Aum Bhur Bhuvah Swah, Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi, Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat
As you might know, this is the Gayatri Mantra, which is usually an integral part of a Hindu household that is steeped in tradition. There are homes where not knowing the Gayatri Mantra is considered as bad as not knowing how to brush your teeth.
If you Google-search and understand what the mantra means, you will realise it has very little to do with religion or rituals. It basically boils down to making a humble plea to God to direct you to the right path. What better way to start a day than chanting this mantra, say, three times at dawn? Anyway, that's besides the point. The point I am trying to make is that I never got around to memorising the Gayatri Mantra in the four years that I've been trying to discover my spiritual side. On the contrary, I easily memorised the far more complicated Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra, which is a prayer to Lord Shiva to seek deliverance from the cycle of birth-and-death. Maybe I memorised it because of the old bond I share with Shiva. Or maybe because of my hypochondria: once, in an ashram, I was sitting under a tree with a sadhu, and he told me, "Even a dying man will escape death if he sincerely chants Mrityunjaya Mantra."
So Gayatri Mantra eluded me, for four long years. I would remember Aum Bhur Bhuvah Swah, Tat Savitur Varenyam... and then blank out. I would also remember the last four words, Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat, but what's the use if I could not recall the three missing words in between? A mantra is something you should be able to chant with authority, without fumbling for words. And this was a strange situation: I knew the beginning, I knew the end, and yet I could not memorise those three words in between which could've made me say with pride that I know the Gayatri Mantra.
And then it happened suddenly, as if by magic.
For the past two days, thanks to viral fever, I have been confined to bed, dividing my time between fighting violent bouts of coughing and trying to imagine rosy days ahead by looking at chiselled male bodies in the Cosmopolitan magazine my wife subscribes to. "I maybe feeling miserable today, but tomorrow I'm going to get back to the gym and sculpt a body like this bugger" -- that's how I have kept myself going.
But last night something strange happened. I was going through the same Cosmo magazine -- reading the same stuff all over again, just because I felt too weak or lazy to get a book or another magazine -- when I felt drowsy. The antibiotics were having their effect. I switched off the bedside lamp and went to sleep. I don't know if this happened while I was still awake or already asleep, but I distinctly remember a voice telling me, "Those three words are, 'Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi'. Now your Gayatri Mantra is complete. Go ahead, try it."
I woke up. It is not unusual for me to wake up like that on nights when I don't drink, but this time I woke up with a sense of calm and achievement. I recited the mantra as directed, and realised I had indeed found the missing link. Still, I couldn't believe it. I switched on the bedside lamp and wrote down the mantra, and in order to compare notes, dug out a yoga book which discusses the importance of mantra meditation in one of its chapters. To my great surprise -- or should I say, shock? -- I discovered that my version of Gayatri Mantra, written in a state of near slumber, was accurate!
For four years it eludes you -- be it for your lack of will or whatever -- and then one day, when you are unwell and half-asleep under the effect of antibiotics, it comes to you like a mathematical solution. This is one solution that will dance like a question mark on my chest for a very, very long time to come. Thankfully, this question mark is a liberating one and not the one that weighs you down.