A lesson from a ghazal and its singer’s Life!

You have only two options in Life – either enjoy the moment or endure the moment!
Jagjit and Chitra Singh: Picture Courtesy – Filmfare/Internet
I recently stumbled upon old recordings of some live concerts of Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh on YouTube. Hearing both Jagjit and Chitra sing together is mesmerizing. But we have to make do with only recordings. Because Chitra stopped singing 24 years ago when their only son Vivek died tragically in a road accident in Mumbai in 1990. In 2009 Chitra’s daughter Monica Dutta, from her first marriage,  committed suicide. And in October 2011, Jagjit too passed away. Talking to Filmfare’sFarhana Farook two years ago, Chitra had said: “When I lost Baboo (Vivek’s nickname) the question ‘why me’ would bother me. Not anymore. Spirituality changes your thinking. There has to be a reason whether I understand it or not. Any other woman in my place would have crumbled or become bedridden. But I didn’t allow that to happen. Because I don’t have the luxury of indulging myself.  Also, I’m not scared of death. I welcome it this moment…Since Vivek passed away, there was this thing between my daughter, Papa (she called Jagjit by this name) and me as to who would meet him first. Both of them have beaten me to it! Everything in Life is momentary – yaa jee lo, yaa jhel lo! (enjoy the moment or endure it!) Manzil na de, charag na de, hausla toh de...” The last line of Chitra’s quote is actually the opening line of a famous ghazal (you can listen to the original here) that Chitra and Jagjit used to sing. It means, “If you can’t show me the destination or show me the light (for the way), at least give me the strength to endure”. I can completely relate to Chitra’s grief; she’s seen enough pain for a lifetime but her spirit – though I disagree with her decision not to sing anymore after Vivek’s death – remains unbroken. And that’s my key takeaway.
Life deals with each of us in our own ways. We have our own stories of love, loss, death, betrayal, hurt and grief. When you reflect on the nature of Life, you will realize that there’s really no point getting bogged down if your Life does not go the way you planned for it. Yes, there will be suffering when there’s pain. But you have to overcome that suffering by accepting the pain. As Chitra realized, and shared, there’s no point in asking “why me”. If something happened to you, it happened. Period. Asking “why me” or “why me now” will not undo what has happened. It was in this “why me” phase that Chitra perhaps resolved never to sing again. We can learn from her Life that such a choice was avoidable. Because what happens when we choose, in times of grief or intense suffering, to forsake what gives us joy, is that we indulge in self-martyrdom, self-pity. And that can be debilitating; it will only increase our suffering. Someone like Chitra sang not to earn a living. Music was her Life. It was who she was. Resolving not to sing was like killing the music within her. Whether it is music or art or your chosen vocation, never try to sacrifice who you are just because you believe Life has dealt you a hard blow. As Chitra herself says, thanks to her own evolution through the years, you can either enjoy the moment or endure the moment. There really is no other way. And therefore there’s no point in fighting Life or getting angry with Life for whatever’s happened – or is happening – to you!
The learning from Chitra’s story is simply this: whatever it is that you are faced with in Life, learn to accept it. If there is intense pain, accept it and endure it. Only your accepting pain will end your suffering. And if you are content with whatever you have and whatever is, enjoy each moment. Don’t wish that your Life is any different from what it is now. It is pointless. If you must at all ask for anything of Life, from Life, ask for the strength, as the ghazal goes, to endure it!  

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Don’t interfere with Life

Ending your Life is not a solution to the problems you face! Suicide is a very selfish act – while it may end your physical tribulations, it may just begin a whole new set for those people who love you, depend on you and believe in you!
This morning’s papers had a shocker. Murli Mohan, 54, whom the entire film, TV and advertising industry in Chennai knows as “Horlicks Uncle”, had committed suicide yesterday. He had become famous after he did a few television commercials, directed by ace filmmaker Rajiv Menon, for Horlicks several years ago. Mohan was known to us – our son had acted with him in television commercials for Milka Wondercake and TVS Motors, over 15 years ago. We remember Mohan as a cheerful person and as a thoroughbred professional. Today’s papers said he had been depressed because he had been out of work for over six months now. I was deeply saddened by the news, more so, for the reasons that were being attributed to Mohan taking that drastic step of ending his Life.
This Life we have is a gift. None of us have asked to be born. Yet we have been born. And that is the gift, this lifetime, that we must learn to cherish and celebrate. None of us has the right to take away what is not ours. And this Life is not our creation – it is just a gift. So, let Life take you wherever it takes you. You simply flow with it. And let it end, when it must, and when it will, and you see the end – if it can be called one, that is – whenever it comes.
Interestingly, had he lived, today would have been R.D.Burman’s (RD, Pancham) 75th birthday. He was a genius. Someone who ruled the roost in Bollywood for 20+ years. Yet in the last decade of his work, he found work difficult to come by. Studios and producers – the same people who had waited in queues to sign him up earlier in his career – shut their doors on him. RD became depressed. And died, of a heart attack, beaten and side-lined. Yet, despite his depression, despite the rejection and humiliation, he did not give up. Every day, he made a fresh attempt to resurrect his career. It was one such effort that led to his meeting Vidhu Vinod Chopra and the making of 1942 – A Love Story, a film that won him a Filmfare award for Best Music Director, posthumously. Today, the same world, which once rejected him, holds RD’s memory on a divine pedestal and worships the man, his genius and his music!
Such is Life. Just a series of ups and downs, highs and lows. You – and I – have to face each of them stoically and with equanimity.
A friend famously remarked once, in the context of my bankruptcy and my inability to pay back my loans, “Someone who cannot keep up his commitments, especially with regard to money borrowed from people, has no business to live.” Indeed, one’s self-esteem gets punctured in such grave contexts like joblessness or cashlessness or any other. You may tend to conclude that it is futile to live. Yet, I firmly believe that low self-esteem does not give us the right to resort to a selfish act – suicide. Suicide may end your Life, but will make that of everyone around you miserable. Is that what you really want – for others to suffer at your expense? Motivation is an inside job. No one can help motivate you but yourself. In my case, I am blessed that my wife is by my side – walking with me, every step of the way, however treacherous the path may be. So, every day, we both wake up with a resolution to work harder to put our Life and business back on track. Every night we retire with the hope that the next day will be better and will bring with it a new beginning and a new opportunity. This is how we sustain our inner peace, our focus and our commitment to Life, to our family and to our creditors – one day at a time!
An unputdownable lesson that Life has taught me is this: Don’t interfere with Life with your whys, why mes, why nows? Just live with what you have, do what you can in the given situation to the best of your ability and savor each experience. Life will sort itself – and you – on its own, over a period of time!

Learn to flow with Life – savoring both the highs and lows

Not everything in Life can be explained. It’s inscrutability is what makes Life interesting.

Last evening a few of us friends got together and sang songs late into the night. Among them were some songs composed by the legendary Rahul Dev Burman (1939~1994). As we sang “Musafir Hoon Yaaron, Na Ghar Hai Na Tikhana, Bas Chalte Jaana Hai…” (Parichay, Gulzar, 1972, Kishore Kumar), one of us recalled that RD composed this song, dripping wet after a shower, because he was inspired by his friend strumming a guitar in his room while he was in the bath! Everyone agreed wholesomely that RD was an unparalled genius. Someone then pointed out that it was RD’s death anniversary! It was on January 4, 1994, that RD had passed away. It was indeed a tragic, premature end to a glorious, prodigal Life!

Starting with “Aye Meri Topi Palat Ke Aa” (his father SD Burman used this song in Funtoosh in 1956) which he composed when he was just nine years old, RD ruled Bollywood through the 1960s, 1970s and the early 1980s. He composed music for over 300 films and practically every next generation, which followed him, musician in the industry had worked with RD, learning at his feet, at some point or the other. During 1984~1994, RD’s career flopped miserably. He is believed to have gone from studio to studio, asking film-makers for work. But no one wanted to touch him even with a barge pole. The disco generation had arrived and Bappi Lahiri’s music was scorching the charts. Not that RD had stopped making good music. In fact, what is ironical is that some of the music that RD scored in the 1984~1994 decade, including films like Manzil Manzil, Zabardast, Izzazat and Parinda, is considered “genius stuff” today, long after he is gone. In a fan mail to RD in today’s Hindu, Bishwanath Ghosh (who calls himself RD’s greatest fan), writes: People are usually forgotten after they die; it happens to the best of people — at the most, they are perfunctorily remembered on their birth and death anniversaries. But you made a stupendous comeback after your death. When you died, you were R.D. Burman, the composer. When you returned, you were R.D. Burman, the brand. A mortal resurrected as a magician. Today, every young composer wants to be you.”  Interestingly, RD never won a National Award in his entire career, and won only three Filmfare Awards – one of them for 1942: A Love Story, posthumously! Today, RD is revered in Bollywood. People truly worship his music and his legacy. India Post, in May 2013, even released a postage stamp in his honor!

Yet, some unanswerable questions haunt us! Why did his career flop in that painful decade? Why did film-makers who had made their millions on his music like Nasir Hussain (who had used RD for each of his films starting with Teesri Manzil in 1966, but did not use him for Qayammat Se Qayammat Tak in 1988) dump him? How is it that the music of his “flopped” films in that decade are now treated as priceless gems – a testimony to his wizadry with sounds and instruments in a non-techno era?

The answer to all these questions – and more – is only one: Such is Life! No one can ever be on top always. What goes up, has to come down. Talent, sincerity and integrity cut no favor – in fact, they offer no guarantee whatsoever – with what hand Life deals you. Even so, despite its mystical quality, Life is beautiful. Not knowing what will happen next makes this lifetime interesting and fills it with adventure. The best way to live Life, therefore, is to go with the flow – not get carried away by success nor get beaten by failure – savoring both the highs and lows!

The bigger tragedy of RD’s last years was he became bitter about the way Life had dealt with him. He died a heart-broken man, hurt that he had been ignored and shunned by the same people who had once celebrated him! RD’s story offers us this invaluable lesson: the only option we have is to live with whatever Life gives us. If we take this approach to Life, we will be better from each experience that we go through.