The phone was ringing and I was in an agony of impatience for him to pick it up. This was typical of me of course, I want everything yesterday.
“Hellloooo”, Kakka’s (Father’s brother- Uncle) hoarse voice exploded in my ear. With a start I held the cell away from my ear.
“Kakka…?” I asked irrelevantly.
“Ho Ho Ho… who else you silly girl…? What are you up to…? he bellowed.
“I read the article you gave me yesterday Kakka and I want to ask you a question.”
“Of course Dee…”, he said. “I feel like having tea too.”
The line went dead. I knew this is the response I would get. His irritation with Graham Bell’s invention was well-known. He would never use the phone if he could help it.
He called me Dee again…! I glared at the cell malevolently. I asked him once why he didn’t call me Deepika… or Deepa. He laughed that maddening laugh of his and said he likes to call me Dee. It doesn’t go down my seventeen year old throat but there is nothing I can do about it. I am stuck with that slang. Dee indeed…!! YIKES…!!!
Now he wanted me to go over and ask my question- after I had made us a cup of tea. He knew well that my one question tended to become a six hour long discussion. I remember once we wound up at four in the morning… that too because kaki (Aunt- his wife) came and scolded him for keeping me up all night. He grinned his famous three teeth grin at her, winked at me impudently and said she was jealous of me. That really cracked me up.
Kakka retired as Principal of engineering college- a post he had held for seventeen years. He is a passionate mathematician and loves his subject with the devotion of a zealot. After dealing with students for over half a century, his understanding of the young mind is intuitive. His love, patience and compassion are phenomenal. Kids like me flock around him to listen to him enthralled for hours. His love for his subject and his students make him an amazing teacher. Kakka is now over seventy-five years old and the whole world calls him Kakka. His grown up children, his contemporaries, my parents, his grandchildren… even his wife…! His wife is as universally called Kaki… even by him…! He eats paan non-stop and it is her job to keep supplying him with the aromatic rolls. He has only three teeth left in his mouth and when he guffaws, every 10 seconds, they seem about to fall off.
Most senior people have such a depressingly closed mind, with opinions cast in stone. If you question them, they conclude you are being cheeky and behave as if you were attacking their favorite cub. Kakka never behaves like that. He is open-minded and flexible. He can listen for hours to one of us babbling incoherently. He would never judge us or say that we screwed up. It makes it is so easy for us to pour our heart out to him. When we do, he’ll listen without interruption and say, “What are you going to do now..?” He never gives those maddening you should do this and you should do that lectures.
We came to his house to study math. Some kids left after a while but some like me stayed and become part of the furnishings. We were only allowed to ask him for help when we got stuck. He would not solve the problem for us and make us find a similar solved example and solve it. I remember the first time he did that I nearly walked off in shock. Later I found he does that to everyone- the cunning old thing. Just to make us think and learn to solve it ourselves. But I have to say this… it really worked. Those of us who stayed with Kakka for long, graduated to what he called the elite level.
Kakka understood kids needed his kind of intellectual stimulation and unquestioning emotional support. Kids of all ages run all over his household. I am sure his wife must have given up in resignation long back. We could take as much of his time as we wanted, with one condition. We were supposed to make tea for him and for the rest of the inmates if we want to discuss anything. For that we had to pass Kaki’s test. The first time we’d enter her spotless kitchen, she’d watch over us like a hawk. If she found a single dirty move… like not washing hands properly… the deal was off with no appeal. Kakka knew better than to interfere in her exclusive domain.
Most of us felt more comfortable in his house than in our own. Kaki’s strict discipline was as much a proof of her affection as his verbal sparring was. His room is the place we have learned to use our minds freely without the usual don’t argue with/contradict/ or challenge my ideas because I’m older argument grown-ups give you when they can’t give you logical answers. He debates with us as equals. It gives us an intense high to beat him in an argument. He has never told any of us that we were talking foolishly or that our concerns or questions were childish– THE one thing all of us hate being told.
As I said, some of us graduated to an elite group when he gave us one of his articles to read. He had written on myriad subjects over the years. He intuited what we needed to read.
Once we had read the article, we had a discussion with him. If something was not clear, he would explain it. Sometimes he would ask questions in reply to ours. Suddenly, we would find the missing piece fitting in perfectly; on its own. We don’t know how he did it; it exasperated us.
My reverie broke when I reached his house. I took off my shoes at the door and walked the cool stone floor to his room. He was in his chair reading. I touched his feet and told him I’ll go make tea.
“Make a cup for kaki too she has a headache”, he said.
“You must have given her one with your loud laughter”, I told him smartly and he burst out in a guffaw.
I gave Kaki and him a cup of tea, took a sip from mine and began, “Kakka I don’t understand what you are trying to say about Inspiration and how it is different from Motivation.”
He nodded and gestured to me to read.
“Motivation and Inspiration are two closely related words which most people use interchangeably but they are not the same.
“Motivation generates cheer, enthusiasm and confidence. The source of motivation can be books, speeches or music. People get motivated by witnessing other people’s actions and the courage with which they live their lives. It is a powerful force and can make people do extraordinary and mighty deeds. It gives an immense high while it lasts but it doesn’t last for long. A positive event motivates and a negative one de-motivates. This makes motivation very fragile and transitory, needing deliberate effort to sustain itself.
“Inspiration comes from within a person. Since it is does not depend on external events, it remains constant. Its roots lie in the sense of destiny an individual has for his own life. Its permanence is its primary characteristic. It flows eternally like a river, driving and impelling your life. You behave like a being possessed. The more difficulties there are in your path, the deeper you dig in your heels, the more ferociously you grind your teeth, the MADDER you get. ”
I stopped reading and looked at him. “Where are you not clear in this..?” he asked.
“You said the source of inspiration is internal and that of motivation is external. I know I have experienced motivation because after a while the feeling of high dissipates. That’s what you mean when you say it gives a temporary high, don’t you…?” He nodded and I continued, “Then I have never experienced inspiration. You say it comes from within and I know I don’t have it. Will I go through life without it..? Is it supposed to be there at birth..? Are there special people born with it… and the rest of us have to manage without it…?” I stopped in confusion, feeling foolish.
“So you want to know where it comes from and how you can get it..?” he asked smiling. “YES..!”, I said excited. It was wonderful the way he had straightened it out.
“Aaaah… Dee…! To be inspired is such a great feeling. You feel stretched beyond your limits and feel like screaming in agony. Yet it is the most serene feeling on earth. A human being born of his own dead self must experience the tearing pain that accompanies birth. He must be torn into pieces before he can re-create himself. The process of arduous achievement is one of being re-born.
“The Inspiration to achieve is not an over the counter drug. I have met inspired people. I have seen the passion, the crazy determination, the abnormal patience. An inspired person can walk for impossible distances torn and limping. Their vision is incapable of short-range focus and can only perceive the range of their destination. The rest of the world doesn’t exist for them, except vaguely. They are perplexed by your expectation that they should spare attention for human issues and have no difficulty in shrugging your pleas away.
“These inspired people must have felt as you do today. Do you feel like there is a door forever closed to you…?”
I nodded dumbly, in relief. I knew I would get answers to the issues that were churning up my insides for months. I will learn how to give direction to my life. I knew he was exasperated with me two months ago. He had asked me what I wanted to do with my life and like a million other kids, I had told him I was still thinking. The answer had always managed to satisfy my parents but it didn’t go well with him. He had given me one of his looks that day. I am sure he decided he needed to light a fire under me and this discussion is what he had been bringing me to since then.
Something shifted within me and I got a feeling of intensely joyous excitement. I felt as if my senses had suddenly become sharper and I felt a faint trembling within me. He must have seen a change in my face and eyes. His voice took on a glow which shone from his eyes. I heard his smile in his gentle words. I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life.
“The day an ordinary person grabs hold of an idea that electrifies him, is the day he plants a seed of inspiration in his soul. The idea could come from anywhere. Most of us are not aware that we have a unique purpose to fulfill, to be served only by us. We must begin searching for it. The more intent we are in that search, the more eager is the universe to help us find it. The subconscious mind gets in tune with the universe and begins attracting events for us to experience. We will suddenly begin meeting people and going through experiences which bring us closer and closer to that destiny. Then comes a moment when we see something and it just hits us in the face. We know that day that we’ve found our life’s calling.
“Let me explain with an example. Suppose I give you a very enthused and fiery talk about the need to teach children of low-income workers. I am persuasive and insistent that you participate in an awareness campaign I am organizing. Although you are reluctant initially, finally you agree because I manage to motivate you. You get fired up and eagerly agree to participate. The campaign meets with moderate success but by the time it ends, the bug has bitten you. You cannot stop thinking about new ways, arguments and activities you can design to get more enthusiastic participants from the low-income group parents and their children. For me the project is over but you decide to continue and to make it your life work. Do you understand the scenario..?” he asks, rather redundantly. After all, I am sure he could see I was literally smoking in my chair with ill-suppressed elation.
“Yes yes yes…!! You motivated me in the beginning but then I grab hold of the idea and OWN it. I make it a part of my soul. And the more I work on it… the more passion and discipline I add to it… the clearer and more vibrant the vision becomes. Until the day come when it holds me enthralled in its grip and I can no longer bear to live unless I do what my destiny DEMANDS of me….!!” I don’t know when I stood up. I didn’t know that my face was glowing with passion… that my voice couldn’t contain the thought it spoke… that my eyes had become large pools of molten lava… and that my tears were trying ineffectually to contain the fire.
I knew nothing of what I showed. He looked at me as if he could see something shining and beautiful. I know the sight brought immense joy to him… his thin body trembled with happiness. The exquisitely happy look on his face filled me with awe. I was grateful to him for having let me see a human being in a state of complete joy. He had never asked for fee or guru-dakshina. I realized that I had to reach that state of joy myself. That was the guru-dakshina I owed him. It was the most alive moment of my life. He hadn’t finished. He went on that intense joy shining from his eyes.
“To become an inspired human being, you must have a clear vision for your life and understand your life’s purpose. You must that purpose with discipline and passion until it guides your every action and decision. Your value system must be unambiguous and suffer from no inherent contradictions. Your passion must be born of your right to strive and the certainly that you will win the rewards the universe offers. Above all, you know your work will positively impact many lives. This last is probably THE most powerful ingredient. The larger the impact on lives others, the more powerful will be your inspiration.”
I knew he had given me a blue-print for inspired living. He had subtly told me the qualities I would need to develop in myself… the mindset I would need to imbibe to lead a full life. But he still hadn’t finished.
“The inner world of an inspired person is essentially clutter-free and well-ordered. When I began to study those truly inspired, I had a million questions popping up in my mind. There are questions in your mind too… aren’t there..?”
Once again I was surprised at the ease with which he could read my mind. I began eagerly… my words tumbling… “Does an inspired person always remain at the same level of inspiration…? Do disappointments not hurt them or break down their spirit…? How are they able to persevere..? How is it they can remain so abnormally focused..? How come they don’t tire…? Why don’t they get bogged down by mundane issues like other people around them…? How do they remain optimistic in the face of terrible odds..? Don’t they get bored by the sometimes excruciatingly slow pace…? And WHY THE HELL DON’T THEY GIVE UP DESPITE REPEATED FAILURES…?”
Kakka burst out laughing. I too grinned sheepishly, embarrassed at my outburst. He patted my head affectionately and let his hand rest on my forehead for a moment. The touch of his hand was like a benediction. I felt his love in his touch and tears started to my eyes. For the first time in my taken-for-granted existence, I realized how lucky I was to have him in my life. I slid off my chair and sat at his feet. For some moments we sat silent, his hand on my forehead, my eyes closed. I had never experienced such peace in my life.
When he spoke, his voice was quiet, adding the dimension of awareness to the silence, deepening it. “They are able to deal with it Dee. I am not saying they don’t get tired, hurt or disappointed. When a setback is received, the size of the pain is in proportion to the size of the dream. It is just that they don’t let themselves remain in that state. THAT is the discipline they develop in themselves. Do you know how they do it..?” I shook my head.
“They can do it because they have implicit faith in God. Their faith in Him gives them a faith in their effort. They know He will give them a breakthrough when He feels the time is right- and not a moment before. They have told themselves:
Don’t be surprised if the Lord sends you to resurrect something dead, like a dream or a vision; while the world stands idly by, thinking you are wasting your time.”
He was silent at last and so was I. There was nothing left to say.