Book Reviews

In Admiration of Amma's Gospel

Amma's Gospel! Are you wondering why there is an exclamation mark after Gospel? You read this collection and you will realize, you will comprehend. You will grasp the essence, the spirit, the core, and the enlightenment through the rich storehouse of these poetic lines that ooze the combined fragrance of all the scented flowers in the garden.

AMMA starts with the letters A and M. That is the A Major chord of the guitar. In this chord you press the first three fingers of your hand on the second fret of the guitar, strings being DGB. Then you give one downward and one upward stroke with the plectrum every second and you get a rhythm for the song: “Usko nahin dekha humne kabhi, Par iski zarurat kya hogi, ai maa, Ai maa teri surat se alag, Bhagavan ki surat kya hogi, kya hogi”, penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri and sung by Mahendra Kapoor Sahab and Manna Dey Ji, from, you know the title of the film? It is Dadi Maa! A 1966 film! Yes, Dadi Maa about whom Rajender Krishan is talking! He wants to convey the same meaning through his poems and more precisely the first stanza of the same song, “ Insan to kya devata bhi, Aanchal me pale tere, Hai swarg isi duniya me, Kadamo ke tale tere, Mamata hi lutaye jiske nayan, Aisi koi murat kya hogi, Ai maa teri surat se alag, Bhagavan ki surat kya hogi,” O my God! I am writing these lines and my eyes are turning moist, damp. My throat is choking and I am about to burst in spasmodic grief and remember my own Granny ………. Such is an effect of Amma’s Gospel! I am Spellbound! Now you realize why there is an exclamation mark after Amma’s Gospel at the beginning.

Ammas Gospel starts with Om. Exactly like my morning prayer starts with Gayatri Mantra beginning with Om Bhur Bhuvah Swaha, Om Tat Savitur Varenyam, Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi,, Dhiyo Yo Nah Pracho Dayatah. Research on this has reported that chanting the Gayatri mantra regularly shall improve learning power, concentration, prosperity, eternal power, peace, and improves the quality of life. How the poet could know this? Was it magic that Amma was compared with Goddess Gayatri because she guided him through thick and thin? Of course, Amma is Gayatri because she improved the quality of life of the poet. Ammas Gospel starts with Om. Then comes Namaste and then the third one is Amma Ji. Now utter these three words together in that order. It becomes Om Namaste Ammaji. Magic? Coincidence? Take your pick.

This collection of poems reminded me among others, of many passages from a novel titled “Mother” penned by Maxim Gorky, a Russian novelist about 115 years ago. The story is set in Russia's pre-revolutionary proletariat and focuses on the role of mothers in the struggle of the Russian working class on the eve of the revolution in 1905. Pavel Mikhailovich, the novel's narrator, has a mother named Nilovna. She is a working woman who works in Russian factories during the day, leading a wretched life with her husband who beats her every night. Pavel embraces socialism, which is banned by the Romanovs (Tsars); his mother is concerned and wishes to protect him from the tsarist regime.

This is what every mother does for her children. Protect, nurture and, help grow. Amma (Shrimati Ratan Devi) is no different from Nilovna, the mother, or women like Sophia, Natasha, Ludmila, and Sasha in this novel. All have gone through the turmoil, anguishes, pain and sufferings during the revolution, same as Amma went through the pangs and wrenches of partition. Amma was 47 years old during separation. An age where a strand of silver lining starts showing in the dark hair. But yes, there is hope, like a quote” Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining" connoting faith, optimism, and glorious future ahead. How could one achieve this belief? By staying strong, finding the good in evil, staying positive throughout and saying “Cheese" when the photographer whose name is Mr Negativity is standing in front of you holding a camera, ready to take your snap. In the eternal war between good and evil, she transcended faith and creed.

That's what Amma did. She broke into a smile and there was a burst of sunshine. She told the same to the poet. (Greetings). She stood erect like a commander and a platoon was ready to follow the leader in her. She fought with such gusto that the opponent left the battlefield. She was a flicker of hope in the darkest nights of the partition.

I would recall here a song penned by Shri Bharat Vyas from the film Toofan Aur Diya( 1956) to describe how Amma might have fought with the circumstances. The song is sung by Manna Dey Ji. It starts with : nirbal se ladaai balavaan ki ye kahaani hai diye ki aur tufaan ki. One of the stanza is: ladate-ladate vo thakaa, phir bhi bujh na saka, usaki jyot me thaa bal re sachchaai kaa,chaahe thaa vo kamazor, par tuti nahi dor, usane bidaa thaa uthaayaa re bhalaai kaa, huaa nahi vo niraash, chali jab tak saans, use aas thi prabhu ke varadaan ki, ye kahaani hai diye ki aur tufaan ki.

She was a persona of hope for the poet, faith embodied. Poet was not born during partition, so he must have heard all the pains and sufferings from Amma’s lips, same as Arjuna heard Bhagavad-Gita directly from Lord Krishna on the battlefield. Amma was also battling the repercussions of partition. She had to re-live it again and again for the poet to know it firsthand. Rewind and forward many times. Amma didn't break down. She was steadfast, unwavering, and unfaltering. So many little things she must have kept in her mind, hidden deep down in her heart and never showcased, lest they cause pains to near and dear ones. Her name was Ratan, that is a jewel. She was a precious jewel. Therefore, Amma Ji said, “The one that is Always with Me, Have no Doubt. That one knows." And whatever she said, her wealth of experience through her words, were eternal Truth.

This Gospel was the guiding and driving force for the poet as he unwinds through his collection of wisdom. Didn't she tell him, “renounce deceit, shun crookedness?", and " remember Greetings," Every Time, whoever you meet, Remember to always Greet, with a Smiling face and Folded Hands." Why? Because there is no standard operating system for getting along with the people. There is no manual or blueprint which helps us preplan a design and execute our dealings with other people. That is because human beings are not produced in factories, they are different, and they don't follow the logic and definitely cannot be programmed. Each human is sensitive; each one is constantly variable with mood swings and temperament. Amma further implies that look for only the good in others. When we focus on others' faults, we only draw those negative forces unto ourselves. Amma wants to say that we are so cultured we do not want to pollute the atmosphere with negative vibrations. Do we? Let us do away with ingrained notions of prejudice and biased views. Let us eradicate the judgmental attitude we possess. No one in the world is perfect.

She further tells him to pray. Why Pray? He asks. She guides him,” Pray as a seeker. Do not hanker, despise greed, Let other riches seek you, And Remember always, You get what you deserve, Only when it becomes due." Approach people with love and understanding and you will find the same reflected in their approach towards you is what Amma meant. Good people cannot be chosen like it is done in a game of musical chairs. Good people are a privilege to have on your list. Treat them with respect, she advises.

What is sacred? She asks in Compassion. Of what is a spirit made? What is worth living for? What is worth dying for? The answer to each is ‘love’. We reap as we sow. We get what we give, and that includes treating other people honestly, with poise and esteem that we wish back in return. Yes, this is Gospel. Truth, Brahmavakya. Satya, Shiva, Sundar.

Amma's lullabies, her nurturing, her parathas, her command, her family, her generosity, her spirituality, her mysticism, all these positive traits of her personality left an indelible mark on the poet and helped him to become a man who could stand firmly, holding his head high and bang his fist on the table to call a spade a spade and choose right from wrong. Very few people have hearts at the right place. And these are the few ones, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, stand out in the crowd, announcing their dignified lineage, their noble culture, their decent upbringing and their imperial breed. These are the ones who enter our lives and make our life so sparkling, so joyous, so blissful and so special. This is what the poet inherited because of Amma’s Musings. That is why he did not merely consume, he created. When someone creates, they bring something useful to the world. Maybe it’s a story that makes people realize their self-worth, an article that increases someone’s knowledge, a photo that fascinates the mind, a poem that sizzles the psyche. Whatever it is, are they are creating something worthwhile.

These sonnets reflect pearls of wisdom, revolving around eternal truth, permeated with discourses on renunciation and salvation. Almost all the lines of all the poems provide direction for the modern complex and humdrum affairs of human existence. Some poems may find their places in another collection of poems, titled Wanderer by the same poet, but still one has a feeling of fulfilment, and renaissance after making Observation of a mystic in Amma’s Gospel.

Amma, as I mentioned above, reminded me of my grandmother, who was so docile. It went like this. The other day there was an argument between my son and his wife because he was so busy he didn’t even notice her new dress. The last time he had said “I love you” to her was half a decade back, so she complained. I remembered how much my grandparents adored each other. My grandmother used to tell me stories, (Caring  in a fragmented way, about how she met my grandfather and how they interacted. She never went into his room, preferring to nap in another room, and she never looked him in the eyes. She exchanged words on occasions, and she did so whenever the chances occurred. Whenever she told me all about her (Maturity) she would brake a faint grin from all sides, and she would even blush at times, making her all the more appealing! I couldn't understand how this woman could love a man who always grimaced and talk in a low, almost growling tone ( Esteem) that could frighten anyone. He was a forest officer in Dandeli, Karnataka, and had brought home a wolf (yes, wolf) in place of a dog as a pet. This wild wolf had to be nurtured by my granny! On the orders of my grandpa! (No, Maneka Gandhi was not there, then!)

I couldn't understand how two individuals who had been married for five decades could still be so deeply in love. When they had experienced so many ups and downs, trials, tribulations and probably so many of their flaws, differences, and clashes, she could find him the most magnificent man on the planet. How could an elderly lady like her light up so brightly when talking about her husband? When she understood so much about the world and had made so many sacrifices for this person, how could she smile and flush as she may have in her teens? And I'm pretty sure my grandfather had never said to her 'I love you and she never complained about it. Amma falls in this lovely category. Doesn't she?

The present generation opens a laptop or desktop, it becomes a part of the Alt-tab system. This is a fact, and most of them take great pride in juggling between windows, tasks, conversations, and sometimes even people. They have imbibed a habit of short attention spans. If they are reading, they read more than one book at a time. They switch between TV channels; speak and listen to music while they drive. Just the thought of all of this seems exhausting, but they still do it. They have all been conditioned to be quick with reactions and fast with deliveries. A video may be buffering for merely 10 seconds but they are impatient and curse showing horizontal lines on their forehead. What takes a hit is a quality. Ambidextrous and high IQ is rare. They seek solace and guidance but no one is there to counsel them. This solace and guidance are what Amma preaches through her Gospel. This book is the lodestar for a ship of mind which has lost its course in a sea of a worldly storm. It is a lantern in a darkened room with no electricity. It is a flicker of hope for a hopeless. It turns a pessimist into an optimist for sure.

More on Amma's Gospel


More by :  Dr. Satish Bendigiri

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Views: 3412      Comments: 2

Comment A great in-depth review

Dr. Amitabh Mitra
30-Mar-2022 13:54 PM

Comment Wonderful review

Hema Ravi
26-Mar-2022 12:08 PM

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