The Ship of Life

Row Row, Row away ‘O’ Sailor

That Bridge is burnt
Those Memories are ash
The Time gone by is not coming back
Row Row, Row away ‘O’ Sailor

The river does not look back to its source
It flows on wards and forward from shore to shore
Trust your moral compass to leave the morass of old woes
Row Row, Row away ‘O’ Sailor

Nostalgia is a seductive sleep
It will sink your present hook line and sinker, when you least believe
Tarry there no further, 
Where there is not reason to linger
Row Row, Row away ‘O’ Sailor

There were those who jumped ship, in your most vulnerable need
Let them be, for they have their own battles to heed
Cherish those pole stars guiding you across starry skies, 
Or the tailwinds that push you forward without a nary sigh
Welcome aboard those who wish to experience the passage by your side
But never regret those burnt bridges ‘O’ Sailor of thy Life

Row Row, Row away ‘O’ Sailor

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.

EK KHWAISH…

Chhedi ek guftgu bande ne Apne parvardigar se,
To pucha Bande se khud Khuda ne
‘bata kya hai teri khwahish?’

‘Banade mujhko itna be garaz, ki pyar Dil khol kar karu
Par Dil de kar Dil Lene ki aas na rakhu
Jab Dil tute to shikwa ke bina duaaon Ko Ada karu
Aur jab sachha saathi mile, to tujhe shukriya kahu’

Sunkar khwahish hua Khuda hairaan

‘Aisi takat to mujhme bhi nahi ki puri karu teri ye aarzu
Yeh hai teri khud hi se khudki ek Jang,
Tolna hoga khudko, banke khud hi ek tarazu.

Jeet hai mushkil, par nahi hai namumkin
Jab utarle yeh taleem apne zehen me to ana milne ek baar,
Azad Mai bhi Azad tu bhi, kyonki tab tu hoga khud apna Parvardigar

poem ©Nirav Shah

Photo : Liane Metzler

Vengence will be hers …

The leaves preened in the morning light,

“It is us who put the food on the table, without us you would shrivel and die”

.

.

The branches looked down on them in disdain,

“You are barely hanging there at our mercy, a slight twitch, and you will be flying adrift in pain”
.

.

The trunk’s baritone silenced them for long,
“You two are nothing but quibbling children, for it is I who protects you by braving the swelling storm”
.

.

“But I am not done yet ” wheezed in the ancient roots, “for I am the father of you all, to the boot”
.

.

And so continued an eons old argument, through trees of every size and breed, Until… there came an unknown storm – a biped out to destroy every trunk root and seed.
.

.

“So who’s the master off ye all?” scoffed the man, brandishing his bloodied Axe…
The nature’s spirit rumbled in the bowels of the nether world, “the tree is mine and so is every storm, “I suffer neither fools nor braggarts, so be warned”
.

.

For every downed tree, the spirit groans in pain, until there would be a day when it’s dam of forbearance will wash away …
.

.

Beware, beware, beware the coming of that day…

Choice!! It’s an illusion, but wait…

When the 18 day war of Mahabharata is about to commence, Arjuna is struck with an uncharacteristic despondency. His mighty Gandiva discarded, Arjuna questions his Sarathi i.e. his ‘Guide’ Krishna about the merits and demerits of this great carnage and his role in it. A discourse begins which is known around the world as ‘The Gita’. Amongst many other pearls of wisdom, Krishna implores Arjuna to give up this self defeating attitude, concentrate his focus on his karma and surrender himself to the supreme being (i.e. Krishna in this case). Krishna convincingly argues that it is to him that all beings return and it is from him that all beings come forth. Krishna is the Adi and the Ananta i.e. the beginning of all and the end of all: the supreme Brahman. It is therefore Arjuna’s hubris if he believes that he is striking the enemy down, cause they all are already dead for Krishna. Arjuna is just a means of accomplishing the lord’s vision.

As is known, Arjuna follows Krishna’s advice and fights in the 18 day war. He is crucial to the eventual victory and Yudhisthira ascends the Kuru throne.

Now here is the interesting part. 36 years after the war, due to certain strange circumstances Krishna and Balaram are forced to destroy the entire Yadava clan (this is a separate story). Balaram tired by this endless bloodshed, gives up his earthly existence. Krishna on the contrary is killed like a wild animal by a hunter who shoot him with an arrow through his heel.

Yudhisthira sends Arjuna, to securely escort the 16000 wives of Krishna and the scores of women of Dwarka who were vulnerable, now that the men were dead. Arjuna reaches Dwarka. He takes the responsibility of ensuring safe passage to the women and begins the return journey with them traveling under his protection.

En route to Hastinapur, bandits attack the Kuru camp. They kidnap the women. Ironically, the mighty Arjuna who could vanquish entire armies on his own, could not string his Gandiva, let alone draw an arrow. It is said that when Krishna died, the pandavas lost their near mythical martial prowess and spiritual strength.

For some this thought process, may raise a question about whether there is any meaning to all the actions that we take in our day to day lives, if everything is preordained from the start. Why should I reskill myself;why should I work hard; why should I put in effort for anything, if in the end the outcome is never in my control.

For someone like me who has always enjoyed reading our mighty epics as stories, analysing and trying to join dots between disparate events was always a subconscious process; The Mahabharata is a fertile ground of multitude of stories masterfully tied to each other to form the longest poem in the world.

To everyone the epics speak differently and that is the epic’s beauty. For some the Mahabharata will signify how the lord steered his child towards the right path and may instill in them a faith for a supreme being who will guide them too. For some it could be a study in political science, as they keenly observe the cunning manoeuvres between Krishna and Shakuni.

For me this story is a call to action. It signifies through out to me that it is ALWAYS our choices and responses to the events around us in the present that define our future; Not a supreme being or a metaphysical being who has pre ordained my destiny. The answer for this too lies in the Mahabharata and it is shown beautifully.

Even before the war begins, both Arjuna and Duryodhan visit Dwarka to beseech Krishna to join their camp and fight against the enemy. Readers would know, it was Arjuna who CHOSE Krishna and not vice versa. It was a conscious decision of Arjun to choose the unarmed Krishna and not his invincible Narayani Sena, and for the good or the bad of it he was more than happy to face the consequences of his choice. That is what I CHOOSE to take away from this immortal story.

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.