The Starry Heavens Above and the Moral Law Within
Worldview and self-view are the two poles between which the mind oscillates. What these poles mean to an individual is of vital importance. The difficulty is that these poles evolve throughout life – they initially develop and then grow, depending on the work and the people around, and eventually become fixed, so much so that people become restricted and even dysfunctional in their lives. I share here my worldview and self-view – what these are and how they were formed, with the hope that it triggers you to articulate yours. =
I will start with the worldview. It starts with chauvinism. Every child is a prince/ princess. The ego is the axis around which everything else must revolve. Children in poor families learn coping and adaptation a little earlier than those who are born in affluent families. But many people, rich and poor, never learn to deal with reality and live deluded lives, trying to change things and the people around them as per their likes and dislikes, wasting almost their entire life force in vain. Most addictions are rooted in this false sense of importance that people give to themselves.
I was born in the inner city of Meerut, the new world for the “old city.” I was the first child of my parents, with a doting paternal grandmother in addition. Even my maternal grandmother and her sister were kind to me, and I grew up as a pampered child. My illusions started breaking as I went to school. I was bad at sports – even the normal hand-eye coordination required to hit pebbles on target and fly kites was missing. I learnt cycling post high school, more out of shame than any enthusiasm.
Academically, I excelled. Studying in the Hindi medium, I cleared every class in the “first division,” which meant 60% marks in the 1960s. I got admission to Engineering on merit, but my handicap of not studying in the English medium burst in my face without delay and with full force. My first year was more of a survival – I was quick to learn subjects, but spelling mistakes would mar my answer sheets like food stains on a tablecloth. It was only in Machine Drawing that I could secure my first ‘A’ Grade, because there was no language involved. I captured the first and third angle views of objects without difficulty.
Determined to learn English, I started reading novels – my first one was The Vulture is a Patient Bird by James Hadley Chase. I bought a second-hand copy for two rupees. It took me more than a month to finish the 160-page book. I had to consult Bhargava’s English-to-Hindi-dictionary at least once every page. It was the story of a safe-breaker, a beautiful lady, an expert young hunter, and an ace pilot with a shady past, who formed a team to steal a priceless antique ring from a millionaire’s closely guarded fortress in a remote place in Africa.
As the story built up, my need to consult the dictionary came down. New words started looking familiar as the events unfolded. The team succeeded in stealing the ring, but three members died one by one, as the millionaire had laced it with poison. Whoever wore the ring, died. By the time I read The Godfather written by Mario Puzo, a year later, I replaced the English-to-Hindi dictionary with a Merriam-Webster English-to-English one, sold by the University library at a 50% subsidy.
After graduating in mechanical engineering, I was hired as a Teaching Associate with an option to do Masters. I consider those the golden years of my life. I had a 1 BHK house given by the university, rode a bicycle, and spent a minimum of three hours in the sprawling university library. There was some esoteric attraction in the form of the books in the Humanities section and I would read about ancient Greek and later, Western philosophy for no rhyme or reason. As soon as I completed my Masters, I got selected to work in the DRDO and relocated to Hyderabad.
I was fascinated by the large corridors of the Missile Laboratory where I was posted. The fortress-like gates, security guards, the pomp of the Military rank-holding officers moving around, and heavy-duty armoured vehicles, some of them with wheels as big as my height, were surreal. But I was not intimidated. I could speak English fluently and with a natural flavour of wit and sarcasm that I never knew when and from where I acquired. Maybe it was latent and finally manifested? I used to speak my mind, not very common for Junior Officers. I was spotted by Dr. A.P.J. Kalam, the director there, perhaps for that.
He assigned me the task of developing a titanium air bottle for a surface-to-air missile. During this work, I interacted with metallurgists, visited the Bharat Heavy Plate and Vessels Limited in Visakhapatnam, the IIT, Madras, and finally, in August 1985, the Aérospatiale in France. This was my first air travel. One week in France, visiting Paris, Clermont-Ferrand, and Bordeaux, opened my mind. No one spoke English there. French people speak French and excel in their lives in every aspect without any difficulty, or rather, with ease. Later, when I went to China, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy, no one spoke English there either.
So, I learnt that, in the world, strength respects strength. And all strong people, or nations, are proud of their language. Our biggest handicap is our disrespect for our mother tongue. Because English gives people a ticket to success in India, it is seen as a mark of superiority. In some families, parents converse with their children in English. The tragedy is that even the best education in English will not make you think in English, articulate feelings, and thoughts, and capture your intuitions. Your DNA will communicate to you through your flesh and impulses using the mother tongue and not in English. So, this is a tragedy of modern India that we think, feel and work in different languages while discarding our mother tongue, more out of necessity.
The purpose of life is expanding your consciousness. Reading books and traveling play a very important role in this regard. Some fortunate people have mentors in their lives. I had Dr. Kalam mentoring me and consider it as my biggest blessing. Know yourself as your DNA. Live in sync with the environment around you, and eat food that is fresh, simple, and inexpensive. All exotic food that reaches you through long supply chains, processed with preservatives is, indeed, an assault on your autoimmune system. Oily and spicy food colour your temperament. And above all have an open-mind.
The German philosopher and one of the central Enlightenment thinkers, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), famously wrote in The Critique of Practical Reason these words, also engraved in German on his tombstone, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” Let your mind be anchored to the idea of your divine essence inside and your connection with the immense universe outside. Keep using your mother tongue as much as possible and read its literature, for it would resonate with the experiences of your ancestors embedded in your DNA. And be mindful that life is not about thinking alone; life is about feeling. Feel life and respond to the tasks it assigns to you and it will guide you to glory! That is what enlightenment is, if such a word must be there.
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