It is tough dealing with anxiety attacks amidst the constant reminders about the uncertainty of human life that arise in present times. The question comes up on the blank page before one can begin to type, what is the purpose of it all? Many of my friends have been affected deeply by the pandemic, a few are fighting the virus as I type these lines. A dear friend from Spain lost his brother not to the pandemic but to suicide, a cousin’s wife lost her parents – a hearty, warm couple who passed of old age within a few months of each other. The news mentions brewing cyclonic storms, genocides within the country and wars in foreign lands. On a positive note, I was glad to see a writer/historian whose books I enjoy reading, triumph his battle with the virus.
I found myself turning increasingly towards escapist reading but the anxiety attacks could no longer be assuaged even by the warmth of Eva Ibbotson’s children’s novels. I then tried reading commercial fiction – popular thrillers and page-turners that hold the interest for a few hours and tend to dissappear from the memory as though they were never read, while literary fiction once read becomes a part of one’s thoughts, and life. Then yesterday night I saw a Youtube recommendation of an old UN concert by MS Subbulakshmi, my favorite singer of all time.
I listened to the two hour concert, and then to old favourites among her many hymns and chants that were an integral part of my childhood, and just like that, found myself healed and whole again. Over the years, reading real history has heightened my awareness of some of her music – historians say that the Meera bhajans she popularised in the south are as fake as the songs of Andal, fabricated along with the concept of Bhakti which kept people trapped in the delusion of God as an external entity, when Sanatana Dharma has always been about Shraddha – focus and awareness of the divine in one’s own self which can be realised in many ways including through the practise and appreciation of the fine arts. MS’s repertoire of Carnatic music, especially from concerts in her prime days is divine, transporting the listener at once to a higher plane of existence.
Here is a Sanskrit verse that MS rendered at the United Nations which calls for international friendship, peace and harmony, with a blessing of happiness, health and prosperity for all the peoples of the world. The lines ‘Dāmyata Datta Dayadhvaṃ’ refer to the famous parable from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that TS Eliot evoked in The Wasteland as ‘What the Thunder Said’, a message for humanity to cultivate restraint, be kind and compassionate to all, words to reflect and live by in present times.