The Twilight called life

When I was trying to describe this photo, and what it meant to me, myriad thoughts came tumbling forward. On one hand were the obvious thoughts, on how I had enjoyed playing around with the shadows and the ambient light while keeping in focus the massive temple edifice illuminated with artificial light.

However, at a more subconscious level, I have become aware that this visual represents something, that I strongly believe in. Jeff Daniels’s character Will McAvoy summarizes my belief quite nicely. In S2E09 of ‘The Newsroom’, he is accused of not being a true Republican since he keeps on criticizing different Republican candidates. He says and I quote:


“I call myself a republican because I am one. I believe in market solutions. I believe in common sense realities, and the necessity to defend ourselves against a dangerous world, and that’s about it. Problem is, now I have to be homophobic. I have to count the number of times people go to church. I have to deny facts, and think scientific research is a long con. I have to think poor people are getting a sweet ride. And I have to have such a stunning inferiority complex that I fear education and intellect – in the 21st century. But most of all, the biggest new requirement, really the only requirement, is that I have to hate Democrats.” – end quote.


In today’s world, absolutist philosophies seem to rule the roost as far as our public psyche is concerned. If you support one ideology, you MUST oppose all the tenets of a contrasting ideology. It matters not if the rival ideology has certain valid points that can be appreciated and incorporated. It is Them v/s Us, or vice versa depending on which camp’s ideology you subscribe to.
It is right v/s left. It is Republican v/s the Democrat. It is the Sanatan Dharma v/s the Abhramic religions. It’s BJP v/s the INC etc.
For me the most important question to ask is this –
“What value is added to me by adhering to a particular ideology?”


Let me take religion as an example, since the photo is of a place of worship. People more often than not follow a religion and thereby the emanating religious beliefs, because they were born into it. They were conditioned and influenced by their parents, teachers, neighborhood surroundings etc. These days especially, religion thereby has become a source of the person’s identity. The implicit value add is that you become part of a community, and thus share the benefits of living in a community. However, if you criticize any practice or tenet of the religion, or how it is being appropriated by those who don’t give two hoots about its principles, except maybe polarizing communities, beyond a point below are some of the responses that one receives:

“We are atleast better than them. They indulge in…”
“Why are you questioning only tenets of your faith? What about them?”
“What about the things they did in 19__?”
“You don’t have the maturity to understand the nuances”

If things are worse, you could be put in jail or killed for questioning. In this process, the fundamental question that I mentioned earlier, and the solutions that a religion offers are often, completely lost. The benefits that one derives from belonging to a community be that of a local church, or a mosque in a locality or even a sect in a polytheistic Hinduism are all – according to me – secondary order effects. The primary value add of religion was and is to provide a framework to answer life’s questions and challenges.

I know you could be getting a bit impatient and want to ask — what does all this have to do with the photo I have clicked.
Look at the photo. The temple is a representation of the religious framework of beliefs, practices, laws etc. The artificial spotlight is your search for answers in the framework provided by the religion. The reflected light from the edifice is some of the answers provided by this framework.

HOWEVER, try as hard as you may, the twilight which is a natural phenomenon representing ever evolving life and its challenges, which will never completely go away. Some of the solutions will be illuminated, but newer questions and challenges will be thrown at you – these are the shadows accentuated in the twilight, by the light being thrown all around.

This is what I believe in. No man-made construct (yes, I believe religion is one of them) can answer all your questions since your life is yours own to live and discover. It can at best, share guidance that may or may not be suitable to the situation you are in. Our role I believe is to ask the questions and discover the answers that help solve the questions. It does not matter where the answers come from. Having said that, accepting blindly anything that is thrown at us because its convenient for the moment, without rational analysis and healthy skepticism is a disservice to us as humans. Ideally, tomorrow if a religion tells us:

Worshiping idols is a sin, lets question the dictum, to understand why it says so, without trying to point fingers at those who do so, saying it is a sin. Also, at the same time let us try to understand why those who worship idols, do so? What is their rationale. Highly possible, that both are recommending different routes, to the same goal

There is no rebirth after death, and you face the judgement of god. Let us understand where this ideology is coming from? Alternatively, if someone says that rebirth and death are a cyclical process, also let us understand what this tenet is trying to convey?

Doing karma is the best way forward, and everyone’s karma is different v/s following the instructions and principles of the book are the only way to lead an ideal life – Let us question both the approaches and choose whatever appeals to our sensibilities

The same approach could be followed for all facets of life, where frameworks / ideologies are constantly thrown at us. For that we need to accept one truth, that there is no absolute truth. There are only facets of truth. Institutions and frameworks will reflect some light in form of answers, while at the same time create more shadows in terms of questions. This is because there can be no shadow without light, and wherever there is light there are shadows, for life is full of ambiguity like the twilight. 

Most importantly we need to appreciate that others may choose a different path and ideology, and that is completely fine, since we now know – there is no one right way, but multiple correct ways to the same goal. For me that is the most important belief, above all the rest.

The Moth’s Flight

I hover around these halogens burning bright
While I search for my precious star light
My path is in the dark, even as these neons burn the night,
Damn it’s difficult to follow my inner compass,
Where can i find my northstar?

It’s been a tiring night,
I meet many a brethren knocking on these unnatural lights
Hopefully, someone in them, would shine the path bright

” Would you like me to tell you who I am? & What my dreams may be?”
Said I hopefully to the nearest lamp, Maybe there’s a kindred spirit who understands my kind

“The path you traversed thus far,
Does not interest me,
Your dreams are not mine,
You would do well,
to speak with the next lamp you see
For they may light up the path that you seek”

Lost and confused,
I cried my heart out,
Where are you my starlight
Why won’t you hear me out

Came the words from my inner soul,
Trust your wings, and heart to the core,
It’s only to the steadfast that real stars themselves show,
For when the night is the darkest, and you feel there is no hope,
That is when the stars shine the brightest
And guide those who dare to tread the path in the unknown
.
.
.
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Anekantwad: A philosophy of non-absolutism in the time of absolutes

Even as you watch politicians shout out each other on TV decrying the opposite party’s version as falsehood and their own narrative as the absolute truth, a question often pops up. What exactly is the absolute truth?

An interesting concept in Jainism called out explicitly is that of ‘Anekantwad’. Before I move forward here is a disclaimer. This post is not a propaganda of any religion. In fact, I have been at loggerheads with the very concept of organised religion as long as I remember. Having said that I tend to pick up general concepts that resonate with me from across walks of life.

So, coming back to Anekantwad. By definition itself, the word means (as per my knowledge) that there is NO specific word or a singular narrative that can either describe a phenomenon in its entirety or even ascribe to it an absolute meaning. Taking this logic, a bit further, it simply means to me that no version of truth is absolute. What may be true for me w.r.t. an incident, may not be true for you. At the same time this does not mean that my truth is a falsehood. It just means that I have a partial view and that there are other facets of the same incident that are equally true which I am not aware of.

The most popular example that I have read describing this logic is below. We have all read that the sun rises in the east, a phenomenon that has always been presented as an axiom. However, let’s stretch our imagination a bit here. Let’s assume that we are the mighty Galactus of the Marvel universe who has the power to destroy entire planets. Now if he is watching the entire milky way from afar, the sun for him neither sets nor rises. Both the perspectives are true, even if they are inherently contradictory on a stand-alone basis. It’s a farfetched example but nonetheless a suitable one.

Let us try a more practical example. On Feb 4, 1990 the Voyager 1 took one of the most iconic photographs of earth from a record distance of 6 billion kilometers. Why this is an iconic photograph is because in Carl Sagan’s words while the earth in the photograph is nothing but ‘a pale blue dot lost in the vast and dark universe’, it is at the same time a lot more to all of us. As he famously said and I quote “We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam”

Now if the same image were being seen by someone who has never lived on earth and never felt the same attachment to it like we do, why the narrative would have stopped at ‘a pale blue dot of little consequence in the vast darkness of the universe’. However, this definitely does not mean that Carl Sagan’s narrative is untrue.

This I believe really explains the fundamental logic of Anekantwad. Obviously, a question can be raised that by the same logic the veracity of Anekantwad can itself be questioned. That is whether it’s true or not. But that’s the beauty of it. After all, like all other philosophies, religions and also god, Anekantwad was also created by a human and his/her fertile imagination combined with a deep-thinking mind. It’s therefore always up to us whether we wish to try this philosophy or not. Ascribing meaning (positive or negative) to the outcomes of trying out a philosophy or a technique for that matter, is after all again up to us.

Concluding this long write up, and coming back to our hallowed politicians, who are always busy in the eternal game of one-upmanship, I believe a thorough lesson in Anekantwad from a learned guru would really help them. However, knowing whatever little I understand of them, it’s a guarantee that even then their supple minds and consciousness will find ways to achieve their own agendas within the framework of Anekantwad.

On a parting note, there is one phenomenon that I believe is universal, absolute and without any disputes. That is death. As far as I understand, it’s the most absolute truth out there, if there is any. However, the ingenious human mind, has even found a way to counter it. After all it’s the body that dies but the soul is immortal, and since the soul is immortal, are you ever truly dead? Anyways that is a discussion for another time.

Who’s the beggar?

Day 1:
She unpacked the wrapped packet and checked the contents inside. Two Indian breads, a bowl worth of lentil soup, a preparation of cottage cheese in tomato gravy and papadam. She settled on the hard floor of the cobbled streets, contemplating which portion to devour first. Even as her stomach groaned, she was immediately aware of a pair of eyes eyeing the food with acute interest. She was annoyed, that a hard earned meal would have to be fought over. She picked up a rough stone and threw it in the direction of those eyes. The stone hit its mark, and the being scampered away.

Day 2:
Today was flattened rice breads, sour soup and indian pickle. She had just lifted the first morsel to her lips, when those damned eyes showed up around the corner. This time she was prepared and hurled the stone even as the eyes made their silent approach. The result satisfied her as the being again backed off. But in her hurry she had toppled her meal. This night the stomach sang it’s woeful tune for a long time.

Day 3:
She felt as if the 33 million gods were conspiring against her peace of mind. Not only was today’s meal a meagre one of plain rice and bland lentil soup, those eyes had crept much closer. She could smell the sour odour of sweat and hear the incessant panting.
Out of exasperation, she placed a portion of her food on ground for partaking. The being hobbled forward, eyeing her suspiciously even as it gobbled up the food in a hurry.

Day 25:
The two most unlikely beings on this earth had formed a weird routine. She would set aside some of her meal, the being would finish it in a flash and slink away a short distance eyeing her as she would finish her own food.
She wondered silently what had made her to share the precious food. Somewhere she had accepted that the way she got her food through all the hard labour of the day, the being too was going through hardships of its own. She reasoned to herself that in her own small way she was alleviating it’s sorrows.

Day 45:
Winters in Delhi were cruel, and staying warm was a bigger priority. The food was obviously crucial, but so was getting a blanket. Even as she was wondering where she could spend the night without dying of cold, the being slowly came up to her with a tattered blanket.
She wondered where it had stolen it from, but more than that she believed she saw gratitude and loyalty in those staring eyes. Maybe her incessant shivering yesterday night had given it a cue as to what ailed her. She marvelled at the intelligence of the being. She gave a tiny smile and tossed a piece of bread to it, which was dinner for the night and sat down on the side walk.

Day 55:
Today was exceptionally cold. The blanket was hardly any protection. Even as she thought so, she felt the being’s body settle down next to her. She hugged it tightly even as both of them shared the body heat to survive on the dark, cold wintry night.

Day 66:
She was very happy today. She had laboriously managed to gather a large meal for both of them. It was a feast. The nights too were becoming more bearable as they both shared the blankets under a shamiana of a million stars.
She was experiencing a sense of calmness after a long long time, not since her own children had thrown her out into the streets 5 years ago. The pleasure of having something to share with someone and feel wanted.
She turned into her usual street. Happily she began to cross the lane towards the corner that she had begun to call home. A Landrover rammed into her and tossed her away like a ragged doll. The hotel food that she had scavenged was scattered all around her, mixing with her blood and viscera. The land rover sped away.

Day 80:
The being paced up and down the corner. The human had never failed to appear at night since the day it had approached it. Now it had been 14 days since she had left him. It could not fathom why. Humans were different it said to itself. It had stolen a new quilt for her knowing that her teeth still chattered on some very cold nights.
Maybe it should tell her that he was waiting for her, and that she should hurry. It arched it’s back and howled into the night, so that she could hear him loud and clear. It settled silently next to her spot awaiting her return. Dogs across streets heard it’s fervent plea, and too howled into the night as if to pass on its message to the lost companion.
However amidst the cacophony of human noise, only the shining stars in the night heard it.

Obituary:
On the night of 31st December, 2018 an old woman was overrun by a black landrover. The deceased was identified as Lakshmi Devi the widow of late Mr. Harkishandas Khattar, the gold baron. Disputes over the patriarch’s will had left Lakshmi Devi destitute. The sons allege that their mother had left the home of her own will. Her whereabouts for last couple of years were not known. The sons have begun funeral preparations, & have vowed to build in her name a shelter for abandoned people & animals. The case continues.

Will he , won’t he!

Aniruddh continued musing even as he stepped out of the restaurant onto one of the cobbled by lanes of Jaipur. He was besotted with her. He felt that he had finally found someone who actually understood him, at a time when he had given up all hope.

She had a rich laugh that still rang in his ears. He still remembered how she loved his latest podcast on the forts of Rajasthan. For someone who did not understand Indian history much, she had surprisingly remembered key details of the podcast. She was eagerly waiting for the next one, wherein he was going to expound on the secrets of the Jantar Mantar. She had in the passing asked him not to give up on his passion. After all you had food bloggers, fashion bloggers and then there was this niche stream of history aficionados who were trying to make it to the mainstream of blogging for Indian history. He was one of them.

He trailed along, slowly reflecting on his own twisted past. His had been a failed life of a brilliant engineer who had accomplished all expected professional milestones with distinction. He had worked tirelessly for nearly 6 years in some of the most prestigious firms, in pursuit of money (as money for him equated to happiness) then. Money had helped him afford fast cars and luxury stays in fancy resorts. His wardrobe then was bursting at seams with Rohit Bal rubbing shoulders with Armani. There was an entire wall with an enviable collection of perfumes, right from the exotic fragrances of middle east to the classy Issey Miyake and Perry Ellis. After all he believed that women liked men who lived the high flying life. At least that’s what Dan Bilzerian had taught him.

But still he had been unlucky in love. Women were attracted to him, but later he realized that it was not him but his pseudo rich alter ego to which they were attracted to. He was unable to have meaningful conversations with them, and always the relationships would fizzle out even before he could feel his heart flutter.

He realized that he did not love himself, so how would any woman come to love him. They were far more intelligent then men ever could be, as far as matters of heart were concerned. So two years ago he sold all that he had, and dived into his passion which was history, and so began his journey as a history blogger.

He began crossing the busy main street while still reminiscing over the last two months. They had been magical. He had finally found Anna in his life. She liked him for who he was. He really felt that this time the relationship was for keeps. It would be a very special woman who would actually compliment someone who called history blogging as a caree——

WHAM…the bus hit him at his pelvis throwing him some 20 yards away and he crashed into a brick wall, shattering his spine and cracking his skull. His gut had spilled out on to the road even as he lost complete consciousness. His last thoughts had been of him and Anna…

The sirens blared, as Aniruddh was taken to the nearest hospital that could treat trauma cases. Doctors wheeled him in and checked his vital stats. He was declared brought dead.

Annirudh himself hovered inches above his body, in his metaphysical state. He was mildly piqued by the entire sequence of things. Death had always fascinated him, especially what would happen to a person after death. But to actually go through the process, and to realize that he still retained a sense of his past memories, in a way disappointed him. Death was not the final frontier after all.

The doctors came in again. They could feel a very faint pulse, and began to revive him in earnest. He had half the mind to ask them to stop. What was he to do with a broken body in a world where anything less than an Adonis body was body shamed and a specially-able person was still treated with pity.

The pain solwly returned to his consciousness, as the doctor’s labor bore fruit. He struggled hard. There was no point to this exercise. He did not wish to live the life of an invalid, especially when he had finally found true happiness, just before it was so cruelly taken away from him.

But the pain would not go away, and Aniruddh could not keep his eyes closed any longer. He took a long gasp and opened his eyes. A dream. No a nightmare. He could not decide which. It was 6 in the morning and his entire bed was in a disarray, as if he had really lived each and every moment of his dream.

His mobile pinged. His manager was asking him to send an update on yesterday’s site visits before he resumed office.

He ignored it. In the drafts, he saw the email wherein he had half typed his resignation. He only needed to click on send and that would be it. In the back of his mind he wondered if he was a bigger invalid than the broken Aniruddh of his dreams.

His thumb hovered on the send button, even as the sun rays streamed through the windows of his penthouse.