One afternoon, in September 1979, when I was in my 8th Grade at PSBB – KK Nagar branch – Ms.YGP came into our class. PSBB had this practice in those days to read out progress reports publicly. I had been only an average student in the two years I had been at this school; scoring barely 50 % in most subjects except English. My scores in that quarter/term were pathetic; I shuddered as Ms.YGP pointed out, in her booming voice, that I had scored a paltry 6/100 in Geometry! She demanded that my parents meet her.
Within three weeks, I was changing schools.
My parents were living in Gulbarga (Karnataka) then and I was staying with my paternal grandmother, while studying at PSBB – KK Nagar. As they collectively discussed my academic performance, I recall my class teacher telling my parents that perhaps “I was homesick”. Then my parents were taken into Ms.YGP’s room. They emerged from it looking very disturbed. My mother kept maintaining for the longest time that Ms.YGP had ordered that they take me out of ‘her’ school because I was never going to be ‘brilliant’ at academics. This, my mother felt, was a big let down for her and my dad: you see, we didn’t have a strong story to “cover up my academic inefficiencies in a family that prided itself with brilliance in every academic discipline”! And so, I was treated as the ‘black sheep’ and was ridiculed for bringing disrepute to the family!!
It was my first experience with the Big ‘F’ word-label – Failure – being stuck on me.
For the next few years, I carried that trauma within me. Of being expelled from school for poor grades, of being shamed by my own parents for not being ‘good enough’…but interestingly, as I got out of my teens, this trauma turned into anger, ambition and raw aggression. A lot of what I achieved all the way till my late-30s was because of the anger in me over this one event from September 1979 – somehow, everything that followed by way of how I was looked at by my parents had its genesis in this one event!
Resultantly, I worked very hard at whatever I did. I wanted to prove to the world, particularly, to my parents, that I wasn’t a Failure. And, in more ways than one, I did prove myself – at least to me!
But that’s the thing with Success. When you get to that point – “your own peak or summit” – that you have lusted for, toiled for, you feel so shallow, so vain. So, by the time I was 37, my spiritual quest had led me to the practice of observing daily silence periods – mouna. In my early morning reflective, meditative, mouna sessions, I began to realize that had it not been for that expulsion from school in 8th Grade, I would never have been so ‘successful’ – despite my poor academic qualifications. I would not have traveled so widely across the world; I would not have experienced so many people, places or things; I would not have learnt and unlearnt so much! Soon, as I discovered much to my amazement, the anger in me gave way to a deep sense of gratitude for that event of my expulsion, for that label of “Failure” that had been stuck on me.
In 2006, when I was 38+, I read a report in The Hindu that Ms.YGP had turned 80 (in Nov 2005) and that Lakshmi Devnath had written a book on her – ‘A Class Apart’. I bought that book. I read it. And I had my secretary call and fix an appointment with Ms.YGP.
I met Ms.YGP at her home in T.Nagar. It was a beautiful, hour-long conversation we both had.
Here’s what I wrote in my journal that night: “She was so full of Life, cheerful, and exuding positive energy. Radiant, in fact. I wish I had taken a picture of her and me! But am bad at these things. She recognized me when I introduced myself. She had a sharp memory. Knew that CS was my class teacher. Knew that she did not see me pass out in 12th. I didn’t want to remind her that she was partly instrumental for that. Instead, I placed my head at her feet (literally) and sought her forgiveness for carrying so much hatred in me for her for so many years. She placed her hand on my head and blessed me. She said, the work I am doing with Vaani (she had enquired and so I had elaborated) would help a lot of people, all over the world.”
I am not so much into scriptures or religion or shlokas. But one particular verse from the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad always resonates with me:
asato ma sadgamaya
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
mrtyorma amritam gamaya
om shanti shanti shanti…
I learnt that verse at PSBB – without knowing the meaning then. Today, I have grown up to know its meaning and its relevance. And, thanks to our enduring bankruptcy, (Read more here – Fall Like A Rose Petal – and here) there are times when I do reflect on this verse to instill a sense of surrender and prayer in me. At such times, I often do picture Ms.YGP leading the school assembly on some days…inviting us to recite this verse!
Over the past decade, since my meeting in 2006 at her residence, Vaani and I have met Ms.YGP several times at cultural events in the city. Even when we have not stopped to talk to her, we have always admired her sagacity, her sharp intellect and her zest for Life from a distance.
She surely touched my Life in more ways than one: I learnt the relevance of Failure and Success in Life, and learnt, quickly, of their irrelevance and impermanence too; I learnt of the essence of Life through that verse from the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad; I learnt the value of staying youthful and relevant even when you are old and, important, every time I saw her she reminded me of this unquenchable thirst to stay alive!
“Let It” always aids and abets “Let Go”!!
Why is it that people find letting go such a tough thing to do? The answer is simple: when people don’t want the Life that is happening to them, they cling on to their pasts and to their imagined realties, they then find letting go difficult.
Whether we like it or not Life is only doing what it pleases. It has a mind of its own. So, the best way to let go is to let Life do as it will. Which means you don’t become a party to Life’s trials and tribulations, even if they concern you and your circle of influence, but you choose to remain just a witness.
This practice of just letting Life do what it pleases is called “Let It”. It aids and abets “Let Go”!
Being in a perpetual “Let It” mode can possibly mean this – Let problems come. Let problems go. Let happiness come. Let happiness go. Let debt come. Let debt go. Let grief come. Let grief go. Let death come. Let death go. It means switching from “Just Do It!” to “Just Let It!”
I struggled with the concept initially. But I soon discovered that only when you are party to something are you in grief. When you are a witness, there is a momentary dissonance, but you are quickly reminded by your awareness that you are not involved! When something goes wrong with your child, you are stressed out. You are anxious. You want a resolution. When something goes wrong with a neighbor’s child, you profess concern, you lend a shoulder, you support but you do not get involved or attached. So can you look at your own Life like the way you would look at your neighbor’s? Can you be a mere witness? When you are in that state you will realize that any situation can be faced and lived through.
This is not at all difficult. It is outright simple. When you are involved, is when attachment will come. And where there is attachment there will be agony. But if you are a mere witness, a doer of what you can and what you must, and let Life lead, you will be in a “Let Go” because you have “Let It” take over!
The Universe is always sending you signs, so…stay tuned!
December 31 has always been special for Vaani and me in the past decade or so.
It was on this day, in 2007, that we were told by our lawyer S.Vijayaraghavan (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) that we were bankrupt! Realizing that we just had Rs.2,000/- left with us in hand, with our bank accounts running in deficit, all our gold jewelry pledged, no real estate investments, insurance or stock options to fall back on, and Rs.5 crore outstanding to 179 creditors (I call them Angels in my Book!), we had gone to Vijayaraghavan to seek professional, legal counsel. Aashirwad was 17 and getting ready to go to college, Aanchal was barely 13. Our Life, that day seemed so dark, so hopeless, so impossible to salvage. It seemed to the two of us that it was all over! What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
So, in a sense, today marks a unique anniversary in our Life. Of our bankruptcy!!!
There’s an unforgettable throwback to that day. Earlier in April of 2007, Aashirwad 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 dargah that 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 every month. 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 6 months, almost mechanically. I never understood why I got those mailers. But on that day, around 5.30 pm, I stopped by at my office, after that fateful meeting with Vijayaraghavan. That was the first time I had heard the word “bankruptcy” with reference to our debt-laden, cashless situation. I was struggling to internalize what he had told us. And my practical, logical instincts told me that “there was no way out for us”! As I rode the elevator up to our office on the third floor, in those 30 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 9 years on, we still are surviving, tethering at the edge at most times, but we are still there – hopeful and sure that we will make it! Was that “the” sign? You bet, it was!
Yet, as you can see, we have not just survived. We are driven now by a Higher Purpose – of Inspiring Happiness! So, we go about sharing, with all those who care to pause and reflect, through the lessons we have learnt from this cathartic phase in our Life, that it is possible to be happy despite the circumstances! So, December 31 has now become an anniversary of an awakening we have had – we have realized that if you let go and trust the process of Life, you will always be looked after!
December 31 was also the day, in 2012, when my wonderful publisher, Westland, made me an offer that I could not refuse – to publish Fall Like A Rose Petal. To me and Vaani, it is not just another Book. It is a spiritual journey. That offer came at a time when we were in a torrid phase in our bankruptcy, of complete worklessness (eventually we went on without an income stream for 30 months from June 2012 to December 2014)! The Book, which was launched only in August 2014, gave us a reason to last one more day each time, it gave meaning to why we were going through what we were.
Last evening, Vaani and I spent some time reflecting on the year gone by and told each other, no matter how tough the coming year would be, we would continue to remain focused, purposeful and dogged in our efforts to turn around the business (so that we could repay all our debt) and to Inspire Happiness among all those we connect with.
This morning as I got ready to go for a meeting at a Starbucks store, I reviewed our money situation. I didn’t have money on me for entertaining my guest, a business associate. My Starbucks loyalty card had just enough cash for one coffee. So, I arrived at the store planning to offer my guest the drink and decided to not have a coffee myself. But I reached the store ahead of my guest. A friend who was already there greeted me. She said she had been planning to reach out to me, to be my Santa – she wanted to load my Starbucks loyalty card with her gift!!! I protested. But she said she had been in touch with Vaani on this but, for some reason, she had not been able to do an online payment into my account. Before I knew it she had taken my Starbucks loyalty card from my hand and had loaded it with Rs.2000/-! I am so overwhelmed; I am still to make sense of her compassion, her generous gesture.
The symbolism of the convergence of Rs.2000/- and December 31 in our Life is not lost on us. This small miracle of a gift on my Starbucks loyalty card is yet another sign from the Universe. It seems to say to me and to Vaani: “Hang in there! If you are alive, it ain’t over yet!”
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