Booked & Hooked

Have you played book cricket? I am sure most of you would have for that is the ideal way to put books to good use in school and college, particularly when post-lunch classes are on. Also, scoring runs with a textbook is a lot easier than scoring marks with it. In my case, being a book-addict, over time, the childhood habit of book-cricket had morphed from a playful indulgence to almost an all-consuming obsession. I tell you, there is nothing better in a dull or idle moment than opening a book, be it even a dictionary, at random and feeling the fresh fragrance of new words and ideas or the familiar caress of known ones emanating from that page!

I play this sport daily in many paper arenas of varying shapes and shades and I have my favourites in every genre, from Amar Chitra Katha comics to literary tomes. Not that I understand or remember whatever I read, but it definitely gives an other worldly feel, a distraction from the routine and actually an excursion, albeit short, into some fantasy. Or may be books are where you see reality with authors at their natural best and their experiences more explicitly expressed. At the least, whatever your age, a book on hand, even if you are only flipping, certainly adds to your intellectual aura. You see, I can already visualise the admiring glint in your eyes and let me complete the exchange programme by returning the compliment to all of you, fellow B-cricket players.

The flavour of the past few weeks for me has been Swami Vivekananda. Though the larger setting was the renowned Swamiji’s 150th year birthday celebs, the immediate provocation was an invitation from a city college to speak on the Swamiji. Though I am more comfortable firing verbal salvos from behind a column in perfect physical anonymity, this saffron-clad icon of modern India was too irresistible. Believe me, the Swamiji never leaves my side, being a part of my kit always. But still, here was an opportunity to revisit in leisurely detail and why not? Though the intimation had come much in advance for a slow and steady read, as D-day drew near, my book-cricket habit took over, turning into a tense 20-20 game till function time called it stumps. The inexhaustible Swamiji keeps expanding to fill time and mindspace and therein lies his greatness. To have produced so profuse, prolific and profound an output in so short a life span is indeed a miracle.

Such prodigies defy traditional theories of mental evolution and strengthen the notion of karmic carry forward, Sanatana Dharma’s cornerstone, as their advent and advance can only be explained as a continuum from an unknowable pre-birth past. Swamiji himself was a Vedantist to the core and gave Hinduism a fresh feel and a new direction and dimension at a time when it was caught between oppressive orthodoxy on one side and overzealous self-styled reformers on the other, not to speak of centuries of assault from marauding foreign faiths. He conquered the West with his spiritual prowess and command of their own tongue while the West was busy swallowing up the East in imperial fervour. And when the colonisers had convinced this enslaved people that they deserved only to be ruled and ‘civilised’, Swamiji boldly stood up to call their bluff by invoking India’s timeless historical, spiritual and intellectual glory and genius. He thus restored to a forgetful nation its lost memories and a subjugated nation its self-respect and it was on the framework he provided that the possibility of a politically free nation took shape. In that, he was a symbol of national assertion and no one gives a picture of Bharat’s antiquity, its present plight and problems and a future vision as Swamiji does.

At a micro level too, his relevance is everlasting. The challenges and confusions facing the human mind, be he an ancient caveman, or a warrior like Arjuna or an ultra-modern whiz kid are the same. Swami V gives simple recipes for overcoming mental fatigue and weakness and stresses on strength, of body, mind and character. In fact, his credo is man-making, and through that nation building. I have often wondered at our strange, self-defeating secular logic behind keeping away the Swamiji’s works from our formal educational curriculum. But thankfully, this lapse has been more than made up by the dissemination of his writings by various institutions. The Ramakrishna Mission particularly delivers all of his works, wholly and in convenient parts and places at affordable, rather, throwaway, prices the lofty goal being the benefit of as many readers as possible. A tiny booklet, Powers of the Mind, cost just Rs 7/-( one often gets a discount on that too on specific days!), a small price considering the disproportionately fabulous ‘returns’ on it. In fact it is such a steal and a killer deal that one risks being compared to those who sold spectrum or coal for a song or someone else who just imported VIP helicopters from Italy.

I can offer any number of Swami Vivekananda’s quotes here. But I have a better idea. Buy your own copies and read as many of his lines as possible every day. If time is at a premium, as it usually is, at least play book-cricket and lap up the words of practical wisdom that leap out. Whatever the page number or their aggregate, I am sure, you would score really high in the present day and perennially in life!

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Jawahar T R