There is no “right” or “wrong” way to face Life. Over time, you figure out your own way!
I just finished K.S.Narendran’s book “Life After MH370 – Journeying Through A Void”! Naren’s wife of 25 years, Chandrika Sharma, was on that flight.
Vaani and I had not known Naren until MH370 happened. Like most of the world, we knew of Naren only through the tragedy. It was our mutual friend Melissa’s Facebook post, in the aftermath of MH370’s disappearance, that pointed to a possibility of connecting with Naren. From what Melissa’s post revealed, Chandrika and Naren had met at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and had started their journey in Life together from there. Having met Vaani, similarly, in college, I could relate to that sense of finding love in your Life…but I must confess I could not relate to what could have been Naren’s pain at that time, in the early days of hope while the world searched for the plane. Initially, all I wanted to do at that time, was to just reach out to the man and give him a hug.
I keenly followed the MH370 story in the media. I wrote a few Blogposts (“Life is a taste” – Simply taste what is!! , “Inspirations from a fellow voyager’s fortitude” and “A lesson in fortitude and gratitude from our dear friend Naren” ) as well sharing how I felt about Naren’s and his daughter Meghna’s sense of loss.
My own Book Fall Like A Rose Petal was being readied for a launch around this time in August 2014. I reached out to Naren – sending him a long-distance hug and requesting him to receive the first copy of my Book. Vaani and I were clear that my Book was not to have a typical celebrity-led, ribbon-opening, launch. We were keen to invite fellow voyagers like us, who were facing Life stoically, to launch my Book. Naren responded warmly. He cited his travel schedules clashing with my Book’s launch date and so he politely declined my invitation.
Vaani and I met Naren personally much, much later. Almost 6 months later. I will come to that in a bit.
Reading “Life After MH370”, I was able to relive with Naren, the days, weeks and months following the tragedy. Naren writes with honesty, baring his innermost feelings, yet he does not sensationalize his grief. This book is not an intellectual or literary expression either. It is also not a tome to pain, grief and suffering. It is a walk-through of Naren’s mind, of his soul, of his minutes and hours, post-MH370, of how he dealt with – and is dealing with – Life after Chandrika. As I journeyed through Naren’s void, I could feel his pain, his anger, his helplessness, his cluelessness, his love for Meghna, his struggle to cope personally with the fact that Chandrika will not return…I could feel his loneliness as much as I could feel his awakening to accept his “new normal”.
There’s a paragraph in the book where Naren shares how he helped Meghna understand their new reality. As I read it, I felt that Naren was both pragmatic and sagacious at the same time. For the same reasons, Naren’s been able to treat this book with a simplicity that is rare to find. It is straight from him to you, the reader. As you read it, you are forced to suspend all social and literary judgment. You just feel what a human being feels when journeying through a void that Life has suddenly sprung on him and his family.
Naren diligently, without getting acerbic at any point, presents the hollowness of the global, multi-national, search effort for the plane. His detailed examination of what-could-have-been-done by Malaysia, by Malaysia Airlines, by the Indian Government, and other governments, and what-eventually-happened is very logical. Reading all his reasoning – which reflected the voice of almost all families who had lost their loved ones on MH370 – I came away with a better understanding of the times we live in. Life moves on for sure, but surely, the world moves on faster. “Life After MH370” perhaps ever-so-gently reminds us, who are avaricious consumers of global media newsbreaks, that there’s a lot, lot more to a news-story after it is taken off the channels and the front pages.
Vaani and I took our first email exchange forward with Naren and we met for coffee sometime in end-2015 at Chamiers Café in Chennai. Over the last several months we have become good friends. I invited him to be my guest on The Uncommon Leader Series that I curate for the Madras Management Association. He weighed the invitation carefully and consented that he was coming just for a conversation with me and that he neither was an uncommon leader nor did he have any wisdom to offer. Here is the entire 90-minute conversation. (Do make time and watch it. I can assure you that it will definitely be worth your effort!)
“Life After MH370”, to me, is an important book. It doesn’t preach. It doesn’t suggest. It doesn’t showcase. Naren simply tells us what he has felt and is feeling, what he has been through and is going through. And that’s how the book makes a very significant contribution to you, the reader – it tells you that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to face Life. You just face it. Whatever happens, experience it. When Life deals you a tragic blow, don’t resist it. Go through the experience. You will struggle, you will stumble, you will grope in the dark, you will be pinned down by hopelessness…but go through it. Because such is Life. There is no other way. And by doing all that, over time, you arrive, at your own pace, at the point of accepting the Life you have, you awaken to your own way of moving on with what is.
Only when you accept a situation can you go to work on it with clarity and focus.
“How do you learn to accept Life for what it is? Isn’t it very difficult,” asked a young man from the audience the other day, ahead of my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk at the Madras Literary Society. Interestingly, after hearing my Talk, he didn’t have that question anymore!
It is not just him, a lot of people out there struggle to accept Life for what it is. As I reveal in my Talk, I too have struggled with acceptance. The fundamental reason for resisting Life is that we think we can fight, we can out-think, we can out-smart Life. We think just because we are educated and think logically, rationally, we believe we can solve all the problems we are faced with. But there are some Life situations that are beyond our control. And those cannot be solved no matter how strong our intent may be or how capable we really may be. In such instances, acceptance is the key to avoid suffering and helps immensely with keeping the focus on what needs to get done and in keeping the faith that it will get done.
Consider some instances to understand the value in acceptance. What do you do in Chennai, and most parts of Tamil Nadu and South India, that are struck by drought? The day temperatures are closer to 40 degrees and there’s no respite from the merciless heat – with no signs of rain. Is there any point in fighting Nature? Or take the case of the Malaysian Airlines plane MH 370 – that went missing over 3 years ago. All the world’s forces and resources, technologies and experts, cannot trace the plane. Is there any point in resisting that situation? Is it worth at all to fight it? Or what do you do when you have a rare health condition that no doctor can really put their finger on it? Is there any point in fighting this situation?
So, when a situation is beyond your control, when you know you can’t solve it, the best way to deal with it is to go with the flow. This does not mean inaction or resignation. It means you must accept the situation, you must keep making your efforts to solve it if you believe it can still be resolved, but you must remain non-frustrated if the results don’t add up. So, acceptance is not failure. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is employing common-sense in the wake of an inscrutable Life situation and trusting Life to sort itself out over time. Only acceptance can help you to be non-suffering. And only when you don’t suffer can you get down to working calmly on a situation that requires to be changed.
Life Hai, Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai!
We didn’t know of K.S.Narendran until Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 went missing on March 8th, 2014. Naren’s wife of 25 years, Chandrika, was on that flight. Vaani and I reached out to Naren and found him to be very warm, very gracious, even as he was stoic. Over the last 33 months, Naren has had to come to terms with the enormous, new reality he is faced with; he has had to pick up the threads of his own Life while helping their daughter Meghna cope, accept and move on. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
This morning I found this post on Naren’s Facebook wall. Read on…
It is now 1000 days since MH370 last took to the skies.
I did not imagine that in today’s satellite surveilled world, a large plane with hundreds of people could just vanish.
I did not imagine that we will be searching six kilometres under the ocean for an aircraft that was flying ten kilometres up in the sky.
I did not imagine that we would know so little about its whereabouts after so many days.
I did not imagine that bits and pieces of the plane would reach waters and seashores thousands of miles away from where the last goodbye was heard.
I did not imagine that so few debris would be recovered after this long a wait.
I did not imagine that some day I would write “No debris today” and feel relieved.
I did not imagine that it would be the same status update for most days since that day in early 2014.
I did not imagine that a search will continue only where the plane is believed to have gone down, and not in parts where the parts and pieces of it show up.
I did not imagine that it was possible to be so cavalier in handling affected families.
I did not imagine that rich nations of G-something or the other will cavil about allocations for search and investigation.
I did not imagine that we would be arguing about my dollar or yours when it could be your life or mine the next time.
I did not imagine that we would make a trip to pick the pieces when we trusted our governments to do this on our behalf.
I did not imagine that we would have love and support from thousands for whom our loss has been theirs.
I did not imagine that a ‘Thank You’ to all would seem so inadequate, yet it is the best there is to give.
In sharing his deepest feelings, Naren holds out a lesson in fortitude and gratitude to all of us.
In May this year, I had the opportunity and privilege to be in conversation with Naren at the event series I curate for Madras Management Association (MMA) titled “The Uncommon Leader”. Naren told me then that he is neither an ‘uncommon leader’ nor has he any wisdom to share. But if you listen to this 80-minute conversation I had with him, you will understand how invaluable reflection and acceptance are in situations when we are dealing with disruptive change and when we must demonstrate personal leadership.
As we rush through our lives, often trying to obsess over its material aspects, we miss the opportunity to invest our precious moments in all that which matters most to us. Occasionally, a Life-changing event shows up, either in our own lives, or through the lives of others, which reminds us that this is an ephemeral Life – anything, absolutely anything, can happen at any time to anyone!
Take away what you find relevant from my blogpost today, but please do pause to send Naren, Meghna, and all those beautiful families a long distance hug and all your love!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!
The truth is that Life has always been flowing on its own.
I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day. She said that whenever she felt she could not solve a problem or deal with a Life situation, she felt frustrated, defeated and depressed. She knew she must let go, but her big question was – “If we are bestowed with intelligence, why should we let go? Isn’t human intelligence there, in the first place, to solve all the problems that we confront?”
This lady is merely articulating what many of us don’t – but we all experience similar situations.
Let me give you an elementary example. Some months ago, I was trying to make a film on Windows Movie Maker, trying to stitch together various video clips. I just couldn’t understand, on my own, how the clips could be made to play seamlessly. Somehow the self-help videos on YouTube or online support links were not very clear with the way to resolve the specific glitch I was facing. I was frustrated with my efforts. I had a problem. And I was insistent that I find the solution. Finally, I called a young friend who uses Windows Movie Maker often. And he gave me the lead to the solution in a nano-second.
So it is with Life. There are many Life situations when a human, logical approach will not work. I don’t want to go all over the place citing examples of such a situation – think MH 370 and think about why all the human powers – and intelligence – in the world have been incapable of locating this plane. So, I rest my case. You may have experienced this or may be faced with one just now. In all such cases, that you cannot solve, despite your best efforts, learn to let go.
Clearly, there are times in Life when nothing will go your way. There will be so much unsaid, so much unresolved. And it may just seem like everything is wrong about your Life. Every effort you make, each step you take, you will be stonewalled, tripped or pushed to a corner. The mind will invite you to despair. Decline that invitation artfully and let Life lead you. You get out of your own way!
Relax. Get yourself a cup of tea or grab a drink if you can. The mind is like a tennis-ball practice machine. It keeps spewing out worries and fears endlessly. These debilitating thoughts will tell you that you can and must solve the problems that face you just now. But what if you have already tried all that you can think up of. And failed. And the problems persist. The very thought that there’s no way forward may force you to allow your fears to take hold of you. Please don’t let them. Your fearing something is not going to take that something away. Life is to be faced. Not feared. So, let Life happen as it has been happening and as it is happening. These are times when accepting that there’s no choice is an intelligent choice in itself. Exercise it.
When we try to solve some of our problems and don’t meet with much success, intelligence lies in letting go, letting Life take over, and getting out of our own way. The truth is that Life has always been flowing on its own. You and I have done precious little to make our lives happen. Getting out of your own way is not inaction. In fact, it is a more sensible action than to be perpetually frustrated and fearful! When you get out of your own way, you can see the way that Life has laid out for you clearly! And that way, always, takes you to where you must eventually arrive!