… said the Dalai Lama. If there is only one thing that I would take away from “Does He know a Mother’s Heart? How Suffering refutes Religion” by Arun Shourie, it is that aphorism. Replete with anecdotes and true stories, the book is a fascinating read. I had known Arun Shourie as an eloquent, imminent journalist/ TV personality/ political party member, now I have so much more respect for the person. He writes so beautifully, almost tenderly, about the suffering that his close family goes through, that it is heart rending and an education on how to perceive difficulties and sufferings.
Without giving away too much of the book, Shourie writes about his son, Adit, who suffered irreparable damage to his brain when he was just a few days old. While he takes us through the experiences in bringing up a spastic child, with the undying support of his extended family members, in Delhi, he introduces us to another challenge thrown at his life. His wife was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease at the age of 42. It is a statistic that one in some millions get Parkinson’s at such a young age. My father was, of course, a contributor to that statistic too. So, if nothing else, just the care-giving for a person suffering with Parkinson’s resonated with me. Not that I was anywhere near the care-giver for my father. That responsibility rested firmly on my mother’s shoulders. Much of Shourie’s experiences with giving support and caring for disadvantaged people was so similar to our experiences with my father. Unfortunately, many of us will have family members afflicted with some kind of a disorder, how do we care for them? What runs through our minds when caring for them? What could they be going through?
The Religion question
We have all heard the words, “Why me?” or “It is a result of our past karma” or “God has sent this affliction to test X, Y or Z”. Shourie analyzes these questions and more in some depth through the book and quotes from numerous religious texts. I confess that I have faced similar questions in my mind over the years and have reached much the same conclusion that the author arrives at. Of course, his research and analysis is far more in-depth than anything I have ever attempted, which brings home the point time and again. All religions have stories, that some might call mythologies and they are all based on various premises. Do these premises stand up to cold logic? Will religion provide solace to those suffering from an ailment or to those that are grieving the loss of a near and dear one? Shourie attempts to find an answer and I completely understand his search for the answer in religious texts and in the teachings of saints. Unfortunately, for an independent thinker, educated and unwilling to be cowered by the age-old rebuttal “Don’t ask too many questions!”, the answers are hard to find.
Many chapters are dedicated to this search and multiple anecdotes, preachings and stories from various religions are analyzed through the course of the book. What stands out eventually, is the humility and the undying affection that he has for his family that drives him to be a servant for them when needed.
I’d highly recommend the book to anyone who has suffered a loss or is providing care to a disadvantaged person. I leave this post with this summarized, inspiring episode from the book itself: an 89 year old retired Colonel from the Army spends his days traveling to a Spastic school, helping them run the day-to-day chores in any way that he can. He is tall, bent with age, but does selfless service at that age. Thayagaraja said it best:
Endaro mahanu bhavulu, andariki vandamulu
“So many great people, salutations to all of them”.