Love Matters


            

                                                                             

This essay is, of course, about love.  To be more precise, it is about lessons in love and loving.  It is also about people—people like us on the one hand and some great masters like Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Yogi Ramsuratkumar, and Ma Devaki on the other hand—and places like Delhi, Mumbai, Tiruvannamalai, Pondicherry, and Chennai.  In addition, it is about events, small and great catastrophes and love’s ability to help and heal in the most precarious of circumstances.  Finally, it is about possessiveness, possessions, and the emptying of the self that is the prelude to being filled up by love. 

 

                                              I

When I first wrote this essay, something unusual and frightening happened.  The palm computer, on which it was composed and saved, suddenly went into a hang mode.  It was Christmas Day, 2004.  I was in Pondicherry with my wife, feeling most blessed and fortunate.  After a concentrated period at the samadhi in the morning, I met an old friend and ashramite at Sabda, the bookstore in the ashram complex.  She said that we should try to attend the ashram Christmas celebrations at the theatre.  But for that a pass would be required, always difficult to get for non-ashramites and particularly so since it was already Christmas Day.

Anyhow, we thought there was no harm trying.  We went to the Bureau Central, where the passes were being distributed.  The person at the reception said that they had stopped giving them since yesterday and that in any case we were unlikely to be have been given a pass because we were not directly connected with the ashram.  But, he said, since you’ve come, you may as well ask the man sitting over there, who is actually responsible. 

So, not without considerable trepidation, did I cross over to the indicated individual.  He was actually a pleasant young man, who asked me how he might help me.  I explained my purpose, adding that we were staying at the International Guest House run by the ashram, and that I was closely associated with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram—Delhi Branch.  He seemed to pause for a moment, then smiled at me and said, “Ok.”  That was it:  we were soon in possession of a pass for two.  He also suggested that we take the sea view, the road skirting the beach, to reach the theatre.

The ashram Christmas celebration is a very special event which the Mother started at the urging of Udar Pinto.  Signifying the descent of light, Christmas is a festival not just of joy and gift sharing but of the descent of the divine and the corresponding upliftment of human consciousness.  At the ashram, preparations are made as much as a year in advance.  Several thousand gifts are packed, many of them lovingly sent from various corners of the world by devotees and well-wishers. 

There is a large Christmas tree in the middle of the theatre.  The compound is bustling with ashramites and invitees.  Over 3000 people participate.  It is also one of the few occasions when ashramites congregate for any festival in the year and also dress up in their best clothes.  Students of the ashram school, their parents, children from other Aurobindonian institutions, families and friends of the ashram, devotees from around the world, all meet here on this special day.  Groups are called out and the gift distribution goes on tirelessly till everyone on the premises gets a gift, no matter how simple or modest.  Actually, it is the children who get the best presents, while adults have to make do with a few eatables or knick-knacks.  But it is the joy of sharing that is universal.  With carols playing in the background and an international group of participants from all religious backgrounds, this is perhaps the most unique Christmas celebration of its kind in India.

My wife and I met several old friends, many of them from Delhi, who are now settled in Pondicherry, which, like a magnet, draws in talent from all parts of the world.  Where else in India is there such a large national and international settlement, with people from all states of India and most countries of the world, all united in the common pursuit of self-transformation?  My wife and I indeed felt blessed to be there.

When we returned to our room, as if by instinct, I picked up my palm to write down a few impressions.  The page of my journal which I was writing earlier opened all right, but I could work no key nor turn the little machine off.  I had the premonition of something terrible.  It was as if before my what I had worked on for days, an essay on lessons in loving, was being destroyed.  Along with it dozens of pages of journal entries over the last twenty days or so since I had left Delhi were also at stake.

As I feared, I lost all my data on the palm, including phone numbers, addresses, and my whole years’ schedule of tasks and appointments.  The palm would have to be reformatted to work.  I felt a hollow ache and sense of utter helplessness.  It was like watching someone bleed to death.

 

                                                II

Actually, the simile of a slow dying was not inapt for what I had been going through for over a year.  I was in the middle of what seemed like a slow and painful death.  The woman I have lived with and loved for the best portion of my life did not want to be with me anymore.  Everything that I held precious and dear, everything that I had worked to build over the last twenty-five years, the sum and substance of my entire life was lying in ruins about me.

Tall, gaunt, and impeccably accoutred in his signature kurta-pyjamas, Kiran Nagarkar, gifted novelist and dear friend, told me wryly:  if you think it’ll be over soon and that you’ll recover, you’re wrong.  You’ll continue dying for a very long time.  Even as I was trying to ponder over what seemed like a prolonged death sentence, he added:  if your significant other were a trashy person, it would be all too easy to part ways.  The real problem occurs when she’s a high quality person.  Then, you’re in deep trouble. As if putting the final nail in the coffin, he added, “And if you’re anything like the person I know you to be, consumed by guilt, you’ll blame yourself for years to come.”

We were walking from Colaba to Churchgate, in the still genteel parts of old Bombay.  Silently, we crossed the Oval Maidan.  Kiran himself had had a difficult year, with a host of medical problems and painfully intermittent writing spells.  Yet he had found the time to be with me without in fact having a clue of what I had been going through.  Now it was as if he knew more than he wished to or had bargained for.  Before parting, he told me how easy it was to neglect friendships, to let them atrophy, but that he was determined that we must not let that happen.   I wondered could failed lovers still be successful friends? At Churchgate, he got into a cab and disappeared into the Bombay traffic.

I turned to find another dear friend waiting for me, waving a ticket to the refurbished, technicolour Mughal-E-Azam playing at Eros, opposite Churchgate station.  How could I resist the tear-jerker?  Bollywood was all kitch.  Inside the once magnificent, now shabby movie theatre, there was a huge replica of a prison cell, complete with plaster of Paris chains.  It was draped in muslin curtains.  The contraption extended from the roof down to the ground in the foyer, undoubtedly used in the re-launch of the blockbuster just after Id by none other than the octogenarian thespian, Yusuf Bhai, aka Dilip Kumar. 

Both Dilip and Madhubala looked pretty awful in the film.  Madhubala was fat and pimply.  In the re-tinted film, with gaudy colours in place of the original black and white, she often looked garish if not hideous.  Dilip Kumar, with his weak upper lip slightly protruding over his thicker lower one, looked as if he were in a perpetual pout.  Instead of the great champion of love, he looked more like a spoiled brat.  The scene-stealer was undoubtedly old Prithvi Raj Kapoor playing an unpopular and severe Akbar, the emperor who stamps out his young son’s love to maintain imperial power.

Full of ridiculous and contrived scenes, including the totally implausible and unhistorical climax in which Salim or Dilip Kumar is about to be blown up by a cannon for not surrendering his lover, Anarkali, the film dragged on and on to a ridiculous conclusion in which Akbar, in a face-saving twist, only pretends to brick Anarkali alive, but actually lets her go in exchange of her wish to obtain one night’s unconsummated passion as the princess of Hindustan.  Anarkali, still a virgin, escapes from the pages of history, while Salim goes on to be Emperor Jahangir and the doting husband of Nur Jehan.

Despite all these irritants, there were saving graces, like the superb music, but also the manner in which the passion between Salim and Anarkali was slowly stoked.  It was a slow and smouldering ardour, very delicately developed, until the audience itself was throbbing in its spell.  And when Anarkali lifts up her eyes to stare the emperor in his face for the first time, raising her hand in a gesture of defiant questioning, “Jab pyar kiya to darna kya?” I felt a shiver run down my spine, down the row in which I was sitting, down to the front of the theatre. Who could remain unmoved by that dramatic declaration of the power love to overcome not just the fear of death but the dread and soul-killing laws of state and society?  Or the other great song celebrating the way of love, ye zindagi usi ki hai—this life is his who can give himself to someone and lose himself in love?

As I walked out of the theatre with my friends, I thought of their situation, so sad and yet so hopeful.  He was separated from his wife, but not yet divorced.  His wife was not willing to let him go.  Though they lived in different cities, he still was not free, either legally or mentally.  His lovely friend was waiting for a resolution but under pressure from her own parents to settle down.  How long would she wait?  They were both from conservative families and maintained a certain decorum in their relationship. They were so near one another, yet so far. I found myself praying for their happiness.  So much love, so much sorrow.

              I thought about my own suffering over the past year, the sense of hopeless confusion and distress, the dull ache of a blind man in a fog groping about without a stick, not knowing where he was or where to go.  When would the fog lift?  When would I be able to see clearly again?  Like the protagonists in Tolstoy’s novels, I was experiencing a mid-life dying, slow and painful, like an internal haemorrhage. 

              As if in a flash of lightening on a moonless night, I had seen once again, the beloved’s face of immaculate beauty and purity, but instead of pulling me towards her in a swift embrace, she was pushing me into the ceaseless storm, her back turned to me.

 

                                         III

              For months before this trip south, I had been grappling with the problematic of love.  Just before my fourth collection of poems was released, Aneeta, my PhD student, who had read the ms. offered some interesting comments.

Aneeta:  The three sections of the book do signify some movement in the concept of love, don’t they?

Makarand:  Yes, I suppose they do.

A:  There’s experience, memory, and debate in them.

M:  Sort of like anubhav, achar, and vichar —experience, conduct, and thought.

A:  But don’t you think there’s not just a forward movement, but a backward movement too.

M:  What do you mean?

A:  Well, in the third section, the poems make a definite shift from the physical to the metaphysical, the carnal to the spiritual, but…?

M:  …do you mean that the shift is not convincing?

A:  Not exactly.  You see, the claims on behalf of the “higher” sort of love are of course valid, but they don’t seem to erase the unresolved tensions of the more ordinary kind of love that was expressed in the earlier sections.

M:  Oh!  That’s a very astute observation.  Come to think of it, you may have touched on the key thematic twist in the collection.  The book seems to progress from a certain place in a certain direction, but there is simultaneously a reverse movement.

A:  Even as the consciousness of the speaker evolves from the lower to the higher planes, the longing for perfection on the former remains.

M:  This is in perfect consonance with the Aurobindonian notion that sadhana is not an escape from the lower planes to the higher but the ability to transform the former with the higher truth of the latter.

 

              The more I reflected on this the more I saw how the longing for fulfilment in the lower planes neither contradicts the higher perfection nor indeed is that longing obliterated in the elevated planes of realization. The unhappy yearnings in the physical and the vital cast their long shadows on whatever spiritual conquests the soul makes in its quest for perfection.

              Human love, with its anxieties and needs, is no doubt so imperfect, but how grand and ennobling it can be.  It is love that makes ordinary people rise to extraordinary heights of courage, sacrifice, or kindness, even if for a brief span.  To belong to someone and know that that person belonged to you seemed like the only antidote to the radical alienation that each of us feels when we are born into this world.  And yet, how messy such a love is, how devastating.  Like a cyclone it sweeps through our lives, leaving in its wake a trail of destruction and suffering. 

              The sage’s love, on the other hand, or the saint’s, directed towards no particular entity, but radiating equally in all directions like the sun’s rays, is a purer, more elevated kind of love.  But the devotees of the sages cannot understand this love; they can only return it with human love, which is competitive, jealous, and insecure.  We can only love according to our limited capacities.  I asked myself if human relationships themselves, built as they were on illusions of permanence and reciprocity, were futile.  Neither to give oneself to another, nor to receive another’s exclusive attention—was that the inevitable course of self-transformation? Mere to Giridhara Gopala, doosaro na koyi, as Meera put—to love only God and no one else, was that the predestined end of all love’s journeys?

              My friend Leela Gandhi, the great granddaughter of the Mahatma, made a startling observation during a seminar in Canberra on “Gandhi, Non-violence, and Modernity.”  She said that promiscuity, like celibacy, was a way of escaping the regime of monogamous matrimony.  The celibate, by not giving herself to anyone, was also making herself available to the many, just as the promiscuous person, by not restricting herself to the one, was giving herself to the many.  Matrimony may by monogamous, but friendship was always gregarious.  Which was the truer kind of love: the exclusive or the non-exclusive, the possessive or the non-possessive?

              I asked Leela this question.  She replied, “Possessive love is so passionate and fulfilling, but it is also so messy.  Non-possessive love, on the other hand, though it is cleaner and less-damaging, also seems to lack the passion and the pain that makes love so memorable.”  So the real challenge of love was how to have the intensity without the pain, the passion without the sorrow, the ecstasy without the agony.  Clearly, to separate them seemed impossible.

The love of the saint, the sage, the self-realized soul is indeed perfect, but it nevertheless lacks something of the warmth and vulnerability of the human.  That is why Gandhi’s sons, especially Harilal, found in him such an inadequate father.  Hiralal wanted to be specially loved, as a son is entitled to be loved by a father, but Gandhi belonged equally to everyone.  All those who came to him were like his sons and daughters.  How could he give that singular attention or caring to his son?  Mira Behn or Madeleine Slade, too, could only love as a woman loves a man.  Her love Gandhi did not accept, but sent her away.  Later, she turned to Prithvi Singh, the handsome terrorist converted to non-violence.  Even he could only respect her from a distance, not return her love for him. 

              O the sorrows of unrequited love!  Even the pain, loss, rejection, and sense of betrayal of the jilted lover do not compare with this trauma! 

              Life without love is meaningless, but how to love so that experience is elevating and liberating, rather than painful and destructive?

             

                                              IV

              In the midst of my woes, a very brief maxim came to me, like the frail hand of a lone survivor thrust out of the pile of debris of a collapsed building. That hand, barely visible and almost motionless, nevertheless presages that there are survivors beneath the rubble.  The axiom, just a few words really, was also stark and simple:  live as if love matters.  Why “as if”?  Because in reality love may or may not matter.  It would be impossible to determine the truth empirically.  But when we live as if love matters, it really begins to.

              If love really mattered, how would we live?  Wouldn’t we live and love in accordance with our highest and purest intentions, secretly secure in the belief that somewhere, somehow our love was going to count and that everything would work itself out right eventually even if not immediately?  Wouldn’t we live with the certainty that we held within our hearts the greatest force in the universe, the force that was responsible for creation itself?  This world itself was nothing but the manifestation of love:  how else could it have come into being?  What else could be its function?  Because loving is also a way of knowing, the Divine manifested itself thus only to know itself better.  According to Kasmir Saivism, the play of the Divine is seen in the dialogue between prakasa and vimarsa, the light of pure consciousness, and its reflection in manifestation. 

              Love or Eros is that power of attraction.  It is the magnetism that holds the whirling electrons in their orbits around the denser nucleus; it is what binds one atom to another to form molecules and compounds.  It is the spark that flies across pure space to connect two wires that are at crackling distance from one another.  It is what gives colour and form to objects.  It is the rasa or the relish that we all derive even from the most elementary of living functions.  It is the ananda the juissance which bubbles forth in every breath and in every particle.  It is the deepest urge in the dullest matter, the consciousness implicate in the most inconscient substance.  It is the force the moves the starts from their magnificent birth to their spectular deaths.  It is the throb of subatomic particles, the dance of Siva.

 

              As I tried to put my life together, these words repeated themselves to me.  We must live as if love matters.  What does not matter is if we are alone or with someone, single or married, separated or together, divorced or wedded.  In all circumstances and situations, we must live as if love matters.  Love must be constant, not the nature or the type of relationship.

              In Tiruvannamali, at the ashram of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, Ma Devaki, who had served the Master with such attention, told us precisely this.  She said when love directs your actions the other person spontaneously feels loved.  You have to make no declarations or speeches.  Words are unnecessary because love informs every gesture.

              Love ever gives, asking for no recompense.  There is no dignity, no self-esteem in love.  Go down on your knees a thousand times if you love someone.  What does it matter who is at fault?  Own up even to mistakes you did not commit.  When you do so, the other person will come to your rescue and say, O no, it’s really my fault.  But if you try to defend yourself, you are bound to end up quarrelling.

              Forget the past, what did or did not happen, what you did or did not do.  Remove all rancour and resentment from your heart.  Don’t cling to your grief.  Open your spirit to kindness.  Just see, isn’t there an outpouring of grace at all times?  Why are you unable to receive it?  Why have your closed up your soul? 

              Don’t be anxious when someone tells you she loves you.  Why are you so afraid of love?  Why have you become so suspicious of life’s bounties?  Why do you think so much, as if your thought can change anything?  Why do you doubt so much, as if your questions will be answered?  Why do you cavil so much, as if your complaints are justified?  Where is your innocence?  Why have you forgotten to be simple?

              Don’t be so preoccupied, hassled, frantic.  Why are you always rushing about from place to place, task to task, thought to thought?  Why have you not stopped to look at the flowers at your feet?  Why did you not pause to admire the moon tonight, as it hangs low in the grey sky, reddish yellow? 

              Why are you so full of demands and criticisms?  Why are you upset if your wishes are not fulfilled, your directions not carried out?  Why do you think you are in charge?  Why are you impatient, meddlesome, and busy?  Why do you hoard so much, retain so much, worry so much?  Why don’t you let go and flow with life? 

              What do you seek so hard?  What do you chase so keenly?  What do you desire so acutely?  Who will give you satisfaction, wipe your tear, and hold you close?  Who will shelter and comfort you against the storm, nurse and stroke you when you are sick, feed and clothe you when you are hungry and tired?

There is no one to do this for you.  Understand that.  Learn to walk alone.  Learn to hold no crutch.  Learn not to lean on anyone. 

Instead, see how the whole world belongs to you.  How you must care for, nurture, and embrace everyone else.  You must assume responsibility.  You must learn to love before you crave to be loved.

              Make love your sadhana.  Try to practice love.  Start with yourself.  Love yourself.  Accept yourself.  Own up your body.  Treat it well.  Eat well, sleep adequately.  Dress up occasionally.  Radiate health.  Live deep within.  Smile.  Knew that you are all right, protected and loved.  Be content.  Cherish your gifts.  Show gratitude.  Enjoy life.

              Then, try to love those around you; start with your family. Charity, as they say, begins at home. Make those around you happy.  Your own interest lies in making others happy.  Learn to enjoy their joys; grieve with them in their sorrows.

Don’t pretend that you have an independent existence.  Merge with the source.  Become one with life.  Accept that you don’t exist, except in relation to others.  Why attach so much importance to your own troubles?  What is the salience of your individual existence in the larger scheme of things? Nothing. As a fragment, you are nothing, but as the whole, you are everything. There is nothing and nobody apart from you.  Wherever you see, it is only you.

Don’t pretend that you are the doer?  Don’t think you are in charge. Give up that sense of false identification.

              Yogi Ramsuratkumar taught us how to love.  Even when people spurned him, he did not stop blessing them.  My father blesses you, he would say, raising both hands.  How he was mocked and reviled, jeered at, and even stoned.  But his compassion was boundless.  He had no home.  For years he lived in the open, under a tree, or outside a closed shop.  When he was hounded by urchins, he took shelter in the Big Temple.  Only Arunachaleswara protected him.  When he thought that his touch would help someone, he touched their feet even when they kicked him in his teeth.  Quoting Tulisdas, he would say that a saint is like a mango tree; when you throw a stone at it, it only gives you back a fruit. 

              Ma Devaki was a lecturer in Physics at Sharada College, Coimbatore, when she encountered Yogi Ramsuratkumar.  When she left her home and job to serve him, everyone opposed her.  But the same people fall at her feet today. The Yogi is not in his human form any more, but his power and presence are evident to all those who visit his ashram in Tiruvannamalai.

 

 

                                                V

              Who is it that possesses?  Who is it that accumulates and clings?  The root of all possessiveness is the possessor.  As long as the possessor remains, so will possessions.  But is it possible to renounce the possessor?  Can we get rid of him?  Apparently not because to renounce the possessor, there must still remain the one who renounces.  The renouncer, then, is the same as the possessor.  Renunciation, though valuable in moderation, is only another form of possession.  The possessor becomes the renouncer. The renouncer, in other words, possesses renunciation.  Possession, even in the form of renounciation, remains.  First he was worshipped for his possessions, now for his renunciation.

              Ramana Maharshi would therefore say, first find out who possesses before you start to renounce.  If there is no possessor independent of possessions, there is no need to renounce.  Possession is really non-possession; renunciation non-renunciation.  It is not actions that must be abandoned, but the sense of doership. 

              The jiva, the entity which seems to run this or that body, the embodied soul, is not the ultimate reality.  Where does the jiva go in deep sleep or susupti?  There is no individuality in satchitananda.  So we simultaneously partake of both partiality and totality.  We are separate in “normal,” waking consciousness, but in deep sleep and superconsciousness, we are one.  In superconsciousness or samadhi, we are aware of this, while in deep sleep we are not. Evolution, sadhana, and yoga are only for the embodied self, for the jiva.

              As jiva-selves, we have no choice but to evolve:  that is because the Divine is involved in each of us.  At the samadhi in Pondicherry, several of us have the same prayer, “Supramentalize me.”  But then the question arises, why?  Why should the Divine supramentalize you?  What have you done to deserve such a boon?  What does the Divine care for your transformation or progress?  The Divine, qua Divine, is already fully realized; what does it have to do with you, poor mortal?

              The answer is in the understanding that the Divine is involved in each of us.  That’s because we have no separate existence apart from the Divine.  Since the Divine is already a part of us, it will soon take over the whole of us.  Just as a drop of indigo can colour a whole bucket of water, the latent Divinity in each of us is bound to manifest itself more and more fully until there is nothing else but itself.  The Divine cares for our evolution because it wants to be itself and know itself more fully in all its glory.  We are a part of nature, but nature can realize its perfection only through us.  It is in us that the pattern reaches the level of self-consciousness to understand its own design.  We are thus designed to be perfect.  The more we evolve, the more Divine we become.  The more Divine we are, the more like Itself the Divine is in us. 

              This involvement of the Divine in us is the love that the Divine bears for us, who are, after all, only myriad forms of itself.

              Aparigraha, non-possession, is really an acknowledgement of the fact that this very body is not ours, but a borrowed possession.  If the body is not ours, then how can anything else that the body comes to possess be ours?  The great avadhuta, Swami Nityananda, once said cryptically, “To take a thing is not difficult, but to return it is.  Those who do not return what is taken are not men; they are animals.”  To me this means that the “body-sense” is the sole debt which must be repaid.  Aparaigraha means giving that up.

We’re too full of ourselves, like godowns filled with useless junk.  We need to create more space, to empty ourselves out.  Only then can love enter into us.  When we are bare, with very little of ourselves interfering, then love has a fuller rein over our lives.  Such a love is free both of ourselves and of the others from and towards whom it reaches.  In love, there is no lover and beloved, only loving, a state, an activity, a process, a flow. It is not we who are important, but love is.  We are love.  There is nothing else, no one else.  This is non-possessive love. 

“Love all, serve all,” Sathya Sai Baba says, echoing Papa Ramdas.  To love is also to serve.  When we live to serve others, we become Boddhisattvas, embodiments of compassion, born again and again, till each sentient being is free of sorrow.  That elemental dukkha, with its root in tanha, primeval thirst, makes us seek new bodies to satisfy our cravings.  When one body gets worn out, the life force in us seizes on another, fabricates another out of our Karmic reserves and resources, giving rise to another cycle of creation.

This world that we live in is not the first or the only one of its kind.  There have been several such worlds in the past and there will be several more in the future.  We have been through much of this before.  We have met each other before.  We have loved and hated before.  We shall do so again.  All this is inevitable.  What is, however, up to us is to change our attitude, to become producers of compassion instead of devourers of other people’s kindnesses. Love and compassion are the same.  One extends into the other.  The sage is the true friend of all.  Your lover is also your best friend. 

A being of compassion, filled with maitri, compassionate friendship, and karuna, tender sympathy, for all creatures, is informed by the attitude of ahimsa, non-injury, towards all.  Ahimsa, is not just non-violative conduct, not just refraining from injuring others—ahimsa is really an active and loving engagement with our fellows.  As Jainendra Kumar Jain once said, what is required for our times is an aggressive love, akramak prem.  That is what ahimsa actually is:  an aggressive love for the other.

It is a tenet of Christian faith that we must love our neighbours, but many Christians are unable to explain why.  Only Vedanta gives us the solution:  we must love our neighbours because they are none other than ourselves.  We must not injure others because others are only ourselves.  By hurting another person, by hating another person, by hitting another person, we are only hurting, hating, or hitting ourselves.  How do we know this?  It is because when someone hurts, hates, or hits us we feel the pain; it stands to reason that the other person will also feel the same when we do that to him or her.

 

                                                  VI

              On the morning of the 26th of December 2004, I woke up early, around 4:00.  I had had disturbing dreams.  When I went to the samadhi at 5:00, I saw the bustle of the sadhaks cleaning and decorating it.  Everything seemed quiet.  I went to the beautiful Ganesh temple nearby and enjoyed the 5:45 puja there, complete with nadaswaram and mridangam

              Little did anyone know that a huge calamity was about to engulf South East and South Asia.  A massive earthquake in Sumatra would divide islands, shift the tectonic plates, compress the earth, tilt the axis by an inch, even accelerate our planet’s rotation by a microsecond.  The quake, measuring 9 points on the Richter scale, would cause massive upheavals in the Indian ocean, unleashing Tsunami waves several hundred metres high.

              More than 45,000 people in Indonesia would be killed.  In Sri Lanka, the losses would be more than 12,000 lives.  India too would mourn more than 10,000 dead and several thousands more missing.  Half the population of the 20,000 residents of Car Nicobar would be washed away.  All over coastal South India, from Nagapattanam to Kanyakumari, there would be heaps of dead bodies washed back to the shore. In Pondicherry itself there would be close to 900 dead or missing people.

That morning, when we were buying presents and souvenirs at Splendour, the outlet of the Sri Aurobindo Society right on the sea front, we saw huge crowds at the embankment.  They were watching the strange and scary tidal waves.  For forty years the beaches in town were receding, but now, when the sea pulled back, large stretches of sand were once again visible.  But at the next moment, an equally large wave came crashing back into the coastline. The Pondy police, in their quaint red French-style caps, were busy pushing the people back. But the look on their faces said it all:  something was terribly amiss.

              Not fully aware of the extent of the tragedy, we got into the taxi that would take us to the Madras airport.  The coastal highway was closed.  There was an eerie quiet as we neared Chennai.  We didn’t know of the damage to the Marina beach or the massive loss of lives.  We not only reached the airport on time, but found that our flight back to Delhi was also to depart as scheduled.  Number seventeen to land on the fog congested airport in Delhi, we were still unaware of the extent of the disaster.  Only when we reached home that we realized that our daughter had been frantically calling help line numbers to find out our whereabouts or that my mother in Bangalore had called my mobile all afternoon, unable to get through. 

              Now, as I rewrite my essay on love, I wonder what has love got to do with it at all.  The Tsunami claimed many victims.  I got away relatively unscathed, except for the crash of my palm computer, which was simultaneous, but unrelated to the natural disaster.  I lost the earlier version of my essay.  I too felt the helpless of someone watching a loved one die before his eyes—but what I lost was only a text, an essay, a few words typed into a gadget.  What about those who lose so many loved ones?

              I have rewritten my essay out of both anguish and hope.  I have done this because I feel it is something I owe to myself and to the victims of the storm.  It is no doubt a different essay, a sadder, more sombre one perhaps.  But the fact that I was able to do so does give me cause to hope.  Similarly, people whose lives have been devastated by this calamity will also find the strength to live again, to rebuild what they have lost.  The dead too will return in one form or another.  Sri Aurobindo once said that it is providence that saves one when a thousand others are killed; it is also providence which chooses the one when a thousand others are saved. 

              The circumstances that govern our lives are not in our control.  Anything may happen at any time.  There are no guarantees in the here or the hereafter.  The placid rhythm of life, so reassuring and predictable, may be jolted out of kilter in one sudden wrench.  We may have unfinished business to execute when our time comes.  Without forewarning, leaving everything in the middle, totally unprepared for departure, we may find that we have to make an immediate and unceremonious exit, to embark on a long journey, destination unknown. Suddenly, all this that we cherish and nurture may be taken away from us without the least prior warning. 

              What then is the use of love?  How does love matter?  What has, as Tina Turner said in another context, love got to do with it? 

              Live as if love matters, the nostrum that I had received in response to my prayers and sorrows, I understood at last, also hid another meaning in its womb.  To live as if love matters also means to die as if love matters.  Love may or may not actually matter, but if we believe that it does, if we live as if it does and die as if it does, then it will matter.  To die as if love matters is to die nobly, purely, simply, and easily.  It is to embrace death with open arms, to regard it as a friend, liberator, just servitor of the Divine, door to immortality.

              To die as if love matters means not to cling to life, not to hold on tenaciously, not to be so possessive about our borrowed bodies.  To have the grace to return what was not ours in the first place.  To return the body benevolently, to smile as we exhale our last breath, to be calm in mind, to cultivate bodhichitta, the enlightened mentality, to gift ourselves away gently and quietly—that is the way of love.  To die as if love matters is to be at peace--with oneself, with one’s near and dear ones, and with the world.

              But only he who knows how to live knows how to die.  To die as if love matters we must first of all live as if love matters. 

              It’s easy if you try.

 

 

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape