Who Resides Inside You?

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The news of a poor, mentally distraught, famished young man- belonging to the tribal community- being beaten mercilessly to death by a mob who alleged that he had stolen some rice; who took delight in posting selfies, made many of the listeners reel under the shock and horror of human deeds. Finding it difficult to forget the picture of those wide eyes and face which was innocently staring at evil, I ended up calling someone dear to re kindle the fastly dimishing hope within.

Sister had a different take on the issue. ‘What enters our minds and hearts: those thoughts decide whether we become devils or angels,’ she said quietly. ‘So it is important to introduce only the highest, kindest, most beautiful thoughts into our minds.’

I recently read an article by the great SreeNarayana Guru: Spiritual leader, poet par excellence, scholar in multiple languages, humanitarian, radiant soul lamp for want of better words; in which he had elaborated on the same topic. It was an article called , ‘ Daiva Chintanam’. He warned about the omnipresent evil which easily takes over our minds and hearts if our inner selves remain susceptible and vulnerable.  He also wrote about choosing intentionally to welcome the beautiful and lovely energy vibrations around to enter our souls. From the pen of a master who wrote such exquisite poetry of deep philosophical meaning in Sanskrit, Malayalam, Tamil; who had translated Upanishads and Tamil spiritual literature alike for the common man, this article on what we jokingly refer as the super natural world, took me by surprise. He clearly mentioned the ‘unseen worlds’which we have to be aware of.

Leaving aside psychological studies of mob, dissipation of responsibility etc, I allowed myself to reflect more on these thoughts.When the mind is full of anger, vengeance, pettiness, hatred, it is truly dark. Who resides within us then? How did that enter? How does one welcome the good? By cultivating kindness, affection, generosity, wisdom, love, service, selflessness…

In a world so very ready to troll and abuse the voice of the outsider, it is almost an act of subversion to bring up children who can think differently: those who can naturally see the ‘oneness’. Children who can think for themselves, and look at the world around with compassion.

Perhaps, each of us can take up the responsibility: to nurture the young souls in our family to grow up that way. But it is a lot of hard work.

Perhaps that starts by giving them good books to read. By introducing them to great, fine, high energy thoughts of those good spirits who lived/live in different parts of this mortal world. Those who had different names, different genders, different skin colours, spoke different languages but spoke the same beautiful truth.

Perhaps it starts by weening them away from the seductive world of objects, never ending greed, relentless marketing and self promotion into a serene, luminous world of thoughts.

Maybe we can do our humble bit to turn them into “human beings” : who , on meeting a hungry, mentally disturbed living being will offer food and clothes with no second thoughts.
A generation which will never seek out an iron rod and a flashy mobile phone to torture an innocent to showcase their ‘coolness’.

**

(Photos of excerpts from  Sree Narayana Guru’s translation of Isavasyopanishad and his immortal Anukampa Dasakam- Ten Shlokas praising compassion)

Linking One By One…

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When I was growing up, one of the writers I had read with trepidation was Mohanachandran- the one who wrote the terrifying Kalika and Kakkakulade Rathri. These, if I remember right, were serialised in Kumkumam magazine. That magazine arrived erratically, whenever Amma brought it home from her office library. With the uncontrollable temptation that urges a child  to stare into a deep, deadly well, I would guiltily read Mohanachandran’s words. A cold hand would catch hold of my throat and I would sit quietly and shiver. Yet, I would read.

Much later, when I read the books, I still ensured that they was bright sunlight outside. Such is the power of the writing: these can easily compete with the Cambridge don  M.R.James’ best horror stories.  Tantra, Devi Pooja, ancient death and life rites, brilliant characters, their mutual attractions, innocent children and great danger…It was an incredible cocktail which could throw the most sober among us into a tizzy.

Why did I remember Mohanachandran suddenly? A seemingly simple story with underlying threads of deep insight. ‘ Chitrasutram’ by V.J.James.

Beautifully, it links learning, painting, a mysterious death and a talented child.  The pictures the boy draws point to unassailable truths. The description of those pictures, brought the creeping dread of Mohanachandran’s books to my memory again.

Wrought with deep compassion, the story  seemed serendipitous because it had a discussion on why a picture comes to life when the eyes are drawn last of all! Maybe because the translation project , which I am currently engaged in,  is based on the same theme; and also has a precocious child who can ‘see’ deeply inspite of handicaps, I felt very awed.  Perhaps, I was meant to pick up this book and read this story. Another quiet miracle.

What do the books say? When you are blessed, speak about it.

**

 

 

Charming Simplicity, Enchanting Wisdom…

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I read Deepa Nishant’s second book first! ‘ Nanannju teertha mazhakal’. ( ‘The rains that were relished’)It made me laugh and wonder at the same time. Memories which one could immediately relate to, language replete with a self deprecating sense of humour, and a graceful simplicity. Beautiful!

I immediately ensured that the great readers among the Missionary Sisters- who lovingly provide me  with lovely tapioca and fish whenever I feel homesick -got the copy. It  was still circulating from hand to hand, amidst much laughter, when I heard the last time.

So this time, I got her first collection. ‘ Kunnolamundallo Bhootakalakulir’ ( ‘The moist yesteryear memories- a veritable mountain’). I finished it at one sitting, enjoying my mother’s murukku and banana chips. Little girl raised a quizzical eyebrow; and mentioned a very pertinent argument that her ammomma meant the goodies for her and not anyone else. I ignored her royally and went on chomping.

That is an age old habit- snacking on goodies with magazines-which started with Poompatta and Balarama. What does she know of Malayalam: this young brat who corrects my  Hindi grammar fifteen times a day?  (‘Amma, I met someone who speaks your style of Hindi. New classmate from Bengal. She watched Padmaavat and told me-Shahid Kapoor mar gayi.’)

I believe that this book – now into its 21st edition- is a compilation of her  25 Facebook notes. These were loved by many and became a best seller when published. It continues to be one. Well deserved too!

**

‘Jalam Kondulla Chila Murivukal’was very thought provoking. ( Wounds created by water). My personal favourite.

It narrates an episode from the young professor’s teaching life – when she realised that what is ‘seen’ and ‘what is happening’ are two different things. A young student teaches the teacher a valuable lesson in life.

Her inherent kindness touches him too; and we read a note that he left for her.

“To my teacher who cracked open my solidified sorrow -wrought by endless excavation of tears-with her hearty laughter.”

She quotes a snippet from a poem (which roughly translated) reads:

In a human life-

the most relevant

needn’t  be the most prominent.

Perhaps,

just a few moments…

**

Reading  Deepa Nishant’s lovely articles would most definitely define  a few of those precious moments in my own life journey. And yes, the Reverend Sisters have already demanded the copy!

***

Bowing The Head…

My article published in a ten part series : Translating India

http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/it-all-began-with-that-dinner-where-the-milk-played-truant-translating-india-8-118021600502_1.html

***

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”
― Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems

The Cascade Effect

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Gargi checks the whatsapp message again: “Your silken curls, cascading like a river, are giving me sleepless nights! When do I get to bury my face in that garden of fragrance?”
She rubs her eyes and looks again at her greying old phone. The beep had woken her up from a rather deep sleep.
The message reads the same.
She checks the sender information.
There is no display picture. No pompous one liner or any other detail. Just an unknown number sending her this romantic stuff at one in the night.
‘Well, well,” she mutters to herself, “if it is any of my old admirers, I would like to shake him up for not sending this to me fifty years before! Could have given the Urdu poetry quoting Colonel a run for his money!”
She does not reply.
But when she goes to bed again, she cannot help smiling to herself. There is a song in her heart.
“Keshav should get that river side plot. He is struggling in his business now… This plot might help.” She thinks fondly of her younger son. He reminded her most of her late husband, the Colonel.
She caresses her long, thick, white curls, as she drifts off to a happy sleep.

**
Lakshmy giggles as she reads the message. Trust Krishnan to send her this syrupy sweet nothing at one in the night. Did he get drunk by any chance after doing all that Maths?
How did he get her number?
She caresses her silken black hair, cascading like a river, and imagines him hiding his face in that garden of fragrance.
Trust him to look all serious, the quintessential Maths teacher, and trying poetry to charm her at night! And except for looking deeply into her eyes in the staff room, he has till now never dared to express any emotion.
Was this his number? Ever since he had joined their school last month, she had been desperately trying to get it. Sheena , her friend, had mercilessly teased her about her crush!
Well, she will not respond now! But tomorrow, during the tea break, she will ask him whether he liked rivers and gardens!
She dreamily stares at the moon outside and is filled with inexplicable joy.
If only tomorrow arrived now!
**
Dr. Alice reads the message and wipes away the sudden tears.
When was the last time her husband sent something so nice?
And especially after a big fight? When she has almost decided to call it quits.
But this was not his normal number.
When he stomped out at ten in the night, she had thought it had ended.
Memories came flooding back: their college romance, their youthful days when George tried to create his business, the birth of their daughter…the recent fights over his drinking bouts, the extravagance…
‘ We will pull through… will go for a vacation together…a place somewhere far away, with rivers and gardens…He still praises my long hair! Lord, how I remember his courtship in college, quoting his favourite poets!’
Alice dials her husband’s number.
He picks up. A disappointed, frustrated man.
‘ Honey, come home. You know I love you,’ she says. Her sincerity makes her voice wobble.
There is a gasp from the other end. As if someone could not believe his ears.
‘ Alice, is that you for real? What..I mean…I love you too darling… I am reaching in ten minutes time!’
The man, nursing his drink and contemplating various ways of ending it all, feels as if the Lord has given him a wake up call.
He shakes his head and laughs at none in particular.
**
‘ You forwarded it to three numbers unknowingly? What do you mean, you idiot? The first thing you do in my brand new phone is to whatsapp lines of my new song to our grandmother, the family doctor and my English teacher? Arrghhhhhh….’

‘Shut up children! It is night one o’ clock. Get into bed!’ An extremely irritated mother calls from her bedroom.
A fifteen year old’s attempt to create a song for impressing his girl friend, fades off slowly, to the tunes of a screaming younger brother who is getting his ears mercilessly boxed.
Of course, the mysterious cascading effect of his creativity was slowly rippling through the neighbourhood even then.
**

 

 

 

Various Uses of Chutney

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**
“Did you watch Tisca Chopra’s Chutney?”, asks Mrs.Kapoor.
“No, I did not. Is it good?” queries Mrs. Das.
“Just too good! The way the wife teaches the girl a lesson!! Weaving that never ending tale of how anyone – animal or human-close to her husband, gets murdered eventually….very yummy!” Mrs.Kapoor happily sips her tea. It has ginger and cardamom in it.

On the tea-poi there are plates of crisp potatoe chips and a bowl of spicy chutney.
Mrs Das , who wears a sleeveless, pink flowery top, is aghast. “What, murdered?  Surely, that is a bit too much!  What is it? Some sort of fantasy tale? Did the girl believe it?”
“I think so… unless she wants to become a chilly plant herself, she will keep her earrings off his hands now!” Mrs Kapoor cackles delightedly.

Mrs Das thoughtfully sips her tea. The cardamom makes the tea too sweet for her. She grimaces. Her long white earrings catch the sunlight peeping in through the window.

“So how are things otherwise?” Mrs Das asks, after a pause.”How is your back pain?”
“Oh, how did you get to hear of that? It is very bad on full moon nights. You know, poor Ravi has to spend the whole night massaging pain balm on my back. Do you think, there is some connection between moonlight and back pain?” Mrs Kapoor’s kohled eyes open wide, as she stares ingenuously at her visitor.
“May be you should check with a doctor,” says Mrs Das and then realising her stupidity, “oh, fool that I am, your husband being a doctor… of course, he must have done everything needed…”
“Actually, Ravi asked me to just relax. He says I am doing too much yoga, and over strain is causing my back pain. I am trying to lose weight. Men likes slim women, and I love my parathas!” Mrs Kapoor shakes her head slowly, and sighs loudly. “You have nothing to worry, do you? You are so fit, dear!”
“How is Mr.Das doing nowadays? Such a charming man. Always reading all these thick, thick books! So much he reads and writes, I must say! Must be wonderful – all that peace and quiet in the house, eh?” Mrs Kapoor takes a potato crispie and dips it into chutney. “And since you have no children yet, you will have all the time you need for your hobbies, right?”
Mrs Das speaks very slowly: “I need to go now.”

At the door, Mrs.Das turns. “Who told you about this movie, Chutney?”
Mrs Kapoor scratches her head for a thoughtful second.
“Mrs Nair, I believe. Met her at an office party the other day. She said a lot of stories in short films are actually based on real life episodes. And she particularly suggested that I watch it.”

Mrs Das smiles tightly, ” Did Mrs.Nair give you any more suggestions?”
Mrs.Kapoor laughs happily, “Oh yes, she said that I should get new spectacles. Apparently she did not believe I was seeing properly! Ravi was annoyed! She was just trying to be helpful. Instead of buying new glasses, why get  angry, eh?”

When Mrs Das walks to her car, she is just not sure whether her ears  were cheating her or not.
“Bloody Bitch!” A loud hiss…

But when she turns, she sees only Mrs Kapoor, still waving cheerfully from the portico.

**

 

 

 

 

Thirteen Years Later…

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Scene One: Conference Hall in a beautiful heritage hotel…There is a banner which says ‘ Giving Back to Society: The Innumerable Ways !’

People milling around. The smart youth, in latest fashions. Camera men, journalists, participants with their ID cards.
A sudden flurry of activity when the Chief Guest arrives.Bouquets , flashes of camera, voices…

Cut to back of the room…A tall man, in his late twenties, sits quietly. He is looking at the speakers on the podium. He gazes at one face and is lost in memories.

*
On the podium.

Compère: ‘And now, we would like to invite Mrs. Karuna Menon to share her experiences as a counsellor and rehabilitation specialist dealing with juvenile delinquents for many decades.’

A young woman steps forward and manoeuvres a wheel chair towards the mike. There is a poignant sigh rising from the audience. The woman in the wheel chair is around seventy, with a shock of white hair. She is radiant and cheerful.

Mrs Menon : Dear friends on the dais and beloved members of the audience! Thank you for giving me a chance to highlight the need for sensitivity towards juvenile delinquents. No child is born a criminal…As members of the society in which she or he lives, we are responsible for nurturing that soul to the proper heights it can aspire to. For that, we should stop looking at juvenile delinquents as evil. We should learn to open our eyes and see them for what they are: children fighting for survival.

Then she continues with her speech.

Back of the room. The man, lost in memories…

The Q&A session begins.
Raised hands: hyper smart questions, cynical queries, opinions disguised as questions…Mrs.Menon answers with grace and humility.

Slowly, the man raises his hand. He gets up.

Compère: Yes, sir… please ask your question.

Man: I stand here as a testimony to the great work of Mrs. Karuna Menon. I was a drug addict in my teenage. A very dangerous juvenile delinquent who stole his own mother’s jewellery. This lady, she saved my life. When the whole world hated me, she opened her home to the likes of me. Madam, thank you.

There is a ruffling sound, as many heads turn to gaze at the man. Slowly, someone begins to applaud. Mrs.Menon, in her wheel chair, stares unbelievingly at the tall man.

‘ Thank you, thank you,’ she murmurs, overwhelmed. She beckons the man to come forward.

He moves. He climbs the steps to the podium. And hugs the woman in the wheel chair.

Mrs.Menon: Ravi! Where were you, all this while?  How many years, now? Thirteen, fourteen? You never got in touch!
Man: I had to do something worthwhile before coming back to you, right?

Compère: Sir, the audience would like to know more!

The audience is on their feet now. It is a standing ovation for both the mentor and the protege.

Man: There is nothing more to tell. I was lost, she saved me. I have started a company which is into skill development. We actively work with prisoners released from jails and delinquents who are released from Homes. We help them get dignified employment.

Compère: What is the name of your firm?

Man: ( Smiles) Karuna, or Compassion.

He bends and touches the lifeless feet of Mrs.Karuna Menon.
*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpectedly…

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‘ People do not have enough time to read or watch anything long. So , can you write something interesting, which is er, let us put it this way, amenable to quick enjoyment?Especially now that all are writing love stories, can you try one?’ My friend sipped her coffee.

‘ Can I write a murder mystery instead: very short?’ I wheedled. Wry cynicism is more my nature than  a naive trust in happily-ever-after. Give me  short films like ‘Chutney’ any day with Saki’s stories as accompaniment!

‘ Later…we will try that later. You have half an hour,’ she said.

She is like a sister to me; and sisters have the right to demand anything.

*

Love In a Train

**

Sound of rain…and a train whistling…The story unfolds in a train compartment

Young man: Damn! The train has stopped again! Someone must have pulled a chain..The phone has no range in these parts…where are we, in the middle of jungles? Who lives in such places?

Old Man: ( Coughs) I guess, people like you and me.
Young man: I did not mean to be rude.But see, there is no internet or mobile range.
Old man: Girl friend? Urgent call?
Young man:( laughs) Oh, no! No time for all that…Besides, I am yet to find someone that special.Just my mother…wanted to tell her that the train is running late.
Old man: Since we are alone in this compartment, may be you will like to listen to a story?
Young man: Oh, yes…there is nothing else to do, anyway! I mean…please tell me…
Old man: It is a love story…
Young man: ( curious) Really?

Old man… It began in a train compartment like this …some fifty years ago
**
Young man( Old man’s younger version) voice: Oh, blast this rain…and this train is moving through jungles! Who lives in such places, I wonder…Ah, not again…another station?

Sound of a luggage being dragged
Young man( whisper) My lucky day! What a beautiful young woman! That must be her mother…or aunt?
Middle aged lady: Beta, can you help with the luggage? We are drenched…

Young man: Oh sure…here we go..Where are you going?

Middle aged lady: Oh this girl works too hard and has fallen sick! I am taking her home for a vacation…
Young woman: ( laughs) You exaggerate greatly auntie..

Young man: You work here…in the jungles? It must be terrible…What are you doing…I mean ..Are you teaching? You should try for a job in the city..There must be options…
Young woman: These are tribal areas…and people are much nicer than in the cities…I am a doctor.
Middle aged woman: She is a gold medallist. Did her higher studies in England but insisted that she would work for poor tribals….Works with a missionary hospital here…
Young man : ( Utterly flabbergasted) Really! My God! I feel so stupid…I am sorry…I mean…
Young woman: It is alright….I hear that a lot. It is my choice and I am fine…What do you do?
Young man: I have my own business…

*
Cut to modern train scene…train chugs..whistles..

Old man: I told her that I was running my family business in the big city. I had just opened a new factory in a nearby town…I was trying to impress her…You see, I had fallen in love.

Young man: Whistles! ( It strikes him for the first time that old men were once young too!)

Old man: We got married eventually.My wife started her own hospital in the tribal region.Later we started a school too…
Young man: Wonderful! Where is ma’am now?
Old man: Sighs…Love is such a gift…but sometimes it is snatched away fast…The memories remain.She passed away five years before…
Young man: I am so sorry
Old man: Don’t be…We had a beautiful life together.Today, our only grand daughter took over as the new head of the hospital…she has just returned from England with a gold medal…like her grand ma…I went to bless her.She wanted someone to accompany me back.I refused.There is strength in my old bones still.Besides, I wanted to travel in a train back…for memories’ sake…

Young man: I am speechless.
Old man: My phone is buzzing….the range must have come back…Hello…hello dear…I am fine…I have a travel mate…a young man in the compartment…we are having a good time chatting….Yes, I shall take my medicines…don’t worry…What…ok, will give the phone to him…One second..
Young man: Hello, yes…Ensure he takes medicines before he sleeps? Oh sure, I will remind him..May I know, your good name? Ah..lovely name…sorry, I mean…yes, sure…Shall look after him…

Old man: ( Laughs) She is as stubborn as her grand ma…By the way, what do you do beta?
Young man ( respectfully ) I have my own tea plantations, sir.
Old man: Ah…a businessman…I like that…
**
End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Home…

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What ‘lights’ you up? The answer can be different for every human being. Maybe there is more than one answer. Usually, that is the truth. Meaningful work, loving family, hobbies…writing, singing, sports, or just sitting in solitude and watching the sunlight. Each of us has to find his/her own answer to that question.

Recently I was watching Elizabeth Gilbert- author of Eat, Pray, Love – speak about her journey home. Home was the term she used to describe something which she loved more than anything. ‘Writing’ was home for her.

After the stupendous success of Eat, Pray, Love, she faced a great fear. She was scared of writing again and failing to meet the standards of the first.She shared that she was happy when the next book flopped, because she could finally get back home without any more fears…She could get back and simply write for the sheer joy of writing. She went on to write many more beautiful books.

The challenge, in her perspective, was that we tend to give up our right to reach our own ‘ homes’.  There are many pressures preventing us from doing so. We have to find what gives us joy ( lights us up) and stick with it, without allowing anyone/ anything to dislodge us from that sacred space with their judgement of us.

In one way, this is what the great Jospeh Campbell spoke of in his iconic writings. ‘ Follow your bliss…’ The Hero’s journey belongs to each of us. Every adventure need not be heroic. It could be just the insistence that one has to have an hour every day, to be alone: to just be.

Even that could be a small heroic victory. Because, it could be your idea of bliss. That could be your ‘sacred space’ to rejuvenate yourself.

One of the things which lights me up is enjoying words in any form.

Is there some written rule anywhere that only successful people can write? Only those who are published should dream? Only those who are famous should indulge in imagination?  Or that only when you are supremely talented, you should dare to put a pen on paper- that too in only ‘specific’ human languages?

Who made all these rules? If I get joy in writing / translating from vernacular languages, who defines the ranking or stature of my happiness? Why would I justify my ‘home’ to anybody else?

*

Even today, when I hear some people discuss with great authority on the how/ why/ what of another human being’s choices, I cannot help a smile. What do they know- these so called experts- on what makes another person’s heart beat rise? Perhaps it is work. Perhaps it is love, perhaps it is a pet. Perhaps…million choices…Instead of wasting precious time trying to find fault with another, they would benefit, if they were to discover a ‘home’ for themselves.

**

Inside my book shelf, I encountered a few books created during my journey home. With every passing day, I am getting there. Unapologetically.

**

18. Kishkindha Kanda…Dekhiat chakrabaak khag naahim

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Mahabrishti chali bhooti kiyaarim/ Jimi sutantra bhaye bigarahim naarim//
Krishi niraavahim chatur kisaana/ Jimi buddh tajahim moh mad maana//

In the pouring rains, the boundaries of the farms are getting broken, it is akin to certain souls going astray crazed with untramelled freedom
The farmers are removing weeds from their fertile lands, like the wise man removes desire, selfishness and ego from within himself
*
Dekhiat chakrabaak khag naahim/ Kalihi paayi jimi dharma paraahim//
Ushar barshayi trin nahim jaama/ Jimi Harijan hiyam upaj na kaama//

The Chakravak bird is not to be seen anywhere, it has disappeared like Dharma on the onset of Kaliyug! On the infertile lands, the rain falls intensely, but not even a blade of grass sprouts there…It is like the heart of a Vishnu devotee which will never be fertile ground for Kama ( desire)
*
Bibidh jantu sankul mahi bhraaja/ Praja baad jimi payi suraaja//
Jah tah rahe padhik dhaki naana/Jimi indriya gan upajem gyaana//

The earth is resplendent with a variety of living creatures, similar to the prosperity of citizens living in a good, spiritually evolved land. The travellers can be seen resting at different places, like the senses desisting from seeking out sensory objects due to the awakening of wisdom.
*

Doha:

Kabahu prabal bah marut jah tah megh bilaahim/
Jimi kapoot ke upajem kul sandarm nasaahim//

The wind blows with such force that the clouds scatter hither and thither, it is akin to the clan’s honour getting lost when the family  begets morally weak characters as progeny.
*

Kabahu diwas mah nibid tam kabahuk pragat patang/
Binasayi upajayi gyaan jimi paayi kusangh susangh//

Due to the heavy clouds, darkness falls in daytime, and sometimes the sun appears. It is like a man’s wisdom getting clouded in the company of bad souls and then emerging again, in the worthy company of the good.
*