|The 'then' Air Force Station Road, E. Tambaram|
You can never miss out on his amazing philosophical speculations, if you are a regular at the Nayar tea shop at Air Force Road Junction, East Tambaram, Chennai. Especially for those of you who naturally ‘come alive each morning’ at the stroke of five, with or without your Labrador Retriever for company, you can find in all certainty, a lanky man with a soberly gringo mustache on him, collecting all the rubbish in and around Air Force Station Road into one big heap and making a camp fire out of it, welcoming in the process, the ritualistic morning walkers who are so used to his idiosyncrasies or ‘way of life’!
For those of us, [around eight in number] from Professors' Colony, adjacent to MCC Campus, it was a delight to watch [usually in awe!] at Shank Monk’s non-stop enthusiasm in doling out by the dozen his unique brand of philosophy and his one-liners which were his real ‘USPs’!
Shank Monk cuts across any divide – rich or poor, old or young, pious or impious, and reaches out to the 'little groups of humanity' that have cluttered around the tea shop, in his own enviable style! By doing so, he will give you a clarion call to come and be a part of his petty gang (or fans?) into talking 'some motivational philosophy' to begin your day! Once he has his way with the crowd, and he has a sizeable number at his disposal - to listen to him, he would strut across to the tea shop, give a royal salute to Nayarji and order - in his seasoned and cultivated (over the years!) tone, "one cup of of strong chaai."
Now, over a cuppa chaai, near the mounds of the neatly made-up 'camp-fire', the ramblings start. The discussions range anywhere from your paani poori to philosophy, without any let up of any sort whatsoever! The astounding jump from a philosophical tone to one of subliminal bathos, surprises any on-looker who inevitably want to listen to more and more of this tagorean wonder of sorts!
Sometimes, just to appreciate Nayar, Shank Monk goes and stands beside Nayar ji and watches him make tea! Then he eulogises Nayar in the fittest of words for his remarkable way with making tea and his endearing way with his customers like him, that has gotten him lorry-loads of addicted customers, taste-bound to his corner-shop!
When once Shank saw a young man gulping down his tea in a ‘panicky’ kinda speed, he strode towards him, and touching him by his shoulders said, 'thambi, (brother) don't ever gulp down your tea this fast.. Tea is meant to be enjoyed sip by sip! A Robin Sharma (Monk!!) at that!!!
|the 'then' compound walls of MCC|
Shank Monk makes a 'quiet and comfortable' living on the streets off Air Force road, by offering his expertise to all and sundry, by doing any house hold work that came his way - the hobson’s way! Right from plumbing to painting, to washing your car, or doing your plumbing, he has every skill at his disposal. He also flaunts a mobile number on his 'advertisement' (in pic). One can see his ‘fanciful’ ads crafted in his own hands, adorning the walls / placards in and around the little streets that criss-cross the Air Force Road.
Around ten days ago, as we were having our morning tea at Nayar shop, we found Shank Monk in a frantic state. He was seen transferring his mobile-tent that doubled up as his house, to yet another pavement in the vicinity. This time, it was not the rains, but the air force men who wanted the area cleaned up as they could never have this junk of 'dirt' (yes! within quotes) on their streets!
It was very sad to see Shank Monk lift his belongings to another place from his usual ‘tent-jaunt’, and one could hear him cursing the men for their inhumane treatment towards him and his belongings. Some of us went to his new tent-house to console him on the sad misfortune that had befallen him by offering him some money to meet his bare expenses! But Shank Monk refused to take a pie from any of us. He said, “bhagwan [God] is always there. HE has given me good hands and good legs, and I know my skills well enough. I am confident of my abilities. I can earn this money all by myself, he said. How would Shank Monk ever have known the invaluable transformational lessons he was giving us all in self-integrity, self-motivation and self-confidence, living exemplarily to the dictum of Wordsworth ‘Plain living and high thinking’.
Two days ago, when we saw him in the morning, he was there, his usual self, beedi in hand, as usual, camp fire in progress, his fan-followers intact, with the same gusto, the same enthusiasm of yore, and the same joi de vivre, doling out one-liners by the dozen, quite spontaneously, without an iota of grief over the huge setback of the previous days! He was back with a double bang!! - with yet another philosophical treatise to the 'Alexanders' in waiting.
When one of his admirers, an auto driver in the area (Ramesh) asked him if he felt really sad on having his belongings shifted to another place, Shank Monk, without any hesitation or any speck of grief whatsoever, had this to say, "Atha ellam paathitu iruntha velai aaguma anney?" (brother, will our mission/work be accomplished in life if we look at these “little little” things!)
He had us all dumbfounded!
|Near the Corner Nayar Tea-shop|
Well, Shank Monk’s carpe-diemic perspective to life takes me back to the famous survivor of the holocaust, Viktor Frankl, who in his most famous book of the 1930s, Man's Search for Meaning, outlines a wonderful theory which is far-farr away from religion or spirituality. The theory is based on logotherapy, which helped him to miraculously survive his Holocaust experience!
The following list of tenets represents the basic principles of logotherapy:
• Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
• Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
• We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in
the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.
According to Frankl, "We can discover this meaning in life by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering" and that "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances".
I had once suggested Frankl as a challenging area of research to one of my students as part of her project work! Now, I feel I could have asked her to do an interview of Shank Monk, a living practitioner of the wonderful and amazing tenets of Logotherapy!
Post Script: This post was written in end August 2005, and I am just republishing it for the sake of visualizing the good ol' memories of the past! By now, a span of a decade has vanished without a trace! Some of us have moved into houses within the city, while some others have gone for greener or better pastures! In the process, we have lost the invaluable speculations of a great soul! ' A Self-made person, at that!
This post occasions an immortal quote of Tagore from his epic short story of sorts, 'The Postmaster'. Here goes the quote:
So the traveller, borne on the breast of the swift-flowing river, consoled himself with philosophical reflections on the numberless meetings and partings going on in the world—on death, the great parting, from which none returns.