It is Guru Poornima today, the full moon and last day of the Ashad month in the Hindu calendar. Widely celebrated to honour Guru Vyas, it is also the time to pay respect to the guru.
Who is your guru? Or who are your gurus? It’s open to interpretation, what a guru means to each of us. A teacher, a guide, a mentor, someone you look up to for guidance, someone whose benevolence is in itself a teaching, someone who is free to tell you the blunt truth, in front of whom your ego does not exist. Above all, someone who helps you change for the better, define your goals, achieve them, then redefine them yet again. A guru keeps you on the path to self attainment, saves you from yourself when you lose focus and give up.
We all need a guru or more to face up to the challenges life throws us. Yet, we are taught to be self sufficient to the extent that seeking help or speaking of our fears are seen as a sign of weakness. My first lessons in humility and self introspection came from my parents, who are regarded as the ultimate gurus in the Hindu tradition. I remember clearly my mother asking me if I was vain when she caught me preening constantly before the mirror when I was maybe nine or ten! In her criticism of my lack of focus or her rebukes for my lack of organisation, I see now her attempts to guide me. By setting high standards herself, she ignited in me a passion for life, a hunger for information and analysis. Daddy taught me balance, that quality he had in plenty and that he patiently inculcated in those around him as well. The ability to listen to others, to empathise, to always be ready to learn. I saw him practice these and imbibed as much as I could.
So many role models! My grandmothers Ajji and Amamma, both strong intelligent wilful women ahead of their times in many ways. Today I feel like they still have so much to teach that we, caught in our lives, are failing to learn. My grandfather, Vava, a man of learning and passion, who took me under his wing when I was very little. Aunts, uncles, cousins, relations.
As I grew older, friends became gurus too. One taught me the art of keeping secrets, another inspired by his selfless sharing of knowledge. A friends reckless spirit drive me to discard inhibitions. Another taught me to love unreservedly. Every day, Rahul inspires me to not judge my loved ones. I can go on and on.
In the arts, the status of the guru is more defined, especially for those of us who learn any of the classical Indian art forms where ‘guru shishya parampara’ is still a live tradition. My music gurus, Aaba Thali, Milon Debnathji who will always be Masterji to me and now Shanta Mishraji, I am eternally indebted to you for the gift of Sur, Taal and Sadhna. My kathak guru Jayashree Acharyaji deserves a special mention, for the immense positive energy that she brings to my life.
I fill my life with gurus because they help me stay centred and fulfilled, but also because they do not let me get complacent. However modern life gets, certain simple gestures and traditions always affect me profoundly. Touching the guru’s feet, for instance, might seem old fashioned to many. But in that instant, when I bend and submit myself, I let go. And when I rise and my guru beams back a smile, I am filled with light and pride. I know all is well with the world!