Gratitude, humility, grace and dignity are required to deal with Life’s inscrutability.
Our friend Arup from Kolkata called us up last evening. He sounded distraught. He reported that we had lost Tandra Sarkar to cancer. Tandra was Arup’s close friend, and a beautiful and courageous lady, who had launched my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Read more here) in August 2014 in Kolkata.
When we launched my Book in August 2014 across Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, with Hyatt being the Principal Sponsor, both Vaani and I were very clear that we didn’t want a ribbon-wrapper unveiling. We wanted people like us, stoic folks, who had braved Life, to launch my Book. So, we had a bomb blast survivor and bilateral amputee Malvika Iyer launch the Book in Chennai. We had Maneesha Ramakrishnan who survived the ghastly Carton Towers fire launch it in Bengaluru. And in Kolkata, we had Tandra Sarkar, who had then been battling Stage 3 cancer, to launch Fall Like A Rose Petal.
Like Tandra, her husband Kushal too was stricken with cancer when the Book launch happened. They were fighting the disease valiantly when we met them. Arup reported yesterday that Kushal passed away last year and Tandra died last fortnight. Apparently, she had enquired about Vaani and me a few weeks ago and had expressed a desire to meet us again. Arup promised to arrange that meeting. But since she passed away, Arup connected to share her wish with us.
We have met Tandra and Kushal just once at the Hyatt Regency, Kolkata, at the Book launch. But I have such a vivid memory of that meeting. Former NASA scientist-turned-filmmaker Bedabrata ‘Bedo’ Pain (who has written a meaningful Foreword for my Book) handed over the copy of Fall Like A Rose Petal to Tandra. In her address, to a hall packed with 200 guests, Tandra talked about Life – about its inscrutability…she spoke about approaching Life with humility and gratitude. Even once she did not talk about her pain. Or about her fears, insecurities or worries. My sense is she had none. Nor did Kushal. They both were an embodiment of grace and dignity despite Life having dealt with them ruthlessly. They both knew they were dying and leaving behind their wonderful daughter but there was no grief in them. No regret. Just an affirmation of what is, of the now. They enjoyed themselves thoroughly at the launch and helped us – who were rank strangers to them – celebrate our big moment of sharing our story with the world. Such selflessness, particularly in the face of personal pain, is both indescribable and not often seen.
Last night, after Arup’s call, when I lay down in bed, several questions came to me. Why did Life, through Arup and his wife Ruma, connect us to Tandra and Kushal? Why did Tandra ask to meet me and Vaani again? Why did we not meet again? I reckoned we will never know the answers to these questions. But I believe Tandra and Kushal came into our Life to remind us of the need for gratitude, humility, grace and dignity in dealing with our inscrutable lives. I know somewhere deep within me that they connected with the message of Fall Like A Rose Petal – which is of acceptance, of going with the flow of Life and of falling like a rose petal in the face of Life’s upheavals! Arup told me yesterday that my Book still sits on Tandra’s and Kushal’s bookshelf. I guess, someone, sometime will read it. And perhaps will glean their own learning from it.
As I fell asleep, I sent out a prayer to Tandra and Kushal; and to their daughter. I silently thanked Bedo, Arup and Ruma and prayed for them too. It is these human connections, however temporary or fleeting they may appear to be, that make Life meaningful despite all its apparent inscrutability!
When you ask ‘why’ or ‘why me’ in any situation – that’s when you suffer!
We met a lady at my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk the other day. She wanted to know if “pain serves any purpose at all apart from causing one so much suffering”.
I told her that I have only emerged stronger from all the pain that I have been through and am still facing. “Pain elevates you to look at Life differently – you value it for what it is than what it should be; and you value it more, particularly when you have been through a lot,” I said.
Pain is what’s common to our unique Life journeys. You may be singed by a health challenge or a relationship issue or the loss of a dear one or a career nightmare or a business crisis. Our stories may be different. But the thread that binds all our stories together holds a common theme – pain is inevitable. Yet, the truth is that all the trauma that we may have to encounter and endure in Life always has a deeper reason for it to happen. And that reason is to make us stronger from the experience. Also, pain does not cause you any suffering; it is your desire that you must be free from the pain that causes all your suffering. When you ask ‘why’ or ‘why me’ in any situation – that’s when you suffer!
I have learnt to be non-suffering despite all the pain that Life has served me. I have come to believe that post-traumatic Life is transformative. It can serve as a powerful learning opportunity if you reflect on it. Eventually, despite all the pain, despite the daily challenges you face, when you sit down calmly and review your Life, you will realize that it is unquestionably better today than before your traumatic experience. Trauma always leads you on a path that you may never have found by yourself otherwise. If you are a good student and are willing to learn, trauma can teach you to be non-suffering.
Just 14 years ago, I used to be perpetually angry with myself and with the world around me. My business was under stress then, but there was business – work and income. I had clients and I led a team that operated in six cities in India. But I was neither happy nor content. I worked 16-hour days and worked on weekends too. I had a tobacco habit and drank daily. And then in end-2007, early-2008, my whole world fell apart. My Firm went bankrupt and I became insolvent. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) In the past decade, my family and I have been through some indescribable times – often penniless; no work, no clients, no staff, no offices, no business, no money!
I remember an incident from 2013 when I was talking to my friend about the experience I was undergoing as a parent when I could not buy my dear daughter a new set of clothes as her old ones were worn out. My friend, quoting (I think so; disclaimer: I am not an expert in Tamil literature, I can’t read or write the language.) from the Tamil epic Kamba Ramayanam said, “Kandan Petrar Nenjam Pola” – denoting the ache in the heart of a man in debt.
I know my pain pales in significance in front of someone who has lost a child or who is dying of a rare cancer or who is convicted for a crime that they did not commit (like the Talwar couple). But trauma is trauma. Pain is pain. Whatever be the reason, whoever causes it, whichever way it happens, the way pain takes over our lives and drives us to dead-ends and tests our every sinew – that experience is the same for everyone. I have realized that pain cannot be avoided. It is inevitable. But you can avoid the suffering if you stop asking why there is pain – and stop asking why you have to encounter pain.
My problems are far from over. But because I have learnt be non-suffering, I have discovered that the trauma, the pain, doesn’t affect me anymore. Yes, it is difficult, at times excruciatingly difficult, to get through some situations. But because I don’t suffer, I am at peace with the way my Life is. There is still complete chaos around me, in my world. But I have learnt to anchor within and maintain and preserve my inner equilibrium. I face Life every day with renewed vigor and pour my heart into whatever I am doing to get the business and our lives back on track. Important, I am no longer angry – with myself or my circumstances. I am a firm believer that this too shall pass.
This transformation in me has happened only because of the experience of abject penury that I have been through. In a material sense my family and I have lost everything. And we have a mountain of debt to repay. But I am grateful for all the trauma that came along with the Life-changing crisis that I am going through. I have now come to realize that extra-ordinary pain teaches you to be non-suffering if you are willing to accept the pain and go with the flow of Life!
Be eternally grateful for what you have.
Someone I met yesterday asked me this question: “What is the simplest way to be in peace?”
And the simplest answer is this: be eternally grateful for what you have.
But an elaborate answer requires that we examine why we are not able to practice gratitude daily, consistently. The fundamental problem is that our minds are not nurtured by us. We almost continuously keep hurting ourselves by thinking negative thoughts, by pining for what isn’t there, by worrying. We are all badly bruised, battered in fact, within us. When you are injured within, you must first heal yourself for you to see the value in being grateful.
See, it is like this. When we injure ourselves physically, say with a nick while shaving or a cut while chopping vegetables, the body heals itself. If there is a deeper injury, with some care, we are back on the road. The truth is when the body is affected, it receives attention. The truth also is we injure our minds all the time but we don’t give it the care it needs to heal. Every angry thought, every remorseful thought, in fact every thought that is not centered around love, peace and gratitude, is injurious. Now, ask yourself, how many such thoughts on love, peace and gratitude, do you think out of the 60,000 thoughts that occur to you each day? Unlikely that we even think loving, peaceful, grateful thoughts for weeks on end!! Consider therefore how battered the mind must be and how much healing needs to happen for it to be ‘normal’ again. Unless we heal from within we cannot feel grateful.
‘Mouna’, the practice of silence periods daily, is the best way to heal our minds, to help it anchor in faith and patience. The 13th Century Persian poet Rumi couldn’t have said it better: “In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
Stop weaving here means to stop worrying, to stop wanting to control your Life, to stop the continuous chatter in your head; it means to pause and reflect. When you are this way, you can only be grateful, you can only be peaceful. So, to be peaceful, stop battering your mind; heal it by anchoring in silence, love and gratitude!