Book Reviews

Amma's Gospel: An Amateur's Review

Amma's Gospel by Rajender Krishan
Paperback ISBN-13 : 978-1-947403116 Amazon ebook ASIN : B08LSYFLN4
Available on Amazon USA | Amazon India

There is a famous proverb – “behind every successful man there stands a woman”. Traditionally, it is considered that a man’s significant success and worldly achievements are made possible by the immeasurable and untold support of his wife or some other female partner or elder in the family. In fact, the real intention of this catchphrase appears not so much to highlight a factual observation, but to acknowledge and appreciate the unstinted support that one normally finds behind the scenes. In whatever I have gathered through my constant interaction with Shri Rajender Krishan that this phrase perfectly and ideally fits well on him in the contexts of his late Amma Ji, who happened to be his paternal grandmother and chief inspirational force behind him.

When Raj Ji, as I often fondly address him, asked me to have a look for opinion on his recent anthology of poems dedicated to his Amma Ji, I was a bit weary and unnerved: First, I have never written any review of a book in the past except compiling a book on Hindi poems way back and some professional works off and on; secondly, his poems often come with a heavy tinge of spirituality and philosophical ideas and wisdom, any honest and critical review and evaluation of which needs special skill and efforts. Whenever I come across such situation, it often reminds me of the famous Nobel prize winner Bengali poet and author Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “The Victory”. The story is actually about the love and loss of an emotional court poet Shekhar and his thespian battle with Pundarik, an accomplished maestro of classical poetry; and to be frank, I so often find myself in the former’s boots rather than the latter.

Notwithstanding, I wish to record at the outset that I indeed feel glad and honoured to do a review of Shri Rajender Krishan’s Anthology “Amma’s Gospel”, who is not only an accomplished author and poet himself but also a brilliant and successful entrepreneur and true Karmayogi in life. His website is among one of the finest literary forums, which has not only patronised many established authors but also provided a powerful platform to many upcoming debutant authors and poets for over two decades now. I am specially referring to this because I already had opportunity to read many of these poems when they earlier came up in the poetry section of the aforesaid website.

The very first poem in the Anthology so aptly begins with “Om”. Which is the most important symbol in the Hindu culture in as much as almost all Vedic mantras or sacred utterances start with it:

Primordial energy
The sound of silence…

The sound of Om or Aum, known as the pranava nada, represents Brahman (God) Himself and is often symbolized as the sound-form and word-form of the unmanifested God. According to scholars, the three letters of Aum represent vibrations inherently associated with the creativity in universe. Of this, “A (Akaar)” represents the vibration that brings into manifestation the created universe, “U (Ukaar)” represents the vibration that preserves what is created and “M (Makaar)” represents the destructive vibration that dissolves the manifested universe back into the Infinite Spirit; such is the spiritual and philosophical power and relevance of this sacred word that the poet has so aptly and brilliantly captured in just a few words.

In my earlier interactions with Rajender Krishan Ji, I learnt that Amma Ji had a significant role and creative influence in nurturing and shaping his destiny since the childhood. Not only in mundane worldly needs, she was one who also constantly inspired him as a role model in his shaping of a karmayogi and true fighter in life besides spiritually being a beautiful soul. Therefore, he has appropriately christened this anthology as “Amma’s Gospel” with many poems exclusively dedicated to her unfolding and revealing different aspects of the revered Ammaji’s life. This Anthology has a collection of forty-five poems and all are good, each carrying and conveying unique idea and message through it. In this short piece, it is not possible to account for and do justice with all but a few poems such as Amma’s Gospel, Amma Ji, Amma, Leela, Why Pray, Cyclical, Quest, Destination, Nature, Impetus, Transient, Renunciation and Maya are the ones, I have specially liked and appreciated; hence I would like to mention about them here.

The poem “Amma Ji” in a way highlights the prodigy of the grandmother how as head of the family, she had borne the brunt of subjugation and suppression in the colonial era ultimately rendering her a refugee in their own motherland during the post-partition Independent India. Notwithstanding this traumatic experience, she led her family with extraordinary patience and resilience all along not only to a safe transition to new unknown but also did everything that was possible to mitigate hardships during those uncertain days. While doing things, she knew her limitations that she would admit at times but never give up with her unflinching faith in the divine –

I don’t know…

“The One that is always with me
Have no doubt, That One Knows.”

In yet another poem “Amma”, the poet so nostalgically and fondly remembers Amma’s lullabies with devotional vibes, nurturing to grow independent and beyond parent’s umbrella, her culinary skills with special reference to famous Punjabi Paratha, family values by being true too self, generosity by sharing and caring, her spirituality and mysticism, and so on. In fact, otherwise so simple and devout Amma ji reminds me of Lord Krishna when she commanded her young and vulnerable grandson to –

Face the bully squarely
settle scores outside
before returning home.

Undoubtedly, Amma’s life appears a paradigm of true knowledge and ethical living, and that to live it, one does not need a sustained university exposure and degree. In fact, almost every woman has different avatars of mother, wife, sister, friend, and so on during her life but in most cases mother is the only version that not only perfectly fits in a pious, unselfish and self-sacrificing role but also serves like an umbrella in man’s ups and downs all along. Where the biological mother’s umbrella is not available for any reason, usually the same role is taken played by the grandmother or some other elderly and kind lady in the clan. In many cases, she also acts like true guru and guide answering the most difficult questions of life in trying situations and circumstances.

An unconditional love and compassion for her scion(s) that also serves not only as motivation behind but a major moral and material strength for the growth and success of the young one. In Amma’s Gospel, she advises to observe restraint and respond rather than reacting to situations in haste or under false pretentions; what more or better counselling is needed from a guru and motherly subject like her!

Love yourself
by being true to yourself
Be not in haste to react
First anticipate then contemplate
and, then respond
Follow the right path….

Religion and spiritualty are one discipline where even the scholars and religious teachers with decades of learning remain confused and divided. People have engaged in the never-ending debates and often bitter conflicts and wars among various civilizations and cultures for the time immemorial over the differences about the persona, form and role of God and His message to living beings for a proper conduct through rishis, messengers and prophets in the human civilizational history. Such a complex phenomenon is understood and expressed by simple and devout Amma Ji in so straight and credible way in “Leela” (Play of Cosmic Energy).

Who is in control of this phenomenon?
The Master Puppeteer!
Invisible and mysterious,
as if nowhere,
while effectively being…

Then hearing about the significance of prayer, when the curious and inquisitive young one asks how he should pray, Amma explains it in so polite and lucid way in “Why Pray?”. As a mortal being, you should know and accept the human ignorance and vulnerabilities including the truth that they cannot do or achieve everything ponderable in the world as a standalone person. Hence one needs a good physical, psychic and spiritual health to pursue the acquisition of true knowledge (Jnan) that comes only with the grace of God.

Amma would explain:
As a seeker, accepting ignorance
In helplessness, reasoning
mortals cannot do everything…

…and later she also concludes with the priceless gem of advice:

You get what you deserve
Only when it becomes due.

The poet then goes on to illustrates under “Cyclical” as to how the living beings engage in producing, consuming, acquiring, dumping creating, procreating, building, destroying, and rebuilding in a cycle of birth and death, eventually leaving some stuff behind that might be good, bad, or ugly for the following generation(s). In Amma Ji’s words, this whole cycle is so lucidly elicited and summed up under one term ‘Leela’.

Such is the game plan of
Prakriti and Purusha
that innumerable civilizations
have come and gone
and man is still wandering….

Summarising all cosmic cyclic activities with one-word substitute Leela is no less an achievement as this term encompasses the whole dualistic realism of the universe. According to Samkhya Hindu philosophy, there are two ultimate cosmic realities: Purusha (consciousness, Self) and Prakriti (matter, nature). This philosophy considers both the consciousness and matter as equally real; the entire universe is the product of the interaction of Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (matter), where the former is the inert and pure Consciousness part while the latter is the active decisive and perceptible part. Three gunas (qualities) namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and various permutation and combination thereof determine the entire dynamics of Prakriti in the cosmos.

Under “Quest”, Amma Ji becomes so philosophical in a thoughtful mood and while recalling the finer elements and intricate phenomenon of the existential truth, she points out that the real life is neither immersing in the past nor brooding for the future but in this “Now” as the product of the phenomenon of the cause and effect, the destination being the emancipation of the Self. To learn this, one needs to -

Be Silent and Listen
To what Life wants to say
Meditate on the experience
Get not attached….

Then the poet goes on to explain how this duality of cosmos leads to an inherent marvel of illusory chaos in nature whereby the earth rotates around own axis as also simultaneously revolves around the relatively unmoving Sun that causes the circadian routine of day and night as an eternal recurrence, in turn, manifesting seasons and umpteen pairs of opposites – an amazing duality in oneness of universe:

Life of cyclic seasons
in the pairs of opposites

Love and hate
heaven and hell
joy and sorrow
birth and death …

as the obverse and reverse
of the same coin.

The poet’s vision gives an interesting and worth emulating cognitive process of transferring or interpreting the meaning or purpose of the given behaviour of a person or impending situation. The instant reply of a person to an adversary impeding his path or creating hindrance in achievement of his objective would be to oppose him lock, stock and barrel in a tit for tat reaction. Undoubtedly, here again one can easily notice Amma Ji’s indelible mark and positive influence, when the poet in ‘Impetus’ considers such adversarial act as an opportunity for constructive progression in life:

A vision of life!

Those responsible
for elbowing
problematic conditions,
are in fact Godsent catalysts…

In latter part of the anthology, the poet explains the transient nature of the material universe and its illusory nature in his two poems “Transient” and “Maya” that can so easily delude any living being for chronic attachment with perishable objects. Such a person could easily deviate from the spiritual path to take material comfort and enjoyment as the sole objective of life, which is the real and ultimate cause of the bondage.

Anything that can be
seen and touched
is a mere configuration
of the elements five

If it is not
trickery − an illusion −
then what is it?

With Maya in play, the living beings are made to believe that what they experience through their senses is real and that they are independent of the objects and other beings they perceive through their senses. Therefore, Maya in effect causes ignorance and delusion leading to duality responsible for the bondage in the empirical world. People tend to be fascinated with the diverse nature of empirical world but are unable to perceive the underlying spiritual unity. Even as individuals, people are engrossed in diverse material possessions and accomplishments of transient nature but fail to perceive the pure consciousness supporting Self. Hence, it is so apt to call it trickery, an illusion.

Placing “Renunciation” towards the end, one may wonder if this is with a purpose and underlying message. In fact, in the transient and Mayavi (illusory) world, the renunciation comes as the most meaningful and purposeful theme, which may steer clear the person’s path of the liberation as well among many other positive attributes.

Accepting with gratitude
whatever life bequeaths
to become burden free
of all likes and dislikes

In Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Shree Krishna attaches a great significance to equanimity. What poet illustrates in the aforesaid lines is, in fact, the characteristics of an equipoised mind who remains unattached and unaffected through all pairs of the opposite attributes. Of course, Prakriti (the mode of three gunas) and Purusa continue to guide man’s destiny, which one could regulate through self-control with exercise of Yama and Niyama of the Patanjali Sutras.

All the fourtyfive poems are augmented with commensurate and remarkable illustrations in pencil drawings. If the illustrious poems constitute the body of the Anthology, the drawings serve as the beautiful ornaments. While Ammaji’s strong footprints are visible in almost all poetic creations, nearly one-third of them have her direct subjective presence or reference, be it merely a mundane advice on material existence or the spiritual discourse on more ethereal and divine aspects like Universal Consciousness, Purusha, Prakriti, Gunas, Absolute Reality, and so on. No wonder that the author has personified Ammaji akin to his personal guru and guide besides looking at her as a symbol of endurance and resilience in life.

Each and every poem in this collection is unique in its own way. The title of the anthology “Amma’s Gospel” itself is indicative of the sacred knowledge and understanding truth. The choice of words in selection of the title of the poems, their contents and eulogies can easily move any sensible heart and mind with the mix of feelings, emotions and churning of thoughts. While such emotions and thoughts in some poems have been expressed in simple yet interesting way, some others have been spelled with a deep philosophical and mystic touch too. The choice of words and expressions are simply heart-warming with the narrative of some verses being far more impressive and captivating.

The pictorial illustrations by Ms Niloufer Wadia indeed have a significant value addition to this Anthology by Shri Rajender Krishan. Also going through the gracious and illuminating foreword by the versatile intellectual, author and former Civil Servant Shri PCK Premji, and brief scholarly previews by several other eminent personalities and academics was a pleasurable experience.

Lastly, this review would remain incomplete unless I earnestly and univocally declare that I didn’t just enjoy reading these poems, I also imbibed many pieces of advice and wisdom from them for my own consumption. While some of these poems showed me the way of unconventional and out of the box poetry, some others tread the path how to introduce a subject, expand it effectively, and finally finish it with a tagline. I hope the anthology would invite a mass appeal and instant following bringing laurel to Ammaji and the author-poet as well.

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More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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