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Gratitude for the daily disquiet

When a life-anchor passes on, it’s hard for those still around not to feel bereft. We can rationalise all we will, but emotional need makes every one of us fragile anyway. Books of bland theory and cold reason don’t always warm our hearts for most of us need straightforward reassurance about our lives in everyday terms.

india Updated: May 01, 2011 00:53 IST

When a life-anchor passes on, it’s hard for those still around not to feel bereft. We can rationalise all we will, but emotional need makes every one of us fragile anyway. Books of bland theory and cold reason don’t always warm our hearts for most of us need straightforward reassurance about our lives in everyday terms.

Somebody else said so bluntly over 600 years ago in India and many still live by his words, indeed a whole sect is named after him: Pothi padh-padh kar jag mua, pandit bhayo na koye; Dhai aakhar prem ke, jo padhe so pandit hoye (Many go to their death no wiser for all their reading; but those barely lettered in loving service attain wisdom).

What is that wisdom? Lack of greed, if we arrange Kabir’s couplets like answers to frequently asked questions: Sayeen itna deejiye, ja mein kutumb samaye; Main bhi bhookha na rahun, sadhu na bhookha jaye. (Give me enough, O Lord, to feed my family, so I shall never want nor shall the guest at my door). So not only is the living to be found in our daily doing, it’s in being nice to others, he says.)

How do we enable this lack of want and therefore of worry? Kabir so dhan sanchiye, jo aage ko hoye; Sees charaye potli, le jaat na dekhya koye (Save enough for the immediate future but not too much, for whoever saw anyone go with a bundle on their head?) is his sturdy reality-check. We must work for the big picture but we ourselves can take nothing. So, beyond a reasonable threshold, let go comfortably, nothing can stay ‘ours’, nor was it ever really ours. This couplet further says: Chinta aisee dakini, kat kaleja khaye; Vaid bichara kya kare, kahan tak dawa lagaye (Worry is the dacoit that cuts out and eats our heart; what can the poor physician do, how far can he dress that wound?).

What’s the plan then, to get by through the horrors of life? Kabir’s endgame, endorsed by the whole Bhakti chorus: the Name, the Name, the only protective cover and handholder in Kaliyug, here’s how it works: Dukh mein sumiran sab kare, sukh mein kare na koye; Jo sukh mein sumiran kare, toh dukh kahe ko hoye (We remember God always in grief but rarely in joy; if we but thank God during the good times, can sorrow ever befall us?).

Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture