On a lazy saturday afternoon in the last week of December, I sat down to have lunch while watching a series of horror shows from the early 2000s that a friend had recommended. I was rather enjoying myself, amused at the inadvertent comedy that came through the old-fashioned dramatisation of stories about the paranormal, cringing at longwinded dialogues which stated the obvious, and admiring the old-fashioned costumes of the period.
All of a sudden I began to choke, as though a hand had clamped tight upon my throat from the inside. I put down my barely tasted plate of prawn risotto, and tried to take slow, deep breaths but the tightening only persisted and grew worse. Grabbing some tissues, I tried to stifle the water that had commenced to flow freely from my eyes and nose, and realised that the terrible groaning sound around me was not from the horror show, but the stertorous notes of my own breathing. I managed to lie down holding my head which felt as though it was being pulled apart from all sides and tried to think calming thoughts about people and places and things I love, but the foremost thought that registered was how to resume breathing normally.
Which I did, four hours later. I threw away the risotto which had gone cold, made a cup of coffee and sat down to browse the internet to make sense of the symptoms. It turned out to be an anaphylactic reaction, apparently a common but severe allergic response to certain foods. In my case it was most likely the prawns, though I had used the same brand of frozen prawns many times before. A doctor whom I consulted online assured me that I was now out of danger and did not need an adrenaline shot, and gave me the rather obvious advice to avoid prawns. The maid looked ecstatic the next day as she took away the remaining packets of prawns and tins of tuna and salmon I cleared from the larder – I gave up seafood as abruptly as I started taking it few years ago.
And the episode became a memory that has now started to fade. What I choose to remember from the experience is the sense of calm that pervaded my mind during the allergic reaction and afterwards when I learned how close I had been to transition from this life. I have always been detached from the material world since childhood, which was easy given how my birth parents treated me and now years after I have gone no contact and healed myself and have a life that I love, the thought of detaching from a corporeal existence some day feels natural, neither fraught with the longing to escape, nor the need to cling to this world, as beautiful as it is.
Herman Hesse was one of the authors who came to mind when I was trying to calm my thoughts in the throes of the allergic reaction, another was Adi Shankaracharya. When I read Hesse’s Siddhartha as an impressionable teenager, I empathised more with Hesse’s recollections on his struggle with his parents than the character of Siddhartha, the quintessential seeker after whom I named one of the main characters in my first novel.
I first came across this verse by Adi Shankaracharya when I was eight or nine years old, and it has been a part of my life ever since. Recently heard this soulful version by Gaiea Sanskrit, which is sung from the heart and evokes an immediate sense of bliss as the meaning of the verse comes though the slightly accented but wonderful rendition.
The seeker’s quest is complete at the realisation that the self is not apart from that which is sought.