My good friend Chetandeep Singh and I often have longish conversations on the phone. For him, the call is a good way to relieve the tedium of his hourly drive to work. For me, it is a welcome opportunity to kill an hour after lunch – since a three hour time zone separates us.
For several years now, we have participated in an online discussion forum called KHOJGURBANI, a motley group located in different parts of the globe that converges in cyberspace every week to engage in a dialogue and discussion of Gurbani.
My telephonic conversations with Chetandeep are – more often than not – carryovers from the previous online discussion.
What begins as a clarification or a disagreement invariably spills over to the larger existential questions in life. We find ourselves meandering through the lanes and by-lanes of history, touching on seemingly unrelated topics in diverse fields like psychology, quantum physics, neuroscience. Neither one of us is an expert in any of these fields but our interest simply underlines the fact that being a Sikh means being a lifelong learner.
Our age difference – I could be his dad – is a non-issue, but I suspect that I have the better end of the deal: Chetandeep is young, bright and razor-sharp and I am an old blade in need of some sharpening. I also have the advantage of pulling rank on him. When all is said and done, I find that in our (Sikh/Indian) culture, age still trumps intelligence!
What prompted me to write this piece and share it was a note Chetandeep sent me after our last conversation.
“After talking to you this morning, few things dawned on me,” he wrote. “You spoke about how you have fallen in love with the process of reading, discovering depths, meanings and nuances of SGGS. You spoke about the honing of skill and craft.”
Chetandeep was alluding to a “life-project” that I have undertaken. You see, I have been foolish enough to embark on a translation (into English) with a commentary of the Guru Granth Sahib. Why on earth would I want to engage in intellectual forgery on such a grand scale – as translations of scriptural texts have been called – is another matter.
Chetandeep had called to inquire about my progress.
I explained to him that having begun, I was overcome by a sense of my inadequacy in the face of such a huge undertaking. Translating the Guru Granth Sahib was more than just looking up a dictionary. There is, to begin with, the underlying linguistic structure and grammar to contend with; then there is the poetic and musical structure in which literary text of incomparable beauty (often lacking English equivalents) has been captured to shine a knowledge that radiates like white heat!
The translation project is daunting and has very quickly exposed my feeble capacities, filling me with anxiety.
Yet, the thought of being engaged in this process (conceivably for the next decade) also fills me with the rush of anticipation. Love of Gurbani has turned feelings of fear into one of the expectations, of possibilities! It reminds of the expression “chao” in Gurbani. I better appreciate Newton’s comment about himself being like a boy playing on the seashore, diverting himself here and there for a better-looking pebble, while the ocean of Truth lay undiscovered before him.
Chetandeep continues, “I took the hint about the translation process and applied to my own work, life. When I am at work, a lot of times I am anxious – when the problems are hard or areas are unknown or people are strangers. At home, life ain’t much easy – when the conversations are hard, voices are raised, kids act out, the usual stuff.”
He goes on to add that “the realization I am having is that at some point, (I don’t know when) that life – work, home, children etc – in some sense had become a burden. Even though I never thought of it that way, but looking at my own statements and attitude: life had become a burden.”
Most of us can relate to Chetandeep’s angst and free-floating anxiety. We feel overwhelmed.
But, what if? And here is the insight that Chetandeep has, “What if I fell in love with work – yes it is/will be hard – but just fall in love with the work itself – the problems, the solutions, instead of viewing them as hard and burden – take it for what it is – a process, an art – changing my own viewpoint. Instead of doing it because I have to do it, enjoy doing it, fall in love with what is being done.”
Falling in love with the process. Life is a process, “And the same thing with life in general. Instead of living for the sake of being alive – just enjoy the process – the process of sleeplessness, process of arguing and conflict and tension and arguing and knowing all the while in my heart – that this is life – this is the process.”
Viewed thus, life becomes a game to be enjoyed, not feared. More importantly, such an approach helps to unhitch ourselves from our Haumai (ego). Chetandeep again: “and there’s nothing personal here. No matter how it is – just looking at it with reverence and enjoying every facet of it – fully. Every facet – including crying, heartbreaks, ups and downs, and even death. Just looking at life and enjoying the process of living – fully knowing that “this is life” – and that’s how it is. In love with living life.”
What if we fell in love with life and plunged into what it had to offer with anticipation instead of fear?
Ravinder Singh spent his formative years in Singapore and Delhi and has lived in the U.S. since 1976. Having with multinationals in Singapore, London and New York, he runs his own management consulting company. His consuming passion is Sikhs and Sikhi – in all its flavors and dimensions. He is linked to Talking Stick (a weekly online colloquium at Sikhchic.com) and Khoj Gurbani.
Khoj Gurbani at two (Asia Samachar, 2 April 2016)