They say travelling opens your mind. I refuse to stop at just that. I know travelers that have hit the same destinations but haven’t opened their mind an iota. That is because it is not where you go, it is how you go through it that matters. This month has been a lot of travelling and even more learning. My question to you before we start on this journey – When we do something, create something, experience something, how should we do it? My lesson from this month’s travel – Don’t JUST do it.
Beautiful Benaras, oldest existing city, with the Ganga flowing and the vibrant ghats – but what I didn’t know about was what I like to call ‘Assi’tude – an attitude unique to Varanasi.
The cab driver doesn’t know where he is going, but is ok with putting a price and time to it out of thin air and costing the customer time, experience and money, and is completely unapologetic about it. The food is not supposed to be spicy but so totally is, and the restaurant is so completely unapologetic. The press arrives to interview but doesn’t know about or even the name of the speakers but is totally unapologetic about it. Chant the name of the lord with the rosary hidden in an underwear or spit, shit, wash as well as drink from the same Ganga because it is Mother Ganga and we can do anything with it because she is our mother! The tourists want to go for aarti and you don’t know the exact time they should go, so let’s confidently tell them some time and ghats where it happens, so much so that we missed it all! – all chalta hai with no apology. If you thank someone, they give you an angry look. If you point out why something is not on time, price, valued – apne benaras mein tho aise hai!
Doing something for the sake of ticking a box that it’s done or I am doing it is not enough. Doing it well is important. And serving sub-zero standards with no apology and throwing an attitude topped with excuses instead like it’s a favour on me that they exist – that is what I call Assi’tude.
They say people of Benaras are carefree. But Assi’tude is taking it to a whole new level! The chalta hai attitude so prevalent in India has been adapted and morphed to suit some people of Kashi that I encountered.
Of course one can’t judge a place based on a few experiences. In fact I have been to Kashi once before and never noticed it. But this time every experience was about that. So no I am not judging Kashi or the people of Kashi. But the term coined has been inspired from the experiences there. Assi is a famous ghat (bank) in Varanasi. Assitude is coined from the attitude that seems unique to Varanasi. Assitude about Just doing something – just! No other jazz around it! Many call it carefree, I call it utterly careless. Mistakes happen, imperfections exist, but there is no growth in being in denial of it and instead making it a matter of pride. Let’s not JUST do something. Let’s do it with grace & humility..even the mistakes.
2. Vrindavan, Gokul, Mathura
The land of Krishna – the loving beautiful infinite God! He was born in Mathura, brought to Gokul and then brought up in Vrindavan. The entire place and every person there operated out of love for the infinite.
We act for money, for lifestyle, for love for one person and all other reasons, all of which are subject to change and hence subject to death and hence finite! And yet man creates enough greatness from those actions born from and for the love for the finite. Imagine these people acted out of love for infinite. What would be the quality of those actions! Nothing was for the sake of doing. Nothing can be compromised. One can’t JUST do it. It is done and done infinitely well!
Now come to the current Vrindavan, Gokul, Mathura – No sign of Krishna or the love for that infinite except in the lip service of the people and the idols & temples which have lost its purpose of existing. Vendors trying to sell you guide services, flowers, food and every possible thing by shoving it down your throat, pundits trying to exploit as much money as they can from your blind faith and people giving lip service with Radhe – Radhe chants that replace every greeting, goodbye and honking but meaning none of it. Radha is opposite of Dhara. Dhara means flow of stream that flows from high to low. So Radhe means it (thoughts) should flow from lower to higher. But where do you think the thoughts of the people of Krishna’s land are flowing?
No, let’s not JUST do something, simply because it has been done that way. Let’s do it with grace, humility (even the mistakes), and direct ourselves from lower to higher thoughts.
3. Taj Mahal
What is called a symbol of love has been done well but it is still JUST done. Remove the jazz, the people from Taj Mahal and feel the energy of the monument. It is a gloomy energy of a sad women and an arrogant king. There is no love in the symbol of love! It is undeniably stunning from far. But get closer and you feel how literally dark the place is.
So it’s not important to JUST do something because the world says so. Let’s do it with grace, humility (even the mistakes), direct ourselves from lower to higher thoughts and with love.
On the last day of the trip we went to Akshardham in Delhi. Akshardham is a true labour of love, a place not JUST done for the sake of getting it done. The grandness of the place is unimaginable. And no it was not built by some king in the 15th century! It was built in the 21st century! The 100 acres of design, the aesthetics that blew us away, the volunteers’ love & pride in their Guru & vision, the selflessness that exhibits from every red rajasthan stone, the grand light show daily evening aarti, the simplicity in the processes and systems – all of it was spectacular. Every element was beautifully carved and so much that really wasn’t needed but was there to add to the aesthetic experience, to exhibit the perfection in something which is dedicated to vision of oneness, of telling a story, of bringing pride to the country, of making it last for the next 10000 years and the love & devotion oozing out of it all.
Akshardham is a great example of how to do something. Let’s not JUST do something. Let’s do it with grace, humility (even the mistakes), direct ourselves from lower to higher thoughts, with love and devotion.
I had heard so much about the Universal city of Auroville that I couldn’t resist spending my first Diwali and birthday after coming back to India, wanting to see the place. I had great dreams from all that I had read & heard about. Volunteer in places, have great conversations, see the perfect city of peace and service.
But here is a short account of my Auroville experience – the city was shut for the first 2 days for Diwali with no prior notice when we got there or on the website. It was ‘understood’ that it would be. We went around eating, relaxing and talking to people gathering experiences from many in and out of the city.
And what was appalling was the lack of transparency, clarity in thinking, lack of scalability in a vision which was so idealistic that it can’t be true on its own.
Of course, I can’t say I know it all. But a vision which rejects the rest of the world, that does not accommodate all the differences and dynamics of the human mind, with rejection of so called organised religion but in the process creating a system which become a religion (a way of living to master oneself) – that is not what I thought Auroville would be like. But hey! I am not perfect and I know I don’t know it all.
One thing is certain though that creating a physical space which seems to accommodate all needs of man for ‘free’ while assuring quality of life but within the boundaries of a physical space is a prison – the lack of freedom and happiness is evident to any thinking mind that is aware of the nature of matter both sentient and insentient.
So not JUST doing is not about doing something perfectly. That perfection must come from a space of happiness within. Like how moving the furniture around does not mean the stench of the dead rat inside is gone, in the same way unless we get to the cause of the unhappiness within, no external physical space can help. Yes there can be physical spaces that are conducive to discover that happiness. But clarity, freedom, love, happiness are basic building blocks of a space like that. Let’s not JUST do something. Let’s do it with grace, humility (even the mistakes), direct ourselves from lower to higher thoughts, with love, devotion and out of happiness within.
6. Ramana Ashram
Out of a spontaneous trip after, we headed to Ramana Ashram, 2 hours from Auroville. And the simplicity, the clarity and the energy of a Master who lived, breathed and realised in that space -was evident to all and in all present there.
Ramana Maharishi was clear – Self enquiry into Who Am I is the only way. Reading stories, listening to anecdotes, meditating on the Oneness, walking the path – that was the most rejuvenating and uplifting experience of the space.
It wasn’t grand or spectacular or elaborate at all. But it was a space built with the power of knowledge of a Master who lived His life truly revelling in Oneness.
It is difficult to describe a Master’s experience and the experience of being in the presence of his energy. So here is a story, one of many that lifts one’s mind into enquiry. When someone asked him, “if everything is an illusion (which is what the Upanishads declare), then where did this world that we experience come from?” Ramana Maharishi said “the same place that this question came from.” Now think!
That’s why we decided to call him the mic drop sadhu.
Visiting Ramana’s Ashram taught me the ultimate lesson of no, let’s not JUST do anything! Let’s not JUST do something. Let’s do it with grace, humility (even the mistakes), direct ourselves from lower to higher thoughts, with love, devotion, out of happiness within and act with enquiring deeper such that it helps us grow out of action.
I know this is a long post. I might sound very critical of each place here. But my intention here is not to be psychologically judgmental or to ensure political correctness. But my intention is functionally analysing my travel experience to make it a launchpad for greater ways of acting, doing, being. 1 month, 10 places, one agenda – how should one act, do anything. Lesson learnt well I think.