the lyricism or the subtlety, but if you put that into English it may go something like:
Take/accept my fair limbs, and colour me in darkness (Shyam).
I shall merge into the night in the presence of my beloved.
[Here Shyam could refer to either a dark colour, or to Krishna, the god with a dark body.]
So I went merrily on my way, tripping to good ol' Hindi film music with the occasional epiphany thrown in when the lyrics or the music struck the right chord at the right time. (For the cynics – yes, you can trip on old Bollywood numbers, they're as good as psychedelic trance in their own way!)
Until one day decades ago, when my old and dear friend Gopal (the same one who's married to Mary of Idli Fame) was resting his feet on the occasional table and philosophizing about Life, the Universe and Everything, and he made a statement that I cannot forget:
Do you realise that love for the physical beloved is indistinguishable from love for the Divine in most Hindi film music?
Now that was an eye-opener all right. Gopal, thou art thrice-blessed for that insight. With those words fresh in my mind I absent-mindedly spun out Mora gora ang laile on the MP3 player, and the transformation was complete.

The Embrace

मोरा गोरा अंग लईले
मोहे श्याम रंग दईदे।
छुप जाऊंगी रात ही में
मोहे पी का संग दईदे।
If you choose the path of Bhakti, you can do no better than follow the simple instructions presented here. The devotee is asking for her ego and her personality to be subsumed into the Divine, and pleading for that ultimate peace which can only be found in total renunciation of will.
And in that union she will lose her individuality, but also find a joy and a peace that she could never have found otherwise. So she has abandoned all her cares and worries, her responsibilities and attachments to follow her love wherever it leads:
कुछ खो लिया है पाई के
कुछ पा लिया गंवाईंके।
कहां ले चला है मनवा
मुझे बांवरी बनाईके?

The Summons

Simple instructions for finding Nirvana weren't the sole province of S D Burman and Gulzar, however. For instance, in Pyaar Ka Mausam, S D's son R D Burman teamed up with another master of subtlety, ghazal writer Majrooh Sultanpuri, for YABL (Yet Another Bhakti Lesson). The supplicant discloses his state after catching a glimpse of the Divine, and questions his existence sans union.
तुम बिन जाऊं कहां?
कि दुनिया में आ के कुछ न फ़िर चाहा कभी तुमको चाह के।
तुम बिन जाऊं कहां?
But then he goes one step further and reminds us that, just as the devotee longs for the Divine, the Divine also longs for union with him. When the devotee calls, the Divine is powerless to resist and must come promptly, no matter what obstacles lie in the way of their union:
रह भी सको गे तुम कैसे होके मुझसे जुदा?
फ़ट जाएंगी दीवारें सुन के मेरी सदा।
आना होगा तुम्हे मेरे लिये, साथी मेरे,
सूनी राह के।

The Admonition

It's not days of wine and roses all the way, though. Earthly attachments and desires for wealth, power and comfort dog the devotee's every step, luring her away from her goal and seducing her into indulgence. Kalyanji Anandji team up with Indeevar in Upkar to remind the devotee to beware confusing the ultimate reality with the illusions her mind creates:
कस्में, वादे, प्यार, वफ़ा – सब बातें हैं, बातों का क्या?
कोई किसी का नहीं, ये झूटे नाते हैं, नातों का क्या?
For all illusions will eventually pass, leaving her to face the ungraspable, incomprehensible Truth:
होगा मसीहा सामने तेरे, फिर भी न तू बच पायेगा।
तेरा अपना ख़ून ही आख़िर तुझको आग लगाएगा।
आसमान में उड़ने वाले, मिट्टी में मिल जाएगा।


Poet Bahadur Shah Zafar gave us a glimpse of how to waste a life by dwelling on the past and the future instead of living the present, beautifully set to music by S N Tripathi for the film Lal Qila:
उम्रे दराज़ मांग के लाये थे चार दिन।
दो आर्ज़ू में कट गये, दो इन्तेज़ार में।
But it was not until lyricist Sahir Ludhiyanvi teamed up with composer Jaidev in Hum Dono that the Vedantic path was outlined in its completeness. The seeker is advised to live each moment on its own merit and flow with whatever life brings, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, painful or joyous:
मैं ज़िदंगी का साथ निभाता चला गया,
हर फ़िक्र को धूएं में उड़ाता चला गया।
Judgement is the prime cause of sorrow, so do not judge events and situations – bring yourself to the stage where all is accepted, none rejected:
ग़म और ख़ुशी में फ़र्क न महसूस हो जहां
मैं दिल को उस मकाम पे लाता चला गया।
Rejoice, for everything is a gift. Celebrate your failure and your pain as you celebrate your success and happiness. In the immortal words of Bill and Ted, "Party on, dudes!"
बर्बादियों का शोग़ मनाना फ़िज़ूल था
बर्बादियों का जश्न मनाता चला गया।

Threw My Holy Book Out the Window, Threw My Guru Out There Too

Threw learning out the door, I don't need it anymore, for tonight I'll be trippin' on Bollywood.


Do check out the comment by Sharath Srinivas under.
New Delhi
March 2012