Mending the Spirit

The iconic Apple founder,one of the greatest inventors in modern history,did what many Western teenagers do,come to India to find himself or seek enlightenment.

Written by Leher Kala | Published:October 10, 2011 12:16 am

The iconic Apple founder,one of the greatest inventors in modern history,did what many Western teenagers do — come to India to find himself or seek enlightenment. He joins a long list of celebrities and achievers who attempted to do the same before him with similar results: disillusionment. Jobs’ India sojourn has been well documented in the Indian press,following his demise. Briefly,he got lice and dysentery. He was chased by an angry mob when he protested that a milkman was diluting the buffalo milk he was selling. The guru he’d come to meet had already passed away. It sounds like a trip straight out of hell,one of those journeys you can laugh about after 10 years,once your memories are blurry and tinted with nostalgia.

Jobs quickly realised that his journey to salvation wasn’t through meditation and guru worship,but through making cool gadgets that improved the lives of lesser mortals like you and me. And that was the last he saw of India. But long before Jobs,the Beatles discovered Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and transcendental meditation. Depending on what version you read,the yogi disapproved of the Beatles’ perpetually stoned existence at his ashram,while the Beatles were disconcerted by his business acumen and sophisticated negotiation skills. Mia Farrow also camped in Rishikesh. Some years later,other stars like Madonna and Sting embraced ashtanga yoga. Larry,the protagonist of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge sought tranquility in Travancore.

There’s something in India that draws seekers,something clearly missing in Western societies. Human contact,maybe? We have had an impressive number of spiritual leaders and saints over the centuries,who’ve been spreading the message of peace and co-existence,successfully. This tradition continues with modern-day gurus like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar,who also have a mind-boggling number of followers. They may return unfulfilled,but most foreigners who’ve spent time in Indian ashrams say they are certainly richer for the experience. Yoga and Ayurveda are our greatest exports but the myth of our saintly,evolved nation is inexplicable to many of us living in Indian cities,where finding a meaningful spiritual existence in day-to-day life is becoming harder and harder.

Judging by the outpouring of grief at Jobs’ death worldwide (I myself haven’t felt this bad since Michael Jackson died),one has to wonder whether we are not investing enough in real relationships with actual people,or that icons — even great ones like Jobs — are possibly occupying too much of our mindspace. In the last three days,I’ve read even the most obscure piece written about Jobs on previously unheard of websites,led to them by updates on Facebook and Twitter — the real menaces in promoting global mourning. Between 9 pm on October 5 to 9 am on October 6,two million tribute tweets on Jobs had already been posted. Just as the web helps you find friends,romance and careers,it has also become a cyber shrine where,for a while,those consumed by grief at the death of an idol can connect with others who feel the same. Odd?

A little. But we all need our heroes.

Urban Indians,those whose lifestyles closely mirror their Western counterparts,at least when it comes to stress,want to resolve the conflicts that arise from affluence. So they’ve started going to psychiatrists and are popping antidepressants. Westerners have been there,done that and are back to meditation and gurus. When we come full circle,at least we won’t have to travel to seek salvation. We’re already here,in the promised land of wisdom.

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