Be ‘unmoved’ by both failure and success. For they are mere imposters.
Last evening we were at the Gollapudi Srinivas Memorial Awards ceremony where debutant director Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan won the Award for his multi-lingual film Lens (2015). It was a nice, warm event that, well, could have been shorter. For me and Vaani, it was Bollywood actor Boman Irani’s straight-from-the-heart talk that made the evening memorable. He shared his journey so far in Life and cinema. It was the simplest and most meaningful speech I had heard in a long, long time.
Boman talked about starting off as a child with dyslexia, discalculi and dysgraphia. He said everyone has to struggle at some time in their Life. Then they have to establish themselves with ‘the establishment’ in their chosen field, then they have to be free (and wary) of corruption (hubris, actually) and finally, when they perhaps realize themselves, there is a home-coming. It was touching to hear of his personal journey. But the most powerful takeaway for me was a deeply spiritual one. At 56, and now a grandfather, Boman believes he stays grounded because of some sage advice he got from a senior unit hand, Ikram Khan, during the shooting of Munna bhai MBBS (Rajkumar Hirani, 2003; Boman’s first Hindi film). Khan told Boman: “You will go very far, you will touch great heights, you will win many, many awards, but never lose your innocence. Because if you lose your innocence, you have lost your art. Then you have been corrupted. So, stay innocent.” Boman signed off with a flourish saying he was very happy and at peace for being an ‘innocent, old man’!
I am sure a YouTube link to the speech will be up soon. And I hope many people will listen to what Boman shared last evening. It is a very significant message he delivered.
I think all of us are corrupt to a large extent. Not in the conventional sense of the word, in terms of taking and giving bribes, alone. But in a far more prolific sense – all of us are corrupt to the extent of our material attachments – money, fame, recognition, property – and even of our not-so-material opinions and beliefs. We are constantly tormented by the fear of failure and the desire to keep succeeding, winning all the time. That’s corruption too. I believe the innocence that Ikram Khan talks about is the ability to enjoy the process of living, the journey of doing something. In Boman’s case it is the joy of acting. In someone else’s case it could be baking. Or in a waiter’s case it can be simply serving. Whatever profession or work it is, your inner devotion to it counts more than what material benefit you get out of it. Of course, money is important. But not beyond providing for your basic necessities and helping you save up for a rainy day. The problem with success is that it is both heady and fleeting. So, when you start getting what you want, when you start winning, even if you have struggled a lot for it, you begin to imagine you caused it. You fall into a mind-trap, believing that you are infallible and you will now stay successful – in a worldly sense with name, fame, money, power – forever. So, when the phase of success you are seeing evaporates and you taste failure, you can’t handle it. You become bitter. And depressed. This is why Khan recommends that you stay innocent. And I completely agree with him.
This is the essence of the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna tells Arjuna: “…Be unmoved by both failure and success, by victory and defeat…for they are mere imposters…offer whatever you do as an offering to Me…” Being ‘unmoved’ is a great state to be in. I have seen success and I have been corrupt, of the kind Khan and Boman warn us against. I have seen failure and continue to be a failure, per a worldly sense, having lost everything material and still having a mountain of debt to clear; so I have been plagued with anger, grief, guilt, self-doubt and self-pity in the past. But not anymore. I internalized the ‘stay innocent’ learning some years back and it has helped me immensely. Most important, it has led me to this ‘be unmoved’ state. So, this is my two-penny worth: if there is only one lesson you want to keep in mind about Life, let it be this one. Because, through retaining your innocence, when you realize that everything is impermanent then you will attain the highest level of human evolution – detachment.