Staying depressed is a complete waste of precious time

Dealing with depression requires a deeper understanding of what’s making you angry and unhappy. The moment you understand what is disturbing you, you can either let it go or fix it.  
A recent issue of India Today ran a cover story on depression. The statistics are alarming. One in every four women, and one in every 10 men, in India is depressed. That’s about 120 million people – enough to fill a state the size of Maharashtra! From death to divorce to health to stagnating careers, these people are battling unmet expectations and struggling to cope with the psychological impact of their challenged state of mind.
I know what it means and feels like to be depressed. About 10 years ago, I was depressed too – except that I didn’t even know I was depressed! I had gone to meet a renowned psychiatrist Dr.Vijay Nagaswami; I was reporting irrational bouts of anger. Dr.Nagaswami heard me out for an hour and told me that I was depressed. He said I had two ways in front of me to deal with my depression – medication or meditation. And he staunchly advocated the latter. Thanks to Dr.Nagaswami, for me, meditation worked.
I learnt to practice silence periods daily – a method called shubha mouna yoga. It required me to be silent for an hour each morning. That investment of an hour up front in the day helped me gain control over the remaining 23 hours! As my practice of mouna deepened, over time, I began to go to the root of my anger and my depression. Through that process, I understood myself and Life better.
Let me share my learnings here. You become depressed because something you expect has not happened. You wanted someone to love you, but she is not interested. You become depressed. You wanted a raise but it’s not happening. Again, you are depressed. The only person who understood you in the whole world is dead. You are depressed. You are accused of something you did not do. Depressed! You have a health situation that has crippled your functioning. You are depressed, to the point of losing interest in Life! So, in effect, whenever an expectation goes unmet, you are depressed.
Now, depression can manifest itself in two ways. As anger. As it happened to me. But that anger is not always there. A certain listlessness, a self-pity governs your daily Life. When someone or something interferes with it, you explode with anger. The other way depression happens is with sadness. Sadness is nothing but dormant, passive anger. You conclude you are helpless and lonely and that no one understands you. You brood all the time and keep pitying yourself.  Now, in either context – anger or sadness – the mind is not allowing you the opportunity to understand the futility of your being depressed. Which is why meditation – which helps you still your mind – is very useful in understanding what’s going on and choosing an intelligent response, and not a depressive one, to the situation.
Let us say you are angry, hurt, upset – and are therefore depressed – with the way someone has treated you. You can sulk for as long as you want, but that person is never going to realize that she or he has done something wrong, until you walk up and speak your mind. When you do this, that person can either accept your point of view or reject it. Now, you can never control another person’s attitudes or actions. You can only do what you can. When you realize that you have done the best you can, you learn to let go and move on. Now, you are not depressed anymore – because you are not suppressing your anger against that person nor are you sad that you have been treated shabbily.

Surely, this approach works in all contexts. The simplest way to snap out of a depressive spiral is to know that, in Life, it is always what it is. People and events are just the way they are. Your wanting them to be different is of no use. Unless people and things change, of their own accord, it is what it is. Period. So, don’t punish yourself trying to bemoan your fate. Get up and move on. Every moment that you are angry, sad and depressed, is a moment you have not lived your Life fully! Think about it. Staying depressed is a complete waste of precious time. And you don’t have much time either!!! As the famous Persian philosopher and poet, Omar Khayyam (1048 ~ 1131) says in his classic, Rubaiyat, “The wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop; the leaves of Life keep falling one by one.”
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Nothing is sinful in Life. Least of all, having sex!

There’s nothing wrong with consensual sex – even if it is pre-marital or extra-marital.  In fact, nothing is sinful in Life, as long as you don’t let it disturb your inner joy and peace.  
The debate over Tamil writer Perumal Murugan’s Madhorubhagan continues to make headlines – on social media and among the literati. The reason why the writer and his work, also translated in English as One Part Woman (Penguin), are being discussed is that Hindu organizations are seeking a ban on the book and want Murugan arrested. The protesters question the veracity of Murugan’s claim that an ancient ritual at the Arthanareeswarar temple in Thiruchengode (in Namakkal district, Tamil Nadu), during the annual Vaigasi Visagam chariot festival, allowed childless women to have consensual sex with men so that they could conceive. The ritual, per Murugan’s “research”, dates back to over a 100 years ago when assisted and alternate reproduction techniques were not around.
I haven’t read Madhorubhagan or its English translation. I have no interest in speaking for or against Murugan’s right of free speech or expression. My simple point is this: if indeed such a ritual existed, that helped men and women copulate in order to satiate a physical and biological need, what was wrong with either the idea or its practice? It is our collective pettiness and the designs of the self-anointed mandarins of religion on the one hand, and the pathetic prevalence of casteism on the other, that unnecessarily bring religion, God and morality into play, whenever sex is considered, discussed or indulged in.
I must share two perspectives here.
One is what Osho, the Master, has to say about sex. According to him, having sex, making love, is the most exalted form of expression of us humans. He has said: “Sex is a natural phenomenon. Don’t bring your metaphysics to it, don’t bring your religion to it. It has nothing to do with religion or metaphysics; it is a simple fact of Life. It is the way Life produces itself. It is as simple as the trees bringing flowers and fruits – you don’t condemn the flowers. Flowers are sex; it is through the flowers that the tree is sending its seeds, its potentiality, to other trees. When a peacock dances you don’t condemn it, but the dance is sex; it is to attract the female. When the cuckoo calls you don’t condemn it; it is sex. The cuckoo is simply declaring, ‘I am ready’. The cuckoo is simply calling forth the woman. The sound, the beautiful sound, is just a seduction; it is courtship. If you watch Life you will be surprised. The whole of Life is through sex. Life reproduces itself through sex. It is a natural phenomenon, don’t drag unnecessary rationalizations into it.”
The other is what we can learn from the Gen Y and Millennial generation folks. The latest issue of India Today, that has its annual sex survey on the cover, says that “sex is no big deal for the Indian teenager”. The survey reports that the age of first sexual encounter has dropped from 18~26 years in 2004 to 15~16 years in 2014, that 25 % of the surveyed teens have been sexually active (they have had sex more than once) and that cities rooted in conservative ethos – like Ahmedabad, Patna and Jaipur – are the ones that are most experimental when it comes to sex.

I believe that the average Indian teen or young adult is turning out to be far more practical than us “conservative, preachy” adults. Yes, teens do need orientation and guidance on how to handle their sex lives. But that seems like an easier challenge compared to changing the holier-than-thou attitude that adults bring to the subject. They muddle it up further by mixing religion, and undoubtedly politics too, with it. I will any day go with Osho’s unputdownable logic. Nothing is sinful in Life. Least of all, having sex! In fact, it is in the union of two people, when they lose each other to – and in – the orgasm, that they experience the divine. This moment, when the individuals cease to exist and a rare, raw, unifying energy consumes each of the partners, is when true, pure loving happens. To quote Osho, again, “Sex accepted, respected, lived, becomes love.” 

A lesson in intelligent living from Rajesh Khanna’s superstardom

Learn to live Life ever-so-humbly, ever-grateful and ever-accepting!
Rajesh Khanna: Dec 29 1942 ~ Jul 18 2012
Picture Courtesy: Internet
A new book on India’s first superstar Rajesh Khanna – Dark Star – The Loneliness of Rajesh Khanna by Gautam Chintamani (Harper Collins, Page 242, Price: Rs.499/-) – “paints”, as Kaveree Bamzai reviews in the latest issue of India Today,  “a startling portrait of a star in terminal decline”. It is now, perhaps, common knowledge that Khanna’s attitude, all through his magical superstar years, 1969~1973, and afterward, had an arrogant ‘I-am-God’ quality to it. Whether it was his forever arriving late on sets, or his handing a half-finished cigarette to acclaimed writer Gulshan Nanda (who wrote ‘Kati Patang’ and ‘Daag’ , both Khanna hits, among others) while he went to complete a shot, or his making his displeasure known of his self-appointed rival by calling Amitabh Bachchan manhoos(unlucky), or his planning a party, the very night a film magazine denied him an award, to teach ‘them’ a lesson (until they come to him begging him to attend their event), or his refusing to visit a local district collector’s residence despite long-time friend and director Shakti Samanta’s insistence – all these and more made Khanna the complete snob, the one who played tantrums with anyone and everyone – taking his stardom to be permanent and himself to be invincible. But Chintamani’s book brilliantly chronicles Khanna’s fall from grace, from the limelight to the darkness of his Carter Road home, Aashirwad, and Khanna’s slipping into his all-night drinking binges, during one of which he is reported to have gone up to the terrace, and while it rained heavily, he is believed to have asked a menacingly dark sky, “Why me?”. The reference of that loaded question was, obviously, to Khanna’s losing out to the Bachchan era, his falling out with the writer-duo of Salim-Javed whom he had helped with an independent writing credit for his hit movie Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), his being dropped from Yash Chopra’s list of “must-have” stars and him being replaced by Shashi Kapoor in Raj Kapoor’s Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978).
Now, who was responsible for Khanna’s superstardom falling apart? Who was responsible for everything that he touched, in the second half of his Life, turning to dust – from films to relationships to politics? So much so, as Chintamani reveals in his book, he once had to trade his imported car for a Maruti 800 and had to switch to smoking Gold Flake from 555. While it may be argued that time and events conspire to plot our destinies, I also believe that being humble is a responsibility that all of us must be both aware of and fulfill. Be humble to know that everything happens through you and not because of you. This means, if you are a star today, the first duty you have is to the industry and the audience that made you one. Be responsible and humble towards them. Treat your work with respect and treat your colleagues as human beings. I guess Khanna lacked this perspective. And when things go wrong, as they often will, and you fall, have the wisdom and humility to accept that what goes up comes down. So, when you are down, don’t grieve. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Just treat it as a phase in Life that you can learn faith and patience from. I guess Khanna lacked this perspective too.
But let’s not forget that there’s a Khanna in each of us. At various times, in varying degrees, each of us does get carried away by our success or gets snowed under when we fail at something. We must all realize that the nature of Life is cyclical. Each dark night will be interrupted by a brilliant dawn. And each day will dissolve into darkness. To imagine that we are consigned to a lifetime of darkness, whenever things don’t go “our” way, or to believe that we will be blessed with sunshine for eternity, when everything’s going per “our” plan,  is immature to say the least. The best way to live Life is to live ever-so-humbly for what you have managed to achieve, ever-grateful for what you have and ever-accepting of what you don’t have or don’t get. This is the one lesson I will take away from Rajesh Khanna’s Life – a lesson that he, unfortunately, failed to learn himself, until perhaps in the last couple of years of his Life!    

Be unruffled, be who you are

Don’t bother about what others have to say about you. Let them say what they want to. You simply be yourself.   
Dr. Manmohan Singh and Ms.Gursharan Kaur
at NaMo’s swearing-in ceremony
Picture Coutesy: Internet
Yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi and his team was indeed a great moment in Indian history. Such a grand, peaceful transfer of power in the largest democracy in the world – it made me feel very proud as an Indian. I was particularly inspired by the outgoing Prime Minister (PM) Dr.Manmohan Singh’s demeanor. He was cool, calm and cheerful. The whole nation had ridiculed him and continued to do so, even as the live TV telecast of yesterday’s ceremony was on. For instance, Suhel Seth, socialite and strategic brand advisory Counselage’s founder, thundered on NDTV, “For God’s sake, for 10 years, we had a PM who did nothing!”. Such exaggerations have been a consistent feature of all political commentaries during Dr.Singh’s tenure as PM. Yet, barring a couple of times, Dr.Singh has never deemed it necessary to clarify. I am not here to moderate a debate on whether Dr.Singh was an effective PM or not, or appraise whether he fell abysmally short on communicating with the people of India, or even comment on whether his leadership of the various crises his government and the country faced was good enough. All I am seeing as a learning here is that he remains unruffled by others’ opinion of him. To the extent that he graciously participated in the handover of his office – without even letting a glimpse be evident of the gloom that has enveloped his party and erstwhile council of ministers, thanks to the mauling they received in the just-concluded elections.
Now to be able to stay true to yourself – no matter what others say – well, that’s a phenomenal quality.
Contrast this with how sometimes you – and I – get bogged down by others’ opinion. In fact, if you observe yourself closely, you are most of the time working hard to conform to  other people’s opinions of you. What you wear, where you live, what you drive, where you dine – everything is dictated by a societal norm and you, just as everyone else, fears any deviation.
Some years back I met a Sanskrit scholar and yogi, attached to one of the five seats of vedic learning in India. He knew I had worked at one time with India Today. He wanted to know if I could help him get into the “famed” ‘India Today Power List” that the magazine brings out annually. Now, here was a man, whom ministers feared. Actors and industrialists revered him. Yet, he was craving to be in listed in a social pecking order? I asked him why. He replied, “Saar, it doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is who I am compared with.” This is what’s happening to everyone. The Times of India this morning carries a story titled: “Who sat where; the ‘other’ pecking order” – in reference to where celebrities sat among the 5000-member audience at Modi’s swearing in. Apart from personal comfort – of either viewing or traveling – it does not matter where you sit in an event or an auditorium or on a plane. To me, most of the 5000 people in attendance at the Forecourt of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan yesterday were uncomfortable – sheerly because of their choice of clothing. In the 38-degree-plus heat of a summer evening in Delhi, people were wearing suits and bandhgalas and silks sarees and full-sleeved designer clothes. These people would have been better of thinking about how they were feeling than worry about where they were seated!
Indian society, in particular New Delhi’s power class, holds you hostage to pride and prejudice. You become the dumping ground for people’s opinions of you. You then try to be many things to many people. And, in the process, sadly, lose your own identity. People praise you, praise you dress sense, applaud you for where you live – and immediately you have become a victim. You are now a hostage to their opinion. You cannot live any other way. Then, as will always happen in Life, your business fails or you lose something – power or position – and people don’t want to have anything with you. And you start grieving that loss of social acceptance more than what you have lost in real terms. You are driven by what other people think of you than who you really are. This way you have become society’s slave, imprisoned by your own insecurities and craving for social acceptance!
But the one who does not think much of others’ opinions is free. Such a person is fearless of societal branding – aware that just as when society can pin a label, an opinion – let us say enormous praise over something genuinely well done – it can also take off the label when there’s a drop in performance. Pretty much, perhaps, like in Dr.Singh’s case. Neither success nor defeat affects such a person. Nor does praise or criticism. Such a person always responds to all that is said – good, bad, ugly – of him or her with a, “Thank You! It does not matter. I am who I am.” This equanimity is what leads to inner peace!

A lesson in empathy from a national tragedy

Empathize, above all, with everyone. Even if you can’t help them in any other way, simply empathize.
This day, 23 years ago, Rajiv Gandhi, India’s former Prime Minister was assassinated in Sri Perumbudur, near Chennai. I was working as India Today’s state correspondent then.
A set of quirky circumstances that evening kept me away from proceeding to Sri Perumbudur, where then Tamil Nadu Congress heavyweight Vazhapadi Ramamurthi had agreed to let me meet Rajiv personally for a quick interview on the party’s poll prospects in the state (India was readying for elections to the Lok Sabha at that time). I heard of the assassination at 10.40 PM through a friend in The Indian Express, who called my landline at home. I called my editor Aroon Purie soon after and he did not make any bones about the fact that I had “blown a perfect first person account” of such a “huge story”. Journalists and media people are pretty much that way – news and story are above all else. Aroon and Rajiv were classmates from The Doon School, Dehradun – and they were also very close friends. But, despite his personal loss, Aroon focused on getting the best coverage of the assassination for India Today.
“I want you to salvage the story now. Get me every detail. Why and how did the security lapse happen? Who is responsible for this? What does the local state administration have to say? Get to the bottom of the plot – we must have the most exclusive coverage,” thundered Aroon over the phone, as I took down notes at an STD phone booth on Sardar Patel Road, near IIT, Chennai. (Please note: there were no mobile phones at that time and the landline at my residence did not have direct national dialling facility!). Rioting (by miscreants, in the garb of protesting against the assassination) had begun in the city as I navigated through much of it on my dilapidated Vijay Super scooter gathering information through the night.
The Rajiv Assassination Cover
I had promised to call Aroon every other hour. And I did. On the call, around 3 AM, he told me that he had withdrawn the magazine’s edition (India Today was a fortnightly then) which had gone to print and said the assassination story will now run on the cover. He told me that he had information that Sonia Gandhi was coming to Chennai in a special Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft with Priyanka to claim Rajiv’s body. “I want you on that plane come what may. Take pictures. I need the most exclusive coverage of this national tragedy in our mazagine,” he instructed me.
I didn’t then know where to begin. Get on a plane? Carrying Rajiv Gandhi’s body? With Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi? That too, an IAF plane? I was in my night clothes – pyjamasand kurta – I had no money on me other than a couple of hundred rupees.
I headed straight to the Raj Bhavan and met the then Governor, Bhishma Narain Singh. Journalists have both the instincts and the privileges to gate crash anywhere, anytime. I convinced him that he must help me get on that plane. I also got details of all the intelligence reports he had of the assassination. Governor Singh did not promise anything but asked me to show up at the airport at 5 AM. I managed to connect with our staff photographer, Shyam Tekwani, and we both reached the airport and talked our way through the heavy security cordon. Governor Singh, seeing us, talked to a senior IAF official. And much to the surprise – and angst – of other journalists gathered there, on the tarmac at the old Meenambakkam airport, the IAF officer waved to me and Shyam to go onboard.
We boarded the plane soon after Sonia and Priyanka did. As I entered the cabin, I noticed Sonia fasten her seat belt. She looked up at me, through the dark glasses she was wearing. I am sure she must have been surprised to see someone in night clothes! But she looked away, lost in her grief. Mid-way through the flight, Shyam peeped through the curtains that separated the area where Sonia and Priyanka were seated, and where Rajiv’s coffin was fastened to the floor of the plane, from our side of the aircraft. There were only three more passengers with us – then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Janardhan Reddy, the Gandhi family confidante R.K.Dhawan and an IAF doctor. I peeped over Shyam’s shoulder as he took pictures. Sonia had been sedated (the IAF doctor told me this) but Priyanka was sprawled on Rajiv’s coffin, which was draped in the national flag, and was crying inconsolably. Shyam took many, many pictures. No one stopped him. The tragedy was too big to think of anything else, I guess.
When we met in Aroon Purie’s office in Connaught Place, New Delhi, for an edit meeting later that afternoon (May 22nd), we gathered that Sonia had got wind of us being on that plane. She had also been told about Shyam taking all those pictures by R.K.Dhawan. It appeared that she had called Aroon personally and asked him not to publish those pictures or write details of that plane journey. I surmised that those pictures would now not be carried in the magazine.
I must admit I was upset. I was hardly 23 then. This was the BIG STORY of my Life. Being on a plane, carrying a former Prime Minister’s assassinated body, where no other journalist in India could even think of being was indeed big. And it now appeared that we were not going to run that story on the Gandhis’ moment of personal grief or carry those exclusive pictures?
Aroon read my mind perhaps. He simply said, “Above all else, let’s empathize with a wife who has lost her best friend and husband, and with the two children who have lost a father.”
I cannot claim I truly understood the value of being empathetic immediately, at that moment. But over the years, that perspective shared by Aroon, has helped me empathize better with people in difficult situations. All of us are so caught up with our work, and our worlds, we have no time to pause and think of how others are feeling. About what we are doing to them or about what they are going through. Someone’s gain is always someone’s loss. In some form or the other. And sometimes, it’s difficult to even imagine the grief of someone who has lost something valuable, unless you have been through a similar situation yourself. Learning to empathize with others is however something that can be developed over time and with experience.
Words cannot ever express empathy. But actions – a hug, a simple holding of hands, a moment taken to pause and be with that person – can. To be sure, being loving and compassionate takes a lot of doing. But being empathetic just requires being there and making an effort to understand someone’s pain and suffering. Maybe, someone needs your empathy just now?

Religion makes bad spaghetti of a beautiful recipe called Life!

Religion, as it is preached and practised today, divides. Period. There’s an urgent need to refocus on the only religion that is – and matters, humanity!
The amount of intolerance that some people have for others, in the name of religion, is shocking. Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia’s call to his supporters, a couple of days ago, in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, urging Hindus not to allow Muslims to buy land in Hindu localities may or may not end up being classified by the Election Commission as a “hate speech” – but it surely smacks of stoking intolerance. If you thought Togadia is a fundamentalist and there’s nothing surprising about his view, consider those expressed this morning by my well-heeled, erudite friend, who, on facebook, chided a community of south Indian Brahmins for “aping” the north Indian wedding culture by introducing “baaraat, mehndi and sangeet” at their weddings. My friend himself is a Brahmin but belongs to another sub-sect. He posts with reference to the ‘other’ Brahmin community: “We know that your wedding ceremonies suck….Cultural slavery is what you are leading now. You will sacrifice your traditions to imitate the northies. You are encouraging slavery of a different kind.” He even threw in an expletive which made the sentiment he expressed tragically derisive.
Think about it. What’s our world coming to? If this is the way people are going to react – being intolerant of each other’s preferences, practices and opinions, we will soon be left with walled cities and communities all around us.
But there’s still some hope. The famous Shehnai exponent Ustad Bismillah Khan’s (1913~2006) family served some “heart-warming” sentiment yesterday when they politely declined to nominate Narendra Modi for his candidature, when he files his nomination papers from Varanasi on Thursday. Khan Sahab’s youngest son, Nazim, said that his family did not want to propose any candidate for any party. “Hum ko sirf kala aur sanskriti se matlab hai – We are just devoted to art and culture,” he affirmed. Khan Sahab himself, though a pious Shi’ite Muslim, was a devotee of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of wisdom and arts, and used to perform frequently at the Kasi Viswanath temple on the banks of the Ganga. India Todaypaid tribute to Khan Sahab on his passing, saying: “In his lexicon, music was the highest form of spirituality. “How can you call music ‘haram’ (sinful)?” he constantly argued with  orthodox Islamic clerics from Banaras (Varanasi) to Baghdad, adding, “If it is ‘haram’ then let there be more of it.”” People like Khan Sahab were not maestros without reason – they saw humanity as the only religion and music (art, culture) as its only expression.
And here’s another story that shows how humanity is still in safe hands. Vasant Bondale, then 76, was, in July last year, returning to Mumbai from a Scandinavian tour via Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight when he suffered a heart attack, mid-air. The pilots asked the nearest ATC tower – in Karachi – for an emergency landing. The permission was granted. And doctors at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi performed an emergency surgery saving Bondale’s Life. Those who know how much political and religious rhetoric gets thrown across the border by both India and Pakistan will appreciate this story better. An Indian Hindu, on a Turkish airliner, lands in Pakistan and has his Life saved!? Incredible! Bondale’s wife, Nalini, sums it up: “I was not scared of landing in Pakistan as the priority was to save my husband. It was of course on my mind that we had no Visas, but the Pakistani authorities never brought it up. They treated us like family!”  
Simplistically – we have sure heard this before – all of humanity is one big family! And if we have to preserve this family, we have to revisit religion. It’s important we know what religion really is – and understand it the way it should be understood. What I have learnt from Osho, the Master, is that true religion is like science. It is a quest. Science explores the objective while religion explores the subjective. The objective exploration deals with things while the subjective exploration deals with being. And just as there cannot be different variants of science – you don’t have a science that’s different for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs or Christians; the Law of Gravity, for instance, is the same, irrespective of who you are – similarly, the science of being cannot be different for each of us just because we have decided to clothe ourselves with different beliefs. These belief systems have come about because the mandarins that control religion across the world today wanted power – and gullible followers wanted social acceptance. If anyone challenged the power structure, they were ostracized by society. So, people fell in line, and over generations, ‘diktats’ became ‘beliefs’. And people who ‘subscribed’ to beliefs soon became ‘religious’. That’s why – and how – we have a fractious social structure today, controlled by “the religions” – who make bad spaghetti of such a beautiful recipe called Life!
True religion deals with the flowering of internal awareness, the science of just being, which we also call spirituality! The only religion we must champion or align with, therefore, is humanity. Everything else is irrelevant!