It is the jewel in the crown of the Dubai Marina. Perhaps it is the most photographed structure in Dubai. The lilting call to prayer from its minarets adds to the oriental charm of the city and its residents who are here from all over the world and are of all faiths.
Meeting The Snow Leopard
Some books wait like a dream at corners of our lives. One such book is The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. It was waiting for me on a table in the living room of my daughter’s apartment in Dubai. I really have grown too old for new books. I picked up the book with scepticism and whoosh I was away on a soul searching journey with Peter Matthiessen. He is a yogi of the written word. I have read books but not enough to understand the great references made in this spiritual journey journal but I do get the drift.
Sitting in the balcony with the traffic sound like that of a Niagara from the Sheikh Zayed highway and the sun beaming off the glass tops of the buildings facing me and hitting my book like a table lamp’s concentrated rays, I had a feeling of being at one with the world, the Marina down below, the boats gliding over the still water, the sea gulls floating, the parachutists jumping from planes across the bay, the joggers taking life in gulps of fresh air and the boatmen washing the pretty cruisers of the marina residents. The restaurants have yet to open and old men on benches are waiting for the sun to hit them.
I continue to read the book and really begin to have an amused smile at Matthiessen’s tortured desire to nail the eel of existence/life/soul/god/cosmos; don’t we Indians have a perception of the truth instinctively or rather through religious learning through mythology, prayers, Ramayana stories told by mothers, grandmothers both maternal and paternal, Krishna stories, Mahabarata learning, a recital of all the granths while we are passing through streets of cluttered worshipers. Our understanding of Karma, fate and existence is there and we cannot explain it because of any books we have read or any lectures we listened to; to this he sort of agrees in seeing the one learned sherpa–on their quest for the bhural the blue sheep. It is a typical white man’s quest to find primordial universal answers from watching sheep making love. It just goes to prove that reading an extreme number of books does not still qualify you in that childhood party game of pinning the tail while blindfolded. On the other hand a tinge of distrust of Hindus sneaks in with the way he approaches Buddhists with love and rather with a pinched nose when he handles, ‘the Hindu.’
Like everyone else I am enamoured by tales of travelling that lead to self realisation the most classic being the rip roaring success The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This is of the same genre but the learning here is in the gems placed throughout the journey by the author on surprising corners of the book. One feels the cold thin air climbing up in the mountains close to the Himalayas through Nepal and Tibet.
I discover the power of OM Mani Padme Hum through Peter Matthiessen’s revelations about his encounters with the Buddhist religion.It was a bit eerie that I had brought Innocents Abroad and My Cousin Rachel as reading material both of which contain journeys of discovery.
(The CIA chose a very sensitive person for once to act as their undercover agent and Matthiessen’s cover was as one of the founders of the Paris Review.)
Whatever the story behind the man, he was a sensitive soul in tune with the Himalayan mountains and Buddhism. I am grateful to him for introducing me to esoteric concepts that I may never have understood if it had not been for his explanations. The book is studded with religious and philosophical gems and glimpses into Tibetan culture and here I leave a few samples:-
“The Holy Grail is what Zen Buddhists call our own ‘true nature’; each man is his own saviour after all.”
Enlightenment or prajna(pre-enlightenment?) for a man or woman is explained thus-’A profound vision of his identity with universal life, past, present, and future, that keeps man from doing harm to others and sets him free from fear of birth-and-death.’
Tibetan Book of the Dead–”a guide for the living, actually, since it teaches that a man’s last thoughts will determine the quality of his reincarnation.”
“As the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain, so the little earthly life hides from the glance the enormous lights and mysteries of which the world is full, and he who can draw it away from before his eyes, as one draws away a hand, beholds the great shining of the inner worlds”–Rabbi Nachmann of Bratzlav.
“When you are ready, Buddhists say, the teacher will appear.”
In the end I learned a great motto which I feel I knew in the back of my mind but now had been verbalised with two words–”Expect Nothing”–’Eido Roshi had warned me on the day I left.’
Tray of New Gods
I used to be an obedient stand –behind- my -wife kind of sender of prayers to our Hindu pantheon of Gods. I admit in the beginning it was my entire fault. Everything that went wrong with my life was my fault. Still my Gods did fail me. They made other people millionaires and not me, why? They say Mongol genes are running rampant in ninety percent of Asia’s population. So maybe Ganesha does not approve of my Genghis Khan chromosomes. Anyway things are not working.
I came to this northern city chasing an IT dream. I must admit I have a good job and a good wife. Things froze at that. I am caught in a strange vortex of infrastructure failure. It’s my fault. Why did I live in cities where things worked? Getting bad habits is so easy.
Now people hate me for complaining about the lack of electricity in Gurgaon. “Grow up man, this is part of life.” My work is all deadline based. My life depends on the internet. Some senior manager got netted in by the beautiful legs and smile of a senior executive of a new Internet provider company. I have to work now at a snail’s pace as a consequence because the net (pun intended) result has been bad. My lap top gets all heated up because of the hot cabin I sit in. It just shuts up.
I decided to change my Gods. The old ones were not working.
“What are these things in the prayer tray?” asked my wife. Let me explain the prayer system. Incense is burnt in the tray and an oil lamp is lit. Then the tray is swung in a circular motion in front of the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. There is a deity for each of our demands in life. These deities are as human as real people to Hindus having heard very interesting stories about Krishna, Ganesha, Shiva, Parvati, Rama, Sita, Laxman and Hanuman. The mythology exists in two books read by every devout Hindu-The Ramayana and The Mahabaratha. Today there are numerous television plays enlightening viewers about stories of these great Gods.
My wife’s question reverberated in the prayer room. ‘What are these things in the prayer tray?’
“The God of Electricity represented by my old voltmeter and the Internet God represented by photographs of Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, the Fathers of the Internet.”
Immediately there was a Schism in our home. She immediately pulled out her Gods from the tray. Now I understood how religions split into rival factions.
“At least give me that one tiny Ganesha’ I begged her
‘You are a heretic. I will make a report to our Punditjee (priest)’ my wife said.
I put my Gods on a separate tray and burned some incense. That day the internet ran with the speed of lightning and there was no electricity failure.
This is it. I am forming a new religion. People will flock to me. I surveyed other pitfalls in my life. My bank account! Lakshmi was unhappy with me. I clipped out an old photograph of Warren Buffet and put it in a tiny frame. This I placed on my tray of new gods. As an after thought I added Mukesh Ambani and Azim Premji. Next day I got bonus shares from all the companies I had invested in. This was working.
I was the new Messiah. I had seen the light.
I could fix any thing with my prayers. The population! I should fix the population. I stuck a family planning red triangle on a cardboard and placed that too on the tray. My wife looked at me. She thought I was going mad. I remembered Joan of Arc. She too was scoffed at but made a saint after her death. I went to sleep happy. I liked the idea of my beatification.
Alas my world came crashing down next morning. ‘I’m pregnant’ said my wife. I looked at the red triangle in disappointment. The Sensex lost a thousand points the same morning. The color red flowed entirely through my holdings. The office generator packed up just after the net stopped working. I took out my old booklet of Hanuman Chaleesa and my string of 108 beads.
“Jai Hanuman Gyan Goon Sagar—-.” Just then my boss walked in. He admired my stoic nature in the office. I was praying in the disastrous situation while others were wailing and crying at the lack of electricity and the internet.
I got that long pending promotion. I threw away the volt meter and respectfully stowed away the photographs and the red triangle. My place has been restored behind my wife in the prayer room and the infidel tray thrown on to the scrap heap.