25 December 2009

A Journey within the Self by Deepa Kodikal

A journey that started twenty-six years ago today
This book was written by Deepa Kodikal, a middle-aged woman who lived the ordinary life of a traditional housewife, taking care of her home and husband and bringing up their four daughters.
At 11.30 p.m. on the 24th of December 1983, she had sat up with her third daughter Akshata, a teenager then, listening to Beniamino Gigli on the record player to see in Christmas day. After midnight they went upstairs to their rooms. Deepa suddenly felt impelled by the urge to sit in meditation. It had been fifteen years since she had had last had the experience of deep meditation, but she slipped into it naturally and describes being overcome by a peaceful vibrating buzz. It was the first step in a journey that led her deeper and deeper towards a state of ultimate awareness or spiritual enlightenment, with the primal force awakening and manifesting in her.
In the early hours of Christmas day she suddenly began having strange experiences which she came to recognize as being of a spiritual nature. Years later she would describe them as, “an inseparable mixture of discomfort and helplessness combined with indescribable ecstasy and bliss.”

Is it strange that a woman who had never read scriptures or philosophical treatises or undertaken any rituals or penances or yogic disciples should be blessed thus? Or is it usually such people who quietly have these experiences and carry them, unspoken, on to the hereafter?
Deepa was different, because she kept a diary. This described in detail all that she went through physically and the thoughts that accompanied the sensations. It also helped that her husband Raja had read a great deal about such matters and was able to help Deepa with a context and some understanding of the tremendous experiences she was going through.
She writes, “I was delirious with intoxication, every cell of my body melting into an unbearable though totally joyous ecstasy, when the deep rumbling and by now familiar inner voice again intoned: “This is ‘turyavastha’. You are in ‘turyavastha’. You have merged with the divine! You have become one with the Lord. This is the highest state of exaltation and this will be your permanent state from now…”
And later, “The word ‘turyavastha’ had a sobering effect on Raja as he had read a lot about such matters. He told me to come downstairs and give him breakfast and to be very careful near the cooking gas. He also gave me a few tips on what was to be done if I was totally overcome by the exalted mood. I laughed at him; by that, I mean the divine in me laughed as I was still in that exaltation. I told him he had not yet grasped the extent of my avastha (state) which was very rare as it was accompanied by full control of body and mind.”
Still later: “The path to Godhood is through bliss. To be blissful at every moment and to enjoy bliss without being aware of it and without making an effort, leads one to the eternal bliss. To begin with, one needs to cultivate the habit of being in bliss. Then it becomes totally natural. Without being aware of this minute bliss, the eternal bliss eludes you. Because this minute bliss and the eternal bliss are one and the same. One originates from the other, and one leads to the other. Just as by knowing the alphabet, one knows all the words, so also, only by comprehending this minute bliss, can one comprehend the eternal bliss.”
The book also gives a theoretical context to Deepa’s experiences with explanations of various concepts such as five divine qualities, the different states of consciousness, Nirvikalpa, Vishwarupa, Avatar, layers of the mind, Ananda and so on.
She writes, quoting her own experience, “I am the ‘nirvana’. ‘Nirvana’ is not an object one picks up nor a place one reaches. It is only the Real Self shining forth in its glory in a state of total uncover. The natural state of Self in ‘nirvana’, in ‘moksha’, ‘freedom, liberation! The original state of man is ‘nirvana’ till he covers it with the binding and harrowing mind, complete with ego, emotions, and thoughts. An individual should endeavour towards this recognition and this experience.”
A Journey within the Self also says clearly that in her experience, there is no end to this evolution and it continues endlessly.
She was not keen on having her diary published, but Raja, himself a seeker and convinced that it would make an invaluable reference guide to others on the path, was able to persuade her.

I received the book for review soon after it was published in 1992 and was fascinated by what I read.

Burning with curiosity, I made an appointment to see Deepa. I don’t know what I expected – some kind of wild-eyed mystic perhaps – and was surprised to find a relaxed, smiling and completely normal person. She had cooked lunch and it was delicious. We became friends.

Many years later when Deepa asked me to edit her new book for her, her personal experience of the nature of existence, I said yes immediately without realizing how lucky I was. I read the manuscript over and over and it changed my life.
But more about that another time.

24 December 2009

Leaving India by Minal Hajratwala

Part personal diary, part research thesis
Minal Hajratwala spent seven years travelling around the world researching this book, and interviewed 75 members of her extended family. Through their story we learn about the different paths traced by the Indian diaspora. Visiting different continents during different time periods, she shares insights not just of the immigrant experience but also of the different social and economic situations they faced.
I found this book easy to read, enjoyable, and filled with interesting information about Indians in many countries around the world. I reviewed this book for Open Magazine and you can read what I wrote here.
This is a book I’ll be sure to recommend to my many friends with strong Indian roots thought their ancestors migrated generations ago.

07 December 2009

Burma to Japan with Azad Hind by Ramesh S. Benegal

A familiar face in an unexpected place
I had a very interesting experience while reading this book.
I’d received it some weeks ago and, flipping through it felt it deserved a wider readership. It hadn’t come to me through one of my regular channels (Sunday Mid-day, various publishers or my regular book-shopping sprees) but had been sent by Joseph Thomas to whom I’m connected through an old-school tie. We’ve never met but are good friends. He’d served under Air Commodore Ramesh S. Benegal, MVC, AVSM whom he described as “one of my heroes. Outstanding flier, thorough gentleman.” I suggested to my editor at Sunday Mid-day that I would write about this book for the 6 December issue and she agreed, and I did … you can read more about the contents of the book in what I wrote here.

The odd experience I had was that, right on page 6, I unexpectedly recognized someone who happened to be a main character in the first section of the book! Naturally that made it much more interesting to me.
This was the author’s uncle, Tirkannad Sunder Rao, and his two sons, one of whom had been married to my father’s sister.
When I knew Mr. Rao senior he was elderly and bedridden. I don’t remember ever hearing him speak. But I do remember being, as a child, always impressed with the kindness and devotion with which my aunt nursed and tended him.
Reading about the adventures of his young days and the bravery and generosity he had faced them with, I wished I had paid him more attention - perhaps had a conversation, or in some way shown affection or respect.
So for me, the book was not just a few hours of vicarious adventure to enjoy but also something of a lesson in how to live.

04 December 2009

Five Queen's Road by Sorayya Khan

The Englishman, the Hindoo and the Mohammedan
I tend to leap eagerly on books like this, hoping to learn from them something about the land of my ancestors which the Partition of India and Pakistan lost my family forever.
It did give some information, and I did enjoy parts but ...
More about the story and what I thought in my Sunday Mid-day review on 22 November