Saturday, August 30, 2014

People Who Leave Things Behind for Greater Freedom and Happiness: Some Un-Celebrated Stories

(Anton Chekhov)

You all may know that famous story by Anton Chekhov, in which he tells the story of a young barrister who gets into a bet of entering into self imposed solitary confinement for  fifteen years. Titled ‘The Bet’, finally sees the young lawyer who argues solitary confinement is better than capital punishment, after his prolonged confinement in a sealed room where one could give him food and books through a small window that shows only the hands of the giver, leaving the room unnoticed by anyone before the formal ending of his tenure in confinement, even eschewing the bet money of two million rubles. Dawning of wisdom has prompted his fleeing. He realizes the flimsiness of human life and the futility of money.  He does not feel that he was making a great sacrifice. He could not have done otherwise. He is destined to be ‘free’ after those fifteen years of asking the pivotal questions: Who am I? What money would do to me? You may also remember ‘The Walls’, a story by Vaikom Muhammed Basheer where by the end of his jail term the freed protagonist asks, Who wants freedom? He is in love within the walls of the jail, with a woman in the women’s ward, whom he ‘sees’ only by her voice heard from the other side.

(The Bet in an artist's imagination)

Not in everyone’s life such wisdom makes its appearance. None realizes the fact that life cannot be replaced with life and freedom or love with ‘freedom’ at all. One could find freedom in confinement and once they are freed, they no longer want the freedom that the materialistic world offers to them. They have found it elsewhere; mostly in themselves. It is surprising to know that even today there are people, often unsung and recognized, who leave their vocations and careers for ‘freedom’ after realizing the triviality of the pursuit behind the so called happiness that comes only with the accumulation of material wealth. They, after a prolonged self questioning, one fine morning decide to leave everything behind and become something else. They recognize their real calling at some point in their lives and decide to quit what they have been doing so far. If you read the book ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ by Rashmi Bansal you would come across many such people who have left their colorful and rich careers for something down to earth and more humane. Rashmi Bansal shows the examples of a few sharp brains, who after graduating from  cream institutes like IIT and IIMs, and also after pursuing a career that gives them hefty pay packets, doing something totally different and finding their freedom, satisfaction and of course success. However, even in this book success is something that is related to their wealth generation, if not for themselves but for a larger community. But the fact is that we cannot outrun material wealth or negate it altogether for total deliverance and liberation. Then, success and freedom should be seen in context; maximum happiness to maximum people, perhaps unto the last, through the ways one is capable of.

(Cover page of Stay Hungry Stay Foolish by Rashmi Bansal)

‘Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’ could be another way of telling you how you could also become ‘successful’.  Their success is measured by what they have achieved after their transformation. But there are people in small little corners of our country (as seen elsewhere), totally unassuming and doing something absolutely different from what they are ‘cut out’ for through their education. They may not make ‘good’ copies or worth following examples as they do not make too much of the alternative market they have either created or entered after their sojourn in the mainstream market. They are happy in their small little rented rooms and are also happy in doing what they are doing. It is a way of finding freedom and happiness. I happened to meet one such person one of these days as one of my young friends decided to take me to a person who he thinks that I should have met even earlier. This young man, Amritjude Vijayan, a Siddha doctor came to know about me through his mother who was my high school teacher. He started following me in facebook and blogs and became an ardent admirer. He admires me, in his own admittance, for the way I take things without getting too excited. Our friendship developed through facebook conversations about the history of our village.

(Shantakumari Teacher, her husband and grandchild)

Amritjude comes home sharp at three in the afternoon. I sit ready as I know that as a doctor he would keep his time. He picks me up from my home and we go to pick up his four year old son from his school and reach their home within fifteen minutes time. I meet Shanthakumari teacher, who looks a little bit aged but keeping her enthusiasm like a very strict teacher that she always has been. She is an ardent learner and speaks a very dignified Malayalam. Amritjude’s father is also there and he knows me only from ‘stories’ he has heard about me. I recount the stories of my school days and remind her how strict a teacher she was. She gives me a benevolent smile and tells me that she had taken a policy to keep the boys under total ‘control’ by terrorizing them. “If boys are under control then teaching becomes very smooth,” she tells with a smile. I look at her.  Years have made some changes on her face, but I think she remains the same teacher, who used to wear round gold frame reading glasses. May be today, the frame of her spectacles is different in shape and color but I see her as she used to be in those days. We all look at the school building that is seen from the sitting room of their house and for a moment all we go silent. Years come landing silently between us and take off in another moment giving a fleeting sense of those good old days. I humbly mention about my attempt to do a PhD and she is so happy to hear it. Then she tells me that at the age of fifty four, at least five years before, she took one more MA in Sociology. This time it is my turn to feel proud of my teacher and I note it down in my mind that next time, perhaps, she would tell me that she has already enrolled for another MA or even for a PhD.

(Dr.Amritjude Vijayan and Dr.Divya Amritjude)

Receiving her blessings with all humility, I get into Amritjude’s car and he is eloquent on Siddha as a discipline. He tells me how he uses his knowledge of Siddha to create a holistic life style for his patients. His wife too is a Siddha doctor and both of them live a simple life, by doing right from cleaning their hospital to giving physiotherapy to the patients all by themselves. Amritjude also records medicinal plants with his video recorder, edits and gives a voice over as if the plant itself is speaking and posts them in youtube. Besides, he writes a blog and posts in his website titled . He and his wife do free consultation online for patients who approach them through their website or facebook. Amritjude recognized his calling almost ten years back, when he was an Information Technology professional. He left a lucrative career behind to study Siddha medicine and now he tells me that he has found his calling. With the help of a few like-minded people he conducts workshops about holistic living with no ‘religious’ hangover attached to it. He believes in a kind of spiritualism that comes from the primary belief that body is a temple. If the body is treated like a temple then the spiritual pursuit becomes much easier. As he drives on, he tells me more about Siddha medicine not as a doctor but more like a budding philosopher. He tells me that when he finishes shooting a medicinal plant with his video camera, by the time he finishes with it, he feels that he is touched by a gentle breeze and he completely believes that this is the way the plant speaking to him. I tend to believe it because I can believe in it.

(Sreekanda Kumar Pillai)

Amritjude tells me that he wants me to meet Sreekanda Kumar Pillai. The name sounds a bit long and I imagine that I am going to meet an ‘old man’. But in Kazhakkoottam, a small town near Trivandrum, near a temple, there is a row of buildings and on the first floor of one of them in a small room but complete with an air-conditioner and two desk top computers when I meet Sreekanda Kumar, suddenly I feel that he is very young and he is really young. Hailing from a not so rich family he did his schooling in a village in Karette, near Attingal. Good in studies and inclined to technology, he obtained admission for computer engineering in the Regional Engineering College, Trivandrum and once finished with his degree soon he found himself in the US working for Infosys. Ten long years he spent there in the US and came back without picking up an ‘accent’. He did not want to be leashed by the covetable name tag of a techie. He did not want to eat too many burgers and also did not want to spell names in the US way. He came back to Kerala and he knew that he could start his own ‘business’ in a small way by writing a technical blog that offered solutions for software issues. It was not holding his mind for long. He was yearning for something else. He wanted to become much simpler. So he became a web designer; many rungs lower than a computer engineer would like to stand even without a decent job. As he was doing web designing, as he was/is inclined to Indian spiritual literature and traditional literature, he found that not that much ancient wisdom was available online that too in Malayalam language.

Sreekanda Kumar Pillai, whom his close friends call ‘Sree’, realized that collecting ancient and spiritual literature and making them available online in Malayalam language was his life’s mission. He started doing it in a small way, initially with the help of a friend and later with occasional volunteers like Amritjude, and later all by himself. He titled it Today, you could read a treasure trove of spiritual literature in Malayalam online free in this website. It offers biographies in pdf, in word format, and also homes a lot of enlightening articles, essays and scholarly studies. A section is particularly devoted for recorded spiritual and literary discourses in mp3 and videos. Anybody who even searches in such topics in English and happen to be a Malayali could reach this site as it is designed for other language crawlers too. Now he single handedly runs a foundation called Sreyas Foundation in order to popularize ancient and spiritual literature in Malayalam. He finds funds for his activities from his web designing job and also from the money that he gets by doing some consultancy job. Sreekanda Kumar is just another young man in the street, one may find if one happens to see him in the street. But he works relentlessly and with all diligence. I think he is happy and his happiness is reflected in his smile and demeanor. Importantly, in our short but meaningful meeting we never talked a word about money!

Haven’t you seen such people in your village too, who have not be celebrated so far? Yes, but they do not do any of their activities to become celebrities. I think I have found two young friends who want to give what they could gather to the world rather than taking too much from it. Their taking is in a different sense; they take from what we do not often heed; from plants to palm leaves scriptures. And I sit silently as Amritjude drives back home under a thick rain and a cover of darkness that is dispelled by a pair of strong headlights.

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