When his son Humayun fell ill, it is believed that the Mughal emperor Babur sat by his bed in deep prayer, communicating with the Divine for a recovery. Bamber Gascoigne writes in The Great Moghuls: India’s Most Flamboyant Rulers how the aging man sat in despair, consulting wise men for advice, along the river Jumna. Babur was advised to part away with “his most precious possession”, which he interpreted as giving up his own life. In the eastern tradition, it is believed that by transferring one’s positive karma the ailing can be restored to health and life. While facts may cast away an incident of this nature, Babur seemed to have transferred his son’s illness to himself. While Humayun recovered, and later became the second Emperor of the Mughal Empire, Babur passed away. His last words to his son, it is believed were, “do naught against your brothers, even though they may deserve it”, an advice that the sensitive Humayun followed throughout his living and ruling years.
Although instances in history are open to criticism and reformation, some, such as the one mentioned above, I hope are established as true, time and again. I have vested interests; I have often been called a romantic, if not of the kind that dabbles in love affairs, but of the kind whose perception is coloured and whose expectations are not pragmatic. It also means my inability to demonstrate interest in the affairs of the ordinary world, and most commonly, it is a euphemization for being naïve, immature, and refusing to grow up and take responsibilities as deemed appropriate for an adult. To preserve myself from this continuous assault, which comes from immediate people in my life and strangers, I have to seek asylum. Quite often, these places of refuge include reading; at other times, an escape into nothingness where I cease to exist thereby dissolving all that can be traced back to me.
I believe in the transformative power of these innocuous narratives that, when one comes across, have the potential to reinstate faith. Without these entities, inbuilt as they are, with a flair for grandness, a desire to expunge control, and the quick addressing of a larger inexplicable power, life, at least for me, would lose its preciousness. Some of us, still seek in the material reality and in the abstract concept of the mind, explanations that cannot be provided by facts and figures, certainly not by looking at the world as if one stands at its centre. So, when I gather books, I gather them with a inner guiding compass that lifts those compositions that do not conclude; that do not dictate for the reader what to think of or infer but leaves her alone, at her own disposal to make meaning that is justified solely because she chooses it to be so.
Another narrative that has inspired me, and I have quite often written about it, is the communication that the American poet Ruth Stone has established with poems. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, The Signature of All Things and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear talks about it in her Ted talk Your Elusive Creative Genius,
“I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.”
Like Ruth Stone, I run toward the idea of feeling safe in the playfulness of ordinary things, which bear extraordinary value. Like the other day, a three-year-old soon turning four, lifted her little body and placed herself at my feet to tickle them; to which after the initial refrain, I had to feign being tickled, contracting my body into tumultuous contortions, playing pretend to avoid her incoming ‘monstrous’ fingers, as if her little hands had succeeded in making me submit my adulthood. Or the time, when she asked me, “Why can’t you pack your workplace and work from here [Chennai]?” a question for which I knew no practical answer and failed to think of one, and so I hugged her instead. There is, after all, no one protocol that can be consulted with, for individuals to base their predispositions and personalities.
Quite often, when I extend my gratitude to the far vicissitudes of the universe, I am grateful for the possession of a ‘weak’ heart; for despite the discomforts of living, it has persisted on listening to the open dialogues that have survived reduction, analysis, and wanting finality. I am grateful for turning at the right time, to the insignificant, to the treasure right beneath my nose, so that when opportunities present themselves, I can be there to ‘catch the poem by its tail’ and transcribe. I am grateful that there are guiding lights right ahead of me that show the way to becoming and being ‘romantic’, who have lived that way despite criticism, condemnation, or disbelieved.
In the 2017 Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, Diana stands tall in front of a raging Ares and says, “It’s not about ‘deserve’. It’s about what you believe” (emphasis mine). This part stands out for me, particularly reaffirming my faith in the necessity to preserve oneself against the ever-penetrative bandwagons of social control, political subversion and moral dictatorship.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow implores to take refuge in a home, “Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest; Home-keeping hearts are happiest”; Babur took his final refuge at the Bagh-e-Babur, where he rests today among maple and fruit trees, pools of water, and lavish intricate ornamental-work. With a book in hand, I exit the manmade factions and fictions and enter a place where peace is the underlying state and above it are built lives, old and young. When it is needed that I return to the ‘real’ world, I still have a leg carefully placed in the other world, just in case.