Why this ‘kolaveri’ against Sanjay Dutt?

You must have walked their path if you must offer an opinion about someone.
Sanjay Dutt leaving Yerawada Prison in Pune
Picture Courtesy: Internet
I am appalled with the quality of social media/public opinion being hurled at Sanjay Dutt over his release from prison earlier this week. I like Sanjay, the actor. But I love him for the courage he has displayed to face Life, go through a legal process and serve a jail term. Yes, it can be argued that he tried to avoid the jail term as much as possible; he used every legal option available to him. And it can be further argued that while in jail he kept seeking – and getting – paroles. And now, he’s walked out eight months ahead of schedule. So, it’s natural that people ask: will others accused of a crime or prisoners get such a differential, preferred treatment? I guess that question is more relevant when posed to the government and the prison authorities. As far as Sanjay is concerned he only did what anyone in his position will do – which is, explore all legal avenues available to first avoid a prison term and then to reduce it. After all who wants to be in jail?
This is my personal view.
I say this not as a means of offering just yet another opinion. I say this because I have come close to incarceration on more than one occasion. Like Sanjay has admitted to having made mistakes, I too, in the context of the poor financial decisions that I took, have made mistakes. And while there is a realization today of follies having been committed, I did not see anything inappropriate about seeking and utilizing legal counsel to stay away from jail. I believe apart from being a constitutional right, it is also a normal, human urge to not want to go to jail. I can totally relate to Sanjay declaring, upon his release, “It has been a long walk to freedom.” I haven’t had to – so far – face a situation of my physical freedom being taken away. But since I have come close (I share one such episode in my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’; Westland, August 2014), let me tell you, even that is something that I wish no one should ever have to experience. Which is why I salute Sanjay for not running away from the country or hanging himself from a ceiling fan – he could have done either long, long back; and many in his shoes (may) have done that surely! – instead he stayed on, faced the 23-year-process stoically and served a sentence that the highest court in the land ordered him to.
I am not trying to be preachy here. I am just sharing what I deeply feel. I know the pain of being judged by public – and private – opinion. I know what it is to be called a cheat (by my own family). I know what it means to be unable to redeem yourself, your credibility, when Life check-mates you, only because you blinked and made a couple of lousy decisions. Most people who are hanging Sanjay in a public trail have, mercifully, never had to go through a situation that he has faced. Perhaps they would have crumbled long, long ago had they ever had to face one themselves.

Here’s the nub: if you haven’t walked someone’s path yourself, please don’t rush to offer an opinion about them. Please respect the other person’s right to dignity!   

Not just Kanhaiya or Rajdeep, all of us Indians are anti-national

Let’s not rush to pronounce judgment on others before first looking at ourselves in the mirror.
I agree that what Kanhaiya Kumar and his associates did at JNU is debatable, questionable and condemnable. I also agree that the way the Modi Sarkar is handling the issue is debatable, questionable and condemnable. I agree further that Rajdeep Sardesai’s definition of who may be an ‘anti-national’ is set in the context of the political and constitutional debate that rages on in the country.
But what about you and me – the millions on social media who are passing judgment on Kanhaiya, NaMo, Rajdeep and whoever else? How national and patriotic are you and I?
I believe the right way to define a true national and patriot is someone who does not – violate traffic rules, drink and drive, pay a bribe, watch pirated content online, evade taxes, avoid voting, throw garbage on the streets or circumvent the process of law in any manner. I can add a few more criteria but even at the most basic level, a large part of our population will fail on at least one of these fronts. For instance, in Chennai, we have a High Court ruling that bans the riding of two-wheelers – by both the driver and the pillion rider – without helmets. And yet everyone, including my own daughter, rides without a helmet. We have a High Court ruling again in Chennai saying autos must ply by metered fare only. But neither do auto-drivers follow that ruling, nor do we users follow it – including me, everyone pays over the meter. So, technically, we are flouting the law, aren’t we? I must confess I have paid bribes – to Train Ticket Examiners, to traffic cops, postmen and linemen from BSNL and the Electricity Board – in a past Life. I don’t both have the means or the intent any more to pay bribes but that does not absolve me of my anti-national past. And, sadly, most Indians watch pirated movie content online. In every way that tantamounts to stealing of intellectual property – simply, it is theft. And that’s a crime as defined by a designated law in our country.
If all this isn’t anti-national, what is? We have this very glorified, holier-than-thou attitude which makes us believe that anyone acting against the interests of the country in matters concerning national secrets or acts of violence alone is ant-national. Any action against national interest – in any respect – is anti-national. Period. So, if you don’t dispose of your garbage responsibly – which 99 % Indian’s don’t do – you are anti-national. If you drink and drive – which most Indians almost always do – you are anti-national. If you pay a bribe – which every Indian does – you are anti-national. If you don’t wear a seat belt and/or speak on your mobile while driving, you are endangering your Life and the lives of several others – and that, clearly, is being anti-national!
Truly, therefore, in some manner or the other, every Indian, wittingly or unwitting, acts against the interests of India. It is because of our collective lack of righteousness that our country’s poor continue to get poorer, that our politicians continue to be more brazen and corrupt and our country wallows (continuously) in the cesspool of ‘developing nations’.

In the Bowl of Saki, a guide for everday living, Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882~1927), teacher of Universal Sufism, says: “We are very good lawyers for our own mistakes, but very good judges for the mistakes of others.” What he means is that we must stop justifying (advocating) our actions and judging others and instead judge ourselves first. So, my dear fellow anti-nationals, let’s stop opinionating and preaching on social media. Be it Kanhaiya or NaMo or Rajdeep or whoever, let’s look into the mirror first!

Don’t judge others; especially, when you have not walked their path

We must completely avoid judging, or at least opining and commenting on, the lives of people whose path we have never walked.
Shreekumar Varma
Photo Courtesy: The Hindu/Internet
Our good friend, the acclaimed writer and poet, Shreekumar Varma was abducted last fortnight in Senegal, in Western Africa. He has since been freed and is hopefully back home in Chennai. Shreekumar had, it appears, been to Senegal to sell an original painting of Raja Ravi Varma. Interestingly, Shreekumar also hails from Raja Ravi Varma’s family. The story of his abduction broke a couple of days ago in India and his subsequent release has been going viral on social media. What baffles me is the way people are judgmental about Shreekumar and his predicament.
Some of the questions being asked or judgments being pronounced are:
·    Was a ransom paid for his release?
Was the painting itself the ransom?
Shreekumar was a fool to be lured to Senegal to sell an original Ravi Varma painting
Something’s fishy about his visit and the whole story
I wouldn’t ever sell a Ravi Varma original
Maybe he was selling the painting without his family’s knowledge
Now these questions and points of view may be arising out of curiosity because Shreekumar’s story is in the public domain. But is it necessary to pass judgment on matters that don’t concern us directly or of which we have no or limited knowledge. Just because you are on social media, and there is an opportunity and space available to air a comment, don’t opine on people and events that you don’t know anything about.
People who know Shreekumar and his wife Geetha will agree that they are surely among the most genial people on the planet. We have known them only over the last three years, but we have immense regard for them. They conduct themselves with so much humility – despite their lineage and all their accomplishments – and dignity. No one I know knows under what circumstances Shreekumar made that trip to Senegal. I personally don’t think it is relevant. He got into a messy situation there. And the local Indian Embassy, the Ministry of External Affairs and his family worked on securing his release and safe passage back home. Simple. And period. There ends the story. I don’t think anyone has the right to dissect, analyze and pronounce judgment on a matter such as this – especially when they are so totally removed from the truth and the facts.
We have seen how social opinion colored and condemned the passage of justice in the Aarushi case – the Talwar couple serve a jail sentence when there’s not a shred of evidence against them! Vaani and I have also been at the receiving end of unsolicited public pronouncements and judgments. So, we surely know how it feels. We have learnt to be detached from what people have to say about us. But sadly not everyone may have that ability.  
Let us understand and appreciate that people – that includes you and me – do things in Life with their own rationale and logic. Sometimes, things go horribly wrong despite all the intent and planning. So, people do end up in a circumstance that they never quite believed they will ever be in. Everyone’s story has only one truth. And unless you know what that truth is, don’t speculate, don’t opine, and most important, don’t judge anyone. Apart from puncturing the morale of those you judge, it is, quite honestly, a total waste of your time and, seriously, none of your business! 

Every beating heart has a story to tell

Know someone’s story before you comment on them. Better still, look at yourself in the mirror, and appraise yourself, before you pass judgment.
The gravest mistake that we make as human beings is to comment on other people’s lives without knowing their stories. Yet we do it so often. Because it is a free world. Free for interpretation. Free to comment. Free to opinionate. Free to pass judgment. So we all exercise that freedom with complete, often reckless, abandon. And with impunity.
Therefore, a person who has never paid taxes or voted or managed a team or led an organization, will gleefully opinionate on how the country’s Prime Minister must lead and govern. A wife beating husband will talk about morality and women’s rights. Someone who downloads and watches pirated movies online will support a questionable movement against corruption and champion honesty in public. A woman who has been through a divorce and living single will be seen as ‘available’. And someone following his bliss, and therefore standing his ground by not running the corporate rat race, will be seen as ‘wasting his youth and messing up his career’. Each of us is guilty of this crime. I too have committed it in the past. We see someone drive up in a big car, we say, “Filthy rich fella…” We see a man in rags on the street, we conclude, “Beggar.” We don’t pause to think. We don’t care__or even__want to know these people. We only want to presume and opine. And what about the people we know? We don’t want to trust them. So, if someone is saying or doing something we don’t like, we don’t want to know them better or understand them. We just want to opine again. Randomly.
Some years ago, owing to all the frequent travel that I has to undertake, I found myself being upgraded to business class, at the boarding gate, on a domestic flight by the airline’s loyalty program. It so happened that a friend that I had borrowed money from__those were the years early on in the bankruptcy of my Firm__also was on the same flight. And he was in economy class. My friend who was chatting me up prior to boarding refused to see eye to eye with me once we boarded. Upon arrival at our destination, he walked away pretending he didn’t see me. I sent him a text saying it was good seeing him. He didn’t reply. A few weeks later I received a lawyer’s notice saying my friend demanded that I pay back his money. The crux of the argument was that ‘if I had the money to spend on a business class ticket, I surely had the money to repay him’. I did not even engage a lawyer__I could not afford one__but replied to the notice saying a client had paid for my economy ticket and the upgrade had happened as a matter of rote and circumstance and not by my engineering or special design! My friend proceeded to sue me in a court. And I said the same thing in court as well, breaking down as I said it. The judge implored us both to settle the matter out of court. My friend was appalled. He met me outside and I pleaded for his understanding. I showed him documents that demonstrated how bad the business had gotten. And how we were even struggling for our living expenses. He listened to me patiently. He apologized for his conduct and walked away. Now, had he cared to understand me even when we were boarding the flight together, we wouldn’t have needed to be in a courtroom.

That episode has led me to transform and to resolve never to judge or comment on anybody. The learning is two-fold for all of us: 1. We all behave like my friend some time or the other. 2. We all must realize that we behave so because we don’t trust people around us. The only way we can and must live our lives is by never passing judgment or opinionating on someone or something unless we have to and only if we know the full story. We must learn to understand and appreciate people’s stories and predicaments first. Accept that people, despite what we see as apparent, can be going through a difficult or challenging phase in their lives. Love people for who they are rather than for what they should be or will be or were. Remember: every beating heart has a story to tell. Know that story before you shoot off your mouth! 

Don’t agonize assuming things about people

One of the most important principles to simplify your Life is not to imagine things about other people.
More so, when you haven’t seen something for yourself. And you are going purely basis what you perceive things to be or what others have told you. This simply means don’t form opinions about people basis what you imagine them to be or what others have shared as their perceptions. For all you know, all that you have heard and imagined may be completely untrue! And just in case you have seen something and your opinion stems from whatever evidence, visual, definitive, empirical or otherwise you possess, forgive them for having value systems different from yours or for behaving differently from your expectations of them. Know that no person is good or bad. All of us are a product of the time that we go through. Someone behaves in a manner that you find peculiar or unacceptable only because he or she does not find it either peculiar or unacceptable! If he or she thought like you, they would not behave so. If this person is someone close to you, try counseling. If counseling doesn’t work, let go. Let that person learn from time. Keep sending positive energy and pray for the person’s awakening.
This is the simplest way to ensuring you are anchored in peace. When you are peaceful, clarity of thought will emerge, which, in turn, will help you deal with the situation or the person, or both, better. When you are succumbing to your perceptions or are getting agitated over the evidence you have against someone, you will encounter agony. More frustration and clouded thinking will cause you to be in disharmony with your natural state of peace and joy.
So, whether the person who you disapprove of and disagree with over opinion, ideology or behavior, is a spouse, a sibling, parent or child, colleague or neighbor or a public figure, never pass judgment. Don’t enjoin in gossip. Don’t agonize assuming things about people. Just let go. Let time teach and heal. Send positive energy. That’s the surest way to staying peaceful and happy!

Don’t Know? Then please don’t judge!

When you stop judging people and accept them for who they are – you will not only be peaceful, you will learn from them!
Kejriwal with Lali
Picture Source: Internet
Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal was slapped two days ago by an autorickshaw driver named Lali in New Delhi. This was the second attack on him in four days and the third in under a fortnight. Kejriwal was left with a swollen left eye after Lali slapped him. Yesterday, Kejriwal visited Lali and sought to understand why he was attacked. He said later that he had forgiven Lali for what he did. This action of Kejriwal’s is being viewed by many as a publicity stunt. Some call it a great “photo-grabop” – which is, insinuating that Kejriwal grabbed the opportunity to get free, positive mileage from the attack. I am not a supporter of Kejriwal. So, I don’t write this to say he’s right in what he did or that he’s truly Gandhian in his outlook. I am, however, keen to understand how do we, the #hashtag opinion-makers, know he’s not truly Gandhian? How do we know, merely by watching TV, following social media updates and reading political commentaries, that Kejriwal really did not forgive Lali?
As much as there’s muck around us, there’s muck in our minds too. We often rush to judge people that we hardly know anything about. Why do we see every politician as someone who’s wily, self-obsessed and corrupt? If someone does any good to anyone, why must he or she be having a hidden agenda? If someone does not bereave someone’s death by beating her chest, why must she be “cold-blooded”? If two people are very close friends, why must they be having an affair? We go on and on pronouncing judgment on everyone around us. And we do this without even seeking to know, let alone understand, the facts of any matter or the truth. Now, curiously, those who judge others are the ones who miss the opportunity to see the beauty in humanity around them or learn from fellow human beings.
Rushing to judge people is a disease that makes you look at everyone around you with suspicion. Your entire system is consumed by the negative energy and doubt and suspicion generate. With so much negativity in you, where’s the opportunity for you to feel love and compassion? When you are filled with negativity, you are hurting yourself in more ways than you can even imagine. And definitely you are not learning from the people you judge. Kejriwal, for instance, sat for an hour at Raj Ghat after the attack. He then went and met Lali – and forgave him. What I learnt from Kejriwal is what I know about the power of meditation – it helps you overcome anger, insult and hurt. I also learnt, in a very reinforcing way, the value of forgiveness. Forgiving someone, especially a detractor, sets you free. Otherwise the hurt can keep simmering and continue to breed more negativity in you. But if we just want to brand Kejriwal as a politician and judge him as someone who is a master at drawing political mileage from every situation, we will miss the spiritual lessons his episode has to offer.
The simple rule of thumb to practise is – if you don’t know something about someone, or don’t know that someone well enough, hold your opinions, views and judgment about that someone. Avoid getting carried away by popular sentiment. Because while the sentiment may be popular, there’s no guarantee that it reflects the truth. When you don’t rush to judge someone, chances are you will see the goodness in them and perhaps learn from them too!

Develop an Is-That-So Attitude to steel yourself!

The easiest thing for anyone to do is to opinionate on what others do and how other people should live their lives. We are all guilty of making such opinions, passing such judgments, all the time. There’s a certain, call it sadistic if you like, joy that people derive in hurting others with their words. And there’s so much grief, therefore, that people carry within them, of memories of such wounding words, in their lifetimes.

In order to avoid getting into either end of this hurt trap, it is very important to stay aware.

The moment your mind rushes to judge someone, remind your mind that your opinion is perhaps both unsolicited and avoidable. Enquire whether what you are about to say is true or kind. And only then, only if completely unavoidable, and totally true, say what you must, but say it kindly. If you can’t say it kindly, just don’t say it! Period. The other thumb-rule to follow is while you can have an opinion on someone, it is best when it is with you. For it is completely worthless when it is invested in someone who does not value it.

Now, while you can indeed check yourself, and your pronouncements, with your awareness and with lots of practice, you really can’t control what people have to say about you and the way you live your Life. The fickle human mind, that craves for instant gratification in all matters, will want you to rush to defend yourself when you are criticized, ridiculed, opinionated on and your Life is scrutinized beyond reasonable limits. Overcome that temptation to defend, to clarify, to retaliate by simply remembering this – what I learned very early on in Life but did not realize its value until recently – “Opinions are like farts. Everyone has one. And they all stink!”

So, in essence, all you need to do when people say or do something that hurts you is to ask, in complete, genuine bewilderment__because your sense of shock is really that__ “Is that so?”. I learned this through a Zen story I heard some years back.

The Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768), one of the most influential figures of Japanese Zen Buddhism was revered by his neighbors as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. One fine day, the girl’s parents discovered that she was pregnant. This made her parents very angry. She initially would not confess who the man__who had got her pregnant__was. But after much forcing, she, at last, named Hakuin. Horrified, the shocked parents went to the Master, blamed him, berated and threatened him with dire consequences if he did not “own” their daughter’s child.

Is that so?,” was all that Hakuin said, smiling.

After the child was born, it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, as people shunned him for his “immoral” conduct. The barbs from, and being ostracized by, the people did not trouble him at all though. Instead, he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from some of his more forgiving and tolerant neighbors and provided for everything else the little one needed.

A year later, the young girl could stand her own lie no longer. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the local fish market.

The mother and father of the girl were even more horrified this time. They at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get their grandchild back again.

Hakuin was both forgiving and willing. In yielding the child, all he said again, smiling, was: “Is that so?

The moral for all us is to learn from Hakuin. Let us learn to be just witnesses of whatever happens to us in Life. Including being witnesses to judgments and opinions being pronounced in favor or against us. In fact, that’s what we really are __ mere observers. In joy or in sorrow let us not get attached to the events, people, circumstances, opinions and judgments of, and in, our lives. Let’s develop an Is-That-So attitude to steel ourselves in Life. This, and this approach alone, can guarantee us the inner peace that we all crave for, work hard for, but never really manage to find.

Understand, don’t interpret

A lot of our problems arise from our tendency to rush and interpret people, occurrences or even thoughts than understand them. Even before people have finished saying what they want to we have composed our responses in our mind. When a simple coincidence like a cat crossing our path happens, we have interpreted it as a bad omen. If we dream of someone dying in our dream, we interpret it as a sign that something grave is due to happen, often as a premonition of our own death! Our urge to interpret, or our inability to deeply understand Life, often comes in the way of our living fully, completely!

Even if unwittingly, my neighbor taught me the value of understanding, over interpreting, this past week. My neighbor also happens to be administering the affairs of the condominium in which we live. When we moved in here, I noticed that the common waste disposal bins were too small for the amount of trash that was generated by the apartments in our building. It never struck me then that I could suggest to my neighbor that she consider enhancing the capacity of those bins. However, when a journalist friend from a local daily pinged me asking for some thoughts on being responsible citizens in today’s age and time of community living in condominiums, I did speak openly on how ‘insensitive’ condominium planning and planners can be. I requested my friend not to quote me because I loathe any visibility and also because I was new in our condominium. My friend assured me that I would not be quoted. I was traveling for several weeks after this conversation so I missed reading the local papers in that time. Upon my return from my travels, I happened to meet my neighbor. She promptly referred to the report in the local daily, which had appeared when I was away, and said: “Good point. But I wish you had told me about this first before talking about it in the media.” I was shocked. I looked up the newspaper clipping and there I was, evidently quoted. My journalist friend had obviously not kept her word. I apologized to my neighbor profusely and transparently shared with her how this had come about. “I am sorry we are experiencing each other this way. I seek your understanding,” I prevailed upon her. It was a particularly awkward moment. I was meeting my neighbor only a second time since we had moved in. And to be defending a banal situation such as this one was so stupid. Further, in a condominium’s context, where neighbors, particularly if they are also administrators, have huge egos, this unintended media coverage and its possible aftermath were both imminently avoidable. My neighbor and I shook hands and we promised to reach out if we could help each other in any way. Ever since that instance, surprisingly, our neighbor has been always available for any escalations we may have had with regard to issues relating to the common areas or shared services in our building. And yesterday, she even reached out and apologized for an inconvenience that we were put through owing to the elevator not working.

I personally am humbled by her maturity and personal leadership. While the incidents in question itself are so inconsequential, her decision to employ trust and understanding, in place of ego and interpretation is both commendable and inspiring. If we look around us, more than half the time, our relationships are strained because of the scourge of interpretation. Almost anyone who lives in a condominium will appreciate the potential that such episodes have to vitiate the environment and spread disharmony. If my neighbor, more so in her role as an administrator, had chosen to interpret me, she may well have approached the entire episode of that media coverage as follows:

  1. How dare he talk about our condominium’s planning and planners when he is a rank newcomer here?
  2. Why did he choose to talk to the local daily when I was just living a floor above him – obviously he has a sinister agenda to paint me black?
  3. For all the damage he has caused, for which he feigns an apology now, I don’t want to have anything to do with him and his family – let him fend for himself!

There’s so much destructive power that interpretation holds. And so much constructive opportunity that understanding offers. It is a no-brainer which path we must choose. Yet, by default, we all often rush to interpret. To interpret means to judge. To judge means to perceive. And, as Aristotle has said, to perceive means to suffer, because what you perceive may or may not be true. To understand, on the other hand, is to accept people for who they are. There is no judgment involved here. And those that understand always, as I have learned from my neighbor, have a teachable point of view.