“You live only once, so please LIVE! Don’t Exist!”
This is what I have learnt from my dear friend Ejji Umamahesh. I got to know Ejji providentially! I used to write a weekly column for The Indian Express (now The New Indian Express) called “Positive Signs”. I shared inspiring stories and perspectives from my experiences through my column. Ejji, as I was to discover, was an avid reader of my column. One day, almost 14 years ago, I received an email from him. He introduced himself as a “retired rat race runner” – and that was it, we became, and have remained, great friends ever since.
|Ejji in Varanasi last week on the “Highway to Swades“|
Ejji started his career as a toilet cleaning supervisor at the once-iconic Safire Theatre, in what was then Madras. In 1970, he set up Ejji Maintenance Contracts, the first building cleaning service company in India. A year later, he founded Ejji Domestic Services which offered on call services of electricians, carpenters, plumbers and such at home, which again was the first of its kind in India. In 1991, Ejji “quit the rat race” because he had wanted to “earn a living” for only 20 years of his Life. Ever since, Ejji has been living his Life, “doing only what he wants and only when he wants to do anything”. Right now, as you read this, at 65, Ejji is driving through India, capturing the “The Idea of India”. He is on the journey, aptly called Highway to Swades, with three other like-minded seekers – which covers 20,000 km, over 55 days, traveling the entire east coast of India, the North-East, the Hindi belt of Bihar and UP, going high up into Himachal, through Jammu & Kashmir, down through Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, coastal Karnataka, Kerala and back to Chennai! Ejji is a collector of vintage cars, loves car racing (he is the Deputy Secretary, Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix), is a theatre enthusiast and has even done a cameo in Mani Ratnam’s ‘Aaytha Ezhuthu’! Ejji, to me, is the quintessential explorer – always experiencing Life by living it to the fullest. However, since 2011, he calls himself a “congenital sybarite” – a sybarite is one who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury!!! That’s Ejji, Unplugged, for you!!! He’s never in one place – peripatetic as they say – having been at Katchal, one of the Nicobar Islands in India on January 1, 2000, to witness the “millennium sunrise” to traveling to most (often lesser known) parts of the world and to currently picking up the sights, sounds, smells and voices of India in this high-voltage election season.
I have often asked Ejji how he manages to do all what he does. And he has always replied: “I have just enjoyed being myself. Most people give up on being themselves only to be conforming to what is considered to be normal. People fear what others may think of them and their actions. So they don’t live their lives the way they want to. Thankfully, I did not care and still don’t care about what others think of me!” Ejji is also quick to add, lest we conclude that he has done what he has at the cost of his “worldly” responsibilities: “My Life has had just one important obsession – my family! There’s nothing that I have done which took precedence over the rightful duties I owe my family. Only after my obligations to my family were met, did I venture into the bohemian lifestyle that became my hallmark.”
I believe the greatest lesson anyone can draw from Ejji’s Life is to live. Not necessarily the way he has lived. But to live Life the way you want to live. Most of us postpone doing what we love doing for social, financial, career or family considerations. You can postpone something if you have a lot of time. But how do you decide or know how much time you have left to live? With each moment that you choose to do what you don’t love doing – because you imagine you have no choice but to do it – you are losing yet another moment to live your Life.
So, postponing living – the way you want to live your Life – is not an intelligent thing to do. Not all of us may succeed in drawing a line saying enough of “earning a living” – now, let me just live! But we can make a beginning – in doing at least a few things each month, each quarter and each year. Living, like existing, is addictive. Once you start enjoying living a full Life, then nothing else will matter. You will then realize how futile and sinful it is to waste a precious gift called Life by merely “existing”!