They taught the Lord’s Prayer when I was in kindergarten, and I was so taken by it that I said it before going to bed virtually every night all through my school days.
As part of my curriculum while doing the higher secondary course, I came to know a little about the padavali (devotional poetry, directed chiefly to Ram and Krishna) literature of medieval Bengal (Vidyapati, Chandidas and Govindadas, among others), written in the artificial language called brajabuli and – I believe alone in my entire batch – I became convinced that this was the most important and precious thing I had learnt in those two years (barring poetry and humour in French), not all the nuclear physics and organic chemistry and calculus and stuff they taught in ‘pure science’. That did not prevent me from qualifying for medical and engineering school, but it may have been a major factor behind my deciding to opt out of such career choices. Maybe I was already convinced that my life and time were worth somewhat more...
In the course of studying economics in college and university (during which time, while teaching a great many students and winning medals in examinations and writing a large variety and quantity for diverse magazines and newspapers) I did a great deal of high-level math (only to find out how little it helps to figure out how to help people live better) but also somehow found time to read an enormous amount of subjects as diverse as environmental science and politics and sociology and history and psychology and linguistics and education and law, besides the literature of seven or eight different languages, and philosophy spanning three continents and three thousand years. And I became more and more convinced that Man was lost, and of his own choosing. Even skepticism and atheism and hedonism were thousands of years old – there was nothing in what the Sartre and Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg and contemporary management-guru types have been saying these last few decades that have not been said, debated and either blindly swallowed by some or laughed at by some centuries ago, in many countries. I learnt that sooner or later I would really have to become my own man and make my own choices. As the poet said about Reality, ‘It beckons and it baffles/ philosophy – don’t know/ and through a riddle, at the end, sagacity must go…’
So I began, as the years passed by, to understand more and more about what Socrates meant by saying ‘I know nothing’, and the Buddha meant by saying you first have to empty your mind, and Newton said about a child collecting pebbles on the seashore, and Tagore by dhulaar ja dhon taha jete dao dhulite (leave back in the dust what belongs to the dust).
While I have left behind a lot of things as boys’ toys, one thing that has stayed with me, and indeed grown ever stronger, is a profound affection for devotional music of any sort. The first notes of a really great piece of music, no matter what its age or language or denominational belonging, often transport me to a quiet ecstasy, and coming back to this world of here and now is a pain like no other.
Here’s a small but eclectic choice of my favourites. Youtube is a recent technological wonder that I am truly thankful for! Here is Achyutam Keshavam and Payoji Maine (pardon the ghastly graphics), here is Khwaja mere Khwaja, Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra played as the title theme for Stanley Kubrick’s classic science fiction movie 2001, Abide With me, and This World is not my home sung by Jim Reeves in American country style. I would have added something like Indranil Sen's rendition of Tagore's Daariye achho tumi amaar gaaner opare if I could find it on the Net. See if you can find it for yourself.
‘Ah, music!’ said Professor Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, ‘a greater magic by far than what we do here’.
Those who are interested might want to read what I last wrote on this blog about religion here.
I am not trying to convince or convert anybody. Just enjoy. And if you do find you share my tastes, get back to me, I’d love to talk to you.