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I and My Typewriter

Hermes Media typewriter

I place the typewriter in front of me and I begin typing a page.  It is supposed to be a good typewriter.  I press the key for the letter B, and promptly, not only the lever for B but also the levers for P, M, semicolon and percentage jump up.  ‘Oh, damn!’ I shout, and ring up the repairman.  He fiddles with it and brings it back the next day.  I verify key by key till I am satisfied that it is giving the correct response for each key while suppressing all other incorrect responses.

The same day, being in a hurry, and being a great man with a right to be in a hurry, and with a normal, moral right to be absentminded, I accidentally drop a heavy paper-weight on my toes.  I splutter curses, and in bending to pacify my toes I knock the tea-cup sideways splashing the tea on the typed sheets, and then I proceed to give a lecture on how careless people put paper-weights at the edge of a table, and on the stupidity of trained housewives who place hot tea beside the typewriter of a great man calmly composing an essay on the sublime virtues of Yogic Equanimity and its place in the prevention of Nuclear Wars.  In increasingly modulated tones this response recurs at intervals during the day as the pages to be retyped stare in the face.

In the vastly complex machine called my body one key is pressed—a paper-weight falls on my toes.  At once a hundred keys jump up and trigger off another hundred keys till the whole machine jangles.  Day after day this sort of thing happens and yet I do not say to myself that there is something the matter with me or my machine.  I justify myself by the certificate of being a healthy, normal man, which is another way of taking pride in being an extremely average fellow.  Worse still I write articles on how the Srutis said that this body is an instrument of harmony, how Krishna said that Yoga is skill in action, how Buddha spoke of the need for total and differentiated awareness of all bodily activity, and how Sri Aurobindo wrote on the parts and planes of the being, and how I should popularise the whole thing without the slightest desire on my part to take a piece of paper and systematically work out a simple program of educating myself and my body for my own good and survival.

Let me look at the position closely with such knowledge as I have learnt at school, and with such knowledge I directly gained by direct observation of the behaviour of myself and others in the school of everyday living and surviving, the best school of all.

All evolution proceeds from generalisation to more and more precise differentiation in interaction.  If you prick an earthworm the whole worm wriggles.  On this primitive basis a whole evolution of form occurs permitting a variety of responses that facilitate survival.  However, the range of response-differentiation even in the highest apes is relatively fixed and predictable. In man the tremendous development of a potentially educable brain is enormous and the response repertoire is virtually unlimited.

A man steps on a thorn: he howls and withdraws his foot.  Another man is a soldier in a jungle in enemy occupation.  It is a dark night and accidentally a sharp thorn pricks his face; if he screams he will be shot dead.  Quite a few screamed and got shot.  Quite a few stoically shut up, survived and got medals.  The human being survives by learning more and more differentiated responses to any given stimulus.  He need not grow wings for this purpose.  The apparatus is provided for it.  If a human being was to persist in baby-talk simply because it is quite normal for a statistically significant group of humans, his survival will be in question.  Yet how many cling to childish behaviour on the strength of normality!  Human civilisation which is another word for technically sophisticated primitive behaviour has evolved huge institutions of bearded professors of psychology and physiology and history to write treatises confirming man’s right to be a primitive infant.

To get out of the deadening and paralyzing grip of the systematically cultivated delusion of mistaking the statistically codified average of behaviour as the criterion of normality is an uphill task.  The only way is to see that my holding on to my average behaviour shatters my body and all its delicate mechanisms and successfully prepares me for the ‘normal’ diseases, catastrophes, wars, committees, old-age pensions, and a scientifically normal demise in an intensive care-unit at the normal age-range for the scientific citizen of the most civilised country.

I must first of all recognise for myself that my ‘normal’ undifferentiated, uncultivated behaviour is steadily corroding all the parts of my body, the latest model on earth, without which I am nothing.  The second is to see the dreadful pitfall involved in considering average as normal.  The third is to begin making small corrections: If I cannot stop howling or cursing when a paper-weight falls on my foot, spilling the tea, lecturing others, at least after an hour I can smile at my own stupidity and stop nagging the others thus preventing the spread of the disorder.

When I am very demanding, finicky and accurate in dealing with the mechanic who comes to repair my typewriter, should I not learn to be a little more accurate in correcting my bodily responses?  Small Corrections of all the correctable components of my complex, undifferentiated behaviour is the Key.  Worrying about things that you cannot correct or control without the slightest effort to correct and control what you can is the foundation of all human drama.  Generally resolving that I shall be very Yogic by Friday afternoon, merely replaces one generality by another!  I replace an ordinary earthworm by a more sophisticated earthworm.

Let me not denigrate my body, the most precise and precious gift, given me at birth, the maker of all the most accurate instruments and machines on earth, by a pseudo-humility which takes pride in blaming the body for my stupidity.  ‘What can I do!  My body, my flesh is weak, I am a normal, average man!’  Then, how is it that my very average flesh has enabled me to amass wealth, position and prestige and arrogance as class A.I. Officer, or member of a select club, and yet allows me the shameless luxury of behaving like the average drunken scum of the street.  Next time I take pride in being average and do nothing about it, let me also aspire for the lowest, commonest income of the largest number.

Learning to use my body and all its faculties, mind, feelings, imagination, thoughts, acts in increasing accuracy, in response to the vast environment around in increasing harmony, is the foundation of human health.

Dr. N.C. Surya

(Dr. N.C. Surya, former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, now lives in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry).

(Courtesy: The Heritage)