At times I miss my writing days when every Tuesday night, I would sit in front of the computer to write my 650-word column called Sunday Spin. Most nights, I would be clueless what I was going to write about. But something had to be written, for the deadline was Wednesday morning. As I would sit staring at the blank screen, an unseen force would hold me by the finger take me for a walk into a wood full of ideas -- some ripening, some half-baked, some ripe but not to my taste, some still sprouting. Depending on my mood that evening, I would pluck one and get back to the keyboard.
Something similar happens when I sit down to blog. There are times when I have a thought which I feel strongly about, but I feel too lazy to articulate it: it can be tiresome to build a beginning and a middle and an ending for an idea that can be expressed in just two sentences. And then there are times when my mind is fresh and the flesh willing to write 2,000 words, but I have no clue what to write about. You think, think and think. Finally, an idea arrives, but along with it comes floating the faces of people who you know are going to read it. The moment you notice a hint of disapproval on those faces, as if they were saying "Oh, how boring!", you abandon the idea and pour yourself another drink and go to sleep.
Anyway, thanks for putting up with the previous two paras. I was only clearing my throat, so that I could decide what to write about -- it is a pleasant night and I got home early and I have half-a-bottle of Scotch waiting to be finished and it would be sin not to write. And now I know what to write about.
Last evening, I happened to have dinner with a small, warm, sophisticated set of people. Their faces glowed with material prosperity and inner happiness. Needless to say, it was sheer joy to be with them. These people, after all, knew the Art of Living. The conversation was dominated by a young, cheerful doctor hailing from Punjab, who began every second sentence of hers with the words, "You know what Guruji says..."
She was brimming with wisdom and happiness, but there was only one thing in life that she was not really kicked about -- her stay in Chennai. Somehow, she never got around to liking the city and its people even after living here for five years. I, a resident for nearly nine years now, tried to reason with her. I told her that there were things about the city which even I didn't like, but on the whole the city has been very kind to me. But she had made up her mind. "I am just about tolerating it because I know my stars are bad at the moment," she laughed. Before I could pin her down, she had already started off, "You know what Guruji says..."
Her devotion was admirable, considering that she never, for once, forgot her Guru's words even at the dining table, where there was so much else being discussed. As I sat there, twisting my fork in a small heap of noodles and listening to her, I could feel myself being gripped by a new ambition. Of becoming a new-age guru. It was a realistic ambition, I realised. Not something like becoming the Prime Minister of India. I am 38, and the next four-five years I could devote to learning the Gita and the Bible and the Koran and the Vedas by heart. I would persevere till I reach a point when shlokas sprout of my mouth every time I exhale. And then I would design a dress for myself -- slim-fit saffron T-shirt and blue denims. Why can't a guru have a sculpted body and why can't he wear jeans -- if his target audience is the gym-going, jeans-wearing variety?
For that matter, why can't a guru smoke or drink -- although in a strictly controlled manner? Why should a guru always ask one to give up? Isn't giving up like forcing yourself to run away from something you desire? For someone who smokes 20 cigarettes a day, the real test of will power would be to stick to just, say, two cigarettes a day. Giving up means giving up, which means surrender, which means defeat. Victory is when you crack a whip on your habit without completely denying yourself from its pleasures.
So my followers would have to strictly adhere to the two cigarettes-one drink rule. The rule will be broken only once a year, on Shivaratri, when they can drink and smoke all night and dance to the chants of Shiva. The idea is to let them have fun: when being the resident of an ashram or gurudom becomes akin to serving life sentence, the guru's teachings wear themselves out to be mere slogans and you rarely end up implementing them in your life. So what will my teachings be? I will come to that later. My mind has suddenly gone back to last night's dinner.
So there was this doctor, as I was saying, the really cheerful soul who never forgot her Guru's words even for a moment. At one point, though I don't quite recall what was the subject being discussed, she suddenly interrupted the discussion, "You know what Guruji says? Guruji says tolerance is not a virtue. Because when you tolerate something, you are merely keeping quiet and seething from within. Instead of tolerating, you should love. That's what Guruji said."
In that case, why was she merely tolerating Chennai and not loving it?
Now, that's the problem when you hang on to the literal meaning of your guru's words. You fail to imbibe the real sense. In order to imbibe the wisdom of your guru, you need to be wise enough too. A fool going to a guru is as good as a dog going to the theatre. That's precisely why you see a lot of rich people feeding the poor: their only purpose is to get richer. They want God to take notice of their act of kindness and bestow them with more wealth. But that solves the purpose of the benevolent guru who is concerned about a bunch of people who would have otherwise gone hungry.
It is a different matter that these rich people often end up feeding the wrong kind of poor: people who don't want to move their ass and line up in front of temples to get free meals. If they really want to earn good karma, all they need to do is find out which of their staff is most needy and hike their salaries or give them a bonus. The really needy is often the one who is rich in self-respect and never lets it be known that he or she is in dire straits.
If I were to become a guru, which I intend to someday (the saffron T-shirt-blue jeans variety), I would not give my followers advice which I know run the risk of being taken only on face value. The list of millionaires who have sought refuge in the feet of some guru or the other is so long that you can no longer count them on your fingers, but how many have given up their wealth to the poor and retired to the Himalayas? On the contrary, they are using their new-found 'spiritual power' to devise strategies to multiply their wealth. What a sham.
My 10 commandments, as a spiritual guru, would be as follows:
1. Accept that death is inevitable: anybody who has been born has to die one day. The only question is when. Once you make peace with the 'when' factor, you have beaten death as well as the gloom that comes with it. Treat death like a girlfriend who just happened to knock at your door an hour before she was expected. Would you turn her away? No. You are most likely to say: "Oh, that's early! Am still in my pajamas. Anyway, now that you have come, please come in."
2. Maintain you mental equilibrium at all times: treat sorrow just like you treat joy, and nothing in this world will ever shake you. You will become invincible. The sages have said the same thing since time immemorial, but you never listened to them because you thought sages are old men completely out of touch with reality. Therefore, I have been born to reiterate that point to you -- and you better listen to me.
3. Be kind to fellow humans, no matter who they are. You will need the kindness back.
4. Help the needy. Now, don't rush to the nearest traffic junction and hand out your hard-earned cash to those buggers, I mean beggars. That way, you will only be contributing to the fortunes of a cartel that needs to be put in front of a firing squad. Instead, hike the salary of your maid or driver by Rs 500. What does Rs 500 mean to you when you spend Rs 2,000 for dinner in a decent restaurant? But the hike you give your employees will make a huge difference to their lives.
5. Never do a good deed for selfish motives, such as earning people's blessings, earning God's kindness, etc. Instead, think of the smiles that your gesture will bring on the faces of that needy family.
6. Don't be angry with people or ridicule them. They must be acting under circumstances which you could be in tomorrow.
7. Respect women.
8. Never have sex with them just because you know they cannot afford to say no to you. That's a crime. Earn the 'yes', if you have to.
9. Respect the elderly. Never laugh at them or ignore them thinking they belong to the past. Remember, it is just a matter of time before you too become old. You are a fool if you believe you will stay young and dashing forever. Such people do not deserve to become my disciples.
10. Don't give up vices, but control them. Giving up is altering your own self. Certain activities become vices only because they begin to control you. Why don't you control them instead? That would be true victory.
So there I am, already a new-age guru. Minus the saffron T-shirt and a committed band of followers -- at least for now.