“The winds of grace are always blowing…”

“The winds of grace are always blowing. You must hoist your sails to catch them.” So said Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836 ~ 1886).
Ustaad Anwar Khan Saab, Mansoor Khan and their troupe
I was, yet again, reminded of this beautiful perspective on Life last evening. A friend and his family had organized a concert by the Manganiyars – a community of folk singers from Rajasthan – on their rooftop. It was an unusual evening in Chennai – it was still very warm, but as the sun set, dark clouds gathered and very strong gusts of wind blew over the city. It didn’t rain. But it came menacingly close to raining. In this backdrop of the game of hide and seek that nature played, five Manganiyars performed at their soulful best. There were no additional lights on stage, no mics and no speakers. The artistes just jammed – led by the supremely talented Ustad Anwar Khan Saab on the vocals and the world-renowned Mansoor Khan on the Dholak. The other three artists played the Kartaal and the Sindhi Sarangi between them. As Anwar Khan Saab sang he lost himself to his music. And held all of us in the audience in a trance. His deep voice, the rhythmic beats of the Kartaals, the sublime strains of the Sindhi Sarangi and the unobtrusive yet unputdownable presence of the Dholak made the evening truly magical.  
I picked up a few learnings.
The first was humility. Anwar Khan Saab is one of the most feted Manganiyars. Yet, as he began the concert, he humbly looked at each of the other four artists in the troupe and asked them: “Izzazat ho, toh shuru karein…” Meaning: “May we have your permission to begin…” There’s an Urdu word called ‘tehzeeb’ which actually means ‘culture’ but combines the essence of being ‘humble and dignified in demeanor’. Khan Saab embodied that word ‘tehzeeb’ in the way he spoke, he sang and he conducted himself last evening – he personified humility.
Second, I re-learnt the value of respecting a senior. Mansoor Khan is younger, is more relevant and hugely famous across the world. Yet Mansoor let Khan Saab lead the whole concert last evening and do all the singing. It’s the kind of difference in appeal that would exist in the cricketing world between Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar that is there between Mansoor and Khan Saab. Even so, Mansoor was content with just being the Dholak player yesterday – happy to share stage presence with the Ustad and sing for the joy of singing alongside the maestro.
Third, I felt the grace – yet again – in my Life. Not that it is ever absent in any of our lives. It is always there. But we are so busy earning-a-living, running on our Life-treadmills, that we miss this grace. But I have realized that whenever I have let go, whenever I have just let a higher energy draw me in its direction, hold me in its sway and take me where it wants to, I have felt the grace. Last evening, I almost did not make it to this home concert of the Manganiyars. It had been a tiring Sunday at home. And all I wanted to do was have a drink and watch television. But our hosts are very, very special. And the Manganiyars are our favorites – particularly Mansoor Khan. So, despite my body protesting, I completely let go as Khan Saab began. For the next two hours it was a pure bliss and grace show! My wife Vaani concurs with me. How else do you explain such great weather in Chennai in the middle of June, such great artists jamming in front of you with no commercial trappings, such soulful music and us in the midst of all this – when we can never quite dream of buying tickets to a live performance of this class, given our fragile financial state?

As the concert ended, I took a swig of Kingfisher beer that my host graciously offered. And then I looked up at the sky and smiled in gratitude and joy. I was reminded of what the Buddha has said: “When you realize how perfect your Life is, you will look up at the sky and laugh!” Indeed, I don’t think that we will ever have a perfect Life – the way we want it. It is always what it is. And if you can accept what is, you will have raised your sails, you will then have felt the grace in your Life, you too will then perhaps look up at the sky and laugh….! 
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Embrace, welcome and celebrate uncertainty

It is in the Unknown that you will find the true treasures of Life.
We have been sadly conditioned to expect rewards and recognition for every effort we make. These expectations bring agony. The pursuit of any goal by itself does not cause suffering. It is in not seeing outcomes that we desired that we feel defeated and begin to suffer. When what we seek is not what we get, we give up and choose to stay with the predictable. By itself, it is not a bad choice. The problem arises when we start lamenting about Life, whining and feeling depressed or let down.

Understand that Life has a mind of its own. Its benevolence and creativity is shrouded in its eccentricity. (Aren’t all creative folks a wee bit eccentric?) It is unpredictable and moves is bizarre ways. That’s why all of the world’s wealth is with a chosen few. And a large mass of people__like you and me__are hardworking, ethical climbers with no idea of where the top of this ladder we are on will lead us. A larger mass of people, the strugglers, have no desires than just getting past basic stuff (that which we climbers take for granted) like two meals a day, a home, something to cover themselves with and, possibly a steady source of income or education. There are no answers to why a Sachin Tendulkar should be ordained with boundless abundance and glory while Vinod Kambli should have not got there__though both came from similar backgrounds, trained with the same coach and were equally talented.

The point is that Life’s unpredictable. Period. And the way to deal with its eccentricity__often seen as its unfairness__is to simply Let Go and be prepared for the Unknown. Do your bit, joyfully, ethically, sincerely, and Let Go. Every other aspect of Nature’s creation thrives in Let Go mode. The birds, the trees, the insects, the reptiles, the animals, they have all Let Go. We humans are afraid to Let Go because we have a fear of the Unknown. So we suffer. But clinging on and expecting desirable outcomes is a foolish choice. So, in every sense, our suffering is self-inflicted.  When we Let Go and face the Unknown, remember, we will never be let down. There will be no more suffering. The true treasures of Life, which were always there, will now be visible to us: we will feel the air in our lungs, see the beauty of creation all around us, find ourselves drenched in grace and feel happiness in our every pore.

Make your doing, your being

Whatever you do, immerse yourself in it – and your will be one with it. That’s how you make doing, being!
This past Sunday, I read an article by the enfant terrible of Carnatic music, T.M.Krishna, in the Sunday Magazine of The Hindu. No, Krishna was not waxing eloquent on music. Instead he wrote, provoking thought in the bargain, about how “great sportsmen and artists share a transformational quality”. His piece, ‘Beyond the Boundary’ examined if Sachin Tendulkar’s technique is really an art form. Krishna wrote: “I have watched the phenomenal Sachin Tendulkar almost right through his career, especially in his Test innings… there have been phases in his great innings when he seemed to dissolve into cricket itself…. In this state, not just cricket or sport but Life itself seemed to be one uninterrupted flow…. The man and his bat became one; the ball was not an object that needed to be negotiated, caressed or decimated; the bowler, not an enemy; and his wicket, no point of reference…. What actually happened was that everything merged. Sachin became one with that existence and, as a beholder, I saw Life’s beauty in its most natural self, without any burden of names, identities, action or result…To me, at that instant, even the fact that it was Sachin batting was immaterial. This was an artist lost in his moment of Life, living it to its fullest.
Krishna’s keen observation and perspective there has been simply, beautifully, explained by Osho, the Master, thus: “Forget the dancer, the center of the ego. Become the dance. Dance so deeply that you completely forget that you are dancing and begin to feel that you arethe dance. Dance so totally…because the dancer-dance division can exist only when you are not total in it. The dancer must go until only the dance remains.”  
In the Sufi tradition, dervishes of the Mevlevi order, perform the ‘sama’, or dancing meditation, where they abandon their ‘nafs’or egos or personal desires, by spinning in repetitive circles, symbolic of the planets in the solar system orbiting the sun. The dancer is merely a metaphor that Osho and the Sufis use. You could be a cook, a gardener, a writer, an orator, a clerk, a traffic policeman, a painter, a singer, a truck driver or a nurse. Who you are is immaterial. How you are (being) who you are is important. Of course, choosing to do what you absolutely love doing, is critical for losing yourself – for making your doing, your being! While it may be possible to even immerse yourself while loving what you are doing, your inner joy is always several notches higher when you have chosen to do onlywhat you love!
But your Life may not always pan out that way. As it turned out to be with my father. He is an amazing Carnatic vocalist himself – having been trained for over two decades by an accomplished Guru. But way back in the ‘60s, the pressures of having to raise a family forced him to seek a career in the private sector textile industry, and later with the government. “Financial security and stability” were chosen over “what gave him joy”. I don’t understand the nuances of Carnatic music as much as I should. But over the early years of my growing up, and even now, when he is well past 75, I have found that my dad always lost himself to his singing whenever he was or is having a stressful time. In those times that I have watched him sing to himself at home, I found him immersed in the music. In fact, I believe, he always became the song. On the few occasions when he has performed concerts too, I have found the singer (in him) disappearing and only the song remaining. I cite his example here because you may not often get to make a Life – and living – out of what you love. Yet it is imminently possible that if you still do what you love, even if it is done infrequently, it can help you just be! And that just being is happiness!
As I grew older and my understanding of Life evolved, I have come to realize that when you don’t force yourself to do anything, Life flows through you. The cosmic energy then expresses itself through you. Your doing then becomes your being. That state, when you are in unison with the Universe, is what is also known as bliss! And as you can see, from the expressions of Krishna, Tendulkar, Osho and my dad, that state is imminently attainable!

Life always gives you what you need

Life’s pretty amazing! It may not always give you what you want, but none of what you need is ever denied!  

This is true for each one of us. Irrespective of who we are and what we are going through.
A lot has been talked, in the past week, about Prithvi Shaw, the 15-year-old batting prodigy from Mumbai. There have been comparisons to Sachin Tendulkar’s brilliance and origins as Shaw amassed a mind-boggling 546 runs off 330 balls in the Harris Shield tournament. The media has gone ga-ga over this boy wonder. But one story in The New Indian Express yesterday, by sports writer Sandip G, caught my attention. It talked about Shaw’s background.

Sandip wrote about Prithvi Shaw: “His mother died when he was four. Soon, his father, Pankaj, a small-time readymade garment retailer, fell on hard times. By this time though, Prithvi was already regaling his neighbors with his batting. ‘Even when he was only six, he used to play better than bigger boys. Whenever he used to bat, neighbors used to flock to the maidan,’ recollected his father Pankaj, who still escorts him to and from Bandra. But the more Prithvi’s talent manifested, the tougher his father found it to sustain his son’s ambitions. ‘I was about to close down my business and I didn’t even have money to buy him a bat. I didn’t know what to do,’ Prithvi’s father said. Luckily though, former English county cricketer Julian Wood chanced upon him and convinced the (local) MIG Club to induct him. Three years later, former Indian spinner Nilesh Kulkarni spotted him and signed him up for his sports management firm for Rs 3 lakh a year. Another well-wisher gifted him an apartment in Santa Cruz.”

Shaw’s story reinforces a truism about Life. Not knowing what to do in Life, as Pankaj Shaw has confessed, is a great state to be in! That let-go is what Life requires from you in order for it to give you what you need. I have found this particularly true in my Life. Whenever I have reached a state of being clueless, and helpless, I have always found people walking into my Life, on their own at most times, and offering to support me and my family. One moment I would see no way ahead in a Life-and-death situation. My Life would be surrounded by total darkness. And in the next moment, I have found myself soaked in abundance and the milk of human kindness. This has happened again and again and again. When I connect the dots backward, as Steve Jobs famously said, I have found that Life gives you all that you need, when you let go! I have realized that miracles happen to you not because you pray hard or your faith is stronger but they happen because at one level you are a miracle yourself and, at another level, you need a miracle to move forward in Life!

It’s a beautiful Life really. You and I make it miserable by wanting it to be different from what it is. Drop all your wanting. It’s perfectly alright to not know what to do with your Life or in it! Let go! And, magically, you will find that Life manifests the right people, the right connections, the right situations, which will take you onward, giving you all that you need! You cannot live your entire lifetime in one nanosecond or moment. Life’s moves from moment to moment. Living Life, one moment at a time, savoring what you have, without question, without resistance, will always lead you to whatever you need.

The Inspiring Family Tendulkar

A loving, understanding and compassionate family is the greatest wealth anyone can have.
The Family Tendulkar (minus Savita): Clockwise from Top Left:
Ajit, Nitin, Ramesh, Sachin and Rajni
As Sachin Tendulkar bid an emotional adieu to his cricketing career yesterday, what struck me most was how his family had backed him all these past 29 (including his pre-international playing days) years. Sachin graciously acknowledged their role too in his farewell speech. Sachin’s father Ramesh Tendulkar married twice. From his first wife, Ramesh had three children – Nitin, Savita and Ajit. Sachin was born to Rajni, Ramesh’s second wife, and he is the couple’s only child. While Ramesh’s role in raising and inspiring Sachin, to be the champion that he eventually turned out to be, is well-known, I really admire how well his two half-brothers and his half-sister have nurtured him. Often in India, members of families where one parent has remarried, end up growing distant, if not always estranged. But Ramesh managed to keep the flock together. And his first three children have set a glorious example in the manner in which they helped their step-mother Rajni raise their precocious and precious half-brother. Sachin did talk eloquently yesterday about how Nitin has quietly contributed to his career and how Savita gifted him his first cricket bat. He also spoke about how Ajit, all through Sachin’s cricketing career, has stood by him – right from taking his prodigal brother to coach Ramakant Achrekar for the first time in 1984 to discussing Sachin’s dismissal at 74, in-depth, in his final, 200th, Test at the Wankhede. Yet whether it was his half-siblings, or his wife Anjali or his late father or his mother Rajni, the Tendulkar family has stayed out of the limelight – preferring to do only what came to them naturally and what they were best at: which is, to totally back Sachin! That attitude is inspiring and speaks volumes about the family’s value systems – humility, mutual respect and togetherness.
I come from a fractured family that continues to confound me. My siblings and I live in the same city but fail to even speak with each other. We have always found, over the years, reasons and issues to remain divided and distant. With the passage of time, I realize, we don’t even perhaps relate to each other. Surely, I too have contributed to this situation in the past and have since apologized to my family for my actions. But mistrust and the urge to interpret__than understand__each other are so rampant amongst us that any effort we have made in the past to come together has always failed. To compound matters, when my wife, children and I encountered a Life-changing, near-death crisis, a bankruptcy, some years ago, my family felt we were “faking” the crisis. They had helped us financially and when we could not repay the money we owed them, we were not trusted for our word. The crisis did not hit me as hard as my family not trusting me did. But for my wife, who supported me, helping me anchor emotionally and brave that painful phase of my Life, I would have crumbled.
From my experience, I have discovered that love, understanding and compassion are the bonding glue in any family. These traits blossom and thrive only when the family thinks as one unit – like a cohesive, understanding team – and not as diverse individuals who are merely connected with each other by blood and birth (which is what defines a family!). Merely being related to each other does not a family make. Respect for each other’s opinions, actions and decisions, trust and companionship are critical for making a family come alive and stay together. Families cannot be built by possessing or controlling each other. They evolve only when space and time are given to its members – to experience Life in their own ways, to go out into the world, to try, to make mistakes, to fail and to still feel “welcome” at home. Members in a family cannot be separate from each other and expect the relationships in the family to grow stronger. It is simply not possible for separateness and bonding to co-exist! A family will stand up for its name only when each of its members stands up for each other. When people stop saying “I told you so” and instead say, irrespective of what has happened, “How can we make things better”.
Sachin is blessed to have been born into a family where they value and respect each other. The Family Tendulkar is surely an inspiration for all of us. We may not quite be able to raise another Sachin in our families without some cosmic benevolence perhaps, but we sure can create an environment in our families, on our own, where we trust, cherish and celebrate each other!

To the MAESTRO called YOU…

Sachin Tendulkar has finally announced his retirement from the game that made him God! While there are people who are still awestruck by his legend, there are others, his admirers-turned-critics, who opine that he should have quit the game at his peak – which was a few years ago. Sachin himself explains his rationale for continuing to play well past his prime in his statement, issued by the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), yesterday. He says: It’s hard for me to imagine a Life without playing cricket because it’s all I have ever done since I was 11 years old.
I would like to share what I have learned, so far, from Sachin’s Life. Each of us has three questions to answer and three circles to fill in Life:
  •      What can you be best at in the world? – What’s your innate talent?
  •      What are you deeply passionate about? – What keeps you excited about living?
  •    What drives your economic engine? – What earns you money?

When you answer these questions and fill the circles with your answers, the one vocation – or answer – that leads to the convergence of these three circles is your inner core of joy, your bliss. When you follow your bliss, you too will become a world-leader and world-beater, and consequentially wealthy too, in your chosen field. Of course, the time it takes to reach that pinnacle of greatness varies from individual to individual – it is often a direct correlation between effort, the time the individual is passing through, and the larger, unfathomable, cosmic design. But one thing is for sure: if you have identified that one vocation, which led to the convergence of these three circles in your Life, your bliss that is, you will always be happy doing what you have chosen to do – even though your financial success make take time coming. They key is to keep following your bliss, as Joseph Campbell (1904~1987), the American thinker and writer, famously said, knowing that doors will soon open where only walls existed. The difference between people who have identified their bliss and those who go on to become Gods, legends in their chosen fields, lies in the following. When you follow your heart, your  bliss, no matter what, you will arrive where you truly must and deserve to be! Important, focus only on your bliss, while following it, and not on becoming great! Greatness follows when you truly follow your bliss! (Just to clarify: the concept of these three circles was first presented by Management Guru Jim Collins in the context of helping organizations derive their Core Purpose. But I have found it extremely relevant in the case of individuals too – after all, people make organizations tick!)
Osho, the Master, has explained following your bliss beautifully. He says when you do what you love doing, when the doer becomes the deed, for instance, when the dancer becomes the dance or when the player becomes the game, magic happens. That’s when the Universal, cosmic, energy is flowing through you. The actor and the action are in unison then. That’s what the world calls genius, greatness. That’s how ordinary people become maestros. Did you not see that magic in Sachin – then, and don’t you not see it even now, when he is on a song? Sunil Gavaskar, the legend himself, said this of Sachin Tendulkar when talking to India Today, a couple of years ago: “The secret of Sachin’s longevity in the game lies in his joy. His mind, body, soul – all three are in a state of perpetual joy when he’s playing!”
To reach your own state of perpetual joy, you need to only shift your attention from your economic engine circle to the other two circles – concerning your talent and passion – in your Life. Then you too will be soaked in bliss and will be able to uncork the magic within you! Here’s then, cheers, to the MAESTRO called YOU!