It’s a big, beautiful world full of kind, compassionate people!
At my Uncommon Leader event yesterday, a member of the audience walked up to me and said, “It must be pretty tough on you and Vaani to be so vulnerable in this big, bad, cruel world. I don’t know if I would have survived the crisis you are faced with.” (To know more about the crisis and why this remark was made, please follow this link: Fall Like A Rose Petal.)
Vaani and I understand where this perspective is coming from. It appears that much of the world is cold, cruel, judgmental and self-obsessed. It also appears that wearing your Life on your sleeve, being transparent, being vulnerable, is an absurd, almost foolish, thing to do. But our experience has just been the opposite. In all the time that Vaani and I have been dealing with this bankruptcy, for about a decade now, we have never come across someone who has exploited our vulnerability. To be sure, we have always been very open about our enduring situation. But this hasn’t made us a target or victim of social prejudices or attitudes. Of course, there have been those who have proceeded against us legally to protect their rights (on account of having to recover from us the monies we owe them); we totally understand their need to have done what they have done. Yes, there have been those who have been judgmental and there are those who have distanced themselves from us only because we are no longer in a certain “league”. But such people have been few. A large majority of people in our circle of influence and who we have come across in the past decade have been, in reference to their specific contexts, forgiving, compassionate, sensitive, loving, understanding and important, in general, all of them have been trusting.
Just yesterday, someone we know came forward to make a generous offer to us. He noticed that we are struggling to earn an income. He said we could market his services as ours, he would deliver on the mandates that came by and we could take the fees that accrued as our own. We need not necessarily pay him any fees, he suggested. What a wonderful gesture! Except that his services don’t fall in our line, zone, of work. Even so, at what point will people offer themselves pro-bono just so that another set of professionals like them, who are going through a tough phase, stand to benefit? Vaani and I are moved beyond words.
This is not an isolated case. Last week at least two people reached out offering to help with any bills that we may have trouble paying. My Book and my several of my blogposts are peppered with examples of how people have come in, some of them rank strangers, unexpectedly into our Life and have helped us onward on our journey.
This experience has taught me and Vaani that God exists – but only through the godliness in the people around us. We have seen this God again and again and again, repeatedly, in the actions and hearts of those people who we have known or who have come into our Life. I believe if we drop our ego, abandon all judgment, and simply, humbly, accept the warmth, love and compassion of people around us, we will only see a beautiful, caring, loving world. This world doesn’t exploit your vulnerability, it does not take; it only gives – and gives unconditionally! Look around you – perhaps you live in this same world!
Loving and relating, in the present continuous, are what make Life beautiful!
A young man asked me and Vaani this question yesterday, in the context of a relationship between two people: “What is the meaning of love?” I told him loving is more relevant than love. If you are loving, then you are relating to the other person. Loving is present continuous, it is flowing. If you fall in love, chances are you will fall out of it. But if you are loving, if you are relating to someone, you will keep rising in love.
Vaani is often asked how she continues to stand with me, walk with me, through this crisis-ridden phase of our Life. (Read more about this phase here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) And she always replies saying, “The circumstances in our Life have changed over the last 30 years that AVIS and I have known each other. We had no money when we met, we then made money and then we have had no money for over a decade now again. While the circumstances have changed, while how we look physically has changed, how we look at each other has not changed. AVIS as a person is the same. His values are intact – just the same as they were. I continue to relate to him, so, I walk with him.” That’s really what loving is all about. And I am grateful Vaani’s loving me this way.
Life is a journey. And companionship makes it very special, very beautiful. I am not necessarily meaning a spouse here when I say companion. I mean anyone who you can relate to, who is loving, who is a soulmate. Of course, if that companion is your spouse, it is truly a blessing. When there is loving between two people, then the relationship really does not matter. And when two people are not loving, no matter what their relationship is, it is dead – there is no relating between them, you see!
Another couple I can think of to celebrate this idea of loving are Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan, the dancers. In their mid-to-late 70s now, their companionship, of over 65 years on stage and over 50 years as a couple, is inspiring. They have grown up together, they have faced Life’s upheavals together, they have offered their art to the Universe together, they have taken Indian culture and dance to global audiences together – and they continue to rise in love. Over this IPL season, both of them have featured in Ogilvy & Mather’s Vodafone TV commercial series doing together many things that not many folks their age will really venture doing. The series has been aptly themed #MakeTheMostOfNow and shows them on a second honeymoon in Goa, riding a two-wheeler (wearing helmets – and that’s a wow!), paragliding, doing Facebook Live, and holding videoconferences with their extended family on their smartphones. (Watch the commercials here.)
Vaani and I believe that Life must be experienced to the fullest, through its highs and lows, through its upheavals and through all its magic, mysticism and beauty. You can do that only when you are loving, in the present continuous, and only when you #MakeTheMostOfNow – together!
You may want people around you forever. But Life decides whether you need them or not.
A young reader wrote in that his girlfriend has broken up with him. He has dependent parents – both of them have kidney conditions that require regular dialysis – and the lady “does not want to be saddled with the burden of his parents”. The young man is heart-broken and unable to come to terms with this reality – he is struggling and suffering.
Now, it is perhaps easy to conclude that the lady lacks compassion. But whatever be your view, the truth is she always had a choice and she exercised it. So, the only way forward for the young man is to move on. But moving on is never so easy. Especially when you believe you are attached to someone at a “soul level”. As this reader told me, “My ex was a huge support for me emotionally. I related a lot to her. But now I feel lonely and lost.”
However, not just in the context of a break-up, but generally in Life, if you treat relationships as impermanent, you can cope with your loss better. Some people you love and relate to pass on. Some others move on. This may sound weird, but it is important to practice detachment in a relationship and be ever-prepared for a separation. Yes, one way to look at separations is to say that they are ordained that way or that someone leaving you does not deserve you. But there’s a more evolved, mature, response that’s possible. Which is that one day, sooner or later, a separation, like death, is inevitable.
Let me share with you the story of my friend, who’s in his 50s. I met him recently, many years after he had separated from his wife. His wife actually had dealt with him rather unusually – taking over his property, deserting him and migrating to the US with their child. While she may have had her own reasons for her actions, my friend was devastated. He just could not reconcile, for several months, with what had happened. I remember him telling me then: “I loved her and still love her a lot. She could have just told me that she wanted to break away from me and I would have walked away without a question. That she chose not to trust me with her decision hurts me more than her leaving me. And why deny me access to my own child?”
Over time, my friend immersed himself in his work. And all of us around him felt he had managed his emotional state pretty well. When I met him a few days ago, I asked him how he was coping. What he told me blew me away completely and my admiration for him has swelled. Here’s how the conversation went.
Him: “Life’s beautiful. I married a Kashmiri woman whose husband died of cancer some years ago and adopted her son as my own.”
Me: “That’s wonderful. How old is the boy? And how has he adapted to you?”
Him: “The boy is in his teens. It’s been 7 years. He calls me ‘daddy’ and we are great friends. My wife and I are also great friends. To tell you the truth, I have a special and beautiful friendship with her. After her husband’s death, her in-laws were not supportive. They harassed her and blamed her for their son’s death (he was diagnosed with cancer within a few months of their marriage). She even contemplated suicide as she could not handle them nor get over her loss. She loved her husband a lot and did not see a meaning in her continuing to live. We have a mutual friend who asked me if I could consider marrying her so that she could get out of the tyrannical clutches of her in-laws. When I met her for the first time, she told me openly that she did not want to ever physically consummate our marriage. Because she still feels the presence of her husband in her Life. So, she told me that our own marriage may not work out. I liked her openness. And her concern for me. I told her we could still marry and be great friends. That’s how it all started and all three of us are very, very, very happy!”
Me: “That’s such a great choice and gesture. I respect you. But don’t you miss something: maybe physical intimacy? Maybe your first wife?”
Him: “Life’s not about sex and physical relationships alone. I still love my first wife. But she’s gone. What’s the point in pining for her or holding a grudge against her? I decided to channelize my love for her and my first child, who’s with her, toward my second wife and her son. Their presence in my Life keeps me anchored and their friendship keeps me going.”
The learning I am picking up from my friend’s story is this: no matter what happens to you in Life, no matter who you end up separating with, for whatever reason, you can still make it beautiful.
The key to being detached in relationships is to understand and accept the transient nature of Life. As a child, I learned to play the Hawaiian guitar. And one of the songs I learnt to play on it was “Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai…” from Shor (1972, Manoj Kumar, Jaya Bhaduri, Nanda, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar, Santosh Anand). My favorite line from the song is this: “…Kuch Paakar Khona Hai…Kuch Khokar Paana Hai…Jeevan Ka Matlab Toh, Aana Aur Jaana Hai…” It means, “…(in Life)…you win some, you lose some and Life’s true meaning is to just come and go…”!
And that’s all there is to relationships too. People come and go in your Life basis a grand design that you can never comprehend. They come to play a specific role in your Life. When Life decides that you no longer need them, they move on. Now you may perhaps want them around forever. But Life is willing otherwise. So, if someone has left you heart-broken, get up and move on; accept Life’s verdict and celebrate the times you spent with that person. Ultimately, Life is the biggest Teacher, the Master Planner, and, as I have learnt, the Master Plan has no flaws.
Loving, in the present continuous, is essential for a relationship to thrive despite all differences.
We watched Mani Ratnam’s new movie Katru Veliyidai last evening. Viewers have panned the film for many reasons. Principal among them is the view, held by many, that Dr.Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari) continues to accommodate, accept and love VC (Karthi) despite being “humiliated and trampled upon” by him. The question people are asking is: Why should a film portray a woman in such light; why can’t Dr.Leela have been a much stronger woman who slaps VC back, who tramples him back, who rightfully asserts herself and claims an equal place in their relationship?
I have three points to make about the movie. 1. I liked it a lot – for most parts. 2. Perhaps because the story-telling was not so linear, and perhaps people these days often rush to pronounce judgment on social media on people and events, viewers missed what Mani Ratnam so aesthetically communicated through the film. 3. And that is the fact that Dr.Leela is indeed a strong woman – who asserts herself from the first instance in the blizzard. But her assertion is never vitriolic. Her loving of VC (not just her love for him) is as powerful as her seeking her space, her dignity. Despite the way he treats her, she is still relating to him, so she continues loving him. Yet, when he refuses to have their baby, she decides to walk away from him – not quite walking out on him – while continuing to be loving. There is a present continuous state to her loving, just as there is a present continuous state to her asking to be treated with respect. And that’s why I say Mani Ratnam’s tried to convey his point very aesthetically – he’s not spelt it out, he’s not laid it all there in a linear sequence; you pick what you want, the way you want to.
There’s not just an aesthetic quality to the film visually, its very essence is so. This is what I gleaned from the movie – that when two people are loving, they may have their differences, they may have their own independent personas, but they will still be able to relate to each other in a special way! Now, this is not a filmy situation alone – this is so true about Life, and about so many of our stories out there. The problem with society is that we expect people to conform to stereotypes. But surely, there are as many different characterizations in personalities out there as there are people. And each one evolves and changes with time, through their experiences. This is what happens to VC through his reflection, through his incarceration in a Pakistani jail. I truly believe that loving is more important and more relevant than the singular act of falling in love. When there is loving, then there is a flow, there’s a freedom to be who you are. Then it is present continuous. Then there is a relating. And only when two people are relating to each other, despite their differences, can their relationship thrive. That’s really what happens in Mani Ratnam’s Katru Velyidai, to his Dr.Leela and VC.
To me the takeaway is deeply spiritual. It offers an aesthetic value that’s not commonly understood or appreciated. As social animals, and as social media content creators and consumers, we expect everything in a “black and white”, in a “my way or the highway” format. But Life doesn’t to conform to any formats, formulae or structures. Life’s creations – all of us included – are all at the same time unique, and flawed, just as VC and Dr.Leela are, who live and love on their own terms. The key is to celebrate everyone for who they are, while celebrating yourself, and to keep on loving, as undefineably, as expansively as the breeze (Katru Veliyidai), without expectations, without conditions, without limitations…And some day, the one who continues to relate to your loving, will find their way to you, no matter what – or who – comes in the way!
Anger cannot be managed or avoided; it’s futility must be understood.
I recently met a former colleague of mine after 15 years. She used to work on my team. We got chatting. Over the conversation, she enquired if I still flew into rage like I used to back then. She recounted an instance when I had flung a picture frame from my desk at her because she walked up to report a mishap that had happened to a client deliverable. She said she was saved because she ducked in the nick of time! I was undoubtedly embarrassed being reminded of my forgettable, and shameful, past. I appear to have had a serious issue dealing with my anger.
My practice of mouna – daily silence periods – helped me immensely in understanding my anger and in channelizing that energy productively. This is what I have learnt.
You get angry with someone or with a situation because you feel you are unable to control them. Anger stems from an inherent want to control everything about your Life. Awareness of the true nature of Life is really the only way you can understand the futility of anger. Your education, your ability to earn a living, your logical thinking may tell you that Life can be controlled. But only when you go through inscrutable Life experiences and realize that Life has a mind of its own, that there are things and situations in Life that are beyond your control, will you come to accept your fallibility. Only then will you see the futility of anger. Once you understand that anger is a waste of energy, you will start conserving that energy. The more aware you are, the less you get angry with stuff you can’t control. That’s how you can channelize that energy into changing what you don’t like about your Life. This is what Gandhi did – he channelized his anger against the British governing us to lead a revolution that eventually got us independence. And at the highest level of evolution, you are able to invest all your energy, that may have been frittered away as mindless anger, in loving others, in healing the world – think Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama, and you will picture what I mean!
I have also learnt that anger cannot be managed or avoided. Anger will arise when you don’t get what you want or you get what you don’t want. You will be angered when someone disturbs your equilibrium; when someone does not fulfil a promise or lets you down. But if you are aware, you will let your anger arise and subside. You may be seized by the heat of the moment, you may start to lose your cool or grit your teeth, but you will seamlessly switch to seeing how pointless it is to hurl unchannelized energy at someone or something. This is how I have learnt to deal with my anger. I don’t try to manage or avoid it. I let it rise, whenever it does, and I let it go. And I guess I am able to do that because I understand anger – and Life – better today than I did 15 years ago.
The trigger for this post though was not my colleague recalling the angry young AVIS. It was what happened at a pharmacy this morning that led to this post. I had to buy a few medicines. And the storekeeper took awfully long. He kept attending to everyone else but me. When it finally came to payment time, my card transaction was declined even as I received an SMS from my bank saying my account had been debited. I then had to cough up precious cash to complete the purchase. When I got back home and narrated the experience to Vaani, I said something that made me realize how much I had evolved. I told her, “It’s okay. I am glad I kept my cool! Because, bade bade Life mein, aisi choti choti baatien hoti rehati hain…!” Meaning: “In a long eventful Life, such small events keep happening!”