Oct 19, 2022

Remembering my Grandfather: The fallacy of fear

Anant Talaulicar

Today is the 19th of June and happens to be my paternal grandfather’s birthday.  He passed on in 1993 at the ripe age of 88 years.  He was a professor at the Lyceum in Goa during the Portuguese rule.  I used to visit Goa during my summer vacations and stay with him as well as my maternal grandparents for a couple of months every year.  My grandparents had big impacts on me, especially my paternal grandfather since he had learnt Sanskrit and had read a number of the Shruti’s including the four Vedas and many Upanishads.  He had also read many Smriti’s including the Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as interpretations of the Shruti’s by Shankaracharya.  He had also read the teachings of our various Sant’s in Maharashtra.  He was a person of simple living and high thinking – quite Gandhian in his ideas about practicing Truth – Satya and Ahimsa – Non-Violence.  I recall sitting in the back of the car with him as we were driven through the streets of Panaji, and so many, many people waving at him and speaking to him with great respect.  I used to wonder why?!  Later I realized that this was a time when professors were revered, and he must have been a truly great teacher for so students to treat him the way they did.

As I now look back at my life being on the cusp of 61 years of age, I realise that my grandfather had a great impact on me.  He would tell me so many stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as other books.  At that time, they had minor impacts on me although the seeds were sown for a lifetime of growth.  Some had strong impacts right then, and others sprouted much later in my life.

One of the biggest gifts that my grandfather gave me was the ability to overcome irrational fears.  He did this by telling me his true story.  He had lost his mother when he was very young.  He loved in a small village named Cuncolim in the southern part of Goa.  At that time this village was not electrified.  Hence it would get very dark at night with only a few kerosine and oil lamps burning inside homes.  His fellow children (and as we know, children can be very wicked) would try and scare him that his mother would come to him as a ghost at night and do terrible things to him.  Given the level of his wisdom at that time, my grandfather actually believed his naughty colleagues, and would get terrified every night.  This fear became so bad that he could not sleep peacefully and he destroyed his digestion for a lifetime.  My grandfather told me “Anant, the reality is that there are no ghosts.  I have never seen one.  But I spoiled my digestive health and peaceful sleep for a good part of my life by believing what others told me, rather than exercising my Buddhi or rational thinking ability.”

It was a major lesson to me and I was only about 10 or 12 years old at the time.  This lesson had a major impact on my life positively.  I decided not to blindly believe what people say to me.  I decided to do my own independent thinking and my own independent research before concluding.  I also decided not to entertain irrational fears by appealing to my Buddhi (intellect) and examining data and applying logic.  This became extremely instrumental in achieving greater happiness and success in my life.  I noticed so many people in my life – family members, friends and other leaders sporting irrational fears and therefore limiting themselves and their contributions.  Some feared water, others heights, others certain kinds of people, others potential failure etc. etc. etc.  I am certainly not a fearless person, but I can comfortably say that I have overcome most of my irrational fears from a young age thanks to the powerful story that my grandfather told me very candidly at an impressionable age.

Over time, this major foray of mine into wisdom, led me into other areas such as the theory and practice of Karma Yoga.  This also happened in my life in a very interesting way.  I went to Manipal for my undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering.  By the time I went there, I was confused and cynical about how people were practicing religion and spirituality around me in Mumbai.  Mumbai is a very diverse place and I was exposed to people from so many different religions (including the myriad ways in which Hinduism is practiced including my own home).  At home, my mother, for example, was a ritualistic Hindu lady who would pray in prescribed traditional ways, chant, fast, pray to different Gods and Goddesses depending on the day.  When I asked her the reasons for this, she did not seem to know, and her answer to me was that she was following what her ancestors had done for thousands of years.  Then, elsewhere, I noticed a theme of fear based practices across religions, the idea that unless I do a certain ritual, something bad will happen to me or my loved ones.  I also noticed a theme of guilt based practices where some people I knew believed that they were bad or sinners, and needed some salvation from Divinity to overcome their sins.  Finally, I noticed the most common theme of greed, where there was a transaction with Divinity of for example, offering a coconut or other object in return for a request for a promotion or money or a beautiful partner etc.

I could not relate to any of these four themes, and therefore decided to embark on a self-learning journey of religions, philosophy and spirituality while I studied engineering.  Hence I read the Bible, Quran, Geeta, Emerson, Thoreau, Kahlil Gibran, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Mahabharat etc.  Concepts of Karma, free will, choice, Dharma, the four Yogas of Gnyana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga became clearer.

I strongly latched on to Karma Yoga as a very practical approach to living my life in a more free and happy manner.  It was something I could do even as a student.  All I had to do was approach my work as worship, as divine.  Offer myself fully to it, focus completely.  Realize that the results were not entirely under my control and hence stop fretting about failure or even success overly.  View failures and successes as learnings and improve my processes continuously.  Become clearer as to what I control, what I only influence and what I do not control.  This truly worked for me.  It took me places and helped me form strong relationships with people around the world.  It helped me lead a very fulfilled life.

Hence, I will always be extremely grateful to my paternal grandfather – Esvonta (that’s the Portuguese way of writing Yashwant) Narayana Talaulicar, for raising my wisdom by helping me relinquish irrational fears, and later grateful to so many people including my mother – Usha Jaivant Talaulicar, who in my view, were practicing blind faith, fear, guilt and greed based religious practices, which lead me to search for the “truth” and elevated my wisdom with the discovery of many many wisdom based practices such as Karma Yoga that have had a fundamentally positive impact on my life.

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