Long ago, I too was a rebellious teenager — defiant, stubborn, questioning and even reckless. Some of those traits I still retain. But the one who triggered my transition from a docile little boy to a combative and confident individual ready to take on the world was not a school hero or popular rapper; it was a man who was long dead, having lived a spectacular life of 39 years. He spoke to me through words he uttered or wrote with a fire that remains undiminished in intensity despite the passage of time.
I picked up Vivekananda’s thoughts one day in Class XII, and haven’t been able to put them down since. I cannot quite lay claim to being what an Eklavya was to his guru, Dronacharya. Yet, when I was beginning to decipher questions of right and wrong, moral and immoral, he summed up for me the essence of it all, by saying: “Fear is the greatest sin my religion teaches.” Ever since, I’ve ensured that I do not commit the cardinal sin, whatever other errors I made.
Not a jelly fish
As a child, I learnt, as we all do, that convention and what everyone else thought, mattered. Then, I unlearnt it. “I will die a thousand deaths than lead a jelly-fish existence and yield to every requirement of this foolish world”, the fearless monk thundered through the years into my consciousness. No wonder, I was more of a difficult-to-handle nonconformist than what any teen with a dozen tattoos, eyebrow piercing and purple hair could have been.
When I was at my most despondent, unsure and rudderless, I would remember the monk’s words: “Human help I spurn with my foot. He who has been with me through hills and dales, through deserts and forests, will be with me, I hope; if not, some heroic soul would arise some time or other, far abler than myself, and carry it out.”
Do your duty
When I stood befuddled by the rat race, staring wide-eyed at the slippery rungs of the corporate ladder, Vivekananda reassured me: “We find ourselves in the position for which we are fit, and if one has some capacity above another, the world will find that out too….” I decided to work on my capacity, and let the world do the finding-out. When I got upset with injustices, he was at hand once again: “No man can long occupy a position for which he is not fit. By doing well the duty which is nearest to us, which is in our hands now, we make ourselves stronger, and improving our strength in this manner, we may reach a state in which it shall be our privilege to do the most coveted duties….” I resolved to do well what was in my hands and stop cribbing.
When I face flak, I recollect Vivekananda’s letter to his boys: “Have faith that you are all, my brave lads, born to do great things! Let not the barks of puppies frighten you — no, not even the thunderbolts of heaven — but stand up and work!” He roared: “The names of those who will wish to injure us will be legion. But is not that the surest sign of our having the truth? The more I have been opposed, the more my energy has always found expression.” And I stood up and worked, irrespective of the “barks of puppies and thunderbolts from heaven” and learnt to relish opposition — and lived to tell the tale.
Faced with slander and innuendo, my hypersensitive self itched to get even. Again, I turned to the monk whose ‘way of life’ in the US was questioned by pundits. His response: “Tell my friends that a uniform silence is all my answer to my detractors. If I give them tit for tat, it would bring me down to a level with them. Tell them that truth will take care of itself….” I learnt to not react, and to believe that facts would take care of themselves.
Money does not pay
When I wistfully looked at the 20s go by in 12-hour work days, struggle and little else, I wondered why I had neither money nor fame and whether my existential USPs were worth nothing. “Wait,” smiled the monk; “wait, money does not pay, nor name; fame does not pay, nor learning. It is love that pays; it is character that cleaves its way through adamantine walls of difficulties.” When the instinct to do what I thought was earth-shattering egged me on, only to be killed with one look at my dismal bank balance, my monk-guide asked me: “Was it ever in the history of the world that any great work was done by the rich? It is the heart and the brain that do it ever and not the purse.” I stopped assuming that I was incapable of great work if my purse was empty.
After many years of long hours and busy schedules, sometimes one yearns to simply be quiet and put thoughts into words, like now, but time is scarce when one is busy eking out a living. Vivekananda wrote to Sister Nivedita: “I was born for the life of a scholar — retired, quiet, and poring over my books. But the Mother dispenses otherwise — yet that tendency is there.” And for a moment my master and I are kindred spirits, joined in a thought though separated by at least a hundred years.”
Today, too, when I face something that makes me falter or hesitate, I go back to my guru mantra, words etched in my mind from when I first read them as a 17-year-old: “This I have seen in life — he who is overcautious about himself falls into dangers at every step; he who is afraid of losing honour and respect, gets only disgrace; he who is always afraid of loss, always loses…”
With those words, Vivekananda gave to a 17-year-old freedom from fear; he helped him become the ultimate teenaged rebel. Except that, unlike the tattoos, piercing or punk cuts, you never do outgrow this wonderful rebel instinct. Naren, you gifted me the promise of youth, and I feel not a day older than 17. Happy birthday!
~ Anshul Chaturvedi