After a hectic week, I was set to unwind exploring an unknown territory over the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, I caught the popular Shivneri Bus, de-boarded short of Lonavla, took a 5 km walk towards Tungarli dam and reached the Tungarli Lake for an ‘Astro Camp.’ It promised an interesting evening of astronomy and star gazing. The campsite was marked by attractive highlighter green tents with a magnificent telescope impressively placed at the centre. Before it could turn absolutely dark, I wandered into the wilderness pickled by giant flowering cactuses, felt the soft ripples of Tungarli waters, and recorded the sounds of beetles skittering in the dry thatch.
By the time I returned, it was dark. A weak solar bulb hung from a tree to light up the drinking water can. Before the formal astro session of star and planet gazing could begin, it was time to meet my fellow campers. We could barely recognise each other’s faces in the darkness, though the moonlight was gracious enough to assist us in forming a vague outline of each other. The darkness was deliberately maintained to eliminate artificial light, and help us easily identify the numerous constellations in the star studded sky. All the campers went through a short round of introductions and began to interact with each other randomly. Our talks ranged from the Mangalyaan mission to Mars to the beauty of Ladakh. Soon we began to share instances of our personal lives, pleasant and unpleasant, snippets from childhood, our fears and our dreams. We philosophised and laughed, uninhibited.
Soon, we engaged in the astro camp activities and had our share of mesmerising moments with the heavens above. After viewing Jupiter at around 2am, I slept in my tent weaving my own Interstellar space time.
When I woke up the next morning, literally feeling toasted by bright sunshine, I was in for moments of shock and confusion. After having spent a good 12 hours together sharing parts of our lives with each other, everyone saw each other’s faces, attires and overall dimensions for the first time. All of us had curious, vague expressions, few feeling ‘exposed,’ few others feeling uncomfortable.
I was struck by a whirlwind of thoughts. Would the uninhibited sharing of views and free expression of our personalities have taken place had we seen each other’s physical attributes? Would our liberated selves have come out in the open without being prejudiced by each other’s exterior personalities?
Would I have sympathised with the green-eyed Italian gentleman’s misery of being stuck in India because he was once married to an Indian woman, without being opinionated by my baseless belief that green eyes indicated cleverness? Would I have appreciated the infectious tinkling laughter of the girl without having my attention uselessly dissipated over her body that came close to being labelled anorexic? Would I have shared my feisty jokes with the couple who now looked fat and sluggish verging on disinterested? Would I have shared my childhood memories of plucking guava from trees in Nasik with the red haired girl who had over 10 piercings on her body without being opinionated that she may be sarcastic about my childish gimmicks?
How easily we form strong perceptions of how a person ‘must be’ simply by judging the exterior. We form our opinion in less than few seconds and that too unintentionally. Subconsciously, we all view people from our own coloured prisms replete with preconceived prejudice.
While a pleasing exterior is always a nice visual, the body is only a shell that houses the soul. Ultimately, all that matters in life is a good soul, a soul that translates into a good friend, a good parent, a good child, a good colleague, and a good mentor. That is why a good soul lives forever. While we have the technology to view things near and far, no technology can help us view the soul of a person right beside us, because a soul cannot be seen with an instrument. It can be seen and felt by the heart. If we all make a conscious effort to look through the exterior, talk to a person without judging his physical attributes, and then form an opinion about how that person ‘must be’, it will open the floodgates of acceptance, freedom, honesty and genuineness. Let us all give the soul a chance.
This article was published at Speaking Tree.