Dear Parent, Trust, Lead, Inspire…

The primary role of parents is to instil good values in their children and give them the freedom to choose a Life they want to live. And then let them just be. More often than not, children will, with their sense of adventure, make mistakes with their choices, stumble and fall, then they will wake up and smell the coffee, find their way in Life and learn their lessons, even while licking their wounds. After all, isn’t this how we have all grown up? Even so, irrespective of what your child ends up doing with her or his Life, at whatever age, it is your duty as a parent to reiterate to your child that you still trust her or him and that she or he is always welcome to come back home!
Mother and Sreesanth: That hug matters a lot
In the latest Bollywood hit, Yeh Jawaani Hai Dewaani, the relationship between the main protagonist Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) and his dad (Farooq Sheikh) is under some stress owing to the father’s second marriage. But when Bunny is leaving home for studying in Chicago, his dad tells him, while giving him a tight hug: “No matter what happens, I will trust you. And this will always be your home.” This is not filmi alone. This morning’s papers in India carry pictures of cricketer Sreesanth’s mother hugging and kissing him when he got back home to Kochi after 27 days in jail. Sreesanth’s fall from grace has been in the headlines the last few weeks. No one would touch him professionally (or personally too) with a barge pole. But to his parents’, despite the seriousness of his alleged offences, he is still their child who has come back home after a tumultuous season in Life.
No matter how old you are, to your parents, you will still be a child. And what one needs, especially in the face of a crisis, whether self-inflicted or per Life’s plan, or in a way both, is a warm hug that says ‘Everything’s gonna be okay. We love you and trust you.’ People make mistakes. To err is human. Who hasn’t made a mistake? Sometimes, the mistake may affect only the person who has committed it. Or her or his immediate family. At other times, a whole lot of people may be affected. Making mistakes is a part of Life, integral to growing up. Analyzing, dissecting, learning from a mistake is the key. But far more significant is the role of parents who must continue to reassure their child, even if that child now is grown up and has children, and should not have done what she or he did, that whatever’s happening all part of Life’s ways to test you and teach you.
To be sure, there are no guarantees that children who have been taught the right values by their parents will live by them all their lives. Normally they do. And logically they must. But people do go astray. They are adventurous. Or they are simply seduced and blinded by the circumstances that Life places them in. There’s an old saying in Hindi: “jab subah ka bhula hua sham ko ghar laut aata hai, usse bhula nahin kehte”. It means: When the one who went astray comes back home pining, embrace him. Don’t ostracize him.
Good parenting is perhaps a responsibility that never ends. Obviously, what appears to children to be a generation gap, is actually years of experience of having lived and faced Life, stumbled, fallen, gathered and stood up to walk again, coming into play to counsel, to suggest, to guide, to lead. Of course, an integral part of that responsibility, is to teach children who have ended up creating or getting into serious situations, to face the consequences of their actions. Or if they haven’t done wrong, but have been victims of circumstance, to teach them to fight to clear their name. A parent is any child’s first hero (or heroine). And no matter what happens, a reassuring parent stands a better chance of counselling and guiding a person in distress. I write this from experience. In the face of inscrutable circumstances, with no way out in sight, when it seemed like all was over, and the whole world (including my immediate family) had written me and my wife off, my dad, held my shoulders, and told me and my wife: “You both will come out of this. Keep the faith. You are winners!” Those were compassionate words. But more than that they were trusting. And that trust mattered, when in every material sense, we were losers!
Hopefully, your children will not lead you to situations like the one Sreesanth led his parents to, or I led my parents to, but if they do, remember, you have a bigger role to play than just grieve over your children’s fate. And that role is to be a true parent – a hero, an inspiration, a friend who continues to trust despite the evidence, the circumstances and the odds, and the one sage counsel who guides the person in the dock to do, from hereon, what’s right than what appears to be right!

Get out of your own way!

There are times in Life when nothing will go your way. There will be so much unsaid, so much unresolved. And it may just seem like everything is wrong about your Life. Every effort you make, each step you take, you will be stonewalled, tripped or pushed to a corner. The mind will invite you to despair. Decline that invitation artfully and let Life lead you. You get out of your own way!
Relax. Get yourself a cup of tea or grab a drink if you can. The mind is like a tennis-ball practice machine. It keeps spewing out worries and fears endlessly. These debilitating thoughts will tell you that you can and must solve the problems that face you just now. But what if you have already tried all that you can think up of. And failed. And the problems persist. The very thought that there’s no way forward may force you to allow your fears to take hold of you. Please don’t let them. Your fearing something is not going to take that something away. Life is to be faced. Not feared. So, let Life happen as it has been and as it is happening. These are times when accepting that there’s no choice is an intelligent choice in itself.  Exercise it.
I recently met the CEO of one of India’s leading retail brands. He shared with me how, about 15 years ago, a vindictive police officer, illegitimately and extra-constitutionally shut down all his stores and threw him in jail, where he had to spend 89 days. “There seemed no way out. This man had cases foisted against me under every provision of the law. It was a legal maze. And with our business shut down, cash was just not available. My family tried to mobilize something, both financially and legally, but it took three months. I was very clear that he could take away everything from me. But he couldn’t take away my spirit. I refused to give up because my conscience was clean. We had not done anything wrong and were simply a victim of circumstance and time,” he said. After a protracted legal battle that took a few years, this CEO was acquitted with a clean chit, has since rebuilt his business and his brand is one of India’s most admired. He told me, as I took leave of him, “Some nights are long and dark. But if it is night, know for sure that a dawn will follow!”

When we try to solve some of our problems and don’t meet with much success, intelligence lies in letting go, letting Life take over, and getting out of our own way. The truth is that Life has always been flowing on its own. You and I have done precious little to make our lives happen. Getting out of your own way is not inaction. In fact, it is a more sensible action than to be perpetually frustrated and fearful! When you get out of your own way, you can see the way that Life has laid out for you clearly! And that way, always, takes you to where you must eventually arrive!

Don’t fight your desires. Understand them!

Every scripture in the world will tell you that desire is at the root of all our unhappiness. But it is also intrinsic to human nature that we desire. The way to deal with desire then is to not resist it but to understand it, appreciate it and make an intelligent choice. Desire cannot be dropped. Because desire is an energy. And energy cannot be destroyed. When the energy, the desire arises, go it its root and understand it. Do you need what you desire or do you want it? If you need it, go for it. If you want it, you can still go for it, but absolve yourself of all guilt. Make a free choice by remaining alert, being awake and by practicing awareness.
The latest issue of India Today runs a cover story on ‘The Untold Story’ of Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with practicing celibacy based on now available excerpts from the personal diaries of Manuben, who was his personal attendant for many years and was with him at the time that he was assassinated. It is common knowledge that Gandhi’s experiments with celibacy involved sleeping naked with female companions. People then, and now, see it as an eccentric side of a Mahatma, Great Soul. Others find it condemnable and questionable. We will never know why Gandhi used this method to deal with, in an attempt to perhaps conquer, his sexual desires. It is believed that Gandhi looked to conquer this enormous energy within, which would have only helped satiate his selfish and intensely personal desire, his lust, and direct that energy in the pursuit and practice of ahimsa, to help his country and its citizens. It was Gandhi’s personal choice and something he had the honesty, as Manuben’s diary jottings reveal amply now, to make no bones about what he did as part of this practice.
While the India Today story will be lapped up by its readers for the sheer expose it offers into the private Life of one of the most revered Indians, it helps us, on another plane, to reflect deeply about our own ability to deal with desire. I lean to Osho, the Master, for a better understanding of the anatomy of desire. Osho says the energy behind desire and the energy behind creation, existence, are one and the same. He quotes from the Eastern scriptures where legend has it that God had a great desire. To expand beyond himself. And so, in order to grow from one to many, he let his desire create us__humans. So, fundamentally, all desire is about expanding oneself because we are all an offshoot of the same creative energy. Fighting desire, therefore, means fighting with ourselves. No desire is bad unless you succumb to it and it starts to enslave you. And nothing must be succumbed to. We must not capitulate but we must choose freely. When a desire, let us say to smoke, to drink, to eat an additional gulab jamun, to have sex, to get angry, to feel frustrated, to be jealous, whatever, arises, look at the desire not as if you are desiring it but as a third person. As an observer. Understand the desire with your awareness. Where there is awareness, there will be prudence. It is only when we are blinded that we succumb mindlessly to our desires. When we stay alert, we will always be able to deal with the desire intelligently, effortlessly __ perhaps, overcome it by letting go of it, perhaps, choosing it consciously.

An inspiration to make your Monday memorable

When Life seems a maze, when too many things are happening, when you feel overwhelmed with too much to do, too many people to please, when you just feel like wanting all that you are going through to end, or want to run away from it all….PAUSE, take a deep breath….and look for an inspiration that will put things back, and definitely your Life’s context, in perspective!

Anand and Ivy: A beautiful companionship
I found my inspiration this Monday morning in a recent issue of Open magazine. There’s a very moving story in it of a former Indian Navy officer Anand Singh, 59, and his wife Ivy. After a motorbike accident 23 years ago, Anand has been rendered completely special and has become immobile and is confined to his bed. Ivy, who had been married to him barely three years when the accident took place, has been caring for him all these years. She brushes his teeth and bathes him daily. What I could make out from the story is that Anand is unable to move his limbs or his body and is not even able to speak. Yet whenever he is asked who he loves most, he looks at Ivy. Ivy runs a school in Meerut where the couple live. Ivy confesses that she does feel despondent sometimes, especially when the thought of Anand not being with her for too long strikes her. Two months ago, Anand had to be on ventilator support for a few days. Although their home looks like an ICU, says Ivy to Open, she feels her Life would be incomplete without Anand.

The beautiful story of their companionship shook me awake! When I placed my Life and its challenges in the context of Ivy’s and Anand’s I actually felt guilty and sheepish. Often times we do get consumed by our problems that we obsess about them all the time. We pity ourselves and quickly plunge into depression. Or we take our angst out on people and things around us, forever being grumpy and angry with our worlds. Looking around and pausing to reflect on the lives of other people is the perfect antidote to self-pity and frustration. Each of our stories is unique. Each of us has problems. And the true nature of our lives is that they will go on despite our problems. Intelligent living is about us too going on with our lives, as they are, choosing to be happy, despite our circumstances!

Whatever it be that you are facing just now, pause, smile, and think of Anand and Ivy, and celebrate your Life, your love and theirs! That’s a sure way to make this Monday morning memorable!

Take the Plunge, Do the New

We get so used to our comfort zones, our routines, that when Life comes calling, we are simply unavailable. Or are wary of accepting an opportunity to do something new. But what’s Life without an adventure, or two?

Last evening on Season 6 of the Colors reality dance show on TV called Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, I was pleasantly surprised to find former Indian cricket captain and the ex-Chairman of Selectors Krishnamachari Srikkanth as one of the contestants. As one of the game’s swashbuckling players of his time, the irrepressible Srikkanth introduced ‘slam-bang’ cricket to the world! Then in his after-player innings he has been an expert commentator, a selector, an administrator and a mentor for the game. But a dancer? And Srikkanth? That sounded preposterous.

To be sure, Srikkanth confessed on TV yesterday that his wife Vidya too felt the same. She said at 53, Cheeka (as he is fondly called) was stretching his luck a bit too much. But Srikkanth explained: “I don’t know ABCD of dancing. At the end of the day, it is different.” “When I will dance, I will dance naturally. When you are doing it naturally, you do it with passion and when you do it with passion and positive energy, you do it well. If I am here to please people, I cannot do it well. I believe that if you want to play, then play a natural game,”he added.

That’s vintage Srikkanth for you. Playing his natural game on the cricket field, often recklessly, has been his philosophy. And he brings that flair and flavor to his Life too. The way he speaks Hindi unabashedly with his bold Tamil accent, the way he comments on the game, straight from his heart, without mincing words is, often times, questionable, but always inspiring. He brings this spirit into his new challenge, dancing! That too on a reality show on TV!

Cheeka: Maybe two left feet, but the right spirit!
Watching Srikkanth yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. Here’s a guy who’s seen some of the best times in his game. A game that he loves. And knows. But venturing into an unknown territory, in full public view, on reality TV, being judged by stalwarts like Madhuri Dixit, Remo D’Souza and Karan Johar, and competing with some great talent, that’s some adventure. Surely. People may hate him for talking too much on TV. People may love him for the great cricketer he once was. But everyone will agree that Cheeka Srikkanth is simply unputdownable!

The learning we can take away is to learn to accept when Life presents an opportunity. We must not hesitate wondering what will happen. We must simply take the plunge. We live only once __ at least from what we know of Life! If we don’t do the new, we may not have lived completely. And in the evening of our lives, when the body can’t support many things that our spirit may yearn for, there’s no point wishing that you had done the new, that you had taken that plunge! There is no right way or wrong way to live. If something gives you joy, just do it! Don’t bother about what people say. Don’t follow the herd. Don’t live the ordinary Life. Simply take the leap and fly! As Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet has said, “You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through Life?”

There’s a great beauty in doing nothing and just being!

An unexpected change in schedules, leaving you with nothing to do for a few hours, can actually be a blessing in disguise. I rediscovered this from experience yesterday, 

Around mid-day yesterday a couple of my schedules ended up being changed at the last minute. I was left in a very busy city, with a whole afternoon at my disposal, with not much money on me and without anything to do. I could have gone back to where I was staying. But the catch was I was needed by early evening to be at another meeting downtown. I realized I had nothing to do for five hours!

For the first few minutes I was clueless. Then it began to rain. First a small drizzle. And then a steady downpour. I stepped out of my car on impulse and started to walk in the rain. Up ahead in front of me the sea was choppy and dark clouds gathered menacingly. There was something beautiful I thought about this moment even though my real world was in the throes of a grave crisis. I kept walking, unmindful (which is very unlike me!) that my shoes were soiled and my clothes drenched. I am not a typical rain person__as my wife and children will tell you!. But there was something uplifting about the entire experience. I started to be enjoy it!

I was soon reminded of Johnnie Ray’s 1956 rendition of Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley’s classic ‘Just Walkin’ in the Rain….!’. I didn’t recall the lyrics instantaneously but the song’s mood swept me away. In about 20 minutes, I was lost to the rain, the ocean, the clouds and the horizon. The wind blowing into my face made the raindrops feel cold and sharp. In that time I had no feeling or sense of anything I was dealing with. All morning I had been battling a crisis and was due to deal with it again later in the evening and all through next week. But my rain experience, born out of a fortuitous change in schedules, reconnected me to my inner self. As I walked in the rain, I actually seemed to have dropped anchor and found my beautiful, undisturbed, inner core in the process!

That rain experience was a reaffirmation for me that it is perfectly fine to be doing nothing sometimes. And just being. We don’t have to be rushing through Life all the time. No time is better than now to stop and smell the roses, pause and stare endlessly into the sky or walk in the rain! Our daily lives will be full of twists, turns, tragedies, challenges, ups and downs. We can’t expect everything to be perfect for us to live and experience Life’s beauty and magic! There’s no better time than now to live. Because maybe, if we don’t break free from those situations that hold us back and if we don’t choose to live fully now when we have the time, we may still get an opportunity to live a Life that we always wanted to, but there simply may not be enough time! Have a great Saturday….and here’s the link to that memorable song meanwhile….

Life lesson from a ‘Glorious’ Barista

Every once in a while it’s probably a great idea to sit back and count your blessings, feel grateful, for what you have and stop complaining about what you don’t!

Yesterday, at a crowded coffee kiosk, I first thought that the lone barista at the counter was struggling with the orders. Each customer in line would first seem irritated and then would immediately calm down and order her or his drink with utmost courtesy. In a bit, it struck me that the 20-something barista, Yashwant, was specially-abled – he could neither hear nor speak. He read your lips or you gestured. But he was full of beans! Cheerful and patient. He made me an excellent Americano and served it with the most confident, lively smile I have seen in some time now.

I sat at a table closer to the counter and, over my coffee, I observed Yashwant. He went about his work cheerfully. More customers swamped his kiosk as the hour went by. Kids, hurried shoppers, and young adults on a date. All of them would first shout out their order. And Yashwant would gesture to them, charming them with his endearing smile, that he can’t hear or speak. And then magic happened. The customers piped down, started feeling good and left the counter with their drink or meal __ happy, smiling, carrying back also Yashwant’s spirit and smile with them. I am sure each of them was infected, just as I was, by Yashwant’s inner joy! Yashwant is an Indian name that means ‘glorious’. This barista truly is! It didn’t matter to him that he was not able to hear or speak. It didn’t matter to him that his employer had not cared to put up a tent card at the counter that could have read: “Specially-abled Barista at work here. Makes the world’s best coffee though. Seek your patience and understanding!” What he didn’t have clearly did not matter to him! He was alive and having fun! (PS – my picture here of Yashwant is not the best because he was too shy and did not want me to photograph him. But hope you catch his spirit this morning!)

Yashwant: Truly Glorious!
Yashwant’s brew may have been the most awakening cup of coffee I have ever had. I re-learned a lesson that we all need to remember: “Lamenting over what you don’t have can make Life miserable. Living fully with what you have can, on the other hand, makes Life memorable!” And this lesson, every specially-abled person will teach you. In fact, in my entire Life, I haven’t met a specially-abled who is frustrated. On the other hand, fully endowed folks like us are the one who are complaining about Life, worrying, suffering and lamenting about what isn’t instead of loving what is! In reality, we are the disabled: we are handicapped, we are crippled __ because we have nailed our feet to the ground, we have clipped our own wings, with our imagined miseries.

Maybe we need a Yashwant moment every day! Just to remind us that Life’s worth living despite its inscrutability and its inadequacies. Hope you get inspired by my sharing. Hope you have a beautiful Friday and choose to live, to love and to celebrate what is and what you have today!