I happened to see former Union minister and politician-economist Arun Shourie's video interview with India Today in which he talks candidly about the sting of suffering in his life. In doing so, Arun has spoken for all of us; for suffering is the substratum of human existence on this beautiful and baffling planet.
Had I sat and listened to this video with my eyes closed, I would have thought I was listening to a spiritual thinker, who has pondered over human suffering for decades.
Arun talks about transmuting suffering into service. That was, incidentally, what Jesus did. He said, "the son of man has come to suffer and to die for others," and then he said, "The son of man has come, not to be served, but to serve…" Spiritually suffering and service, as Arun emphasises, are inseparable.
Arun talks about the helplessness that creeps upon us through ageing. Jesus said to Peter: When you are young you girdled yourself and went wherever you wanted. But when you age, someone else will decide what you wear and where you go. You will be led. You will not lead.
Arun quotes Mother Teresa, "Love till it hurts". It is hard to approach the goodness and mystery of life any closer than that. Who can disagree with Arun here?
Arun talks also about the vanity of titles and entitlements. "How does it matter," he asks, "If I am sacked, say, from The Indian Express, and my tongue is plucked out of me? I have a son, who cannot speak." I could not hold back my tears when I heard these words. Here Arun takes us into the heart of human sorrow from where we may take a measure of all human vanities.
The heart-rending, and unending, paradox is this: While we have the zest and vitality to live, we belittle life. We run after vain shadows. We fight and bite. We hate and spite. We prefer trinkets to truth. We bear false witness to ourselves and outrage our own conscience. We do anything but live as human beings.
Then the night comes. The light of life begins to fade into the twilight of mere existence, which seems no more than an antechamber to the nothingness of death. Realities, which we had bypassed all our life, begin to gnaw at us. The bubble of human self-sufficiency bursts. The gloss and sheen of wealth and prestige wear off. "My wife cannot sign a cheque," Arun says with extreme candour. Well, there are things that money cannot buy.
But, Arun, your wife is, all that notwithstanding, so very privileged because she has a husband like you. You are more than a compensation for all she has lost. In you, her suffering becomes the light of life for a whole lot of people, far and near. I thank you, Arun, for being such a husband.
Yes, you and I have had differences of opinion in the past. But those, too, were part of the fleeting vanities of life. There is only one reality in the end. We belong together. We are vulnerable. We need each other. Those who build walls between people are the very demons of darkness.
There is an event that I cannot help recalling on this occasion. I invited you to inaugurate the Global Leprosy Summit in Delhi some years ago. Sorry, I forget the exact year; you would remember it. You were a member of the Vajpayee Cabinet at that time.
On that occasion, you not only inaugurated the event with winsome dignity, but also moved the hearts of all delegates by the way you related to the leprosy-ravaged people who attended the meet. I can never forget your dismounting from the rostrum to wheel up the mangled victims of leprosy to the stage, without even a distant shadow of revulsion. You did not do it to impress anyone. You had no need to.
The delegates of the leprosy summit had no political clout or interest in any context. They were servants of the suffering people from around the globe. I had never seen a politician behave so humanely. Nor have I, since then.
I am sure you realise this: you have progressed, spiritually, several miles, even compared to where you were at the time of writing, Does He Know A Mother's Heart: How Suffering Refutes Religion.
Dear Arun, there is suffering in the heart of God. Far too often I think there is only suffering in God's heart; for God is love. How can we separate suffering from love? Is there such a thing as painless love? Even painless delivery is a medical deception. Science only blocks our ability to feel pain; never overcomes it. If and when science overcomes suffering, it would cease to be worth living as human beings thereafter.
I tremble to write about such things, Arun; but I do so because I love you as a brother not given to me. I can't pretend that I know what you go through. My only claim in sharing these words with you is that I too have walked the via dolorosa of life. It has taught me that it is a privilege to suffer. We become human, baked in no other furnace.
No one can feel the quality, or gauge the magnitude, of your suffering. Suffering is intensely personal. I don't pretend that I do. But no one can feign to not know how prodigious your suffering is. It could have broken down lesser mortals a long time ago. This emboldens me to say one more thing.
Thank God, you are a strong and sterling soul in which suffering turns into light for others. The test of human greatness is not the size or splendour of some chair or the other. It is how one copes with suffering and, as you say, "transmutes" it - in the alchemy of the soul - into enrichment and encouragement for one's species as a whole.
You do look frailer now than you did when I saw you a few years ago. But, in essential terms, you come through stronger. Much stronger. And the great thing is that you are stronger not for your sake alone, but for the sake of others as well. You may think, absorbed as you are with being a caring husband and father that you are trying to be strong only for your family's sake.
No, Arun; it is for our sake as well; especially, for the sake of all those who have reached the threshold of the temple of ageing from where you speak today. It is also for the sake of all who fall a hundred times as they walk and buckle under the burden of life in this world of organised lovelessness. One doesn't have to age, these days, to have our spine give away under the burden we carry. You, and not a politician or godman, represent us. We are the majority. In the temple of suffering, we are fellow worshippers.
I wish you would share yourself with us more often. I know this could sound insensitive, given how preoccupied you are with things at home. But the one thing that suffering has done for me is to break the walls of my self-enclosed existence and help me discover a wider family. It is because suffering broke and expanded my soul (how else can the soul be expanded?) that I cannot belong exclusively to any group or enclave. I too belong to all who suffer and all who thirst for a touch of togetherness.
This is not to compare myself with you, Arun. That would be presumptuous on my part. I wish only to request you to be available to a whole world of people - the broken, bleeding humanity - who need you, a little more than you may otherwise realise.