The Empty Nest Syndrome


I can never say which is more poignant: the sun breaking into colours from the darkness of the night sea, or the bright sun sinking over the darkening horizon.  When I was there in the east coast each day was a miracle. Each day began with the birth of new light, like a new and newer horizon being discovered. Like any eager soul who has without regret or remorse, un-reluctantly left the warmth of the bed and sought the sea shore in the early dawn in the east coast I too have known the touch of the sun.  Pondicherry was for me like a warm tin-can placed squarely under the glowing sun; all it does is to go from warm to extreme hot and then rework from where it left off throughout the year. The birth of the sun was the beginning of a blistering hot day the year around. But the sweetness and silence of a glorious sun emerging from the deeps of the sea was always a sight that brought tears from the deeps of myself. I recall murmuring to myself: hiranmayena patrena, satyasyapihitam mukham/ tat tvam pushann apavrinu, satya-dharmaya drishtaye | (The face of truth is covered with a golden disc.  O Pushan, Sun, unveil it so I who love the truth may behold it!)

There is certainly light behind light behind light. What blinds us at the beginning need not be the true light. Do I search within myself again and again?

The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, in one of her conversations, speaks about the idea of beauty thus:

. ..At first your sense of beauty is instinctive, impulsive, infrarational, lacking light, wanting reason, simply without any true understanding, and so, because the origin of the aesthetic sense is infrarational, it is understood, one always says this: “There’s no disputing tastes and colours.” You know, there are all kinds of popular proverbs which say that the appreciation of the beautiful is not a matter of reasoning, everyone likes a particular thing he doesn’t know why, he takes pleasure in looking at a thing, and this pleasure cannot be discussed.

(WRITINGS BY THE MOTHER, Aesthetic consciousness, 1 June 1955)

One just looks upon sun rising like this with awe like a child, infrarational. It is full of mystery full of meaning.  Although at the back of our rational mind we “know” that it is the earth that goes round the sun and not the other way round.  But like the wise scientist Galileo Galilei we also murmur to ourselves: nevertheless it moves!  It moves alright it “moves” our minds too!

But the mind of man is never satiated: the artist and poet are condemned to wander forth forever never tied to one place or time. As I left Pondicherry the sun had begun its descent. Of course it resurfaces even in the west coast. From among the mountain ranges I see the quiet dawn breaking free once again. Now when the sun goes down I see the magnificence of another secret. There is no light without darkness as there is no darkness without light.

Does the intellect realise this or does the heart feel it?  What can we say after the touch of God in the glorious dawn? Sri Aurobindo has written:

[…] Whoever has once felt the glory of God within him can never again believe that the intellect is supreme. There is a higher voice, there is a more unfailing oracle. It is in the heart where God resides. He works through the brain, but the brain is only one of His instruments. Whatever the brain may plan, the heart knows first and whoever can go beyond the brain to the heart, will hear the voice of the Eternal.

(Sri Aurobindo on the Glory of God in Man, January 1, 1908)

To feel at one with the universe is to touch the deeper self of all being. This is a realization that just dawns on one or need I write “in “one? Have I felt that the glory of the dawn is profounder or more poignant than the serenity of the sun setting over the Arabian sea? What can I say?

There is no secret in life: everything is free for the taking, open and approachable. As one walks towards the rising sun one feels this truth in one’s veins. It is the similar state of being one arrives at as one walks toward the setting sun. East is East and West is West. There is little difference.

The sun is a miracle. Dawn. Silent and serene. Evening. Silent and serene. We are such tiny creatures that we cling to the edge of all being and refuse to let go. The night is broken and dawn is free. The day is ended and the sun is set. Our heart is hushed. Silenced. If we are willing to turn inwards our hearts will learn to sense much more that what our brains later reason with us. Pondicherry or Trivandrum.

In this west coast I feel the rush of the centuries as the sun disappears round the bend in the silent horizon. It is with a suddenness that my heart is overtaken by the sweeping sadness of emptiness. Have I lost the sun? Which is more poignant? The sun breaking into colours from the darkness of the night sea, or the bright sun sinking over the darkening horizon? Do I know?

This is the empty nest syndrome they speak about. When the children have grown up and left for the wide world seeking spaces for themselves the parents who stay at home feel the pang. My father used to say, I recall: “Leave the front door always open!”  Now I know. The sun rise and sun set are never separate. The question that remains large is just this: Is it the same sun that comes round?  Silence and solitude are deep within the seeking self. To touch silence is to awaken the whir of the reasoning mind. To realize solitude is to awaken the ever questing mind. The poet and artist are condemned to wander in silence and solitude. Only the sun follows him.

Remembering KK Neelakantan alias Induchoodan

It is now more than forty years since I started birding! In 1976 when I walked into the Department of English in the famed University College in the heart of Trivandrum city, I was accosted by my smoking Professor,  “Murali, meet me at 5.30 am in front of the GPO”  It was more of a command than a friendly demand! KK Neelakantan smoked only Charminar and walked with a slight stoop. The undergraduate students were terrified of him. More than anything, he was a pioneer in ornithology in my part of the world. He introduced me to Whistler’s Hand book of Indian Birds, and Prater’s Book of Indian Animals. It was through him that I got to know the legendary Salim Ali, the doyen of Indian birdwatching—the birdman of India himself, in real flesh and blood! Much later he was instrumental in gifting me a copy of the priceless Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali signed by the author in our presence! And now when I think back on those days a profound amazement awakens in my insides. Walking on the forest tracks with these two avid birders, listening to the wind on the high trees of the moist wet evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, slinging my borrowed 8×30 binoculars over my frail neck, clutching my notepads and sketchbooks, learning to hold my breath and restrain my over enthusiastic bubbling mind from spilling over with the excitement that one feels in the denseness of the jungle, looking wide eyed and with awe at everything around , I was very much “there” What more is there to say? I recall that there were usually a couple of other young birders alongside us when we took those short forays into the wetlands of Veli and Akkulam. Many of them grew into genuine ornithologists and wild lifers and some dropped off along the way that led them onto other avenues. My love for literature and art led me into the sunny world of books and academia. Prof. K K Neelakantan was more at home with his feathered friends than with Shakespeare and Milton or even Keats. He also tried his hand at sketching and painting. Many a day when I visited him in his small house behind the GPO he would be hard at work on his watercolours—he would sketch with such ardour and colour in each feather with deep diligence. He admired the sketches of E H Aitkin and the Australian Goulds as well as Peter Scott. With him I learned to identify and categorise innumerable species. He was critical of my overflowing optimism and often restrained me from delving deep into the forests. Above all, he had a sharp tongue. My marriage with Usha was a personal and private one—we did not extend any invites, neither did we make it an event. Neelakantan Sir was sorely troubled I didn’t let him in to our secret. Later, much later, when we walked into the Victoria Jubilee Town Hall in Trivandrum where he was being honoured on stage, he espied us and snapped across the crowds: Murali, although you never informed me about your marriage you can have my blessings now! The birdman of Kerala had one secret desire: he loved boiled eggs. Many a day after our strenuous walks over the marshes just before we headed home he would lead us to a small shack of a hotel and order boiled eggs. And boy, did we all relish those! Here is a poem I had dedicated to him:

Stone Curlew  (a  poem for K.K.N.– naturalist and professor)


Once again we froze against the stony shore,

as the curlew turned, with a graceful sweep–

wings light, open, alert, eyes wide, beady bright.

We knew it knew and yet was game to play

all over again the very same game

of hide and seek in the softening light.

One foot bent and the forward thrust

of the westerly breeze did the rest–

the bird rose and soft-landed, leading our eyes

away from her speckled brood. The stream

passed silent.  The wind kept pace, and

no stone moved while the curlew called.

A shrill whistle, plaintive, lone, while

her mate somewhere heard and turned.

The sky lay vast, unquiet in its intense spread.

The bird rose and called again. A feather

floated down.We stood silent,

amazed at both bird and sky.