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! 

Spike Fear, Embrace Uncertainty, Have Faith

To peacefully journey through Life you must understand uncertainty and let go of all that you fear.
Indeed, none of us knows what lies in store for us in each approaching moment and, most of the time, we are running scared of this uncertain, unknown, dark future. The way to nullify the impact of the lethal cocktail of fear and uncertainty in Life is to have faith. The faith that can remove fear and help you embrace uncertainty is not the faith that religion tries to dispense and that we all claim we profess. All religious faith is dogmatic, puerile and fanned by seeking to identify with a power that (we are made to believe) is outside of us. God, per all religions and their diktats, fatwas, gospels, is external. Which is why anyone who is deeply religious will still be plagued by worry, anxiety and fear. Whereas, true faith is having conviction in creation itself, in the Universe and its Master Plan. The same energy that powers you__and me__and keeps us alive also created the mountains, the trees, the gorges and the valleys, the petals and the fruits, the oceans and the drops of water. It is part of the Master Plan that the Earth goes around the Sun and not the other way round. It is the same Master Plan that divined you were born to the family that you call your own and were endowed with whatever faculties you had at the time of your creation! That Master Plan has no flaws.
Knowing this, feeling this and living this reality in wondrous amazement is faith. When there’s this real faith, no imposter__religion, dogma, beliefs, rituals, superstitions__can get anywhere close to you. Nor can fear and uncertainty torment you! Where people have true faith, no explanation is required and no amount of explanation works for those who don’t have faith!

Jaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century mystic Persian poet, described living in faith thus: “Do you think I know what I’m doing?…As much as a pen knows what it’s writing, or the ball can guess where it’s going next.” He compared himself to a flute, a wind instrument made from bamboo reed, that cannot create music, unless it is played by a master flautist. So are we, he said, played on by Life. Thinking that we have no song in us is letting fear and uncertainty get the better of us. Knowing that our lives will be music is faith. Spike the fear, embrace the uncertainty, keep the faith and you will live happily ever after! 

Sab Kuch Likha Hua Hai

Everything in Life is interconnected with the other and everything happens for a reason!
I am reading a fascinating new book: “Written by Salim-Javed: The story of Hindi Cinema’s Greatest Screenwriters” (Penguin, Diptakirti Chaudhuri). It is the most thoroughly researched book on the lives of the famed writer-duo Salim Khan (father of Salman Khan, Arbaaz Khan and Sohail Khan) and Javed Akhtar (father of Zoya Akhtar and Farhan Akhtar). Between 1971 and 1987, Salim-Javed wrote 21 of the finest stories ever told in Hindi cinema – including Seeta Aur Geeta, Yadoon Ki Baraat, Zanjeer, Deewar, Sholay, Trishul, Don, Kaala Pathar, Shaan and Shakti. The book looks at the evolution of not just the Angry Young Man as a character, but also of Amitabh Bachchan, as a Superstar, who is considered Salim-Javed’s protégé.
Author Diptakirti Chaudhuri quotes Javed Akhtar in one of the chapters thus: “Life is strange. Sometimes if you look back, you feel like editing your Life, rewriting it. You want to change Scene 12 which is less pleasant, but the story is so well-knit, you realize Scene 32, which is the highlight of the story, will also have to vanish. It is not possible to retain Scene 32 because it has some connection with Scene 12.” Analyzing Akhtar’s quote and his lifetime’s work, Chaudhri writes: “What Javed said about his Life is also true for Salim-Javed’s scripts. Even in the weakest of their scripts, a Scene 32 would not have been possible without a Scene 12, in which it had its genesis. And it wasn’t only the links between the scenes….every motivation had a backstory.”
So it is true about each of our lives. Every motivation in your Life – and mine – has a backstory. Indeed. Everything has happened with a reason. For a reason. Everyone in your Life has come at the most appropriate time to serve that reason. The beauty – and pity – of Life is that you never know why something is happening when it is happening. Only when the event has past, only when you pause to reflect does the cosmic design become evident. As Steve Jobs (1955~2011) famously said, “You can only connect the dots backwards.” When you do connect those dots and recognize why you have gone through an experience, why you have met someone, you realize, as someone famously said, that Life’s Masterplan has (had) no flaws. And yes, as Javed Akhtar pointed out, you can’t go back and edit your Life!
Here’s a little exercise you may want to do. Take out an hour today. Sit back and think about your Life. Can’t you connect the dots today? Could you have connected them when an event was happening in your Life? Can your Scene 32 ever have been possible without your Scene 12? Didn’t person X, who you disliked so much, teach you the art of living, even as person C, who you met so very briefly teach you how to give selflessly? Doesn’t, when you look back, everything in your Life seem so well ordained, so well fitted in its own place – like a beautiful jigsaw puzzle?
Whether you review your Life with the poetic perspective of a Javed Akhtar, or whether you dissect it like the way Chaudhuri has analyzed some of the greatest stories told on screen, you will conclude that your Life too can be a movie script. There’s magic and beauty, miracle and tragedy, in your Life too. Except that your Life’s end, at the moment, is unpredictable. The climax of your story remains unknown to you even as you know that your story will end, certainly, with death. So while the end is certain, the road to get there remains uncertain. Yet, if you learn to deal with your Life, the way you will watch a movie – where you will get up and come away when the movie is over, with no attachment to the movie’s plot or the characters – you will forever be able to anchor in your inner peace.
This awareness that everything’s ordained, everything’s part of a larger plan which is beyond your control, does not mean you should not act. This is not a call to inaction. This only means that don’t fret and fume about the Life you have – or about the characters that inhabit your story. Just learn to appreciate and value everything, and everyone’s presence, in your Life. So act in every situation, but don’t get attached to the result. Do whatever you can and do it well. Just don’t complain if you don’t get what you want.

The key to intelligent living is to live with the total understanding that everything in Life happens for a reason, to complete your Life’s experience and learning. So, don’t be impatient with your Life. Go with flow. Because, as the classic line from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (Zoya Akhtar, 2011; Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Abhay Deol, Deepika Padukone), rendered by Arjun (Hrithik) on-screen in a Spanish bar, goes, “Sab Kuch Likha Hua Hai” – “Everything’s Written”!

Fighting Life is what causes misery

Just surrender to the Universe’s energy, to Life, don’t fight it!
Don’t you agree that if there indeed is a Master of the Universe, who was controlling, coordinating, delivering, granting, blessing and driving whateveris happening in the world, in your Life and mine, then this person is mighty intelligent? So intelligent that zebras have stripes while horses don’t, that when the East has daylight, the West has stars in the sky, that there are four seasons that keep changing as if someone is operating the switches in a Master Control Room, that mangoes are different from oranges and the Himalayas are different from the Rockies! None of these has been or can be controlled by you or me. Yet they happen! And so, we have to admit that the Universe’s energy, which, in my humble opinion, powers our lives, is far more intelligent than all of us put together.
If this energy is so powerful, so intelligent, why are you not able to trust it? When things go per your expectation, you don’t have an issue. When they go against what you wish is when you start fighting Life. Your DVD player doesn’t work when you sit down to watch a movie and you start complaining about Life. Small thing, you will eventually get over that setback! You will fight your DVD player for a while, then chuck it out the window and move on. When you are out of job, or when you are out of cash, or both, you fight, you resist the Life which you currently have to endure. You sulk, you brood! Does that change anything? Or what if your liver malfunctions or your heart suffers an attack? That’s a situation you can’t even mentally fight! That’s when you learn the art of surrendering to Life. Now, if we could consider surrendering to Life in all contexts, how much more simpler and easier to live will our lives be? In Hindu scriptures, they talk of surrender as ‘saranagati’ and to a physical God, an idol. I am suggesting, surrender to Life, the energy that keeps you alive! Think about it!
The truth about Life is, no matter what, what is to happen, will happen! Take Shah Rukh Khan’s Life for instance. The story goes that the TV serial ‘Fauji’that launched him in 1988 as the smart, daring Abhimanyu Rai, was supposed to have had a certain Milin Kapoor play that key role. Kapoor was 6 ft+, handsome and fitted the role perfectly. But because the show’s producers wanted Kapoor, who was well qualified technically too, to focus on the cinematography and editing, the role went to Khan. The rest, as they always say, is history. This is what will happen to you too. Ahead of your time or beyond what is ordained for you, nothing in your Life will ever happen to you. When it’s your turn, the Universe will conspire to deliver whatever you need for your Life’s story to advance. And advance does not always mean ‘meeting your expectations or exceeding them always’. Advance here means to simply (be forced, at times, to) go with the flow on Life’s pre-planned path. The Universe’s design, the Master Plan, is inscrutable. And yet, what I have learnt, is this – the Master Plan has no flaws.

Whatever is happening to you just now is what is ordained to happen. Therefore, intelligence demands that you don’t fight Life. Fighting Life is what causes you misery! You will find bliss instead, when you simply, sensibly, surrender to it!

Our Life design, the Master Plan, is inscrutable – but has to be accepted and faced!

Anything, absolutely anything can happen in Life. You just have to learn to face it and deal with it.  

A couple of days ago I finished reading “Aarushi” (Penguin, 2015) by journalist Avirook Sen. The book obviously tells the story of the double murders (of 14-year-old Aarushi and the middle-aged housekeeper Hemraj) that shocked all of India in May 2008. But more important, the book tells us that Dr.Rajesh Talwar and Dr.Nupur Talwar, Aarushi’s parents, did not kill her.In telling us so, Sen makes few things very evident to the reader: how flawed our judicial system is, how there is a heartless, cold bureaucracy that thrives at our premier investigating agency, the CBI, and how lawyers, and their often flaky strategies, can ruin a good chance for a client. Sen does not make an explicit summary of these points. This is what you glean through reading his unputdownable book. But above all that is evident, there is also the implicit Life lesson that one picks up – anything, absolutely anything, can happen in Life; and all you can do is face Life and deal with it.

Sen quotes from Dr.Rajesh Talwar’s journal entries on the immediate few days/weeks the couple spent in Dasna jail after their conviction on 25 November 2013. I reproduce some of the quotes as they are:

3 Dec 2013: Still can’t understand how this happened to us. If only I would have gotten up….I could not even save my dear Aaru. Very difficult to live without her.

9 Dec 2013: Miss Aaru so much and that time and our Life. People talk about their children and what they are doing. They come and meet them in jail. But for us, nothing.

10 Dec 2013: Met Nupur in the afternoon. It’s really strange what Life has dealt us. But this is what it is.

18 Dec 2013: This is the 25th year of our marriage and we will celebrate 25 years on the 19th of January (2014). Could anybody imagine where we would be on our 25th anniversary? No Aaru, no house, no clinic, no money and sitting in jail for something we haven’t done.

Dr.Talwar’s journal entries gives us a peek into how we think through a cathartic time in Life. When you read “Aarushi” you will realize how the Talwars have been done in by Life. Yes, we can blame the investigators, the judicial system, the witnesses who were influenced or coerced and whoever else we want to; we can even blame the Talwars for sleeping through the most dramatic and gruesome night of their Life. But ultimately this is the design for the Talwars’ Life: No Aarushi, no house, no clinic, no money and sitting in jail for something they haven’t done. They simply can’t escape it.

This is the way all our lives are designed. We can’t escape that design. We can fret, fume, kick around, bawl in agony, fight, resist – we can do all we want and can do, but Life goes on happening to us. The way it wants to. The Life design we all have to face and deal with is inscrutable. Some call it karma. I believe it is a Master Plan. And as I have learnt from someone, and learnt from being through Life’s experiences, the Master Plan has no flaws. We may think it is flawed because we believe we don’t deserve what we get or what happens to us. But in the end, it all adds up, all of it makes sense. You do eventually realize that whatever happened, happened for a reason and, believe me, for the good!
Dr.Talwar runs a dental clinic inside the Dasna jail. Even as he and Nupur await their appeal for suspension of their sentence by the Ghaziabad CBI court to be heard by the Allahabad High Court. The truth is, reveals Sen, the Allahabad High Court is presently hearing appeals from the 1990s. So, you can imagine how long it can take for the Talwars’, who were convicted in November 2013, appeal to be heard.

That brings us to a key operative word, a killer App, if you will, to face and deal with Life stoically – that word is “acceptance”. You can’t control what is. You can’t create what is. And because it is what it is, you simply have to accept what is; while continuing to do your bit to make each day count, and keep on living the Life that you have!  

Letting go of your wants can magically transform your Life

Choose what you need, drop your wants, and you will always be happy – despite the circumstances!
There was once a time in my Life when I did not know the difference between what I wanted and what I needed. I was driven by an urge then to gratify myself every single time that I thought of acquiring something. I wasn’t a spendthrift exactly, but yes, I indulged myself a lot in acquiring material stuff that enhanced the quality of my Life’s experiences. Then, Life’s Master Plan pushed me and my family to a state when we could not, on our own, even afford what we needed – bare necessities like food, clothing and a roof over our heads. Yet, with amazing grace, we always got what we needed. Our needs were eventually fulfilled, each time, in the nick of time. One moment it would appear as if we did not have something and suddenly someone would walk into our Life and give us what we needed at that moment – this never happened in ways we could have imagined, but it certainly did happen unfailingly. This experience of being cared for and provided for by Life has helped me understand the difference between want and need.
To be sure, intrinsically, all of us are simple folks. We know what we need. But it is when we start confusing our wants as our needs that we become dis-satisfied with the Life we have. In the days when we owned cars, I ensured that our Hyundai Accent and Santro were maintained in top-notch condition. Every time the cars got dented beyond an acceptable level or the upholstery got worn out, I would just sell the cars and buy new ones. I did not buy luxury cars. I simply bought the same models – Accent and Santro. And when I felt my cars needed to be changed, I was restless until I actually did that; a process that often took weeks. Over a 7 year period, I had changed my cars four times. This prompted one of my friends to quip: “Hey AVIS! You change cars as if you are changing your shirt!” I realize now that it was my want, my desire, to have gleaming new-looking and great-smelling cars that I was confusing in my head as a need to maintain them in “top-notch” condition. Today, I am car-less. The last car we had, a 15-year-old Mitsubishi Lancer, a gift from a friend in 2009, had to be disposed of in January 2014 because its maintenance costs were huge. Having got used to living without a car, using auto-rickshaws, Uber or Ola, to get around, I understand now that I don’t even need a car! Life is far simpler without one. I am not saying I will not acquire one. I well may – when I feel the need for it, surely not because I want it!
Our wants actually enslave us, holding us hostage. Clearly when something is possessing you, like your want will, how can you be happy? The way to ring in happiness and inner peace is to understand what you need and be content with it. Even if you don’t have what you need, always trust Life to provide it for you. Letting go of your wants can magically transform your Life. Here’s a Zen story to illustrate the point. Someone asked the Buddha: “I want happiness. Please teach me how I can get it.” The Buddha replied: “Drop the ‘I’, drop the ‘want’, you will be left with ‘happiness’!” Beautiful, isn’t it?