Pain always offers a teachable point of view

You appreciate Life’s inscrutability only when you don’t get what you want or when you get what you don’t want!
This is an amazing truth about Life. It is a revelation, a discovery, that often strikes you, dawns on you, when you are in the throes of pain and despair. When everything is going per your aspirations, your desires, you conclude that you are in control, that you are the Master, that it’s all your doing. You matter the most to you in such times – this is how it works: you do well in academics, land yourself a dream job, get married to a person of your choice; you think you managed all of that ‘success’ on your own steam; because of your brilliance, genius and effort. Undoubtedly, you have worked hard and efficiently. There has been your contribution. But to imagine that the design of your Life was woven by you smacks of ignorance, not just arrogance, of the way Life works.
I met a Tamizh movie director, a very successful man, recently. He is smart, intelligent and very creative. He said, “I don’t believe in dreams. I believe in subconscious aspirations, dedicated effort and flawless execution. You make your own destiny.” Poetic words. Makes sense to the rational mind. Except that Life doesn’t always work this way. A very successful industrialist I know, who went bankrupt and has clawed his way back into reckoning, and profits in business, has this learning to share: “When things were going fine, I was thinking it was my leadership, my acumen, my business-sense that were causing my success. When we started losing money and eventually went bust as a business, I found that the same leadership and acumen__mine__were of no use. That’s when I awoke to the reality that Life has a mind of its own.” I have learnt that it’s a good thing to not always get what you want and to sometimes get what you don’t want too. That’s when you learn from Life. The best thing about pain is that it always offers a teachable point of view. And trauma is a good transformation agent, a catalyst.

There’s no rocket science to why we__you and me__awaken only when in pain. Life is best understood by asking the right questions. And we pause to ask questions, explore with curiosity, only when we don’t get what we want – or when we get what we don’t want! Interestingly, the questions we ask may often get us no answers. Just more questions emerge. And the more questions we ask, the closer we are to understanding Life. That’s when we realize that Life is, well, inscrutable! 

Empty yourself and Life will express itself through you

Awaken each day with total humility, stretch your arms wide open and be sure that Life will provide you all that you need.
I met a young lady who is an ace photographer. She prides herself with being able to connect with the who’s who of India and shoots them in the most unique contexts with the rarest of rare expressions. Her ability to create magic with her subjects is exceptional. While she’s talented, she’s clearly not very admired. Most people who know her believe she talks too much – often about herself. “I want to shoot people in a manner in which no one has done before. I want my stamp all over my pictures,” she declared to me, proudly.
Raghu Rai with his iconic picture of Mother Teresa
Picture Courtesy: The Guardian/Internet
I had an opportunity to listen to one of the greatest photographers in the world, Raghu Rai, recently too. And he said, “There is the divine in every moment. As a photographer I don’t try to show off my skill or talent through a picture. I am merely an instrument, as much as the camera that I use is, who captures that divinity for posterity. I am a nobody in the larger cosmic design.”
The two perspectives are so contrasting. One who humbly believes that he is only an instrument. And another who brags that she is the creator of all the magic in her work!  
I recall reading a beautiful interview that Times of Indiahad once done with A R Rahman. He told Priya Gupta: Every time I sit for a song, I feel I am finished. It’s like a beggar sitting waiting for God to fill your bowl with the right thought. In every song, I ask help from Him. Everybody around is so good, so to create music that will connect with so many people is not humanly possible without inspiration.
This is the humility I am referring to. To feel enriched, to live fully and to create value, we must empty ourselves daily. When we approach Life with a sense of nothingness, nobody-ness, in total surrender, we will be able to see and experience the Life that is ordained for us.
Our wanting anything is of no consequence really. There’s an old Arabic proverb that goes like this: “What is destined will reach you even if it be beneath two mountains. What is not destined will not reach you even if it be between your two lips.” Let’s remember that this Life has been given to each one of us. We didn’t ask for it. So, logically, if something has come free, without your asking for it, you don’t impose your wants on it. You accept what’s being given and use it intelligently, fully! That fullness can only come from respecting Life and being humble. When you start believing that your Life is happening because of you, you are being both ungrateful and irresponsible. You must cease to exist in a metaphorical sense for the God within you to find expression.

This is why people like Rahman or Rai, or any successful or creative person, is able to live in this same, cold, dog-eat-dog, world that we live in and are able to produce a matchless, beautiful, work of art each day. I am not talking of celebrity achievements here. You and I too can achieve those levels of creative expression, leading to phenomenal success, if we learn to empty ourselves and let Life express itself through us.

What I learnt from Tenzin Gyatso: “Stay Humble, Stay Happy, Stay Human”

Every once in a while, someone will come into your Life and make you sit up and appreciate the value of being human – and being happy.
On my Life’s journey I have met a few people who have had a profound impact on my outlook to Life and have inspired me to be happy. But this morning at the Extra Mural Lecture Series at IIT-Madras, The XIVth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, invited me to look at Life and happiness afresh.
He raised the pitch and perspective to a higher-than-30,000-ft-level saying each of us has a responsibility to make this Century, the 21st Century, the Century of Happiness. And even as he delivered this profound message, he ensured that he gently, beautifully, stirred your soul and made you realize that the real purpose of your creation – and mine – is to be happy!
Tenzin Gyatso: The XIVth Dalai Lama
Picture Courtesy: TIME/Internet
The Dalai Lama began by simply being who he is – he is simplicity personified. He picked up an apple, from a fruit basket that had been given to him by IIT-M Director Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi as a welcome gesture, and kept chomping on it all through his lecture. He said, “I prefer informality. I prefer all of us treating each other as humans. That way there is equality. You know, the moment I start looking at myself as a Tibetan or as a Buddhist monk, then I begin to treat myself with exclusivity. And let me tell you if I start referring to myself as The Dalai Lama – I am the only Dalai Lama in the world which has over 7 billion people – then it gets very lonely. So, I am just another human being like you. I like it this way. This is when we can have a conversation – you and me!”
He made a very strong case for humanity and happiness. He said that all humans, intrinsically, basically, are compassionate. And all human beings want a happy Life – and they have a right to be happy! All destructive emotions – anger, hatred, fear – are secondary. They arise in people only when their idea of happiness is disturbed. Each individual, he pointed out, has a responsibility: to go back to the basic human state of compassion, to have a vision to make this world happier and to develop the patience to attain this vision. “But it is a personal choice,” he reiterated, adding, “That is why the Buddha said, ‘You are your own Master.’ Your happiness is in your hands and in your actions – mental, verbal and physical actions. So, you can go to work on what I have shared with you or you can drop it.”
Tenzin Gyatso: The XIVth Dalai Lama
Picture Courtesy: TIME/Internet
He made us pause and think of religion and its role and purpose. He patiently elucidated what the various religions are trying to say. He led us to understand that each religion, and the multiple philosophies professed by each religion, may appear to be different. But ultimately all of them are promoting human well-being and happiness. Again, he championed that it was an individual responsibility for each of us to stay focused on the bigger picture of what each religion was striving to achieve. “The true meaning of secular is to respect all religions and their followers and respect all those who are non-believers (in religion) too. It is our responsibility to work towards religious harmony among the world’s people. That’s my commitment,” he said.
At 80, The Dalai Lama lives and leads his Life’s message from the front. Not in his spiritual role. Not in its political avatar. To me, he has relinquished both. The political mandate he gave up in September 2011 when he retired from the Central Tibetan Administration. And he is hardly interested in continuing in the spiritual role either, of being a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara – the Boddhisattva of Compassion. In an interview he gave a German newspaper in September 2014, The Dalai Lama has indicated that he is not keen on the tradition of the Dalai Lama, which has stayed for over 5 centuries, continuing any longer. In fact, he spoke about it briefly this morning too. “Even the Dalai Lama institution has become feudal over the years. It’s time for change. Which is why, I prefer dealing with people at a human level not as a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara,” he said.
My family and I – who are together for the first time in 8 years for Diwali – could not have found a more enriching experience on a Diwali morning! Just being in the presence of the man is such a blessing. Here’s someone who has stripped himself of all the trappings of power and exclusivity and has gone to the root of human existence to promote compassion and happiness among the world’s people. I don’t know of too many statesmen and global leaders who have been able to do that or are doing that. Which is why, perhaps, over 3000 of us in the audience at the Student Activities Centre at IIT-M clung on to his every word, having chosen to pause our Diwali celebrations.

They call him ‘His Holiness’. But I won’t call him so. As he chomped on his apple, and kept repeating how delicious it was, he taught us the value of being humble, being happy and being human. To me, therefore, Tenzin Gyatso is just a happy, humble, human being! And so he inspires me to be one myself! 

Khudi Ko Kar Buland Itna…The Kalam Way!

Sigh, I have never met Dr.Abdul Kalam! So I don’t have a picture of mine with him to post here. I don’t also have anything to say of him which hasn’t been said already.

As my fellow Indians celebrate his Life by sharing what they think of him, I feel deeply too. But words cannot express what I feel about him. His presence, his Life and now his absence in a physical form can best be described as an eternal inspiration.

Cartoon Courtesy: Internet
Copyright rests with cartoon’s original creator
Last night as the NDTV newsbreak notification appeared on my phone, I was reminded of the lines that Mohd.Iqbal, a Pakistani poet and philosopher (1877~1938), also famously known as Allama Iqbal, gave the world to live by: “Khudi ko kar buland itna, ke har taqder se pehle, Khuda bande se ye poche, bata teri raza kya hai.” This roughly translated in a practical sense (there are a few exalted interpretations too) means, “Make your self-will so strong, your contribution to this Universe, therefore, so unputdownable, that before making your next destiny, the Creator will ask you for your preference of what you want to be created as.”  

We hope the Creator will ask this of Dr.Kalam. And we hope Dr.Kalam will ask to be created, yet again, as himself, as the most devoted, committed, true Indian that ever lived.


Dr.Kalam inspired us to believe that this Life is unlived and incomplete, if you have not touched lives. He lived this way to make his Life his message. In celebration of his Life, let us live that spirit of humility and selfless service – today and always…

Don’t mistake your expertise to be your handicap

Be professionally arrogant and personally humble. Never mix up the two.
Most of our strife at the workplace comes because we don’t put our foot down, we don’t say no or we don’t even express our expertise or opinions freely__because we think we are trapped in either the” boss is always right” syndrome or we prefer following the herd. Think about your work and career so far deeply. Every time you have found your work lacking meaning and purpose, and found it to be a burden, the reason would have invariably been because you didn’t feel things were being done right at work. Either culturally, process-wise or strategically. Favoritism, petty politics, bickerings, poor quality, delayed meetings, biased appraisals are all manifestations of things not being “right” in any organization. And you know always that this is not “right” but never spoke up. You have all the solutions to whatever ails your team, department or organization. Because that’s what you qualified for __ to know the “right” way of doing things. But you remain a mute spectator because you are a “good” worker, a “soft-spoken”, “amiable”, “humble” professional.
So instead of being professionally firm__even being arrogant is fine__you choose to be professionally humble. And from being an intelligent, skilled, knowledge worker, you become a grumpy, unproductive, sufferer. You carry your strife home. You put on weight. Your blood pressure starts rising. You encounter diabetes, cholesterol and several lifestyle ailments. Slowly, your professional humility turns you into an individual who’s incompetent or at least appears to be. All of this can be avoided if you see yourself as a subject matter expert. And you stick to the “right” way of doing things. Whether you are a lathe operator or a HR manager or a chartered accountant or a bio-chemist or a pilot, you are a qualified professional. Over years of being in a job, you become a subject matter expert. Be arrogant with this expertise. When you see something that’s going wrong or not being done the “right” way, speak up. And remove this fear that you will lose your job because everyone is toeing the popular line and you don’t want to be the only dissenting voice. In my 27 years of corporate experience, I haven’t seen a single professional who spoke up lose his or her job. But I have seen and still see countless corporate lambs silently suffer because they feared speaking up.
Think of a situation where you go to a doctor and complain of chest pain. The doctor refers you to a cardiologist; who orders scans and concludes that you need a bypass. Can you argue with the doctor on her diagnosis, can you opinionate, can you tell her that she doesn’t know her business? Well you can’t and you won’t. Because your Life is at stake and the doctor is a subject matter expert.
Quite similarly, my dear friend, your Life, your peace, your joy, is at stake, because you are not recognizing the subject matter expert in you. Don’t mistake your expertise to be your handicap. It is the most potent weapon in your arsenal. Use it. You will find bliss at work! Here and Now!

Have the humility to wear a learner’s tag

Each moment in Life is teaching us something. Only if we are willing as students to look for the learning in it.
Even a frustrating drive through traffic can be a learning experience. For instance, the alphabet ‘L’ in red on a vehicle ahead of us on a day when we are behind schedule and are rushing to our destination is the last thing anyone wants. Instead of getting irritated and showing our angst on the rookie driver in the vehicle or on the road or fellow road users, we will do well to reflect on what the ‘L’ sign can mean to us. In a very practical context, ‘L’ on a car, indicates that the driver ahead of us is still learning. Our impatience with this person is because we believe we know driving well and don’t need to be tailing a learner driver. On a holistic plane, consider the way we journey through Life. Aren’t we still learners; still learning (read struggling) to live!? The only difference is that the learner driver has the humility__apart from having to meet a legal requirement__to acknowledge that she/he is still learning. On the other hand, we don’t ever want to acknowledge that we are learners, because we think we know it all or imagine that it would be below our dignity to wear a learner tag.

When we get down to being humble, we will discover that the learner tag is not a liability but an asset. When we accept we are still learning, and don’t know it all, people make way and time for us. We move, interestingly, faster, onward, higher and wiser….in Life!