Sunday, December 31, 2006


I had the opportunity to pay a visit to this lovely town, early this month. My trip was a very hurried one, I was there for just one day. Pondicherry needs no introduction. It is a must inclusion in any itinerary for travelers to the south of the country. The city is very well connected with Chennai by the East Coast Road. This makes for a very pleasant drive along the sea for a good long stretch that usually takes upto 3 hours. Government and private busses ply frequently between the two destinations. Transport is quite hassle free.

I was staying in the premises of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. A part of the Ashram is built along the coast. The sea looks a heavenly blue against the rocky beach. The locals recount that the time the Tsunami struck the other coastal areas along this line, Pondicherry witnessed only a few rocks from the beach landing on the road. I had just about enough time to walk around on the graveled paths in the Ashram, catch a glimpse of the dispensary, the embroidery unit, check out the old French houses but from outside, listen to some wonderful stories about Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, breathe the cool clear air, take a quick drive around a small part of Auroville and the quiet beach along the Ashram. Living in the Ashram gave a divine feeling. I must mention here that one needs to make advance bookings for stay at the Ashram in either of their four guest houses as there are many visitors who keep coming throughout the year and Ashram accommodation is usually not available within short notice.

There are many places that we go to that seem to invite us for another time promising us many treasures to explore. I felt Pondicherry is one such place. I get the feeling that I have to go back again. I am sure that being in a place that is home to many seekers and simply breathing in it and trying to understand the visions of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, the architects of this wonderful Ashram and Auroville would be a gift that I can give to myself and I would like to recommend it to everybody.

Unfortunately, I could not manage enough pictures as I was really pressed for time and the ones I took were those shot from inside the car. Here is one picture of the beach along the Ashram.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Life After Life – Raymond A. Moody

Life After Life, first published in 1975 is a classic bestseller written by parapsychologist, Raymond A. Moody. The book is based on Dr. Moody’s research on Near Death Experiences popularly known as NDEs. It has given a new direction to the understanding of “death” and inspired the first generation of researchers in the field to create a new science of near-death studies. What happens when we “die”, Is “death” the end of what we call life, What to make of it when our loved ones “pass away”… or do they just “pass on”, What is the basis of the “grief” we feel for our loved ones when they “die” are some of the questions hovering in our minds that find ample scope for an address through Dr. Moody’s path breaking research contained in this book.

The research is based on interviews of more than a 100 people who have been resuscitated after being pronounced clinically dead by their doctors, people who as a result of severe injury or illness have come close to physical death and people who have recounted their experiences as they “died”, to others. These recountings show that something very spiritual happens to us when we “die”. Unfortunately, there is collective denial about the spiritual basis of our existence. Those of us who have experienced NDEs fear being mocked at or dismissed as “mentally ill”. Many a times we do not believe our own selves. The book also mentions “scientific” grounding and the position of “science” on the phenomenon of NDEs which I leave to you to explore from the book. But what I would like to make a passing mention of is The International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) a body with many chapters worldwide, that was formed after Dr. Moody’s research and is dedicated to building global understanding on NDEs.

The narrations made by Dr. Moody’s subjects have among others, one thing in common and that is the awareness of the unique essence of life arising out of their NDEs and I would like to quote from the book, “When we die, our own lives are evaluated and interpreted not according to how much money we made or our statues and prestige but according to the love we shared with others throughout our life.” The other commonality between all is an emphatic positive shift in their lives marked by self-esteem, empathy for others, peace and wholeness. I quote a few more lines, “Our society suffers from our lack of connection to each other and our collective lack of meaning in our lives. Homelessness, depression, drug abuse, alcoholism, road rage and gun violence all have at their roots a lack of spiritual wisdom.” Life After Life has been described as having “reconnected us with a timeless wisdom about death”.

Do we really “die” is a question that has always intrigued me. I have never been able to contain thinking that everything about a person ends when the heart stops beating. What about the memories and the impressions the person leaves behind? Many of us make a conscious attempt to “forget” them; this motivated forgetting really has a lot to do with the way we look at life and “death”. This book has a therapeutic effect – for many its poses a challenge by laying open a subject that has been an explosive topic of debate and for others it gives new directions.

The book has a foreword by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, renowned psychiatrist who has worked extensively with terminally ill people and is the author of the landmark book, On Death and Dying. The preface contains an account of the interesting shifts over time towards looking at “death”. It is a must-read for anyone questing for an understanding, a book review hardly does any justice to what the complete research has to convey!