Friday, October 21, 2011

No Comprendo!

Many years ago, someone told me the story of a visitor to a small town in Spain. The visitor didn't speak much Spanish, but it hadn't really affected his ability to explore the wonderful country. As he was taking a walk though a well-to-do neighborhood of the town, he saw a beautiful mansion, with a garden full of colorful flowers in front. As he stood admiring the mansion, someone walked by. In his extremely poor Spanish, he asked the passerby, who the mansion belonged to. The man shrugged, and said in Spanish, "No Comprendo", which means, I do not understand. The visitor assumed that Mr. Nocomprendo must be a very wealthy man. As he walked though the streets of the town, he came across several large factories and other places of business, and each time he inquired about the ownership of  those establishments, his regard for the material wealth of Mr. Nocomprendo increased. Eventually, he walked by a beautifully decorated hearse, being pulled by a magnificent pair of black horses, and bedecked with flowers of all kinds. And of course, he had to ask one of the mourners following the hearse, who had passed.

The answer, gave the visitor, a very important life lesson -- you can own the world, but one day, you too, have to go. And, you don't get to take anything with you, when you go.

Recently, I had an interesting thought. If God did allow us to take just one thing with us to the other world, with the condition, that it could not be a living being, what material object would we carry with us. This object, could be anything from the life that was lived, from the cradle to the grave. And then, I thought about a variety of things from my own life, that were once very dear to me, but with time, had lost their sheen. Perhaps, it could be the toy that I got by following my father in the market, pleading with him, that it would be the last thing that I would ever pester him about. Perhaps, it could be the hard-bound 1921 edition of Tolstoy's 'War and Peace', that I discovered in an old book shop. Or perhaps, it would be my laptop computer, with all my tax records for the last decade in its hard drive. But then, who pays taxes in hell anyway? It was rather strange, that I could not identify one material object, that is so dear to me, that taking it with me to the other world, would give me happiness there.

A couple of days ago, I saw yet another dictator, half dead, and being dragged through the streets of yet another repressed state, going though its own revolutionary "spring".  I remember seeing the executed remains of the Romanian dictator, Ceausescu, on television during the lifting of the iron curtain. More recently, we all saw the not-so-private execution of Saddam Hussein, captured on a mobile phone. And then, seeing the videos of yet another dictator getting a taste of his own medicine, made me wonder. What if? What if God had given him a chance to take one thing with him? What would he have chosen?

Since I seem to acquire most of my "wisdom" from sadhus, I remember one particular statement, once made by a mendicant, that is probably very relevant to all this. He had said, "When we have everything -- all the riches, and all the power over the people around us -- we think, that we have become God.  And, there is no need for God any more. Little do we realize, that when we deliberately give everything up, that is when we come closest to God. Then, we are one with God, and that is how, we become God."

All this, brought back thoughts of my first emperor, Chandragupta Maurya, about whom, I have written in the past. At the peak of his powers, when he was the emperor of an India that was much bigger in size than it is today, he abdicated, and even shed the clothes on his body. To become a monk, and deliberately give everything up. To be one with God.

I wonder, if we had the chance to ask the first emperor, if he understood why the powerful people in our world have such a strong desire to cling on to power till their final moments, what he would say.  If the emperor spoke modern-day Spanish, I am pretty sure that he would say, "No Comprendo!"


  1. answer honestly babu.
    are you scared of death?

  2. Very insightful and thought-provoking! And even I could not come up with any one thing I'd like to take with me to the other world.

  3. Anon above: Not really. After a while, you are not scared of death, but of the consequences on the people and things you leave behind. But then, life has a strange way of moving on. We all like to think that we are indispensable -- while we are not.

    Dear Neha: Glad you liked it. Many people have told me that they couldn't identify that "one" thing either!