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!
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!
Loving is present continuous, evolving, as it is flowing!
A young reader reached out to share her friend’s predicament. The friend’s boyfriend of a few years had suddenly declared, overnight, that he had “fallen out of love” with her. The two were considering marriage. The young lady is, naturally, heart broken. She is figuring out a way to deal with her situation. And I am sure there are countless people out there who are struggling with such break-ups.
Interestingly, in the specific context of the young lady’s boyfriend, I actually commend him for his clarity. He at least knows that he has fallen out of love with her. This makes it amply clear to the lady – and to all of us – that the problem is not with the lady, it is not with her boyfriend, it is not even with love, it is with the lack of loving. When there is no loving, there is no relating. And when there is no relating, where is the question of a friendship, a relationship, a marriage?
I come from an Osho school of thought. Osho always warned against this tendency to fall in love. He said that only because people fall in love do they even fall out of it! Instead, he championed rising in love. Think about it deeply – what he says is simple, yet profound! Which is why, in my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, I titled a chapter Rise In Love to share how the companionship between Vaani and me has thrived over the years. Here’s an excerpt (my Book is a collection of letters written to my two children Aashirwad and Aanchal; Mom here refers to their mom, Vaani!):
“…I want you both to understand the essence of companionship in Life, drawing upon how inspired I am by your Mom. Sooner than you both believe, you too will be in love. You too will meet and want to be with someone whom you want to spend the rest of your Life with. But remember, being in a relationship alone does not mean being in love. Being drawn to someone for their physical attributes is not being in love either. Being happy in someone’s presence is also not being in love completely. You are in love completely when you can be someone’s best friend and can have that best friend’s friendship forever. A best friend is a soul-mate. Someone who can help you see who you are, accept you for what you are and in the future may become one who does not shy away from speaking the truth; holding a mirror and critiquing – not criticizing – your actions and someone who is willing to walk with you to where neither of you has been before. A soul-mate is always understanding, demanding, forgiving, compassionate, teaching and uplifting.
“It is not difficult or too complex to be a soul-mate. You can be one too. Being a soul-mate requires one to know, understand and appreciate the meaning of Life. Life in your teens and early adulthood will be full of exploration. Especially of your sexuality. This is where you will find joy in kissing, feeling and, perhaps, in today’s generation, having sex. Please know that there’s nothing wrong with any of that. When you get past the physical dimension of love, you begin to see the value of wanting to spend a lifetime with that person. It’s a great feeling, full of anticipation. Of your own home, of your own children, of your own Life together; living, happily ever after.
“Now, almost everyone who falls in love first and then marries gets into that relationship with the same sentiments and expectations. Then, have you wondered, why do people break up? Why do marriages fail? It is because, relationships, as I have learned from Osho, the Master, signify the death of the same something, that precious feeling that inspired you, in the first place, called love. You love someone when you relate to that person. People fall out of love because in a marriage, while there is a law, a label, society, family, caste and religion – there is no more relating!
“I think what has worked for Mom and me is that we continue to relate to each other. Age, place, or circumstance, don’t seem to affect or pollute our precious, pristine shared space, where our love for each other continues to thrive. It is not something unique to us. We have just made our friendship, our way of relating to each other special…”
A young film-maker Shalu who read my Book decided to make a film and called it Rise in Love to showcase how love thrives in the face of adversity. Between my Book, and the film, a common thread you will see that keeps me and Vaani going is our loving. It is present continuous. It is a verb. It is not static, it evolves as it flows.
So, that brings me to the boyfriend’s choice. Of course, what he has told the lady will hurt her. It is a sure cause for a heart-break, a depression. But it is actually an opportunity to celebrate too. Celebrate that this is not the person that, over time, she would have been able to relate to anyway; so let him go! Celebrate also that the gentleman had the courtesy and courage to take an informed, evolved, decision, instead of two-timing her. This attitude, to look beyond the obvious, beyond the physicality of the situation, is crucial to intelligent living. Now that the lady is in the throes of a break-up, if she chooses to rise above the apparent heart-break, she will discover that a companion who will compliment her, complete her, no matter what the circumstances may be, is waiting for her! She just has to rise in love to find him!
Clearly, beyond what families want, beyond what society dictates, beyond marriage, lie loving and companionship. When you have found that truly loving companion, who will continue to be loving no matter what, you will have risen in love too!
Go beyond the predictable and celebrate Life, love Life!
The other day, while addressing a bunch of students at a Medical College in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, I asked them: “How many of you are in love? How many of you have been in love?” Interestingly, no hands went up. It’s possible that they students were too shy to share openly or it’s also possible that they have not been in love yet. Whatever it was, I felt our social conditioning makes us look at love as something that is governed by age, gender and, sadly, also by economic criteria.
I feel if you are not in love you are not living. You may be existing. But you are not living, you are not alive. I am eternally in love. So, in the context of a romantic liaison, and companionship, I am in love with Vaani for over 29 years. But I am also in love with Life. I just find its inscrutability, its mystique, its challenges, its highs, its lows, it magic and its beauty irresistible. So, to me, love goes beyond the physical surely, it also goes beyond the love I feel for a soul-mate, or for my children, or a friend; love, as I have, is the ability to immerse yourself in the moment and celebrate it!
So I was delighted that the day after my Talk in Chittoor, at a friend’s Navarathri Golu party, another guest, the well-known singer Janani Madan, chose to sing Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai from Anarkali (1953, Nandlal Jaswantlal, Lata Mangeshkar, C.Ramachandra, Rajendra Krishan). Janani brought her own to this classic. She was simply brilliant. When she sang, “…zindagi hai bewafaa, loot pyaar ka mazaa…”, I was reminded of my questions to the students and of my own perspective on love. Rajendra Krishan was one of Hindi cinema’s most talented lyricists and writers. That one line sums up the attitude that we must bring to Life every single day – “…zindagi hai bewafaa, loot pyaar ka mazaa…” meaning (loosely) “….Life is a traitor, it will let you down or end abruptly, so, steal the joy of love, make time to love, when you still have Life and are alive…”!
This is what I have come to believe in and live by. There is no better time than now to live fully. Immerse in the moment, love what is. Do only what you love and that will make you happy no matter what circumstances you are placed in. And of course, if you can love someone, be in love and rise in love, continuously, you can really, really celebrate Life!
Someone once told me that to be expressing love appeared to be phony and impractical. And I laughed off that observation. What is the point in being born human if you cannot live the Life you love, and love the Life you live, if you cannot love and be loved, if you cannot be loving whatever is? To me, this is what living means. If you are not living this way, loving, you are merely existing!