Have an ego? Try hailing an auto-rickshaw in Chennai!

When you understand ego, you will be able to deal with it and your Self better!  
Cartoon Courtesy: Surendra/The Hindu/Internet
I have come to believe that if you really want a crash course in learning to handle ego, you must try commuting using an auto-rickshaw within Chennai. No matter what your net worth or self-worth is, the auto-rickshaw drivers will cut you down to size. They will be, often without provocation, nasty, irreverent and downright greedy and abrasive. The most humiliating part, the unkindest cut if you may want to call it so, is when you are trying to tell the driver (before boarding) what your destination is, and he simply drives away – no explanations, not even a glance at you, forget a “Sorry, I am headed in a different direction!” … It can be very humiliating and surely the fastest way of ridding yourself of your ego.
Last evening, I was, yet again, subjected to such a treatment trying to hail an auto-rickshaw. And that brought me to reflect on Osho’s, the Master’s, perspective on ego. Osho says the ego does not exist. He likens the ego to darkness. He says just as darkness is the absence of light, which disappears the moment light arrives, the ego too will be powerless if there is self-awareness. He says ego is just that state when there is absence of self-awareness. If you know your true Self, says Osho, you will never have a problem with ego.
On a simpler plane, the ego is the feeling that your mind whips up that you are in control of your Life and of everything and everyone around you. So, when someone, like an auto-rickshaw driver in Chennai, behaves in a discourteous, and often obnoxious, manner your mind pumps up your ego to demand “How dare you?” But a Chennai auto-rickshaw driver cares a damn – neither for law, nor for humanity. He will simply rubbish you. Which is why I say that spending time on the streets of Chennai trying to hail auto-rickshaws, over a period of a few weeks, can help you learn to manage your ego better. To be sure, you will learn to appreciate and value the truth that you control nothing.
Understanding ego is a very important aspect of intelligent living. This whole feeling that you are in control makes you a hostage of your ego. Ilayaraja, the music maestro, was once on Radio Mirchi, talking about the ego. I remember him saying this, so beautifully: “Show me one human being who says he is the one causing the digestion of all that he eats. Everything, absolutely everything, is controlled by a Higher Energy. We don’t even have the ability to control the digestion of the food that we imbibe.” I can totally relate to that perspective. This does not mean we must become defeatist in our approach to Life. This only means that we become more aware.

Know that there’s a Higher Energy leading you and your Life. By all means do whatever you can and must in each situation – but for a moment, never imagine and believe that you are controlling the situation. The more aware you become, the more you understand ego. And the more you understand ego, the more you realize that your Life was never in your control in the first place. How do you control something that you have no control over? The game of Life will be played no matter what you do or don’t do. The best you can do is to simply play along and flow with Life – pretty much the way you will end up learning to hail an auto-rickshaw in Chennai!!!
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A lesson in living from the Jayalalithaa episode

Anything, absolutely anything, can happen in Life! You just have to be prepared to accept whatever comes your way and know that nothing is permanent – neither success nor defeat!
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Yesterday’s conviction of J.Jayalalithaa by a Bangalore Special Court in an 18-year-old “Disproportionate Assets” case, under the Prevention of Corruption Act, holds an important lesson in living for all of us. No, I am not going to comment on either the merits of the landmark judgment nor am I going to analyze the political future of Jayalalithaa, her AIADMK party and the state of Tamil Nadu. To me the singular takeaway is this: whoever you are, wherever – even if you are high, mighty and powerful or meek, written-off and in oblivion – you are, your Life will play out exactly per your cosmic design. One moment you can be an immensely popular and powerful – seemingly infallible – Chief Minister of a state and in another you can be prisoner number 7402 at the Parappana Agrahara Central Prison, lodged in VVIP Cell 23, disqualified as MLA and CM and barred from contesting elections for 10 years!
It is this understanding – that anything, absolutely anything, can happen in Life – that we all completely lack in our lives, caught as we are, in trying to make sense of our own individual, inscrutable, Life stories and designs. Even as I write this, news has come in that my wife’s classmate lost her young adult son in an accident earlier today. And next week, on the popular Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) show, host Amitabh Bachchan will hand over the Rs.7 Crore bounty, for the first time ever, to brothers Achin and Sarthak Narula. The Narulas least expected to be on the show. But when they did get there, they thought they will get to the Rs.25 Lakh stage and then quit the game. Little did they imagine, or believe, that they would hit the Rs.7 Crore jackpot and create history! So, anything can happen in Life – an Emperor can become a pauper and a pauper can become an Emperor – at any time!
Which is why you – and I – must develop the attitude and temperament to accept Life for what it is. The truth is that beyond human comprehension, there’s a higher intelligence, a Higher Energy, at work. Different people see this differently. Some believe this Higher Energy is an unseen, invisible Creator, a God – whose works you can touch and feel though. Some, like Apple’s late Steve Jobs described, say that you cannot understand Life as it is happening to you – you can only infer that it all happened per a “larger cosmic design” by “connecting the dots backward”. I simply believe this Higher Energy to be Life itself. The same Life that keeps us alive. This Life is intelligent. As in, it has a mind of its own. Which means whatever has happened, whatever is happening and whatever will happen is per a Masterplan.
You and I can’t ever fathom what this Masterplan is all about – not even in the contexts of our own individual lives. The only thing we can be sure of, based on all that’s happening to us and around us, is the fact that this Masterplan has no flaws. Which is, we must understand and appreciate that everything that’s happening to us is happening only so that we learn, evolve and grow stronger from the experience. When we begin to understand that this is the way Life works, we will get better and better with living, and living intelligently, with each new experience we encounter!

The best way to live, I have learnt, is to know that you and I cause nothing – neither our successes nor our failures. Life is what keeps on happening to us – from birth to death. Some of what happens to us, makes us exult, some of it buries us under its fury. Whatever happens, it is best to stay humble and stay accepting of Life – knowing fully well that nothing is permanent, neither our successes, nor our falls!

The Universe will always show you a sign – if you are “tuned” in!

Nothing really happens without a reason. That reason may never be apparent when the event happens. But sooner, or later, in this lifetime, surely, the reason for an occurrence will manifest itself in front of you as a learning. In that flash of brilliance, when the Universe shows you a sign, Life’s beauty will shine, bright and radiant!

Some years back, my son and I travelled to Rajasthan on a vacation. We visited the holy dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (1141~1236 CE), the Garib Nawaz, in Ajmer. I instantly felt connected with the energy of the place. I experienced the same Higher Energy at the dargahthat I had felt at the Vatican in 1995 or while visiting our family’s native shrine, the Mangottu Bhagavathi Kaavu, in Athipotha (Palakkad, Kerala). My own views on God and religion have evolved over the years – but I can surely relate to a Higher Energy, which is also why I occasionally visit select shrines – to “repair and recharge”. Following our visit to Ajmer, perhaps because I had left my business card with the person who arranged our visit at the dargah, I kept receiving mailers once every two months. The mailer always had an appeal to contribute to a scheme to feed the poor at the shrine daily and it had the Garib Nawaz’s scared thread – something that believers tie around their wrists as a talisman. Each time I got the mailer I would ask my office to make a small contribution to the feeding scheme and I would forget about the mailer. This went on, for months, almost mechanically. I never understood why I got those mailers. And I never cared to find out what happened to mailer or who took the sacred thread, the talisman, after I sent the contribution.

Over time, our business went downhill. And on December 31st, 2007, around 5.30 pm, I was coming back to my office, after a fateful meeting with my lawyer, who had told me and my wife that we were bankrupt. That was the first time I heard the word “bankruptcy” with reference to our debt-laden, cashless situation. I was struggling to internalize what our lawyer had told us. And my practical, logical instincts told me that “there was no way out for us” – we had no money and we had no work! As I rode the elevator up to our office on the third floor, in those 60 seconds, I closed my eyes and meditated on the “Higher Energy” that powers the Universe. I prayed: “Show me a sign that we will make it!” It was, on a logical plane, a wasteful prayer. It was a captain’s valiant effort to see through a dark, stormy night, looking for a passing vessel, when his own ship was almost sunk! The elevator jerked as it reached the third floor. I opened my eyes and stepped out. I walked to my desk and I found a fresh mailer from the Garib Nawaz’s dargah sitting there, on top of a set of papers demanding my immediate attention! My assistant told me it had arrived that afternoon. Was that “the” sign? If you had asked me then, I would have been unsure. But seven years on, we still are surviving, tethering at the edge at most times, but we still are there – hopeful and sure that we will make it! Was that “the” sign? You bet, it was!

The mailers from the Garib Nawaz’s dargahkept coming over the years. In May 2011, I read a story in the papers that a five-year-old girl, Tamannah, had gone missing on the Marina beach, in Chennai. The Hindu kept reporting this human interest story over the next few days and I followed it closely. The story became big because Tamannah’s father, Syed Noor Ahmed, accused the police of inaction. On the fifth day, after the girl disappeared, I was boarding a morning flight to Mumbai. The Hindu’sstory that morning talked of how distraught the parents of the girl were. I recalled that a mailer from the dargahhad arrived at my desk the previous afternoon. I texted my assistant and asked her to call The Hindu, get the coordinates of Ahmed and reach the mailer (with the talisman) to him. She promptly had that done, remembering to attach my business card with a note conveying our concern, prayers and best wishes to the family. Two days later I got a call from Ahmed. This is what he had to say: “Thanks for your prayers, Sir. Our baby girl has been traced and she’s back with us. The talisman you sent came just when I had finished ‘namaz’ the other day. I had asked for “some sign” that our child will be located soon. The doorbell rang soon after. And there was your person with the mailer, your business card and your note. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

I don’t like to either rationalize or emotionalize too much. Initially, there appeared to be no reason why the mailers came to me. But, at least twice, they served an important cause – of helping two distressed people keep the faith. As I write this, there’s a mailer from Garib Nawaz’s dargah, sitting in my draw – maybe the one it has to go to, will get connected with me in some time – if it is “the”  time! I have learnt that everything happens with a reason. This is not just about the Garib Nawaz or about “a” deity or shrine, it is about what I have learnt from my experiences of how the Universe will always send you a sign when you need one – and if you care to pause and spot it! To spot the Universe’s signs, you must be “tuned” in. You must anchor within and live Life in complete faith that if you have been created, you will be provided for, and taken care of!