Table for two Metroplus

Food for body and soul

Dr. Karan Singh at the Dakshin restaurant in New Delhi’s Sheraton Photo R.V. Moorthy.

Dr. Karan Singh at the Dakshin restaurant in New Delhi’s Sheraton Photo R.V. Moorthy.   | Photo Credit: R_V_Moorthy

The management guys and servers at Dakshin, Sheraton, greet Dr. Karan Singh with the warm welcome of old friends. They remember his favourite table, favourite dishes and the little alterations and additions he likes in his food. “If you are looking for great South Indian food, this is the place in Delhi,” Singh tells me once we have been left to our own devices. Soft strains of music float in the air, and the ambience is comfortably cool. So far, this pick for our lunch meeting is working beautifully. The menus arrive, and I leave the decisions to him. He chats with the chef and the servers, picking this and leaving that, till we have settled for a small but delicious selection of meen rawa (deep fried seasonal fish coated with ground spices and rawa), kozhi varutharacha curry (chicken cooked in roasted spices and coconut curry), vegetable stew and a round of appams.

Singh wonders at the connection he feels with South India. “I love the music, the food. There’s the connection with Sri Aurobindo and Auroville. I am particularly interested in the Periya Puranam and the Nayanmars. It’s no wonder I chose to build a temple there,” he says, referring to the Sri Karneshwar Nataraja temple located on the beach at Pudhukuppam.

The only son of Hari Singh, the last ruling Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Singh was never destined to ascend the throne. Instead, he carved out for himself a life and career that has become an example of successful multitasking. A Rajya Sabha member, a statesman, politician, author, educationalist and philanthropist, Singh has always been on two parallel journeys, exploring the inner and the outer world at the same time. A part of this, in a way, reflects in his first and only piece of fiction writing –– a novel titled “Mountain of Shiva”, first published in 1994 and now reprinted by Palimpsest Publishers. “Back in 1994, Writers Workshop published ‘Mountain of Shiva’. Last year, Palimpsest published a book of mine called ‘Meetings with Remarkable Women’. And then, Bhaskar Roy (CEO, Palimpsest), said that I must give him another book, and so I decided to revisit the novel. I rather liked it, but it needed to be properly concluded. So I added the epilogue, which brings the story to a better close.”

While Singh says that he isn’t really a fiction writer, concentrating otherwise on politics, religion, Hinduism, travelogues and other issues, he admits to having enjoyed the process a lot. The book explores its protagonist Ashok’s spiritual quest, which exists side by side with the worldlier life that he finds himself living. “Many people reading the novel said to me, perhaps Ashok is your alter ego, what you might have been if you hadn’t been born into politics and your life not already charted out.” To an extent, Singh agrees but adds, “I’ve always been following the spiritual quest, and I continue till the present day.” The idea that the inner life can exist with the outer one, is something that Singh says is not only possible, but also needed. “A life without the inner quest is a wasted life. And there’s a general feeling that you have to remove yourself from the everyday world to go on that inner journey. Yes, some people become sanyasis, but that is not necessary. The two worlds can and should coexist. In some ways, staying in the world and continuing the journey is more difficult.” And this is exactly what Singh has done.

As if to illustrate this point, he remembers the first sparks of his interest in philosophy over the excellent first course of fried fish that has just arrived. A bite in, Singh gives his approval to the preparation, and then continues, “I was always interested in the spiritual quest. Almost as soon as I came of age I started developing an interest in philosophy. I started with Plato and the Greek scholars, then I moved to the Upanishads, which to my mind are the high watermark of world philosophy. Then I came across Sri Aurobindo and did my Ph.D on him. After that, I came across Dilip Kumar Roy’s work. Dilip da was a great disciple of Sri Aurobindo. In fact, in his book, ‘Among the Great’, where he includes conversations with Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland and Bertrand Russell, the part about Sri Aurobindo mentions an English Sanyasi.” The sanyasi, Singh remembers, was an extraordinary Englishman called Sri Krishna Prem. Singh wrote to Roy, seeking the address of the sanyasi, and found himself travelling to meet him. The character of “Maharaj”, Ashok’s guru, in Mountain of Shiva, is loosely based on this Englishman.

The next few minutes are spent in appreciative silence as we tuck into the main course, and Singh digresses to talk about the usual fare at his home. “Our ethnic food is Dogra food, and my wife is from Nepal, so we have a mixture of that at home. I usually have a light lunch and a proper dinner. I’m not much of a foodie. My family was, mother, father, but as for me, anybody who can survive four years of boarding school food...,” he trails off, laughing.

“About thirty years ago,” Singh continues, “my worship suddenly changed from Krishna to Shiva. I don’t know why that happened.” But what has stayed constant is Singh’s approach to his life and quest. “I try to combine to four yogas in my life –– karma-yoga, bhakti-yoga, raja-yoga, and jnana-yoga.”

Singh also ponders on the fact that he is often called a Hindu scholar. “In the Vedanta, there are no distinctions, and the Lord resides in the heart of all beings. If one is a true Vedantic, then one can’t indulge in the narrow minded casteist, communal ideas.” With extremes taking the stage, Singh worries that the middle ground is fast weakening. “On one hand there is exclusivity, and on the other, in the West many people are giving up religion altogether.”

One lunch meeting is not enough to take in the scope and range of Singh’s knowledge, which spans writings on philosophy and a serious interest in rock music, questions of spirituality and the questions of the State and politics. “The wisdom traditions were never meant to be studied in isolation. We just require someone who can connect the dots between them and everyday life.”

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 12:26:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food-for-body-and-soul/article14247752.ece

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