Everything, absolutely everything, happens for a reason.
Newspapers this morning report that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has attached the properties and assets of a, now infamous, multi-level marketing (MLM) firm. A friend had messaged me last evening asking me if we were engaged with this firm in the past. He had noticed news breaking on the networks of the ED’s action and was connecting the development with our own story. Indeed we were engaged by this firm as consultants – as reputation managers – back in 2002~2003. That engagement changed our Life forever. I talk about, without naming the firm, this experience extensively in my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal. In a way, the primary trigger for our bankruptcy can be traced back to this engagement and our ethical decision to separate from the firm. But, as I shared with my friend over WhatsApp yesterday, “No bitter feelings! Such is Life!!”
A few years after we disengaged with this firm and when we were in the throes of our fully-blown bankruptcy, a senior official from their side reached out to me. He wanted to know if we would be willing to consult with and advise his company again. The India operations of the company had by then come under investigation by the ED and local law enforcing authorities. So, the invitation was to consult for them outside India, out of Malaysia. I politely refused the offer. The official knew how grave our financial situation was. So, he dangled many a carrot.
And when I didn’t take the baits, he sent me this SMS message (I still have it saved in a Word document; I reproduce it verbatim from there): “AVIS – Wake up and smell the coffee. The interest rates will cripple. The banks will be after you. You will drown. Something will give way. Maybe Vaani will. She may give up on you. Maybe the kids will never forgive you. I am your well wisher. I have seen Life. Sharing my learning from business and financial disasters with you. I mean well my friend. Whether or not you take our offer up, take charge of your Life. Before it is too late.”
Of course, I thanked him for his courtesy and replied: “Vaani and I are soulmates. We are in this together. I don’t need to ask her this. I know this. And you will see us rise from the ashes. Like a Phoenix.”
My friend’s message of last evening and this morning’s newspaper reports brought back memories of this experience. My biggest blessings are Vaani and our precious children Aashirwad and Aanchal. I am eternally grateful to Life, that despite what we are going through, we thrive as a foursome. Of course, we are a long, long way off from rising from the ashes. But seriously, there is no rancor, no aftertaste of what happened and where we find ourselves today. Indeed the choice I made, based on our core value of integrity that Vaani and I hold so dear, to separate from this firm, altered our Life irrevocably. But I only see all that has happened as part of a grand cosmic design.
Because we separated from this client, to whom we had a 60 % revenue exposure, we had to bring in debt to fund working capital requirements and expansion plans. Because our business income did not match our plans and projections, the debt ballooned and culminated in our bankruptcy. Because we have been bankrupt for over a decade now, our debt of Rs.5 crore remains unpaid to our 179 creditors, and our Life has been so, so, so painful and materially dysfunctional. Yet, because of all this, we learnt the value of reflection, resilience and resourcefulness. Because of all this, we learnt that it is possible to be fearless, face Life no matter how daunting it is and be happy despite the excruciating circumstances. Because of all this we have awakened to our Higher Purpose of “Inspiring Happiness” among all those who care to pause and reflect.
The singular, big learning in Life I have had is this: everything, absolutely everything, happens for a reason. Every event that occurs, every individual you meet or connect with, has a role in your Life’s screenplay. There is a not-so-apparent, but unputdownable, conspiracy for things to happen to you, and people to come into and depart from your Life, in such a manner that you are where you are in Life just now. So, roll with the punches. Don’t be bitter with anyone or anything. Nothing could have happened differently to you. Everything’s happened exactly the way it should have. Everything’s perfect, just the way it should be. And you are exactly where you ought to be in Life!
Just tune in to the Universe’s energy to experience them.
How do miracles happen only to you? This is what a friend, who called yesterday, asked me. We were speaking to each other after a few years. He wanted to know if things had improved for us. (To understand the context for this question, read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) When I filled him in, he asked about how Aash and Aanch were doing. The miracle question popped up when I told him that Aanch had found a sponsor who would support her Master’s Program overseas.
I remember my brother too once asked me the same question. I believe this question comes from an unevolved point of view.
All Life is a miracle. You are a miracle. I am a miracle. This moment is a miracle. Being human is a miracle. So, when every aspect of creation is pulsing with a miraculous energy, defining only tangible, visible ‘things’ or actions as miracles, to me, represents a lack of understanding of Life, a state of unevolvedness.
We think because we have an education, we earn an income and we can buy ‘things’, only such a ‘thing’ that we cannot do or get done on our own qualifies as a miracle. But if you pause and reflect, to have an education is a miracle, to have the ability to earn an income is a miracle and, therefore, to be able to buy what you want too is a miracle. So, in a very real sense, miracles are happening to all of us, all the time. We must be tuned to the Universe’s energies to be able to spot and celebrate these miracles.
I stay tuned by understanding, accepting and surrendering to the realization that Life is happening through me, for me, and not because of me. To me, even this ability to dexterously move my fingers across a keyboard, as I process a feeling that translates into a thought and forms a word on this blogpost is a miracle. I live in this constant awareness, in a perpetual state of gratitude for my miracle Life, and I savor and celebrate each moment that comes my way!
You too have a miracle Life; simply, miracles are happening for you 24 x 7 x 365. To experience them, you must tune out of the ‘earning-a-living’ mode and into the ‘living’ mode!!!
Life couldn’t care if you thought of it as unfair – or as benevolent!
At a dinner that I was invited to recently, I got talking with an acquaintance. We spoke about Life. He said a common pattern he had seen was that the “honest and hardworking folks always struggled more” and that, above all else, “Life is a game of luck”! I politely disagreed with him and said that there are no such patterns to Life. Luck was a matter of human perception and imagination, it never was an intrinsic flavor of Life, I added. The gentleman invited me to substantiate my point of view.
I believe that everyone has their fair share of struggles. Everyone. If we pause to listen to every story around us we will find that people are fighting their own battles. Those who are materially challenged look at the haves and imagine they have no problems. But the truth is that those people may have a different set of issues. They may have money, but they could be dealing with emotional challenges, with health problems or with identity crises. To be sure, there’s no one on the planet who is not dealing with at least one challenge at any given point in time.
Next, on the luck debate, I have to say that it is an avoidable one. I shared with the man a couple of instances from my Life’s story. I talked about how our son Aashirwad graduated from the University of Chicago even as Vaani and I battled our bankruptcy here. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) I told him how our daughter graduated from a college here in India and is taking up a Master’s Program overseas, even as we continue to endure our bankruptcy. In both instances, our children’s education has been provided for by the “benevolent Universe” despite our workless, often broke, situation. Our children’s education may have come to the edge of the precipice many a time but Life always bailed them out. Now, which part of our story is true? Is it that we are hardworking, honest people going through a trying, unlucky time? Or is it that despite our hardships, we are lucky enough that our children’s education has not been affected? The point I am making is simple – there is nothing really called luck. Life is just a series of happenings. When these happenings exceed your expectations, you exult and say you are lucky. And when they don’t, you complain that you are unlucky. Such labeling, and such definitions, serve no purpose. Life couldn’t really care if you think of it as benevolent or as unfair. So, by conjuring up and, worse, believing, in a factor called luck, you are quite unnecessarily complicating a simple process – the process of Life; where you only have one option, which is to flow with Life!
In almost 50 years of knowing Life, all I can say is that Life never promised any fair-play to anyone. It is only your expectations that bring you agony. Drop all expectations, suspend all judgments and don’t ever play up the luck theme. Then, you can only be at peace with yourself – no matter what your circumstances are!
In any relationship, only the two people in it have a right to a view on it.
A reader recently asked me how I could talk so openly about the lack of chemistry I have with my mother. He was referring to a chapter, “You Can Never Get A Perfect 10!”, in my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal. He said that the most sacred relationship in Life is the one between a mother and child. “How can you demean that relationship by talking about it in public? In Indian culture a mother is equivalent to God. How can you rubbish your God,” he asked.
I never deny anyone the right to ask me questions. In fact, it is only through questions and answers, and more questions and more answers, that clarity is got. So, I thanked the reader for his question. And then I explained my point of view.
It was precisely for the reason that the reader deems as sacrosanct that I decided to talk about the broken relationship I have with my mother. I was telling my children (my Book is a set of letters written to my children Aashirwad and Aanchal), and through them I was telling the readers, that Life is never the same for everyone and everything is never perfect in everyone’s Life. Some department or the other is always broken. Some have a health issue. Some have a career issue. Some have relationships issues with spouses, siblings, colleagues, or as in my case, with a parent or parents. Struggling to make your Life perfect, which is striving for a 10/10, is what leads to your suffering. Denying that a problem exists or hiding from it also causes suffering.
For the longest time, I suffered. I thought something was wrong with me. How can my mother and I have a broken relationship, I asked myself. After all, she bore me in her womb and brought me into this Universe. But the more I tried to adjust, accommodate or atone (for my excesses in trying to fight her ways), the more I found her manipulative. So, I decided to be honest to myself. I said that, perhaps, I don’t have smooth, compassionate, mother-child equation in my Life’s design. I let go. And I let be. Almost magically, a 25-year strife-ridden environment fell peaceful. Here I must appreciate my mother as well. She too appears to have let go and let be. I believe this brutal honesty has helped our entire family. We all remain estranged, with Vaani and me on one side, and my parents and siblings on the other. But I guess everyone is peaceful where they are.
In trying to make sense of strained relationships, you can never get anywhere as long as you try to understand who’s right or who’s wrong. Because each party will keep maintaining that they are right. Instead, be honest with yourself first. Are you able to relate to the person you have a relationship with? If you are not able to relate, then no reason is a good one to cling on to the relationship. No amount of arguing, justifying or showcasing evidence is going to help. You both don’t relate to each other because your value systems don’t match; you are on different wavelengths, you live in different orbits! The nature of the relationship is irrelevant when there is no relating. All this talk about society, culture, dharma, tradition, sacredness and God – all this is a whole lot of fluff! No one but the two people in a relationship have a right to talk about their issues or how they feel in each other’s presence or how they experience each other. And even if one has a problem, even if it is because of their own doing, they have a right to recognize that relationship as dead.
Life is inscrutable and unpredictable. It defies logic and definition. And therefore boxing relationships in frameworks and talking of culture, tradition or roping in God to preserve a suffering-infested status quo is meaningless. Just as a husband and a wife can have a problem and separate, so can any two people, in any relationship, have a problem and choose to separate. Bottom-line: when you cease to relate, no matter what is the relationship, or who it is with, let go. And let be.
In any situation, stay with the truth.
In a workshop session I led recently, a young manager asked me if speaking the truth was worth it at all. He said, “I feel most comfortable saying things as they are. I prefer being in-the-face. But I am soon discovering that people don’t like it. I am losing friends and relationships.”
The manager raises an interesting question.
We too have been told, or have sometimes experienced, that staying with the truth can be a competitive disadvantage. Sometimes, we wonder if speaking our mind will make others uncomfortable or even hurt them. We desist from speaking the truth also because we want to cover-up. But let me tell you, from my experience, that truth is a liberator. It is a healer. It is a very deadly weapon, a brahmastra, in our arsenal. I believe we fight shy of using it only because we are worried about becoming vulnerable in this ‘big, bad, cold and merciless’ world.
Fundamentally, our world view has to change. The world is not made up of hypocrites, cynics, facists, corrupt folks and terrorists alone. They are but a small part of humanity. There is a lot of goodness among the rest of humanity. You will be able to relate to this perspective only by making yourself vulnerable, by clinging on to the truth, irrespective of the circumstance. This alone will fetch you the love, compassion and warmth of like-minded people around you. If someone deserts you because you spoke the truth, then they really were not worth being in your Life. Period.
Here’s an excerpt from my Book (Fall Like A Rose Petal) that details one situation (among many) when I have seen the truth work to our advantage (my Book is a collection of letters addressed to my two children Aashirwad and Aanchal; Mom here refers to Vaani):
For example, a year ago, a government department slapped a claim of ₹14 Lakh on our Firm. Our auditor refused to represent us to meet the authorities because we had not paid the audit firm their fees in two years. Mom and I decided to meet the officer in the government department directly and explain our circumstances. The auditor, whose son studies in the same class as Aanch, warned us against ‘putting our hand into a snake-pit’ but we decided to go ahead. Our reasoning: it was better to deal with the issue head-on than live in fear.
We met the official concerned and while narrating our story, concluded by telling him that we were not even contesting the claim because we were not qualified to do so. We asked for his understanding and for time to pay up. We said we can’t pay now and we can’t bribe.
The official, in whom were vested sweeping powers to slap claims and effect collections, was surprised at our candor. He said that in his 30 years of service, he had never encountered such an honest and proactive approach or heard such a moving story.
“My heart goes out to you and your family, Sir. This is a department where people like you come to bribe people like me only after they have been coerced into submission by the department. When we forcibly summon people, they seek both illegitimate, and often unreasonable, waivers. We allow them the waivers because that’s how the system works. We threaten people and they cough up. But here you are, proactively coming and meeting me. I am moved by your story. Just leave. Forget about this claim. You have bigger things, like saving your family, to deal with,” he told us, flinging the claim file for our Firm to a pile beside his desk.
Telling the truth as it is, however impractical and unbelievable it may seem, and by always choosing to wear my Life on my sleeve, has always worked for me. And for us. It has taught us that people always respect the truth and revere honesty.
Besides, when you stay with the truth you don’t have to remember what you said! Most importantly, having embraced the truth, you will sleep well. When you can sleep in peace, you are truly blessed. Nothing else, believe me, matters!
Trust not just your children to make informed choices, but trust the process of Life itself!
A friend called me saying his adult daughter who is in her final year at college does not speak much to him or his wife. She keeps traveling on some pretext or the other and prefers to be aloof. She does not seek any advice nor does she offer much information. “I am aware that she is making her choices without involving us because she feels we may not approve of her decisions. But in letting her just be, am I failing in my duty as a parent,” he asked.
Good question. Parenting is always a full-time job no matter how old your children are. With adult children there is always a question of having to respect their privacy. This is a conundrum that every parent faces.
So how much involvement must parents show in the lives of their children, especially if the children are young adults?
Let me share from our own experience of parenting. Vaani and I have kept our equation with our children simple. We have let honesty be the primary basis for all conversations. In any situation, we offer our perspective – not necessarily our opinion – and we leave the final choice to Aashirwad (26) and Aanchal (22). By perspective, I clearly mean we share what we have learned from Life in the given situation. We don’t ever say our way is the only way to have dealt with Life. We say: “this is what happened with us, this is how we dealt with it; it is up to you if you want to borrow from our experience.” We have always maintained that there is no right way or wrong way to live Life; there are no “our generation” or “your generation” issues; so we, in a way, have always encouraged experimentation and learning. Yes, on issues relating to values – integrity, compassion, respect for individuals – or non-negotiables – like drugs or drinking and driving – we remain unflinching and ruthlessly discourage any deviations. This approach has worked for us greatly. Aashirwad and Aanchal have always made their (informed) choices in Life, they have always kept an open channel of communication with us and important, they know that irrespective of the choices they make, they are always welcome back home should all that they try ever fail.
I believe that in dealing with adult children we must accord them the dignity as individuals and their privacy must be respected. If an adult child chooses not to discuss something with you it must be seen as one of two things – either the child does not trust you or the child wants time to herself or himself to sort things out. Either choice must be respected. Yes, if the child does not trust you, it is very important to understand why – but it is important also to recognize that the mistrust has crept in over time, over honest conversations not having been had.
Parenting is a blessing. But it is never easy. So, whenever in doubt, I simply lean on the one God of parenting I know – Khalil Gibran – and his wise words. They help me anchor in peace and learn to trust not just my own children better, they help me trust the process of Life itself!