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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I have seen God's glory

God in His infinite wisdom fulfils Himself in many ways. Everything, therefore, even illness and pain, is just and good and necessary in the total scheme of things. I have walked alone since I was 17, and it has been a rough ride, but most exhilarating too. My only grouch – one which grew deeper with the passage of years – was that nobody seemed to really care much for me as a human being, beyond the work that I did (and that, too, attracted a disproportionate amount of opprobrium along with the admittedly lavish accolades). My great good fortune was that I never fell ill (nothing beyond what, in my book, can only be called minor irritants) over a span of nearly a quarter century: I just soldiered on, like a mindless bulldozer; ‘nothing’s ever going to happen to me, I can’t afford anything to happen, there’s nobody to look after me’. After a sickly childhood, I had nearly forgotten what going to the hospital was like, except for the sake of others. And although I kept telling myself and everybody around me how deeply grateful I was, how being fit all the time is one of the greatest of treasures, maybe He who knows me far better than I ever could saw that something was lacking, something missing in me, some lesson that I needed to learn yet… and so, very shortly after I wrote my last blogpost, lamenting on the eve of our 60th Independence Day that I can see so few good men, let alone great ones, around me that I could be really proud of India and dream of a great future for her, I went down with acute appendicitis, and was whisked off to hospital and operated upon at very short notice … to make the long story short, here I am, back again, recovering happily, enjoying my first proper ‘medical leave’ from work in 20 years, and despite the niggling pain and discomfort and downtime, my heart is filled with a very warm glow of gratitude, contentment and wonder. How I needed to be ill!

Of course I was looked after by superbly skilled men. But skill is not the highest thing I respect – I have a few skills myself, and I have known some skilled scoundrels too. What I found was what I respect most, yearn most to see around me, try hardest to give to all I deal with, and lament most the lack of in so many of my countrymen: sincerity of purpose, devotion to duty, and above everything else, caring for one who is helpless, suffering, and in need, caring to the extent of going out of one’s way, beyond the call of duty, to lend a kindly helping hand just in time. And I cannot put in words the degree of amazed gladness that I felt to see just how many people did exactly that, how eagerly, instantly, and unstintingly. To name everyone who dropped in with a kind and encouraging word and an offer of help would fill pages, so I can only tell you all a very big ‘Thank You!’ from the bottom of my heart, hoping that each one of you will understand I am saying this personally. But a few especially – a few doctors and their wives and sons – have put me eternally in their debt, and the most heartfelt of thank you-s would be too poor a recompense for them. Name them I would, if I didn’t know it will only embarrass them: true gentlemen dislike open and fulsome praise. I don’t know what little service I might have done them once upon a time, but nothing of that sort could have ‘earned’ what they did for me: nothing but the greatness of their own souls can explain the gift of love I have received. If God reveals Himself mostly through one’s fellow-men, I have seen Him in the last few days. I have learnt, firstly (alas for all my countrymen who will never know) that neither money nor power can buy the human touch; secondly, that India is home (as she has always been) to both the worst and the best sort of men (may the latter tribe increase, may our mothers inspire their children with the right examples!); thirdly that even my foulest detractors serve a purpose in God’s divine plan, for how could I know how good some men can be except by comparing them with the worst – those who abuse me through insane, impotent envy and rage because someday, somewhere, I did some good to them? How can you praise the light unless you have seen the darkness? And above all else, I know that as long as some men and women (and old boys) like the ones I am inwardly praising even as I write are alive and active, committed to their work and resolved to fight on regardless of having to work most of the time for wretched ingrates, trying to make things a wee bit better just by being the best they can, this country cannot go to the dogs yet! For the sake of this joyous realization, I shall gladly go through a trauma like last week’s ten times over again.

As for my wife - I know she'll hate to see me going public with this, so I'll limit myself to one line - that she is indeed my better half, I now have no doubts at all. Nor, indeed, that my daughter is very quickly growing up to become the mother I never had.


sayan_sujit said...

Your essays are so full and complete in themselves that I find it exceedingly difficult to see beyond what you have written.Though your essays are really wonderful and I beleive that one can learn a lot by simply reading them,I feel that you leave very little room for discussions( may be this shows my own lack of thinking ability).
When I was read the line- ...."even illness and pain,is just as good and necessary in the total scheme of things" certain things you had told us about wars, came back to me.While discussing wars you had said that wars are not only inevitable but also necessary because unless a person goes through pain and suffering he will never know the distinction between good and evil.

Sayan Datta

Shilpi said...

I apologise in advance for such a long comment - but your post got me thinking. If you think what I've written needs serious editing - let me know.

Dear Suvro da, Wishing you a speedy recovery - hopefully, though, you've already recovered. Thank you for this post. Not being in my usual location, I almost forgot about your blog for a couple of weeks….

WHAT in heaven’s name do you mean by 'mindless bulldozer'? Without mincing matters any, that (whatever else you might think of yourself) is not what you are. Or do you mean that you were consciously and forcefully closed to the idea of ever falling sick, such that it became something 'mindless'? Please do explain!
As for the first line of your post - I couldn't agree with you more. More and more I realise (rightly or wrongly) that I go through the paths that teach me the most...or perhaps to learn the lessons that I was too lazy or just too slow/numb to learn in other lifetimes. That counts for the blessings just as much as it counts for the downsides...and more and more I find that I've been able to overcome at least a couple of my weaknesses. May I share a couple of stories? They have a touch of the humorous - if nothing else, even if I say so myself.
I, too had an extremely sickly childhood and then grew up to be alarmingly healthy, barring two physical anomalies. One, I had the tendency of spraining my ankle at frequent intervals (either because I was absent minded or because I was showing off my skills on the playing field). But my ankle - first one, and then the other became too weak and the sprains were painful - yet all the while I prayed to God that I might never break them. For some reason, I was terrified of breaking my ankles (possibly because I had the idea that 'things broken never mend' subconsciously traversing through my skull somewhere). Anyhow - I never did break either one of my ankles...but hobbled along and after a while whenever I sprained either one of them (or tore a ligament) - I simply blacked out - literally. I used to black out right after and so I never did experience the horrible pain. Clever, huh?! (Yes, yes - people will say there are lots of pains worse than a pitiful sprain - and I wouldn't disagree at all...but for me it was the ankle). Yet the ankle was never as bad as something else I used to have - and that was asthma. The asthma by itself never really bothered me. Not being able to breathe was, if not fine - an okay thing, which I could handle...yet there were these sore throats that used to possess me. My throat would be on fire and it felt as though someone were hacking away at the inner lining of my throat with a rusty razor and then sprinkling liberal doses of salt and sand and pepper and then stripping my throat with the razor all over again...but the thing was that it was bad for just one night. All my physical pain was compared to this barometer (of the maligned throat) - and suddenly sprained ankles didn't seem too bad. And soon enough, after many an incident, I realised that it was just one night that I would be ill; I would pace around the house all night till dawn, not being able to breathe or drink water....not to make things grotty but after some nastiness - I would be overcome by a deep sleep just as the nascent blue light would be spilling in - I would sleep a glorious sleep, wake up and feel glorious. I did call out to God...I called and called each time - and each time it became, if not easier - something that too would pass. After I hit a quarter of a century - the throat has never been that bad (thank God for that!) - possibly because I took to smoking like a chimney, and my throat just decided to 'get used to' all the pollution and the smoke, and decided against being a dainty flower.
There have been other things in my life - but no physical traumas have afflicted me in this lifetime. I have never had to go without food barring one period in my life when I did so simply because I could. I've always had drinking water, I've never been bed ridden out of any physical ailments (once again, I say this with greatest caution because I know how fate switches at times), I’ve never had to live in the midst of war (although I have been plagued by these nightmares within my mind…) - and I have always been deeply grateful for this.
I wonder more and more about the notion of karma...and I believe that for this lifetime at any rate, God has given me the job of understanding my mind, my work, and His people to the best of my abilities. He has made my life remarkably simple, beautiful and elegant in some priceless ways. He has given me people who have cared for me in whatever capacity they are able and in whatever capacity I deserve. He has, and this must be said, given me parents (no matter their faults - which they certainly are not devoid of), who, with time have become far more courageous than I could or would ever be as a parent and a fantastic brother, who is a genuinely good human being (God bless his soul) - for which, once again I am deeply grateful. I have been blessed with some delightful cousins, with whom I get along, a handful quirky relatives, and most importantly a few wonderful friends who care for me, and even teachers who have taught me what I've been in dire need of learning. I've been blessed enough to find rare and divine love of different hues; and without sounding presumptuous, I've gotten a wee bit closer to understanding and sensing the 'web-net of love' with a heartfelt sense of wonder and joy and laughter...I’ve even been blessed enough to find two exceptionally special people in my life – who defy all categorizations and are there, have been here with me – through sadness, through happiness, and most importantly, through the mundane ups and downs of everyday living.
I have been given the freedom to pursue my work interests, I have been blessed with the freedom of studying for the sheer pleasure and joy it brings, I have been given the freedom to live without being constantly weighed down by the pressures of worrying where my next pay cheque is going to come from, or my next meal...The rest of my gifts are many...but one gets the picture...
These gifts – I do not see them as my natural right – I see them as privileges, as incommensurable gifts, blessings, and wonders – and I hope to God that someday when He asks me, I will be able to tell Him that inspite of the many long winded turns that I’d taken – I did right in the end. If I can tell Him that I took His gifts and used them wisely and with compassion – I will be at peace. I hope to God that in the meanwhile I never become complacent.
I have no idea what I've been able to do so far with all the gifts that I've been blessed with; I have no idea how far I've been able to love and care - and what good that has wrought. I do not know. I do not know what good my work will do or is doing...Yet through it - I have at times felt God's presence, His love, and heard God speaking to me...at other moments I have felt His love, patience, compassion, and wisdom (as you say, Suvro da) through others...and no, you're right - money and power have nothing to do with it...
A friend of mine and I talked through the night leading to Independence Day. It was one of those rare conversations where I feel that I've almost gotten closer to unlocking the sphinx's riddle or knowing that it doesn't need to be unlocked....
We talk about heaven and hell - what if they're not elsewhere but here on earth; what if they're not elsewhere but here within us?...This is not a novel thought - it has already been said; yet to feel it first hand...to sense that our fears (imagined or real) are one of the greatest barriers towards leading ‘the good life’ and to be able to keep one’s sense of humour is possibly one of the most important lessons that God has been trying to teach me through the last decade and more of my life (Reminds me of Lupin and his way of dealing with the Boggarts…) (and of course people might have different fears - and possibly many people have different barriers)...and also to sense that any understanding that shines through is not something that stays no matter what - that it is not something which is like swimming (which one never forgets) - but that all the understanding that comes - through God directly or otherwise - is something that needs to be revised, remembered, and written out in one's mind boldly and every day. (…..Or is it that I'm a forgetful person, I wonder?!)
Once again Suvro da, many thanks for this post….not least for the ‘fact’ that you made me articulate my sense of wonder with the ways of God; not least that I know so well that you’re cared for and loved by a couple of priceless individuals (few or less – it doesn’t matter in the end) who matter…..err…as is evident from my comments I did not find it difficult to start spinning from your post. In fact your post got me thinking consciously about my place in the world again – it was a bit of a reality check in the midst of everyday living.
One suggestion: maybe someone would like to take up the theme of ‘facing fears’ in your community ‘The Good Life’.
Take care. Shilpi

Rupam said...


One small question, for the purpose of some philosophical discussion! The notion that good will always triumph over evil- is it not a fallcy ? As you have rightly mentioned, its the inequality, the coexistence of good and evil, that maintains the dynamics of mankind. So, is it not in the interest of th world, that we must not and should not destroy evil ? I really don't expect any answer to this question. A little bit of introspection will be good enough !

Navin said...

wish you a speedy recovery, and I hope, (selfishly) that you get back to writing as soon as possible.

Sudipto pondering said...

Dear Sir,
Good to know you are back and (nearly!) fine. Having read the last blogpost, I am deeply moved. That was perhaps the most personal piece you've ever posted on your blog.

Sometimes emotions are so overwhelming that words simply can't do justice to them. The joy I felt when I read the post is indescribable, though I am myself unsure why I felt so happy; and whether the writing was meant to make me happy at all. My respect for you as a human, and not just the best teacher I've ever had, has gone manifold after having read your words. And there's no need to lament that no one cares about you as a human (certainly, there are some!): after your family and some of your old boys and girls, you may add my name to that list. And believe me when I say that I am writing all this only because I felt so.

Something more: Shilpi di's comment was as delightful to read as Sir's post. Truth be told, I have never faced anything that comes remotely near to be called 'troubles'. Everything in these seventeen years of my life has been normal, and at most I have only faced inconveniences. That in fact makes me realise that there are good lot of things left for me to face: things that cannot be avoided ultimately, and from which there's no use to flee.... The time when I really face a real trouble, I'll remember that the trouble is finally going to teach me a valuable lesson: and make me understand the worth of my life and the numerous blessing that I get everyday without even asking for them!

Shilpi said...

Dear Rupam, I'd like to get to that question: I, for one don't think it's a fallacy. Human beings sometimes have a very hard time figuring out what utopia would be like (no matter which kind) once utopia is reached/achieved....many twiddle their thumbs wondering whether utopia would be boring, placid, terribly humdrum....maybe because many of us can't think that far...maybe many of us have a limited imagination (think of of how most extra-terrestrial 'aliens' are portrayed in Hollywood movies - they're within what humans can 'imagine' that falls within our current temporal-spatial location).

One of my thoughts and one of my very short answers to your question would be - maybe it's because humankind has not been able to get to the level of requisite consciousness to understand the good without finding or knowing its counterpart. This is the level that we're embedded currently; so i'll end off with a question of my own: is there any reason to believe that we can't get to another plane?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

This is as much to thank everybody for the comments they have already written as to answer a question that, I'm sure, is not Rupam's alone: why is pain and evil necessary? To the extent I can answer the question (and I know I still cannot answer it to my own full satisfaction) it is so because, firstly, we should never know the light without having seen the darkness, never value the good without having known how fragile it is, how evanescent, and how terrible its opposite can be; secondly, a completely easy, painless, trouble-free life would soon grow too bland to be bearable, let alone enjoyable; thirdly, it is at times of suffering and pain that you get to discover that which is best both in yourself and in others, and lastly, no one is happier than at the moment when relief (or release) comes after great evil and suffering. Think of an aching tooth being removed, or a nasty marriage being finally dissolved, or a war coming to an end!

sayan_sujit said...

What you have said reminds me of something similar that I had read somewhere else.
I think I am probably quoting George Bernard Shaw - "A lifetime of happiness, no man could bear it.It would be hell on earth."
But, I often wonder why the cricket teams( like Australia) and the football teams(like Chelsea) that almost always win, have the greatest fan following.Why don't the fans get bored of winning?
Sayan Datta

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Your question requires a long and careful answer, Sayan, but for now I'll keep it down to the bare bones. It's because all those millions of fans are a) not too poor to have their noses to the grind night and day just to keep body and soul together, so alas, they have much more free time than is good for them, and b)they are by and large very idle, common, stupid folks who have no genuine personal hobbies and know secretly that they themselves will never achieve anything mentionable in their own lives, so going ecstatic again and again (the oftener the better) over 'their' teams winning acts like a powerful drug that they desperately need to bear with their otherwise unbearably mean and boring lives. To check out whether I am right or not, all you need to do is to keep your eyes open and see how much time and excitement truly busy and successful men spend over these trivialities - how many great writers, scientists, PMs, surgeons, lawyers and big businessmen you can find among all those hordes of fans wildly merrymaking in the streets! As a statistician would say, if you keep looking at biased samples, you will get a very distorted view of reality.

Sudipto pondering said...

Though I think that it's a bit off topic, I have something to say. I happen to be a very avid football (and Chelsea FC) enthusiast, though I also have a very wide range of other hobbies and pleasures in which I indulge myself (like music, mathematics and analytical programming, reading, writing, numismatics etc.).

And being that, I can surely assert that Sir is right. Most football fans I've come across aren't the least interested about living a healthy and happy life. There was this man on a TV football show who proclaimed that he was such a big ManU fan that he had watched a ManU match the day his wife was in labour! Now that's somthing too inhuman to bear with. After all, no amount of excitement of watching a favourite sports team can be more important than helping and supporting somebody in stress. I love watching football, but that is low down in my priority list. I don't think that watching football or supporting a club is at all bad. The only sad and bad thing is when we put football above everything else (including much more important things): engrossing work, good music, true love, natural beauty, human pain, sympathy for our kin etc.

arghya said...

A loud but silent tribute to those who believe that "work is worship".
Personally I do believe that every life is a planned structure which has definite directions and goals. The irony is we try to understand it by looking at it while being enveloped in it, rather than being able to take a bird’s eye view. The result being we understand only from one frame of reference. So while for some - someone may be minor irritants, in the greater scheme of things, that minor may have a major role to play. Similarly for some a doctor may be God’s healing hand, while to some one else it may be the hand of death.
I hope some where we have to Imagine:- Imagine how world looks to someone we hate, to someone who hate us and someone we love to hate. Then perhaps a day may come, when the hatred will vanish and we all will be one

sayan_sujit said...

I like sports too.In fact some of my favourite movies like "The greatest game ever played" and "Glory road" are based on sports.But I don't support one particular team or club.Also I find it very distasteful when people go hysterical when 'Their team' wins.What I enjoy in sports is (a)It shows how a single minded,focussed and dedicated approach is required to acheive something (b)It shows how often you have to fight against the big wide world and also against your own demons and conquer them,to taste victory.Another thing I have learnt from sportsmen is that how one can remain graceful even in defeat.
Also I rate courage and spirit more highly than skill.That is why my favourite player is Frank Lampard and not Ronaldinho.
Sayan Datta

Ranajoy said...


That was really touching. Yes, I truly believe that despite all the nastiness around, goodness should always be given a chance and trusted. My father always said "Get cheated again and again but never loose trust on humans"....there are the gems that you need to choose, like picking up oyster shells....and in very few of them, you will surely find a pearl. That is your critical mass to live with. Thats your world. You define it.....But the belief is the underlying strength with which to seek your world....

I am glad that you went through all this realization.....And of course, money ,though necessary to an extent, cannot be as strong as a huge network of genuine helping hands.