Last week when I went to Eranakulam, I dived into my favourite joint there - the secondhand bookshop that has been my solace in the last one year. Digging, burrowing, overturning hundreds of books, I delve deep into the mass of printed pages bound. Just being there, among the works of hundreds of writers, on books varying from Abstract Art to Zoology, gives me immense pleasure and peace. Most of them are fiction, romance and thrillers, books for children, on cuisine, on computers, on gardening or on religion. I bury myself among the books on nature. I am still in the search for books on Himalayas- which I had written about sometime back.
Among the books piled up, I occasionally come across books that I already have at home. It is like meeting old friends. I smile fondly at them and wonder whether I should buy them, perhaps to give as a gift to someone. What better gift there can be to your loved ones, than a book you love? And then, hard bound with a plastic jacket, labelled Rs.30/- lay Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
In one of the glass-cased bookshelves at home, on the top row among my most favorites rests J L Seagull. The frontispiece carry my sprawling, long signature with a date - 28/Jan/78. I bought it at Trivandrum for Rs.10/-. Richard Bach's JLS is one of the books that has profoundly influenced me all my life. I might never become another Jonathan, but I will wish to be, till I die.
1978. I had completed my graduation, joined for PG and was going through a crisis; in fact, several crises in different fronts. Looking back, I realize I am not much different from the person I was then, a boy of 21; about the age K is now.
Jonathan is a Seagull who wants to fly, for the sake of flying. "Why, Jon, why?", asked his mother. "Why is it so hard to be like the rest of the flock?" "Don't you know that the reason you fly is to eat?", asked his father. Jonathan is banished from his flock for his irresponsible behaviour. Jonathan beseeches to his elders - " How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly! Who is more responsible that a gull who finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose for life? For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have reason to live - to learn, to discover, to be free! Give me a chance, let me show you what I have found!" The outcast is alone, flying, flying all the time, perfecting his skill.
The son of a close friend of mine wants to take a break. He has good openings for a career in a field he likes, the movies. His father has good contacts and all he needs to say is yes. Yet he asked for a year - to experiment in theatre. He says if he fails, he will come back. We advise him how foolish it is to lose one year at this stage of life. Build your career now, forget theatre, it is not going to fetch you money. Yet he is determined to go. I admire his courage. I admire his conviction. I admire the quiet confidence that he has, to take risks. To listen and to act to the call of your soul is not something meant for ordinary mortals.
In 1978, I had contemplated on joining a mission in the northeast. I had visions only I could see. I had lost out - in studies, in career, in love life. I applied to the Vivekananda Kendra asking them to take me in as a social worker in Arunachal Pradesh. They gracefully replied to me, asking me to make sure that this is the life I want. They said - do not join us if you are unhappy with your present life, but only if you love the work we do. This is not an escape, but a reality with all the harshness of the life of a monk. Join us when you have no regrets about your present and only happiness about your future.
How could a boy of 21 know his mind? There are the fortunate who could, but I wasn't one among them. I still am not. I was, I am, too stuck in the mud, too afraid to break out of the comforts of the present into the unknown of the future. Maybe I am just one of the gulls sitting in a corner of that windswept beach, neither among the flock nor with Jonathan flying high, high in the sky. I look up at the blue sky and I see Jonathan flying with his silvery wings, above the clouds, above the winds and storms.
I bought the copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull - it is a discard from a school library somewhere in the UK. I couriered it to K in Bangalore. K is flapping his wings too, testing the air.
********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 29.07.2012