Book Reviews

Amma's Gospel: Maxims for Life

Amma’s Gospel by Rajender Krishan
Setu Publication, Pittsburgh, USA 168 Pages
Paperback ISBN-13 : 978-1-947403116 Amazon ebook ASIN : B08LSYFLN4
Available on Amazon USA | Amazon India and other global Amazon websites


‘Janani Janmabhoomi Swargadapi Gariyasi…’ these lines from the Valmiki Ramayana imply mother and motherland are better than heaven! Despite being a citizen of the western world for several decades, the poet Rajender Krishan ji has not forgotten his birthplace Bharat; the values imparted by his ‘Amma’ (paternal grandma) have been etched in the recess of his heart; furthermore, by invoking her presence, he obtains answers to the questions, and her continued guidance to cope with the challenging circumstances in life.

Ma’ ‘Ma-Ma’ - the first sounds uttered by babies gives untold joy to all around.  Likewise, the mention of title ‘Amma’s Gospel’ rouses a plethora of positive emotions from within. In the poet’s words, “as a humble tribute, this collection contains several poems where I have reflectively reminisced Amma, in an attempt to appreciate her fond memories and seeking her forever relevant guidance.”

The eyes did not fail to notice in the ‘Acknowledgment’ page the credit to his better half, whom he mentions as ‘a pillar of strength’ and a sounding board to his writings. The cliché ‘behind every successful man there stands a woman’ is commonly known; the public recognition by a man (in a patriarchal society) of his wife’s role is worthy of emulation! As Swami Vivekananda has pointed out it is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.

The introductory verses ‘Om’ on page 33 and ‘Namaste’ on page 35 serve as invocation, signify the essence of the ultimate reality or divine consciousness. The mere utterance of ‘Om’ or ‘Aum’ brings peace to a troubled heart, one who meditates on it is certain to feel blissful.

‘Om Primordial energy
The sound of silence’

‘Salutations to the One
That pervades the entire Cosmos.’

Namaste or bringing the palms together in obeisance, respecting the divine presence in another continues to be the Indian way of acknowledging another. In this time of the pandemic, it has proved to be the finest way of greeting one another, maintaining ‘social distancing.’  Guess our ancestors had a scientific bent of mind even though their customs and habits appear conventional!

Ammaji is a story of resilience, patience, sacrifice, and fortitude, never say die attitude of a ‘Bharatiya Naari.
‘Yet all these drastic transitions,
could not shake her verve for life
Amma led her entire clan
with patience and resilience’ (page 37)

Ammaji comes across as an embodiment of strength, devoid of ego, full of verve, and deeply pious, who sought refuge in prayers.

Amma knew her limitations,
often admitting by saying “I don’t know”,
yet placing her hand on her chest
she would assert confidently:
“The One that is always with me
Have no doubt, That One Knows”

The following lines from the same poem, poignant and powerful, depict the distress of the masses displaced from their own homes in the era of independence-

a migrant in her own country
in the post-partitioned India (page 37)

In the very poem, the following lines appealed to my outer senses and inner being.

Lighting the diya for the daily Aarti
Offering gratitude, seeking fortitude (page 37)

The lamp symbolizes ‘Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya’ which means leading from darkness to light.  Traditionally, it is believed that light symbolizes positivity and happiness, by lighting lamps the divinity within is aroused, darkness of the mind is expelled.

Amma’s Gospel (the title poem) is eloquent, self-explanatory, uncomplicated for even the lay person to gather the fundamental truths expressed in these lines-

Love yourself by being true to yourself
Be not in haste to react
First anticipate then contemplate
then respond
Follow the right path
Be happy Be successful. (page 45)

The above lines have been used as refrain in several other pages in the collection, possibly to help reinforce the seemingly simple but lofty axiom.

In the same poem, the following lines uttered by Ammaji portrays her to be steeped in truth and steadfastness.

in the journey of life
The path of deceitfulness
makes you the key contestant
against your very own self. (page 45)

At the end of the poem - Have I fathomed? (page 47) is a rhetoric question that appears to be posed to the rational thinker of today whose limited knowledge has no definitive answers to the fundamental truths of human existence.

By bringing out Amma’s utterances, other experiential facts are brought out in the verse Why Pray?

As a seeker, accepting ignorance
In helplessness, reasoning mortals
cannot do everything (page 49)

In the same verse, in another stanza

There are no better riches than
acceptance of Life as it is
Doing what you can do best
Resilience to withstand all hurdles (page 49)

Amma’s answers are nuggets of wisdom, which are beyond time and space. In this time of the pandemic, accepting life as it is, doing what we are empowered to do-wait and watch, to let this catastrophe pass, in Amma’s words, develop ‘resilience.’

The poet comes across as a person who has been exposed to the Upanishadic teachings; the epistemological position of individuals that forms a part of the Bhagavad Gita in Indian philosophy has been reiterated by Dr. Radhakrishnan in modern times, who maintains that ‘man has to live through responsible decision and action.’

The concluding lines in the verse Why Pray? appear didactic, nevertheless, they serve as batons to the hop-step-jump millennial mindsets, who are unable to face disappointments and failures.

Do not hanker, despise greed
Let other riches seek you
And remember always
You get what you deserve
Only when it becomes due (page 50)

Cyclical is yet another poem about birth, death, rebirth…. that urges the reader to pause, reflect on the ‘game plan’ – In Adi Sankara’s words, ‘punarabi jananam, punarabi maranam.’…. Is there salvation from it all?

Such is the game plan
of Prakriti and Purusha
that innumerable civilizations
have come and gone
and man is still wandering here, there, everywhere
in understanding
the greater cycle of Nature.
Is it all pre-scripted? (page 54)

The simplistic riposte in Amma’s (poet’s) words is ‘mere play the inexorable Leela.’

With a view to gaining the ultimate knowledge of existence, the next verse ‘Quest’ poses the inevitable question for which every individual should seek answers on his own-

What is this phenomenon
of recurring births and deaths
that the Scriptures talk about?
What is Salvation
that everyone wants to attain? (page 56)

The intimate conversation continues to examine further-

Life is in the Now
of cause and effect
Not in the past nor in the future (page 58)

Then There will be
Nothing more to know
Nothing to gain,
nothing to Lose (page 59)

The poet appears to have gained considerable exposure to the ancient teachings of the sages (who refer to Man as a miniscule part of the cosmic whole.)  In life’s journey of births, deaths and rebirths, there comes a time when the earnest seeker strives to ascertain the truth about the ‘self,’ develops discriminatory thinking to distinguish between the unreal sensory realm and the realm of ultimate reality.

Word (page 60) fascinated and enthralled me beyond words. A simple activity unfolds a myriad images

She said: Close your eyes
Visualize water
Concentrate …
silence a brief gap …
Now narrate
What unfolds?

I started describing momentarily experienced
streams of images

Jal, Water, thirst,
clouds, lightning, thunder,
rain, shower, brook,
spring, well, lake, pond,
river, fish, turtles, swimming,
Dams, floods, tides, oceans (page 61)

Amma mused:
See how a word reveals! (page 62)

Personally, this poem brings in nostalgic memories of my school-teaching days until a decade ago. In the last hour, after some reading aloud exercises, I would involve the boisterous ten-eleven year old children of my class in a similar activity -Visualizing! Telling them to close their eyes, I would gently narrate the scene in a park, a chocolate factory, sunset at a beach or any other scene that would bring pleasure to the senses. The ‘ring’ of the school buzzer would be the abrupt end to the joyous moments Even the hyperactive students would look forward to this pastime at close of day.

In the same verse, the concluding lines that are both sublime and gentle, serve to still the senses and bring in moments of bliss-

Just one word
and so much learnt
Imagine if one contemplates
on the Word of words;
would not one get the key
to unlock the supreme potential within,
that encapsulates the absolute existence (page 63)

In Amma, (page 64) her lullabies, parathas, nurturing, command, generosity, spirituality, mysticism, guidance, caring among her other innate qualities brings out the charismatic persona, the larger than life image of a prominent member of the family setup.
‘Healing’ serves as a kind of prayer without losing faith, at the same time dispels fear of the unknown-

Ever since Corona raised its ghostly head
for a ghastly dance
to the pandemonium tunes,
causing death and disruption,
everyone is anxious. (page 71)

Wondering how Amma would have dealt with the calamity, the poetic muse reveals-

Always remember
but fear not Yama
for death is inevitable (page 73)

Gandhiji’s words ring in my ears: ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. I believe that the poet and his family members have been exposed to Bapu’s teachings (through Amma, perhaps!) and have always held onto them.

‘Connection’ offers wonderful images in these lines-

whenever I see her
fading sepia image from years ago
I simply strive
to decipher
and then try finding words
to articulate what is heard
in the serenity of her silence (page 75)

The monochrome photographs of yesteryears are a perennial source of delight, more so to the photographer and visual art enthusiast aka Rajender Krishan.

In Esteem, one other characteristic of the feminine personality is revealed: Accept, in silence!

He barked, she heard
Her silence, he felt
Intrigued, he quizzed
She remained quiet (page 77)

Only when two hands clap, it makes noise! ‘Barking’ ends when the opponent is muted and remains ‘in silence.’ 

That was the level of ‘Maturity’ Amma had (this quality is synonymous with the females of yesteryears) The word ‘unpretentiousness’ reveals a modest woman, with natural intelligence and acumen, without any need to pretend or impress another.

That what remained unsaid
was her unpretentiousness,
Deeply etched by an
invisible level of discretion (page 79)

The essential characteristics that every individual requires, for instance, Compassion, Conduct, Discriminatory thinking, self-confidence… among others have been brought out subtly and markedly in several verses. In an acknowledgement to his father, the poet in Destination ruminates-

But remember always
to simply emulate not to replicate,
for my guidance is merely a path
not the destination (page 83)

These lines in an advisory capacity reveals to the ‘helicopter’ parents of today to take cognizance of the fact that their children should be given the freedom to choose a ‘different and progressive path to reach the destination.’

Nandi and Shiva find place in this poetic collection and ‘Patience’ is revealed as-

akin to the devotion
of Nandi the bull
sitting outside
the Shiva temple
with intense forbearance (page91)

Poems ‘Today,’ ‘The Present’ and ‘Now’ bring about the importance of the present moment without dwelling in the past or being overly concerned about the distant future.  Everything is in the present moment!

Bequeathing one more
opportunity to appreciate
what is now before us (page 93)

Expressing Life as the ‘eternal mystic, ‘the poet believes it

moves on with its own conundrum
of paradoxes, riddles, puzzles
in myriad hues
of vagaries and variables (page 121)

Leaf is a metaphoric representation of the transient nature of life, and acceptance of the same with attached detachment would be easy to let go when the time comes-

The Autumn saw my green body turn yellow
and with the flow of winds
I moved on
towards my new journey. (page 135)

And in Renunciation, the poet expresses the need to be thankful for all that life has offered without regret, remorse, or repulsion. In other words, perform one’s duties, enjoy everything that Life offers, never forgetting that this too shall pass!

Accepting with gratitude
whatever life bequeaths
to become burden free
of all likes and dislikes. (149)

The illuminating and alluring foreword by the multifaceted intellectual, former Civil Servant Shri. P C K Premji, the scholarly reviews by eminent academics and top corporate personalities  Dr Vadapalli Rama Rao, Prof. Satya Chaitanya, Dr. Sunil Sharma, Dr. Jaipal Singh, Dr. Amitabh Mitra, Dr. Padmapriya, Neera Pradhan, Simi Nallaseth, Rajiv Khandelwal, Bhupinder Singh, not forgetting to mention the brilliant pictorial interpretations by the illustrious Niloufer Wadia speak volumes about this poetry collection, the endearing nature of the poet, his association with like-minded individuals from diverse walks of life., hosted by Rajender Krishan ji in 1999 is an amazing website for literature and art lovers. As one of the contributors, it is a moment of pride for me to be writing this review of Ammaji’s Gospel ( I missed writing the review of Solitude, his earlier poetry collection.)

I must admit that I have not soaked enough in Amma’s Gospel, but the quality time spent has empowered me to appreciate every moment with it; recollecting and recalling several incidents from the crisp illustrations seemed as if it was my own mother was speaking to me.

Amma’s Gospel will serve to help any individual who is looking for chunks of wisdom for his own existential crisis in this materialistic, disease-afflicted world. The smiling face of Ammaji on the front cover will prove to be your vitamin pill. (You can see your own grandma there!)  The cover-picture reminds me of Avvaiyar, the Tamil saint-poet, whose ‘Aatichudi’ is a treasure for life.)

‘Ammaji’s Gospel’ will serve not just a detox, it will prove to be a vitamin pill to make human life sublime, the chaos around notwithstanding.

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More by :  Hema Ravi

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Views: 3479      Comments: 1

Comment An excellent review by my dear friend Hema Ravi, an accomplished poet, editor, teacher and reviewer, of "Amma's Gospel" authored by our most respected poet and litterateur Rajender Krishanji! Hema has comprehensively covered all aspects of the book with a liberal share of excerpts from the poems in "Amma's Gospel", tempting us to quickly reach for the book, given the pull of the revered word "Amma" meaning mother in some Indian States and grandmother in some! "Amma's Gospel- a must-read for all!

Padmaja Iyengar-Paddy
01-Nov-2020 23:03 PM

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