Sunday, April 24, 2011

Beyond the Sum of All Parts

Vikram turned as his wife Sonam grasped his hand slowly.
She whispered softly, “I am sure everything will be alright. Don't worry”
Vikram watched as the priests chanted the mantras. After an hour, the head priest spoke to Vikram & Sonam, “We have done the pujas for your daughter's well being. I am sure your daughter Sangeeta will be fine now”
“Thanks a lot” said Vikram as he bid farewell to the priests.

Vikram sat on a sofa, holding his five year old daughter tightly as his wife Sonam sat beside him. Sangeeta looked up at her parents and asked “Will I be well now?”
“Of course, Sangee.” said Sonam. “There is nothing wrong with you. We are only doing some pujas for the good of the family.”
“Ok. Will you show me to any more people?” asked Sangeeta. She bit her lip and said “We have seen so many people already. If there is nothing wrong with me, why are we seeing so many people?”
“That will be all, Sangee. Don't worry. No more doctors or anybody else. You are perfectly fine.” said Vikram.

Vikram recalled the first time he had seen his daughter have an attack. She had got up in the middle of the night shivering and mumbling something to herself. She was in a kind of trance, her eyes staring straight ahead and she seemed to not even realize the presence of either him or his wife in the room. It would take a few minutes to pacify her and several minutes before she would return to sleep. After she awakened in the morning, she would have no recollection of the events of the night. Vikram & Sonam had taken her to a few specialists. Though it was a case which could not be clearly explained, the opinion was that since she exhibited some form of speech impairment during such episodes, there may a need to treat her with anti psychotic drugs. However, considering her young age and the fact that such episodes were infrequent and harmless so far, they were advised patience before considering any line of treatment.

After about a month, Sonam nudged Vikram gently. Vikram rubbed his eyes and sat up. He saw Sangeeta sitting up on her bed and mumbling softly to herself. This episode seemed different though than the previous ones and she had held her hands together as if in prayer and was chanting something softly. Vikram and Sonam went and sat next to Sangeeta. Sonam held her close to herself. Sangeeta seemed not to even sense their presence. After about five minutes, Sangeeta lay down on her pillow and surprisingly was asleep immediately.
Sonam looked at Vikram in anguish “What is going on?”.
Vikram looked as disturbed “If only we could do something” he muttered.

After about a fortnight, Sangeeta seemed to have an attack again. As Sonam held her tightly, Vikram whispered to her “Can you make out what she is saying?”
Sonam bent forward, positioning herself close to Sangeeta's mouth. Sangeeta suddenly turned and picked up a piece of paper and her fingers moved furiously as she seemed to write something in a hurry. She then put the paper aside, and lay down on her bed still oblivious of the presence of her parents near her.

Sonam picked up the paper trying to understand what her daughter had written on it. Vikram too peered closely at it. “Seems to some kind of a scribble only” he said.
Sonam looked at him and spoke up “Does it not seem like Hindi?”
“What?!” Vikram exclaimed. “How is that possible? She has not been taught to write Hindi. In fact she cannot yet even write English sentences.”
“No really, look at it closely.” said Sonam still staring at the paper.
“You are just imagining things.” said Vikram dismissively.
Sonam looked at him and said “It seems to read सभी भागों का योग से परे (Sabee Bhagon ka Yog se Pare)
“What did you say?!” Vikram said looking at her in shock.
“It seems to read सभी भागों का योग से परे (Sabee Bhagon ka Yog se Pare)." Sonam repeated. "What can that mean? And how could Sangee have written this?”
Vikram collapsed into a chair shaking his head from side to side and said softly “How is this possible?!”
What are you talking about? What does this phrase mean? What is all this about?” Sonam exclaimed.
“Let us move to the living room.” said Vikram walking out of the bedroom slowly.

Vikram sat on the sofa, quiet for a few minutes. Sonam looked at him expectedly.
Vikram looked up “I cannot make sense of this myself.” he said, his hand on his head. “This phrase सभी भागों का योग से परे (Sabee Bhagon ka Yog se Pare) literally means Beyond the Sum of All Parts. This is the name of a prayer song composed by my grandmother long back. I remember when I was young, she used to say that chanting the song would give peace and strength. She insisted on all of us singing it together every morning. She explained the meaning of the song as an invocation to God who is greater than the sum of all the parts of the universe. I understand that the song was actually adopted as a morning prayer by a few people who were family friends.”
But I have never heard it!” said Sonam
“Well” continued Vikram looking guilty “I stopped chanting it after I went away to college.”
“But then how can Sangee know about this?! And also how could she write it on a paper when she does not even know how to write.”
“I cannot explain it myself! Maybe either my parents or grandfather might have mentioned it to her when we visited them.”
Sonam said “But Sangee has never mentioned this to us before. Also if you watch her it is as if she is in a trance of some kind.”
“I know. I cannot explain this either.”
Sonam's hands moved to her mouth “Do you think Sangee...? But I cannot believe this..”
“Hang on.” said Vikram sharply. “There has to be some explanation for this. Let us visit our parents place tomorrow.”
“But your parents are away to the US”, exclaimed Sonam.
“Well my grandfather is there. Let us speak to him.”

The next morning Vikram, Sonam and Sangeeta went over to meet their grandfather in their village which was 80 kms away.

Once they reached, they sent Sangeeta away to the garden. They explained the entire sequence of events to Vikram's 85 year old grandfather.
Vikram then asked him “Grandpa, did either you or my parents speak about this prayer song to Sangee.”
His grandfather looking puzzled. “She is so young. How could she understand even we were to tell her?”
He then put his shoulder and said to Vikram “There is nothing to worry. It is all for the good. You should all start chanting the prayer every morning. Do you remember how your grandmother had made chanting it a part of our everyday routine?”
“Yes, I know”, said Vikram, looking guilty again.
Sonam spoke up “Can you tell me more about this prayer song and how grandma composed it?”
“Well, it all happened very quickly.” said grandfather speaking slowly “I found Vikram's grandma Gayatri up late one night sitting on the floor with her eyes closed. I asked her if she was feeling unwell. She simply shook her head and started writing in a small notebook bound with string. She wrote all the 16 lines very quickly. Only when she was done she spoke to me and told me that the words for the prayer were forming in her mind and she wanted to write it immediately before she would forget.

She started chanting it from the next day onwards and I joined her. We both used to feel at peace after we chanted. She told other friends and neighbours about it and encouraged them to join us. It was unusual for women to lead such activities in those days and some hesitated. However, close friends did join us and soon a small group was formed. Gayatri explained the meaning of the key phrase of the song सभी भागों का योग से परे (Sabee Bhagon ka Yog se Pare) as the need for each person to look beyond the visible and the known to understand God who is manifested in but beyond and greater than the sum of all parts of the universe. She used to say that there were many truths in life each of which are not readily apparent but need to be visualized and understood. This is similar to our needing to understand what eclipses are even if we have not seen one, earth's rotation around the sun though we don't feel it. She used to say that the pursuit of truth was ultimately the aim in life. She was also a great supporter of science since it was also a search for truth and in fact encouraged Vikram to take up science.”

We as a small group used to discuss many aspects of life and religion together and she used to lead the way. “

Grandpa paused to drink some water and then continued “Think of this as a message from grandma. Her blessings are with us again. It is important you resume your daily prayer routine at the earliest”.
“We will certainly do that”, said Sonam.
“Ok let me get our little princess back from the garden” said Grandpa “You should leave shortly after having some tea so that you can reach before it is dark.

Grandpa walked over into the garden where Sangeeta was playing with a ball. She looked up and smiled at him. Grandpa hugged her and whispered “It will be our secret!”. Though the girl's act did worry him, he was happy that the family tradition would be revived. He still remembered the time when Sangeeta had stayed over with him and Vikram's parents for a month. He had chanted the prayer song and explained the meaning to her telling her to memorize it and say it every morning when she grew up and encourage her parents to do the same. He was surprised at how the girl had been able to write in Hindi though just by looking the text he had shown her. But kids learn very fast.

In Sangeeta's hand was a plate and she was drumming a tune by tapping on it. Vikram's grandfather looked at Sangeeta open mouthed. He was the only one who had heard this tune 40 years back from his wife Gayatri of a new song she had started to compose but never completed.