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The otherworld is not enough

india Updated: Jan 13, 2011 22:04 IST
Aditya Sen

I guess you're a family man or woman whose idea of dipping into the spiritual side of things is hanging on to every word uttered by a man dressed in Gandalf White with a wispy beard telling you in a reedy voice how to practise the art of living. I would also venture to guess that your idea of a man of religion is someone who's relinquished all worldly things except the basics that include staying alive.

But Narendranath Datta, born 150 years ago on January 12, 1863, and who gave up on domestic life at the age of 24 to become Swami Vivekananda, not only refused to keep the world at bay but actually went out of his way to celebrate this physical world.

Vivekananda was no Gandhi obsessed with purifying souls. He wanted to maximise life and strengthen lives. At the death of a relative, Vivekananda was found to be in tears. When asked whether it suited a monk to show sorrow, he replied, "A monk has to be even more sensitive and open to emotions than others."

Vivekananda, the snuff-snorting, food-loving, cricket-playing (he played a street version of the game that was simply known as ‘batomball') Vedanta scholar and disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, was no mere metaphysical but a champion of the physical world. This was a swami known for cooking American fish chowder, Norwegian fish balls, English boarding house hash and minced pie a la Kashmir.

This man, whose two favourite books were The Bhagwat Gita and Thomas Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, said before his death at the age of 39: "You will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita." No world-rejecting guruji was this.

Aditya Sen is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.