No, there is no cellar in our house and no attic, no hidden cupboards and no passageways opening up when you strike the wall in a particular way. I remember there was a time when all this troubled me a lot… but I was in school then and was reading a lot of Ellery Queen mystery stories. I fervently wished I were born in a house which had mysteries tumbling out of everywhere and there were ways I could access the past as well as the future. But life moved on and I grew older.
All that I carried from my childhood to my new home in Delhi were yearnings for intrigue and mystery and lots and lots of books… more than five thousand of them now occupy the shelves and there are piles of them precariously balanced almost everywhere. This isn’t remarkable at all – but what happened one day changed my life forever.
Two years ago
‘I’m trying to find my book on market research. Did you see it anywhere?’ I shouted as I scanned the titles in one of the shelves of one of the book-cases in the Study. Specky walked in from the kitchen and said, ‘No, I don’t remember having come across any… but why don’t you search the cupboard in the living room? You did pile up your management books there.’ That was a good suggestion and so I went there without delay and… well, the funny thing about searching a book is that you invariably end up reading some other book. This is precisely what happened that day.
My search led me to a discovery of books that once belonged to my great grand-father. Books that no one would probably be reading any more… and right in this pile I chanced upon a hard-bound volume that was tied with mauli or the sacred thread of the Hindus. I untied the mauli and gently opened the book.
‘Specky, come here,’ I shouted, ‘I think I have found the diary that is generations old.’ There was not just this diary with pages full of laboriously written text, but a small piece of paper fell out. It was some sort of a letter because it addressed the person who finally finds it.
I was excited and sat on the recliner to read it.
I know this letter can probably be discovered and read barely a month after my death… and in that case the future would not really be future, but I know my sons will never open any book. But a grandson or my grandson’s grandson just might – and then it will be future indeed.
My diary is all about the mysteries that I have managed to solve in my life and so the future must be a judge of what I have experienced and concluded. The future, I know, will know if what I thought a hundred years ago was correct or not.
Your past from 1815
Well, this letter had survived for almost two hundred years… and was n ow in my hands. I could not really be sure if I was a direct descendent of the man who had written it or the genealogical path meandered through many families… what mattered to me was what the pages of the book wanted to say.
Let me admit now that I actually read the entire diary in less than three hours… and it isn’t because it wasn’t a massive one with hundreds of pages or that what was written was simple, but because this ancestor of mine went on and told one simple fact and he wrote it as the first line on the first page:
The visible is the mystery.
The rest of the diary was all about how all that he could see mystified him. He wrote:
What I do not see is what I do not and might not know. I have not seen any God and have seen neither hell nor heaven… why must I then believe that they even exist. Why must I spend my time trying to think about them and see if I can explain them in some way.
But I can see my wife and my sons and my daughters… and I am always trying to understand what they feel and what they yearn for. I then try to find out ways I can help them reach out to their innermost feelings.
I was impressed and thought, ‘This man must have been a genius. He is talking about things that they don’t teach even in management schools.’ I mean, look at the basic advantage of trying to understand those people who are around you… you are actually building up a repertoire of happy people and this in turn is what is going to give you a happy life. This is what really matters. You don’t need complex linear programming to understand something as basic as this… and, therefore, the visible is indeed the mystery that we need to come face-to-face with and solve.
Yes, there was a lot more in that hand-written diary… family characteristics that made me chuckle. But after every incident, the focus of this ancestor’s writing went back to emphasising that it is the visible that matters more than anything that is invisible. What I can see is what I need to really understand before I go on and try to know the things that do not exist in real life.
30 August 2015