What could have been never was. It simply never was. So, why grieve over it?
The last time I met my father was on Saturday, 6th April, 2019. Vaani was with me. My mother was by his side, as always. All four of us had a meaningful conversation – an absolute rarity, a miracle! When we got up to leave, I reached out and gave him a hug. As I stepped back from the bed on which he was seated, my father gave me a flying kiss – it was part kiss and part blessing.
That moment with him will stay with me forever.
He passed away on Monday, 15th April, 2019, nine days after we had visited him.
You see, we are not a family that normally hugs or kisses when we meet. So, what I did to my dad and his parting gesture are special in their own way.
Although we live in the same city, we had not met as a family in over 14 years now. The environment in the family too has been fractious for the longest time. I can’t recollect ever relating to my mother. More recently, I have been unable to relate to my siblings either. Besides, my choice to borrow from the family to fix my now bankrupt Firm, and their imagining that Vaani and I have cheated them, and our inability to repay that money, hasn’t helped matters at all. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.). Sadly, every conversation that has been attempted among all of us in the past has been derailed by machinations and misunderstandings, so no one even tries to have a conversation anymore!
But, ironically, what did not happen in these past several years, happened with my father’s passing. We three siblings, and our spouses, got together under the same roof, for the first time since 2005! I guess we are many, many, conversations away from relating to each other again, from repairing the tattered fabric of our family’s identity, but for the first time, there was dignity and peace in the way we all conducted ourselves. Seeing off our father was as poignant and peaceful as it was painful.
My spiritual evolution has turned me away from religion and rituals. So, even as I mechanically went about the process of cremating my father, I could not but be reflective. The entire day’s proceedings held a magic and beauty of their own – humbling me, grounding me and steeling me.
To be sure, all the strife in my family has been over social positioning (over ‘what will people say?’) and over clinging on to material security – both of which have led to an absolute lack of trust and transparency. My dad, Vaani and I, have been mere pawns in a mindless game that was continuously being played on us. There has been so much avoidable turmoil, trauma and grief that everyone has been subjected to. Yet, as my Dad’s body lay there, his face radiated an unmatchable calm, a serenity that only divinity can deliver. I haven’t stopped wondering since about that inscrutable irony!
As my brother and I drove to the cremation ground, with our father’s body, we did not utter a word to each other. I did notice that he was crying inconsolably. I let him be. And I allowed these immortal lines by Kannadasan to comfort me as they wafted through my consciousness…
பேசிய வார்த்தை என்ன?
திரண்டதோர் சுற்றம் என்ன?
கூடுவிட்டு ஆவிபோனால் கூடவே வருவதென்ன…?
வீதி வரை மனைவி
காடு வரை பிள்ளை
கடைசி வரை யாரோ?
(The lyrics are from an iconic song from ‘Paadha Kanikkai’/1962/T.M.Soundararajan/Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy.)
Kannadasan so powerfully, so lucidly, through these lyrics, talks about the futility of the ‘drama’ we make out of our lives…because, in the end, he reminds us, you go alone, with no one – and nothing – with you…
(When you were alive….) all the games you played, all the words you spoke, all the materialistic things/wealth you accumulated, all those relatives/people who surrounded you…(all of these don’t matter….) once your soul leaves your body, what – or who – is it that comes with you?
So, why all this ‘drama’, wonders the poet?
As the hungry flames in the crematorium’s gas-fired chamber devoured my father’s body, I just had this to tell him: “Thank you Daddy for everything. And I am sorry!”
That’s all I had to say. Not that it matters now.
Then my fickle human mind, for a brief few seconds, pined for what could have been. If only things had turned around for Vaani and me and we had repaid the monetary debt back to the family, and he had seen our resurgence, and we had redeemed ourselves with the family, before he went away – Life would have been so much more different. Just that thought broke me. I cried quietly as I kneeled down in surrender to a Higher Energy! In that moment of surrender, an awakening, empowering, liberating thought arose within me: “What is the point in thinking about what could have been? What could have been never was. It simply never was. So, why grieve over it?” And I let my grief go…I just let it go…
Later that evening, as we walked on the beach to immerse my father’s mortal remains in the Bay of Bengal, I felt magic and beauty again in the moment. I was carrying the earthen pot that contained his ashes. Here was my Dad, I thought, and I was carrying him like I would carry a baby. I felt a deep sense of gratitude and love for his Life. I felt love for his music (he was a great Carnatic singer, who never quite followed his bliss; listen to a YouTube rendering of Nagumo by him here). I felt grateful for his enormous, unshakeable, trust in me and Vaani. I felt admiration for his boundless resilience – to have seen so much happen around him and yet choosing to remain unmoved for the most part.
In that reflective moment, I realized, his Life’s design was its message. For what it was, the way it was. I now understand that some parts and aspects of our Life may never attain closure the way we wish for them or envision them. They may happen surely but only the way Life wants them to happen. So, Life is just a continuum. No beginning. No end. You just go with the flow. It is there one moment. And it is gone in the next!
Just then, a huge wave came crashing at us, and my brother and I let go of the pot that held my father’s ashes. It vanished in the vast cacophonous ocean. Boom! It was gone. I tried to see if I could find the pot bobbing up somewhere. No…it was gone!
That night, I decided to have a drink. And I leaned on R.D.Burman to soothe me. Interestingly, the first song on my playlist celebrated the suchness of Life. Anand Bakshi’s lyrics seemed like they were written specially for me, for that evening…
ज़िन्दगी के सफ़र में गुज़र जाते हैं जो मकाम
वो फिर नहीं आते, वो फिर नहीं आते
कुछ लोग एक रोज़ जो बिछड़ जाते हैं
वो हजारों के आने से मिलते नहीं
उम्र भर चाहे कोई पुकारा करे उनका नाम
वो फिर नहीं आते, वो फिर नहीं आते
(The lyrics are from a classic song from ‘Aap Ki Kasam’/1974/Kishore Kumar/R D Burman.)
Anand Bakshi’s poetry is powerful: Life’s moments are fleeting, they never come back; some people who leave you don’t come back too, no matter how many times you call out their name!
Estranged as were for many years now, and ever since I started a new Life with Vaani in 1989, I have been living away from my Dad, of course. But from now on, living without him, will mean something very, very different.
Life hai…kuch bhi ho sakta hai! – It’s Life…anything can happen!
Like almost everyone else, Vaani and I too are still coming to terms with Sridevi’s sudden, tragic, death. We have been reading up every possible – credible – piece of information that has had a fresh perspective to share on what exactly happened to her.
And then, a couple of days ago, we came across this Blogpost by Bollywood trade analyst Komal Nahta, who is believed to be a close friend of Boney Kapoor and Sridevi. If we go by Nahta’s account of what happened in the final couple of hours of Sridevi’s Life, it appears that even as Boney Kapoor was surfing TV channels in the living room of their suite at the Jumeirah Emirates Tower Hotel, waiting for Sridevi to get ready and join him; so they could go out for dinner, Sridevi was drowning in a bathtub – in the suite’s master bedroom, barely a few feet away from him! And he could do nothing, nothing at all, to save her.
I read and re-read Nahta’s Blogpost. Only to conclude that everything about Sridevi’s death is so unreal, so bizarre. What are the chances someone can drown in a bathtub, in one of the most premium (and therefore considered safe) hotels in the world? What are the chances that a loving, doting, caring husband, can be completely oblivious of his wife drowning, even as the tragedy happened, especially when he was within shouting distance of his wife? What are the chances that you say you will “freshen up and come” and actually die in that time – in under 15 minutes – by drowning in a bathtub?
But such is Life. It is so totally, totally, inscrutable. I am reminded of Indeevar’s deeply contemplative lyrics from that iconic song in Safar (1970) rendered in Kishoreda’s immortal voice (music: Kalyanji Anandji)…“zindagi ka safar…koi samjha nahin, koi jaana nahin…” . Life is indeed totally, totally, inscrutable. And this morning, I read this equally bizarre story of this man, literally, waking up from the dead! It made me conclude, yet again, that anything, absolutely anything, can happen in Life!
The more I go through Life, the more I experience it, the one indisputable truth that strikes me repeatedly is this – no matter who you are, you have to go through what you have to go through. You just cannot negotiate with Life over your Life’s design. As I see it, in Life, it is always what it is. You have to bear your cross. And you have to live through the design that Life has planned for you. In fact, as it appears to me, Life’s Masterplan has no flaws!
Consider the late Sridevi’s Life again – her design took her from obscure Meenampatti in Tamil Nadu and made her a pan-Indian screen diva; then the same design forced her into near oblivion, after she married Boney Kapoor and they had Janhavi and Khushi, for 15 years from 1997~2012; the design then brought her to centerstage again with English Vinglish (2012) and Mom (2017) and, posthumously, the same design ensured she was feted, in memoriam, on the Oscar stage this past Sunday! And yet, despite all her greatness, her fame, her glory, this legendary star drowned, helpless, in a five-star hotel’s bathtub? Well, clearly, that’s how her Life’s design willed her story to end!
I have realized that our material success – particularly our ability to earn an income using our talent and skills – makes us believe that we control our Life. The truth is that we never were, we are not and we will never be in control. Life is always in control. It keeps on happening per its inscrutable, unique, design for each of us. It often takes a crisis, an event that defies all logic and cocks a snoot at our problem-solving abilities, or death, to shake us awake from our stupor and remind us that it is not us, but Life which is in control. When we realize this, we too learn to be accepting of the Life we have and learn to go with the flow.
There are no two ways with Life. It is only what it is. You are always playing only with the cards that Life has dealt you. And then, when your time here is up, when your name is called, you stop your game mid-way, even if it is in the middle of a bath, and leave! So, approaching Life with humility and a sense of amazement are perhaps the best way to live it well. Humility, because Life is the Higher Energy (which is why I always spell Life with a capital ‘L’) that powers everything in the Universe; and amazement, because you never know what hand you are going to be dealt next! After all, Life hai…kuch bhi ho sakta hai!
The Master Plan has no flaws.
I never met Shashi Kapoor. But I, like most others, love him and his cinema.
When he passed away a couple of days ago, I recalled reading Aseem Chhabra’s biography, Shashi Kapoor – The Householder, The Star, of him last year. I could particularly relate to a chapter, “On the Money – Shashi, the Producer and the Businessman”, where Aseem analyzes why, despite making good cinema, Shashi failed to make money. He was a large-hearted man. He gave his directors an “open chequebook”. And they often made creative choices that went against the grain of the economics of film production. Aseem speaks to Shashi’s children Kunal and Sanjana, to his co-star Sharmila Tagore, to critics and friends Madhu Jain and Anil Dharker, and to several others, in making this assessment.
I guess if someone made an assessment of me, and my choices, that led to our eventual bankruptcy, (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) it would be no different. In hindsight, the way we ran our business was very un-businesslike. Particularly, after we separated with a customer, who accounted for 60 % of our revenues, on ethical grounds.
I am often asked these questions – Do you regret the choices you made in Life? Do you feel bitter about how your ethics have landed you in this mess? Do you believe you may have acted differently if you were placed in a similar situation now?
All that is conjecture today.
In Life – and so, of course, in business too – you do what you believe you have to do. Sometimes your decisions go in your favor. Sometimes they blow up on your face. You take Life as it comes actually. I have no regrets. As entrepreneurs, Vaani and I, acted in the best interests of our team members, our clients and our investors – in that order. All our choices, particularly financial and in relation to our Firm’s operations, were focused on creating value for our people and our clients. We paid good salaries, had good incentives like paid overseas vacations and even gave away a car to a top performing team member once. As I said, no regrets absolutely. We did all that only because we believed in doing them. That our choices were not prudent from a business point of view was evident to us only in hindsight. But we have taken our losses and our fall in our stride. We owe all our borrowings to our 179 Angels/creditors – even now; we remain committed and accountable for these monies. But we are not bitter over what has happened to us entrepreneurs and as a family!
I am not sure how Shashi coped with this learning or whether he saw it as a learning at all. Aseem’s book seems to indicate that he took it in his stride too. Which is the way to be.
What I have learnt is that everything in Life happens per a larger design – the Master Plan. And this Plan has no flaws. The choices and decisions you make eventually bring you to where you must arrive. I cannot see myself as having done anything differently because I am not resisting or disliking where I find myself. My evolution as a person has been wholesomely aided and abetted by my bankruptcy. And so, I am eternally grateful to Life for this experience.
Ultimately, you came with nothing. And you will go with nothing. As long as you remain morally anchored and are accountable for your choices, as long as you can face yourself in the mirror each morning, keep ploughing on, keep flowing with Life. As the lyrics of the brilliant song Khilte Hain Gul Yahaan from Sharmilee (picturized on Shashi Kapoor and Rakhee; 1971, Samir Ganguly, S.D.Burman, Neeraj, Kishore Kumar) go, “…chaar pal mile jo aaj pyaar mein guzaar do…”!
As Dr.Nupur Talwar and Dr.Rajesh Talwar walked free from Dasna jail last evening, this image emerged on my timeline, on the Internet and on TV.
It told me so many stories about Life…it showcased…
- How inscrutable Life really is
- The unfairness and injustice meted out to this couple, their daughter Aarushi and their help Hemraj
- How to stay strong, find strength in a storm and go through Life with reflection, resilience and resourcefulness
- How to serve selflessly, how to be useful no matter how grave the circumstances are – the dentist couple refused fees for dental care that they had provided to inmates of Dasna
- The unflinching support that Rajesh’s older brother Dinesh Talwar provided the couple – he was the mainstay of the entire defense strategy, the chief-of-staff as the family soldiered on
- The focus and perseverance of defense attorney Tanveer Ahmed Mir – without whose leadership, the Talwars’ case may not have been made in the Allahabad High Court
- The brutally honest story-telling of Avirook Sen in his Book Aarushi and of Vishal Bharadwaj and Meghna Gulzar in their film Talvar
- The stoicism of the Chitnis couple, Nupur’s parents, as the family went through these harrowing 9 years
- That, no matter what, the truth ultimately prevails…and justice is always done
- How small, and petty, our own challenges are when we look beyond ourselves and around us
- Why we must always be grateful for what we have instead of complaining about what we don’t have
- The learning we must all take away: whatever happens, face Life!
- The Gulzar-RD Burman-Kishore-da genius: Musafir Hoon Yaroon…Bas Chalte Jaana Hai…
It is only when you impose conditions on what is that unhappiness sets in.
For some strange reason, I woke up this morning with this song swimming in my head: “Aane Wala Pal Jaane Wala Hai, Hosake To Isme Zindagi Guzaar Lo, Pal Yeh Jo Jaane Wala Hai…” (Golmaal, 1979, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar, Kishore Kumar)
It is one of my favorite songs. It is also a song that holds a special meaning in my Life.
On the 5th of January 2008, when we were struggling intensely to come to terms with our bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), a friend insisted that we go with him and his wife to a live concert of R.D.Burman hits (performed by a fantastic national-level orchestra). The hall was full. And the audience was hysterical. About an hour into the concert, I suddenly realized I had not even known which songs had played until then. I was there physically. I was hearing everything. I was watching everyone clap, shout, whistle and sway to the legend’s unputdownable music. But I was not “in” the concert. I was not present there. What finally woke me up from my worry-filled reverie, was this song from Golmaal. The lyrics meant a lot to me that day: “The moment which is coming will go away, if you want to, live in this moment, for it will be gone soon too…” Not that I had not heard that song before. But that evening, that song stirred something within me.
As they often say, things happen in Life, when they must – never a moment earlier or later. The next time my thinking was provoked and I felt stirred from within was through an experience I had with Swami Sathya Sai Baba, which happened within a week of the R.D. concert. We were meeting a messenger, a medium, through whom Swami spoke. I confessed to Swami that I was very worried and anxious about the future. I told him I saw no way out of the problems that we were faced with as a family. I said, “I simply cannot go on like this.” Swami asked me what would it take for me to be happy. I replied that if someone could assure me that my problems would be taken care of, I would be happy. Swami then told me that I would never be happy if I thought this way. “To imagine, to desire, to wish that you will not or you should not have any problems is the biggest problem. As long as you have this problem, you will be unhappy. Being happy means simply being – no conditions can apply!” explained Swami.
That conversation with Swami changed my entire approach to Life. Over the next several weeks, I meditated on Swami’s perspective through my practice of mouna, my daily silence periods. It helped me discipline my mind. The human mind, I discovered, is like a dog. If you don’t train it, if you don’t discipline it, you will be led and controlled by your mind. But if you coach it and teach it to “stay still”, and to obey you, it will never stray. Swami’s inspiration and his awakening message to me, and my practice of mouna, has taught me to be happy despite the circumstances I am faced with in Life.
It is the nature of worries and anxieties to debilitate. If they are holding you hostage, it only means that you have allowed them to be that way. The human mind plays tricks on you all the time. It consistently strives to take you away from what is and gets you to attend to what once was or what may possibly be. Which is why, most of the time, you are not present in the now. And happiness is always in simply being present in the now! It is only when you impose conditions on what is that unhappiness sets in.
Today’s blogpost appears as a Podcast. Listen here: 4:34 minutes
In this Podcast, I share learnings from my favorite music composer’s – R.D.Burman/Panchamda – Life. In Life, what goes up, does come down. And what is down, goes up again. So we must remain untouched by both success and failure – and remain unmoved!