Death is an inspiration – reminding us to LIVE intensely!

In the end, we all have to go. And those who have known us, will only be left with memories. So, we might as well live our lives fully, happily and touch as many lives as we can in this lifetime!

3-year-old Arshea bidding Major Mukund Varadarajan goodbye
Picture Courtesy: The Major’s Family/Internet
India lost a brave son a few days ago – Major Mukund Varadarajan, 32, of the 44thBattalion of the Rashtriya Rifles. He was killed in an encounter with terrorists in Shopian, Kashmir, on April 25. The papers have been full of public anger and grief, even as his family has remained stoic and patient – despite the media frenzy and all the VVIP attention they have been receiving. A while ago, I spotted this picture on facebook on Major Mukund’s wall. The caption said it all: “Daddy’s Little Princess. Final goodbye. Arshea at the Besant Nagar crematorium.” There was another picture too – of Indhu, the Major’s wife, receiving his uniform from one of his colleagues. And the caption said: “All that remains are memories and these.”

I kept looking at the pictures for a long, long time. They drove home a truth that is hard to miss. When it’s our time, we too will have to go. It is inevitable. But the question is, will we have lived a full Life by then – completing whatever we have always wanted to accomplish? Will we have made a difference to the lives of people in our circle of influence? What kind of memories will we have left behind?

These are significant questions that can make a huge difference to the way we look at Life. And, hopefully, change the way we think, live, work and love. We must understand that we have not been created on this planet to be running on a treadmill forever. This Life has to be lived – not just to earn hard now to live another day; but it has to be lived fully, enjoying each moment of it thoroughly. Death must not be feared nor should we be sad or overwhelmed by it. Death is an inevitable reality – and all of us, without exception – from the time we left the womb, have been heading for a certain death. The process can take time, days, months or even years, and exceptionally as in the case of Khushwant Singh (1915~2014) and Zohra Sehgal (1912~she turned 102 this past Sunday), even a century! But none can avoid it. So, when you understand Life, death can actually be an inspiration, because every time we see death around us it reminds us of the opportunity we have to live – when we can! As Osho, the Master says, “Death is your constant shadow. It is telling you – ‘I can come any moment. Be prepared.’ And what is the preparation? The preparation is: live life so totally, so intensely, be so aflame with it that when death comes there is no complaint, there is no grudge.”

Yes, we will have lived well, lived a brilliant Life, when we can go away calmly, without struggle – either for us or for those that we leave behind.

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Live Inspired: There’s no way you can change what was, what is and what will be!

What you have to go through in Life, you have to. You simply can’t escape it.

I remember a dialogue from the movie “Shirdi Ke Sai Baba” (1977, Ashok Bhushan, Manoj Kumar, Sudhir Dalvi). Rajendra Kumar, who plays a rational-minded scientist (whose son is cured miraculously by Baba’s grace when even the doctors have given up), asks Manoj Kumar, who plays a Baba devotee, “If Baba is indeed so great that he can cure my son when medical science failed to do it, why can’t the same Baba solve all of the world’s problems? Why is there poverty, hunger, death, depravation, sorrow and grief everywhere?” Manoj Kumar replies: “Karm-yog ki Bhatti mein sab ko jalna padta hai!” It means, literally, each person has to go through his or her Life burning in the kiln of destiny! And so, that’s the way it is!

Dr.Shilpa Rao and Sonu
Picture Courtesy: Dr.Shilpa Rao/Internet

On Saturday last, the weekend magazine of The Hindu Businessline, called “BL Ink”, ran a story by Deepa Bhasthi on a very courageous mother-son duo. I learnt, reading that story, how people deal with their own Life challenges, stoically and peacefully. Dr.Shilpa Rao, a paediatrician, discovered that her son, Sonu, had Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was 18 months old. She was shocked when her ex-husband and his family – although they were all doctors – shunned Sonu for not being “normal”. She decided to help Sonu grow up and face the world confidently and cheerfully. Bhasthi writes: “It was four years before he (Sonu) spoke his first word, six-and-a-half before he formed a sentence. Now 13, he goes to Class VI at an open school, equivalent to Class VIII in a typical school. Acceptance from teachers and classmates hasn’t come easy, but she (Rao) is sceptical about special schools, where “children are in a place where they aren’t interested in each other. In a regular school, he has to talk, he has to protect himself, that enriching environment is required,” she believes.”” Sonu is encouraging his mother to remarry. He plans to buy himself a Jaguar XF when he’s 21 and be a business leader in a large company where people report to him. He hopes also to be able to support and teach children like him who have special needs. Rao believes their journey has been, and continues to be, tough but they “soar” together, inspiring each other along the way.


Now, I am sure Rao, in her own private moments, at least initially, must have struggled to come to terms with her son’s special condition. We all do struggle when we are first confronted with an “abnormal” Life situation which we have neither expected nor wanted. The first reaction is denial – “no, this can’t be true”. Then there’s the “why me?” phase. Then, because the situation still exists and stares you in the face, you are gripped with fear, insecurity, worry and anxiety. But all these only debilitate. They cripple you and inhibit your thinking. Which sure doesn’t help you to deal with your situation. Slowly, when nothing seems to work, you grudgingly accept your situation. But grudging acceptance means being in the shallow end of the pool of Life. You are merely splashing around on the surface. Only when you accept a situation, only when you take a deep dive and plunge head on into Life, accepting it for what it is, do you see how peaceful – and happy – you can be, despite your circumstances. It is only through total acceptance that you can deal with Life’s challenges – with focus, inner peace and happiness. No challenge will ever go away just because you accepted it though. You don’t conquer a Life situation immediately. Acceptance, however, enhances your ability to deal with that situation phenomenally.

There are some Life situations that can be rebuilt over time – like a financial or a career situation. But loss due to death or a health condition – you simply have to learn to live with it. Which is why, whatever be the situation, what Manoj Kumar says in the movie is of great significance to all of us. It’s always wise to remember that none of us can escape what we have to go through in Life. It’s equally wise to also take a leaf from Rao’s and Sonu’s book – and “live” Life “inspired” because there’s no way you can change what was, what is or what will be.

Missed the bus, mercifully, not the learning

One of the biggest qualities that you develop, as you journey through Life, is patience. As you learn to be patient with Life, you also learn to anchor in faith – not in religion or “a” God, but in the Universe’s benevolence.

Over the weekend I delivered a Talk in Bengaluru on the Life lessons that my wife and I have learnt while learning to live without money. One of the people in the audience came up to me after my Talk and said: “AVIS, I think you are blessed with remarkable patience and inner strength. You are truly displaying resilience.” On the flight back to Chennai, I reflected on that comment and couldn’t but help chuckling to myself. Me – and patient? Do I really have inner strength? Do patience and inner strength help build resilience? Honestly, I wouldn’t know.

However, that reflection transported me back in time to a morning 27 years ago when I had missed a bus to work. I had reported late at the bus stop that morning because I had got embroiled in an insipid argument with my mother. The next bus to work was not to arrive for another hour at least. I rushed back home, barged into the living room and bawled at my mother, blaming her for my plight! Our brawl was so intense that it required all my father’s diplomacy to broker a peace between the two of us. My dad, who had stepped out of the bathroom mid-way through his morning shave, took me aside and told me: “Son, it doesn’t matter if you miss a bus in Life. You can always take the next one. If you miss something in Life, it means it wasn’t something that was ordained for you. But let me tell you this – you must also learn to be patient with yourself and others.” It was a simple yet profound lesson on intelligent living which every right-thinking father ought to teach his child. I was lucky have got it from my dad that day. But, at 19, I neither had the wisdom nor the frame of mind to realize the value of what my father was saying. I immaturely concluded that he was trying to justify my mother’s actions and was supporting “only” her. I snatched my father’s shaving razor from his hand, stomped out of the bedroom that we were talking in, and flung the razor at the TV in the living room. The screen, instantaneously, cracked – badly.

The steward on the plane who paused by me for collecting my water glass brought my attention back to my journey as it is today. My father’s words ring so true now – and I am grateful to Life that while I missed both the bus and the learning back then, I have not missed the learning forever. If there’s anything I can ever claim I have learnt from Life – though a dark and excruciatingly painful phase that we are going through – over the past 10 years, I can say it is faith and patience. From someone who couldn’t accept missing a bus that caused a one hour delay, to someone who has chosen to be accepting of a seemingly endless struggle, spanning several years – missing the bus, if you extend the metaphor – I believe I have changed a lot. And, hopefully, for the better. Along the way, I have also understood that faith really is the ability to keep believing – no matter what – in yourself and in the Universe. It is to know that if you have been created you surely will be taken care of and provided for. When this realization happens, you become more patient with people and situations. And holding on to faith and patience, you learn to walk strongly in Life, one step at a time, one day at a time, one dark tunnel at a time.


Let neither praise nor blame fell you

A lot of our lifetime is wasted living our lives for others’ approval or praise or out of fear of their criticism or condemnation of our actions. An intelligent way to live would be to just do what you can and know to do, do it well, ethically, and simply don’t seek praise or fear criticism.

Shoaib Akhtar congratulates MS Dhoni after a match
Picture Source: EspnCricinfo/Internet
Former Pakistan bowling great Shoaib Akhtar (International Career 1997~2011) is one of the expert commentators in the ongoing Indian Premier League, IPL 7. The other day, ahead of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) vs Rajasthan Royals match, Akhtar had this to say of CSK (and India) captain, M.S.Dhoni: “What kind a guy is this Dhoni? I am just amazed. He’s won everything – a T20 World Cup (2007), was in the finals again this year, an ODI World Cup (2011), he’s taken his team to the number one spot in the ICC Test rankings, he’s led CSK to win the IPL twice…and he’s nonchalant about all this success? isko kuch hota hi nahi hai…kuch bhi dikhata nahi hai…” Akhtar is basically wondering how’s it that Dhoni is able to carry his genius, his greatness so lightly? How’s it that he’s so unmoved? Dhoni is true to that observation by Akhtar not only about the way he has handled success and praise, but also the way he deals with defeat and criticism. At 33, he’s a lot more evolved than most people twice his age. Surely it’s not only cricket that we can learn from him!

Internalizing a few truths about Life can be very useful as we live it.

First, know that however hard your work at something, there’s only so many times that you can win or keep winning. To fall, to fail, despite your best efforts and intent, is inevitable – and is an integral part of your Life design. Failure is an event – it is not a person! Remember that!

Next, when you win doing something, never let all those cheering you, con you into believing that you are great and that you caused your success. A humble flute was once put up for auction because it had been used by a world-renowned flautist. Bids for several million dollars were being placed for the flute. Suddenly, as the auctioneer’s gavel was coming down for the final, closing, bid, the flute spoke up. It said: “I am just a piece of bamboo. With a few holes. So, can’t you see how much I must be “really” worth? My value is only in the hands of a player who can make music out of me by blowing through me.” In a way, we are all like the bamboo flute. The music – whatever art or profession we follow – flows through us, in spite of us, and not because of us.

Third, don’t take what people have to say seriously – ever. Listen to your inner voice. When people praise you, be grateful. When people criticize you, be gracious – and forgiving. Don’t let people’s opinions – good or bad – take you away from being yourself and from experiencing the beauty and magic of your Life!
No matter what you do or what happens, let neither praise nor blame fell you. Be inspired by what Gautama Siddharta, the Buddha, had to say: “As solid rock remains unmoved by the wind, so do the wise remain unmoved by praise and blame.”


The Universe will always show you a sign – if you are “tuned” in!

Nothing really happens without a reason. That reason may never be apparent when the event happens. But sooner, or later, in this lifetime, surely, the reason for an occurrence will manifest itself in front of you as a learning. In that flash of brilliance, when the Universe shows you a sign, Life’s beauty will shine, bright and radiant!

Some years back, my son and I travelled to Rajasthan on a vacation. We visited the holy dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (1141~1236 CE), the Garib Nawaz, in Ajmer. I instantly felt connected with the energy of the place. I experienced the same Higher Energy at the dargahthat I had felt at the Vatican in 1995 or while visiting our family’s native shrine, the Mangottu Bhagavathi Kaavu, in Athipotha (Palakkad, Kerala). My own views on God and religion have evolved over the years – but I can surely relate to a Higher Energy, which is also why I occasionally visit select shrines – to “repair and recharge”. Following our visit to Ajmer, perhaps because I had left my business card with the person who arranged our visit at the dargah, I kept receiving mailers once every two months. The mailer always had an appeal to contribute to a scheme to feed the poor at the shrine daily and it had the Garib Nawaz’s scared thread – something that believers tie around their wrists as a talisman. Each time I got the mailer I would ask my office to make a small contribution to the feeding scheme and I would forget about the mailer. This went on, for months, almost mechanically. I never understood why I got those mailers. And I never cared to find out what happened to mailer or who took the sacred thread, the talisman, after I sent the contribution.

Over time, our business went downhill. And on December 31st, 2007, around 5.30 pm, I was coming back to my office, after a fateful meeting with my lawyer, who had told me and my wife that we were bankrupt. That was the first time I heard the word “bankruptcy” with reference to our debt-laden, cashless situation. I was struggling to internalize what our lawyer had told us. And my practical, logical instincts told me that “there was no way out for us” – we had no money and we had no work! As I rode the elevator up to our office on the third floor, in those 60 seconds, I closed my eyes and meditated on the “Higher Energy” that powers the Universe. I prayed: “Show me a sign that we will make it!” It was, on a logical plane, a wasteful prayer. It was a captain’s valiant effort to see through a dark, stormy night, looking for a passing vessel, when his own ship was almost sunk! The elevator jerked as it reached the third floor. I opened my eyes and stepped out. I walked to my desk and I found a fresh mailer from the Garib Nawaz’s dargah sitting there, on top of a set of papers demanding my immediate attention! My assistant told me it had arrived that afternoon. Was that “the” sign? If you had asked me then, I would have been unsure. But seven years on, we still are surviving, tethering at the edge at most times, but we still are there – hopeful and sure that we will make it! Was that “the” sign? You bet, it was!

The mailers from the Garib Nawaz’s dargahkept coming over the years. In May 2011, I read a story in the papers that a five-year-old girl, Tamannah, had gone missing on the Marina beach, in Chennai. The Hindu kept reporting this human interest story over the next few days and I followed it closely. The story became big because Tamannah’s father, Syed Noor Ahmed, accused the police of inaction. On the fifth day, after the girl disappeared, I was boarding a morning flight to Mumbai. The Hindu’sstory that morning talked of how distraught the parents of the girl were. I recalled that a mailer from the dargahhad arrived at my desk the previous afternoon. I texted my assistant and asked her to call The Hindu, get the coordinates of Ahmed and reach the mailer (with the talisman) to him. She promptly had that done, remembering to attach my business card with a note conveying our concern, prayers and best wishes to the family. Two days later I got a call from Ahmed. This is what he had to say: “Thanks for your prayers, Sir. Our baby girl has been traced and she’s back with us. The talisman you sent came just when I had finished ‘namaz’ the other day. I had asked for “some sign” that our child will be located soon. The doorbell rang soon after. And there was your person with the mailer, your business card and your note. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

I don’t like to either rationalize or emotionalize too much. Initially, there appeared to be no reason why the mailers came to me. But, at least twice, they served an important cause – of helping two distressed people keep the faith. As I write this, there’s a mailer from Garib Nawaz’s dargah, sitting in my draw – maybe the one it has to go to, will get connected with me in some time – if it is “the”  time! I have learnt that everything happens with a reason. This is not just about the Garib Nawaz or about “a” deity or shrine, it is about what I have learnt from my experiences of how the Universe will always send you a sign when you need one – and if you care to pause and spot it! To spot the Universe’s signs, you must be “tuned” in. You must anchor within and live Life in complete faith that if you have been created, you will be provided for, and taken care of!

A Lesson in “being the change” from our maid’s daughter

Manage the unavoidable. Avoid the unmanageable. This brilliant clarion call is attributed to climate change thinkers and is used by them as a guiding principle to inspire action globally to manage and avoid disastrous environmental impacts.
The slogan has also a deep meaning in our personal lives__and therefore on all our actions in society too. How other people behave or what they have to say to you or about you is not in your control. This is totally unavoidable. A simpler approach will be to manage your emotions/responses than trying to control those of others. So, manage the unavoidable. Ruinous habits and temptations__including negative emotions, depressive tendencies, fear and insecurity__can become unmanageable if you let them control you. So, simply, learn to avoid them.
Yesterday, we voted in the general elections in the Tamil Nadu phase. Our maid, Vadivu, too voted. Over lunch, we asked her how her experience was. She said that musclemen from a political party had come to her area two days ago and offered money (Rs.1000/- per head) asking people to vote for their party. She said almost everyone was disinterested but out of “fear”, of those “goons”, many took the money. But Vadivu’s daughter, a little over 18 and a first time-voter, firmly stood her ground. She not only discouraged her mother from taking the money but also influenced many people in her area not to accept the money. Vadivu says that her daughter diffused a potentially explosive situation by “assuring” the “goons” that “what they seek will be done” but without taking any money. After the “goons” left, she exhorted everyone to go exercise their free will and right by voting for whoever they really wanted to vote for. Vadivu told us that her daughter’s entire peer group was against money-based and caste-based politics and that her daughter wanted to make a beginning by standing her ground and making an intelligent choice in this election. We were touched by the young girl’s wisdom and her conviction and courage. (I am not posting their pictures to protect their privacy and, just in case, to also ensure their personal safety.) I believe Vadivu and her daughter managed the unavoidable – muscle and money power at election time – and avoided the unmanageable – allowing the rot to continue by succumbing to coercion and threats!
When each of us makes an effort and exercises an intelligent choice, we can enrich our lives and make our world a better place. It is only through several individual choices and actions that we can leave behind a meaningful legacy for the generations following us. For (climate) change to happen globally, it must first take place within. Within you and within me.
                                    

When you don’t know what to do, simply surrender to Life!

Life is a great leveller.
Whether you like it or not, whether you ask for it or not, at some time or the other, in some unique, unfathomable way, Life will bring you to a state when you will awaken to the truth that your Life is not in your control. At such times, the best response is to simply surrender to Life. Let whatever must happen, happen. Because, whatever is to happen will anyway happen!
But the normal human response is anger, frustration, depression, fear, insecurity, anxiety, worry and grief. There’s no point suppressing these feelings. They will naturally arise in you. Allow those feelings to come. Feel each of them and ask yourself if they can help you deal with your Life situation any better. If they can, persist with them. Let’s say, someone’s dying of cancer. How can any of these feelings help cure the cancer? Or prevent that person from dying? Or let’s say you have been let down in a relationship. How can these feelings help you cope any better? When you sit calmly and analyze your Life situation – any situation which cannot be solved at a human level; and there are many of them – you will understand that going with Life’s flow, and the grand Cosmic Design, the Master Plan, is the only intelligent option you have. So, logically, there’s no point persisting with these debilitating emotions. Surrendering to Life really means dropping these feelings and being free!
There’s a forgettable Tamizh movie called Azhagiya Tamizh Magan (2007, Bharathan, Vijay) that has a great song (with some awful picturization though!) composed by A.R.Rahman in it. The song celebrates the Creator – to me, Life, the Higher Energy – and goes, “Ella Pughazyum Oruvan Oruvannuke, Nee Nadhi Poley Odikonduirru…”. It means, “All glory is to the Only One, you keep flowing like a river…” The essence of this song has resonated with me every time that I have heard it. I have come to believe that not knowing what to do in Life is an opportunity to understand, appreciate and live Life better. It is a humbling experience. Our education and intellect make us believe that we are in control, that we are achieving this and that, we are creating assets and raising families, that we have everything planned out and mapped out in our lives. But when a Life situation strikes, and pushes you into a corner, you realize that you were never in control then – or now. It is only through this awakening that you understand the value of surrendering to Life and going with its flow.
So, if you are in a place in Life when you don’t know what to do about someone or some situation, go with wherever your Life is taking you. Don’t resist. Don’t fear. Don’t agonize. Perhaps, that’s where you eventually need to be and that’s where you will be peaceful and happy!