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Carpe Diem

Tuesday, 19 July 2011 / Published in Articles / 3,474 views

By James Rappai (Jeevanmukta Das)

You doubtfully look at the spurious spare-part the dealer has just shown you and ask, ‘Chalega kya?’(Will it work?) He’ll reassuringly reply, ‘hah, hah, chalega, chalega…’ (Yes, yes, it will work) And if you still standing there mentally scratching you head (which, he can read… your mind silly) wondering whether to buy it or not, he might reassuringly add, ‘Chalega nahin saab… daudega, daudega!’ (It will not just work, it will run, run… much like the Duracell bunny)

You’re still not convinced, for the part in question has that appalling ‘stuck together with spit’ look about it that we Indians know so well—but hate with a vengeance. You’re are of course thinking of buying it to replace that finely crafted original that was made in some kind of an engineer’s heaven… and indeed has that ‘Made in Germany’ legend proudly laser etched on it. But kya kare (what to do), that darn thing has inexplicably died on you.

So while you’re standing there deliberating whether to put the lives of a plane load of people (did I forget to mention that the part in question is that crucial ‘left phalange’ that holds the plane’s right engine?) just to save a few Rupees—oh yes, it costs just one tenth of the original!—you just might slip into a reverie… and wonder…

…why is it that we Indians can’t get it right? Why are we so lax when it comes to delivering quality goods? Why do we have this ‘chalega’ or ‘will just about do’ maddeningly casual attitude towards all these heavenly material goods?

Of course, if you’re an NRI (Non Resident Indian) who has spent considerable time in the Promised Land (USA), then your level of exasperation with India’s chalega attitude is bound to rival Spiderman’s heightened sense of sight and smell, not to mention his talent for climbing up the wall! Then, you’re more likely fuming with that righteous ‘first world citizen’ attitude, ‘Why can’t these ‘dirty’ third world Indians get it right?’ Some NRIs even come back to India just to show us how it is done! Most give up halfway and rush back screaming all the way to their adopted mother… land. Why, even a short ten-day trip abroad is enough to transfigure you, turn your head a ‘grudge’ 180 degrees, and Cinderella-ize you from a slum-girl to a proud princess of supreme intolerance.

Why are we so complacent about quality? Why are we reluctant to expend energy on this world and its activities? Why do we not think it worthwhile to lovingly polish those knobs or whatever until we can see the zit on our nose in it? Why indeed do we have this exasperating ‘chalega’ attitude?

But of course we all know the answer to this near existential question. Indeed, the astute English had figured it out a century back… and they, poor sods, had tried their best to beat it out of us!

It’s not that we are lazy. Nor is it that we do not know quality when we see it, or cannot produce it. The truth is, we just don’t believe in investing so much time and energy in this temporary world. Indeed, we are busy building castles in the Kingdom of God.

An apt example to give here is: if when travelling by a train, it stopped at a station en-route, you would certainly get down and stretch your legs; but would you go get busy in building a bungalow and engage in some other long term enterprise while there? No obviously, not. In a short time the whistle will blow and you will board and carry on with your journey.

In other words, the ‘chalega stance’ is a deliberate one that is solidly anchored by the philosophical understanding wherein you do minimum to get by and keep your focus on the main agenda, which is to finally get off this darn train once and for all. The philosophical ideology here may be succinctly stated as: ‘simple living high thinking.’

But this is not all that is there to it either. ‘Sustainable living’ requires you to make do with less that spot on quality. Where is the sense in cutting down a tall tree just to make one perfect toothpick? Conserve our limited resources; live life a little less extravagantly; make do with less; stop acting as if you are royalty; try not to carve your name on the surface of the globe; get on with your life—and die quietly for heaven’s sake!

In short, what we really have here are two diametrically opposite philosophical points of view. One urges you to live life conservatively and invest in securing your next life as well. The other urges you to live this live to the maximum and go out with a blast.

In the second ideology the understanding is: ‘Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero!’ Seize the day; put as little trust as possible in the future! Of course, it means: ‘fully utilize opportunities today (rather than tomorrow) for the future is uncertain.’ But strangely, it is now thought to mean: ‘have maximum fun today, for you only live once.’ Or, ‘have no regrets before the curtains come down.’ In fact the term ‘carpe diem’ has almost become synonymous to ‘dangerous living’ or a ‘bohemian lifestyle,’ so much so that most tattoo it on their person. Thus, you have 80-plus grandmas queuing up for bungee jumping and other adventure sports. Indeed, it has become fashionable to draw up a list of daring and decadent feats to perform before the buzzer goes off.

So, which is better? Spending one hundred percent of your life in material perfection and having a blast, or being conservative, spending just seventy percent on materialism and having a blast, and thirty percent on securing a better future afterlife?

As a corollary to the above question:

Which is better? To live in a machined-perfected world, where all things are finely crafted, gleaming and emitting discreet little beeps, or in an earthy, organic world embellished with imperfections, and enlivened by the discreet call of insects?

Which is better? To drive in a finely crafted race car or race on a thoroughbred with the wind tearing through your hair?

Which is better? To be a conservationist and leave no footprint on the planet, or strip mine it, make it barren the short while you are here?

Hey, don’t look at me for answers; I have none! True, I prefer the 70-30 equation, but you please go right ahead and pick up whichever one you feel is right for you, and… good luck with your chosen path.

But yes, next time you hear ‘chalega’ try not to think ‘oh what a lazy bum.’ Instead, step quietly back. For, he is not a lazy bum, but is actually working hard at maintaining a certain aloofness from his environment. He believes that work binds… that too much attachment, too much involvement with anything on this planet is detrimental to spiritual health, for it binds you to this world, and brings you back to this world. And he does not want that, for he is focused on transmigrating to another, a far superior world. Besides, he is not willing to a giving a hundred percent at work, for he likes to reserve some energy for living his life, practicing his religion, going on his pilgrimage and so on.

In short, like you, he too is a philosopher and carpe diem-ing away like there is no tomorrow. The only difference is, while you believe in making this world a better place with finely crafted goods, and immersing yourself in it with passion, infusing your very being with the aroma of this world, he, quite the contrary, having no illusions about this world, prefers to remain aloof, keeping his attachment to a minimum, maintaining a ‘chalega’ or ‘will just about do’ attitude—all, to be able to attain the escape velocity to transmigrate to a better world.

And oh, guess what: ‘Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero’ may sound all very Latin-y and bohemian, but really it is a stolen Vedic aphorism. The real version is: ‘athāto brahma jijñāsā.’ [Vedanta sutra 1.1.1] ‘Seize the day… trust not the future, for now—this life—is the time for spiritual realization!’ Indeed, the Vedic literatures open with this very instruction.

Now is the time for spiritual realization. It’s not the time for bungee jumping, or for smelling the roses, or polishing that knob until you can see the zit on your nose, or making a pit stop at every silly festival in Europe, or drinking yourself silly or fulfilling every stray desire your decadent mind can think off. Seize the day; seize the opportunity of human life… for another human life may not come by for a thousand years…

But hey, don’t let it not stop you from making that jump! But do give it a thought… on your way down, down, down… consider adding lessons in self-realization to your list… before you hit the ground.


  1. 0
    vgopikrishna ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hare Krishna Jeevanmukta Prabhu,

    Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

    Brilliant article Prabhu, you have written it in such a hilarious yet profoundly meaning-ful way. Your sense of humor is great, kindly write more often.

    I have shared your article with a lot of people and i am sure this will make their day as well just as it did for me.

    your servant,
    Vijay Gopi Keshav das

  2. 0
    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -11 ) says:

    I agree it is a great and brilliantly written article. However, I think it excuses too much.

    Whatever we do, we should do for Krishna. But whatever we do for Krishna, we should do with great care and attention.

    Devotees generally do not make race cars, but if they do make race cars I expect them to make the best ones, the ones that win all the races.

    Devotees do polish knobs, and the devotees’ knobs and silverware and chandeliers and Deity paraphernalia are well-polished. The standard of worship in Krishna temples is “summit cleanliness”. No one is cleaner than a devotee or a real brahmana.

    Other worldliness does not excuse shoddy quality and poor organization. It is the mode of ignorance to think, “this is just temporary so why should I bother to do it well?” Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you are doing it for Krishna you should do it with great care and attention. If you are not doing it for Krishna then what (and whom) are you doing it for?

    Maybe it is true that devotees should not be too much connected to the machine-age civilization of ugra karma. That is a different issue.

    But I would rather see all those brilliant German and Swiss and Japanese engineers with all their efficiency and attention to detail and craftsmanship be engaged in doing what they do wonderfully, but doing it for Krsna.

    When they become genuine devotees we do not want them to become more “chalega” in their attitude. We just want them to focus their talents and their determination and their one-pointed attention in the right direction, to serve Krishna.

    Devotees are not blase, nanchalant, inattentive. When Srila Prabhupada saw temples in India crumbling, not well-kept, the pujari gone away and a dog there passing stool, he criticized it.

    I remember one lecture where he said, someone may think it is too much trouble to get a fragrant flower. Let me offer a second-class or third class flower. “The Deity will not protest.” Srila Prabhupada said, “The Deity may not protest, but your life will be finished. That is how the protest will come.”

    The way he said “your life will be finished” clearly expressed that the life of the devotee was in their devotion that compels them to offer the finest things to Krishna.

    Raghava Pandit would go 20 miles for coconuts that were a little sweeter, even though perfectly good coconuts grew nearby. The mood of a Vaisnava is not “chalega”. Vaisnavas are intense perfectionists, but for Krishna.

  3. 0
    Jeevanmukta Das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Detachment or disinterest for the material world and its activities, at least in this case, is not caused by laziness or laxity, but is a side-effect of having developed overwhelming taste spiritualism. It is this higher taste that renders the lower insipid. When Chaitanya Mahabraphu laments, ‘sunya idam jagat sarvam…’ (the whole world seems so empty!) obviously, the cause is overwhelming attachment for Krishna—certainly not laziness! Thus, such persons can be expected to carry out their spiritual duties with double the diligence! Where indeed is the need to bring laziness into this sublime picture? Be assured that the extra mile for the better coconut (for Krishna) will be walked—and that too with a song in the heart!
    Thank you for your valuable comments prabhus…

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