A friend teaches me that true love means “compassion”

The compassionate are the richest people, they make this world so much better!
A reader, perhaps spurred by the flavor of the month, Valentine’s, asked me if love is a motivator or is it a responsibility. And I write this post to share what I know of what true love is.

Let us understand that love is fundamentally an expression of energy. The lowest form of that energy is when you make love, have sex; that energy is purely physical. That energy is also called passion. The next level of that same energy is love, where you go beyond the physical and feel for the other. There is give and take beyond the physical state in love and this is what makes people be with each other and thrive. And the third level of that energy is compassion, when there is something deeply spiritual that unites two people. And each only wants to be a giver. Each does not expect anything in return. This is the best and the purest state for a couple to be in. It may be possible that only the giver may be compassionate and the receiver may not reciprocate. But the giver goes on giving, with no expectation, with no complaints. So, the love that we commonly talk about at a romantic level, is mid-way between passion, plain love-making or sex and the deeply spiritual compassion.
Pure love is when all the energy in you transcends the physical, passionate, state, goes beyond the feeling stage and reaches the giving state, the compassionate state.
Let me share with you the story of my friend, who is now 50. I met him earlier this week, many years after he had separated from his wife. His wife actually had dealt with him rather unusually – taking over his property, deserting him and migrating to the US with their child. While she may have had her own reasons for her actions, my friend was devastated. He just could not reconcile, for several months, with what had happened. I remember him telling me: “I loved her and still love her a lot. She could have just told me that she wanted to break away from me and I would have walked away without a question. That she chose not to trust me with her decision hurts me more than her leaving me. And why deny me access to my own child?”
Over time, my friend immersed himself in his work. And all of us around him felt he had managed his emotional state pretty well. When I met him a few days ago, I asked him how he was coping. What he told me blew me away completely and my admiration for him has swelled. Here’s how the conversation went.
Me: “So, how are you coping with Life?”
Him: “Life’s beautiful. I married a Kashmiri woman whose husband died of cancer some years ago and adopted her son as my own.”
Me: “That’s wonderful. How old is the boy? And how has he adapted to you?”
Him: “The boy is 12 now. It’s been three years. He calls me ‘daddy’ and we are great friends. My wife and I are also great friends. To tell you the truth, I have a special and beautiful friendship with her. After her husband’s death, her in-laws were not supportive. They harassed her and blamed her for their son’s death (he was diagnosed with cancer within a few months of their marriage). She even contemplated suicide as she could not handle them nor get over her loss. She loved her husband a lot and did not see a meaning in her continuing to live. We have a mutual friend who asked me if I could consider marrying her so that she could get out of the tyrannical clutches of her in-laws. When I met her for the first time, she told me openly that she did not want to ever physically consummate our marriage. Because she still feels the presence of her husband in her Life. So, she told me that our own marriage may not work out. I liked her openness. And her concern for me. I told her we could still marry and be great friends. That’s how it all started and all three of us are very, very, very happy!”
Me: “That’s such a great choice and gesture. I respect you. But don’t you miss something: maybe physical intimacy? Maybe your first wife?”
Him: “Life’s not about sex and physical relationships alone. I still love my first wife. But she’s gone. What’s the point in pining for her or holding a grudge against her? I decided to channelize my love for her and my first child, who’s with her, toward my second wife and her son. Their presence in my Life keeps me anchored and their friendship keeps me going.”
Even as I recall this conversation here, I feel blessed and grateful that my dear friend reiterated for me a learning that’s so invaluable. Love’s not only about physical intimacy with a partner. There’s a special friendship that’s possible if you make the effort. And if nurtured, through sharing, caring and compassion, as in my friend’s case, it can take Life to a spiritual level, making it beautiful and meaningful!

So, as a Valentine’s Day message, let’s take away the need to evolve and attain the state of compassion, when you are only giving, with no expectation of anything in return. 

Beyond being a Valentine for a day – the “ashiq”, the “mashouka” and “ishq”!

The true meaning of “I love you” is “I will be there for you – no matter what happens”!
Another Valentine’s Day is here. From FM stations to facebook posts to diner offers, the cliché ‘Love’s in the Air’ is going to rule the world today. But do we even understand what loving someone really means? This question has become both necessary and relevant because everything around us – most of all, relationships – has come to be conditional and is evaluated in material terms. I recently heard the story of my son’s classmate whose mother forced her to break-up with her boyfriend because the family was keen that the young lady marry someone who has the same “social status and business background” as them. In another instance, a lady confessed to me that she had to arrange for 100 sovereigns of gold to marry the man she “loved” because his family imposed that steep pre-condition to approve their match. Another friend walked out on her husband, who, according to her, is a “great human being” but is “incapable of bringing home an income”; she confessed to me that “financial security” mattered a lot more to her than companionship. Someone I know says he doesn’t trust his wife but has decided not to “rake up the issue” because she earns a good salary – I know the family and believe that this gentleman’s perception of mistrust arises from the fact that she earns more than him! Unfortunately, our society is not helping make relationships any better – there’s so much pressure on earning a living, on providing, on buying, hoarding, showing off and owning, that loving has become less relevant and least important. Clearly, demonstrating – often time, proving – in material terms that you love someone has overtaken genuinely, simply, loving that someone!
Loving someone really is about being there unconditionally for that person. There is no way I can explain what loving means in English. But, as I have come to learn, understanding the Persian word “ishq” is one way to know what being loving or loving someone means. “Ishq” means loving someone intensely, when you lose yourself in that feeling, when nothing matters, when a certain madness takes over your whole being. This includes the love that one has for all of humanity – the way Mother Teresa had it or the love that one has for divinity – the way Meera had it for Krishna. “Ishq” makes people soul-mates; it goes beyond mind and body and unites both people at a soul level. With “ishq”, there is no lust, just pure, unadulterated, unconditional love.
The word “ishq” comes from the Persian root “a-shiq-a” which is actually the name of an ivy plant. The import is that, just as the ivy, a  climber entwines itself around other plants, the “ashiq” or lover entwines himself intensely around his “mashouka” or beloved, refusing to look at her shortcomings. The same logic applies vice versa too.  When you are loving, when you experience “ishq”, there are no demands, there are no constraints, and most important, there is no concept of time, space or of physical presence. And the simplest way to experience “ishq” is to go beyond the material trappings of any relationship. So, don’t just be content being a Valentine for a day; go on, find your “ashiq”, or “mashouka”, and be in “ishq”, forever! 

Romance Life to see how loving you really are!

Just as you can learn swimming, cycling, writing, you can learn loving too.
Overcoming small irritations and injustices by giving the situation and the perpetrator love, instead of anger, is how you practice loving. A motorist tries to cut past you and creates a small traffic jam but ends up blaming you. Don’t respond with a how-dare-you look. Smile and say it was just an ‘oops!’ situation. At a busy check-out line at a store, someone edges past you and the cashier does not insist that you must be allowed to bill first. Don’t agitate. Smile and say these things happen! Your boss holds you singularly responsible for the team’s poor show though you have put in several extra miles. Don’t grieve. Pray for your team and your boss.
Our daily Life is peppered with several hundreds of opportunities__or call them nanosecond tests__to practice loving. In that nanosecond you have to make a choice. Do you want to respond with anger or practice loving instead? When you practice loving, you learn forgiving__or, as Richard Carlson would say, you learn how not to sweat the small stuff. How you deal with the small things in Life is what determines how you deal with the big things. The interesting aspect of practicing loving is you don’t have to become loving. You are love and you are capable of loving. The only thing that comes with practice is that you become more aware of this capability.
Just like Mother Teresa and Gandhi and now, Narayanan Krishnan, personify love, so can you. Because you are that already. Just that you don’t know it. The love in you doesn’t just need some lemon and honey, it needs practicing. Romance the travails of everyday Life, and see how loving you really are!

Where does love go?

More than being in love, be love. Then you will never stop loving!
Someone wrote to me wondering, “Why do people, who fall in love and get married, fall out with each other?”  Good question. This happens all the time. Many factors contribute to a marriage or a relationship breaking up. But principal among them is the fact that the couple have lost the ability to love; not just each other – but to be loving themselves.
Let’s understand love and loving in the context of relationships.
When two people come together professing love for each other, all they are saying at first is that they love the way each other is, they love the experience and they love the circumstances that have brought them together. They soon start exploring each other – physically that is. People often talk of a great chemistry between young couples – that’s nothing but an expression of their sexual energy. Then they start experiencing the non-physical side of each other. It is this constant exploration that keeps them engaged in each other and together.
Then what goes wrong over time? First, when their exploration goes beyond the physical, they realize that they don’t like certain things about each other. “He smokes way too much and I hate his breath.” “She talks a lot and shops like a maniac.” Next, the way they experience each other has become predictable, boring. The thrill of meeting her at a coffee place or texting sweet nothings is no longer there. She knows he’s busy chasing deadlines and he knows she’s tearing her hair between her work and looking after the baby. Both know that they will be exhausted when they meet – even having sex then becomes a mechanical exercise, merely to meet a biological need. So, what’s there to experience anew? And finally the circumstances that brought them together have changed – people meeting and dating each other when single is a dramatically and diametrically different context when compared to them living together. Whether in or out of a wedlock, living together is a lot of work – the dishes have to be done, the meals have to be cooked, the beds have to be made, the floor has to be mopped, bills have to be paid. So, when circumstances change, the way people look at – and experience – each other changes.
There lies the crux of the problem. Love, the way it is understood and practised in relationships today, is flawed. Whereas love is really about being compassionate for another person, no matter what the circumstance is, love today, sadly, has become an expression of selfishness and ego. Over time and through living together, when you find qualities in your partner that you can no longer tolerate or accept, you are basically telling yourself that you love yourself more. Which is why you find your companion’s tobacco habit or tendency to flirt or workaholic nature unacceptable. Which is why even sex has become boring. Which is why you cannot accept your partner in the new, changed circumstances. Consider the conversations that couples have after a few years of living together: “You no longer care for me.” “Do you know how much I do for you?” “You just don’t have the time for me or for the children.” “You are drinking way too much and I don’t like it.” “Is there someone else in your Life that’s taken you away from me?” All the reasoning is focused on how you are being treated by your companion. It’s your view. It is self-centered and does not immediately invite a mutual perspective. I believe the key lies in dropping your ego, your desires and your selfishness. Stop looking at what you like or what you want. A better way would be to simply observe your Life with your companion. And ask yourself what you both can do together – about whatever needs addressing. Magically, you will find the romance blooming again – irrespective of age, physical condition and circumstance.
I have learnt that it is more important to be love, and to be loving, than being “in” love. When you are “in” love, you can be “out” of it too. But when you are love – you are loving. Period. I learnt this from my wife. We too came together, 27 years ago, through a confluence of liking each other, enjoying the experience of being with each other and the carefreeness that our circumstances then allowed us. But soon things changed. I developed a ruinous habit of chewing tobacco, I became obsessed with my work and decisions I took with our business caused it to blow up and landed our family in abject penury. But my wife’s love for me has remained unchanged. When I understood why she continued to be loving – despite my excesses and the circumstances that we found ourselves in – I gained great insight. She is selfless and sees the entire journey as something that always involved the two of us. She never saw my destructive habit or my Work-Life imbalance or my poor and costly decisions as her problem. She saw it as ours. This is what I mean when I say you have to go beyond yourself – and drop your ego – if you want to be love and be loving! When you are loving, and not just in love, you are relating to the other person. You are not simply imposing conditions or demanding they be met. Instead your relating helps you make the exploration – that began when you first came together – an ongoing process, now in a new set of circumstances. And it keeps the experience of being with each other, for each other, engaging. Remember: Living and loving always happen only in the present continuous!
Of course, when you have tried hard, selflessly, to make your relationship work, and you have discovered that it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, the best thing to do is to let go! Do it very calmly. Just let go. An important aspect of being loving and selfless is to give the other person, no matter how you have been treated, all the freedom and compassion. A divorce or separation turns messy because you ask, “What’s in it for me?”. Instead ask, “What can I give him or her that can make his or her Life better?” Being loving means giving the situation, the context, the relationship and the person all that you possibly can – physically, materially, financially and spiritually.
So, don’t ask where’s all the love gone? Just be loving. In your loving, and being love, you can make Life beautiful – for you, for your companion and for your precious family!

Pause to celebrate the presence of those who make your each day count

Life is an opportunity to love and be loved. That’s what makes living so special!
N.Ramachandran (extreme left) at Sochi
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu/Internet
Yesterday I was at an Awards function. One of the awardees was the newly-elected President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) N.Ramachandran. He was feted with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Indian sports (other than cricket) including introducing Triathlon events in India, building Squash as a sport in India and helping India regain its official status at the Olympics. Ramachandran’s election as IOA’s President led to the Indian Tricolor being unfurled at the closing ceremony of the Sochi Olympics. But it was not Ramachandran, the sports administrator that I admired last evening. It was Ramchandran the man, the father who touched my heart. In his acceptance speech, Ramachandran thanked his family, his wife, his son and his daughter, without whose support, he said, he would not have been able to do all that he did. He said his son and daughter-in-law were not able to make it to the event. Then he called out to his daughter.
“Bubbles, are you there,” he asked.
“Ya….,” came the reply. We all turned in the direction from where the reply had come from. And there she was – a young lady, specially-abled, cheering lustily for her dad. She was truly overjoyed that her father was given the award and equally delighted that she had been called out by him in his speech. It was a poignant moment. An achiever, a busy industrialist, pauses to thank his family and then celebrates the presence of his special child in the audience and thanks her for her support in his Life. I have not known too many people to be able to do that – which is to include members in their family who are special in the mainstream of their social Life.
That moment was a lesson in humility, love and living. We all get so obsessed with the rush of our daily lives that we sometimes don’t consider the contributions of so many people that make each day count for us. As we grow in our careers and, often times, encounter success and fame, we may get carried away that it’s all been caused a lot by our own intentions and efforts. But if we care to pause and reflect, there would be so much support that has come to us from those who have backed us silently – sometimes with just their presence. That presence is love. And recognizing and celebrating that presence is what Life is all about!

If you love, love openly

When you understand the true meaning of love, you will go beyond its physical expression.
Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha: Rang Barse
Yesterday, I watched ‘Silsila’ (Yash Chopra, 1981, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Rekha, Sanjeev Kumar) one more time. It’s a story of complicated relationships and of the people who are entangled in them. The movie made history not only because of the onscreen chemistry between Amitabh and Rekha but also because of the much rumored offscreen affair between them and the stresses between Amitabh and his onscreen wife Jaya (his real Life wife too). In one scene, in the iconic ‘Holi’song ‘Rang Barse’ (sung by Amitabh Bachchan himself), Amitabh hugs and kisses Rekha, much to the shock and dismay of their respective onscreen spouses, Jaya and Sanjeev Kumar – and to the surprise of the audience. While contextually, the hug and kiss are meant to only be a bold expression of the Amitabh-Rekha onscreen romance, there can be a spiritual interpretation to it too!
Here’s a Zen story, that I recall, to illustrate the point.

Twenty monks and one nun, called Eshun, were practicing meditation with a certain Zen Master.

Eshun was very pretty even though her head was shaved and her dress plain. Several monks secretly fell in love with her. One of them wrote her a love letter, insisting upon a private meeting.

Eshun did not reply. The following day the Master gave his customary morning lecture to the group, and when it was over, Eshun arose. Addressing the one who had written to her, she said: “If you really love me so much, come and embrace me now.”

The import of the story is that if you love, love openly. For long society has suppressed love. It is natural, it is human nature, for people to love other people. But society has placed a restriction. For ages now, society has proclaimed that you cannot love more than one. And that restriction has come about from what society has created again – the institution of marriage. Religion has made this even more complex and intimidating by introducing the concept of sin. So, if you love another when you are married to one, it is both illegal and a sin. This is because the meaning of love has been distorted. Love has come to mean something conditional – almost everyone is saying, at least through implication, that if you behave within the contours of a relationship, you will be loved by me.

So, Eshun’s open invitation in the Zen story, and Amitabh’s ‘daring’ act in the ‘Rang Barse’ song may alarm many. But, however difficult it may be to immediately relate to it or accept it, the truth is that it is they who personify true, pure love. As human beings, our true nature is love. We don’t have to do anything to love or be loving or become loving. We just have to tear down all the walls we have allowed to come up between us and our expression of love. Then love will transcend the physical plane and break through social barriers. Then we will love openly!


True love is when it is still a verb, as in loving, and not a noun!


To be loving and be loved is a miracle. Celebrate the miracle and, simply, carry on loving!

Today’s Valentine’s Day! And the whole world is agog with suggesting the best Valentine’s Day gift for you to give your Valentine. Roses to perfumes to candle-lit dinners to diamonds to cruise vacations to designer clothes to wallets to smart-phones to motorcycles to SUVs to what not! It makes me wonder if Valentine’s Day has become a Day for Demonstrating how much you love someone? As if love can be measured at all!

True love is when it is still a verb and not a noun. Love is more powerful when it is the loving that you feel, you experience in you for someone and from someone to you. Just love is so static. It can in fact stagnate. And that’s when you need the frills, the bells, the whistles, the roses and the gadgets. I am not against them. I am not impuning the dream merchants too, who hawk them as essentials to make yet another simple date on the calendar so extraordinary and so romantic! But let’s not get carried away and start imagining that professing love is more important than loving!

To me loving is about loving burned toast if your partner offers it to you, even if you hate burned toast! Here’s the story, narrated by an unknown little boy, that I heard years ago, that taught me this timeless moral! 

“When I was a little boy, I remember one day in particular when mom made breakfast food for dinner. 

She must have been very tired. My mom placed a plate of egg and some burned toast in front of my dad. I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed.

Yet all my dad did was, he reached for his toast, smiled at my mom, and asked me if I was ready for school the next day. I don’t remember what I replied, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jam on that toast and eat every bit of it!

When I got up from the table, I remember hearing my mom apologize to my dad for burning the toast. And I’ll never forget what he said: ‘Baby, I love burned toast.’

Later that night, I went to kiss Daddy and I asked him if he really liked his toast burned. He wrapped me in his arms and said, ‘Your Momma works hard day after day and she’s real tired. And besides a little burnt toast never hurt anyone!’ You know, Life is full of imperfect things…..and imperfect people…I am not perfect either!’”

This story and its lesson have stayed with me all these years. Burned toast to me is no longer a story. It is a lesson in loving. And I recall that lesson every time I feel impatient, temperamental and stagnating in love. It’s very recollection makes me feel free, loving and gets the positive energy in me flowing for my partner.


Pause for a while this Valentine’s Day. Think of all the times that you have offered your partner burned toast (metaphorically that is)__inadvertently, mindlessly, in anger, in despair, in grief or in frustration. Think of all the times when the burned toast was loved, accepted and relished. For each of those times, feel grateful for being loved and celebrate that miracle__when the imperfection in you was accepted, tolerated and forgiven. In feeling grateful you will feel even more loving.

This then is the way to being a true Valentine. When you can gift yourself and your partner all the loving in you, from you!

Yoko Ono and John Lennon
On this Valentine’s Day, let me gift you John Lennon’s immortal single (originally released in 1970 and then re-released after his death in 1982) ‘Love’. Follow the link and invoke the loving in you, and feel loved. You will then connect with the miracle called Life!