So, why cling on to stuff, why fight over them?
I was amused to note that the Times of India Group has served a legal notice on Arnab Goswami asking him to desist from using his now famous phrase – “the Nation wants to know” – on his TV shows in the future. While the TOI notice made quite a sensation on social media, it left me with several questions. Why do people cling on to stuff? Why do they want to fight over them? Why try to control the actions of other people in contexts that are best left alone?
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not against protecting intellectual property or material wealth or physical property. But a large media group, a behemoth, wanting to restrain a former editor from using a ubiquitous phrase, that had come to be identified with him over the past decade, to me, personally, smacked of a certain lack of spiritual depth.
The truth about our lives is that we came empty-handed and we will leave empty-handed. In this time that we are here, everything that is with us, is given here, is taken from here. And everything that is with us, will be taken away from us. Either when you are alive. Or when you die, it will pass on to someone else. So, spiritual awareness demands that we stop clinging on to stuff. If you are spiritually aware, if you are awakened, you will understand the futility of fighting, of wanting to control, of desiring to possess.
I must confess I was never this way. Life’s experiences have changed me.
To be sure, I was pretty much in the Times of India thinking mold. Everything – and everyone – I reasoned, had to be controlled. And just when I thought I had arrived, by clawing my way through Life, by fighting and winning so many battles, everything I had created or acquired to cobble together my little empire, everything was taken away from me!
The bankruptcy hit us in end-2007. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) But it was an episode in 2012 April that made me understand and awaken to the transient nature of Life.
We had long closed down all our offices, including the one in Chennai. We had taken up a small two-bedroom apartment, which primarily served as a holding area for all our files and documentation – that were statutorily required to be maintained. The premises also held our personal collection of over 1500 books, all of them dealing with management, self-help and spirituality, collected over 20 years. But soon, we were unable to meet the rental commitment for this space too. So, in April 2012, we worked on vacating the place. All month we sat, Vaani and I, on the ground, each day, sorting and shredding stuff that we couldn’t shift to our home. Among stuff that wasn’t going to make it with us were those books from the private library. We gave away 1300 of them to a friend who runs a training company in Bangalore. He drove down to pick up them up. I also personally shredded the wall-mountable props of the Vision and Mission statements of our erstwhile Firm. It was catharsis. It was as if I was completing the last rites for our dream child, our Firm that we had found 16 years ago with the Vision of being a global consulting Firm.
That night, over a drink, I cried. Literally and figuratively, I was presiding over the ruins of an empire that once was. And now there was nothing. As I soaked in the futility of my grief, I made peace with myself. I understood that Life is not only about dreaming, striving, achieving, owning and controlling. Life is also about losing – what you have owned, what you have created – and about not getting what you want. It was a magical moment of awakening.
Ever since, I have found myself getting better dealing with denials, rejections and loss. So, while I still believe you must take adequate measures, living in a real world as we all do, to protect what is rightfully yours, you must avoid this urge to want to control, to fight and to possess stuff – things, people, opinions – and claim them as your own. Such a struggle will only take you away from living in the moment, from being happy. And, besides, without a shred of doubt it can be said that nothing, absolutely nothing, is going with you!
There’s opportunity every day to do something meaningful or experience something beautiful – if you really want to.
Most newspapers this morning are commemorating 25 years of liberalization and reforms in India – of the unusual partnership, between then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh, that changed India forever. Seeing all the coverage about this epochal Budget speech of July 24th, 1991, I asked myself, what was I doing 25 years ago, around the same time?
A flood of memories came rushing back.
I remember, Vaani and I had just moved to Trivandrum on July 10th, 1991. I was working with India Today then. Since my senior colleague Ramesh Menon was transferred to New Delhi, I was asked by my boss, the venerable Prabhu Chawla, if I would like to shift to Kerala as the state correspondent for the magazine. I grabbed the opportunity. We moved into the same apartment that Ramesh had lived in. He and his wife Geeta had left behind some cane chairs that would be the only furniture in our home for many, many, months. This was our first home – for Vaani and me. We had been living with my parents until then – a decision that I quickly realized I should have never taken – for almost 18 months after our wedding in February 1989. So, to be on our own was a big high.
It was a beautiful time, very intimate, very romantic. We were 24 and 25 – Vaani and I. I barely made Rs.4,500/- a month as salary. We had no refrigerator or mixer or grinder. Vaani often made a simple, but delicious meal of kappa and puzhukku-ari kanji, with green chillies to go with it, for dinner. We slept on the ground as we did not have a bed or a cot. We spent memorable weekends doing up our home with artefacts that I would pick up from my travels around Kerala. Each month, we saved up a wee bit to buy appliances or furniture or linen for our home.
Our son Aashirwad was only a year old. When he was just six months old, we had tonsured his head so that his hair would grow richer. So, one Sunday, I decided to take Aash for a haircut – his first – on my Bajaj Cub scooter. I can recall that day so vividly. Aash was so excited. And so was I. It was a big feeling to be a parent, to be living in an independent apartment, to be raising a family with Vaani.
Soon after, for the next 15-odd years, I immersed myself in building my career, and later our business. My memories of the time I spent at home during this frenzied phase are not as vivid as I would like them to be. It wasn’t until our bankruptcy struck, and Life forcibly slowed me down, that I realized how much I had missed in the years that I had been toiling away – mindlessly, possibly avariciously. While I do remember random work-related, mostly stressful, events, I don’t have too many home or family memories from everyday moments to lean back on. That’s how I learnt this lesson, the hard way, that pretty soon, you will arrive at a point in Life when all you will have are memories. And so, it makes great sense to create beautiful ones even as you live, often barely getting past, each day.
This means, on a daily basis, no matter what the stress, no matter how packed your day looks, no matter what the situations or contexts you are placed in are, create one beautiful moment or participate in the one that is available to you. For instance, always kiss someone dear goodbye. Or pause to see a sunrise or sunset. Or feel the rain as it comes down instead of rushing away indoors. Or look someone – a random stranger – in the eye to thank them for their kindness. Or just make it a point to have 5 minutes with your family, without looking at your smartphone, daily.
Treat this time that you will dedicate daily to create memories as your true ‘Selfie’ time. That is, time for yourself! Time, that you will upload to your memory, to draw upon, when you have nothing but lots of time on your hands but no one to spend it with!! I didn’t do this for a significant part of my Life. Thankfully, I no longer regret it – because I have evolved to understand that regretting is a complete waste of time. I say it here now, just so that, in case you are living your Life the way I used to, you can awaken and go make some time to make memories.