Sometimes two events become so irrevocably linked that it’s hard to remember which came first and what the connection was in the first place. That is the case for me when I started to blog. I’ve recently celebrated the third anniversary of writing an article a day for my home space, which made me start thinking about what it was that got me started, or gave me the idea in the first place.
I don’t believe in coincidences, everything that happens does so for a reason, even the fact that I’m writing this article on May 1st, the turning of the year, a time for new beginnings in some of the older traditions, is not without portent. It’s also no coincidence that I happened to receive in the mail about five weeks ago a complete set of the Indian edition of Ashok Banker’s Ramayana, or that I’ve been reading it almost non-top since.
Three years ago I was wandering through a book store when I came across book one of Ashok’s modern version of The Ramayana. I knew nothing about him or the poem but the name Valmiki was familiar to me. A friend of some friends of mine had opened a teahouse in the city where I live for a short while called Valmiki’s. I knew that the friends were Hindu, so I knew Valmiki was important.
Seeing a series of books based on a tale he had originally told, told over three thousand years ago by the way, piqued my interest. At that time books one through three, Prince of Ayodhya, Siege of Mithila, and Demons of Chitrakut were published, so I immediately scooped up all three of them and read them back to back.
To say I was inspired would be an understatement; I thought they were some of the most amazing books I had read in a long time and wanted to tell the world about them. I had been writing in sort of a desultory fashion at the time; pecking away at a story that was rapidly stalling, writing a couple of articles, and some poetry. I was selling them at Lulu.com in the hopes that people would find them and buy the.
But I had nowhere to post things on a regular basis. I discovered Ashok’s web site at that time and went and read through it and learned more about the man who wrote these books and what Rama meant to India. I was fascinated. When I discovered he had an area for readers to write him and to mail in reviews, I quickly wrote him a long letter about the whole Valmiki thing and sent him a review I wrote of all three books. (I had previously published it at MouthShut.com, ironically enough an Indian based review site being the only one I had been able to find easily)
When Armies of Hanuman came out in Canada in 2005 I immediately wrote a review of it and sent it off to Ashok’s web site along with a letter reminding him of the story I had related about the teahouse named Valmiki’s. I had assumed he had not, for some reason, read the first one. When he wrote back and asked it I knew myself because somebody had already written him about a teahouse in Kingston called Valmiki’s I had to laugh. (When I told him to check the return addresses of the two emails he must have found it funny as well, judging by the humour of his reply)
By this time Ashok had opened his first blog through Google’s Blogspot network. There was a link on his site, as there are on all Blogspot blogs, inviting you to get your own blog. Well I followed that link and started my own blog and the rest as they say is history.
Would I have discovered Blogspot without Ashok? Probably yes, but who knows how long it would have taken. Picking up that original Orbit copy of Prince of Ayodhya was the first step in me being exactly where I am today in terms of my writing. It was because of my love for Ashok’s books that I began to write reviews; he was the first person I interviewed because I liked his books so much, and now three years later I’m editing his website/literary magazine.
I feel in some ways that Rama and his story have a lot to do with me being here where I am today. It was important for me to find his story as told by Ashok aside for more reasons then the ones I’ve already given. In the final book of the series, King Of Ayodhya Rama is referred to as Maryada Pushottam – He Who Fulfils His Vow by his followers. At one point his brother Lakshman adds to that title the words…Against All Odds.
In spite of many obstacles and temptations thrown in his path Rama lives his life according to the simple precept of doing exactly what he says he will do and what is expected of him according to who he is. He is a son, a King in waiting, a husband, the disciple of a guru, a brother, and eventually the leader of an army. He is also gifted with various celestial weapons and powers that he can draw on under certain conditions, and only those certain conditions.
Each role he plays has it’s own conditions that must be followed. If at anytime there appears to be a conflict between fulfilling his duty as a son and as a King, he has to figure out how he can resolve the conflict and do what is the right thing. But in spite of that he is always able to do the right thing even if it turns out to be the most difficult and the most fraught with danger.
It was in this manner that The Ramayana as told by Ashok Banker introduced me to the concept of dharma. I had of course heard the word many times before but had never really understood the concept. Simply put dharma is the fulfillment of your duty to yourself in spite of whatever obstacles you might face.
At the time when I read the story of Rama I was just beginning to start writing in earnest. But I also suffer from a chronic, acute, pain condition, which means I’m in constant agony. That was my obstacle to overcome; it is what could prevent me from being one who fulfills his vows as a writer, a husband, a son, and a brother.
Sometimes I have failed, given into self-pity, resentment, and all the other traps that we set for ourselves so that we won’t succeed. I have a perfectly legitimate excuse for failure and inexcusable behaviour at my fingertips. But every time I hear myself, even in my own head, using it, I’m ashamed and it sounds like an excuse. There are people in the world with far worse problems that get out of bed every day and are simply grateful for being given that gift.
So for three year I’ve done pretty well, but life can play tricks on you. It rewards you for being diligent and hard working by giving you recognition, in my case editing Epic India, and you use that responsibility along with what ever other excuses you may have at hand, to stop doing what you’re supposed to be doing.
Oh I still produce an article or two a day for the various sites I write at, whether a review of a book or a CD, or and opinion piece on some aspect of the world today. But they feel like excuses for not working on what I’m supposed to be working on. My novel sits abandoned and neglected. Not only haven’t I done the revisions I want to do on book one but I have not done any work on book two in almost a year.
It doesn’t matter what other things I’m achieving, what praise that I’m winning, or anything else. What matters is that I don’t feel like I’m doing what I should be doing, or all that I should be doing. It’s very easy to make excuses, but they still ring false in my ears so I’ve got to make a change and stop the excuses. It’s not even like I have too much work otherwise, I’m usually finished with the blogs by ten o’clock in the morning at the latest.
Today is May 1st the turning of the year and I have just finished reading all six books of Ashok Banker’s Ramayana again, and this time in their original Indian editions, as the author intended them to be read. It is never too late to start fulfilling your dharma or to do what you are supposed to do.
Jai Shri Rama.