Whenever I am not in my positive frame of mind, I withdraw into myself. I sit on my balcony in the dead of night or in the silence of a sleepy afternoon.
On one such night as I sat quietly, watching the passing clouds, listening to one distant cry of a bird, feeling the mild breeze and watching the swaying of the Debdaru tree in the garden, I suddenly remembered Shantanu. Shantanu is a sanyasi (monk) now, with a different name after being anointed, having renounced his worldly life. He is heading a Mission in Austria, is fairly well known and has an impressive body of work.
Many years back, when Shantanu had just joined a renowned Mission in Kolkata (Calcutta), I happened to be passing through the city. I decided to look him up and find out how he was doing. Also the Mission was on the banks of the Ganges which was an added attraction.
Shantanu was very busy and I was to wait till the end of the day to be able to see him. I attended the evening arati (prayers offered to the deity) at the temple and walked up to the river bank. Sun sets early in Kolkata. I was waiting for Shantanu on the banks of Ganges as dusk fell and the birds went silent. Only the launches were hooting as I saw glimmers of lights and silhouettes of people being transported across. The gentle lapping of the water on the banks, the little lights, sudden cries of night birds and the light breeze were so divine.
It took me back to our carefree days of family gatherings, friends, fun and affection. Coming from similar backgrounds, Shantanu and I had ambitions and aspirations that were pretty much the same. But life has its quirks. Both of us faced series of major upheavals which turned our lives literally upside down. Some time later Shantanu decided to renounce the worldly life and not without reason. We were losing our loved ones in quick succession, as if we were a calamity for those around us.
I was jolted out of my reverie as Shantanu’s footsteps came closer climbing down the steps of the river bank. I was seeing him in the attire of a monk for the first time and it was eerie. As I stared at him, he smiled and sat down next to me. Both of us were in no mood to talk so we sat quietly on the steps, staring at the flowing waters. Memories can be so vocal in silence. Time also respects such poignancy.
He sensed my mood and smiled. ‘Are you able to handle your life better this way?’ I just shrugged. We both were convinced that we were calamitous for people we were close to. He chose the path of serving humanity through divinity and I went for social activism. ‘We are both on the path willed to us, you know’, he said quietly. I nodded. It was really dark and time to leave. I had a long way to go. As I drove out of the Mission, I saw Shantanu turning to walk back.
I remembered that over the years we had tutored ourselves to either turn back or keep a safe distance from those we were close to, for their sake. I don’t know about Shantanu, but it is not only difficult to explain this logic to anyone you would sincerely want to, it can really get painful. But that is life and I have learnt to come to terms with it. The downside is that one makes fewer good friends.
As Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the renowned Bengali saint, said, ‘The world is indeed a mixture of truth and make-believe. Discard the make-believe and take the truth.’ However tough it may be, but in all certainty, it is my right path and I have accepted my destiny.