Until your time comes

Dealing with death requires a deeper understanding of Life – through an awakening from within.

Our most normal reaction as children to death is total puzzlement. When we asked someone in the family why someone is ‘not waking up’ or ‘not coming these days’, we were told ‘the person has become a star in the sky’ or ‘gone to God’. Therein begins our misunderstanding of death. Slowly, as we grow older, while we begin to appreciate, albeit subconsciously, the certainty of death, and its tendency to arrive unannounced, we loathe it, we fear it. Anything that we fear will torment us. And death is no exception.

A friend passed away yesterday – consumed by cancer of the stomach. He was in his late forties. Seeing his picture in the obituary of The Hindu this morning, an eerie feeling crept into me. Is this it, I wondered. One day, you are there; and the next day you are gone? If this is an unchangeable reality, an eventuality, about Life, why and how is it that some are able to handle death, when it comes calling in their families, calmly while some others suffer endlessly in sorrow?

The answer lies, like with Life itself, in accepting Death for what it is. Osho, the Master, as always, is helpful in promoting our understanding: “Death is always close by. It is almost like your shadow. You may be aware, you may not be aware, but it follows you from the first moment of your life to the very last moment. Death is a process just as Life is a process, and they are almost together, like two wheels of a bullock cart. Life cannot exist without death; neither can death exist without Life. Our minds have an insane desire: we want only Life and not death.”

All desires will bring agony when they are not met. You ask for a cappuccino in a restaurant and you get an espresso instead. You are angry. You want a raise. And your boss says no. You are angry. In the case of desires such as the cappuccino and the raise, your anger__and resultant agony__may result in your desires being fulfilled. But let us say you live in Chicago and you desire that there be no winters? Or you live in Chennai and desire that there be no summers? Is there any point in having desires that are NEVER going to be fulfilled? To have a desire that death must not visit you, your family and your social circle is meaningless, absurd and sure to cause you a lot of suffering. Instead of fearing it, accept, embrace and welcome death. This is the only certainty that Life can offer you. The only guarantee. That you will die. So, what this knowledge calls for is celebration. Not grief. Each time you encounter death around you__to someone you knew, or knew of, or just heardabout it in the news__remember that it is Life’s way of nudging you awake, to remind you how precious, how fragile and how impermanent your own Life is. It is a wake up call to live fully and intelligently. We will do well to know that, as departures keep happening in our lifetime, we are all in the same queue, and until our time comes, we must live, share, love and serve.

The Universe will always show you a sign – if you are “tuned” in!

Nothing really happens without a reason. That reason may never be apparent when the event happens. But sooner, or later, in this lifetime, surely, the reason for an occurrence will manifest itself in front of you as a learning. In that flash of brilliance, when the Universe shows you a sign, Life’s beauty will shine, bright and radiant!

Some years back, my son and I travelled to Rajasthan on a vacation. We visited the holy dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (1141~1236 CE), the Garib Nawaz, in Ajmer. I instantly felt connected with the energy of the place. I experienced the same Higher Energy at the dargahthat I had felt at the Vatican in 1995 or while visiting our family’s native shrine, the Mangottu Bhagavathi Kaavu, in Athipotha (Palakkad, Kerala). My own views on God and religion have evolved over the years – but I can surely relate to a Higher Energy, which is also why I occasionally visit select shrines – to “repair and recharge”. Following our visit to Ajmer, perhaps because I had left my business card with the person who arranged our visit at the dargah, I kept receiving mailers once every two months. The mailer always had an appeal to contribute to a scheme to feed the poor at the shrine daily and it had the Garib Nawaz’s scared thread – something that believers tie around their wrists as a talisman. Each time I got the mailer I would ask my office to make a small contribution to the feeding scheme and I would forget about the mailer. This went on, for months, almost mechanically. I never understood why I got those mailers. And I never cared to find out what happened to mailer or who took the sacred thread, the talisman, after I sent the contribution.

Over time, our business went downhill. And on December 31st, 2007, around 5.30 pm, I was coming back to my office, after a fateful meeting with my lawyer, who had told me and my wife that we were bankrupt. That was the first time I heard the word “bankruptcy” with reference to our debt-laden, cashless situation. I was struggling to internalize what our lawyer had told us. And my practical, logical instincts told me that “there was no way out for us” – we had no money and we had no work! As I rode the elevator up to our office on the third floor, in those 60 seconds, I closed my eyes and meditated on the “Higher Energy” that powers the Universe. I prayed: “Show me a sign that we will make it!” It was, on a logical plane, a wasteful prayer. It was a captain’s valiant effort to see through a dark, stormy night, looking for a passing vessel, when his own ship was almost sunk! The elevator jerked as it reached the third floor. I opened my eyes and stepped out. I walked to my desk and I found a fresh mailer from the Garib Nawaz’s dargah sitting there, on top of a set of papers demanding my immediate attention! My assistant told me it had arrived that afternoon. Was that “the” sign? If you had asked me then, I would have been unsure. But seven years on, we still are surviving, tethering at the edge at most times, but we still are there – hopeful and sure that we will make it! Was that “the” sign? You bet, it was!

The mailers from the Garib Nawaz’s dargahkept coming over the years. In May 2011, I read a story in the papers that a five-year-old girl, Tamannah, had gone missing on the Marina beach, in Chennai. The Hindu kept reporting this human interest story over the next few days and I followed it closely. The story became big because Tamannah’s father, Syed Noor Ahmed, accused the police of inaction. On the fifth day, after the girl disappeared, I was boarding a morning flight to Mumbai. The Hindu’sstory that morning talked of how distraught the parents of the girl were. I recalled that a mailer from the dargahhad arrived at my desk the previous afternoon. I texted my assistant and asked her to call The Hindu, get the coordinates of Ahmed and reach the mailer (with the talisman) to him. She promptly had that done, remembering to attach my business card with a note conveying our concern, prayers and best wishes to the family. Two days later I got a call from Ahmed. This is what he had to say: “Thanks for your prayers, Sir. Our baby girl has been traced and she’s back with us. The talisman you sent came just when I had finished ‘namaz’ the other day. I had asked for “some sign” that our child will be located soon. The doorbell rang soon after. And there was your person with the mailer, your business card and your note. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

I don’t like to either rationalize or emotionalize too much. Initially, there appeared to be no reason why the mailers came to me. But, at least twice, they served an important cause – of helping two distressed people keep the faith. As I write this, there’s a mailer from Garib Nawaz’s dargah, sitting in my draw – maybe the one it has to go to, will get connected with me in some time – if it is “the”  time! I have learnt that everything happens with a reason. This is not just about the Garib Nawaz or about “a” deity or shrine, it is about what I have learnt from my experiences of how the Universe will always send you a sign when you need one – and if you care to pause and spot it! To spot the Universe’s signs, you must be “tuned” in. You must anchor within and live Life in complete faith that if you have been created, you will be provided for, and taken care of!

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!

Get Better from Life, not Bitter

You can either be bitter from Life or better from it.
A key reason why many of us turn bitter, over time, with Life is because we are not able to treat events as events. We hold on to them, analyze them, and regret them, refusing to let go. Let’s say someone says something harsh to you. In reality, it’s just an event. But if you keep mulling over it, wondering why it was said, and what will others – who heard this person say this of you – think of you, then you are surely going to end up feeling miserable. Chewing endlessly on by gone events, holding on to past grudges and painful memories, is a sure way to invite suffering into your Life.
I am reminded of the Zen story of the two monks who were walking in the Himalayas.  
A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross the river. The young woman asked them if they could help her cross to the other side.
The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows at their monastery not to touch a woman.
Then, without a word, the younger monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on with his journey.
The older monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. He simply stood there staring as his young colleague briskly walked up the hill. After re-joining his companion, he was still speechless, but seething with rage nevertheless.
An hour passed without a word between them. Two more hours passed. Then three. Finally the older monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out: “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The younger monk looked at him, startled at first, and then, comprehending the full import of his senior’s question, replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
Unfortunately, many of us, even if we have grown older, like the senior monk, have not grown up. We still carry baggage from our past with us – principally, hurt, regret, resentment and grief. And so we stumble along through Life. Our painful memories enslave us to the past and ensure we stay bitter. And this way we remain unhappy – unable to enjoy the present moment, the now! This is true of a lot of people, a lot of the times.
Siddharth Varadarajan: No Bitterness
Therefore, it was indeed refreshing this morning, to read Siddharth Varadarajan’s (the former editor of The Hindu) views on his unceremonious exit from the paper, following some Boardroom intrigue at Kasturi & Sons Ltd. (KSL – the company that owns The Hindu) earlier this week. An online portal asked him if he was feeling betrayed. And Varadarajan replied: There is no question of feeling betrayed. I came to this job with my eyes wide open. I had a great run as Editor of The Hindu, which is India’s finest paper, and am grateful to the KSL Board for appointing me to the post.
Clearly, whatever be the event that you end up having to face in Life, you have two options. You can be bitter or better from it. If you choose to be bitter, you will miss the opportunity to live fully and to experience the magic and beauty of Life in each moment. If you choose to be better from the experience, you will find yourself soaked in abundance and inner joy!

“Do I deserve this?” – the most futile question in Life!

It doesn’t really matter to, and in, Life whether you deserve something or not. Life will simply keep happening to you. If what you get from Life meets or exceeds your expectation, you exult, celebrate, rejoice, and, often times, even vainly pride yourself for “your” achievements. And when what you get is not what you wanted or expected you lament – “Do I deserve this?” While the ideal state would be to remain unmoved by whatever happens to you, at least, over the years of growing up, it may be a good idea to learn not to grieve over what you get.
To be sure, Life has no principles of “deserving” and “undeserving”. Life operates on a “happening” principle. It just goes on happening. Judging a happening and labelling it as good or bad, or analyzing whether you deserved it or not, is a purely human activity. It is your mind at work. Life is mindless and so simply goes on, happening, from moment to moment to moment.
When you begin to analyze why you ended up with something you didn’t want, and didn’t deserve, you are sure to be consumed by depression and grief. These emotions will ruin your inner peace and drown you in sorrow. They will hold you back from living Life fully.
Laxmi – Commendable Spirit
(Picture – Shanker Chakravarty, The Hindu)
Ask 24-year-old Laxmi from New Delhi. She should know. Today’s Metro Plus in The Hindu tells Laxmi’s poignant story. Being a good singer, she was hoping to participate in the Indian Idol contest in 2005. But in February that year, a man who was twice her age, and whose proposition and overtures she rebuffed, poured acid on her face. The tragedy left her benumbed. Grieving. And lost. It took months of facing Life__feeling angry, helpless, while having to deal with the trauma everytime she looked into the mirror__to “understand” that what had happened to her was permanent and irreversible. That when she decided to battle it out. She moved the courts. The man, who in the meantime had managed to get married and father two children, got 10 years in jail. But Laxmi was not satisfied. She decided to move a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court – which she won recently, that has led to a ban on indiscriminate over-the-counter sale of acid across India. Laxmi tells The Hindu’s Sangeeta Barooah Pisaroty that she’s happy she has “found her voice finally”. And next on her agenda, apart from leading the “Stop Acid Attackers” campaign, is to hopefully get back to her “Life’s ambition” of contesting for the Indian Idol title!
Laxmi’s spirit is commendable. She too, as she admits, went through her “Do I deserve this?” moments. And as long as she was asking that question, she remained stuck. She became a recluse. She was always unhappy. But the moment she stopped asking that question, she found a new meaning to live and a purpose to her Life!
That’s our learning too. Whatever happens in Life, there’s no point asking “Why?” or “Why me?”. Because there are no answers in Life. You get what you get. And you have to accept what you get! Period.

You may have heard this or read this before. But it is pertinent to recall what ace tennis legend Arthur Ashe (1943~1993) is believed to have once said. Ashe was dying of AIDS, which he contracted due to an infected blood transfusion he received during a heart surgery in 1983. While in hospital, he would get letters from his fans, from all over the world. One of them asked him: “Why does GOD have to select you for such a horrible disease?” To this, Ashe is believed to have replied: The world over — 50 million children start playing tennis, 5 million learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the Grand Slam, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 make it to the semi-finals, 2 get to the finals, and only 1 wins. When I was holding a cup I never asked ‘Why me?’. And today in pain, and dying, I should not be asking ‘Why me?’ either!
Bravo Ashe! Bravo Laxmi!

Offer this lifetime to serve Life!



There is a famous book by one of my favorite authors Robin Sharma titled, “Who will cry when you die?”. I like to ask the question differently: “How will you be remembered after you are gone?

We will all be remembered after we are gone. Make no mistake about that. Have no doubt. The “how” of it is what you__and I__have a choice with. You can either make your lifetime memorable and have people remember you as one who served, who inspired and whose Life is the message. Or you can fade away, as a friend of mine wryly says, having been “a burden on the planet” – having lived a self-obsessed Life and having been totally “un-useful”.

The other day I was, out of sheer curiosity, watching Tamil film actor Prakash Raj host the inaugural episode (his first ever) of the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” reality show’s Tamil equivalent on Star Vijay. On the show, he celebrated a contestant who had dedicated his entire Life to support a marginalized, tribal community. Prakash Raj then went on to say what a big difference it makes when people reach out and touch the lives of people who are helpless, and in dire need. He narrated his own story of the day, years ago, when his father had passed away. He was a struggling upstart in the Kannada film industry then. He said he did not have any money that day to cremate his dead father. He recalled how, when he sat wondering what would happen, someone came by and bailed him out. Simply out of the blue. It turned out to be noted Kannada star and director Ravichandran. Ravichandran gave Prakash Raj Rs.5000/-, without him asking, and saved him, as he disclosed, “embarrassment and a lifelong burden of guilt”. “I will always be grateful to Ravichandran Sir for what he did for me and will always remember him as a great soul,” said Prakash Raj.

Veer Bhadra Mishra  – Mahant Ecologist
That’s a learning I picked up from the past week on how we can make a difference in an individual’s Life! And then there are those who touch the entire ecosystem. The Hindu this morning carries an obit titled ‘Warrior for a River,’ by Omar Rashid, of Prof.Veer Bhadra Mishra, noted environmentalist and mahant (head) of the famous Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi. Mishra inherited the position of mahant of the temple when he was barely 14, after his father’s death. But he has, since 1982, been involved in leading the Sankat Mochan Foundation, a non-profit, non-political body, that works for keeping the river Ganga clean and free of pollution. Most Indians revere the Ganga and consider it holy. But almost all Indians know that it continues to be among the most polluted and contaminated water bodies in not just India, but the whole world. Mishra’s raison d’etrewas to clean up the Ganga and restore it to its once pristine state. Rashid reports that Time magazine declared him the magazine’s “Hero of the Planet” (1999) for bringing the plight of the Ganga to the world’s attention and inspiring other river activists. “For his commitment to the river, he rightly won the epithet ‘Ganga Putra’ (Son of the Ganga). Varanasi will also remember him for his “Ganga-ethics” and his personal relationship with the river, which motivated him to say: ‘I am part of Ganga and Ganga is part of me.’”, writes Rashid, hoping that the day will come when Mishra’s dream of the Ganga being free of even a drop of sewage will be realized!

All of us have this good gene in us that inspires us to want to work outside of our own myopic view of the world and climb out of our own needs’ spectrum. Yet we are also so very caught up in the whirlpool of seeking deservance that we fail to seize the opportunity to serve. A simple way to get started is to flip the paradigm and stop wanting to be only successful and instead aim to be useful. Stop saying you deserve (more) and instead try to look for ways to serve (more). This lifetime is a gift. And you may want to be remembered for having used that gift judiciously for helping make this world a better place. Offer yourself to serve Life! There’s no other God than Life. There will be no other opportunity than NOW!

Indeed, you cannot be serious about Life!


A key factor that inhibits progress on the spiritual path is our tendency to take Life too seriously. Everything that we do, it appears, seems to key us up. Every small conquest seems to be a moment to claim superiority and every failure is seen as a numbing, lethal, final blow! So much so, when a hard-earned victory comes our way, we fritter away the moment in showmanship and bury ourselves under a heap of unsolicited critique and free opinion, when we fumble and fall.

So, it was with great interest that I read noted columnist Nirmal Shekar’s views on Indian cricket captain M.S.Dhoni in yesterday’s Hindu. Celebrating Dhoni’s legendary equanimity, Shekar made a case for sportspersons having the ‘right perspective’ to their game. That perspective, wrote Shekar, is to understand that a game is just a game. “…Sport is not really a matter of life and death. Sport is enjoyable only so long as we can get our perspective right and put it in its place, put it where it really belongs in the big picture. If we let it become too important, then what was sought as a pleasurable experience will turn out to be a pain.”

I completely agree with both of Shekar’s views: on Dhoni’s attitude to the game and on the nature of sport itself.

My two-penny worth learning from this lifetime’s experience so far is that Life is no different. In Life too the right perspective is very important. And we must place ourselves, and our perspective, where they belong in the big picture. Else what could well be a pleasurable experience may well turn out to be a pain!!!

The past week, I have been limping around, literally, owing to a nagging, painful condition in my right leg. Even a small step forward, at times, requires a big effort. I felt, at several times, crippled unable to carry out my routine normally __ like a bath, or driving, or going out for my daily walk. However, on my visit to the hospital the other day for a review with the doctor, I found a young lady seated on a wheel-chair. She seemed fine, for all practical purposes, laughing and joking with her family and nurses. So, I even wondered what she was doing seated cross-legged on a wheel-chair. Only when I looked closely did I realize that all her limbs were deformed. She didn’t have legs to speak of! Her lower limbs had shrunk abnormally owing to either a disease or birth deformity. Her hands were not normally formed either and her fingers seemed to be sticking out, without a palm, on both hands. I reflected on her spirit. And on my condition. I felt ashamed about the brouhaha I was creating over it! The right perspective and its place in the big picture fell in place immediately. I laughed to myself, much to the surprise of the nurse attending on me. When she insisted I tell her what the joke was, I said, “This leg, this painful condition, is the biggest joke! I find it absolutely funny!”

So it is with everything in Life! What seems like a grave problem momentarily, over a period of time, surely turns out to be laughing matter!  The key, I believe, is not to get keyed up about Life. The operative word and sentiment here is equanimity. Equanimity is simply the ability to deal with both success and failure, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, dispassionately. Dhoni has it. You too can. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gitaends with the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Krishna, replying to Arjuna, says: “…He lives in wisdom…Who sees himself in all and all in him…. He is not elated by good fortune…Nor depressed by bad…Such is the seer…!”

Whatever you are going through, take it easy! This Monday resist the temptation to get wound up any further. Invoke the right perspective and place it where it belongs in the big picture. To quote Swami Sathya Sai Baba, “Don’t we sometimes wake up from a dream, ponder over our conquests and defeat in our sleep-state, and shrug it all off thinking ‘it was but a dream’? We need to bring the same approach to Life as well. Because this lifetime is nothing but a dream.” Indeed. Maybe you will not understand, appreciate or accept this perspective just yet. But, may be you will at the end of your journey on this planet. Just maybe. That you really cannot or should not (have ever been) be serious about Life!

Lesson in Acceptance and Bliss from Afzal Guru



Just as it is in the English language that A precedes B, so it is in Life that Acceptance precedes Bliss!

Bliss has been marketed, over the centuries that human civilization has been around, as something that has to be pursued, sought for and found. In reality though Bliss is always available, 24×7, provided you are tuned in. Tuning in simply requires Acceptance of what is and not wishing what could be or should be or fearing what would be. Unfortunately, a large mass of humanity is wedded to what could be, should be and would be, and never really relates to what is. Therefore, Bliss is projected as something that is difficult to attain and something that has to be worked hard for! Resultantly, Bliss has a bit of a lousy reputation. To most people I guess it is like the Indian Chartered Accountancy exams, critical to appear for and useful in one’s career, but difficult to prepare for and almost impossible to clear in the first few attempts!

Since most of us are logically driven, let’s take a simple example. 2+2 = 4. This is what we have been taught. And this is what we have understood it to be. Also, what we eventually learned and found to be true too. Now, we accept that 2+2 CAN ONLY be 4. So, this Acceptance delivers us Bliss in that context. It is that simple. Just imagine how vexed you will be if you had worried about what 2+2 could be or should be or would be. Isn’t even that thought preposterous and unnerving? Think of someone trying to prove to the world that 2+2 could be 5 or should be 5 or would be 5! Now, think similarly of a situation in any other context of your Life. You get it? Focus on what is. Accept it. You will experience Bliss__then and there__in a nano-second.

Afzal Guru
Over the last couple of days I have learned a very important lesson from Afzal Guru, who was convicted in 2002 by a special Prevention of Terrorism Act court in the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and was hanged in Tihar Jail on Saturday, February 9th. Even before I share what I learned let me clarify that I am not opinionating on his actions, or the judgments of the various Indian courts including the Honorable Supreme Court, or on the President of India’s rejection of his mercy petition on February 3rdthis year, or the secrecy with which his execution was carried out. I am also not opinionating here in favor of or against capital punishment. I am here to share with you what I believe I have learned from Afzal Guru’s last day in Life. My learnings are based on what I have pieced together from media reports. The Hindu’s Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar, in his detailed account, quotes a jail official as saying that Guru was the most ‘calm and composed’ of all the 10 prisoners, he (the official) has seen in his career, who have been walked to the gallows at Tihar. Guru apparently talked of the similarities between Islam and Hinduism__having been well versed with both the Holy Quran and the four Vedas. In his last hour, an official described (to The Hindu) Guru as being ‘joyful’, greeting each of the jail staff by their first names and saying ‘al vida’ (good bye in Urdu) to the executioner, looking him in his eyes, before the black cloth was drawn over him! Importantly, reports The Hindu, “Another difference between Afzal and others who were executed for terrorist crimes terrorists, the official said, was that while almost all others had made religious or political cries before being hanged, Afzal just walked the last 100 steps from his cell to the gallows as he normally would and went away wishing those around him.” Today’s Times of India quotes a jail source, sharing broadly the content of the personal letter that Guru wrote to his wife Tabassum, who lives in Sopore in Kashmir: “It was an extremely personal letter where he told his wife to take care of their son and not agonize over his death. In very gently worded language, he said that she should remain strong for their son and not give in to despair. As ever, Guru was calm and dignified in his parting words.”

My learnings:

  1. Right or wrong, whether you are committing it or whether you are being subjected to it, has NO relevance in the realm of what is. It is only what it is, AS it is!
  2. Only Acceptance of what is, irrespective of who caused it, can heave you up from the abyss of suffering and deliver to the altar of bliss!

There can be several arguments in favor of Guru and against him. Contesting his execution and celebrating it. Mourning the lack of human decency in the manner in which his execution was carried out with no intimation to his family; to saying his family too deserved to experience the pain that his purported actions caused to people affected by them. But I am inviting you to rise above all that. A simple question needs consideration. How many of us will have the ability to be detached from our worldly moorings when death comes calling, especially when we KNOW that the end is upon us? Guru’s ability to have accepted his reality__again, I repeat, irrespective of any judgment of his deserving of it or otherwise__led him to his bliss which the jail authorities saw as his being ‘joyful, calm and composed’!

So live with and love what is. Don’t try to avoid it or resist it. Open your eyes and see your reality. Accept it with humility, compassion and love __ irrespective of who is responsible for this reality. The moment you Accept your reality, you will be, and in, Bliss!



To be a good parent, be a strong one in your child’s moment of crisis!


Give your children strength when they are in pain and are suffering. Don’t suffer for and with them!

The only joy we parents want is to see our children happy, healthy and successful. No parent will want their child to go through any pain. And least of all will want to see them suffer. Yet, the nature of Life is that the destinies of our children are different from our own. They will have to live their Life’s design__no matter what we may wish for them. So, intelligent living in the context of parenting is to be able to feel their pain, when they do encounter it, give them strength to endure it, teach them how not to suffer and show them the way to a courageous Life! 

Your first reaction to any pain your child may have to face is one of shock, grief, agony. In your grief-stricken stupor you will plead with each source of emotional succor for mercy. You will offer yourself in place of your child, to a higher energy, and wish that your darling angel be spared. This may well be a noble point of view, but in Life’s scheme of things, it hardly cuts any ice. The truth is, just as you have faced Life, learning from your every living moment, your child too has to go through her or his own learning curve. You cannot circumvent that process. It is both illogical and impossible.

So, indeed, the best thing you can do in an unfortunate situation, when pain is inflicted on your child by Life’s inscrutable design, is to replace your own suffering as a parent with acceptance. From this acceptance you will derive great strength. It is this strength that your child needs. Remember, irrespective of how old your child is, or how old you are, to your child, you are a hero. Your children grow up looking up to you for everything. Initially for food, security, warmth, love and care. Pretty soon, with their first ‘real Life’ experience, they again look up to you __ this time for strength, for hope, for faith and for understanding. It is more important for you to deliver on that expectation of your children than for you to mourn their fates.

A friend spoke to me yesterday about his daughter. At 18, she was going through phenomenal turmoil on the academic front. She had been a topper in all years at school, barring her last one. Resultantly, she did not get the kind of grades she needed to have to get into medical school. Besides, she did not qualify in the national entrance test to medical schools. Since then, she has taken a year off and has been preparing, at a special residential turtorial, which is five hours away from where the family lives, for the 2013 national medical school entrance test. My friend reported that his daughter was continuously in a state of confusion. She feels confident one moment and diffident in another, he said. She doesn’t want to live away from home but she also laments that her focus on her preparations flounder whenever she is at home. My friend and his wife have told their child that they are not keen she studies medicine if she can’t make the grade or cope with the pressure of the intense competition she has to face in  gaining entry to a reputed medical school. They have counseled her. They have talked of alternate career options. They visit her frequently. But, says my friend, the child’s sense of insecurity over her ‘seemingly uncertain’ academic future and confusion prevails. “I feel so helpless watching her suffer. I try to put up a brave front. But I wish there was a way to help her understand that what she grieves over, the uncertainty and homesickness, will be inconsequential in just a few more years,” said my friend. Indeed he is right. And he is doing, as a liberal parent, the best he possibly can. I would any day recommend that parents have honest and uplifting conversations with their children just as my friend has had, than bull doze an opinion or decision. The easiest thing for my friend to do would be to bring her back home, order her to quit making attempts to enter a medical school. And force her to study something which is more easily achieved than let her go after what she loves so much __ which is to study medicine! Yet, my friend is choosing the better way__of letting the child decide while placing all options in front of her__in the interest of his child’s longer term learning. And as he makes his choice he is finding a, perhaps difficult, way to overcome his own suffering of seeing his child ‘needlessly’ suffer.

My friend’s predicament is far more simpler. It is an academic situation and borders on above-average performance and brilliant performance. It is a dilemma between doing something more comfortable yet unexciting (from the child’s point of view) and doing something against all odds but that which is bound to give the child great joy! Many parents have to deal with failed relationships in the their childrens’ lives, horrible health complications, lay-offs, death of their companions or their children! On Sunday I read a heart-rending story, in The Hindu’s Sunday Magazine section, of a young mother’s valiant effort to quell her own suffering to help her 5-year-old daughter fight acute leukemia. The mother differentiates her own suffering of seeing her daughter suffer from that of her daughter’s. She says, “(My daughter) has fought her lonely battle — lonely because cancer pain is unique in its ability to wreck you.” And how she __ and through her, her daughter __ derive strength and succor in listening to A R Rahman’s unputdownable music of over the last two decades. She concludes her piece saying: “Two-and-a-half years on, the promise of a healthy life (for my daughter) is within reach. Jai ho, Rahman bhai. Her (my daughter’s) healing, like your music, is the hand of God!”

To be sure, my wife and I too go through our own dilemmas of having to worry for or agonize, over choices our two young adult children have begun to make or over situations they are faced with, or to let go. We have learned that there’s no easy way to this. Acceptance is the way. We have learned to accept that our children are separate from us. That their destinies are different. We have learned to accept that we cannot live their lives for them __ not anymore. That we cannot decide for them or direct them. That they must learn of Life, from Life, in their own unique ways. So, we do, what we can perhaps do best. Which is, we give them strength. We tell them what we feel and never force a view or enforce a decision. We remind them that no matter what the outcome of their choices will be, they will not be judged or rebuked. We tell them the doors to our hearts and our home is always open to them (and to their families when they raise them). In the last few years, at least a couple of events in our childrens’ lives, based on decisions they took,  were avoidable. We may have saved some money and some sleep had we prevented them from taking those decision. But in doing so we may have robbed our children of a wealth of wisdom that they have drawn from those experiences that their decisions landed them in. That enriching awakening for each of them is worth far, far more than what we perceivably lost!  

Almost always, the most quoted Prophet on Parenting, Khalil Gibran’s words have inspired, guided and led the way for us. Here’s the most significant extract from one of his poems “On Children”:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.They come through you but not from you,And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

I hope his words lead you too to letting your children go and find love, experience, learning and meaning in Life__in the way it is ordained for them!!