To believe or not to believe…

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John Barrymore as Hamlet (1922)

To be, or not to be, that is the question

— Hamlet, Shakespeare, Act 3, scene 1

 

To believe or not to believe has become the dilemma of the twentieth century intellectual with Stephen Hawking paving the way to disbelief.

As we bow down under the weight of existentialist dilemmas and develop six packs and slim abs, we profess not to believe what we cannot see. Some even trace it to religion being divisive, creating barriers and brainwashing humankind with ritualistic and typified role playing.

The term atheism has its etymological roots deep in 5 th century BCE. However, it came into play only around the French revolution. And then as the disbelievers grew in numbers, people did surveys. According to studies done in the last decade, less than fifteen percent of the world population do not believe.

Looking at the historic evolution of disbelievers, I would say they have been and continue to remain a minority, except perhaps in China where the red revolution wiped away all gods except communism. Even if the current government is restoring holidays during older festivals along with Mao’s birthday and Chinese new year, the wounds that lacerated the theists will take time to heal. After Mao and free thinking took its toll, a survey taken in 2015 stated 61 per cent of the population were atheists!

I feel in most of the non-communist world,  disbelief has remained the privilege of those who have the education and time to debate and question.

However in China, where I spent eight years, my Ayi ( my housekeeper, literal translation aunty) from Xian told me how she remembered the soldiers coming and destroying their family altar and asking them to replace it with Mao’s picture. That must not have been a very easy situation for believers. The post Mao university educated youth in China mostly informed me they were ‘free thinkers’. I really do not understand what that means since all of us are free thinkers. We are all free to think what we like. Though I did notice one thing, the mass sterilization of religious beliefs made people more docile and tolerant; or was it centuries of subservience, first to emperors and then to political ideology( twentieth century guru Harari called communism a ‘religion’), that had made them docile?

I wonder if Mao could have converted all of the population in the area we label India now into becoming disbelievers or free thinkers as in China? Would the people have forgone centuries of belief and spiritual quest to take on the yolk of a new belief system?

The vehemence with which people react to belief and disbelief is in itself astounding. Mobs form, political parties make it their agenda. There have been Klu Klux Klan-like reactions all over the world towards religion or the lack of it. The nineteenth century white supremacist group was not only anti-black but also developed sentiments that were  anti-Catholic and anti-immigration. Though there were laws to subdue the hate group, did these sentiments die out or are they still simmering secretly?

The rise of Modi in India has brought to the fore the large divide between the formerly voiceless non-monied and the monied with loud voices. In The Billionaire Raj (2018), James Crabtree talks of how the non-monied masses reacted to speeches directed against the divide that existed between the unschooled non-affluent masses and the elitist, affluent population, who despite being lesser in number were more vocal. Religion or perhaps, we should say practices and rituals, for the non-monied was a way of life and continued being so; the fanning of differences already having been instilled by the divide and rule used by the the erstwhile British Raj.

Dominique La Pierre and Larry Collins in Freedom at Midnight (1975)  talk of how independence for each Indian meant a different thing. Some rejoiced. And some wept. Eminent lawyer and journalist Khushwant Singh who had lost his home in the other nation recalled:“I had nothing to rejoice about. For me and millions like me (in both India and Pakistan), this Independence Day was a tragedy, They mutilated Punjab, and I had lost everything.” In this case, it was called religious rioting.

Did the difference in beliefs exist all along and, therefore, could be fanned leading to a state of orgiastic frenzy that ultimately led to mass killings? Was it any different from what the Red Army did in China? Historically, is it differences in faith that lead to war or is it a lust for power, land and wealth cloaked behind a system of beliefs?

The thing that frightens me most is the intolerant violence with which people believe or disbelieve — perhaps much in the tradition of big Endians and little Endians (from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels).

In China, the Red Army has been quietened. There are no strong reactions or mobs. These have all been outlawed. People seem happy. Once, in a while, the government subdues protests or anger against some people or situation. But, more or less, all is quiet on the Chinese population front, with due apologies to Erich Maria Remarque. But on the other hand, few young university educated free thinking Chinese friends told me that dilletante activities like writing books had also been purged in China… Intellectuals had been purged…

While my atheist friends continue to disbelieve, I wonder, is it only in God, or in things related to creation myths, to the existence of light and dark, to the existence of anything they cannot see or invent themselves? It is good to question. However, I do not fancy reinventing the wheel or the alphabet. I would much rather use one for travel and the other for writing out my ideas.

Sometimes, I wonder how ideas come into my head? Who creates thoughts? Who or what puts it there? Why is it I have an urge to write and Madonna sings like a lark? What is the phenomenon that created DNA? Who decides how and when life forms are created  to populate earth? Who or what made the Big Bang happen so that we all came into existence? Who or what creates and destroys life? Do we have right to destroy that which we cannot make?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In quest…

Vibrancy, warmth and colors are what Indophiles find in the India they love. Ruskin Bond, who went as far as to become an Indian, adds to it the love of the hills and the interactions he has with people in that region. He talks of tall swishing trees, hills that beckon and how he made a concerted efforts to return to the India where he spent his childhood from Jersey in the Channel islands, somewhere in between France and England, in his book, Rain in the Mountains:

“One night I was walking alone along the beach. There was a strong wind blowing, dashing the salt spray in my face, and the sea was crashing against the St Helier rocks. I told myself: I will go to London; I will take up a job; I will finish my book; I will find a publisher; I will save money and return to India, because I am happier there than here.”

Ruskin Bond’s own return to India was in quest of happiness much as Indian youth leave their country to adopt USA in their mythical search for a better life, and in that sense contentment. There was a time when those who dreamt big came to India for spiritual succor before conquering the world with the their humongous visions; Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were among these. I am not one to critique moves to different countries in search of happiness, for learning new things or just for survival. Think of it, if everyone stayed forever in the country where they were born, all the human race would have continued in central Africa forever with great to the power millions grandmother, Lucy, and her family…

Recently, I read an article in Hindu, which started with a blurb saying “Travelling in the 50s and 60s, Odia writer Chittaranjan Das realised that the only way to become an Indian was to first become an Asian and then a world citizen.” What a fantastic holistic thought from a writer who thrived in an era where mankind started to stumble under the narrow walls of partisanship and political nationalism!

The article on Chittaranjan Das makes me wonder what I, an Indian-born, consider to be the attributes of those populating the country of my birth.

The simple answer is I do not know.

With a cultural diversity that houses thousands of mother tongues (19,500 in 2018), India remains an enigma to me. Most cultures would have their own distinct rituals and beliefs and each one of them cannot be called anything other than Indian. A simple example would be the stories behind each festival. I know a few around the major Hindu festival of Diwali; some Ram centric, some Krishna centric, some Vishnu centric and, in Bengal, Kali centric — all these are different deities in Hinduism itself. Jainism and Sikhism have celebrations around the same period for different reasons. India hosts more than half-a-dozen major religions with myths and legends modifying the  rituals and customs by local needs. Indian cuisine too is of such a wide variety. It includes an IMG_0384indigenised interpretation of Chinese food, which can be had nowhere else in the world and is a favorite with many in India, a fusion of cuisine developed by Chinese who migrated during the Opium wars and Mao’s regime. Then how can one define food, values or a composite culture that is Indian?

When I read the travels of Marco Polo, I was struck by his mentioning Russians in India and how many races thrived within the region. Of course his concept of India has to be taken with a pinch of salt. We also need to understand his concept of the country could not be what was defined by Radcliffe five hundred years later and accepted by the billions living across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the rest of the world without a question. Polo probably felt all cultures outside that of Italian were novelties when he started travelling at the age of sixteen. However, having spent a long time in the Kublai Khan’s court before making it to India, he was more likely to be open than most, even if he is regarded as a bit of a charlatan. But one thing that I understood with my reading of Marco Polo was that India was the melting pot of diverse cultures and the geographical definition of India varied, thus making it more a concept than a national entity.

Nationalism as a concept started to develop only around the eighteenth century in England and Europe, after industrialization and French Revolution became a reality. When Marco Polo adventured into Asia from Europe, such travel was rare and long- drawn. With the onset of jet travel, time has ceased to be a constraint for crossing distances. Now it is borders drawn by nationalism. All the borders, of nations, cultures, religions and races are ones that are defined by man, by what twentieth century guru Yuval Noah Harari would probably call ‘orders‘ or ‘tribes’.

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Sphinx-like and griffin-like carvings in Ellora?

The other thing that struck me in my travels within India were sculptures of griffins and sphinx-like creatures introduced into the ancient frescoes of Ellora, an architectural marvel hewn into rocks between 600 to 1000 CE. In the midst of sculptures depicting Hindu mythological lore, a few odd looking creatures that resemble griffins and sphinxes blend into arrays of elephants. How and why did these get here? Did at some point a worker travel across to India from Africa or Europe, carrying with him the concept of a griffin or a sphinx and hew it into the rocks of Ellora? Was such travel to find work in multi- cultural India a norm in those days, when even Marco Polo had not set foot in China?

Again, I do not know… but I do love Chittaranjan Das’s perception that to be an Indian is to be a citizen of the world; Tagore’s perception of the mind being a fearless entity that would look for larger answers than just nationalism, being above narrow, parochial thought processes; Bhupen Hazarika’s concept of being a wanderer which he put to words in his well known song, Aami Ek Jajabar(I am a wanderer)

And in this spirit of openness and multi-culturalism, I celebrate my own humanness…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baboo

 

Old people live with memories…at least that is what Baboo did at eighty.

He had a daughter in Bangkok, two wonderful grandchildren and a son-in- law. His wife, Shyama, had been dead for the last five years.

She went just like that…

Shyama had served him dinner and cleared up before retiring for the night. She herself had had her dinner earlier because a late dinner induced wheezing. She was asthmatic.

That night, they lay down in bed. Baboo fell asleep watching TV. Shyama was still reading when he woke up around 1 am. Sometimes, Shyama read late if she had mild wheezing and then when it stopped, she dosed off. At 1 am, Baboo had asked her if she needed an injection to breath normally.

Baboo was a celebrated surgeon and Shyama, an anesthetist… that is how she had survived into her seventies despite her severe asthama. Baboo could treat her, inject her whenever she got an attack and Shyama was quick to catch her own symptoms. This time Shyama responded to her husband’s query saying she was fine. At four in the morning, she went to the bathroom and Baboo woke up to a loud thud.

She had fallen in a crumpled heap on the floor.

She was dead, dead, dead…his companion of 49 years…

Baboo was lonely. He lived with his memories… his daughter was too far away. She had come for her mother’s funeral and for the first anniversary of her death. But, she preferred to have him over in her own home. Relatives and friends came intermittently, but it was not the same. His daughter encouraged him to have guests.

He just wanted his daughter to come. She would not and sent others instead.

When his daughter critiqued his choice of place for retirement, he was angry. To hurt her, he asked her not to come. Sometimes, he did not want to talk to his daughter, especially because she thought differently. She did not understand him. Despite that she would call him. She loved him and needed the reassurance he was well. Baboo knew that. He fought but he needed his child desperately.

Baboo’s housekeeper and her family kept him company. He did a free clinic three times a week and chaired committees in a mission but it was incredibly quiet and lonely.

Baboo had retired and moved from Bombay to this house near the hills. His wife and he were supposed to live out their old age, close to the hills, nearer to God and eternity. For eight years, they did have an idyllic retirement, at least from Baboo’s standpoint.

Occasionally, Shyama had complained of boredom to her daughter. She missed her life in Bombay, the gaiety of concerts and the glamour of city life.

Eventually, she reconciled. She liked the hills and did not mind the life Baboo immersed himself in. She seemed to mould herself to his needs, also this retirement gave her the advantage of living away from her in-laws. Shyama, like many daughters-in- law, could not stand her husband’s family.

Baboo and Shyama read religious books in the morning, held discussions through the day. Some days, of course, they had the free clinic. Then they went to the temple in the evenings, prayed and discussed the Vedantic way of life with a select few… for almost a decade.

And then came the blow. Baboo had thought he would go first because he was four years older. But his wife cheated on him. She died first…just went off… like that. She was and then she wasn’t!

Baboo found it difficult to move as he had a huge fibroid at the joint of his back and hips. He was bent double now.

Another place, another time…when he had been young, people compared him to Omar Sharif. He was a medical doctor with degrees from Scotland. He had a job offer when he finished his FRCS in Edinburgh. However, like a good, filial elder son, he had returned to India to care for his father who was retiring then. But his child did not return for him. He had only one… a single daughter. She continued living away… in another country.

She telephoned him every day. But who would clear out Shyama’s cupboards… not his housekeeper… it had to be his daughter. There were termites finally but his daughter could not come…

He needed to close his bank locker, pay his online bills… His son-in-law helped him pay the online bills from Bangkok. He needed them both to clear his out his bank locker. But they did not come.

His nephew and daughter spoke of a smart phone. That was impossible for him to handle. People spoke of what’s ap; but he was too old. He just wanted to meditate and pray…

Or, did he? His wife had died on him. It was an unfair trick!

He was supposed to be the first one to die. After all he had had a stroke, high blood pressure, fibroid and once his guts had spilt out…hernia. That time his wife had saved him. Shyama had called a doctor friend. Baboo did not like him… but still the much-critiqued doctor had saved his life.

Now, Baboo watched his blood pressure twice daily. He discussed it with his daughter on phone everyday. When he visited annually in Bangkok, his son-in-law tried to force an automatic blood pressure machine on him. But he did not want it. In India, he had taught his housekeeper to take his blood pressure. He did not want to become an invalid. He still wanted to do more. His physical inabilities made him feel helpless. That upset him and he wanted to die.

His neighbours told him, he was old. He must leave action to youngsters. He needed to pray, to attain moksha, freedom from the cycle of birth.

But his daughter asked (on the phone),

“Why do you want freedom from the cycle of birth? Life is so beautiful. The world is so wonderful, why do you want to leave it?”

Baboo saw suffering on television, in newspapers and around him. He himself was suffering life… and yet, she said: “Life is beautiful…” Would she do that at his age? At eighty?

There were so many deaths. And yet he lived…

His daughter never read the scriptures. She was immature at fifty. Old age had to be one of renunciation and drawing closer to God…. and waiting to die…

His wife had left for her heavenly abode. The first few years after she departed, he dreamt of her…

Now, he wanted a companion. It was so difficult not to have anybody to talk to when he wanted to discuss the scriptures… His daughter called up.

But she did not understand…

Moksha, old age, physical handicaps.

 

Why do people grow old?

Why can they not continue young and die at the age of hundred?

 

 

 

Book of the Year

 

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Title: Educated

Author: Tara Westover

 

Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, struck me as an unusual read because it touched my heart. It had to do with people, their reactions and their ability to override adversities and find their way in a world very different from the one they were born to. Philanthropist and tech giant Bill Gates summed up the most important thing in the book in his review in Goodreads. “Her dad taught the kids that they could teach themselves anything, and Tara’s success is a testament to that.”

Born into a conservative Mormon home that rejected even basic civic services like education and medicine from the state, Tara and her six siblings received almost no schooling except how to fend for themselves and survive in a difficult and hostile environment. Three of the seven children, including Tara, despite not even having regular home schooling, went on to earn PHDs. The urge to learn came from within. The only schooling they had was from the lessons taught by life.

Transcending the limits and boundaries laid out for her by her parents, rebelling against odds, trying to dance in a sweatshirt instead of a tutu, attempting to conform to be like her peers who attended school and went for movies, Tara earns the sympathy of the reader as she finds it natural to love and battle for acceptance from all the members of her unusual family, a family that could have been termed abusive in their use of children in the current day context. The children were made a part of her dad’s “crew” and would labor under unsafe conditions, so much so that her brothers and father ended up with permanent scarring through life and her mother ‘changed’ after her head injury went untreated in a car accident. Her mother was a healer. The whole family turned to herbs and energy healing for medical needs and avoided hospitals and conventional health care. The father would hoard food for the advent of a hypothetical apocalypse when all the modern systems would collapse. While Tara studied in university, she discovered her father could be having psychiatric problems. Yet her love, tolerance and kindness towards him, though he refused treatment, remains unparalleled. That she could find love and learn from every adverse situation she faced with the family is fantastic and admirable.

It is difficult to sum up a memoir that journeys into a world that is so unusual, one whose parallels for me lie in the fifteenth or sixteenth century witch hunts described by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter and by Arthur Miller in his play, Crucible. To find strength and emerge unscarred from a world that is dark with misconception and yet a critique on what our current beliefs and way of life are, is an amazing feat that has been successfully performed by Tara Westover. It is an education to learn that such an island of belief systems still exist in the heart of America, a set of thoughts and lifestyle which are perhaps as unique as that of indigenous tribes that stay removed from modern life. That basic humanitarian needs are often flouted by such a group within a leading philanthropic, charitable country is amazing.

The transition from her family’s world, the movement away from staunch Mormonism to being a liberal educated thinking person is stretched over a long journey into which Tara Westover is pushed by her siblings, and perhaps, her mother too. Finally she emerges into an independent entity, a scholar from Cambridge. She describes this process as “selfhood”. The last lines best describe what she feels she has become.

“You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.

I call it an education.”

To talk of stylistic perfection and literary devices in a book of this stature would seem superfluous. All one can say is that the book is so perfectly conceived and written that it is an unstoppable read, one that cannot be put down till the last page is reached. It has won the Goodreads Choice award for Memoirs and Autobiography. It has been a finalist for a number of awards and The New York Times listed Educated as one of the top ten books of 2018.

What I see myself take away from this classic is a lesson in tolerance, innocence, humility, kindness and love, the values that create a human being; an education in human excellence and what wonders unstructured learning can do for people, despite the risks the Westover family children faced on a daily basis.

This is one of the most impactful and wonderful books I have ever read.

 

 

Directing Angst: A Raj Syndrome

 

Many, many years ago, before the advent of explorers, we lived in a world where when people were angry or a king wanted to expand his territory, a war was fought. Centuries down the line, with exposure to science, technology and for some, to humanities, war cries still seem to ring through the world of civilized men, except is violence and belligerence really a tool of the smart, evolved, developed and educated?

Though the twenty first century guru, Yuval Noah Harari, professes that war lead to technological advances, was it the only thing that led to discoveries and inventions that changed the world? While the atom bomb was developed for war and forced peace among nuclear powers by the resultant horror created in the hearts of men, nuclear energy also generates electricity for mankind. Science or technology in itself is not bad. It is the intent of humans that makes it good or bad.

The reason soldiers go to war and risk their lives for an imaginary line drawn by men in power has always had me perplexed. Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Laureate, the writer of the Indian national anthem, wrote: “…it is my conviction that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.”

Is it right to destroy human lives and make a profession of it? Is nationalism justified? It was born out of industrial revolution because the British needed raw materials and market for the produce of Lancaster mills. The traders infiltrated to the Eastern part of the world and then, the sun never set on the British Empire at the end of the day! Most Asians and Africans were at the receiving end of this development as many European nations emulated England and it would be an understatement to say the recipients did not enjoy the experience.

Given this context, why are we still warring over lines drawn by the Raj? Now, that the British Empire writhes under the throes of Brexit and has little to do with what goes on in the East, why do we still emulate their ways instead of finding our own solutions?

History has shown that it is mostly the power brokers who instigate a battle cry and manipulate our way of thinking. Hundreds of years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte said it all: “A soldier will fight hard and long for a bit of colored ribbon.” And this was around the time of the onset of nationalism.

Despite our lessons, we react by thinking as the power broker want us to think and risk our necks and that of others as well as our economic well-being. Mao Zedong, another empire builder even warned: “Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.” And yet the masses continue to fall into the trap every time and thunder for the enemy’s blood.

The rage of the masses has always been frightening, whether they are called the proletariats or the Red Guards. The Red Guards syndrome has, however, brought to the fore the destructive nature of such angst. They destroyed people, buildings, books, libraries just as a bomb would. Mao resorted to send the Red Guards for re-education to curb their fanatic leanings. From 1962 to 1979, 16 to 18 million Red Guards were sent to the countryside in China for re-education as Mao changed his tactics.

Left or right, the masses can easily be stirred to fight, as we can see in the throbbing anger generated against the enemy. While some people cling on to their intrinsic culture, religion, traditions and their glorious past, others want to create a new world. Either ways, though the aims are different, a war cry rings out if propaganda stirs radical thought processes. The mass does not stop to think anymore as anger and the feeling of deprivation or marginalization explodes into violent hate. People become fanatical if they feel threatened by differences; if they feel their current state of existence will degenerate, if they have a past which reinforces fear in their belief systems or the fear of losing their goods and lives. They stop thinking logically when such fears are instilled.

Thus, a blinding rage is generated by fanning a sense of deprivation or differences, which is pretty much what the Raj did more than a hundred years ago. The amazing thing is people still fall for this trick, even if it is pulled by their own local politician, who while critiquing the British past, continue to emulate its characteristic policy of divide and rule. The masses re-enact this whole drama laced with anger and hatred over issues that are minor when faced with annihilation or mass death, which a nuclear-based arsenal ensures. Then I wonder who will be left to jubilate the victory?

The complacency and conviction that a war can be won by any side in the age of nuclear arms can only be the perception of the unthinking or the inexperienced innocent.

 

War or Peace?

Despite the Nazi Goering’s blazon admission of how citizens are manipulated by power brokers into war more than seven decades ago, people still call for blood…

If terrorists spill blood, we call it an act of terror. When media and civilians call for blood in exchange of mindless killing by brain washed perpetrators of ignoble violence, what do we call the act? Is it war? Is it anger? Is it pent up frustrations finding an outlet in angst? And when the armed forces react by acting on it, what happens … is it a start of war?

Do you, in revenge, bite a mad dog when it bites you?

Any war to my mind is a government or people’s failure to solve a problem. It is a mindless act of aggression justifying the destruction of human lives, which we have no right to annihilate. In current times, war or aggression between two countries becomes a matter of international concern, as trade, tourism and the economy get affected. People’s lives are affected. The costs have always been borne by civilians, not only soldiers’ families but by all civilians and, especially, by the economy.

Nuclear arms have coerced peace in a world torn by manmade boundaries. Lessons can be learnt from Japan. After the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did Japan become bloodthirsty and indulge in fascist nationalism or did it self-reflect, pour its energies into building a strong economy and contributing to the world in a positive way?

Now, even North Korea is exploring peace as a good option. Then, why would bloodlust affect civilians in the Indian subcontinent? Why should more than half a century old sagas of hate and violence instigated by power brokers who no longer live, still be given the power to destroy the sanity of the crucible of philosophy, idealism and religious thoughts?

Who fights war?

People.

Who suffers from war?

People.

Then, perhaps, Einstein, the man whose science was mutilated to create nuclear bombs, is right when he says:

“Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.”

So, if people refuse to take arms, there can be no war.

Do we, as intelligent thinking humans choose death, destruction and sorrow and play into the hands of men who have opted for Goering’s philosophy or opt for peace, prosperity and development like the man who dubbed himself a “militant pacifist”, the Jew who made it into history and changed the world order with his science, Einstein? Both from the same nation but with such different perspectives.

It is time for us to choose.

 

In Memoriam…

 

I would like to remember my father as a happy man, playing his mouth organ, sitting in the garden in Dehradun and savoring the snows ranges of the Himalayas that surround the Doon valley and the dream home he made for his retirement; the warmth of the winter sun would fill us to the brim as honey birds hopped and chirped among the lush flower beds and fruit trees…I would like to hear him call out to me in his warm cheerful voice so full of love, tenderness and kindness. I would like to think of him as a vibrant, content, kind human being who has lived his life to the full…

As I got off the plane in Delhi, I got a phone call urging me to ask the hospital to take my father off his life support. But I wanted my father to live. I did not want him dead. I wanted him to have every chance to come back to normal. I wanted him to call out to me, to touch me, to argue and fight with me, to scold me… I did not want to face the new reality that stared me in the face…

We halted to dump our luggage in my aunt’s house, use the washroom, have a cup of tea and rush to the ICCU (Intensive Cardiac Care Unit) where my father lay unconscious. My father was lying in a huge ward, plugged to all kinds of gadgets his enclosure curtained off like the dozens of others. This was not the dad I knew…his hands cold from having been in induced coma on a slab of ice. He was moved to a normal bed a few hours before we reached. I kissed his hand as it was the only visible part and his face was too far. The hand had blue dots and it was as cold as ice. My father breathed deeply, a troubled breath on the ventilator. A big ventilator pipe was thrust into his mouth. He occasionally bit the ventilator.

“We had to tie his hands as they tried to pull out the ventilator,” said the attendant nurse helpfully.

“Does that mean he is coming back to consciousness?” I asked against all odds.

“ No. This is reflex.”

I sat and prayed in the armchair near the bed. I thought he would come back. Now that I had reached his bedside, his only daughter, he would come to. I felt sad leaving him. Where was his mind? Where were his thoughts, his conscious will? Was it back in the garden soaring with the birds in the skies? Were they flitting into a new reality filled with light and sunshine? Or was it travelling a path of suffering and pain because he was in a place that he never wanted to be? Please help him get well, O God, I prayed.

My father, a man of compassion and kindness, one who had strong beliefs, a brilliant doctor who tried to demystify the medical profession and find ways of taking healthcare to less privileged masses in India, one who had been very against corporate hospitals which imported high cost medical technology into India to serve anyone who could pay, was now lying in an unconscious state in one such moneyed concern.

“ What will happen if he suddenly wakes up?” I had asked a doctor from his hospital. I asked the same question to the doctor in charge of the ICCU, the counseling doctor.

“ We would love to see that happen. I am waiting for him to wake up and argue with me, to fight with me,” said the counseling doctor.

We waited, leaving my father alone in that impersonal, cold ward where he was just another body to be kept alive.

I had thrown a few warm wears into my suitcase and flown into Delhi from Singapore within a day in the hope of reviving my father and having him back in his hospital, in a way my sibling, because this was a man who loved his ideology and work almost as much as he loved his own daughter. He had left his work and retired to Dehradun more than a decade ago because he believed the time had come for new blood to take over, for them to develop the same values and principles he had, for them to be fully convinced that all humans, rich or poor, deserve the right to medical care. I felt moving him out of his own hospital had been against his ideology, against his wishes. Was it right for a person to choose to what extent he wanted medical support to contain him in this life?

My father had looked for mokshya, a Hindu concept of freedom from birth. He wanted to go into samadhi, a state where a meditating mind is supposed to ascend to unite with the source of all creation or God. Had his mind gone into such a state? Was he talking to God?

I could never understand why people look for this state because life in itself is so beautiful and there is so much to do in this wonderful world. But that he could not achieve this state had been his pet peeve as he waited to die in Dehradun. He said his body hurt. He had a huge fibroid in his spine, his ankles were swollen, his foot was misshapen and my mother died. The last probably made his heart ache more as my parents had an idyllic retirement till she died.

I could never comprehend his move in his last years to a place where he knew very few in quest of God. I also could not understand why he forced retirement on himself till he died.

Yes. He died. With the finality of death, his life ended.

We had managed to move him back to his own hospital while he was still alive. Within a few hours, he passed on.

As I sit by my window and write, looking at the ripples in the river that flows by, I realize why life saddened my father.

He hated the growing divides that are ripping the fabric of healthcare, economy and religion in India. He was saddened by the media projection of the violence all over the world. The media rarely dwells on positive news in India. He was unhappy with how people focus only on their personal needs and development and not on the needs of mankind. He was frustrated that majority did not understand the need for human excellence, where man would through unstructured learning, find the best in himself to serve humanity. Human excellence, for him, combined spirituality, happiness, ancient learning, with unstructured and structured learning to create a concept of holistic compassionate health care affordable to masses. He wanted to write a book and create a center for human excellence, again in his dreamland of Dehradun.

But his declining health got in the way of what he wanted to do.

In his death, my father has convinced me that as his daughter I must continue to believe in human excellence and strive towards it in my own field…to show compassion to the aged and less privileged, to lead a life where I can share every word with the whole world.

And somewhere, in the distance, I still feel that enigmatic smile and twinkling eyes fill my heart with happiness to soar with the birds and fly into my own distant realms of imagination…