Author: Beloo Mehra (2019). Published under the title ‘When Young India Awakes’ in Sri Aurobindo’s Action, Vol. 50 (7), July 2019, pp. 8-10
CONTINUED FROM Part 6
When Young India Awakes
The train was running at its normal speed. Yuvaan, Rishi, Pranav and Aman all were lazily stretched out on their berths, their bellies full with the railways lunch. Just a couple of hours before the train would reach their destination, Haridwar. And from there Yuvaan would straight go to Rishikesh while the other three boys would stay back.
Yuvaan took out his book and started reading.
“It is not necessary that every man should be an artist. It is necessary that every man should have his artistic faculty developed, his taste trained, his sense of beauty and insight into form and colour and that which is expressed in form and colour, made habitually active, correct and sensitive. It is necessary that those who create, whether in great things or small, whether in the unusual masterpieces of art and genius or in the small common things of use that surround a man’s daily life, should be habituated to produce and the nation habituated to expect the beautiful in preference to the ugly, the noble in preference to the vulgar, the fine in preference to the crude, the harmonious in preference to the gaudy. A nation surrounded daily by the beautiful, noble, fine and harmonious becomes that which it is habituated to contemplate and realises the fullness of the expanding Spirit in itself.” [i]
What an insight, he thought! When we are used to beauty all around us, when we are exposed to all that is harmonious and noble and beautiful, where is the room for crudeness and vulgarity? Isn’t that such a wonderful way to inculcate fineness and gentleness in one’s character, Yuvaan wondered. Why is it that in our schools and colleges we didn’t get to experience art education from this point of view? He wondered if his art teacher in school ever really thought of the significance of her work in this light. Perhaps not.
Yuvaan thought of one of his friends from school days who was a very good painter, but somehow never got the necessary encouragement from her family to pursue art seriously. And she ended up studying History in some other college at the university. He wondered what she was doing now, and whether she continued her painting even in college. He made a mental note to track down her phone number and reconnect with her.
His thought also went to the middle-aged Radheshyam, the gardener who had been taking care of the garden at his home in Delhi for as long as he could remember. Yuvaan recalled how carefully and meticulously Radheshyam always did the pruning of those topiaries that surround the front door of the house. He remembered his mother telling him that the credit for the admiration she would often get from her friends for her bonsai plants was all Radhyeshyam’s because he was the one taking care of all the delicate pruning. Just like an artist, Yuvaan thought.
And what kind of artistic ability do I have, Yuvaan wondered? Does writing count, he thought? But when was the last time he wrote something from the heart? He felt a sense of unease, tried to brush it away and read. But the sense of unease wouldn’t leave him and he finally decided to sit up. He took out a small diary from his backpack and started writing.
“I have nothing to write today. Actually, it has been weeks, perhaps months since I have written anything. I mean anything that means something. I mean, that which really means something to me, first of all. Yes, I have written a few things on social media here and there, a comment on someone’s blog or an article, or a message or two on some online group. But that doesn’t really count as writing. Not to me, at least. It is just a fleeting thought, mostly arising in the form of a reaction or response to something being discussed or written by another person.
I haven’t written anything on a specific topic of my choosing.
I haven’t written something that has given me a real joyful experience.
What kind of joyful experience, you ask?
I am not speaking of a fleeting moment of happiness that comes from a sense of accomplishing something, e.g. composing a nice post for social media. Nor am I speaking of a kind of ‘release’ that a writer may experience having expressed something through words – an experience, observation, thought, feeling, or if really fortunate, an insight.
That isn’t joy. At least not the kind I am thinking of today.
Joy is something else. It is a much deeper experience. In essence, it is an experience that doesn’t always need something to be its cause. It just is. Or it just isn’t.
Writing, therefore, can’t really be a means to ‘feel’ the joy. And yet it can be.
It can be when it is done in a state of joy. Joy is an inner state of calm readiness. Readiness to be inspired by, to be led by something higher. Something deeper. Something beyond the tangible, physical, visible reality.”
Yuvaan stopped and looked at his diary. He wrote all that down, or rather all that got written as if in a state of flow. He never really thought about what he was writing, or so it felt to him. He felt happy as he read what he had just written. Yes, it was honest, it was real. I should write more, he said to himself.
He wondered if Sri Aurobindo had written anything about writing. He must have, after all he was such an amazing writer, he thought the next instant. And what about joy? What does Sri Aurobindo have to say about that? How to experience joy? Joy of writing? Joy while doing any work? Is there something like that?
So many questions were coming up in his mind, and somehow, he felt that he could seek answers to those in Sri Aurobindo. And the very next instant he observed this thought arising in himself – isn’t that interesting, it is as if I am beginning to think of Sri Aurobindo as my guide. Is it for real, he wondered? Yuvaan made a mental note that he would get some more books of Sri Aurobindo, do some research about him and start reading his works more systematically. Yes, that would be really nice, something inside told him.
He felt he had some sort of a plan formulating slowly – plan for some serious study, a study that would actually give him an inner joy, a deeper purpose, a greater richness and beauty. He felt he should also start writing whatever little he was beginning to understand of Sri Aurobindo, even if it was just for himself to begin with. This would be a good way to deepen his own study. Yes, he would definitely do that.
Isn’t it funny, Yuvaan thought? All through my college years I have never really been interested in studying so seriously. And now, with this one little book I feel such a joy in planning out my future plan of study – and for what, for no degree or certificate, but only for myself. Isn’t that great? He smiled quietly and took a loving glance at the book in his hand – India’s Rebirth by Sri Aurobindo. Rebirth, he smiled again thinking of this word.
With a sense of happiness filling his heart, he kept his writing dairy back in his bag and stretched out again on his berth to pick up his reading.
“It is foolish to expect men to make great sacrifices while discouraging their hope and enthusiasm. It is not intellectual recognition of duty that compels sustained self-sacrifice in masses of men; it is hope, it is the lofty ardour of a great cause, it is the enthusiasm of a noble and courageous effort.” [ii]
“Men see the waves, they hear the rumour and the thousand voices and by these they judge the course of the future and the heart of God’s intention; but in nine cases out of ten they misjudge. Therefore it is said that in history it is always the unexpected that happens. But it would not be the unexpected if men could turn their eyes from superficies and look into substance, if they accustomed themselves to put aside appearances and penetrate beyond them to the secret and disguised reality, if they ceased listening to the noise of life and listened rather to its silence.” [iii]
“A thousand newspapers vulgarise knowledge, debase aesthetical appreciation, democratise success and make impossible all that was once unusual & noble. The man of letters has become a panderer to the intellectual appetites of a mob or stands aloof in the narrowness of a coterie. There is plenty of brilliance everywhere, but one searches in vain for a firm foundation, the power or the solidity of knowledge. The select seek paradox in order to distinguish themselves from the herd; a perpetual reiteration of some startling novelty can alone please the crowd.” [iv]
Amazing, just amazing! Yuvaan heard himself saying loudly. Rishi from the opposite berth looked at him and smiled.
“Enjoying the book, eh?”
“Yeah, man! It is absolutely amazing, I tell you. His deep penetrating insights into so much of what we witness all around us…it is almost unbelievable!”
“Yeah? Tell me what were you just reading.”
“Listen to this… he is talking here about the mass media mess that we see all around us these days.”
“Mass media? What does he say?”
“Well, he doesn’t use that modern phrase. But he is speaking of how the newspapers etc – OK, we can add to it today’s 24-hour news channels, those stupid entertainment channels, music channels all that… so he says – these are the means to…let me read his words – ‘vulgarise knowledge, debase aesthetical appreciation.’ Isn’t that so perfect? I mean not just his expression, but the actual idea of what these mass media have done to all of us?”
“Insightful indeed! Go on, what else does he say?”
“OK, so get this… ‘There is plenty of brilliance everywhere, but one searches in vain for a firm foundation, the power or the solidity of knowledge.’ I am just blown away…I mean I have been to best educational institutions where there were so many smart and brilliant people, but still something felt so missing. I couldn’t find one professor or one teacher who sort of carried that deep quiet wisdom… I mean, they were all so much on the surface, there was no ‘solidity of knowledge’ in them as Sri Aurobindo puts it here.”
“But don’t you think you are being too hasty there in judging, I mean, how much have you and I lived or seen in life yet?”
“You may be right, in fact, I am pretty sure you are. But still I can only say from what I have experienced so far, no?”
“That’s true… anyway, what I meant to say was that I have had a chance to meet someone who at least I felt had that…that solidity of knowledge you mention.”
“Yeah? Who? Where?”
“Actually, this person is in Haridwar only. That’s why I am going there.”
“Is he some guru type of person?”
“[Laughing] I don’t know, man! He is actually a businessman, has a small factory.”
“No, no, it is not that…. I am intrigued actually.”
“If you want to meet him, I am sure it is possible. He is a very simple person, with no airs as such.”
“Maybe after I get back from Rishikesh? You will still be around, I hope.”
“Yeah, yeah… I think I am going to stay here for some time. Let me know your plans.”
“Sure! Looks like we are about to reach Haridwar.”
“Look at those guys… still dozing off, snoring!”
Rishi and Yuvaan both laughed, as the train began to slow down and soon the platform was visible from the distance.
To be continued…
[i] CWSA, 1: 453
[ii] CWSA, 8: 386-387
[iii] CWSA, 13: 57
[iv] CWSA, 1:557