PS Wasu | Mar 17, 2009
Once there was a breathtakingly beautiful garden with soft green grass, a lovely hedge, fragrant flowers and luscious fruit trees. No wonder the garden was the favourite haunt of Panna Lal and all the other children living in the neighbourhood.
They spent most of their time in the idyllic setting, exploring the secrets of the garden. They played a variety of games to the chirping of birds and the rustle of the wind.
As Panna Lal grew up, his visits to the garden became less frequent. He got busy with other things. There was always something or the other that required his attention.
As more time passed, he hardly came to the garden to play. The garden now lay deserted. It didn’t take long for the weeds to grow and the flowers to die. The fruit trees fell. The grass too withered away.
The once beautiful garden was now reduced to a few ugly bushes and small patches of grass here and there. Finally someone dumped some debris into the garden.
Panna Lal’s romance with the garden was now over. However, there were a few spots which somehow remained uncovered by the debris so that some grass and a flower or two still bloom there on occasion.
PRINCE OF SHANGRI-LA
The garden in question is Panna Lal’s mind. It was in full bloom when he was a child. It was a mind that was open, receptive, awake, responsive, intuitive, flexible, playful, joyous, liberated and without any blocks.
It was the mind that he was born with. It was his Shangri-la. He played here to his heart’s content until he was about five years old.
He lived in the moment. He had no past to brood upon and no anxiety about the future. Life for him was here and now. He used his senses fully. Whatever he did, he was fully into it.
He was hungry for novelty. He was full of wonder and curiosity. His life was punctuated by the excitement of discovery. He was blown away by the newness of things.
Bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm, he made a game out of everything. Playfulness came naturally to him.
He had a vivid imagination. He thought in pictures. Every time he listened to a story, he had a movie running in his head. He had the ability to evoke entire worlds in his mind.
His mind easily moved from ‘what is’ to ‘what can be’, switching from the realm of the known to the realm of the unknown. He was given to fantasizing a lot. The disease called disbelief had not yet infected him.
His perceptions were uncoloured by any previous experience. He had not yet imbibed too many rules. He had no ‘shoulds’. He was not hampered by how things should be done. His inner censor had not yet come into being.
His mind had no barriers, no pre-judgments and no hang-ups. He had no fear of looking a fool. He was completely unselfconscious.
His creativity was at its peak.
He didn’t ponder too much before taking up a task. He just did it. He trusted his impulses and acted upon them. His actions were natural, effortless, spontaneous and free-flowing.
Life was beautiful and it was great to be alive. Panna Lal was the prince of his Shangri-la.
Then Panna Lal entered school and experienced the world. In due course, he moved on to college and accumulated more knowledge. Finally he started working and gained more experience.
In the process of acquiring knowledge and adapting himself to his environment, he gradually lost the wondrous, ‘unlearnt’ state of mind that he once had.
His Shangri-la got covered with debris.
He developed a sense of certainty just about everything and lost his sense of wonder and curiosity. He absorbed a whole lot of rules and fixed ways of doing things. He began to see the world through the filter of his assumptions.
Now he didn’t see things as they were but as he expected them to be. He forced his preconceptions into whatever he did, missing out on the newness of life.
His life became structured. He was ruled by the clock. He had fixed slots for all activities, be it reading, working, sleeping or eating. He had no open-ended time to do what he pleased.
The outcome of every activity became more important than the process. The pleasure of being into an activity was gone. The joy of discovery was gone.
As his bosses and family had high expectations from him, he was afraid of failing. Anxiety became his predominant emotion.
There was tremendous pressure on him to conform. A whole lot of ‘shoulds’ got incorporated in his life. He became self-conscious. His creativity was curbed.
Since he was evaluated constantly, he weighed the pros and cons of every action carefully before he took the first step. He became restrained.
As he became more and more ‘real’, his power of imagination diminished. He stopped dreaming. He forgot to play.
His experience and his learning became barriers to his joy and creativity – the debris that obliterated his Shangri-la.
LONGING FOR SHANGRI-LA
To all appearances, Panna Lal is doing well for himself. He has a good job, a beautiful apartment and a loving family.
But deep down in his heart, he has a nagging feeling that something is missing in his life. There is a vague longing to bloom, to be creative, to be playful, to let go of inhibitions, to connect, to experience joy and to have a sense of fulfilment.
Come to think of it, there is a kind of nostalgia in this longing. What Panna Lal longs for is actually the Shangri-la he lost in the process of growing up. So perhaps it is a longing to become a child again!
Of course, he can’t become a child at the physical level, but certainly he can be one at the psychological level. He can do so by removing the debris from his Shangri-la and nurturing it back to its original lushness.
Once he does that, he will be ready to play in his Shangri-la. He will be ready to bloom, to be creative, to be playful, to let go of inhibitions, to connect, to experience joy and to have a sense of fulfilment.
Come to think of it, there is a Panna Lal in all of us. Whether we are ‘successful’ or ‘not so successful’ in life, we all have an unexpressed longing to become children again and play in our Shangri-la.
The proposition of this book is that it is possible for us to be full-time children while we continue to do what we normally do as grown-ups. Far from being a hindrance, it will make us more efficient and effective in what we do.
When we have the openness of a child, we will have fresh perceptions. As a result, we will have new ideas that will bring us better solutions to problems. We will be more creative.
When we cultivate the enthusiasm of a child, we will pursue our goals with greater passion. As a result, we will have greater chances of being successful.
When we immerse ourselves into a task fully the way children do, we will do it better and faster.
When we develop the keenness and sensitivity of a child’s mind, we will be more responsive to what needs doing in our life.
Living as full-time children will not only satisfy our inner longing to play in our Shangri-la, it is the only way to live optimally and have a fulfilling life.
The objective of this book is to explore that possibility and come home to our Shangri-la!
QUEST FOR SHANGRI-LA
In the true spirit of exploration, the book offers no prescriptions. It does not show Panna Lal the path to his Shangri-la. It enables him to create his own path!
The ideas in the book have been configured in such a way that they trigger something in him, opening his mind to newer realms with many eureka-like realizations along the way.
Come to think of it, what he finds here has always been there in some corner of his mind. The book only echoes his inner voice. Listening to that voice, Panna Lal will touch base with his Shangri-la.
Significantly, the book is not about making hard work of life. It is about letting go, effortlessness and spontaneity, the qualities he once possessed in such abundance.
Now Panna Lal can’t sculpt his new being as a full-time child by being tough with himself. He can do so only with a gentle and loving approach. The highest achievements happen in life by flowing with the flow and not by forcing things.
To that extent, the book is not a medicine but health itself. No spiritual snake oil is on sale here. If anything, it sells Panna Lal to Panna Lal.
As it ‘kids’ him on his way to his Shangri-la, he starts a whole new relationship with life, experiencing balance, ease, joy, awareness and vitality.
There is a parable about a wise man who is about to die. His disciples gather around him and request him to give his last message.
The wise man says, ‘Life is like a river.’
One of the disciples asks him how life is like a river. Instead of trying to prove his point and asserting that life is like a river, the wise man simply contradicts himself and says, ‘Life is not like a river.’
This book too does not make any strong assertions for the simple reason that there are no absolute truths, no single irrefutable philosophy to go by, no fixed answers and no formulas.
At best, the book offers gentle hints and no edicts of any sort. ‘Maybe’ and ‘perhaps’ are implied in whatever is written here.
If any assertion is made at all, it is motivated by the assumption that its opposite is tipping the balance a little too much.
For example, the emphasis on being open is relative to some rigidity of opinion that has crept into someone’s system. The emphasis on self-confidence is relative to someone’s overriding self-doubt.
The absence of any clear guidelines in the book might create the impression that it is a sceptic’s viewpoint. But then, a true sceptic is one who is also sceptical about his scepticism.
Come to think of it, the book is neither a sceptic’s viewpoint nor a ‘positive thinking’ guru’s recipe. It comes from genuine openness, transcending both extremes.
If the book comes from an open mind, it is important that it is read with an open mind too for the exploration to be fruitful.
Being open does not mean that Panna Lal has to believe what is said here. It also does not mean he has to disbelieve what is said here.
When he reads the book with the intention to believe it – or disbelieve it – his mind is already made up. To that extent, he is not being open.
An open mind is a mind without any preconceived notions, enabling Panna Lal to have fresh perceptions.
IT IS ABOUT US
In order not to clutter up the book with too many names, only a handful of names have been used for different characters that people the numerous anecdotes in the book.
Although the names are Indian, the characters they represent could be from any part of the globe, give or take a few cultural trappings.
The men are called Panna Lal, Hira Lal, Moti Lal or Jawahar Lal. The women are called Mishri Devi, Barfi Devi, Imarti Devi or Jalebi Devi.
Panna Lal may be a little boy in one anecdote and a venerable old man in another. Mishri Devi may be a traditional homemaker in one anecdote and a hip career woman in another.
If the names have been used randomly for diverse characters, this is intentional. The underlying point is that anyone of them could be anyone else. By that logic anyone of us could be anyone of them too.
Come to think of it, deep down we are all the same. Whatever differences we have are only on the surface.
We all want happiness and good health. We all want to avoid pain and disease. We all have our quirks, phobias and idiosyncrasies.
What binds us together is the adventure called life that we happen to be in the midst of right now.
That also explains why the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘I’ have not been used in the book except in quotes.
The whole book revolves around the collective pronoun ‘we’. And we will soon recognize this ‘we’ to be our very own voice reaching out to us from the subterranean regions of our beings.
And if the names sound a little comic and conjure up images of clumsy figures bumbling their way through, this too is intentional.
The refinement and sophistication that we value so much are essentially projections, serving as a camouflage for our inherent clumsiness. Essentially, we are all comic figures bumbling our way through.
Seen in the right light, this clumsiness is at the same time the most graceful aspect of our being. So we might as well celebrate it.
Long live Panna Lal, Mishri Devi and all of us bumblers!
By their very nature, books are linear, with a beginning and an end. No loops or diversions are permitted.
But the ideas that books are supposed to convey are not linear. They don’t move straight ahead. They move in all directions. They also keep coming back to the point from where they started. They are cyclical.
An attempt has been made here to mitigate the linearity of the book by presenting the ideas in the form of wheels. There are a total of 5½ wheels in the book. Each of the 5½ wheels in turn has 5½ inner wheels.
As we spin our way around, any of the wheels can turn out to be our wheel of fortune, triggering our self-actualization, enhancing our creativity, releasing our passion and setting our life on a roll.
As there are wheels within wheels, it is more or less a rollercoaster ride. As apprentice full-time children, let’s fasten our seat belts and get ready for the goose bumps of being in our Shangri-la!
The Fine Print of Life
How Panna Lal Found Happiness, Wisdom and Mishri Devi
By P.S. Wasu
177 pages, Price Rs. 195
Published by HarperCollins Publishers India
In bookshops in India from mid-April, 2009
For delivery in the rest of the world, please contact N.S. Krishna, Sales Director, HarperCollins India, at email@example.com.
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