Why being in Chennai, even in such a time, is so beautiful

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment” – Mevlana Jalauddin Rumi, 13th Century Persian poet and Sufi mystic    

Chennai continued to amaze – and humble – me with her attitude on the third consecutive day in the aftermath of the worst rains and floods that it has ever seen in a century!
Here are some moments of sheer bewilderment that I experienced as we went around several parts of the city today.
·    The staff at my bank’s branch were mourning the loss of their colleague – he was swept away in the floods on the night of December 2nd. Yet they attended to their customers patiently, diligently. Raji, the customer service officer, informed us that they were working full days this weekend – Saturday (5th December) and Sunday (6th December). I expressed surprise and called the move to work on Sunday historic – in the annals of Indian banking history! She replied, “The calamity is no less historic Sir. We would like to help everyone get on with their lives.” To be sure, this remark was coming from a public-sector bank officer!
·         
     A part of the busy and important TTK Road was cordoned off by residents from K B Dasan Road as they tried to drain the water in their area. They had been water-logged for 5 days – without power and drinking water. Boats were still plying on K B Dasan Road. But even as some of the residents deployed a professional team to pump and drain water into the sewage system, across TTK Road, on C V Raman Road, several others among them regulated the traffic on behalf of the cops. Again nobody honked or complained. There was order, patience and empathy.
·         
   We heard of a friend’s boss’ story from Kotturpuram. He had barely 15 minutes on the morning of December 3rd to collect all important documents, gather his family and leave his home. The water that came gushing in soon after left nothing – repeat nothing – usable; clothes, furniture, home appliances, computers, everything was destroyed! Yet he and his family have chosen to simply move on; they are not grieving what they have lost – which is, practically everything material they owned!!!
·         
     We stopped at a store to see if we could pick up some milk – something that is in extreme short supply in Chennai these past few days. The storekeeper did not overcharge us – unlike what other opportunistic traders were doing – but allowed us only one sachet (half a litre). He requested us to “adjust” because he wanted to ensure that everyone got a little of what was so scare and so much in demand. Even as he was ringing in our check, he was inviting a bunch of volunteers to “pick up whatever they wanted to from his store – free of cost”. The volunteers, I gleaned, were cooking meals for people from a nearby slum whose homes were still flooded. We thanked the storekeeper for being so generous. But he brushed the compliment aside saying, “It is my duty. The least I can do is to support the relief operations to the best of my ability.”
·         
     
     There were rumors flying thick and thin across social media – predicting a horrendous end to Chennai later next week! A young friend, who was rushing off on relief work, had this to say, “Can we do anything to prevent the future from happening the way it must and will happen? Since we can’t, why not just focus on the present than worry about what is still unborn – the future?” Such a spiritual perspective – born right in the throes of an apocalyptical crisis!  
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Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Internet

    Everywhere we went, people were immersed in relief work. Students, doctors, managers, artists, filmmakers, actors, business leaders, traders, autorickshaw drivers, government employees – everyone is chipping in with whatever they can. Chennai suddenly is a city that is driven with purpose, empathy and compassion. My most enduring image of the day came via Facebook – it showed a Muslim man walking through a Vaishnavite shrine in some part of Chennai; he was there to lend support to a relief camp inside the temple. It’s an image that will stay with me for a long, long time.

·         
My daughter, who’s all of 20, had been saving for months to be at the Bacardi NH 7 Weekender Music Festival in Bangalore this weekend. She had bought her tickets from her student earnings. But she canceled the trip and joined a bunch of people supporting relief work. She told us: “I just can’t take my mind off what’s going on out there. I don’t think I can enjoy the festival when my city and my people are struggling to get drinking water and food.” I teared up hearing of her decision – both as a parent, and as a fellow Chennaiite.
    
Our entire day today, yet again, sums up why being in Chennai, even in such a time, is so beautiful. We are seeing a city that clearly is living up to what Sahir Ludhianvi wrote for Mohammed Rafi to sing, and make immortal, in Hum Dono (Dev Anand, Nanda, Sadhana, directed by Amarjeet/Vijay Anand, music by Jaidev) in 1961.  

मैं जिन्दगी का साथ निभाता चला गया
हर फ़िक्र को धुंएँ में उडाता चला गया

बरबादीयों का सोग़ मनाना फिजूल था
बरबादीयों का जश्न मनाता चला गया

जो मिल गया उसी को मुकद्दर समझ लिया
जो खो गया मैं उस को भुलाता चला गया

गम और खुशी में फर्क ना महसूस हो जहा
मैं दिल को उस मकाम पे लाता चला गया

मैं जिन्दगी का साथ निभाता चला गया
हर फ़िक्र को धुंएँ में उडाता चला गया

Chennai, like Sahir Ludhianvi’s poem, has infinite depth. It has soul. And so it knows how to preserve and persevere.
This is what I have learnt from Chennai over the past few days. As citizens who are ‘earning a living’ we are perhaps cold, business-like and, well, even clever. But as a people who are coping with an enormous crisis, who are picking up the threads of our material Life, we are every bit human! And that’s why we will never quite cease to amaze ourselves!

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Appreciate the sense of cosmic justice that prevails in the Universe

There’s a beautiful, mystical quality to Life. It has its own form of natural justice.
Everything that you or I do comes back to us in this Lifetime. One way or the other. You are kind to people. Kindness pervades your Life. You let down someone. And someone lets you down in return. You touch a Life with love, compassion and care. And people touch your Life the same way.
I was moved by a story Javed Akhtar, the famous and immensely soulful Bollywood lyricist, poet and story writer, shared on his TV show ‘Legends’ on Zee Classic recently. The year was 1966 and Javed saab was a struggler in Mumbai. He had no job and no money. And nobody wanted to check his work and worth out. In those days, he made the acquaintance of the then famous lyricist and Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi (1921~1980) and had begun to treat Sahir as his mentor. One day, he lamented to Sahir how desperate he was for a break and how he was on the verge of being thrown out of his house, because he had not paid the landlord for months. Sahir apparently took out Rs.200/- (a princely sum in 1966!!) and giving it to the young Javed said: “Keep this. You will get a break soon. Until then, this will help you survive. Return it when you are able to.” As luck would have it, Javed did get a break the following week and has never had to look back, financially at least. Over the years as Javed’s career in Bollywood peaked, he would often meet Sahir in parties and industry forums and even worked with him in a couple of movies __ where Javed was writing the story and Sahir, the lyrics. Javed would openly state that Sahir’s ‘shagun’ (goodwill money) of Rs.200/- had indeed broken the jinx for him and so, he would not return the money out of fear that his luck, and good times, would run out! Sahir, in return, would often rib Javed saying, “I know how to take this back from you. One day, mark my words, I sure will.” On October 25th, 1980, Sahir suddenly died of a heart attack at age 59. Since he was not married, and he left behind only two sisters, Javed and couple of other friends arranged for his burial. Sahir, in his last years, had really not had much work and so was out of cash personally. The burial over, as the friends came back to Sahir’s house and were reviewing next steps__of clearing up the worldly belongings that Sahir had left behind__the undertaker from the Juhu (a downtown Mumbai locality) Muslim cemetery came up to the door. Javed opened it and was told by the undertaker that the cost of the burial service was Rs.200/- and that he needed to be paid. Javed had rushed instantaneously upon hearing the news of his mentor’s demise, and so he had not carried his wallet, but he had exactly Rs.200/- in his shirt pocket! When Javed paid off the undertaker, he recalled with his eyes welling up on the TV show, the realization dawned on him: “Finally, Sahir indeed took back the Rs.200/- from me,” confessed Javed saab!
As it is said in the Bible, “What goes around comes around!” (Genesis 29: 1-30).
Osho, the Master, tells us this other story that highlights the same learning. There once lived a very skilled blacksmith in ancient Rome. His name and fame had spread to far-off nations. His creations were selling like hot-cakes, in far-off marketplaces. Gradually, an enormous amount of wealth began to gather at his doorsteps. One day, Rome was suddenly invaded. The invaders demolished Rome, and captured the top hundred citizens. Amongst the top hundred citizens, the blacksmith was one. All of them were handcuffed and chained, and were taken and left on a faraway hill to die or await their execution. Among the 100 prisoners, 99 were crying. Only the blacksmith seemed to be calm and composed. He knew that the moment the soldiers abandon him in the hill, he would easily unlock the handcuff and the chains. He had that skill. So, the moment the soldiers abandoned him and left the first thing he did was to look at the handcuffs and chains that imprisoned him. He was shocked with what he saw. With his handcuffed hands he started beating his chest and began to wail in remorse. What did he see in the handcuff and the chains? A very strange thing which he had never imagined he would ever see in his Life! He had a habit to emboss his signature on whatever he created. And that is what he saw on those chains and handcuff, his own signature. They were his creations, which had got sold in some far-off marketplace, and eventually had come back to him through the invaders. Now, for the first time he became nervous and paranoid. He knew it was impossible for him to unlock himself, because he had never created anything weak. He was well acquainted with his creations. He had always designed and created the strongest and the best objects. Obviously, he had never imagined or dreamt that that the handcuff and the chains he had created, would one day imprison him. Osho teaches us the moral of this story thus: “No man ever foresees the fact that the chain and handcuff he has been creating, will be the very chain and handcuff of which he’ll be ultimately held captive. No man ever dreams that that the cobwebs he has been weaving are the very webs that he will eventually get entangled in, in his Life.”
So, appreciate this sense of natural, cosmic justice! Make sure you understand this and live intelligently__always doing good!

Give Life your complete understanding and appreciation

We always expect so much out of Life. Yet, every once in a while it will be appropriate to ask ourselves, what do we give Life that has given us so much?

Life has given us a reason to liveand not to exist. Life is the original Zen Master: it keeps varying its course of actions so that we don’t get tired of learning lessons from our myriad experiences. In essence, Life makes learning fun. Life gives us opportunities at every stage. Albeit, at some times, it gives them disguised as problems, so that we discover the ‘opportunities’ in them. It doesn’t really want to frustrate us but, in fact, is playing with us. If we respond to Life, in a sporting, game spirit, it will respond back equally gleefully. To be sure, the only thing Life expects from us is for us to enjoy the experience. So, may be, we want to give Life our appreciation and understanding. Wouldn’t we thank and appreciate a host who has invited us over for a lavish dinner and has gone into planning it meticulously? So what if some of the dishes were not what we liked or some of the people who were invited were not exactly our type? But the host genuinely tried to make the experience special for everyone.

So it is with Life. Give Life your complete understanding and appreciation. This philosophy is so beautifully captured in this memorable song from the 1961 classic, Dev Anand’s ‘Hum Dono’ (Amarjeet, Vijay Anand) – Jaidev has composed this unforgettable score for Sahir Ludhianvi’s awakening lyrics. Mein Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhaata Chala Gaya!  If you understand the lyrics, you may want to make this your Life’s leitmotif – just the way, Dev Anand did! 

Make your Life’s work memorable

Whatever may have been your Life’s story, however bitter the experience may have been, if, at all, you can leave behind a legacy where people can remember your work – and perhaps be inspired – your Life may have well been worth it!

           

 A new book from Harper Collins, by Akshay Manwani, “Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet”, celebrates the Life of one of India’s greatest poets and one of Bollywood’s iconic lyricists, in this context. Manwani’s book is rare because it examines the Life of both the poet and the person in Ludhianvi. Manwani believes that it is impossible to look at one while ignoring the other! Manwani reveals that Sahir’s childhood was plagued by fear and anxiety – his mother was the eleventh wife of a landlord, whose clutches she sought to free and her son from. Sahir carried these scars and memories all his Life. In his later Life, he became an alcoholic after two failed love affairs – one with the renowned writer Amrita Pritam and the other with singer-actress Sudha Malhotra. Yet his ability to express himself through his verses never faltered.

He fell back on his Life’s experiences to produce some immortal lines. My favorites remain:
“Hum Dono” (1961)
“Mein Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhatha Chala Gaya
Har Phikr Ko Dhuen Mein Udaata Chala Gaya
Barbadion Ka Shok Manana Fizul Tha
Barbadion Ka Jashn Manata Chala Gaya
Har Fikr Ko Dhuen Mein Uda…”
It means: “I played along and went with the flow of Life, I blew (smoked) away all my worries…To grieve over misfortunes are a waste, so I celebrated my misfortunes and blew (smoked) away my worries…”
“Kabhie Kabhie” (1976)
“Mein Har Ik Pal Ka Shayar Hoon,
Har Ik Pal Meri Kahaani Hai,
Har Ik Pal Meri Hasti Hai,
Har Ik Pal Meri Jawaani Hai”
It means: “I am the eternal poet, my story is eternal, I am in every moment, my youth is in every moment.”
“Pyaasa (1957)
Yeh Kuche Ye Nilam Ghar Dilkashi Ke
Yeh Lutthe Hua Caravan Zindagi Ke
Kahan Hai Yeh Muhafiz Khudi Ke
Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par, Woh Kahan Hai”

I won’t even attempt a translation. It is impossible to translate the pain and the pathos in this verse into English. The song portrays the sentiments of the main protagonist of “Pyaasa”, Guru Dutt, who, while passing through a red light area, laments at how the selflishness of man, the greed for a woman’s body, ruins so many lives…and he asks, where are those who feel proud of India, when we can’t even protect the dignity of our women? Hearing Mohd. Rafi’s rendition of this song, it is said that the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was moved to tears.
“Dhool Ka Phool” (1959)
“Tu Na Hindu Banega, Na Musalmaan Banega
Tu Insaan Ki Aulaad Hai, Insaan Banega”
This verse was penned by Sahir based on the post-Partition experiences that he had been through. He had briefly shifted to Lahore, after Partition (he was born Abdul Hayee in 1921 and Sahir Ludhianvi is his pen name), but he could not bear being away from his Hindu and Sikh friends. So, he returned to Bombay, via Delhi. The song means: “You will not be a Hindu, nor a Muslim, you were born human, so you will be (a) human…!”
Sahir’s poetry lives on, long after he’s gone. It’s 34 years now. But each of his songs are relevant even today. In a way, his Life and his verse, are his message. And the learning is that if we can express ourselves, in whatever way we can, our Life’s work too can be meaningful – not just when we are alive, but also be remembered even after we’re gone!  

Understand sadness to find bliss



Nobody likes being sad. We all hate it. So, the more we hate it, the more it haunts us. Yet as much as we hate it, we find a strange comfort in being sad.

Face it. It is easier being sad than being happy. Happiness requires a lot of work __ a lot of overcoming is to be done. Whereas sadness comes naturally. Every time something doesn’t go to plan, all you have to do is to be grumpy, feel sad and brood.

You may want to consider a different perspective though: the moment you understand sadness, you will find bliss! It is as simple as it sounds. But getting there, understanding, isn’t easy.

You feel sad when what you want isn’t there. But since sadness isn’t your natural state (in fact, happiness is!), your entire being resists your being sad. The mind feeds on misery. So, it tells you to fight sadness. It selfishly urges to fight for something which isn’t there, which is causing your sadness. The mind wants you to be sad because it needs fodder. It needs you to be sad for it to thrive! Think about it. When you are happy, you are actually mindless. Which is why, when someone is in a state of rapturous delight, we believe he or she has gone crazy, or has ‘lost his or her mind’. True happiness, bliss, is a state of ‘mindlessness’. So, if you are sad, it means your mind is in control. On the contrary, you can be happy only when you are in control of your mind! Understand that you cannot overcome your sadness by fighting it. You can overcome it only by tricking your mind. So, when you are sad, don’t resist it in future. Accept it. Accept the condition which is causing it too. In acceptance, there is no resistance. What you don’t resist, does not persist. So your sadness, through acceptance, transforms into a new, peaceful state of being. That state, simply, is your bliss.

Yesterday, we received a mail from a family friend who had lost her husband to lung cancer barely a week ago. She thanked us all for our prayers and offered to be at a memorial service that some of us were organizing later this week. In her mail, she wrote: “Thank you very much for helping me to keep everyone updated all through his illness and I know it is with great sadness but unanimous relief that he is finally at peace. I am still in limbo! Every morning I decide to ‘tidy up’ some of the things lying around, the nebulizer, all the tubes and masks, medicines boxes, cotton wool….still haven’t succeeded. I see his toothbrush and toothpaste in the bathroom and I feel if I remove it from there it’s like trying to wipe out memories…. so I don’t! I wish words like ‘dust to dust and ashes to ashes’ didn’t represent the finality of death  so accurately….    

This is what acceptance of your sadness is all about. In this friend’s case, it was the death of a companion. In someone else’s case it could be a separation. Or a pink slip. Or, as my daughter shared an inspirational story of her senior at college this morning, the loss of mobility, and a semester, owing to a ghastly accident. Whatever be the causes for our sadness, unless we come to terms with it, both the cause and the effect, we cannot move on, we cannot overcome. But the moment we accept, we will encounter inner peace and be (in) bliss.

As the legendary Sahir Ludhianvi (1921~1980) memorably wrote for Guru Dutt’s all-time classic ‘Pyaasa’ (Thirsty, 1957), in the song, ‘Jaane Woh Kaise Log Thay Jinko…’, “….gham se ab ghabraana kya…gham sau baar mila…” The lyrics mean, “what’s the point in worrying about sadness and sorrow…we keep getting them (again and again) so many hundred times (in Life) in any case…”. Be clear and get this straight! The number of times your expectations will not be met in this lifetime will far outnumber the times they will be. So, theoretically, you will end up being sad, than happy, for much longer in your Life than you can possibly imagine. Do you really want to spend the rest of your Life being sad and sorrowful for circumstances that, well, are beyond your control? Isn’t it, therefore, better you embrace this simple, practical way to bliss?

Make peace with what saddens you today. And through understanding your sadness, find your bliss!