“You are happy the moment you count your blessings”

‘The Happiness Road’ is a weekly Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I am in conversation with eminent Bharatanatyam dancer Chitra Visweswaran!
Chitra Visweswaran
Photo by Vaani Anand
The way Chitra Visweswaran communicates, both with her eyes and with the words she chooses, elevates your understanding of whatever she is saying to a higher level, almost instantaneously. Yet, for someone who is among India’s most acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancers, and a Padma Sri awardee too, Chitra is so simple, so grounded, very down-to-earth and evolved. “Life is an eternal journey of learning, a sadhana. We must learn to enjoy the journey more than getting worked up about the end. That, to me, is happiness,” she says as we sit down one afternoon to have a conversation over green tea in her tastefully decorated living room. 
Chitra Visweswaran
Photo by Vaani Anand
That journey, to Chitra, has been eventful. The world sees only a great artist in her, but beyond her dance, she’s among the most compassionate human beings you will ever meet and a doting sister. Her brother, Arun, is two years younger than she is. He was born normal. But when he was just three, he was struck by an ailment that impaired the development of his brain. Chitra herself was young and did not then comprehend the import of how Arun – and her family – will have to cope with this lifelong situation. But when they were both adolescents, Chitra came to the realization that Arun will never be normal again. She was overwhelmed and grief-stricken. Arun’s condition often made him turn violent. And Chitra had to face the brunt of his uninformed rage on many occasions. Their mother, Rukmini, helped Chitra cope. “She ensured I didn’t wilt under sorrow. I was, at that time, unsure of what I wanted to do in Life. My father wanted me to be an engineer. I was good at singing. I also loved dancing. But my mother helped me find focus. She said to me, ‘You are an okay singer. But you are a brilliant dancer.’ And that got me started. My rigorous training as a dancer helped me come to terms with Arun’s condition and our Life,” recalls Chitra.
Rukmini also taught Chitra something that has remained at the core of all her Life’s work. “She told me never to dance for fame or name, but to dance, offering myself to the Universe, offering my dance as a prayer,” says Chitra.
As she evolved in Life, and as she rose in her career, Chitra began to value her mother’s perspective greatly. “I don’t think we must limit this ‘your work is prayer’ philosophy to dance alone. I have learnt from Life that whatever you do, if you do it as an offering to a higher energy, immersing yourself in it, it will be your prayer. ‘Doing’ this prayer consistently is what happiness is all about. You could be cleaning cobwebs, or cooking, or gardening or you could be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer or…a dancer, whoever you are, whatever you do, immerse yourself in what you are doing, and you will be happy,” explains Chitra.
How does she cope with her lows – especially with her soul-mate R.Visweswaran’s passing in 2007? “Viswesh was my best friend and my partner at work. I surely experienced a great vacuum. My guru, Mathaji Vithamma, took me away to her ashram, where she encouraged me to just dance to myself at the altar of the Maha Meru. I simply surrendered there, through my dance. It took several weeks. But I healed,” shares Chitra, adding, “The key to being happy is to stay anchored, stay detached and to love what you do.”
Arun joins us for a while. As he sips his coffee, Chitra tells me: “He can’t speak. He can’t express himself. Surely he has questions. He must be having so many opinions on what’s going on around him and so much to say about himself. Yet, he understands his limitations. He is accepting of them. He’s also very clear about what he wants and what he doesn’t want. And he is content with what he has, the way he is. He is happy.”
That perspective which Chitra has to offer, as a learning from Arun’s Life, sums up why some of us are unhappy or are still ‘searching’ for happiness. Chitra distils that learning further: “The key is to realize that until you learn to count your blessings, you will be unhappy. I am happy the way my Life is. In the time that I have left here, I want to continue to share of myself and of my art, to the best of my ability.”

Few can share Life’s lessons more humbly and gracefully than the way Chitra has. Perhaps such humility and grace comes from choosing to see Life the way it truly is – as an eternal blessing!  

When Life becomes prayer…!

Immerse yourself in what you do, lose yourself to Life, then your entire living experience is a prayer!

Later this evening, the eminent dancer Chitra Visveswaran is set to be honored, by The Music Academy, with the title ‘Natya Kala Acharya’. This morning’s Hindu runs a beautiful profile of Chitra akka (as she is fondly called) written by her close friend and art lover Hema Iyer Ramani. The profile is titled, “Journey of Challenges”. I have had the opportunity to observe Chitra akka, from a distance, in the past decade or so. I am aware of some of the challenges she has faced as a person. But I have always admired her resilience. And have often found myself inspired by her ability to be grounded (despite all the adulation she receives), to be calm (despite all the chaos around her) and to always be giving – of her time, her understanding to others at one level, and of herself, to her art form, dance, at another level!

Chitra Visveswaran
I remember an experience – and learning – I had, some years ago, when Visveswaran, Chitra akka’shusband, passed away. Just as in her name, I could never think of Chitra akka in singular. To me, she and Visvesh (who was an accomplished singer apart from being a ‘Santoor’ expert) were a couple, always together – in their music, in their dance, in social dos and in their inspirations. It was unfathomable to think of them as separate. As Hema points out in her profile this morning, “When ‘Santoor’ maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma asked him (Vishvesh) to give up all else to the exclusion of ‘Santoor’, he said he could give up all else except singing for his wife and composing music for her productions!” So, when Visvesh died, at least I expected Chitra akka to be in mourning for a very long time. But within 10 days of Visvesh’s passing, Chitra akka convened an event at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai to “celebrate” Visvesh’s Life. It was a memorial service with a difference. There was no mourning. There were no grief-stricken speeches. Visvesh’s own guru, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma too spoke, oozing joy, as if he was holding a toast to honor his student! And then Chitra akkaherself spoke. She said (I recall vividly), “I only see Visvesh as not being here physically. But his presence will always be with us, with me. He taught me to live this Life as if it were a prayer. As if it were an offering to the Universe. Which is why we both enjoyed each other’s companionship and the work we did together. To me my Life, my work, is not something which has to be ‘gone through’. It is a prayer.” She then performed a dance piece, accompanied by Visvesh’s song recording, that left all of us in the audience in a trance!

I have, ever since, held that learning from Chitra akka close to my heart. I have discovered that when we immerse ourselves in what we enjoy doing then it ceases to be work. It becomes our Life. Then no loss nor any challenge can pin us down for too long. Then our individual energy, the one within us, resonates with the Universe’s energy. In that beautiful communion, an inner peace, a rare joy, takes over. And our entire Life becomes a celebration, a prayer, an offering to this Universe!

Move on in Life and move into perpetual bliss!


If there’s only one lesson in Life that you want to internalize, then learn to simply move on!

 

Many unwelcome, painful, unexpected things happen to us. Failure. Death. Separation. Job loss. Health crisis. Socked by the impact of such events, we are numbed. Clueless on how to cope with them. It seems almost impossible to continue to live at such times. We sulk, grieve and mourn. But living in sorrow only makes us feel more miserable.

There’s hardly any value in grieving. Yes, of course, grief makes you feel special __ temporarily. Because people will come to you and bemoan your fate alongside you. You feel important, like the star of your own tragedy show. But over time, people have their own lives to catch up with. So, they will disperse. And then your grief will only multiply, keeping your feet nailed to the ground. The best way to deal with the unexpected when it happens is to allow yourself to be shocked, allow the first wave of grief to arise, let it soak you in its depressive energy, but quickly, very quickly, DECIDE to move on. This decision is crucial. And it comes from awareness. Remind yourself that you came alone and with nothing. And you have to go alone, again taking nothing with you. So, what’s all the fuss about losing__someone or something? This realization will give your aching heart and mourning soul, a much needed, awakening perspective. You may take a few weeks, or a few months, a year, or maybe longer, but whenever you awaken to the truth that Life goes on, and that you must too move on, you will find that feeling beautiful. It will liberate you instantaneously from the throes of pain, grief and suffering!

Carnatic music lovers, and in fact the entire Indian music fraternity, was shocked when popular Carnatic vocalist Nithyashree Mahadevan, 40, lost her husband less than two months ago. He committed suicide jumping off the Kotturpuram bridge, into the Adyar river, in Chennai. The famous Chennai music season was on and Nithyashree was booked to sing various concerts through most of December 2012.This sudden development shocked everyone and most definitely Nithyashree. The pictures that appeared in the media made everyone’s heart go out to her. They showed a forlorn, distraught Nithyashree and most people, while sympathizing with her, wondered how she would cope. But just this past weekend, Nithyashree was back on the concert circuit. She was singing better than she had ever been. And, most importantly, she was not in grief. She presented a picture of complete acceptance and inner peace. The Times of India carried a picture of her singing at her latest concert. The picture was captioned ‘Like A Song’. Indeed Life’s like a song. It has to be sung, and sung well, no matter what’s going on! What she has done is truly inspiring. She has shown all of us the way that we must continue to live our lives, doing what we love doing, irrespective of what happens to us.

Each of us has a way to feeling joyous, forgetting ourselves, our worries, our problems, our grief, when we engage in doing something. It could be anything. For Nithyashree it is music and so she plunged right back into it. For Chitra Visweswaran, it is dance. For Sachin Tendulkar, it is cricket, which is why he got back to the World Cup schedule in England a few years back, soon after cremating his dad in India. Karambir Kang, the former GM of the Taj Hotel, who lost his wife and two kids to the terror attack on his hotel on 26/11 (2008), immersed himself to rebuilding the hotel and restored it to normalcy within a year of the attack. It’s not always that we have to deal with death. Many kinds of setbacks happen and await us. Irrespective of what happens, after the initial bout of depression, sorrow and grief is gone through, take Life by its horns. Face it. Find something, anything, that you love doing and just do it. Watch your feelings change. Remember, what you feel, you become.

Simply, stop asking why things happen the way they do in Life! Don’t ask why you were born and why death, or for that matter anything, happens? Simply live the Life that’s coming your way. If you don’t like what you see or get, don’t grieve endlessly. Conquer your grief with awareness. Know that the truth about Life is that everything changes over time. And that includes how you meet Life and live it! Learn to move on in Life. You will then move into a state of perpetual bliss!