The higher you go, the more grounded you must be PS: Also, please hold your own umbrella!

Irrespective of who you are or become, if you can stay humble and grounded, you can claim to have lived your Life most meaningfully and intelligently.

Obama with Vice-President Ansari
Picture Courtesy: Internet
US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were our special guests at this year’s R-Day Parade earlier this week. An unseasonal steady drizzle required that everyone had to deploy umbrellas. While most Indian dignitaries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had people holding up their umbrellas, both Obama and Michelle held up their umbrellas themselves. People across the sub-continent did not miss this subtle cultural trait that differentiates perhaps much of the Western, particularly US, world from us. We are still steeped in wasteful colonial practices, in the name of “tradition” and “protocol”, while folks from the US are – as they are in several other countries – far more humble and down-to-earth. This is an important lesson to be learnt by us in a country where, at the drop of a hat, people switch to a do-you-know-who-I-am mode and drop names to declare their clout and powerful reach.

Obama holding up his own umbrella, to me, is also an un-ignorable spiritual metaphor. The learning is that the higher you ascend, the more powerful and popular you become, the more grounded and humble you must be.  At the end of the day, we must all realize, that we are merely messengers. The art we claim to be masters of, the work that we do, the success we achieve, and the wealth we believe we create, are all manifestations of the energy that flows through us. Simply, Life is expressing itself through us. We are what we are not because of us but in spite of us! This is the truth. So, if you were a musician and music is flowing through you, how can you take credit for the music? How can the microphone – which is what you really are – take any credit for creating the music? The microphone must simply be happy at having been an instrument that helped broadcast the music. Staying humble, therefore, means to know that you cause nothing – neither your successes, nor your failures.

Does a PM need an umbrella “holder”?
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Of course, the world around us is unevenly skewed in favor of those who declare their might and success with pomp and a misplaced sense of self-worth. To them, they are unfortunately the majority, their hard work has led to their success and so they insist they have the right to flaunt it. Which is why a Mukesh Ambani chooses to build and live in an Antilla and Narendra Modi, apart from not wanting to hold his own umbrella, loved being in pin-stripes that had his name embroidered in place of the stripes! Contrast that with Amitabh Bachchan who, last week, was asked by NDTV’s Barkha Dutt to describe himself in a line. He replied, with his legendary, trademark, humility: “Just another name!”


I guess people know who they love more. The kind that flaunt or those that are self-effacing. But, on a personal note, I can tell you that the best state to be in is to believe that everything happens through you, in spite of you, and never because of you! This is the secret and key to inner peace and happiness! 

Simply be….in love!

Understand that love is just being and that’s more profound than being in love!
The moment you read that first line of today’s Thought, I bet, your mind went to the definition of love as we commonly understand it__an attraction between the sexes! That’s been the whole challenge in the history of mankind. This idea of categorizing and justifying love. To imagine that love is different between man and woman, then different between parent and child, between siblings, between people of the same sex and so on. But that’s a socially convenient way of misunderstanding what love truly is and perpetrating that misunderstanding over generations. We are all guilty of it. When a boy and girl play together as a toddlers and infants we say, “How cute?” When they want to be together as teenagers, we say, “Oh! My God!”
Love, in reality, is a feeling of deep friendship for another__whoever it may be__and wanting to place that person’s interests above your own. It is about caring, not necessarily comforting. It is about being there not about being overbearing. It is about relating and understanding and not so much about the relationship or wanting to be understood. Most people often wonder how people of the same sex can love each other and even seek physical intimacy. There’s this amazing 2010 Indian film ‘Memories in March’ directed by Sanjoy Nag and starring Deepti Naval and Rituparno Ghosh, which demystifies homosexuality, and in my opinion, offers an enlightening perspective on what love truly means. Love is also about serving without seeking returns and without expecting even a ‘thank you’. This is what Mother Teresa taught the world when she cleaned, clothed and fed the sick and the dying for decades on the streets of Kolkata.
All the beauty in this world is lost for you when you start to look at love as conditional, when you demand that you be understood and when you strip it down to a banal physical satiation of the senses. There was a huge uproar in India a couple of years ago triggered by an overzealous Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat’s Chief Minister, and who’s single, over how much Shashi Tharoor ‘loves’ his wife (Sunanda Pushkar – who is unfortunately no more), who was his girlfriend for several years. I believe that even the question is misplaced. How much ever you love a fellow human being is just not enough. Because there is so much more beauty between us human beings that’s capable of having us love each other – more  than all the apparent differences that divide us! It’s fine if you cannot accept this point of view immediately. You may often wonder if it is possible to love your detractor. It is indeed. Just send positive energy and leave that person alone, even if that person has not been amenable to your reason when you tried. Don’t insist that you get even, don’t try to pronounce that person guilty. Just let that person be. And you be too.
Osho, the Master, tells the story of two women:
“Nancy was having coffee with Helen.

Nancy asked, “How do you know your husband loves you?”
“He takes out the garbage every morning.”
“That’s not love. That’s good housekeeping.”
“My husband gives me all the spending money I need.”
“That’s not love. That’s generosity.”
“My husband never looks at other women.”
“That’s not love. That’s poor vision.”
“John always opens the door for me.”
“That’s not love. That’s good manners.”
“John kisses me even when I’ve eaten garlic and I have curlers in my hair.”
“Now, that’s love.”

Explains Osho: “Everybody has their own idea of love. And only when you come to the state where all ideas about love have disappeared, where love is no more an idea but simply your being, then only will you know its freedom. Then love is God. Then love is the ultimate truth.” Here’s hoping your own ideas about love disappear over time and you too, simply, be….!

Recognize our oneness as human beings

Unless we realize the oneness that unites us as humanity, we will never be at peace.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination divided the country, referring to the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. “Our own people were killed. The incident was not a wound on the throat of any community but a knife, a dagger on India’s century-old great social fabric,” Modi is reported to have remarked, taking an indirect dig at the Congress, and their purported role in those riots. Consequent to Modi’s public posturing, neither he nor any National Democratic Alliance member visited Indira Gandhi’s memorial, Shakti Sthal, yesterday to pay homage to her on her death anniversary. No sooner had Modi taken this stand, his critics pointed to the daggers that were driven through India’s chest in December 1992 (over the Babri Masjid episode), followed by what happened in Mumbai between December 1992 and January 1993 (over the gut-wrenching Mumbai riots) and during February~March 2002 (over the Godhra episode). Irrespective of which party ruled – or where they ruled – these episodes do throw up painful memories of India’s soul bleeding. And all of this happened because we, as a people, as a nation, have allowed ourselves to be tricked to believe in our separateness, and worse, have allowed ourselves to be exploited on that unfortunate premise. These episodes are a gory, haunting, reminder that we didn’t recognize our oneness as people, not just as citizens, but as human beings.
What’s shocking is that we continue to refuse to see humanity as one even at a personal, individual level. The other day I was aghast when someone we know wanted us to connect them to a “Brahmin” lady who could be “gifted” a saree to commemorate someone’s death anniversary. Now, why a “Brahmin” lady? Why would this someone’s maid, who toils daily to keep their home clean, be a less deserving beneficiary? But my sane counsel, and humble protest, cut no ice. To appease the dead, I was told, a “Brahmin” alone can and must be a beneficiary!
An old story that Osho, the Master, used to say, comes to mind. A king had made a palace; the palace was called the Mirror Palace. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, all were covered with millions of mirrors, tiny, tiny mirrors. There was nothing else in the whole palace; just mirrors everywhere. Once it happened that, the king’s dog, by mistake, was left inside the palace in the night and the palace was locked from the outside. The dog looked around and became frightened — there were millions of dogs everywhere. He was reflected: down, up, in all the directions — millions of dogs! He was not an ordinary dog, he was the king’s dog — very brave — but even then, at the moment, he was alone and very scared of the “other” dogs. He ran from one room to another, but there was no escape, there was nowhere to go. He became more and more frightened. He tried to get out, but there was no way to get out — the door was locked. Just to frighten the other dogs he started barking, but the moment he barked the other dogs also barked — because they were all mere reflections. Then he became more frightened. To frighten the other dogs he started knocking against the walls. The other dogs also jumped at him and bumped into him. This saga endured all night. In the morning the dog was found dead. But, see the beauty of it, the moment the dog died, all the dogs died. The palace was empty. For, there was only one dog and millions of reflections.
Osho tells this story and says that this is the point that the venerable sage, Patanjali, makes: “There is only one reality – and there are millions of reflections of it. You are separate from me as a reflection, I am separate from you as a reflection, but if we move towards the real, the separation will be gone — we will be one.”

Alas, this simple truth is not understood. We find more and more ways as individuals, as a society, as a country and as a world, to focus on our “separateness” than celebrate our “oneness”. We even take our arguments and logic to banal levels – choosing to ignore a former Prime Minister’s contributions by refusing to pay homage to her or choosing not to talk of events that have plundered our country’s conscience and secular fabric – just because they inconveniently remind you of your failures to provide responsible leadership and governance! Understanding our oneness does not require a great effort. If we simply take a deep breath and see that we are all alive because of this one, Life-giving, source, which is common to all of us, we will bury our divisive urges and live celebrating our oneness! 

Let your Life be your message

Set an example. Let your Life be your message.

To grow old, biologically, is no big deal. All of us will age with time. We have to make no effort. But to grow wiser, mature, and to apply our native intelligence, is both a big opportunity and a bigger responsibility.
Recently, I was out with a friend who lit up a cigarette and chucked the empty cigarette pack on the street. While I chided him for his mindless action, I also picked up the trash and reached it to a trashcan at a coffee place we went to later. Another friend drove around town without wearing his seat belt, with me beside him in the front of his car fully strapped. We drove short distances together but I prefer being strapped. It is not about being subservient to law in either instance, but to be personally responsible__and accountable__for our actions. This perspective is so relevant in India at the moment because of the Swach Bharat Campaign that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading and because of the new traffic laws being rolled out. One of the reasons why people don’t believe either of these much-needed initiatives will do well, or even survive, is because many expect public participation and ownership to be completely lacking. Without people changing themselves, we can hardly expect any change in our society.

Society is a reflection, a true one, of who we are. And the way we behave. So, in India, if we find our streets dirty, messy, and stinking with garbage mounds at each intersection, it is because we are an irresponsible population. If the cases of drunken driving, often leading to fatal accidents, is mounting among the younger (20 somethings) generation, it is because we parents are setting a poor example by way of our irreverent road sense. We may not always drink and drive, but we hesitate or don’t care enough to stop people__even in our immediate circle of influence__from driving without seatbelts or when they have imbibed a drink or two.


Gandhi said, with absolute simplicity, “Be the change that you want to see in the world”. He also said, “My Life is my message.” These need not be viewed as sentiments expressed by a man whose ideas were only relevant in a different era, in a century gone by. These are also not ideals that are hard to emulate. They remain as relevant as they once were and are an opportunity, in fact, a clarion call, for personal transformation. We don’t have to be leaders to set an example. We don’t have to be visionaries to have a message. We must lead though, our lives, with maturity and with a complete sense of responsibility__cognizant always of the kind of example we are setting to the generation that is following us and of the message it is reading of our Life!

Focus on issues, than on people – and always say it as it is!

When you must, simply speak your mind. Keeping your views to yourself is a good idea if you have learnt not to grieve. But if you are the sort who simmers when you are unable to express yourself, it’s best to say what you want to – openly, candidly.

Tharoor and Modi: Picture Courtesy/Internet
The papers are full of stories of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) wanting the Congress High Command to reprimand Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor for “praising” Prime Minister Modi over Modi’s pet project – the Swach Bharat campaign. Clarifying that he wasn’t pro-BJP, Tharoor has said this in his defence: “The Prime Minister pitched his appeal as a non-political one and I received it in that spirit. I am a proud Congressman and a proud Indian. In short: not pro-BJP, just pro-India.” But the KPCC mandarins would hear none of this and is seeking that Tharoor be chastisized.

I am not bringing this up here to talk about the inner-party discipline of the Congress or even comment for or against Tharoor’s sense of political propriety. I believe the incident, if you peel away the political affiliations, the overtones and the personalities, gives us an opportunity to understand how we can be focused on issues than on people. The issue here is not Tharoor or Modi, or Congress or BJP – it is about a clean India.

The tragedy though is that almost always we focus on people and miss the issue – How can I say this to him? How dare she speak to me like that? How can I bring this subject up – what will happen if my intention is misunderstood? We fear the repercussions of our being open with family, friends, in social circles, at work and often even in issues that concern our nation or the world. The reason this happens is because of a subconscious tendency that all of us humans have – which is, to be nice to people and to be seen as being nice. So, whenever there’s an opportunity to flag an issue – and debate it, we let it go saying “it” won’t be taken well or that this is not the “right” time. Resultantly, we end up grieving without having been able to express ourselves. Honestly, all of us have felt this way at some time or the other in our lives.

I have learnt it the hard way too. For several years, I tried to be content being tactful than being truthful. But I was very uncomfortable in all those situations when I was unable or I had chosen not to express myself. Over time, I have learnt that if I have an opinion on an issue, I will express myself – saying it as it is, without sugar-coating things, no matter what the issue is or what the context is. And in situations when I choose not to express myself, I also decide not to grieve or complain about the situation. I simply accept things the way they are, I accept my inability to speak about it and I move on.

Recently, we had some maintenance work being undertaken by the owner of the apartment above ours. The owner lives in Dubai and had entrusted the work to a contractor. The contractor did not bother to follow certain procedures laid out for maintenance work by our building’s management. So, for weeks on end work went on, literally above our heads, noisily, for over 18 hours daily. Towards the end of the maintenance project, the owner came from Dubai to review arrangements for a house-warming that he planned to conduct at his “new, improved” apartment. He visited us too. He apologized for the “inconvenience” that we had to put up for over four months. And invited us for the house-warming event. I told him that I could not accept his apology because he was merely saying it for the sake of saying it. I pointed out to him that he could not be “genuinely” apologetic because he has not felt our pain or understood what it means to have someone banging away at the floor above your head for weeks on end. However, I did tell him that if our schedules permitted, we will join in their house-warming ceremony.


This is what I mean when I say focus on the issue. And never on the people. When you focus on the issue, you can express yourself clearly. And candidly. It is when you bring in people and relationships (could be with anyone – between friends, in a family, with a boss, or an organization) that you become emotional and wary of expressing yourself. At the end of the day, it is always better to speak your mind and get it out of you. Or if you choose not to express yourself, also choose not to grieve. Bottomline: Don’t grieve over anything. Definitely not over your inability to say what’s on your mind!  

Finding inner peace in discomfort

Sometimes, you just have to learn to accept whatever – or whoever – you are uncomfortable with!

The last week saw a lot of theatrics by the Indian Prime Minister and his team in the United States. Indian media went gaga over his visit giving the impression that India’s finest hour had arrived on the global stage. For more pragmatic folks, and Modi critics, like me, while the “‘Namo’ste America” show – as billed by the venerable NDTV – had a lot of sound and light, phenomenal follow-up on the ground and actual results to be delivered over the next several months alone can determine whether Prime Minister Modi’s sarkar passes with an honorable distinction or not. Yet, here’s a man, who – despite having been morally accountable for Godhra, despite having left his wife without any ostensible explanation, despite all the charges of right-wing, read non-secular, activism he faces – is still India’s Prime Minister, the first one in 30 years to be a leading a government that has absolute majority in Parliament. Undoubtedly, he’s a fine administrator, a brilliant communicator and a leader who commands respect among his followers. Even so, to me, personally, some of his credentials are hugely worrisome: his not-so-secular stances, his presiding over the Godhra carnage, his abandoning his unsuspecting, submissive wife – these are factors that make me squirm with discomfort that he’s leading my country now.

But do I – or others like me – have a choice?

The truth is he’s here to stay for five years – unless he or his government commits hara-kiri. The truth is that his government has the majority in Parliament to bulldoze whatever plans, policies or projects they may conceive. (Hopefully they won’t bulldoze non-secular ideologies down our throats!) The truth is the opposition, primarily the Congress (Disclosure: I am a forever Congressman at heart), is completely clueless on what it can and must possibly do. So, do we really have a choice?

PM Modi kicking off the Swach Bharat Abhiyan
Picture Courtesy: Internet
To be sure, some of the projects Modi has announced – particularly the Swach Bharat/Clean India campaign that he has kicked off today – are meaningful. And they are in sync with my own view as an Indian, that for India to transform, every Indian must transform. To cleanse India – figuratively, metaphorically and physically – we Indians must first clean up India.

So, over the past week, I seriously thought about my two views of Modi. Modi – the man, who I am very, very, very uncomfortable with for all the reasons that I have outlined. And Modi – my Prime Minister, who’s at least saying the right things, and some things, he saying them right too; things that were never expressed with as much clarity ever before. I realized that for my India to win, Modi has to win. My personal discomfort with the man cannot be the reason for me to be dismissive of his role as my country’s elected leader. When this clarity emerged in me, I found it easier to balance my personal discomfort with my view of our country’s much-needed, urgent – repair and rebuild – development agenda. I found myself at peace with this understanding taking root within me.

When we are uncomfortable with someone – or something – we have a choice to walk away from the scene. The other choice we have is to bury or swallow our discomfort and rally around or align with the person or the situation. Suffering though cannot be avoided in such a case. The third option is to accept the situation for what it is or the person for who they are and learn to live with that acceptance – and live in peace.

In the context under discussion, for instance, I realize that continuously criticizing Modi for the next five years for every move of his is only likely to make me more miserable. I also realize that I cannot support him at a personal level – I just can’t accept his value systems. So, I concluded that, while I am always going to be uncomfortable with his having been elected as our Prime Minister, I decided too that I am not going to expend precious personal energy ranting about him. Instead, I believe, choosing to stand with him on projects of national significance would be a more constructive approach. After all, the larger cause here is India’s development and progress and most certainly not who is leading India. Most definitely, I feel this approach will contribute to my inner peace.

Surely this approach will also work in any other context. The principle is very simple: When you are uncomfortable with a person or a situation, and if you can’t do anything to disengage completely, choose to accept whatever – or whoever – is and be at peace with yourself and your environment!