Stay Humble, Stay Grounded: Life lessons from 3 legends

However high you rise, whatever you achieve, remain anchored.
Someone I know called me the other day to tell me that she had achieved a rare distinction – rarely accorded to any Indian. While I appreciate that she felt elated about her success – and she, undoubtedly, is entitled to that feeling – I couldn’t escape the streak of, evidently insolent, pride in her. It was almost as if she was telling me, “Look at me. See what I have accomplished. Very few Indians have ever done this.” 
I have no problem if people feel good about their own achievements. But to be bombastic about a success defeats the opportunity to be joyful about it!
Amitabh Bachchan: Picture Courtesy – Internet
Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam: Picture Courtesy – Internet
One of the hallmarks of great achievers is their ability to stay grounded no matter how successful they are. On last night’s Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) show, a young contestant wanted to know what kind of daily routine the show’s superstar anchor, Amitabh Bachchan, led. “I lead a normal Life like you,” said the venerable Big B, “I go for a morning walk, I eat a simple meal of dal and rotis, I go to work and I blog in the nights. All my stardom is just part of my work. I don’t live any differently than anyone else.” I was not surprised with his answer. Bachchan’s humility is legendary. Years back, in the early ‘90s, when I was posted in Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) for India Today, I had a chance to meet Bachchan at a Children’s Film Festival reception. I walked up to him and introduced myself. He extended his hand to shake mine and said, “My name is Amitabh Bachchan.” I was taken aback. I told him that everyone here, of course, knew him and there was no need for him to introduce himself. He quickly replied, “I wasn’t sure I was known around here. It is always better to not imagine that people will know you.” Amazing, isn’t it? The other person who oozes humility is former Indian President Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam. I remember reading somewhere that when he became President, a former colleague of his from ISRO (India Space Research Organization) called him up over phone to congratulate him. Kalam’s friend is said to have started the conversation thus: “I wonder how does one greet the President of India?” Obviously, the reference was to whether Kalam’s name was to be prefixed with a ‘Your Excellency’ or an ‘Honorable Sir’. But Kalam is believed to have quipped, with his famed humility and wit, “Well, you just say ‘Hello’!”
Ilayaraaja: Picture Courtesy- Internet
I have come to understand that the difference between high-achievers and others is that the former are very evolved. They realize, soon enough, that all their fame and glory is not something that is entirely their doing, that their talent and success are a blessing from a Higher Energy, that everything is transient – including their success which makes them so famous. Music maestro Ilayaraaja says it beautifully, “None of us achieves anything. Everything happens through us.” Such a simple yet brilliant perspective to living!
In fact, I have learnt that when we realize that Life happens in spite of us, and not because of us, we awaken. And it is only the awakened who can stay anchored – and stay humble and grounded!

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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!

For every seed of hatred sown, plant a grove for humanity

The more we allow parochial thinking to lead us, the more divided our world will be.
Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza
Picture Courtesy: Internet 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) yesterday opposed tennis star Sania Mirza’s appointment as Ambassador of the newly-formed state of Telangana. Subramaniam Swamy, the redoubtable BJP leader, was quoted in the papers as saying: “I agree with the BJP leaders that when people have divided loyalties, we cannot expect them to represent the country or any part of the country faithfully. So, the BJP stand is well taken.” Sania came under attack from VHP and BJP because she is married to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik. In fact, Telangana BJP leader K.Laxman called Sania “Pakistan’s daughter-in-law”.
Such thinking is gut-wrenching and numbing. Sania is a successful sportsperson. And Malik is another successful sportsperson. The two decide to marry. Where does, and why should, nationality play any role in this? Mercifully, both belong to the same religion. Else the self-styled mandarins may have had added more logs to the fire.
Interestingly, in October 2009, when former Pakistani pacer Wasim Akram’s wife, Huma, was being flown from Lahore to Singapore in an air ambulance for treatment for renal failure, she developed complications when they were overflying Chennai. An emergency landing was mandated. And doctors at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, treated her for a few days, before she passed away on October 25, 2009. Dr.Venkataraman, the doctor who treated Huma, is a Hindu. As are several of the fans who gathered outside Apollo Hospitals that morning to show their support for Akram and condole his loss. About a decade earlier, fans at the M.A.Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk, in Chennai, had given Akram a standing ovation, after he led Pakistan to a memorable win in a closely-fought Test Match.
So, in reality, the common folks, people like you and me, don’t ever get swayed by religion or by partisan thinking. Humanity and the spirit of sport – of letting the best team or player win – rules higher in our minds than anything else. Even so, the games politicians play, often for petty gains or even for demonstrating one-upmanship, are divisive. Not only should we be wary of them, we must express our secular and objective views on all such occasions.
There’s an ad playing on TV promoting the 2014 season of KBC. It shows how a boy from a Hindu family, calls his Muslim neighbor, with whom his family has been having a rift, to ask for the meaning of “as-salaam-alay-kum” using the phone-a-friend option. He gets the right answer and wins the prize money. The jingle in the background goes somewhat like this: “Jab Lahu Ek Ho, To Rang Kaise Do?” meaning, “When the blood is the same, how can it have two colors?”. I believe that the ad’s, and the jingle’s, message is something we must all hold dear in all contexts. We are just one world, one people. We have the same blood in us. The color of our skin may be different, as may be our national flags, or our religious affiliations. Even so, we have the same feelings as another in any given situation – all of us have the ability to love and be compassionate; and all of us feel pain when we lose someone we love. So, for every seed of hatred and divisiveness that is sown, let’s plant a grove for humanity. As Bob Marley (1945~1981), the Jamaican reggae singer, famously said, “The people who were trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off. Why should I?”

Soldier on – even if you are beaten and are all alone!

No matter who’s with you, for you, you often have to face Life, and fight its challenges, alone!
On the Kaun Banega Crorepati show last evening, host Amitabh Bachchan shared his personal learning from Life. While at Sherwood College, a residential school in Nainital, in the 1950s, Bachchan said he had to learn boxing. He explained how boxing taught him a lot and prepared him to face Life’s challenges. He said: “Inside the boxing ring you are alone with your opponent. Yes, there are a lot of people around you, but they are all outside the ring. Many of them will be cheering for you, many will be cheering for the opponent too. Many will advise you or have an opinion about you. But no one can play the game for you. Fight you must, and you will have to fight alone. So it is, as I have discovered, in Life too. Life’s challenges have to be faced. And at all times you have to remember, irrespective of who claims to support you or is with you, you are still alone in your fight!”
I found Bachchan’s analogy very powerful and relevant. The word “fight” here is not to be viewed in a negative sense. On a spiritual plane, what I have learned is that there’s no point in fighting or resisting anything. It only causes suffering. But here, in this context, fight really means the act of facing Life. Of staying on, doggedly, despite the circumstances and ploughing on. Sometimes, you will get the feeling that you are up against a wall. That you are not making any progress. At those times you will feel defeated and will not be able to make sense of what you must do. People around you will call you a fool. People will encourage you to give up. At all such times, if you believe in yourself, and have integrity of purpose, you must remember that not turning back and running away from your Life situation is “progress” in a very unique way!  In refusing to budge you are actually moving – perhaps not forward in a physical sense, but definitely inward and upward in a spiritual sense. These will be lonely moments, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months, and years….but you must keep at it, if you believe in whatever you are following!
During these long years of the bankruptcy that my family and I have been grappling with, I have experienced this feeling several times. I can visualize myself as that boxer in the ring, taking blow after blow, unable to roll with the punches at times or even deliver a few at other times. But I refuse to capitulate or give up. I can’t say exactly why I refuse to give up. There may be multiple reasons. I believe a lot in myself and the work we do. My wife and soulmate too shares that belief – so that definitely helps. And so do my two children. But even then, sometimes, you cannot escape that feeling of being alone – up against a formidable Life situation! I for sure do feel guilty at times for taking the decisions I have taken in the past that have led to what we are having to face now. That’s when the feeling of being alone is at its peak. Everytime I feel this way though, I quickly direct my attention to count the blessings in my Life and celebrate the companionship of my wife and children. It always pulls me out from the depths of darkness and hopelessness.
I do recognize that many people in Life may not even have the blessing I have – of a loving, compassionate, understanding and believing family. And they may find themselves alone – beaten by Life! For all of you out there who, like me (and my family), are left numbed by Life’s challenges, here are a few lines to perk you up this Monday morning from Bachchan’s father, the venerable poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan (1907~2003):
Asaflta ek chunauti hai, ise sweekar karo,

Kya kami reh gayi, dekho aur sudhar karo.

Jab tak na safal ho, neend chain ko tyago tum,

Sangharsh ka maidan chhodkar mat bhago tum.

It means:
Failure is a challenge – accept it
Look for what you need to change/improve about yourself/the situation
Until you succeed (in your endeavor) forget about rest and sleep – be at it relentlessly
Don’t run away from the challenge
So there may well be times when you may be alone in Life. Accept it. And Life may well be unreasonable. Face it. Only when you soldier on – can you get to what you dream of and go where no one else has ever gone before!