I drink alcohol…and I am spiritual

Just because you don’t like the message, don’t shoot the messenger!  
A couple of days ago I received an email forward of a media release purported to have been issued on behalf of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living organization. I don’t know if the release was indeed issued on Sri Sri’s behalf. I hope not. The release attacks, albeit in a veiled manner without naming them, director Rajkumar Hirani, actor Aamir Khan and their movie PK, for “projecting sadhus (Hindu saints) in bad light”, for “promoting dargahs (Muslim shrines) and putting down ashrams(Hindu monasteries)” and for “influencing young minds”. The release also says that the makers of PK have been funded by a terrorist to put down spirituality.
I find the content of the media release preposterous. And the charges against Khan, Hirani and PK baseless. Whoever authored that release and whoever authorized its circulation neither understands spirituality not do they understand PK’s message.
Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. It is the realization that comes from within that you are the divinity that you seek. Spirituality is deeply personal, it is intense and it is liberating. It sets you free. Religion, on the other hand, tries to achieve the same result but ends up making bad spaghetti out of a good recipe. Not because there’s anything wrong with the recipe. But because the cooks, the high priests of the various religions (as the PK character says in PK, “the managers of the various companies”), have hidden and divisive agendas; they promote ritualism and hold gullible people – like you and me – hostage! In the movie, in one brilliant scene, PK picks up a new born baby to inspect if the baby is born with a “stamp”, a means of identification, that he or she was actually created (“sent down”) to be a Hindu or a Christian or a Muslim. The message is stark and uncomfortable: that our religion has been thrust upon us. We are born free to simply be human. But the label of Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jew and such is stuck on us as an afterthought. Our family and society force us to follow the religion that they have chosen for us. To add to the confusion, people who are self-proclaimed leaders of the various religions, induce fear among their followers saying that if you question what is being told and practiced, you will be punished by your God! PK makes another important, uncontestable point – the God, he says, that created you and me, is different from the God that we humans have created to suit our convenience. God, the creator, is compassionate, loving and is ever present – within us. The God we have created, he says, is forever elusive, being “managed and protected by agents and managers” and making people fearful. The truth is where there is fear, there is no faith. And when there is faith, there can be no fear. Faith is like light and fear is like darkness. You can bring light to drive away darkness. But you cannot bring darkness into a room which is well lit. You cannot, therefore, claim you have faith in a God, your God, and yet be fearful of either God or Life or both!!
The media release makes one other ridiculous, erroneous point. It states that people who consume alcohol are not spiritual! Spirituality is totally unconditional. Being spiritual means just being. You can be whoever you are. You don’t have to abstain from anything, you don’t have to fear anyone, you don’t have to fast, you don’t have to pray and you don’t have to follow any rituals. You just have to be who you are and enjoy being who you are. Spiritually empowered people employ this freedom, this fearlessness, this faith – that they will be taken care of and provided for by the Universe – to live in bliss. To them nothing is a sin. And nothing is forced. They live simply – seeing the divinity in themselves and in everyone and everything around them.

I seriously hope Sri Sri’s ashram did not issue that release and that the mail I received was just one of those hoax forwards. If it was indeed a genuine communication, I pity those who put it out – for they are missing PK’s central message and shooting the messenger, Aamir, just because he’s seen, per worldly definition, as a Muslim.  PK is not about Hindus and Muslims. It is not about Hindu Gods and a Muslim God or a Christian God. It is about you and me and how we are allowing ourselves to be trapped in the vicious cycle of religion, rituals, godmen and fear. Watch PK if you can and care. And even if you don’t want to watch it, raise a toast when you drink tonight!! To Christmas, good health and happiness. My toast, however, is to the authors of that redoubtable release: “Hey, I drink alcohol…and I am spiritual”!   
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A Life Lesson from Darin Zanyar – Be what you wanna be…!

Be what you want to be. Do what you want to do. You will make mistakes along the way. You will fall. But be sure, you’ll rise again. That’s what Life’s really all about!
It is that time of the year when most parents are all keyed up about what academic program their young (almost adult) children must pursue. With amazing consistency, most choices are made basis the “earning potential” that careers promise. Very few parents actually let their children choose what comes to them naturally and what they can do best. Sometimes, children don’t know what they are good at. Or don’t know what they want to do. Which is also totally fine. Life, despite all its unpredictability, still offers a lot of time for people to decide what they want to do and then actually allows them the time to go do it too! To agonize over the (perceived) “indecisiveness” of a teenager, in my humble opinion, is neither appropriate nor is it sensible!
My experience as a young adult who had to fight for doing what I wanted to do and as a parent who has allowed his two children to do whatever gives them joy has taught me some simple lessons.
1.   However much you plan, Life has a way of taking you to where you must arrive. And that destination may not have even been on your radar or in your wildest dreams!
2.     There’s nothing called a zero-defect career or even a perfect career. Everyone makes mistakes. S@#T Happens!
3.     Having money and job security doesn’t necessarily mean you will have fun doing what you do and enjoy Life!
So, the best way to approach your career is to ask yourself:
                                                          i.    What am I extremely good at?
                                                         ii.    What do I love doing? What comes naturally to me?
                                                        iii.    How can I create value and make a difference, doing what I (will) do, every single day?
Even as you answer those questions honestly and then choose to follow your dream, be open to the surprises that Life may throw up. It may be a breakthrough or it may be an unprecedented challenge. Go wherever Life’s taking you and go with whatever comes you way. There’s only one thing you can really control in your Life. And that is, getting better, every single day, at doing what you love doing! In the last scene of the iconic movie 3 Idiots (2009, Rajkumar Hirani), the narrator’s voice over quotes “Baba” Ranchhoddas (Aamir Khan) as saying: “Kabil Bano, Kabil. Kamyiabi Phir Jhak Marke Tumhare Piche Ayegi”. It means: “Strive to become capable or skilled (actually the best) in whatever you do. Success will then come, chasing after you.” The movie’s message is inspiring. Unfortunately, too few parents have internalized it. And fewer still have had the courage to let their children do what they want to do.
What inhibits parents is a sense of insecurity, a “what if” fear, an overzealousness to protect their children. Naturally, if you are a parent who has overcome challenges to be where you are today (in fact, who hasn’t been through tough times?), you don’t want your children to face the same situations and hardships. So, you begin with advising career choices but soon start directing and managing your kids’ careers. Children, on the other hand, respond in two ways. Either they rebel – like the way I did or they just do what the parents advise them to do, out of “respect” for them.
Parents and children both must understand one thing – that each Life is unique. There is no template to Life. Each of us is entitled to our share of experiments, adventures, mistakes and genius. The best way to live then is to live loving what we do. Then everything, in the end, always falls in place!
I was very impressed listening to a song by the young Swedish pop singer Darin Zanyar. The lyrics went somewhat like this ~
“Doctor, Actor, Lawyer or a Singer,
Why not President, be a dreamer,
You can be just the one you wanna be…
You never know what Life could bring,
‘Cause nothing lasts forever…”
Darin’s all of 26 and to imagine he sang this simple yet meaningful song (‘Darin’, 2005) when he was barely 17! That’s what’s really possible when parents don’t rein in their kids’ latent talent!
If you are a parent reading this, you may want to drop your inhibitions and insecurities. Go listen to your children, understand what they are deeply passionate about and then trust them to go follow their dreams. If you are a young adult reading this, know that it’s cool to be yourself. So, go be that person you want to be! The world needs people like you – who are alive, happening and happy!

Inspire your children to come alive

Give your children the power of choice. Allow them to experiment, fall, fail, learn and decide what they want to do. Don’t let your experiences and your insecurities dictate your children’s career or Life choices.
This morning’s Times of India reports that 769 seats are still vacant in the famed Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) for the current 2013~ academic season. This is unprecedented in the glorious history of the IITs in India. This can mean two things: that the IITs have lost their sheen or that engineering as a field of study is no longer a (forced) preferred option. I would like to assume and believe that the latter is true and that the vacant seats reflect a very teeny-weeny shift in the conventional Indian parental mind-set which has primarily been, for generations, oriented towards driving their children to pursue careers in either engineering or medicine. The Aamir Khan-starrer, Hindi blockbuster, 3 Idiots (2009, Rajkumar Hirani) held a mirror to Indian parents when it showcased Farhan’s (Madhavan) plight: of a brilliant wildlife photographer-to-be who was caught in the rat race to become a mediocre engineer just because his father (Parikshit Sahani) always dreamt of Farhan becoming an engineer! I am not sure if the response to admissions to IITs this year is any reflection of the central, core message of 3 Idiotsbeginning to percolate and causing parents, and their children, to focus on what makes the children come alive than what makes the parents feel secure!

As much as Life is unpredictable, Life is also often times a long journey. Many of our experiences and learnings, often from misadventures, direct us towards our destiny. I for one, after being a salesman, a journalist, a strategist, a CEO, a project manager, an executive assistant to a tycoon and a consultant, (in that order), over 17 years, discovered what I wanted to reallydo in Life only when I turned 35. Obviously, I was doing many things after college. I was working my butt off and earning good money. But while each experience I had was exciting, I was still searching for something. There was an incompleteness that I could not describe. It was only when I was faced with a Life-changing crisis that I found out what really gave me joy. That’s when I felt completely at ease and peace with myself and was able to say with certainty and conviction that “this” is what I want to do for and with the rest of my Life. So, the import here is that people, especially children, need to be allowed to make their choices. They must be allowed to experience Life and choose what makes them come alive. The world needs people who are alive, not nerds who have got the grades but whose souls are dead long, long ago. A great musician can heal the world many times over than a mediocre doctor ever can. A fashion designer may pack more precision and creativity into a piece of work than a bad engineer can ever even conceive.

An interview in the same edition of Times of India is worth referring to here. It was with actor Prakash Raj, who lost his 5-year-old son to a freak accident, 9 years ago. Raj, one of India’s most accomplished and famous character actors, had this to say about memories of his son and Life: I can’t forget him, even though I have removed all photographs of his. I am a non-believer and wanted to bury him in my farm. I just go, sit there many times. He is the one who made me realize how helpless I am and how unpredictable Life is and how small it is and how weak you are in front of nature. I love my daughters, but just miss my child, even though it’s been nine years since he died. He was just five when, while flying a kite from a one-feet-high table, he fell on the ground. For a few months after that, he would have fits, after which he died. Nobody could understand what was the reason. His death was more than any other sorrow for me. I don’t take Life for granted anymore and live in the moment.
As it is that crucial time of the year for admissions to colleges, perhaps you are a parent who’s grappling with just the same issue I am sharing here. My unsolicited advice is this: enjoy your children as long as this lifetime lasts. Inspire them to come alive. Ask them what makes them come alive. And give them the freedom to pursue it. Support them in whatever manner you can. More than your money, they need your conviction in them. More than making yourself feel secure about your children’s future, strive to make them more happy by allowing them to do what fills them with joy! Life’s too short. You might as well watch your child being truly happy than watch her or him be unhappy while being financially and professionally, and given the inscrutable nature of Life, vainly, secure!