Perhaps it is time for global heartwarming!

If we can keep religion – and gender – out of our lives, we will all live happily ever after.

Last weekend when having a conversation with people with a different orientation, I rediscovered one thing that we all tend to overlook so conveniently – the fact that we are all human! During the conversation, Sunil Menon, renowned fashion designer and Gay Rights activist (founder of the support group, Sahodaran), while describing the levels of ostracism and apathy prevalent against people like him, broke down and for a brief while, he literally wept. He was narrating the shocking incident of one of his team members Satya who died, ahead of a sex change operation, because he was administered a lethal overdose of anesthesia. Sunil choked even as the audience witnessed a raw moment, of compassion, of being human. Talking to Sunil and Angel Glady, a theatre artist and a transgender, I realized that here are people like you and me – they too are capable of and thrive on love, compassion and understanding.

LHNL_ProfilePicAnd that brings me to a larger question – do we really need to discriminate against people basis gender or religion? How does it matter what gender you are? Or what you do with your gender? If it is about sex, then it is something intensely private. How – and with whom – someone wants to have sex is a personal choice. Religion and government seriously have no business interfering here. Think about this: sex consumes a minor part of our lifespan as a human being. Love and compassion demand and occupy so much more of our lives. And clearly it is the absence of love, understanding and compassion that makes us unhappy.

I don’t want to over emphasize this. I don’t want to sound preachy. All I want to say is that it is time we stopped dividing ourselves in the name of ‘celebrating’ diversity. At the core, all of us are human – irrespective of gender, religion or nationality. As noted Urdu poet Nida Fazli (1938~2016) said, Masjiden Hain Namaaziyon Ke Liye, Apne Ghar Mein Kahin Khuda Rakhna.” (The mosques are for the ritualists, keep God alive in you, in your heart.) He was right. What we urgently need is perhaps global heartwarming?


Live Inspired: There’s no way you can change what was, what is and what will be!

What you have to go through in Life, you have to. You simply can’t escape it.

I remember a dialogue from the movie “Shirdi Ke Sai Baba” (1977, Ashok Bhushan, Manoj Kumar, Sudhir Dalvi). Rajendra Kumar, who plays a rational-minded scientist (whose son is cured miraculously by Baba’s grace when even the doctors have given up), asks Manoj Kumar, who plays a Baba devotee, “If Baba is indeed so great that he can cure my son when medical science failed to do it, why can’t the same Baba solve all of the world’s problems? Why is there poverty, hunger, death, depravation, sorrow and grief everywhere?” Manoj Kumar replies: “Karm-yog ki Bhatti mein sab ko jalna padta hai!” It means, literally, each person has to go through his or her Life burning in the kiln of destiny! And so, that’s the way it is!

Dr.Shilpa Rao and Sonu
Picture Courtesy: Dr.Shilpa Rao/Internet

On Saturday last, the weekend magazine of The Hindu Businessline, called “BL Ink”, ran a story by Deepa Bhasthi on a very courageous mother-son duo. I learnt, reading that story, how people deal with their own Life challenges, stoically and peacefully. Dr.Shilpa Rao, a paediatrician, discovered that her son, Sonu, had Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was 18 months old. She was shocked when her ex-husband and his family – although they were all doctors – shunned Sonu for not being “normal”. She decided to help Sonu grow up and face the world confidently and cheerfully. Bhasthi writes: “It was four years before he (Sonu) spoke his first word, six-and-a-half before he formed a sentence. Now 13, he goes to Class VI at an open school, equivalent to Class VIII in a typical school. Acceptance from teachers and classmates hasn’t come easy, but she (Rao) is sceptical about special schools, where “children are in a place where they aren’t interested in each other. In a regular school, he has to talk, he has to protect himself, that enriching environment is required,” she believes.”” Sonu is encouraging his mother to remarry. He plans to buy himself a Jaguar XF when he’s 21 and be a business leader in a large company where people report to him. He hopes also to be able to support and teach children like him who have special needs. Rao believes their journey has been, and continues to be, tough but they “soar” together, inspiring each other along the way.

Now, I am sure Rao, in her own private moments, at least initially, must have struggled to come to terms with her son’s special condition. We all do struggle when we are first confronted with an “abnormal” Life situation which we have neither expected nor wanted. The first reaction is denial – “no, this can’t be true”. Then there’s the “why me?” phase. Then, because the situation still exists and stares you in the face, you are gripped with fear, insecurity, worry and anxiety. But all these only debilitate. They cripple you and inhibit your thinking. Which sure doesn’t help you to deal with your situation. Slowly, when nothing seems to work, you grudgingly accept your situation. But grudging acceptance means being in the shallow end of the pool of Life. You are merely splashing around on the surface. Only when you accept a situation, only when you take a deep dive and plunge head on into Life, accepting it for what it is, do you see how peaceful – and happy – you can be, despite your circumstances. It is only through total acceptance that you can deal with Life’s challenges – with focus, inner peace and happiness. No challenge will ever go away just because you accepted it though. You don’t conquer a Life situation immediately. Acceptance, however, enhances your ability to deal with that situation phenomenally.

There are some Life situations that can be rebuilt over time – like a financial or a career situation. But loss due to death or a health condition – you simply have to learn to live with it. Which is why, whatever be the situation, what Manoj Kumar says in the movie is of great significance to all of us. It’s always wise to remember that none of us can escape what we have to go through in Life. It’s equally wise to also take a leaf from Rao’s and Sonu’s book – and “live” Life “inspired” because there’s no way you can change what was, what is or what will be.

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!

You create more problems by wanting people and things to be different!

Intrinsically, there’s nothing wrong with Life. Or with people. Life is the way it is. And people are the way they are. It is your wanting them to be different, your wanting them to be the way you want them to be, that causes YOU__and often others__pain, suffering, misery and angst!

Any home with a teenager will understand this perspective the best. As a parent you would want your teenager’s room to be maintained well. But your child just doesn’t want you to even enter her room. Now think about this deeply. Is there something wrong with the room? Or is there something wrong with the way your child thinks she is maintaining it? Or is there something wrong with the way in which YOU WANT it maintained? In reality, nothing really is wrong. Simply, your WANT, your expectation, is what is causing you all the grief!

So it is with people everywhere. The teenager at home perspective is simple __ so you can relate to it. Also, you may be willing to forgive a teenager__because the kid is still not ‘mature or worldly-wise’ in your view! But you are not always so understanding of others! Here’s why….

If you review your Life, particularly your relationships, almost all the time, all your problems have come from wanting people to be different. Take any relationship where you have a problem and replace your want with acceptance and see how you perceive the relationship now. Let’s say, you have a colleague or a friend who is unethical and scheming. You cannot trust this person at all. Now, if you accept this person as someone who is not worthy of your trust, there will be no problem at all. The problem arises ONLY when you continue to trust this person, expect this person to live up to your trust, and this person keeps betraying your trust every single time! Who is to blame. Your friend? Your friend’s unethical behavior? Or you __ for continuing to trust someone who is NOT worthy of your trust? The answer is so simple. It is you who are responsible, and your expectation that your friend lives up to your trust, for the stress and strife in the relationship. You have to either trust this person and be content with betrayal or you have to stop trusting this person. The in between path__that I will trust and expect him to live up to it__is a foolish one and is paved with grief at every step!

This is so true of any situation, any relationship in Life. Yesterday, I watched a British film ‘Life Goes On’ (2009) directed by Sangeeta Datta. This is a simple story of an Indian doctor, Sanjay (played brilliantly by Girish Karnad) who comes home one evening to find his wife Manju (Sharmila Tagore) dead. She had suffered a major cardiac arrest. Sanjay’s grief is soon overshadowed by some facts, bigger, more shocking and more painful, he stumbles upon about his three daughters and his wife. His oldest one, he finds, is breaking up with her British husband. His second one is in a lesbian relationship. And his third one is pregnant with the child of her Muslim boyfriend. He further discovers that his best friend Alok (Om Puri) is the father of his first daughter because Manju had sought out Alok’s companionship in the early years of Sanjay’s marriage to her, because Sanjay could not take time off from his medical studies and practice to nurture their relationship! Everything that Sanjay had created in Life__a family, built on what he thought were Indian values, a culture of discipline and a tradition of being conservative Indians and staunch Hindus__seems now blown to smithereens. He is plunged into deep grief. And even roams the streets of London one night looking for answers. Then Alok confronts him with the truth: “Your wanting is not going to make anything different or better. It is the way it is.”

Life’s beautiful ONLY when we stop wanting people and things to be different. The moment a want creeps in, rearing its ugly head, a perfectly peaceful Life can become traumatic.  You can’t do much to prepare yourself for the rest of your Life. You can only deal with what you are dealt with! So, the best thing you can do, for now, is to simply, stop wanting people to be different. If it is someone you deeply love, try having a honest conversation. If it works for you, fine. If not, just let people be. You be who you are. And, believe me, your Life will be peaceful ever after!