Tag: Going with the Flow
Why COVID-19 is a mandatory Masterclass by Life on living with uncertainty
This extraordinary situation, apart from shutting down the whole world, is teaching everyone unputdownable Life lessons.
My young friend Kalyan sent me a voice note over WhatsApp yesterday. The COVID-19 situation had made him all angsty. He’s doing his Master’s in Geology at a grad school in Miami, Florida. And, like everywhere else in the US and the world over, his school too is shuttering down, encouraging students to either defer their programs by a quarter or take their courses online; plus, of course, asking them to vacate dorms and informing them of layoffs from student employment. “Should I come back home to Chennai or should I luck it out here? What if I contract the virus? Will I survive quarantine? The uncertainty is suffocating, everything is suddenly so dark, so hopeless. What do you think I must be doing, AVIS,” he asked.
Surely, everyone, in some form and measure, is dealing with that gnawing feeling from within: of uncertainty, of cluelessness over how Life will be in the aftermath of this COVID-19 pandemic. And this is not just about how the world itself is likely to be affected, but how our own, individual, worlds will change in the next few weeks and over the next several months. From lockdowns and work-from-home advisories to healthcare systems breaking down to tens of thousands of people dying to a global economic recession to entire segments of small businesses being wiped out to bankruptcies to job losses to families crumbling emotionally – everyone, everywhere, has a view on COVID-19’s impact. And all of it is ominous; it portends gloom, is depressive and is fueling uncertainty – naturally, everyone’s worried and very, very fearful.
Interestingly, as I told Kalyan over a call that we subsequently did, there’s only one way to deal with uncertainty. And that is to not fear it. So, don’t resist uncertainty, don’t run away from it, but instead embrace it wholeheartedly!
For my soulmate Vaani and me, this unputdownable learning comes from our own lived experience. Over the last 13 years, we have been living through an excruciating yet fascinating, Life-changing, phase; we are enduring a crippling bankruptcy. To be sure, ever since our small Chennai-based consulting firm went bankrupt in end-2007, we have been repeatedly dealing with prolonged spells of worklessness and, often, pennilessness! Our debt of over a million dollars, owed to 170+ creditors, remains unpaid as we have never quite had enough money in this time to even cover our living expenses month on month. Incredible as it may sound, but despite our best efforts, we have not been able to put our business back on track; so, we have not had a steady, predictable, revenue stream in a long, long time. And when we do get work, and some income, we stretch the penny so we can survive, so we can last longer at the edge of the metaphorical precipice that we find ourselves clinging from. Simply, Vaani and I have been living through uncertainty for over 150 months now. We often survive on grace and grants, dealing incessantly with imponderables, with the financial, legal, social, professional, physical and emotional implications of living with a mountain of debt – and without work and money. In a way, it appears that we have been in quarantine forever!
Yet, these past several years of our Life have been very, very transformational. Undoubtedly, we remain pinned down by material scarcity, but we are soaked in a rare abundance. Even as we continue to grope through the darkness and uncertainty, we are no longer in the throes of fear and anxiety. Because, we have learnt to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. Which is why, while we may well be failed entrepreneurs from how the world sees us, we believe we are the happynesswalas. We are truly happy despite our debilitating circumstances. Our Life’s Purpose now is Inspiring ‘Happyness’ among all those who care to pause and reflect – that’s why I wrote my book Fall Like A Rose Petal and that’s why we curate and host live, thought-provoking, non-commercial Conversations on Happiness in Chennai.
Important, Vaani and I are not just living with uncertainty; we thrive in it, we celebrate it!
Our lived experiences, and the simple Life lessons we have gleaned from them, have shaped us to be this way. I share here some reflections on how it is possible to live fully, being fearless and happy, with what is – no matter what you are dealing with! I hope you find them relevant, relatable and useful to cope with the uncertainty that you may currently be experiencing over COVID-19, in the specific context of your own Life.
Uncertainty is intrinsic to Life
Uncertainty is not a product of any crisis or, in specific, of the COVID-19 scenario. The very nature of Life is that it is impermanent, so it is uncertain. From the time you are born, to when you die, there’s risk, disease, crisis, tragedy – and of course death – lurking around the corner, every step of the way. In fact, every moment is steeped in uncertainty. Anything, absolutely anything, can happen to you, around you. When you think about it deeply, you will realize that you always knew this truism about Life. But you did not consider it as immediately relevant because social conditioning, education and the idea of using both these to earn money to pay bills have made Life appear predictable. Which is, because you have a home to go back to, you have a family, you are educated and you are earning an income, you have always believed that you are in control of your Life. Besides, human advancements in science and technology, in enterprise and economics, have led us to naively imagine that much of the Universe functions because of us humans. It is only when the inscrutable arrives, challenging logic or defying reason, that you pause to consider how powerful Life is. And that’s when you realize how powerless you – and all humans – really are. For instance, what do you do, what can you do, when you are informed that you are dying of a rare cancer or when you lose a dear one suddenly in a bizarre circumstance or when an MH 370 disappears without trace and cannot be found by all the world’s inventions and intelligence or when a COVID-19 comes along and turns the world, your world, upside down? Well, almost always, that’s when you wake up to the realization that there are some things that you don’t – and can’t – control. The truth, however, is that you were never in control. The truth is, Life happens in spite of us humans, and certainly not because of us! In fact, Life has all along been happening with a mind of its own, at its own pace, in its own time, consistently shocking, surprising, amazing and awing you. Simply, when you have put in the efforts and have got what you wanted, you have thought that you have caused your Life to happen your way. That there was a plan, your plan. And so, you imagined that there was a predictability to your Life. But when Life socks you with an inscrutable situation, then you are numbed by, well, the uncertainty – of not knowing why something’s happening, what you must do and where Life is taking you! What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
Face Life, be fearless
The immediate, natural, human response to uncertainty is fear. Understanding what fear is, and how it works, helps immensely in dealing with it. Fear arises in you only when you are confronted with what you don’t know or when you lack previous experience of handling a given situation. Now, obviously, fear serves no constructive purpose. When you are fearful it certainly does not mitigate any risk or make uncertainty go away. In fact, it makes the unknown assume monstrous proportions, it clouds your thinking and makes the darkness that engulfs you unbearable. Fear debilitates you. Period. But, interestingly, what you fear most will always torment you only as long as you continue to fear it. So, instead of running away in fear, turn around and face the situation. Embrace the uncertainty. Know that fearlessness is not a difficult-to-attain, lofty, abstract, state. It is also not the absence of fear. Fearlessness comes from a choice you exercise to look your fears in the eye, it is what fear delivers to you when you turn around and face whatever is scaring you. It is when you accept your vulnerability, and employ your understanding that uncertainty is in the very fabric of Life, it is when you face a situation, that you turn fearless. Now, when you are fearless, your problems certainly don’t disappear, but your ability to deal with them are enhanced dramatically, exponentially.
Train your mind to learn three key skills
Even so, merely being fearless momentarily is not enough. To sustain fearlessness, you must train your mind to avoid worry, frustration and suffering. These three aspects of Life, given the pulls and pressures of everyday living, are erroneously believed to be unavoidable. And they make uncertainty look menacing. They exasperate you, suffocate you, make you feel miserable and, most often, hopeless. But with a little effort these aspects can be understood and, with some practice, they can be overcome.
Take worrying first. The problems we face always fall into two buckets. Problems we can solve – so, why worry about them; and problems we can’t solve – so, again, what’s the point in worrying about them? Bottomline: worrying about problems doesn’t solve them; so, it is a wasteful, incapacitating, activity. Once you understand the futility of worrying, you will choose to be non-worrying. This doesn’t mean that you will be free from worries. Of course, worries are thoughts; they will keep rising in your mind. But being non-worrying means you will choose not to pick up a worry – thus making it powerless – when it comes along.
Next, consider frustration. To be non-frustrated, understand why frustration arises in the first place. It is only when you don’t get what you want, or when you get what you don’t want, that you feel frustrated. So, your frustrations stem from your desires. The very idea that Life must give you what you want is a figment of human imagination. Because, think about it, you are born without your even asking to be born, so this Life is a gift; besides, it promises you nothing, it gives you no guarantees. Which is why being frustrated with the outcomes, when your efforts don’t bring the results you want, is surely avoidable. Just look around you. There are so many, many stories – including your own – of those who have not got what they perhaps truly deserved although they have talent, integrity and have invested hard work. Clearly, sometimes in Life, no matter how hard you try, or however much you wish, or pray, the results simply don’t add up. So, being non-frustrated is an intelligent response in situations when you can’t make sense of the way Life’s treating you. It is a choice you make to focus only on what you can do in a given context, to make that sincere effort and to drop all expectations of reward, recognition and profit.
And the third quality that you must imbue in you is being non-suffering. Please understand that you can’t negotiate with pain; it is integral to the process of Life. It always arrives uninvited and without notice. But suffering is optional. You suffer only when you ask why the pain exists in the first place or why you are being made to experience pain. You suffer only when you want your Life to be different from what it is now. So, whether it is the death of someone you love, a pink slip, a terminal illness or a relationship challenge, any painful episode by itself is non-negotiable – you don’t get to choose it, you don’t get to postpone it. Quite simply, it is just another event in your Life! But you suffer from that painful episode only when you ask “Why?” or “Why me?” So, being non-suffering simply means you drop the “Why?” and “Why me?” questions. When you stop asking those questions, you may still be in the throes of severe pain, but you clearly will not suffer. Or, in essence, when you accept your current reality for what it is, the way it is, you are choosing to be non-suffering.
Being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering are not just choices, they are important Life skills that you can train your mind to learn, usually through a meditative practice. Now, when you are non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering in any enduring, painful, situation, particularly in a crisis, you can only be happy despite your circumstances. Happiness then is the perfect antidote to uncertainty. It helps you drop anchor; it drenches you in equanimity and makes you live your Life, fully, fearlessly, one precious moment at a time. This is how you don’t just survive uncertainty, but how you thrive in it!
Trust the process of Life
A crisis is not necessarily a grand conspiracy by Life to vanquish you. On the other hand, it is essentially Life’s way of slowing you down. You emerge resilient, reflective and resourceful from a crisis every single time; only because, unwittingly, you have begun to appreciate how Life works, you have discovered what matters to you and why. And you have chosen to focus only on those aspects of your Life. Look back at your own journey. Hasn’t every crisis you have been through only made you stronger, wiser and, interestingly, happy?
Similarly, the COVID-19 crisis, and this spell of uncertainty, is likely to be no different. In fact, it is a global, mandatory-for-everyone, Masterclass by Life on ‘How to embrace uncertainty and go with the flow’! So, be sure to glean your own learnings from this phase as the scenario unfolds. Begin by welcoming the lockdown as a slowdown enforced by Life, enjoy quality time with your precious family or discover the magic and beauty of solitude when in isolation.
Simply, instead of fighting Life, flow with it. Know that, no matter what happens, Life will always bring you to where you must arrive. Such is the process of Life. Trust the process. Celebrate its suchness. And the way to do that is to make important choices – to be fearless, to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, to be happy despite the circumstances, to embrace uncertainty and to go with the flow.
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!! If you would like to invite them to inspire your team(s) or explore other opportunities, please look up: http://www.thehappynesswalas.com
Why COVID-19 is teaching us to go with the flow…
Don’t fight Life, flow with it!
Let go! Let go! Let go!
When authenticity and a quiet, rare, courage shone!
You are unlikely to find the perfect Life that you want. Even so, you can live fully with what you have, with what you have been given. And you do that by looking Life squarely in the eye, by facing it and by accepting what is, by learning to be happy despite the circumstances.
Young model and designer in the AR/VR space, Ranjani Ramakrishnan, who is just 21, has learnt this precious Life lesson early on in Life.
Ranjani was diagnosed with vitiligo – a Life-long condition where the skin loses color in blotches – when she was barely 11. She grappled with shame, the “why me” question and a lot of insecurity for several years. Then, when in college, she “made peace with her imperfections” and modelled for a Visual Communications assignment! That decision changed her Life! Today she “embraces Life’s adventures fearlessly”, even as she champions “acceptance” and “living fully with what is”!
Last evening, she was our guest on the happyness conversations – a live, reflective, non-commercial Conversation Series that Vaani and I curate and anchor. This Series explores the lived experiences of invited guests, it inspires people to be happy despite their circumstances! While celebrating imperfection and impermanence, it invites people to embrace their Life for the way it is and implores them to never postpone Happiness! The underlying theme of the Series is that Life can, and must be, faced stoically – no matter what you are going through! This Series is sponsored and hosted by the Odyssey Bookstore in Chennai.
It was a full house in yesterday’s Edition of this Series despite the rains and more inclement weather forecast for the night. And all those who attended the Event loved the way Ranjani’s lived experience helped them glean key Life lessons.
Her authenticity and her quiet, rare, courage shone. Here are some profound perspectives she shared:
- “It is very liberating when you let go of your fears,” she said, referring to her first photoshoot as a model, when she was in her first year in college. This photoshoot was significant – the decision to do it had come after several years of trying to cover up her patches, of crying herself to sleep, of asking her mom, “why me?”.
- “I have made peace with looking at myself in the mirror,” she told us stocially in the context of acceptance and moving on.
- “But I am still tired of answering random people who come up to me wanting to know why my skin looks different or when they have unsolicited advice to give me. So, I am a bit wary of going into unknown environments and meeting people.” she confessed, adding, “I have, however, for the most part, learnt to take Life as it comes and find Happiness in the company of family and friends who love me, who value me.”
This ability to take “Life as it comes” is a blessing. This wisdom can only come from having experienced pain and from understanding the power of acceptance. This is what makes Ranjani special. As Vaani pointed out, Ranjani, literally, does wear her vulnerability on her sleeve. This is also why her outlook to Life is invaluable, unputdownable and inspiring.
Consider this: How many people can gracefully accept their unique condition, particularly one that affects how they look? How many of them can actually come out and talk about it? How many will be able to expunge all the bitterness, grief, frustration and anger – at having been dealt an unfair hand by Life – and truly move on?
To me, and Vaani, Ranjani embodies the spirit of being happy despite the circumstances in the way she carries herself and expresses herself. This was evident in the Conversation last evening – she showcased with her simple, genuine, replies to our questions, by sharing her feelings authentically, that she is not the vitiligo that she has. “Vitiligo is only the condition that she has.” She is Ranjani – she is beautiful, confident, forthright and authentic!
Sample her take on what kind of modeling assignments she is looking for: “I love modeling. But I want people to invite me to shoots where I am a model who incidentally has vitiligo and not because I am good to be used as a vitiligo model.”
That’s amazing clarity and an awakening profundity from a 21-year-old!
Which is why, in closing, I leaned on my favorite, the 13th Century Persian poet Rumi: “What hurts you blesses you; your darkness is your candle!…Don’t run away from your grief, o’ soul, look for the remedy in the pain!…”
Pain is not a monster out to annihilate you as is popularly believed. Pain is a great teacher. While you can’t avoid pain, it teaches you, through your acceptance of any Life situation, that suffering is optional; that there is a lot of Life during and after a crisis. Indeed, acceptance of a painful situation is its only remedy.
Which is what Ranjani has done. She has accepted who she is, the way she is. Which is why she has been able to understand the art of living. She knows that living is always in the “present continuous” – not in the past, not in the future, but in the here, in the now, with “what is”; she knows that living is in thriving, in being happy despite the circumstances!
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.
What Amitabh Bachchan means to me…
As he completes 50 years in cinema on Nov 7th 2019, I share here why I am Amitabh Bachchan’s devotee!!!
My dentist, whose name I don’t recollect, unwittingly, introduced me to Amitabh Bachchan.
We lived in Jaipur then. The year was 1973. I was around 6 years old. My dad had taken me for a dental procedure after which I was advised not to eat anything for at least a couple of hours. As we stepped out of the dentist’s clinic, my dad, looking at the cut-out of a tall man in the theatre across the road, suggested that we go for that movie. The idea was to keep me away from craving for food. The movie we went to was playing at Jaipur’s iconic Prem Prakash theatre (now it is, I understand, called Golcha and has three screens). The movie was Zanjeer and the tall man was Amitabh Bachchan. This was my first time in a cinema hall, it was my first movie experience. I had perhaps not heard the name Amitabh Bachchan until then, nor did I recall the name of that movie until when I watched it again in my teens, many years later! Yet that day at the theatre, that man’s screen presence and that scene are still etched in my memory. That scene – which Bollywood researcher and author Diptakirti Chaudhuri, in his book Written by Salim-Javed, describes as the precise moment that marks the arrival of the Angry Young Man in Indian cinema – where Amitabh Bachchan, as Inspector Vijay, thunders at Sher Khan (Pran): “…jab tak baitheney ko na kaha jaaye, sharafat se khade raho! yeh police station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahi!…”
I still recall being mesmerized by the intensity of that moment. I was just a kid. He was 31. A struggling actor, who, after a string of flops, had miraculously landed this role in Zanjeer because a. the film’s director Prakash Mehra’s preferred hero Raaj Kumar had turned down the role – apparently he didn’t like the smell of Mehra’s hair oil; casting Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra and Dev Anand too had not worked out for various reasons and b. Salim-Javed had strongly recommended to Mehra that Amitabh best suited the character of Vijay Khanna that they had written so passionately. So, as I was to realize much later, Amitabh gave it his all, more than his best! Perhaps it was that intensity in him, or perhaps because I had never been to a movie before, or perhaps I was an innocent kid who had still not been distracted by other influences and opportunities in Life yet, I am not sure what it exactly was, I just felt I wanted to be like that man, like Amitabh Bachchan!
Yes. It is weird. I don’t remember the name of the dentist who we visited. I don’t remember the name of my class teacher at St. Xavier’s, Jaipur, where I studied in those few years we lived there. But I remember me watching that scene in the dark in Prem Prakash. I remember wanting to grow up and be like Amitabh Bachchan.
As Vijay Khanna in Zanjeer – 1973; Image Copyright with original creator
Was that my original fanboy moment? It surely was. But as I was to realize later on in Life, that moment was much, much more.
Over the next several years, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Sholay, Faraar, Kabhie Kabhie, Amar Akbar Anthony, Trishul, Don, Muqqadar Ka Sikandar, Suhaag, Shaan, Naseeb, Silsila and so many more of his movies, classics most of them, were seen by me in theatres. Each one left me more starstruck than before.
I remember, after watching Naseeb, at Santosh theatre in Gulbarga (Karnataka), I resolved to be an actor drawing inspiration from Anand Bakshi’s line in the song, John Jaani Janardhan (Mohd. Rafi, Laxmikant-Pyarelal): “…har picture dekh ke socha, main bhi actor ban jaaun…”! Although I am very driven and ambitious, I still can’t explain though why I never followed through with that resolution. Maybe just the resolution of wanting to be like him, was fulfilling enough? Much later, thanks to Dubsmash, I did dub a couple of my favorite Amitabh scenes much to the dismay of my family (who implored me to stop forthwith)!!!
I was 14 when Silsila released. And although Kabhie Kabhie had already seeded romance in me with its immortal gems, Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shaayar Hoon and Kabhie Kabhie Mere Dil Mein Khayaal Aata Hai, I felt the incurable romantic in me stir awake with Amitabh’s deep, soulful, rendering of Javed Akhtar’s (his first film as lyricist) classic Main Aur Meri Tanhayee…!!!
Over the next six years, through my teens, I dreamt of meeting that lover who would be my soulmate, often imagining the romance I would have with her – and almost every time, the feeling, that imagination would be complete only when I would recite this poem to myself:
Main aur meri tanhayee, aksar yeh baate karte hain
Tum hoti to kaisa hota
Tum yeh kehti, tum woh kehti
Tum is baat pe hairaan hoti
Tum us baat pe kitna hansti
Tum hoti to aisa hota, tum hoti to waisa hota
And, of course, she arrived. As Vaani. And, hold your breath, she arrived in my Life, singing the Amitabh-Jaya classic Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina (Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, S.D.Burman, Majrooh Sultanpuri) from Abhimaan at a college cultural event in Madras (Chennai) in November 1987 – I was barely 20, and she was 21!! Read the full story in my book Fall Like A Rose Petal or watch me tell it here, in this documentary Rise In Love.
The coaster on our front door!
So, in a very serendipitous way, Amitabh and Jaya, have inspired the companionship, the loving (in the present continuous) and the resilience (to face Life) in Vaani and me. But it all began with Vaani singing that song on stage – even today, the front door to the apartment we live in sports a coaster with the line Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina celebrating that magical moment when I fell in love with Vaani! And we have named our daughter Aanchal, inspired by a beautiful line from the same song – “…jaise kheley chanda baadal mein, khelega woh tere aanchal mein…”!
Strangely, I have no recollection of praying for him when the Coolie accident happened on 26th July 1982. I was around 15 then and I had too many questions on God, religion, prayer and such. Maybe that’s why there’s no memory of any prayer for him then! But I do remember reading The Hindu daily at home in Quilon (Kerala), tracking its coverage of the accident, and his miraculous progress and recovery over the next several weeks. I must also confess that the fanboy in me died in the late 80s and in the decade of the 90s when he made some very forgettable movie choices.
During the turbulent weeks of the furore over the Miss World Pageant in 1996, which Amitabh’s company ABCL had brought to India, I reached out to him. Vaani and I ran a Reputation Management Firm then. And we offered to manage the crisis for his company. His secretary Rosy Singh got back to us saying that “Mr.Bachchan isn’t interested in the strategy or the service” which we were offering.
ABCL eventually went bankrupt and for the next few years it was so heart-rending to see the media trash him and Jaya for their financial mess. I recall being traumatized reading reports of his house being attached by his bankers to recover their dues. Little did I know then that this experience of the Bachchans would be pivotal to Vaani and me dealing with our own Life-changing upheaval in some years.
Sometime in 2001, I remember watching an interview that Amitabh gave Vir Sanghvi on Star World. And intuitively I had it recorded and saved on a CD when a re-telecast of the interview was announced. I can’t stop thanking myself for that decision. A segment of this interview, available here on my YouTube channel, has been the reason why I am even around today sharing a part of my Life’s journey and celebrating a man who now means so much more than just an actor to me.
Let me quickly explain. It is common knowledge now that the Firm that Vaani and I ran went bankrupt in end-2007. It is a phase in Life that we still endure, 12 years on. This phase has been peppered consistently with several long spells of worklessness and pennilessness. In the initial months of knowing that we were dealing with a bankruptcy, through all of 2008, we grappled with the darkness that engulfed us, cowering in fear. We did not know what to do. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? That’s when, fortuitously, while searching for a particular document in my office, I stumbled on the CD containing the Amitabh Bachchan-Vir Sanghvi Star World interview recording. The CD was not even labeled. So I played it on my laptop to check what it contained. I watched the interview. Then I invited Vaani to watch it with me.
We watched it again. And again. And again. We watched it several times that evening.
Here was a bankrupt superstar who was telling Vaani and me how he and Jaya dealt with their darkness, their loss – of money, of reputation – and their crisis and how they clawed their way back. He was brutally honest, authentic and profound, all at the same time. His debt was Rs.90 crore. Our is Rs.5 crore. In the last 12 years, we have watched this video so many, many, many times. Every time we feel low, we feel like we can’t go on any further, we have watched this interview. Through sharing his experience, Amitabh has inspired us both to be resilient, to hang in there, to last one more day. “If he and Jaya could do it, we too can do it,” we have told ourselves, every single time that we watched the video.
Besides resilience, we have learnt the art of reinvention and relevance from him.
His choice to do TV – through Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) – 19 years ago was virtually the first move ever by a movie superstar to embrace the small screen. That is the truest, most visible, practical and inspiring example of going with the flow that you can ever get. As he shares with Vir Sanghvi in the interview, he was out of work. But he had the humility to not just go ask Yash Chopra for work (which led to his role in Mohabbatein), he was willing to “climb down” and embrace the opportunity to host KBC, which has now become synonymous with him. Though he believes otherwise, I guess everyone knows that the show continues to thrive, – it is now in its 11th Season – only because of him. Now, this was no upstart, struggling actor asking Yash Chopra for work. This was no also-ran movie actor agreeing to do TV because he needed the money. This was the Shahenshah of Bollywood, out of work, out of money, deep in debt, who decided to do what he loved doing and what he was best at – acting – choosing to reinvent himself at 58, an age when most people retire. Not just reinvention, he has taught the world how to stay relevant. If you watch KBC, you will see how compassionately he engages with people and their stories. He’s no ordinary game show host. He makes an extraordinary effort to be ordinary as he explores the Life journeys of his ordinary guests, the contestants. His choosing to do remarkably different character roles over the last several years – Ekalavya, Nishabd, Black, Cheeni Kum, Paa, Piku, Teen, Pink, Badla – is also a pointer to the consummate actor in him, who is willing to experiment, willing to break free from the trappings of the image of the hero, the superstar. Yet scripts continue to be written with him in mind and brands believe he can still sell them better than other ambassadors can – clear signs of his continued relevance not just to my generation, or to my father’s, but to at least three generations that follow mine!
Life is not only about going after name, money, success, fame and fortune and getting all of them. It is also about how you live with humility, dignity and discipline when all of what you have achieved and acquired are taken away from you. Resilience and equanimity cannot be developed and deployed in simulated environments. They are always discovered within you, when you stand in the middle of the battle of Life, in the chaos, in the eye of the storm. It is by facing Life and learning to be happy, to be useful, despite your circumstances, that you become stronger. That’s how you repair, rebuild and revive – after a crisis. This is the message of Amitabh Bachchan’s Life – whether it was his choice to do Silsila with Jaya and Rekha when he was rumored to be having an affair with Rekha or his coming back from the jaws of death after the Coolie accident or his decision to fight and win a protracted court battle to clear his name in the Bofors scandal or face and overcome the bankruptcy that he and Jaya encountered.
Clearly, I am no longer the fanboy who saw him first on screen at Prem Prakash theatre in 1973. In fact, I am not even his most ardent fan – I don’t claim to know every little trivia about every film, every role, of his. As I confessed earlier, I even exercised the choice to stop following him as a fan when the films he chose failed to interest me. I still disagree with his choice of wardrobe and style sense on KBC and I believe his ‘wife jokes’ are sexist – I definitely intend sharing these views with him when I do get a chance.
Even so, I am comfortable in my skin as his devotee. His presence and influence in my Life cannot be measured – it was through him that I was introduced to cinema, it was from him that I learnt romance, it was again through something that he and Jaya were part of that I found Vaani and found love, it was through him sharing his learnings from Life that we found the ability to survive and endure this prolonged bankruptcy that we are still dealing with. It is again through him that I realize that being world-class with your craft and being celebrated by the world is not as great as it is to be human, be humble and make the other person feel comfortable in your presence. This is what he does repeatedly, episode after episode on KBC.
It will be 50 years on November 7, 2019, since he appeared on screen in Saat Hindustani. I wish I could do a lot more than write a blogpost in celebration of this rare milestone. But, given our bankruptcy, this is all I can do presently. As a devotee, I will, however, use two simple words, which the wise say is the best prayer: Thank You!