Hats Off

It was a gloomy fall afternoon - overcast and gray. I perched myself on a lonely wooden bench and looked on at the graves all around me. The cemetery was historic - my guess was that it was at least three-quarters of a century old, if not more. Each grave had a little memorial. Due to aging, the tombstone inscriptions were hardly readable. The atmosphere was depressing and befitting how I felt. My life was in shambles. Relationship with my wife was going nowhere. There was no longer any motivation within me to succeed professionally either. My family back home in India was perhaps wondering why I was so distant and uncommunicative. They were unaware of my mental and physical state. If they saw me they probably would be shell-shocked to see such a wasted and depleted physical form. My friends too were a little irked by my utter boycott of social gatherings and phone calls. My biggest passion - spiritual pursuits - seemed so distant and a fading memory of the past. In short, life sucked big time and my drooping shoulders made that amply evident. I wanted to withdraw inwards and insulate myself from all the miseries that were drowning me. Is this what life and living was all about? I sincerely wished that I could simply die. At least it would end all this "stuff" once and for all. I started fantasizing my death…

My body lay on a funeral pyre. Big logs of wood covered the still and motionless body. A priest was chanting continuously and performing an elaborate ritual. Cans of clarified butter (ghee) were being poured all over my body. As the ceremony reached its climax, the fire was lit. My body got engulfed with flames and started to burn. Soon the fire gathered strength and was blazing with full fury. I could see the body's skin burning and the bones were bare and exposed. Within minutes even the bones gave way as the flames devoured the entire body. As the intensity of the fire increased, people moved away from the burning pyre. I could see that the different parts of the body were being dislodged bit-by-bit from the frame. It was a chaotic yet systematic disintegration of my body - the very thing that I so completely identified with all my life. 

Finally the fire seemed to get spent. The embers were still hot and all I could see were ashes. Even the skull was almost gone. Somebody poked an iron rod at the skull and it too collapsed into a heap of ash. Friends, relatives and family slowly moved out of the cremation ground and headed homewards. I was now alone with the remains of my body. I was emotional with a sense of deep loss - my most precious possession, my body, was unrecognizable. I started sobbing. 

Suddenly clouds gathered in the sky and before long a refreshing shower of life-giving rain started falling from the heavens. The drops of rain were fresh and they cooled the hot ashes. I actually felt that I too was getting a clean-up ritual bathing. All my fears and disappointments were being slowly washed away. As the water drops fell, the vapor/smoke rising from the ashes was making intricate patterns before dissipating into the atmosphere. Then something strange happened…

In the midst of the vaporous smoke I saw an image. At first I could not see properly but as I concentrated the image became clearer. It was an image of me! I could see my face so clearly. But it looked so sad, consumed and drained. As I moved closer to look, the face too moved closer. It too was staring intently at me. The spectacle was so mesmerizing. I came very close - face to face - with my dual self! And suddenly I realized that although my body had been burnt, I was not dead but actually alive. Wow! It was such a relief that I wasn't gone and it made me feel really happy. Lo and Behold my vaporous facial counterpart in front of me was suddenly transformed and was smiling ear-to-ear as well. Realization finally dawned on me - I was seeing my own reflection all this time!

I tested my hypothesis. I made myself get angry. But the face in front of me continued to smile. I realized my foolishness in making a rush to judgment and laughed out loudly. Wait a sec - the image in front of me laughed out just in the same way. I finally understood what was going on! The image in front of me was a reflection of how I actually felt, not what I was pretending to feel. It was as if my inner self had taken on a visual form! It was so exciting and I could see the thrill in the eyes of the "inner-self" in front of me too. It was as if I was getting a vivid display of my deep feelings in no uncertain terms. It was an awesome sight.

On seeing all this unfold I thought of Guruji. These kind of weird creations were right up his ally and would be a great multimedia CD material that I am sure he would want somebody to create! And I giggled thinking of what a close friendship I had with my Guru - I used to call him Pagal Safed Dadiwala Guruji (crazy white-bearded Guru) and he used to call me Kali Dadiwala Pagalji (Black Bearded Revered Crazy One). I was flooded with immense loving memories of him. And guess what - his face instantly made an appearance right in front of me in that smoky vapor screen! His portly form always reminded me of a cute baby elephant. As if taking cue from my thoughts, in a flash, he took on the form of a baby elephant and smiled at me. In his usual inimitable way this elephant-guru winked at me and in front of my eyes the scene changed dramatically. I saw him knee-deep in the most exquisite ocean that was covered with an array of beautiful flowers. Swans were swimming peacefully. I could experience the serene pleasure of the environment very vividly. But I had never seen such flowers and could not even "think" or visualize them. So it cannot be my mental creation alone! As I pondered, the answer became apparent. All this was a co-creative interplay of my creation and me. Could this be how the experiential world is created? 

No sooner had the question popped in my head, something bizarre happened. The oceanic view disappeared and in front of me manifested a strange vision - a quirky composite swerving form of a leg and an arm burst out of the smoke screen. It moved so majestically but yet in a totally uncoordinated way. Its movements were fluid but random and unpredictable. I started crying uncontrollably for no assignable reason. The dancing figure moved closer and then suddenly whipped out a hat from thin air and raised it, as if acknowledging me. I felt blessed and empowered beyond description and every pore of my being was erupting with pleasure. I could not take it any more…

And I found myself sitting at the bench in the cemetery. I was dumbfounded by this experience. What was that figure? What was its meaning? I did not know the answers but I did know that I felt rejuvenated and all my worries and negativity were gone. As I got up to leave the burial ground where I was strangely reborn, I saw a really old grave. I somehow felt an urge within me to go closer and check it out. The inscription on the tombstone was so worn out that I could barely read it in the fading light. It read - "Hats Off to the faceless creator who danced with me in life, death and beyond".

This story is dedicated to my little 3-year old friend Raghavan who battles MLD (Metachromatic Leukodystrophy) in Boston, MA. Raghavan, your legs and arms may not have the ability to coordinate; your brain's white cells may be depleting. But we know that you are dancing gracefully and beautifully in complete harmony  with the creator. We are blessed to have every moment of your precious presence in this world. Hats off to you and your parents. God speed! 


More by :  Maalok

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