Life = It is what it is

Life can be both an irony and a tragedy at times.  This isn’t the problem. Because such is Life’s nature. The problem arises when you don’t understand Life’s true nature and expect Life to be in a certain way – as you wish it to be!
Prasanna, A R Rahman and Vivek
Picture Courtesy: Internet
This morning’s papers carry the poignant story of Tamil comedian Vivek’s 14-year-old son Prasanna’s untimely death. The boy succumbed to suspected dengue and brain fever after 40 days in hospital. One of the papers pointed out the irony – Vivek has been an ambassador for the Tamil Nadu government’s dengue-prevention campaign! My auto-rickshaw driver amplified another angle to the irony: “Saar, Vivek made so many people laugh their guts out as a comedian. Poor guy, he is now having to cope with such a huge loss.” When I heard the news first, I remembered A.K.Hangal’s immortal dialogue (written by Salim-Javed) in Sholay (1975, Ramesh Sippy): “Jaante ho duniya mein sabse bada bhoj kya hota hai? – Baap ke kandhe pe bete ka janaaza!” It means: “The heaviest burden in Life is a child’s coffin on a parent’s shoulder”.
I am sure everyone today must be sending Vivek and his family a silent prayer and positive energy. Of course, beyond that none of us can do anything. The truth is, when our time comes, each of us has to deal with our own Life situations. This is perhaps why the famous Hindi poet, Harivansh Rai Bachchan (1907~2003), said this: “Jeevan ka matlab hai sangharsh”; “Life is a struggle, a challenge.” It doesn’t mean that Life is only full of pain and challenges. It means that you have to go through your share of challenges no matter who you are and no matter what you have done or not done, no matter whether you think you deserve it or don’t deserve it.
This is where the Buddha’s advice is very relevant. He said this: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Suffering is a human, self-inflicted condition. You suffer when you expect your Life to be any different from what it is, from the way it is. Someone dies and you feel the grief. That’s because your pain leads you to grief. And that is natural. But the moment you ask why should this person die or ask why should this person die now, then you have invited suffering into your Life. Who is going to answer your “whys”? Actually nobody has any answers. So, following any painful event or situation, only when you keep clinging on to the grief, do you suffer.

A friend, a retired Wing Commander from the Indian Air Force, who lost his grandson within a day of the child’s birth, had this to say: “Well, he came, he fulfilled his time on the planet and he went away. That was his design. We can’t do anything but accept his reality.” I agree completely with my friend’s outlook to Life. In fact, the simplest way to live Life is to be prepared for anything – and everything. And let us not ask the “whys”. Just take it as it comes. For it was what it was, it is what it is and it will always be what it will be. 

Dive into Life with complete abandon!

Don’t approach the future with fear.
Many a time, thanks to the blows Life would have dealt you, you may choose to tread warily, cautiously. This innate human nature to be forewarned sometimes evolves into fear. Fear breeds insecurity. And that leads to worry. How can you deal with what’s coming up in your Life when you are not even present – in  the present moment?

A friend who had a terrible experience almost losing his Life to a chronic gastro ailment refuses to experiment with any new cuisine or with anything other than home-cooked food. His entire day is packed with planning what to eat – and importantly, where to eat. Every moment that he is awake he is fearing a relapse of his ailment. He is petrified of dying because of which, I suspect, he has stopped living and instead is merely fearing death – 24 x7.
Life’s inevitable situations are agreeably numbing. They just leave you scarred and socked. But don’t let a past experience prevent you from living what you are endowed with right now or prevent you from approaching what’s coming up, freely. Anchor in faith. I am not talking about faith in an external God. I am saying that you must believe that if you have been created, you will be cared for, provided for and taken care of. Also, know that if you have lived through your worst times, then you are ready for anything. And believe me when I say that what you fear most never happens. And if it is death that you fear, then that’s foolish. Because if you were to die, you would not even know you are dead. Someone else will have to be called in to certify that you are dead!
By letting fear get to you, you are losing Life as it is happening. Going through challenging times IS Life! While planning is important and we should all work towards higher fiscal and physical efficiencies, we must also understand that Life’s Master Plan is above all else. And when Life happens, you better be present. If you are busy planning, fearing or are swamped in the past or worrying about the future, you will miss living. And when you think you are ready to live, it’s already too late for the time to die, to depart has come!

Remember: Life is a bunjee jump; dive into each moment with complete abandon, in a total let go! Every moment of Life is a leap of faith. Either you can let the fear of the unknown cripple you or you can anchor in faith and know also that during the course of your jump, even as you think it’s all over, you will either be given wings to fly or a hand will haul you up! 

Death is a celebration: accept it when it comes calling!

Death is not something negative. There’s no point in you fearing it. It is the only constant about Life!
Ever since my father-in-law’s passing away a few days ago, there have been scores of rituals that the family is being asked to follow. I am not ritualistic but in the context of the extended family’s preferences, I am having to live with whatever’s going on. I find it particularly ridiculous that people want to ‘purify’ our living space (my father-in-law passed away at our home). The reason given is that the ‘negativity of death’ needs to be driven out of home so that we can live without its ‘ghastly shadow’ looming over us. So, we will go through an elaborate ritual that will, in the sweltering heat of Chennai, leave all of us drained and consume a full day! This is apart from the several days of rituals that my brother-in-law has undertaken to perform as part of the obsequies.
I see all this as avoidable. I am not saying that rituals don’t have meaning. They may be very well-intentioned. But I would much rather celebrate the departed person’s Life than conduct rituals. For instance, my father-in-law was a career teacher. It would warm his soul surely if an endowment to educate needy children was set up in his name and memory. My wife and I had set up one in my mother-in-law’s memory a few years ago – but owing to our bankrupt situation, we have had to pause the activities. If we had the means, this is what we would like to do for my father-in-law too. And let me hasten to add that rituals don’t come cheap anymore – and rightly so; after all priests are also knowledge workers and so their time and inputs must be duly compensated. But the moot question is – do we want to do something that no one enjoys, understands or will remember or do we want to invest in a creating a lasting legacy that will remain a celebration of the departed person’s Life?
Also, how can a navagraha homam (an elaborate ritual to appease the nine planets) drive away the shadow of death; how can it ‘purify’ a living space of death’s ‘influence and negative energy’? Also, why is death seen as a negative event or energy? The unalterable reality is that death is always an integral part of every Life. The moment you are born, your death is waiting for you. The truth is we are all speeding towards our death – albeit at different speeds. You can’t escape death. You can’t avoid it. You can’t postpone it. It is your most logical, inevitable, destination. And death may perhaps not even be an end. As the proponents of the law of karma believe, death may just be the beginning of yet another, unknown, journey. By fearing death, by imagining it to be a negative aspect of your Life, you are only being immature and unintelligent.
I also find the entire gamut of rituals very discriminative and gender-biased. I had a rather ugly debate with the priest when he would not allow my daughter – my father-in-law’s only grandchild available at the time of the last rites being performed at my place – to light the fire to be taken to the cremation ground. The priest’s argument that women must not participate in the funeral rites and that they must not visit the crematorium did not cut any ice with me or with my wife and daughter. They did go to the crematorium to see off my father-in-law. And I am proud that they went ahead and did what they believed in!  
My personal view is that the only necessary process to be undergone when someone dies is the act of cremation or burial. Beyond that we must ideally spend every resource in celebrating that person’s Life. Investing in rituals because you hope to drive away or keep at bay the influence of death is a redoubtable choice. As Osho, the Master says, “Death is not an enemy. It is a friend. It is an absolute necessity for Life to be.” Isn’t it beautiful? It surely inspires me to live Life celebrating death and accept it when it comes calling!

Your age is a mere data point – it is not the focal point of your Life!!!

Age is but a number. Don’t ever get taken in by it!  
The other day I was sitting at a coffee shop enjoying my “quiet, me-time”. A bunch of 20-somethings sat at the adjacent table. And they were a riot. They ribbed each other, laughed loudly and were so full of Life. One of them even chided the others for being so noisy and said, “Stop behaving like teenagers!” To this, another among them asked her to how old she was, and she replied, “24”! And everyone burst out laughing!
I thought about those young folks at the café for a long time that day. And I thought about the question: “How old are you?” Closing in as I am on my 50s – just two-and-a-half-years away – this is a question that I have often found an interesting one to answer. To be honest, I never imagined I would be this old someday. Deep within me, I carry an image of me, of a boy wearing a blue printed shirt. I must have been 11 when that picture of me was shot by a Japanese guest who I befriended at the swimming pool at Taj Coromandel Hotel in Chennai – where I took my first swimming lessons. The gentleman, Yoshiro Kizuka, was a long-staying guest at the hotel and he liked me and my brother as he too had children our age. He snail-mailed me my picture when he went back to Japan (those days you had to process film rolls and print the pictures at a studio/film lab!!!). I still have that picture with me somewhere. It’s a picture that’s very school-boyish – a lot of curiosity and wonder in my eyes, the feel of being on the cusp of adolescence evident on my face, a certain innocence and an unstated ambition lend that picture a unique quality. Even today, within me, I feel the same way – curious about Life, naïve about how to deal with its trials and tribulations, despite having faced innumerable crises; and, importantly, I feel that I am still to grow old! I must confess, quickly, that with my progressives arriving last week, with my rheumatoid arthritis reminding me of the withering nature of the human body and with all the shades of grey that adorn the sides of my almost bald pate, I do have Life pointing to my biological age more frequently than I would like! Yet, I look around me and I have enough inspirations of people who are biologically older than me, but who are still young at heart and with all that they continue to do – Amitabh Bachchan, Apollo’s Dr.Pratap Reddy, Vyajayanthimala Bali (who at 80 performed at the Chennai Music & Dance Season last December), the dancer couple Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan, my dear friend – the unputdownable and peripatetic Ejji Umamahesh, my father (who at 76 despite chronic diabetes remains active) and my father-in-law (who despite a stroke and Parkinsons Plus retains his zest for Life). And so, after unwittingly eavesdropping on the youthful conversation at the café the other day, I have decided to deal with my age as a mere data point from now on.
Indeed, your age is but a data point. It is when you make it the focal point of your Life that you miss the plot! This is what I have learnt from Life: the body is a vehicle, an instrument, to live and enjoy Life. Like all vehicles, all instruments, all machines, it ages and, through wear and tear, keeps withering away, until death, the inevitable end, consumes it finally. So, the body ages, the body dies. Not you. Not me. This is a natural cyclical process that encompasses all forms of creation from birth to death. No other aspect of creation, however, agonizes over aging and withering away or dying. Only man is obsessed with aging and dying. For instance, the leaves of a tree don’t agonize over falling off and being consumed by the earth. But we humans rue the same destiny, however intelligent we may be to know that such an end is inevitable. Which is why, we don’t live our lives fully. We are constantly, foolishly, fearing an end that we can’t really avoid or prevent.
Refusing to be taken in by your age, which is just another number, is an important step to live your Life fully! Nurturing this attitude to living does not mean you will not feel the body’s aches and pains as it ages. It only means that you will exercise your choice to live each day better, making it count, than pay heed to what you cannot change, what you cannot undo and what you cannot reverse. So, rather than crave for an ageless body, celebrate the timeless spirit within you. It is like pure wine – getting better and better as it grows older!