Nasadiya Sukta – Song of Creation – Juan Mascaro translation

The reason why I am an agnostic Hindu.
“There was not then what is nor what is not. There was no sky and no heaven beyond the sky. What power was there? Where? Who was that power? Was there an abyss of fathomless waters?

There was neither death nor immortality then. No signs were there of night or day. The ONE was breathing by its own power, in deep peace. Only the ONE was: there was nothing beyond.

Darkness was hidden in darkness. The all was fluid and formless. Therein, in the void, by the fire of fervor arose the ONE.

And in the ONE arose love. Love the first seed of soul. The truth of this the sages found in their hearts: seeking in their hearts with wisdom, the sages found that bond of union between being and non-being.

Who knows in truth? Who can tell us whence and how arose this universe? The gods are LATER than its beginning: who knows therefore whence comes this creation? Only that god who sees in highest heaven: he only knows whence comes this universe, and whether IT WAS MADE OR UNCREATED. He only knows or PERHAPS HE KNOWS NOT.”

Wow! An ancient religious text encouraging agnosticism! This really is as good as it gets.

Like Water (thoughts triggered by David Bowie tributes)

Live like water.
Flow over, across,
Around and through
Always moving, changing.

Skin and flesh and bones
Are crumbling, sagging,
Stretching, creaking

Even at an illusory best
When they feel like home,
When nothing hurts or stalls,

Find a crevice,
Seep through.
Travel through the mirage
The oasis is around the bend.


As a child I had a keen sense of melody but I always ignored time. Time was just something percussive in the background that I took for granted. When the radio played a favorite song the lyricist and the composer got credit. No one talked about the drummer. If the song was in a faster tempo the words were closer together, if not then you stretched them out. That was all I understood of music and of life itself.

There was a sense of the seasons changing. My birthday fell in the hot summer months. Mangoes were consumed by the bucket and we slept on the roof, counting stars and listening to the stories grandma told. Exams were always at a certain time of the year and how the heart felt before and after the exams was tied to a season as well. The spring months made it difficult for me to breathe and autumn brought with it a certain lightness of being. Winter clothes looked better and peanut brittle tasted divine while basking in the sun.

That was how the year was divided into stretched out segments of pain or pleasure. The allergy season went on forever, the wait for the summer months seemed endless. The groans were long and loud at train stations or movie intermissions when an adult said the wait was thirty minutes to an hour. An hour felt like an eternity. Nothing was over in a blink of an eye except play time.

I spent some time learning music at a later age. It was no longer possible to take rhythm for granted in the tutelage of enlightened musicians. Melodies were never meant to be unchained, I learnt. They had to lock step with the rhythm. There was a structure and an architecture that needed to be understood and followed. There were pillars and foundations that one had to acknowledge, these bare essentials demanded respect.

I spent some time learning about life at a later age as well. Summer vacations, pleasant winters, work deadlines, commutes, eating, sleeping, showering , paying bills and buying groceries divided up each day, each month and each year into discrete pockets of time that got consumed at the pace of junk food during a movie; equally mindlessly.

As a child I moved with time although it never made its presence felt. I breathed the air all around me without telling myself I needed to inhale or exhale. Now I stand still while time moves all around me in swirls and eddies and I consider exercises in mindfulness of each breath.

I stood right here wishing everyone a happy new year, I blinked, and I find myself wishing everyone a happy new year all over again. The past, the present and the future are all standing hand in hand chanting:

Ring Around O’ Roses…

The Core

Everyone who knows me well knows how fascinated I am with the aerial view of our planet, the view an astronaut gets to see -Barbareek’s view: just beauty, so much beauty that one cannot help feeling overwhelmed and shattered in many ways. One does not see the ugly divisions the boundaries, the bombs exploding, the hatred, the strife – one sees idyll.

Closer to the surface discontent reigns.

Wiser minds have stated that there is something within us that stays unchanged, untouched as we go from believing that our physicality and mental acuity powers our existence forward to realizing that in the end we are just dragging this battered dead weight forward the best we can. The thing that was deluded and the thing that came to a realization of sorts is the same core. It grew, it evolved, it made itself ready for whatever comes next.

That essence is what reveals itself from an aerial perspective that tends to strip away all detractors.

That same essence also shines through in the performance art of someone like Marina Abramovic who talks about it here.  People took turns sitting across from her at MOMA and just staring at her, making eye contact, nothing else.  So many people wept.  No words were spoken, there were no distractions and tears flowed.  And then Ulay, her ex, came and sat across from her, she broke protocol to hold his hands.

This gesture, to me, was so similar to the aerial perspective.  There were no detractors, nothing skewing a situation where a person was simply gazing at another, making an attempt to look inside, to find that core and connect.  Tears came when there was a glimpse of this core followed by the sense of connection.

Marina and Ulay, in all news reports, are embittered exes.  One is suing the other.  Marina has been blamed for her ambition, her fashion, her success that torpedoed ahead of Ulay’s – all manners of things that skew and obscure relationships on any average day in our lives.  But when they look inside and through all their strife they find, even for a brief moment, the thing that allowed a connection in the first place.

We are all collectively enclosed in this cocoon we have created around ourselves, the way a spider secretes a web.  We are spitting out a web of religion, politics, borders, exploitative traditions all around ourselves.  The walls get taller, the webs get thicker and somewhere inside is this cowering self ready to thrill to the touch of a gaze – aerial or up close.


There is contentment in solitude

There is a fondness for the inertia within which it exists.


I am younger, more resilient perhaps. If there are several layers of thought within the brain then this is the predominant thought in this superficial layer, the thought that insists I am younger, more resilient and not as distraught; stronger, not requiring support but capable of providing it. 
Then there are these other deeper layers where thoughts of loss reside. I remember standing there on the Lake Cazenovia pier, watching the July 4th fireworks shooting up through the sky, dissipating into blackness. There was some foreshadowing there, a thought that I kept rejecting.  
On July 5th I walked around in several loops around our residential complex while reciting the words of a mantra that a punditji had had me memorize after my car accident in May of 1989. This mantra, one is told, keeps one safe and alive. I didn’t question it then. I have been reciting it without fail every time I take my steering wheel in hand.
So, on July 5th, I walked and recited and walked and recited, aiming for several multiples of the magic 108 number while keeping his visage in mind. But, unbeknownst to me, things had kept worsening during that night. I left for Canada that afternoon.  
The next seven days were about to become the last seven; the part of the music that says “rit,” [ritardando] underneath the last few measures of a lifelong performance that had stunned audiences over several breathtaking movements.
Since then I think of his eyes, sharp till the end, giving us hope because there was no listlessness, no dullness. I recall his unstated need to take both of mom’s hands in his own during his last few hours. 
At no point during five of those last seven days did I feel as though there would come a time when he would cease to exist in a physical form. On the sixth day the doctors came around with their talk of comfort, trying to convince us that it was all that could be done. My tears came unbidden then, like a reflex, while nodding at whatever the doctor was saying. But hope remained. Hope digs in, it makes itself a home until it out stays its welcome.
I think about this mantra now, the one I believed was intended to keep us safe and alive, and I realize how deluded I was about the intent behind these words. I have only a rudimentary understanding of Sanskrit but I now believe it is intended to facilitate the transition out of a physical existence and into the realm of pure consciousness. It is a prayer for an easy dissolution of all ties that bind as one moves on – urvarukmiv bandhanan mrityormokshiyamamratat.
The ritardando we witnessed had been a conscious effort by him over a few months and not just during the last few days. He was giving away his clothes, minimizing his intake of sustenance, withdrawing from all old interests, very consciously trying to exist in just a sliver of space, urvarukmiv…
The music slowed down and stopped. He takes up no physical space now, just the one that fills every corner of our minds.
I live through my days in a “normal” way, appearing sanguine, addressing all matters of importance that I need to address because I am still taking up space, taking in oxygen and sustenance. We share memories with each other and tell each other of our vivid dreams where he appears to bring us wisdom and succor. Then I look around my home and think of the brilliance of his efforts to minimize, to make his footprints smaller, to make all his ties tenuous. 
It is a thought that mesmerizes and sticks around.

Dr K

Dr K has been my parents’ GP since they started living in Ottawa fifteen years ago.  I had never met him but had heard my mom and my dad mention his name often.  Listening to their stories I was always envious since this doctor appeared to be the stuff of legends and I was deprived of any contact with him; in the United States I am certain that meeting such a doctor is a near impossibility.
Over the years I had heard of his role as a guide.  My father had come to rely on his judgment and his expertise.  The one instance I remember very clearly is the one where my dad was going through some strange vertiginous and balance related issues.  It was frightening because we couldn’t tell what this was.  Was it another frightening symptom of the illnesses he already had, was it something new? So they went to see Dr K.  He asked several questions, lay my dad on the stretcher and essentially just tilted him this way and that.  It was apparently a matter of realigning something in the inner ear in order to fix its balance function.  When my dad was off the stretcher his problem was gone.  There was no guessing, no running of a million tests, each yielding no relevant information toward a recommended diagnosis.
I had heard from my mom that when Dr K first met my dad and learnt his name he told them that his dad’s name was Aaron which is really close to my dad’s name – Arun.  Over the years I heard stories of just how many times he had said that my dad reminded him of his own dad who he had lost several years ago.  Their office visits to his clinic included long conversations and a mutual delving into each other’s backgrounds and history.  
Dr K is well-traveled and has been to India several times.  He has been to Bihar, he knows about Laloo Yadav.  He is very involved with the Doctors Without Borders organization and spends many months of the year out of the country treating people who are much removed from care of any sort.  He spends a lot of time in the northern polar regions of Canada as well, treating the native population.
As we mourn the passing of my dad I didn’t want my mom’s health to start suffering from neglect, if nothing else.  She had recently cancelled her annual check up appointment with him because she was spending most of her time in the hospital with my dad.   Yesterday mom agreed to go and see Dr K.  I drove her there and even accompanied her to the examination room.  When he came in he greeted me with a hug, no introductions were necessary and then he focused his whole attention on my mom.  He hugged her and then he pulled his chair really close to hers and held both her hands as he looked straight into her eyes, not saying a word.  The tears started rolling down her eyes and mine and when she spoke she told him how much his care and his affection had meant to my dad, my mom, over the last fifteen years.  She told him how my dad always wanted to consult with Dr K even when he knew that his ailment required more specific care than that which a GP could provide.
They held hands and kept reminiscing for a long time, he remembered every conversation and every session they had ever had.  He occasionally turned to me to tell me how my dad had such presence, such an impact on all the people whose lives he touched.  He told me my dad inspired instant admiration and reminded him so much of his own dad and that he had felt a lot of affection for mine.
We had assumed he would have known of the cause of death since hospitals in Canada keep the GP informed of all developments.  But word hadn’t reached him yet.  The last information he had was that my dad was in critical care due to renal failure.  He learnt of his passing when my mom checked in at the reception and told the receptionist.  So we told him that renal failure wasn’t the cause.   It was PJP bacteria/fungus that goes after people whose immune systems either don’t function because of an autoimmune disorder or are suppressed by anti-rejection drugs given to people who have had an organ transplant.  My dad had had two organs transplanted and his immune system was severely compromised.
The PJP destroys the lungs with a severe pneumonia.  My dad’s lungs were full of fluids.   He couldn’t breathe.  When doctor’s asked him how he felt he would tell them he felt like a fish removed from water.  
I told Dr K that my brother had overheard a conversation that his medical team were having in the ICU and they weren’t aware that my brother was listening.  One of the doctors had compared the chest X-Ray to the whiteness of a pillow case. Dr K uttered the words “white out” when he heard this.  I could hear the tears in his voice as he said these words and then turned around to grab a Kleenex.
He explained to me that a normal chest X-Ray would look black on the film.  Like an idiot I said you would also see ribs.  He said, “I don’t see ribs…ah I see…that’s interesting…if you are a doctor you don’t see the ribs…you see the black or the obliteration of the black (air) with the white that represents the absence of air and the presence of fluids or anything else…”  With this exchange it hit him that this was the worst case scenario.  He told my mom that she should have called him, that he didn’t have the magic that would have fixed him this time but he would have known what was going on and we wouldn’t have spent so many days wondering and clueless.
He finally got around to completing my mom’s check up.  He recommended diabetic counseling for her.  I urged him to recommend this counseling as soon as possible but he said that this was not the right time because she couldn’t learn or retain new information at the moment, through grief.  He recommended it for three months from now and I saw him type in a note full of compassion on his computer screen as he emailed the staff responsible for setting this up.
He hugged us warmly as we left his office.  I left feeling more comforted than I had felt in the preceding 48 hours.

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