22 Jul 2018 18:29 IST

That one brief, shining moment

Insights come unasked, unexpectedly. All we must do is be open to receiving them

Sometimes it takes just one person, one comment, for what what people call the ah! moment, an epiphany. In less than a heartbeat, dark clouds part and something becomes crystal clear. The good news is that it happens to everybody, not only spiritual, philosophical or logic seekers, or the chasers of truth or salvation.

The other day, some of us were chatting, sharing anecdotes and the talk turned to the past — and, as it often happens, about how things were so wonderful then, and look how things have changed now. A note of hopelessness inevitably joined the conversation. Why do we constantly hark back to the good old days with a sense of regret? Is it a universal truth that the past is always better? Is that why we hold on to things thinking that they will anchor us to a ‘happy’ or ‘better’ time? Do objects from the past change our present?

My father’s sturdy black Standard 10 was the first and only car he bought, second hand, 40 years before he died. Everybody in whichever neighbourhood in whichever town or city we lived saw him and his car as one design. My dad and his car, the Standard 10 and my dad. He maintained it himself, often spending holidays tinkering with it in between setting other people’s car problems right. He loved it and it loved him — towards the end only he possessed all the tricks of driving it. Then he died and the Standard 10 sat in the garage. Every now and then there was talk of disposing of it but I stoutly, sentimentally, resisted until one day my mother said, “When he himself is gone, what are you holding on to an object for?” That’s when I realised the truth: I didn’t need a physical reminder of the person I was mourning; his memory was part of my inner spirit.

Honest interactions

Recently, I was at Tiruvannamalai where many realised individuals have lived. At the Ramanashram, I had an interesting conversation with someone who has left his home across the seas to serve here. In the course of our chat he told me how, as a much younger man, he had met Rajneesh long before he became ‘Osho’, and how he had been electrified by that encounter. I have read a couple of books written by Osho and I remember nothing of what I read except for one sentence. It’s a comment I have never forgotten. He had written: “If you don’t claim credit no one can take it away from you.” Think about it: it’s mindblowing.

These lightning flashes of understanding can come from anywhere, even from movies and television serials. The other day, I got this lesson from a popular Pakistani show: the female lead tells the male lead that she never lies because the one thing her father, now deceased, always told her was that the first lie was always easy to tell but the lies that followed became more and more difficult whereas the truth was always tough to tell the first time but it got easier and easier to tell later. Truths about truth are told so often that they can never be unfamiliar; even so, this comment adds to the insight.

Another time, a little boy told me at a school workshop that “we know to answer questions, not to ask them” and what an eye-opener that was! He only conveyed what he felt, he wouldn’t have had the least idea how significant his observation was. The import of his comment was for me, and others like me. In order to find answers, you have to know what question to ask and how and of whom and when. So simple, right?

Another little boy once said something that took a little longer to sink in but when it did… This was after sports day in school. Asked how sports day had been, he said, “I run very fast but because I wear glasses nobody sees me.” My first reaction was to think about the assumptions we make about nerds and brains and brawn. Then I started to think about brains and beauty, fashionistas, skin colour, the attitude to disability… It goes on. That little observation opens the windows to a host of concerns.

Native intelligence

If you go online you will find lists and lists of quotable quotes, many of them very famous. Writers, philosophers, scientists, political leaders, actor, sportspersons… everybody has made memorable statements containing ideas we would be well served to ponder over and recall occasionally. As the cricketer MS Dhoni famously told his team before the first T20 world cup final: “Tension nahin lene ka.” Applies to any aspect of life.

Like this thing that my grandmother always, always said: “In through one ear, out the other.” She was the wife of the youngest of eight brothers, living in a joint family ruled with an iron hand by her mother-in-law, with marriages constantly being fixed, children being born, and one crisis or the other popping up as they grew up, and much information being miscommunicated. She had been married at 13. Life had given her this invaluable lesson: “In through one ear, out the other”.

The radio and native intelligence gave my other grandmother — married at 11 and dragged from village to village, small town to small town by her doctor husband and unanimously elected universal nurse and caregiver by everybody else in the family — an understanding of international politics that was remarkably astute. Ever one for a fierce discussion, she spared no occasion to declare: “Yella ee Reagan maadidda kelasa. It’s all Reagan’s fault.” She wasn’t entirely wrong. A friend was so struck by this pronouncement that when she returned from a trip to the US, she brought back a button for my grandmother which said: Impeach Reagan!

Eureka moment

So you see, it’s there everywhere: your moments of clarity, your shining light of understanding. You only have to listen and Eureka! like Archimedes, you will run naked through the streets of Syracuse and not care a hoot because what you have understood is more important than how you feel about what the world thinks of you!

Does this mean, in other words, that it’s all about listening more, thinking more, seeing more and talking less?