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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 49, November 21, 2009

A Contemplative Testament

Tuesday 24 November 2009, by Som Benegal

Soon reaching my 88th birthday, I realise that it has been a long journey through life. No doubt it has had high moments of considerable achievements in various fields which seemed beyond credibility, but there were also low points of physical and mental pains sustained over many longer years than imaginable but met with fortitude and understanding.

Now, at this moment, I realise that I have become a traveller with an uncertain tether in search of the lost horizon of an improbable Shangri-la!

With the years gone by, friends and comrades and beloved relations in my life have disappeared from view, one by one and left only fast-fading memories of bygone joys to make me say, “Memory, hold the door!”

Without making a melodrama I may say I have grown old and weary with the world changed beyond recognition in its attitudes, values and aspirations. That, I admit, has to be, but I feel out of place, like the last knight of King Arthur’s Round Table who told his dying king, that he was lost “among new men, strange faces, other minds”. This is not self-pity but an acceptance of reality as it should be. The world turns and the world changes toward what end, I do not know. Some live in eternal hope for the better, others with the certainty of doom; I only remain in unceasing astonishment of the origins of the marvel of creation and the mystery of life and its wonder of the mind-boggling structure from infinitesimal microscopic dot-like creatures with abilities of apparently seeing, sensing, foraging, digesting, excreting, having aero-dynamic wing-structures capable of flying to escape and travel! And, of course, we have also had gigantic creatures dwarfing man.

To what purpose and to what end, I do not know, this seemingly ceaseless procession of life, but I do know and see that knowledge, more and more beyond belief brings us no nearer to wisdom and happiness. Our ancient scriptures tell us “it is important to know, but more important is it to know what to do with what you know”.

After a long multi-layered life, perhaps not an eminent, distinguished, powerful life, but given to much concern and contemplation of the ways of life in times past, present and the beckoning future I must admit to a sense of disillusionment and blighted hope at the sustained spectacle of mankind’s stubborn inability to live in peace, and instead to engage in incessant combat and wars for one reason or unreason, the scale of which have reached monstrous proportions that could exterminate all living things. Perhaps this is an exaggeration for surely mankind was not created by whatever motivation with inborn compulsions ingrained in it for brainless self-liquidation.


So, there it is – Is the whole thing a mystery, or a riddle or an enigma? Or is it as the Rig-Veda says, at the mandala X-129-7, which I have dared to transcreate without serious challenge from scholars:

From where into being was Creation brought,

Does the One uphold it or does He not?

That Helmsman on high, He alone knows,

And even He may not know how it all goes.

From this I turn my disillusionment into consolation that for whatever reason, the mystery of creation, life and death, the boundless universe, the cosmos beyond imagination was created not by an indeterminate fickle chance but by a divinity (call it by any name) that shapes our ends which we try to explain by rational argument and scientific logic and demonstration but in vain. Perhaps, it is as it is and should be. An indisputable answer would rob us of the stimulus of unremitting search and discovery and the romance and thrill of seeming to grasp the truth, only to find it beyond our reach, not to dispirit us but to continue with unending endeavour with calm of mind and alluring bliss.

Having unburdened myself I now know that one must go through life without regret or anger, nor with any other emotion than acceptance of life and fellowship meeting injury not with revenge but with understanding and compassion, not ever to forget that I will not visit upon others what I have suffered from them and humanity itself. Otherwise it would go against all the precepts I have learnt from my wise teachers, and the wisdom enjoined upon us from our scriptures dating back to times immemorial.

When I’m gone, if I am remembered at all, let it be said, “When he knew he said so, that was his conceit; when he did not know he said so, that was his humility.”

Tamam Shud—Clean and Complete.

The author has spent his professional life in the international theatre movement, All India Radio’s News Division, Doordarshan programmes and NAMEDIA.

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