Incarnation (another sneak preview)

Here’s another little taste of my upcoming book (which is being copy edited as we speak!). Enjoy:

~ India, 1988 ~

A seventeen-year-old with a shock of black hair sat with his schoolmates in the sun facing his guru. The Indian sun beat down on the boys, and they shifted restlessly on their blankets.

Krishna Anand ran his hand pointlessly over his incorrigible hair and looked intently at the guru. His teacher was talking about something that the boy thought might actually be useful for a change; something that might help in his ruminations about staying in Tumkur to be near the object of his teen obsession: the girl Kamalita. Krishna’s and his fellow students’ circumstances were about to change as they approached the final days of their Gurukula, the traditional Hindu education that gives students a foundation in philosophy and an attitude toward living honorably out in the world. Soon they would leave school and move on toward adulthood and worldly pursuits.

Krishna was drawn to Kamalita, but he also longed to go to university to study his two previous passions: computers and TV. Before Kamalita lit up on his radar, he had even dreamed of going to America to study.

He wanted his teacher’s advice, but mentioning Kamalita in front of his friends would get him kidded and mocked as only teenagers can do. He decided on a roundabout approach. He would talk about work and let it lead to the question of staying or going. He raised his hand and asked the rotund holy man sitting in the only shade on the patio, “Guruji, how does one know one’s dharma — how should I decide what work to do in life?”

The teacher’s voice was high and sweet, like flute tones. “Karma works through you to pick your dharma, young Krishna, you do not have to determine it. The world is telling its fantastic story: the karma is the action; the dharma the roles. You are a player in the cast of billions.”

It was an intriguing idea, and Krishna set aside his current conundrum to consider the larger implication of his teacher’s words. He finally said, “That makes me feel so insignificant, but in my heart I feel like I have an important place in the world.”

“Your wisdom is sound, Krishnaji, but your perspective reflects your youth,” the teacher answered. Then he turned his gaze to include the rest of the boys, one who was dozing off and a couple who were swatting at flies. He spoke despite their lack of attention, “If you take the multitude of stones that form a bridge, each one plays a critical role, yet is one of many. If you look at the flowers in a field, each radiates with complete beauty whether it ends up as an admired individual blossom in this vase here or remains part of a blanket of color in the meadow.”

Krishna remembered his main objective and tried to steer the teacher back toward his question,  blurting out, “So are you saying, guruji, that it does not matter what I do in life?”

“As you have studied, young Krishna, you must learn to trust the inspiration coming from meditation, then apply your intellect to choose the course you believe is right. That trust makes it easier to swim with the current of karma, not back and forth questioning it.”

“But don’t important choices matter? Say, if I stay in my town or move to another land?”

“Every moment offers you choices. Some seem insignificant, like whether you take another piece of naan from the bread basket; others seem like they will change the course of your life, like choosing to stay in your town or move elsewhere. Ultimately, though, it is impossible, with our limited perspective, to know which are significant.”

Two boys started giggling as they pointed at a young girl walking a short distance away. One punched the other in the shoulder. A look from their teacher made both boys sit tall and stare at the ground ahead.

The teacher looked back and saw that Krishna was struggling with the vagueness of his advice. “Krishna, make your best decision and do not worry about the outcome — leave every choice as though you had just decided whether to have another piece of naan.”

“But what if I make the wrong decision?” he said, wondering what would happen if he left Kamalita for a while to go to study in America.

“Around every stone of choice you throw into the infinite river of karma, the karma will continue to flow. You cannot interupt life’s ongoing story, dear boy.”

Krishna was sitting with his knees drawn in, chin in hands and his fingers touching his forehead above the bridge of his chiseled nose. Then, as though a message had been delivered, his eyes lit up. “So we do what we think is best, and everything adjusts—like the universe is writing a new ending to a TV show?” The comment brought giggles from the rest of the boys.

The teacher approved, though. “You are clever, Krishna, that is a good metaphor, …” The guru let the image set before adding a nuance, “…but do not mistake time as a linear path, like the road between here and Mumbai. Time is also a player in the great drama of life; its role is to provide the appearance of progression. Our stories need time to be interesting. In truth, all things have already happened, all things are happening now, all things will happen into eternity — like reruns on your beloved television, Krishna. It is time that lets us experience life as we do.”

Krishna stared into his teacher’s eyes and nodded slowly as he imagined a TV show spinning off endless variations.

A cowbell beaten by the cook sounded lunch and broke Krishna’s meditation. The guru released the boys. “You see, time pretends things have progressed — however, I am not sure you understand any better! Very well, enjoy your lunch. Namaste.”

A chorus of ‘namaste’ rang from the young teens as they jumped up and ran toward the dining building, which was pouring forth an aroma of curry and freshly baked naan.

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