Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Respice finem (2)

Among those strange faces I saw on that first day at school, would be individuals who would become my closest friends. They have enriched my life and taught me much. I don’t know whether to feel sorry for myself at the thought, but the most unforgettable day in my life was the day I climbed ‘Hunnasgiriya’ with two friends. We did not take the beaten path, but decided to cut through the grass and jungle because we found the prospects more exciting. But the climb was tough and it did not take long for us to realise how dangerous it was. We assessed the risks as best we could and decided to carry on. It wore down our spirits at times, but we always encouraged each other and never gave up even though there were times when it seemed practically impossible to carry on any longer. We cut through impassable jungle with limited tools and crawled through pathways in the jungle that wild boars had carved through the thicket. Covered in dirt and mud, bruised and battered by the terrain, we pushed on. Nothing prepared us for the thrill of reaching the top and no words could describe the view. For me, the whole adventure remains, perhaps the most meaningful model of life itself. That climb has since inspired me at the most difficult of times in my life.

The mountains we climbed on our spare weekends and the forest trails we trekked, elevated and inspired us and shaped our view of the world more than we realised at the time. Whether it was fighting the leaches through Sinharaja, camping out in Hantana to get a glimpse of an elusive leopard, or looking for a rare endemic lizard species in Maussakanda, the friends who trekked with me and the shadows of those majestic trees have taught me much. Those steep slopes and waterways have left their cool imprint in my heart. I no longer look at a mountain or the sea as things waiting to be conquered, because I respect them now. They overwhelm and inspire me.

I still revisit the years I spent in school to bask in the warmth of some of the best years in my life so far. The friends I made there are scattered across many time zones now, yet they remain as loyal and faithful as on the day we parted. Classrooms were strange places where boredom and laughter mixed evenly, where friendships were consolidated, ideas exchanged, fights fought; punishments were given and endured and experiments succeeded and failed unpredictably. Time in the playing fields sometimes had to be endured but almost always sought after. The corridors between the classrooms and playing fields are still brimming with tales of mischief and lasting memories. The great halls bore many legends about those who belonged to the years gone by and the traditions and the legacy they passed on. They belonged to a history that we in turn had to make our own.

There still stands a majestic chapel which lies on granite pillars on top of a silent hill, with its neat lawn and calm pond lying beside it. It was our refuge, a place of solitude and beauty; the most perfect link between the earthly and the divine I can still think of. It was this landscape as much as the people in it that shaped my early life.

School is also the place where I had my first encounters with ‘competition’ in its many forms, even though I have to admit; I never really learnt how to compete. Perhaps I bowed out of competition because I couldn’t handle its stresses and perhaps I gave up without a fight at times. Perhaps I didn’t see the point in competing – or missed the point completely. Maybe I didn’t like the person I had to become to compete. There may have even been times when I failed even to realise that I had to fight and win to get what I wanted. Now I am about to head out into a world which is competing with itself. Around me are people competing for the best jobs, the best real-estate and even the freshest bunch of bananas in the supermarket and the best seats in the theatre. I was always made to work reasonably hard in whatever I did, but never had to compete for most of what I have got in life so far, so I am yet to find out the real cost of my inability to compete, or how long it will take for me to learn how to deal with competition.

When I was young, I perceived the role of education as a process of learning facts – the knowledge of which I thought would make me employable and thus secure a decent and comfortable life. Perhaps this was a fair assessment at the time because it kept me reasonably motivated to do my best. I count myself fortunate to have had teachers and friends who also taught by the very example of their lives and the way they conducted themselves. I was lucky to have been led into the wonderful world of books, the magic of music, the glory of a mountain top and the beauty and timelessness of starlight. I am thankful to those who taught me that knowledge is not found in books alone, but also in timeless traditions, in men and women with grey hair and wrinkled skin. I was taught how to peel away the layers of my own understanding and thoughts to uncover the knowledge hidden within. I no longer search for knowledge as a means of securing a job and a comfortable life. I now see knowledge, not as an entity that can be conquered or possessed, but just an awareness of the deficiencies, desires and voids within myself. Now I seek an education that will help me rectify those deficiencies, grow beyond my desires and understand emptiness as well as fulfilment. I feel that the most I can ever hope for in life is a simple and lasting source of happiness and contentment. There are things that matter more than what I accomplish or how the world perceives me.