“…yeh gham ki ratein, ratein yeh kaali, inko bana de id aur diwali…”
This line is from the iconic Shirdi Wale Sai Baba song, from Manmohan Desai’s 1977 classic, “Amar Akbar Anthony” (AAA). The other night I heard this song, perhaps for the nth time, on TV. A young contestant on this Season’s Indian Idol, Azmat Hussain, sang this song beautifully; incredibly, he sang it in the presence of its composer Pyarelal (of the legendary Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo). Anand Bakshi’s powerful lyrics and Mohd. Rafi’s evocative rendering make this song one of my favorites.
There was a time, however, when I hated this song.
I was 10 years old when AAA released. In the last 42 years, I have watched this movie several hundred times; I never tire of watching it! Yet, for the longest time, I used to think that this devotional song interrupted the fast-paced narrative of the movie. So, I loathed this song – picturized on Rishi Kapoor and his on-screen mother Nirupa Roy, it showcased the miracle of Roy’s eyesight being restored through Shirdi Baba’s grace – in AAA. I have even wondered why Manmohan Desai, who to me is a master filmmaker, resorted to “cheap gimmickry”, often sprinkling liberal doses of Faith, religion, God and miracles in the storylines of his films! In fact, one night, several years ago, I recall telling this to a friend: “It is stupid to rely on miracles when you can write your own destiny”! We both were at the famous Trishna Restaurant & Bar in Mumbai’s Fort area and had downed a few pegs of whisky. Our conversation was about Manmohan Desai’s impressive body of work and I remember vociferously highlighting how this song singularly devalued AAA’s brilliance.
I was in my 20s then. And I was ambitious. I was in a hurry to prove to the world that “I” too could be successful, wealthy and famous.
To be sure, through my 20s and right up to my mid-30s, I did hit several performance targets that I had set for myself. This certainly reiterated my belief then that hard work and integrity always delivered results – which is, they always gave you whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted them! And so, for all that while, I never had any reason to either revisit my views on Life, miracles and destiny or consider the import and relevance of Shirdi Sai Baba’s teachings!
And then the bankruptcy happened to us in end-2007 (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). Groping through it – through worklessness, pennilessness, darkness, insecurity, worry and fear – Vaani and I tried religion, rituals and explored the idea of God in the hope of finding solutions to fix our problems. We also leaned on the sciences of Astrology, Vaastu and Feng Shui. Finally, battered and bruised, when nothing worked for us, we learnt to let go, to surrender and to go with the flow of Life. We immersed ourselves in prayer. Recognizing that there was indeed a nameless, formless, inscrutable, Higher Energy that governed all Life, we implicitly placed our trust in it. We told each other that we will take each day as it comes, one day at a time, and keep walking, however long it takes us or however far we had to walk. After all, we reasoned, the same Energy that had created us will care for us, will provide for us.
This is how – and when – we discovered Shirdi Baba’s twin philosophies of Faith and Patience. When you pause and reflect, you will agree that Shirdi Baba’s Life’s message is contained in these two simple, magical, words. In fact, at all the shrines dedicated to him, and all through the “Saisatcharita”, you will find these two words staring back at you – “shraddha” and “saburi”, Faith and Patience! Through our cathartic, awakening experience, we understood that Faith is simply the ability to trust the process of Life. And we realized that while we anchor in Faith, we must employ Patience until we get what we want.
To be sure, there is no method, no single way, to anchor in Faith and employ Patience. Letting go, trusting the process of Life and living with Faith and Patience, is the way. Living through our crippling bankruptcy for over 12 years now, Vaani and I have realized that Faith does not always solve our problems immediately. But having Faith in the process of Life – that what goes around, comes around; that what goes up will come down some day, only to go back up another day – certainly helps us to cope with our problems better. Keeping the Faith also teaches us Patience. Unless you embrace these twin philosophies, and live practising them together, you will not see the miracles in your everyday Life.
The truth is that this Life is a miracle, every moment you are alive is a miracle…the sunrise, the sunset, the dew drop, the moon, the stars, the birds chirping…every thing, and everyone, around you is a miracle. But you miss these everyday miracles because you are steeped in grief, in pining for what is over, what is dead and isn’t there or you are gripped by anxiety and fear, worrying about the unborn future, about what is still to arrive. You are so consumed by imagining that your Life is one endless saga of problems that you don’t see the magic and beauty of your Life, of your miracles. In fact, this human form you have is a miracle; despite your frailties, your circumstances and your vulnerabilities, “you are the miracle you seek”! And, be sure, that you are reading this Blogpost now is a miracle. What Vaani and I have learnt is that miracles don’t happen to you because you prayed harder or because you deserve them. Miracles are happening for you, and will continue to happen for you, because you need them. But you can see these miracles only when you are soaked in Faith and Patience, only when you learn to let go and flow with Life!
Anand Bakshi’s lyrics from the song in AAA are pointing to precisely this awakening: “…yeh gham ki ratein, ratein yeh kaali, inko bana de id aur diwali…”…Bakshi’s plea is that of the beleaguered devotee, of the seeker, asking Baba to show the way, to making these dark, sorrowful, nights a celebration, like an Id or Diwali…How can a dark phase in Life ever be a celebration, you may well wonder. Turn to Baba, as we did, and you will find him simply inviting you to keep the Faith and employ Patience.
Vaani and I can relate totally to Bakshi’s song – and particularly to that line – now and to the import of Baba’s twin philosophies. For the record, I no longer think it is stupid to rely on miracles or believe that you can write your own destiny. I actually am in a constant ready-to-celebrate-miracles mode and I totally, unquestioningly, trust the process of Life. And I must report that even though we are still in the throes of our financial crisis, we have seen, at every stage, Life taking care of us, providing us what we need, in the nick of time. While, on the material, evidential, side it is common knowledge now that our children have graduated from universities abroad through “miraculous acts of the Universe”, on the spiritual side, we both have not just survived thus far, we are living a Life of meaning and Purpose. As “the happynesswalas”, we are spending our every waking minute Inspiring ‘Happyness’! In fact, to us both, given our excruciating circumstances, being in this state is a miracle. We are thriving, making each moment – however dark or gruesome it may be – count, celebrating it like an Id, like a Diwali!
Note: AVIS and Vaani are the happynesswalas. They believe their Life’s Purpose is Inspiring ‘Happyness’! They are going through a fascinating Life-changing experience – a crippling bankruptcy!! Look them up here: www.avisviswanathan.in and www.avinitiatives.co.in.
Be ready and willing to go through any situation, experience everything, in Life!
“How do you console yourself when you don’t get what you want; when your Life doesn’t go the way you planned it?” This question came to me yesterday from a lady I met at the Help Yourself to Happiness Talk I delivered at a Rotary Club.
The answer I gave the lady is that you must not try to console yourself. Consolation has an air of mourning, of grief, inherent to it – that you tried for something, you did not get it, so it is ‘okay’! There is no ‘okay’ status that works in Life. The best state to be in is to be unmoved. There is no need to either exult in Life nor is there a need to brood or mourn. You must taste, you must experience, everything in Life – success and failure, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow – and eventually you will realize that they are all imposters. You will discover that neither the state when you are exulting nor the one when you are brooding is permanent. So, don’t credit yourself for creating contexts where you exult at your achievements and don’t discredit yourself just because the context is one where grief is gnawing at you, over what you lost or what you didn’t get. Just learn to be unmoved. If you can be unmoved, then everything, every event, calls for a celebration! Then every moment is a celebration!
The lady urged me to explain my point with an example. I shared this story from my Life that I had also recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve.
I took my first flight in my Life at the age of 10, in 1977, from New Delhi to Madras. I loved the experience. And resolved that I would only fly when I grew up; also I because I find train journeys very boring, very uninspiring. To date, I prefer a flight over a train! My second flight was the one I took at the age of 23, in 1990, from Madras to Bangalore. I was flying on work for India Today magazine and was on an assignment to report on Veerappan, the dreaded sandalwood smuggler. It was a big moment for a young, ambitious lad – flying on company expense. I saved the Indian Airlines (now called Air India) boarding passes of both my onward and return journeys from that trip. I reckoned that when I became ‘very famous, very rich, very successful’ I would display these boarding passing proudly in my office or home, as a trophy of where my ‘high Life’ had truly begun. Soon, I was traveling more and most of my trips were by flight too. And I started collecting my boarding passes. I extended my idea of the saved boarding passes to reflect the number of air miles I had logged in all my active Life. For the longest time, I had this vision of me sitting in my private study and bar, smoking a cigar, and having an entire wall done up with boarding passes from all my flights in my Life. Soon the collection grew. I now have a whole mound of boarding passes saved up – I don’t really think I have lost a boarding pass or missed saving one in my Life. At one time I was taking even three or four flights a week, and traveling 21 days each month. So the boarding pass collection really swelled in good time. Within India I was loyal to Jet Airways and was their Platinum Card holder for several years – in all those years, our family of four, always took vacations on free tickets purchased with my miles! My boarding passes collection reflected the Life I led – busy and flying around! For someone who came from a middle-class background, this was exciting stuff, a sign that you had arrived, in style!
And then, as I recounted to Vaani on New Year’s eve, 2016 has turned out to be the year of no flights for me. No flights taken in an entire year. Even in the past decade, owing to our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) my flying has shrunk considerably. But I never bargained for a flightless year, that too in what should have been the 28th year of an active, professional Life!
So, that’s my example, a story from my Life, I told the lady, who asked me to explain my point about being unmoved. Surely, I am not citing that I have traveled more than anyone else in the world. In fact, my story showcases how such a personal collection of boarding passes appears so vain now in the wake of Life’s larger design and Purpose. I am not even suggesting that I will not fly again or that I will not have that wall in my private study and bar. All I am saying is that I am no longer impacted by whether I am flying or not. It has ceased to mean anything beyond a data point to me. In the last quarter of a century, I flew a lot, then I flew less and last year, I did not fly at all! Simple!
The essence of intelligent living is that you must experience everything in Life. You must be ready and willing to go through any situation. Don’t ever expect Life to only be a particular way. Recognize that what goes up comes down. And what goes around comes around. Life is always flowing and you must learn to go with Life’s flow. This is the way to be unmoved, to celebrate Life’s every moment, no matter what you are faced with or are going through! This is how I celebrated my flightless year – 2016!
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‘The Happiness Road’ is a Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I feature the inveterate ‘celebrator of Life’ R.V.Rajan a.k.a the ‘Father of Rural Marketing in India’ in advertising circles and as ‘Crisis Varada’ or ‘Crisis Rajan’ among friends.
When R.V.Rajan wrote and released his autobiography some years ago, he called it ‘Courage, My Companion’. And his Blog is called ‘Celebrating Life’! Just these two titles should tell you about the man, who at 73, has seen everything in Life – from penury in childhood to CEO-dom at 31 to entrepreneurship in his early 40s to leading the creation of a whole new space, Rural Marketing, in India, by the time he was 50. Yet, in all these years, he has sailed through his highs and lows, only because every time Life has thrown a curve ball at him, each time a crisis has erupted, he has never said “aiyo!” (OMG!) and has instead always exclaimed “hi-ah!” (Wow!).
Vaani and I have known Rajan for over 17 years now. To us, he’s a sagacious father figure who has the curiosity of a 5-year-old, the energy of a 15-year-old and the romance of a 20-something. He simply loves Life. He’s the quintessential Mr.Unputdownable – he may be shaken but is not stirred, he may be beaten but is not broken, he may be pushed to a corner but is never pinned down.
How does he manage to stay so positive all the time, we ask him, sitting in his modest study, one morning last month. Pat comes Rajan’s reply, precise and clear: “I approach Life with two principles each morning: 1. I never allow myself the luxury of self-pity. 2. I never ask God to take away my problems. I only ask God to give me the courage to face all my problems so that my Life can be interesting.”
Rajan believes that we are unhappy because we tend to allow Life to pin us down. Every time we are exasperated with Life and say “aiyo”, we are inviting unhappiness into our lives. Instead, he says, “Never be put off by problems. Take the bull by the horns. Face your problems and your fears. That’s the key to happiness.”
The earliest seed for ‘being happy’ was planted in Rajan by his mother who taught him that his aim in Life must be to ‘earn a good name’. She told him: “Nalla paer vangu da, let people say ‘Varada acha ladka hai’.” Rajan clarifies that he never let this advice mean that he must try to please people. On the other hand, he worked on making people genuinely happy. He soon discovered that the secret to your own happiness lay in the happiness of people around you. Later in Life, as a young executive, one of his senior colleagues gave him the ‘most profound career and Life advice anyone can get’: “Money is never the benchmark of happiness. So don’t chase money. Try to be successful in every role you are called upon to play; there is no point in being a great corporate warrior but a lousy family man or vice versa. Doing all this will take a lifetime, so keep at it.” The last line, that we are all “work in progress” until our last breath, is something that Rajan took to heart. So, he considers that he’s forever in a student mode, learning, unlearning, learning and unlearning. The day we met him, he was seeking a one-on-one session with his 18-year-old grandson Arul, so that he could glean some tips on how to stay relevant with Gen Y.
That Rajan’s Life has been shaped by these perspectives is amply evident when you read the many anecdotes he shares in his autobiography or on his Blog. But, to us, the most telling one on Rajan being who he is, is how he dealt with the feedback that his wife Prabha gave him. One fine day, in 1988, he found himself reading a letter she had hand-written to him. The letter talked about how incomplete and suffocated she felt about just having to be housewife. Few people would have had the courage, and maturity, to deal with the brutally honest feedback the way Rajan did. He took it well and took it straight. He not only ensured that the letter was published in a leading Tamizh publication, Mangayar Malar, he also encouraged Prabha to write more. This led to Prabha blossoming into a Tamizh writer of repute. This also led, by his own admission, Rajan to discover his ‘dream girl’ in Prabha, almost 20 years into their marriage. “It was a beautiful time. I began to value her as a companion, and not just as a homemaker. I felt fulfilled when I saw her come into her own, I was truly, totally happy,” he reminisces. But Prabha’s passing in January 2013 left him unraveling a new dimension of happiness. Which was really about the ability to cope with a partner’s absence. Rajan immersed himself in looking after the plants in their garden that Prabha nurtured as her own “children”. He also set up various endowments to promote creative writing among women and education for underprivileged children – these were causes close to Prabha’s heart. “Life changes. And you must change. I would have been very unhappy if I had begun to feel Prabha’s absence. But while her physical form is no longer around, I feel her presence in every moment in my Life. I do everything the way she would have liked it done. And that makes me feel very special, very complete, very happy,” says Rajan.
Never one to see anything other than the sunny side of Life, Rajan keeps his days ‘intentionally’ packed. With writing – he plans to write his own obit soon! – cooking, leading social development initiatives and occasionally traveling. But what keeps Rajan perpetually happy is making someone happy every single day of his Life. So he helps friends by offering to car pool them, he makes unannounced visits to lonely couples whose children live abroad, he offers to publish books for friends, he randomly hands out a generous tip to any ‘genuine auto-rickshaw driver who doesn’t haggle over fare or destination’ and he tries out new recipes that he joyously serves to his son and daughter-in-law. “I can’t say there’s just one reason why I am happy. I am somehow happy with everyone and everything. Isn’t that a great blessing,” he asks, laughing heartily.
Indeed it is. So, all we can tell you Mr.Unputdownable is, stay blessed, stay happy!
(PS: R.V.Rajan is a veteran adman, who is the former Chairman & Managing Director of Anugrah Madison Advertising. He founded and led the Anugrah Rural Marketing Academy and was the founding President of the Rural Marketing Agencies Association of India. You can order an e-copy of his autobiography –‘Courage, My Companion’ from Amazon: http://bit.ly/1wDDiia and his other book, a racy collection of short articles from everyday Life – ‘This & That…Then & Now’ from here: http://bit.ly/1ouznmd)