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”!
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What all of us need is a ‘Life Unconditioner’

Don’t expect predictability in Life. There is no such thing. You can only be sure of Life’s unpredictability. Period.
Over the last few weeks, while watching the IPL 8 season on TV, I have seen an ad for a brand of air-conditioner that claims to have graduated to being “your Life Conditioner”. ‘Life Conditioner’, I wondered, thinking about that flippant ad for several days?
Can Life really be conditioned to perform in a particular way, conforming to your wishes and producing outcomes that you want? Of course not! Even so, the tragedy is most of us have been subjected to so much social conditioning already that we need a ‘Life Unconditioner’ more than a ‘Life Conditioner’!!! From what we must eat to what we must wear to how we must marry to what are ‘safe and predictable’ careers we have been conditioned. I read a story in this morning’s Times of India where Chidanand Rajghatta reports from Washington D.C that a professor at UC San Diego has, for 11 years, been asking his students to appear in the nude for an exam in an elective course on visual arts. When the exasperated mother of a student created an uproar on social media last week, when she discovered this “perverse practice”, the professor himself has been unfazed by the controversy it has stirred. He has said, “It’s a standard canvas for performance art and body art. If they are uncomfortable with this gesture, they should not take the course.” I am not taking either side here. I am only presenting a case for how conditioned we are as a race – what the professor is doing is that he’s simply choosing to work outside the confines of such conditioning!
All our grief and suffering comes from our wants being unmet. Now, to be sure, there’s nothing wrong with wanting. It is the expectation that our wants must be met that causes us agony. And that expectation invariably arises from a perceived sense of predictability that conditioning invariably delivers. For instance, we have all been raised to believe in truth, honesty and hard work. We have been fed one myth after another to prove this point. But when you arrive in the ‘real world’ you see that there is so much falsehood, dishonesty and ‘easy-get-luckiness’ around – and it is creating wealth too for sure – that you wonder if your belief systems are wrong in the first place. (Think of the week that was and of Salman Khan, Jayalalithaa and Ramalinga Raju!) No. Your beliefs are right. And they are still relevant. But your expectation that just because you have the right value systems, everything must go to a plan and must lead you to your just rewards, well, that expectation is wrongly placed! In Life, some times, 2 + 2 will not equal four. Life is not an input = assured output linear progression in the short-term. Eventually, Life’s math will add up, but not before going through a sea of unpredictability, highs and lows and gut-wrenching turbulence of its own inscrutable kind.

The best way to live is to not expect anything from Life. Simply do what you feel good about. And do it well. Leave the outcomes to Life. Important, please don’t be button-holed into social conditioning either. To take on that TV ad on a spiritual plane, choose a ‘Life Unconditioner’ approach to living – that alone can deliver a truly liberating, aha!, experience. 

To keep humanity alive, we have a role to play

Each of us has a role to play in rebuilding our world and reuniting humanity.
A relative who lives in Madurai was coming home this week. Since he was visiting us after several years, my wife suggested that he join us for a meal. He accepted the invitation but made a specific request that his meal be cooked by my wife and even the vegetables used for the various preparations be chopped by her. He said he did not like a “non-Brahmin” maid or helper to be involved in the preparation of the meal that he would have. We were appalled at this regressive request. We politely requested him to not eat at our place. Some years back, while performing a pooja for my father-in-law’s 80th birthday, the priest objected to the presence of a north-Indian cook from Bihar in the room where the ceremony was taking place. I called the priest aside and told him politely that he was free to stop the proceedings half-way if he found it difficult to accept a human being as one. I pointed out to the learned priest that my father-in-law who had just come out of hospital then, was looked after for weeks and months while there by a nurse named Abdul and was currently under the care of another one called Mary. But the priest was unwilling to consider any of my secular appeals. Though the ceremony was happening at my residence, as my father-in-law lives with us, I had to “back off”  respecting my brother-in-law’s wishes, who was leading the birthday celebrations for his father.
Such repulsive casteist prejudices and behaviors leave me numb. I somehow don’t get it. How long more is it going to take until we have a world where we respect all human beings as equal? When are we going to stop allowing ourselves to be divided by caste, creed and religion? Nature has not created this planet with boundaries. Bad enough we have nations. Worse that we have states. Sad that we, in India particularly, were victims of caste and religious divisions. But wasn’t that all a vestige of an underdeveloped nation? It is shocking that such thinking is still prevalent in urban society today.
I would like to share a story I read recently. Despite his often-controversial public image, Bollywood super star Salman Khan is a do-gooder. His “Being Human” Foundation supports a lot of people in need. When Salam as shooting for his super-hit film Dabangg on location for several weeks, near Panchgani in Maharastra, sometime in 2009, his car had to cross throngs of school kids every morning. He made a few enquiries and discovered that the kids lived in a settlement about 5 km from their school. In the absence of any public transport, these 200 kids trudged up and down every day. Salman immediately asked his Foundation to donate each of these 200 kids a bicycle so they could ride them to school instead of having to walk. In a few days, all the kids received their bicycles. The day after the bicycles were distributed, one of the kids flagged down Salman’s car as he was proceeding to his shoot. The kid requested Salman to take back his bicycle and instead help his best friend who couldn’t come to school anymore because he had a hole in his heart! Salman was moved by the child’s compassion and asked his Foundation to provide the other child the best medical care. While I do laud Salman and his “Being Human” Foundation, I am moved by and salute the young child’s spirit of sacrifice and brotherhood that helped him look beyond himself and seek support for his ailing classmate.
Here’s another story, from Mother Teresa, the Apostle of Love and Service. She once told a gathering that she was addressing: “One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days,” I took some food and I went. When I finally reached the house where the family lived, I saw the faces of those little children, they were struck by acute hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave some rice to the mother. She divided the portion into two and went out, carrying half the rice with her. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbor’s – they are also hungry.” I was not surprised that she gave – because people who have nothing are generous. But I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves we have no time for others.”
I believe anyone who does not see another as a human being needs to be sent for some very urgent counselling. It is not as if divisive tendencies are prevalent only in politics or in religion or in the remote parts of our country and among the uneducated, illiterate masses. The fact that they are striking closer home, in our own families, as is evident from the experiences I have shared here, is very disturbing. The two stories, from the kid in Panchgani and from the hungry woman that Mother Teresa talks about, remind us that humanity is still alive. To continue to keep it alive each of us has a responsibility. Which is to say no to anything and anyone that divides us on national, geographical, racial, religious or caste basis. Only then can we hope to make our divided and decaying world any better.  

Moving on is common sense

Towards the end of a busy Monday, I decided to watch TV before I retired last night. I managed to catch the last 40 minutes of a pretty interesting Hindi movie called Heroes (2008, Samir Karnik, starring Mithun Chakraborty, Salman Khan, Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol, Dino Morea and Preity Zinta). It is a powerful story of how the families of slain soldiers cope with their loss. Dr.Naqvi (played admirably by Mithun Chakraborty) refuses to forgive his son Sohail (Dino Morea) for joining the army – a decision that costs his Life. For years after his son’s death the doctor refuses to move on – he hates his son for not obeying him and so, over time, he becomes an irritable recluse. Meanwhile, the doctor’s wife has moved on. While she misses her son, she’s not grieving his death anymore. The fact that the wife has returned to a normal “happy” Life, while he is still unable to cope, causes the doctor greater agony and misery. Until, of course, his wife holds him a mirror and tells him that the cause for all his suffering is not his dead son – but his own refusal to move on.
I found the story depict a very real situation that all of us often struggle with. Some Life events do numb us. They make us insensitive to the Life that is happening to us, around us. Our grief forces us to stay rooted in the past, in the event, suffering from the pain it has inflicted on us. Over time this grief, interestingly, becomes comforting. And to snap out of it requires an effort which we are unwilling to make. So, we wallow in this grief, ironically liking our own suffering! This is a deep-rooted, sub-conscious response to Life’s tragedies – to the death of a loved one, a failed relationship, a loss in business, a lay-off, a physically challenging health situation…to whatever blow that Life delivers to a “perfect” Life until then.  

When something gets taken away from you, after your shock and stupor subsides, remember that what is playing out is an unalterable law of Life. That law deals with the impermanence of everything and of Life itself. Be sure, whatever you have today, that which you call your own – your family, your kids, your money, your property, your job, your reputation, your Life – has to and will be, eventually, taken away from you. So, the most commonsensical response to a loss is to let go of the event that caused the loss and to move on. Moving on does not mean you are insensitive. Moving on means you are intelligent. It means knowing that clinging on to the past, to a loss, to grief, only makes you miserable. Whereas moving on, liberates you. It helps you experience inner peace and joy. Your memories may well come visiting, every once in a while, but they will not haunt you anymore!

You suffer only when you wish that things were different from what they are. But with moving on you have accepted that your Life is what it is. That acceptance, through moving on, makes Life beautiful and worth living despiteall that you believe you have lost!