For every human life comes a moment when mortality stares it in the face. For me it came last autumn, when I went to my hometown of Nagpur. My last visit had been three years before, when I had gone to tend to my dying mother. Now I was returning.
But for the first time in my life, there was no one eagerly awaiting my arrival. As the plane hovered over the green fields, I looked down at the large throng gathered on the terrace atop the airport building.
For my first visit from America, I recalled, an army of uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends had been waiting in that same spot. A total solar eclipse had been in full force that day, and scientists and astrologers alike had issued dire warnings for people not to venture out.
But as our plane landed, darkness had lifted and a sliver of sunshine had bathed it in a white glow. As I walked down the stairs of the airplane and into the terminal, my mother had exclaimed, “I said I will risk going blind; I will chance bad omens from the eclipse, but I will go to welcome my daughter.”
This time, only a cousin was waiting for me at the gate. He took me to the house of a childhood friend.
After much persuasion, my brother came to see me there the next day. Within minutes, it became clear that he felt betrayed and embittered, because I had not been there for him when he needed me the most. I had been preoccupied with the responsibilities of my own family, I tried to explain, even as, deep inside me, I felt guilty for not having done more for him and my parents. But now it was too late. Now I could never tell my parents that I loved them.
So I wanted to tell it to my brother, their surrogate. But he no longer wanted such intimacy with me; he no longer needed me.
After he was gone, my friend pointed out the back window of her house and said, “See that!” I gazed at a large apartment building standing now in place of where my childhood home had once been.
Something snapped inside me at the sight.
I went on a long walk that night, on a stroll down memory lane. Here was my friend Puppy’s house, fallen into disrepair. I had once spent so many cheerful hours here, listening to music and laughing hysterically about various neighborhood characters.
Here was the house of Nalini, in whose kitchen I had once taken kathak dance lessons.
But had it in fact been this lane?
Suddenly, I felt confused. Nothing seemed recognizable any more. I dared not walk down my own street. My heart would burst, I thought, at the realization that my parents were no longer in this world.
And yet who was I to mourn for them? For was I not to follow them soon enough? Was I not just passing through this earth, on the way to a great void?
When I returned, something had shifted inside me. I had faced my mortality. I could no longer sleep. Everything seemed blue inside. I thought of all that had gone before; all that I could have done differently. How had all my dreams gone awry? All the disappointments of a lifetime came back to haunt me in nightmares that rose and fell endlessly.
I felt as though I had failed my brother, my parents and more importantly, myself. How could I wake up and carry on in the face of so much pain?
Back in California, I felt isolated, alone. I went to a meditation group. There, we read out aloud interpretations of the Bhagvad Gita.
Suddenly, a cloud lifted from my heart. I had never been religious, yet when Krishna said, “…I am the operator in you,” I felt my burden lightened. I was only an instrument of a bigger force. I was driving the chariot in the battle of Kurukshetra, but it was Lord Krishna who was directing it.
Something about this idea was very reassuring indeed.
The trouble with analytical people like myself, I realized, is that we put too much stock in our competence. We anticipate success to come our way simply because we were born with ability. Then when things go wrong; when we have a disabled child, or a bad marriage, we blame ourselves because we wonder where we slipped.
The Bhagvad Gita talks of Karma Yoga—act but do not cling to results. For a wise man, security is unaffected by the results of his action; even while acting, he is only an instrument. He is free in action.
They live in freedom
who have gone beyond
the dualities of life, and who
never compete. They are
alike in success and failure
and content with whatever
comes to them.
According to the Gita, I had to remember that whatever happened, happened for the good; whatever is happening, is happening for the good; whatever will happen, will also happen for the good. I need not have any regrets for the past. I need not worry for the future. The present is happening.
What did I lose that I was crying about? What did I bring with me, which I thought I had lost? What did I produce, which I thought got destroyed? I did not bring anything—whatever I have, I received from here. Whatever I have given, I have given only here. I came empty handed, I will leave empty handed. What is mine today, belonged to someone else yesterday, and will belong to someone else the day after tomorrow. I am mistakenly enjoying the thought that this is mine. It is this false happiness that is the cause of my sorrows.
Change is the law of the universe. What you think of as death, is indeed life. In one instance you can be a millionaire, and in the other instance you can be steeped in poverty.
Those without attachment to the ego are free;
their minds are purified by the knowledge
that all life is one. They perform all work freely,
in the spirit of service.
When I read this famous verse from the Gita, I felt lighthearted. I was not in control. Nor did I need to be. All I needed to do was my duty. The rest was up to that eternal force of the universe that humbles us, makes us kneel in front of it, for we are but instruments, puppets in its hands.
Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visitwww.saritasarvate.com