February 17, 2001


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The Rediff Special/ Lata Khubchandani

The Philosopher and the Actress
The Philosopher and the Actress

How many people do we know who say to us at the first meeting, "I will never presume, never take you as a habit. I'll never make it a cliché in my mind that you look like this... I'll always look at you afresh because, to me, that is real love and awareness."

At 60, Leela Naidu -- the actress once considered one of the five most beautiful women in the world -- retains a freshness of approach to Life that belies the amount of painful experience she has packed into it. She is able to greet each day with a welcoming smile, ready to live it not as a continuation of yesterday or a precursor of tomorrow but as a precious moment in the present.

It makes one wonder about the role thinkers and philosophers have in our day-to-day life. Do their philosophies have any practical use or are they merely abstractions, impossible to translate into day-to-day living? Are they just topics for armchair discussions or can they help alleviate the suffering of Mankind? Most thinkers move on from the reasonable to the exceptional, but it is be a rare being who has the courage to move out of even this realm. To live his life away from the world of agreement and support.

As a child, I often saw Leela Naidu and a few others accompany J Krishnamurti, when he came to the J J School of Arts on his annual visits to Bombay. I wondered at her presence, even envied it. Then, 15 years after the death of one of the greatest thinkers of our time, I went back to Leela. To find out what it was that she got out of him. To find out how her association with J Krishnamurti helped her.

"I met Krishnaji," she told me, "after I had lost custody of my twin daughters. I was very unhappy. I spoke to him and he heard me out with that vast listening he was capable of. Then, he told me I would have to learn to live with it. It was a remark I would not have accepted from anyone, not even my parents. But I accepted it from him. I remember crying. At another time he remarked that, if all I wanted was to be as sensitive as possible, then I was sitting on a volcano -- and I would have to live with grief."

As I watch Leela speak, only one word comes to mind -- defenceless. She is completely without defences. An amazing feat after two broken marriages, the painful loss of her twin daughters, the loss of her parents. This openness to whatever Life may offer adds a unique quality to her charm.

Leela found a surrogate parent in Krishnamurti. He, in turn, perceived special qualities in her. But people would construe this as her crush on him.

"I went and told him," says Leela, "'I don't have a crush on you. I love you.' And I hugged him like a child would." That was the sort of relationship that they shared. "His greatest contribution was to make me aware of the vast quality of silence, to be able to respond to nature and to be able to reveal what is happening in oneself all the time. This allows one to live in the present."

Krishnamurti often spoke of dying daily or dying while living. It was a way of living in which one emptied oneself of the past, so that one did not come to the present with old attitudes, prejudices and mindsets. It might seem difficult to follow, but as soon as one gives one's whole attention to the present, there is an absence of the self, of the past with all its memories and conditioning. As a result, one holds on to nothing.

But with the human need for security, we try our level best to retain the memories of the past. We keep diaries and records to remind us of things we might forget, never realising how unburdened life would be if we could give up our hold on all our yesterdays.

As I sit with Leela, I see her responding to everything around her, even to things one would have expected her to have gotten used to. The muezzin's call disturbs her; she becomes silent, surprised that others can continue talking. A radio is blaring in the background and must be toned down. She is unable to shut her mind to these things and continue. "People think I'm mad," she says, "but I can't get used to the dirty roads, to the defecation on the pavements... The day I do get used to these things will be the day I'll grow calluses."

Krishnamurti believed in having all the senses vitally alive so that one could experience everything. But experiencing the beauty and joy of Nature did mean shutting one's mind to the filth. As soon as one was able to turn away from the squalor, to sidestep it and continue, the mind would become sloppy. A mind that tolerated filth became tolerant to it.

In Leela's inability to accept disharmony, one sees her desire to remain alive to the beauty around her. One sees in her a thin-skinned person, tremendously sensitive to everything.

She speaks of the time Krishnamurti was dying. "He was somewhere in the West. I'd been told he was very sick. I knew he had cancer. The moment he died (on February 17, 1986) -- even though there was a 12 hour time difference -- I felt a flash emanate from my body. I got up and hugged my father and Dom (Moraes, her former husband) because I was feeling such a tremendous wave of love. My mind and body was suffused with a sort of colour. Later, I heard in the evening news that Krishnaji had died at that precise moment."

Design: Dominic Xavier

The Rediff Specials

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