The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The phenomenon of a human incarnation of god is almost entirely an Oriental — largely Hindu and Sufi — concept. Since Islam condemns the assumption of divinity by a mortal as a heresy punishable with death, Sufi saints restricted their claims to being counsellors and guides. Hindu gurus placed no such restrictions on themselves and unabashedly allowed themselves to be worshipped as avatars, bhagwans, acharyas and swamis. The guru-shishya relationship was closer than the father-son relationship. Without a guru to show the way, a person could not achieve moksha, or salvation. However, a disciple must pledge all he has — body, soul and wealth (tan, man, dhan) — to his chosen guru before he is accepted and receives diksha (sacred mantra).

Why do so many people look for a guru' What questions do they seek answers to, which they cannot find in the scriptures or other books of wisdom' Do they, in fact, get satisfactory answers and live in peace ever after' Every thinking person wants to find answers to three questions: where from, why and whence, after death'

Some try to find answers on their own and admit failure. Alama Iqbal put it neatly in a couplet:

Dhoondta phirta hoon, ai Iqbal, apney

aap ko

Goya aap hee musfir, aap hee manzil

hoon main

(O Iqbal you go hither and thither

looking for yourself

As if you were the traveller as well as

his destination)

Javed Akhtar put the futility of the search more succinctly:

Hum nay jaa kay deykha hai rah guzar

say aagey bhee

Raah guzar hee raah rahguzar hai

raahguzar say aagey

(I have gone beyond the beaten path to


It is one beaten path after another even

beyond all trodden paths)

However there are many more who, instead of wrestling with these problems themselves, seek gurus for the right answers. Amongst them is film-maker Rajiv Mehrotra. In his latest book, The Mind of the Guru: Conversations with spiritual masters, he has recorded interviews with living savants, men and women. Quite a few of them will deny they are gurus in the accepted sense of the word: Swami Agnivesh, Baba Amte, David Frawley, B.K.S. Iyenger (yoga teacher), the Aga Khan, Karan Singh, Bishop Desmond Tutu.

While they may qualify, they have nothing new to say for the simple reason that there is nothing new to say. They play around with words and phrases which have become the stock-in-trade of spiritual masters: soul, truth is within you, god is love, truth is god, cosmic forces and the different techniques of meditation. However, when someone like Mehrotra is determined to find answers where there are none, he will do so.

In the opening paragraph of his introduction, he writes: “For long I yearned for an all-knowing, enlightened and true spiritual master who would, with his touch, with the wave of the proverbial magical wand or at least a teaching or a technique, transmit insights, understanding and even powers that would enable me to transcend the deep, abiding incompleteness I felt in relating to myself and my world. If only, if only, I could find someone to surrender to, whose spiritual embrace would yield the ultimate truths and realizations. What must it have been like for those who were touched by the Buddha, Christ, or Sri Ramakrishna. And so I waited, struggling with an impatient patience for my karma to ripen, for the time to be right, for me to be ready, for my guru and me to find each other. There were many dark nights of the soul, of an unquenched yearning for someone who would lead me out of the abyss.”

It is somewhat surprising that the author did not interview gurus like Sai Baba, heads of the Radha Soamis, Brahma Kumaris, Namdharis and Nirankaris, who have huge followings. He might also have taken note of the skeptics’ point of view on the subject.

Despite these minor shortcomings, the interviews are interesting to read and the sketches by Sujata Bansal do more justice to the gurus interviewed than any photograph would have done.

A season for love and longing

With good reason, the monsoon rouses more emotions in the minds of Indians than any other natural phenomenon. In all our languages, more evocative poetry has been written on it — think of everyone from Kalidas to Rabindranath Tagore — than on spring, autumn or winter.

For some reason that I have not been able to discover, Urdu, which is so rich in describing emotions of love and longing, is singularly poor in describing the onset of the rainy season. I suspect it is due to the influence of Persian and Arabic: monsoon meant little to the Iranians or Arabs.

For the rest, it could be summed up in the lines of the old film song — Kaalee ghataa chaaee hai/Jiya mora lehraa hai (As dark clouds cover the sky my heart goes into an ecstasy of dance). The heavenly fragrance of the parched earth when the first drops of rain fall on it, the sudden renewal of life — fresh grass, moths, bugs, ants, fire-flies, beetles erupt as if from nothing. It’s time for a meeting of lovers, for nights spent in making love to the music of the rain pouring over the roofs.

Another thing which strikes me as odd is that in depicting monsoons, photographers do a better job than painters. Photographers capture rain-soaked cities and the countryside more vividly on film than any painters do on canvas.

So I welcomed the appearance of a little booklet, Monsoon, by the poet Sundeep Sen and the photographer, Mahmud. Sen is an Indian Bengali; Mahmud a Bangladeshi. Sen assures us that the monsoons in the two Bengals are different from anywhere else. As far as I can make out, it is heavier and more prolonged than in the rest of India.

He writes: “Rain has sparked so many imaginations all over the world. But there is nothing like the rain in the two Bengals — West Bengal in India and Bangladesh. Rain, in its overbearing gait, its preparation, its stature, its brooding quality, and its romantic heavy-lidded cloud structure. Ordinarily one would call these rain clouds ‘cumulonimbus’ but that name or model does not in any way do them justice. Here the clouds assume a deep grey-black quality, and just prior to a heavy downpour it is almost pitch-dark. The leaves rustle around in little circular flurries, there is a pregnant heaviness in the air, the smell of wet clay and the hustling sounds of birds taking shelter permeate the sky.

“Barsha, as the monsoon rains are locally known, has a truly unmatchable reasonance — elegant, weighty, ponderous, raw, but always striking and graceful.”

He also assures us that during the rains Bengali girls become more desirable. I take his word for it and will schedule my next visit to Calcutta sometime after the month of Saavan.

At times Sen gets so emotionally overcharged that all he can do is repeat the world rain over two pages, a few hundred times. I can understand his frustration.

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