Touching Lives

Writing is an intangible way of reaching out to people, of ‘giving’ unknowingly. But life offers all of us opportunities to bestow other precious, indeed invaluable gifts

ByDr R Neerunjun Gopee

I had never thought that I would receive this call that was such a surprise, coming as it did out of the blues as the saying goes. It was from someone who had ‘known’ me much before I met him. He was a teacher of English and English literature in a private secondary school. Unbeknown to me, he was a regular reader of the Mauritius Times, and of my articles as I was to learn from him afterwards. This was the first ‘connect,’ at the intellectual level if I may call it so. Subsequently, if my memory serves me right, we met through common friends, though perhaps only a couple of times, but enough to discover that we had a shared interest in literary and philosophical matters.

This goes back over twenty years ago. I had written an article in the MT on the great sage of India, Mahayogi Sri Aurobindo. Michael, for that is his name, had a close friend who was a lawyer, Hervé (who has since passed) who was an adept of Sri Aurobindo. He too had read the article, and while discussing it with Michael, the latter told him that he knew me. Hervé expressed the wish to meet me and discuss further about Sri Aurobindo. I was delighted when Michael called to share with me his conversation with Hervé, and I invited them for lunch at my place on a Sunday shortly after.

We spent some very pleasant moments together. Hervé had a more thorough knowledge of Sri Aurobindo than me, for I had only recently begun to read about him and to initiate myself into some of his writings. Herve was far ahead, and was already initiated into the yogic practices advocated by Sri Aurobindo, and it is from him that I first heard about the concept and practice of ‘nirvikalpa samadhi’ that Sri Aurobindo had elaborated upon.

For recall, Sri Aurobindo was one of the first thinkers to come up with the idea of India’s independence from British rule. He was accused of exploding a bomb in which a high British official was killed in Kolkata and put in jail by the British. Released after a trial one year later, he was being persecuted by the British for sedition, and in 1910 he escaped to Pondicherry which was under French jurisdiction. He devoted the rest of his life to the practice of ‘Integral Yoga’ in the ashram which he founded there until his death in 1950, when his disciple Mirra Richard, known as the ‘Mother of Pondicherry’ took over to carry on his activities. She went on to found Auroville, and she herself passed in 1972.


The call from Michael was totally unexpected, inasmuch as we had hardly met again, except when he came to gift me a copy of a book of his poems. Earlier, he had given me his copy of ‘The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations’ (1953) which he felt would be more useful to me because of my writing and in any case, he would be retiring in a few years. It had a soft cover, and I got it bound in hard cover, and it keeps coming in handy.

It was two days ago that Michael had called, and I was pained to hear his changed voice, as well as his manner of speech which was slow, and the articulation was not clear. He apologized for that, and for this reason he kept the call short. But he felt so deeply about my article ‘The Gift of Life’ in last week’s issue of MT that he thought he must absolutely ring me to express his feelings and appreciation. I was amazed that despite retiring as a teacher, and probably with a medical problem that is affecting his speech, he has nevertheless kept up with reading the Mauritius Times, and was so touched by my article that he rang me to say so.

Similarly, to Michael, over the years I have come across several other persons who too have told me about their ‘connect’ with me through my articles, belonging to diverse walks of life and age groups. I have met them face-to-face in different settings, but a number of times I have received calls from perfect strangers telling me they have read such and such article and giving their own views on the subject matter that I had dealt with. One of the most heart-warming calls I had was from someone who told me that he was a secondary school physics teacher, and had made a collection of cuttings of my articles. I have never met him.

It is always gratifying to learn that one is somehow touching the lives of others in a positive way, something that happens purely unintentionally because for me writing is a way of sharing my thoughts, what I read or know a little about, for I believe in the saying that knowledge is not knowledge until it is shared. In this way, writing is akin to my core profession of medicine where I deliberately and directly impact on the lives of the patients whom I treat. Both callings are about touching the lives of people and I hope to be able to do so as long as my faculties permit.

Unlike medicine, though, writing is an intangible way of reaching out to people, of ‘giving’ unknowingly. But life offers all of us opportunities to bestow other precious, indeed invaluable gifts.  A teacher friend of mine put that beautifully – what you can give that has no cost and yet is priceless:

To your father: deference

To your mother: conduct that will make her proud of you

To your spouse: unconditional love

To your child: a sense of duty

To your friend: sincerity

To your teacher: gratitude

To all people: humanity

To your opponent: tolerance

To your enemy: forgiveness

To your country: patriotism

To yourself: self-respect

If exchanges of objects help the smooth running of humanity, the above list represents the very foundation of our humanity, because we do not have to wait for any special occasion to give these gifts. A little reflection will show how deeply they can touch the lives of those for whom they are meant…

* Published in print edition on 28 January 2022

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