WHEN Galileo said “the world is round” many thought he was mad and was punished for sacrilege. Anybody who does anything against convention or says something that does not conform to the received wisdom usually becomes a suspect and is often branded. Worse, he often does not even get a hearing.
But for Sri M’s Foreword to the book which encourages readers to ignore those portions which they may find difficult to believe and plod on, I would have dismissed it as the autobiography of a nut. But as I continued reading, I got so engrossed that I had difficulty in putting it down even for a while.
Sri M is an unusual person. Born in a Muslim family in Thiruvananthapuram, he grew up in the eclectic traditions of the city where a temple, a church and a mosque stand in a line as if proclaiming that God is one. Unbelievable as it may sound, he got initiated into the intricacies of the “Gayatri Mantra”when he stole two books from his father’s drawer.
His maternal grandmother who doted on him forbade him from eating from any Hindu house but he had no difficulty in swallowing the ashes a holy man had given him, for as a Muslim he could not smear it on his body. The Sufi traditions, rather than the Wahabi traditions, which the family followed helped him in his search for the truth. Even as a student, he sought to walk alone even when he was in a crowd that included friends like the famous cardiac surgeon who set up Ananthapuri Hospital at Thiruvananthapuram.
While still at school, he often sought the company of the unconventional, the vagabond and the perpetually peripatetic to “understand holy madness”. One of his encounters with a holy man, whom most people thought was mad, was indeed enlightening. It even opened my eyes to a different interpretation of Ezhuthachan’s “Ramayanam”.
The sadhu did not have much philosophical thoughts to share with the young Sri M. All he told him was to pronounce “Raa-maayanam”. Then he said, “Raa means night, darkness,irrtu. The darkness must go. Then you will see Rama”. What a profound thought from a man who was an “illiterate ex-tea maker”!
Sri M considers himself a tool in the hands of his Guru, who seeks him out at a tender age. An average person may dismiss his claims of his Guru appearing before him and speaking in tongues which, otherwise, he could not follow as the result of hallucination. But once the reader suspends his disbelief and blindly follows the author as he wanders all over the sacred places in the Himalayas, he will realise that it has not been an exercise in futility.
Babaji that he finally meets is over a hundred years old but has the body of a young man, less than two scores. He is the quintessential rishi, who can advise the young seeker of truth not to bother about taking a bath in the cold waters of the Ganga before the morning meditation and, in the process, catch pneumonia.
In the Hindu tradition, knowledge is always gained through an intermediary called the Guru. “Yatha Guru thatha Shishya” goes a saying. Sri M was lucky to get a guru who belongs to the class called “Raja Yogis”. Of course, allowance has to be made for the author’s belief that he was born to be his disciple.
Babaji has clear, concise answers for all his spiritual and transcendent questions that put even the reader at ease. He does not even fight shy of questioning many received wisdom like his mother’s belief that non-vegetarian food is better for human body. While she stuffed his tiffin box with brain curry and liver fry, his friends who always had simple vegetarian food for lunch scored more marks than him.
In the course of his journey, Sri M ultimately meets his “Sri Guru Babaji”, about whom he quotes Swami Vivekananda, “A particle of dust from his blessed feet could have created a thousand Vivekanandas”. On the way, he meets several interesting persons from the late Marxist leader AK Gopalan to Jiddu Krishnamurthy to an assortment of holy men of all faiths, from whom he learns and moves on.
It is prophetic that he will use the name “Sri M”, which will remind him of his Babaji Maheshwarnath, who comes across as the “great master, wise, powerful and loving”. The book is, in fact, a tribute to him. For anybody who has interest in mysticism, Sufism and Vedanta, Sri M’s autobiography is, indeed, a treasure-trove.
(Magenta Press and Publication Pvt. Ltd., Cauvery Towers, College Road, Madikeri, Coorg, Karnataka-571 201)