The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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There are many things about religions that elude my grasp. I try to find answers in books or seek elucidation from friends interested in such subjects. When it comes to Christianity, I turn to Jaya Thadani who is a practising Roman Catholic and goes to church at least once a day. But she lives a long way away: winter months in London, most of the summer in Hanover, US. So I write to her regularly for explanations; she does the best she can and sends me religious literature which I sometimes quote. I wrote to her asking her to explain the concept of the eucharist and the Holy Ghost (or the Holy Spirit) to which I found no parallels in other religions. She explained eucharist, but her version of the Holy Ghost did not penetrate my skull. She wrote back saying I would understand when the grace of god descended on me. We have many equivalents for god’s grace: jay satguru nadar karey etc. The concept has become a part of our speech. My doctor, I.P.S. Kalra, when prescribing a medicine, always adds, “By god’s grace, it should give good results.”

Jaya Thadani has not given up on me. Her last gift is an illustrated book Late Have I loved You: St Augustine a Man of God...a Man for Others. I went through it twice; I enjoyed the simple, beautiful diction and the information it contained about St Augustine. No more.

St Augustine (354-430 AD) was born at Tagaste (North Africa) of a Christian mother, Monica, and father Patricius, who was a pagan. He spent many years in Rome and Milan where he trained to become a lawyer and won acclaim as an orator. He was not a believer. He kept a mistress who bore him a bastard son. Then another. He enjoyed a libertine style of life till the grace of god descended on him in 387 AD and he converted to Christianity. He rose to be the bishop of Hippo. He wrote extensively. His best known work is De Civitate Dei — The City of God. He founded monasteries and nunneries which exist to this day.

The Confessions of St Augustine make very good reading. The opening lines struck a chord because they seemed to be a commentary on my pestering Jaya Thadani for answers:

We all need someone

To whom we can relate

With our Human experience.

We all need someone

Who shows us the way

To find our true selves.

We all need someone

Who goes before us

In the stupendous

And arduous ways of God.

He is candid about his adolescent desires:

In the games I played I often cheated

In order to come off the better

Simply because a vain desire to win

Had got the better of me.

He had little respect for the legal profession: “I was also studying for the law. Such ambition was held to be honourable. The more unscrupulous I was, the greater my reputation was likely to be.”

He was equally candid about his liaisons: “I lived with a woman, not my lawful wedded wife but a mistress whom I had chosen for no special reason but that my restless passion had alighted on her. But she was the only one and I was faithful to her. Living with her I found out by my own experience the difference between the restraint of the marriage alliance contracted for the purpose of having children, and a bargain struck for lust, in which the birth of children is to be grudged, though, if they come, we cannot help but love them.”

He believed that somebody like a guru had to show the right path, as one lamp lights another: “I did not know that if it was to share in the truth, it must be illumined by another light, because the mind itself is not the essence of truth.”

The change in his life came in his twenties. Amongst the people he shed were “those imposters whom they call astrologers...with their illusory claims to predict the future.” He asked himself: “Where is evil' What is its origin' How did it steal into the world' What is the root or seed from which it grew'”

He found the answers himself: “Certain books served me to return to my own self. Under your guidance I entered the depths of my soul. I saw the light that never changes, casting its rays over the same eye of my soul. It shone above my mind. All who know the truth know this light, and all who know this light know eternity. It is the light that love knows. I heard you Voice, as we hear voices that speak to our hearts, and at once I had no cause to doubt.”

Back to worshipping

Uma Vasudev was very close to some people who were very close to Indira Gandhi. Uma was amongst the privileged who had access to the prime minister’s house. She was also among her earliest biographers: her Indira Gandhi, Revolution in Restraint was published in 1974. It was a worshipful account. Indira Gandhi liked being worshipped. Uma was disenchanted with her heroine when she imposed Emergency on the country. Her second book, Two Faces of Indira Gandhi was published in 1977. Indira Gandhi did not like being criticized. Uma found herself in the dog house. Indira Gandhi was also unforgiving and revengeful. Uma’s close association with some of the prime minister’s men saved her from being persecuted. Now, over 30 years later, she has come out with her third version of Indira Gandhi in a booklet of 90 pages full of photographs: Indira Gandhi: Courage under Fire. So we have an abridged melange of her two earlier books with a clear return to the worshipful at the expense of the critical. However, the end result is a reasonably balanced, encapsulated life-story of the most powerful woman of our times. It is a beautiful production with excellent photographs which makes it a nice birthday or Diwali gift.

Side shows and alley fights

The corridor show launched wordy fights

Right into the Parliament from tourist sites

It’s now all over

Maya ducked for cover

After giving the alliance sleepless nights.

Vajpayee proved his nerve and his lence

The combating prime minister didn’t flee

He held his ground

And then we found

Mayavati calling Jagmohan, Jagmohanji.

The truce is deceptive, the calm palpitating

The NDA partners for their chance waiting

Like frogs in a basket

Even with a whip to beat

They keep pulling each other’s leg unhesitating.

(Contributed by J.R. Jyoti, Secunderabad)

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