I have hardly ever used, in more than two decades of writing this column, the word this sentence begins with—the first person singular I. Change is the stuff of life and the time for change comes when you are ordered to lie flat on your back motionless. Human bodies are not engineered to lie still, but doctor’s commands can make most impossible things possible. Lying immobile on your back has two advantages. First, it teaches you the virtues of obeying medical people and thereby hastening your return to a normal perpendicular life. Second, it gives you a whole new view of the world, shall we say a downside-up view?
This is exhilarating. You lie flat on your back and realise that you can achieve a state of motionlessness by thinking about Karna, the real hero of Mahabharata. Karna had gone to Parasurama in the guise of a Brahmin and learned the full range of archery skills from the master. When the master slept in the disciple’s lap, an insect bit deep into Karna’s thigh.
The pain was unbearable but he remained motionless lest the teacher be disturbed. A flow of blood woke up Parasurama and he realised that only a Kshatriya could bear the pain Karna suffered. He cursed Karna for pretending to be a Brahmin, but if we read between the lines we can see that Parasurama did recognise Karna’s higher qualities.
Remembering those qualities will help you lie flat on your back to the satisfaction of any doctor. You will realise that your eyes are free to roam though not beyond the ceiling of your room. But you will also realise that if you stare long enough at the ceiling, you will gradually see the ceiling smiling at you and, Cheshire Cat style, slowly disappearing into a bright blue sky, bringing an affable universe into your viewfinder.
You are suddenly free, like a bird, to fly in whichever direction your fancy takes you, to see things from altogether different perspectives, to discover what you did not know of before, to enjoy the limitlessness of the human imagination. You find yourself singing, This is it. Here I stand. I’m the light of the world. I feel grand.
The through-the-ceiling viewfinder really empowers you. You see the insignificance of many things many people find significant. You see the hollowness of VIPs and the emptiness of their posturings. You see the wisdom of the neglected man on the street. You understand the ephemerality of wealth and the nobility of those who are satisfied with what they have.
In today’s world everything is business, geared to the primary aim of making profit. People are in politics to profit from the business of politics. People are in education because education has become enormously profitable. Customised fake medical degrees are available online. The Delhi Medical Council identified 422 proven quacks between 2012 and 2015 and reported them to the police. The police did nothing. The Council’s estimate is that at least two lakh quacks are working as doctors in India, 50,000 of them in Delhi alone. Now we understand why Delhi is so sick.
From downside-up you can recognise fakes more easily. Which is a big thing these days, when fakes rule all walks of life. Israel fakes casualties in its own ranks to mislead Hezbollah fighters. Trump’s America fakes social media accounts to surveil foreigners, precisely what the US has been accusing other governments of doing. The BJP has mastered the art of faking patriotism. Does the Congress fake anything? Nobody knows because nobody cares.
In the end, all that matters is the quality of life we ensure for ourselves and for others. The quality of life depends on the quality of values we cherish. Does giving bring more satisfaction than taking? Do we add something to other people’s lives? Do we sustain things that cannot be bought? Self-promotion is not leadership. For a president or prime minister to project himself as the font of all wisdom is not wisdom. True wisdom lies in the words: “Give and it shall be given unto you.”
Such truisms become clear when you are in the downside-up posture. I thought I could get a more accurate view of the world from my vantage point. Then I realised that the world has been upside down for quite a while. What happens when downside-up meets upside down? All well because it is the natural state in India.