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WITHOUT PEOPLE OR DRINK

These days I read a lot of poetry, Urdu and English. A few couplets of Ghalib, over and over again, and a few pages of latter-day English poets from an updated Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. Poets of both language have more to say about love, liquor and death than other subjects. They keep my mind more occupied than do politics, violence, corruption or the state of my bank balance.

Sitting by the fire on a chilly evening, I was idly turning over the pages of the Golden Treasury. The poems are in chronological order: older poets come first, living and recent poets come later. I prefer reading them backwards, from the present to the past. Suddenly I woke up as I read the beginning of Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Aubade’ (which means hymn to the dawn): “I work all day, and get half-drunk at night./ Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.”

Was Larkin writing about me' That’s what I did yesterday: work from dawn to dusk followed by two hefty drinks — a Patiala peg followed by a Parsi. I felt somewhat fuzzy in the head when I went to bed. As usual, I woke up at 4 am to a soundless dark and stared out of my window on a world fast asleep. The rest of the poem was also in line with my thoughts: “In time the curtain edges will grow light./ Till then I see what’s really always there:/ Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,/ Making all thought impossible but how/ And where and when I shall myself die./ Arid interrogation: yet the dread/ Of dying, and being dead,/ Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.”

As far as I am concerned, the idea of death is not as horrifying as the process of dying. It is the pain and whining, which usually accompanies dying, that bother me. I have tried, in vain, to overcome this fear by meditation and prayers, believed to help one to face death boldly. I quote Larkin: “This is a special way of being afraid/ No trick dispels. Religion used to try,/ That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade/ Created to pretend we never die.” A few lines later, put more bluntly: “Most things may never happen: this one will,/ And realisation of it rages out/ In furnace fear when we are caught without/ People or drink. Courage is no good;/ It means not scaring others. Being brave/ Lets no one off the grave/ Death is no different whined at than withstood.”

Free diagnosis

On January 14, Makar Sakranti, millions took an early morning dip in the chilly waters at the sangam of Ganga and Yamuna in Allahabad. Further downstream, in Varanasi, Kripaluji was formally installed as the Fifth Jagadguru. I mention this because, to a non-believer like me, Kripaluji’s sayings make more sense than the others who appear on TV channels to discourse on spirituality. All of them have the gift of the gab, but he is more forthright, logical, lucid and gives chapter and verse of the sacred texts he quotes from. His memory is truly phenomenal.

He was born Ram Kripalu, into an affluent Brahmin, land-owning family of Mangarh near Allahabad. He received his prilimary education in Hindi and Sanskrit at the local school. He went on to study advanced Sanskrit and Ayurveda, and spent another year studying the Vedas, Upanishads, the epics and Bhakti literature.

Besides giving spiritual discourses, he has set up two well-equipped hospitals. He provides all the modern methods of diagnosis and medicines to the poor for free. At his hospital in Mangarh, he filled in a form for me in his own hand: Name of the Patient: Jeevatma (Individual soul), Disease: Maya (ailments owing to material energy of god), Medicine: Hari-Guru Bhakti and Mukti say Viraag (devotion to guru and god, detachment from material desires and desire for liberation). Advice: Divya Prem Prapti (attainment of divine love). Kripaluji’s ideas, collected in Philosophy of Divine Love, might be esoteric, but are still comprehensible to non-believers.

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