CONTINUED FROM Part 4
Yuvaan looked around the large but sparsely furnished, railway waiting room – some not-so-comfortable-looking wooden benches pushed against the two walls of the room, a few plastic chairs scattered around a couple of wooden tables in middle of the room, a couple of ceiling fans one of which was making excessive noise as it worked at full speed, and a fluorescent tube light on each wall of the room.
He noticed a couple of older men, dressed in kurta and dhoti and their faces covered with a thin cloth, probably their shawls or turbans, sleeping uncomfortably on the wooden benches; a middle-aged couple quietly sipping some tea in one corner; and a small group of three young men sprawling on the sleeping bags which they had spread out on the floor, chatting enthusiastically.
Yuvaan found a chair in one corner and settled himself there. Keeping his bag on the floor beside him, he looked around in silence for a few minutes and then took out his book from his backpack. He found the last page he was reading in the taxi.
“A brave, frank, clean-hearted, courageous and aspiring youth is the only foundation on which the future nation can be built…” [i]
Yes, that’s what he was thinking about in the taxi…. what does it mean to be brave, frank, clean-hearted, courageous…is he all these things? Any of these things? And then, what does it mean to aspire? What should he aspire for?
Looking around, looking at that group of young men sitting not so far from him, laughing and talking, Yuvaan wondered – what about them? Who are they? Are they the brave, clean-hearted, courageous youth that Sri Aurobindo speaks of? Forget them, forget others, …what about me? I really want to become one of those young Indians on which the future India can be built…but how?
He found himself becoming a bit jumpy, a bit jittery. He started strolling up and down the room. When he came closer to this group of young men, one of them looked up and nodded with a smile. Yuvaan smiled back and said hello.
“Hey, where are you traveling to?” asked the young man.
“Actually, I have to go to Rishikesh, but this train I am taking goes only to Haridwar,” replied Yuvaan.
“That’s where we are also heading to – Haridwar. But we also plan to go to Rishikesh after spending a couple of days in Haridwar.”
“That’s great! By the way, I am Yuvaan,” something about the other guy’s smiling eyes had started to make Yuvaan feel comfortable.
“I am Rishi,” said the other young man, “and these are my friends – Aman and Pranav.”
Everybody shook hands, smiled and greeted each other.
“Are you guys hungry? I wonder if there is something available at this time…I’ll go out and check,” said Aman as he quickly got up from the floor.
“I’ll join you in your hunt for the food, my friend,” laughed Pranav, and patting Aman’s shoulder walked toward the door.
“These two are always hungry, you can feed them anytime!” quipped Rishi and smiled at Yuvaan. Pointing toward the corner where their sleeping bags had been spread out, he added, “do you want to join us in our comfy sitting room here… we have more than a couple of hours to pass before our train.”
Yuvaan briefly hesitated but immediately said – “Sure, why not?” as he made himself comfortable against the wall, with his legs stretched out.
Soon, Rishi and Yuvaan were chatting about a lot of things – where they were from, what subjects they studied in school and college, what sports they enjoyed, India’s cricket team, movies, what brought them to Varanasi, etc.
Yuvaan told Rishi that he had been in Varanasi only for a couple of days but he was hoping to return soon. Rishi, who had spent the last couple of weeks at Varanasi said that he too wanted to spend a much longer time there and maybe would even consider living there for a few years. Yuvaan made a mental note of a few places Rishi mentioned that he would like to visit when he returned to Varanasi.
“Why are you leaving so soon, and why Rishikesh?” asked Rishi.
“Well, it is my mother. She has fallen sick and is hospitalised. I need to be with her,” replied Yuvaan.
“Oh, I am sorry to hear about your mom, hope she gets better soon…. So, you don’t know how long you will be in Rishikesh.”
“No, not really…. but I am hoping it won’t be for too long. In any case I always wanted to spend some time there. I have been to Rishikesh only once but that was when I was very young.”
“I have been there a few times, it is an amazing place…just to sit near the Ganga is so wonderful. …But it will be the first visit for Aman and Pranav. They are from Bangalore, no… Bengaluru. They haven’t been to many places in the north.”
“Same with me…I haven’t been to many places in southern India. In fact, I haven’t been to many places in India except Goa, a few places in Rajasthan and a few hill stations like Mussoorie, Shimla etc…you know, the usual tourist places!”
“Yeah, there is a lot to see and explore in this vast country of ours, isn’t it,” said Rishi in a quiet, reflective tone. And after a few silent moments, added, “but you see, I don’t want to travel like a tourist in my own country, I want to know and feel my country, in a very real way, … you know, what I mean?”
Yuvaan smiled at him and in a soft voice replied, “I know what you mean.”
There was a slight look of recognition in each other’s eyes as they readjusted themselves in their makeshift sitting room.
A few minutes passed in silence.
Closing his eyes, Rishi leaned against the wall.
He was perhaps already traveling to all those places where he could feel and connect with India; the real India-ness of India, thought Yuvaan to himself, as he found himself admiring the calmness and peace on Rishi’s face.
Wanting not to disturb Rishi, Yuvaan moved a little further and took out his book and started reading.
“The spiritual force within not only creates the future but creates the materials for the future. It is not limited to the existing materials either in their nature or in their quantity. It can transform bad material into good material, insufficient means into abundant means. …It is our hope that … not only the political circumstances of India be changed but her deeper disease be cured and by a full evocation of her immense stores of moral and spiritual strength that be accomplished for India which…. [would] place her in the head and forefront of the new world whose birth-throes are now beginning to convulse the Earth.” [ii]
“Strength attracts strength; firm and clear-minded courage commands success and respect; strong and straight dealing can dispense with the methods of dissimulation and intrigue. All these are signs of character and it is only character that can give freedom and greatness to nations.” [iii]
Wow! That’s all he could say to himself at first when he read these words. Just wow! What amazing power in these words, what strength, what force. Such strong words about the need for strength. My character, my nation’s character will be built upon such courage, such strength – strength moral, strength spiritual.
But what is spiritual strength, spiritual force? And how does one go about developing it? Can it be developed in a nation so as to build national character? Do I have the kind of clear-minded courage that Sri Aurobindo speaks of, the strength which attracts strength? What do I need to do in order to find this strength in me? How can I achieve this strong and firm clarity of mind in me?
With the hope of gaining some clarity, he continued to read…
“Action solves the difficulties which action creates. Inaction can only paralyse and slay…. The errors of life and progress are more exuberant and striking but less fatal than the errors of decay and reaction.” [iv]
Now, isn’t that something so radical, Yuvaan thought to himself. This emphasis on action, this focus on doing rather than merely and mechanically thinking about this idea or that. Isn’t this something so many of us fall victim to – this tendency to overthink everything, this tendency to merely ‘talk the talk’ and not really do what needs to be done?
Suddenly Yuvaan remembered that science project in his high school – the time he had felt this sense of paralysis when in the very last stage of the project something didn’t work out according to his design. That was when he had sort of fallen into this mental frame of not being able to solve the problem and had even thought of abandoning the whole project. He eventually managed to figure out a solution, but not without a big dose of motivation from his father who made him realise that giving up the project would only suggest to his mind that it was okay to quit, to give up. And that was not something Yuvaan’s father wanted his son to do.
Yuvaan’s mind was still ruminating about that high school science project, his father’s sound advice, and the possible meaning that Sri Aurobindo’s forceful words would have for India’s rebirth, when he heard some boisterous banter and saw Aman and Pranav walk in through the door – Aman holding a few packets of food in both hands and Pranav with a flask and four earthern kulhads.
The noise woke Rishi up from his half-asleep state, and soon they were all enjoying the snacks and chai. Brushing aside his momentary hesitation and putting the book back in his bag, Yuvaan joined the group and in a matter of few minutes the waiting room felt like a college hostel room.
“What is that book you were reading, Yuvaan?” asked Rishi, munching a hot samosa.
“I thought you were dozing off, man!”
“Oh, that I was, I was…. well, kind of…but I was also aware that you were reading something.”
“It is this book I picked up in an old bookstore here.” Yuvaan bent forward to take out the book from his backpack, but suddenly felt that he should wait till after he had finished eating. “I’ll show you in a minute…let me enjoy my chai and samosa first.”
“Yeah, sure,” replied Rishi, “but what is it about?”
“It is an amazing book, I tell you. It is titled – India’s Rebirth, and it seems to be a really nice compilation of some wonderful and inspiring quotes from Sri Aurobindo.”
“India’s Rebirth… interesting title! Wonder what that means,” said Aman leaning against the wall and sipping his tea.
“Yeah, isn’t it? I have only heard about people, I mean individuals, being reborn… I mean this rebirth after death, that whole thing…it is sort of so deeply philosophical, so Indian…isn’t it,” added Pranav looking in Aman’s direction.
“Yes, Pranav, a lot of Indians, perhaps the majority, believe in rebirth,” said Rishi getting up from the floor, and straightening his back added, “but I am not sure most of us really understand what it means.”
“And then to speak of a country’s rebirth…. now that takes the whole thing a step further, doesn’t it,” added Yuvaan as he too stood up.
“You must tell us more about the book… you said it is written by Sri Aurobindo…well, I know that there is a Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Delhi. One of my friends used to go there sometimes with his parents, but other than that I don’t know anything about him,” said Rishi, looking toward Yuvaan.
“Do you remember Nishi?” quipped Aman, “Nishi, our classmate from first year…who left for Australia even before completing the first year? She once told me that she had studied at Mother’s International School, and the school is actually part of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram campus.”
“Yeah, I remember her,” added Pranav, “You know we should find a way so that Yuvaan can sit with us in the train, it will be great fun.”
“Fun? You want to wake up the entire train compartment,” laughed Rishi.
“I was actually thinking of learning more about the book, guruji!!” laughed Pranav, even more loudly, and added, “as it turns out, some other folks, besides our great gold medalist friend, our guruji Rishi Maharaj, are also interested in books, and ideas, and of course in India, you see, … In case you have forgotten I am an Indian too!”
All four of them gave a hearty laugh and walked out of the waiting room in search of a place to wash their hands and freshen up. Their train would be here within an hour.
The train ride was going to be an interesting one, thought Yuvaan.
To be continued…
[i] CWSA, 8:168
[ii] CWSA, 8:184-188
[iii] CWSA, 8:190
[iv] CWSA, 8:227-232