My first tryst with spirituality was through an Old Monk. Yes, that Old Monk.
I remember I was five years old at the time. My dear father, who had come out of his joint family without an ounce of money, with his mother as his sole inheritance- was building up his business with his own hands, then. I remember missing him all day, yearning to put my nose on his bearded, pock-marked face. An embodiment of discipline- dear father left home everyday at exactly 8 am in the morning and arrived each evening at twenty minutes past 8- heralded by the beep beep of our Maruti Suzuki Zen.
I remember waiting with bated breath and perked up ears each evening as the living room clock chimed at 8- and bounding to the door like a happy little puppy each time I heard his footsteps echo up the staircase. Most days, my enthusiasm was greeted with a stern, extremely stressed out face- sometimes with a forced smile.
I remember going back to my room like a chastised puppy, most days, invisible tail between my legs, only coming out when my mother called me for dinner. Back at the dinner table though, the mood was usually magically different from the stern, stressed out air that greeted me as the door opened. There would be laughter, songs- my mother smiling as she served us rotis and something potatoey. The shine which was missing from my dear father’s eyes would now be returned, along with a smile under his venerable moustache- and I would smile too. I would see, on the corner of the table, hidden respectfully from my grandmother’s eyes (she didn’t sit with us at the table, because we ate non veg 😛 ) a glass, and a bottle of liquor that spelled Old Monk. I would see how, as the contents of that bottle went down, my father became happier and happier, bursting into lovely songs every now and then, my mother joining in with her sweet voice.
I deduced that Old Monk made my father happy. It didn’t seem unreasonable- cold drinks would give me a burst of sweet, bubbly energy, so maybe this was something like that?
So naturally, one day I asked my father for a sip of this happiness inducing nectar. My father looked surprised, said no, but I was adamant. He gave in, eventually, and I had a (tiny) sip. Long story short, it didn’t taste nearly as good as Mirinda, let alone what I was imagining. My curiosity was sated, though.
Over the years, we shifted, moved to a three storey house, bought a couple of new cars- at the cost of my father’s health and happiness. Old Monk no longer made him happy, but he still drank it, as though he had to. And although my mother didn’t have to cook all the time anymore (and perhaps because of it) the rotis and the chicken curries and the paneer makhanis seemed less tasty now. Laughter and song had left our dinner table.
What is that nectar that makes us happy? Sure, there’s nectar in a bottle of alcohol, it’s there in relationships, it’s there in accomplishments at work- but they just don’t taste that good after a while. Worse yet, the more you take them, indulge in them, the less effective they become at giving you that high. And I’m not going into the potentially severe side effects of compulsively seeking your nectar in a bottle of rum, or in another person, or at your office.
I struggle with spiritual health,(know the definition of spiritual health) sure. I still haven’t managed to stop lying, I still can’t sit longer than an hour tops. Sometimes, not even thirty minutes. My back hurts, my leg aches, sometimes I get intense bursts of undesirable emotions like fear that make me want to get up, I can’t stop compulsive thoughts- you get the idea.
But. I’ve got the taste for it now. Like a shark that has smelled blood in the ocean.
Or perhaps a thirsty drunk who’s been lucky (or unlucky) enough to have just a few drops of wine grace his throat.
मधुर भावनाओं की सुमधुर नित्य बनाता हूँ हाला,
भरता हूँ इस मधु से अपने अंतर का प्यासा प्याला,
उठा कल्पना के हाथों से स्वयं उसे पी जाता हूँ,
अपने ही में हूँ मैं साकी, पीनेवाला, मधुशाला।।
From “Madhushala”, Harivansh Rai Bachchan.
Picture: “Japanese Tavern” by artist Victor Yang, on ArtStation.