In an age dominated by weighty, intellectual books, it becalms the mind and soothes the soul to read a book of simple stories and anecdotes from a spiritual seeker. Such a collection is Navaneeta, The Cream of Wisdom.
And the seeker of truth is Shivjibhai Devshi.
A seeker of truth exerts a kind of magnetism. People flock to him, trying to glean wisdom, hoping to get some explanation to the riddle that is life or some guidance to seek peace and happiness. A social activist and a spiritual seeker, Shivjibhai travelled about the country sharing tales, anecdotes and parables extolling a life of simplicity, common sense, compassion and sadhana. To all those who approached him, he said, “SadD maganmein rahenD
”—“Always live drowned in bliss.”
Shivjibhai’s stories were recorded in Gujarati by the poet Pujalal. In this new edition, they have been edited and translated by Sunjoy Bhatt. Explaining the genesis of this edition, the editor writes, “Pujalalji’s luxuriant multi-limbed Gujarati of the 1940s overwhelmed me, but the ageless spirit and message of the stories were too inspiring not to be shared with others.” And wherever apt, the editor has added quotations from the Mother and Sri Aurobindo at the end of the stories.
The tales range from personal anecdotes and stories about nature and animals, to tales based on human emotions and even follies, to stories centred on sadhana and spiritual seeking. Thus the anecdotes of dogs, simple creatures tormented by street urchins, and the story of a magnificent vad
, or banyan tree that protected all with benevolence, bring us closer to nature and teach us to appreciate its simplicity and beauty and to be compassionate to all living beings. In an anecdote titled “The Silent Mentor”, Shivjibhai, with his long beard and flowing white hair, piques the curiosity of Nasarvan. The young man brands him as a madman when he sees him writing the words “The mango-tree, a silent mentor”, which might seem to anyone the eccentricity of a madman. Later in the story, Shivjibhai explains how the mango tree has fulfilled the purpose of its existence by providing shelter and fruits and asks, “How many of us have manifested the flowers and fruits latent in the seed of divinity that is embedded in our innermost being?”
The stories composing “On Humanity” revolve around common sense and foolishness, such as that of a Brahmin who missed out on the king’s charity owing to his laziness. There is also a story of two friends who purchase from the same stock of betel nuts; while one curses the nuts and suffers after eating them, the other relishes the nuts and thus benefits. Isn’t it true that “we are ourselves the creators of our joys and sorrows”? There are also anecdotes about the Swaraj movement and the urgent need for action rather than words.
In the penultimate set of stories, “On Sadhana”, a particularly memorable one is the story of a maharaja who truly imbibed his guru’s mantra, “This day too shall pass”. When his kingdom was invaded and he was captured by the enemy, instead of being “darkened by fear and despair, his face was lit with a gentle smile”. The conqueror, on seeing that nothing could truly vanquish this king, restored to him his kingdom. And then there is the story of Queen Tarangini who proved the power of her tapascharya
to her husband, King Chandravadan, by lifting a buffalo onto her shoulders and climbing the stairs to his dais, even as the strongest of wrestlers in the kingdom failed, and declared that “without a steady and intense sadhana there is no Siddhi”. Other stories revolve around spiritual teachers and how ordinary people, blinded by their own arrogance, at first doubt them but are ultimately uplifted and have their eyes opened by the grace and benevolence of these wise souls.
These are but some of the many wondrous stories. The translator has done a magnificent job of bringing them to life with a rich, varied prose that readers can at once relate to and revel in. These simple stories go straight to the heart, bring a smile to one’s face and remain in the psyche long after one has closed the book. They are at once pearls of wisdom and lessons that open our eyes to worlds beyond our ken.
Meera is an alumna of SAICE. She has published stories for children and adults as well as journalistic features in various newspapers and magazines. She currently teaches at SAICE, helping students discover the wonder of the written word by exploring literature and honing their own skills as writers.