“…yeh gham ki ratein, ratein yeh kaali, inko bana de id aur diwali…”
This line is from the iconic Shirdi Wale Sai Baba song, from Manmohan Desai’s 1977 classic, “Amar Akbar Anthony” (AAA). The other night I heard this song, perhaps for the nth time, on TV. A young contestant on this Season’s Indian Idol, Azmat Hussain, sang this song beautifully; incredibly, he sang it in the presence of its composer Pyarelal (of the legendary Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo). Anand Bakshi’s powerful lyrics and Mohd. Rafi’s evocative rendering make this song one of my favorites.
There was a time, however, when I hated this song.
I was 10 years old when AAA released. In the last 42 years, I have watched this movie several hundred times; I never tire of watching it! Yet, for the longest time, I used to think that this devotional song interrupted the fast-paced narrative of the movie. So, I loathed this song – picturized on Rishi Kapoor and his on-screen mother Nirupa Roy, it showcased the miracle of Roy’s eyesight being restored through Shirdi Baba’s grace – in AAA. I have even wondered why Manmohan Desai, who to me is a master filmmaker, resorted to “cheap gimmickry”, often sprinkling liberal doses of Faith, religion, God and miracles in the storylines of his films! In fact, one night, several years ago, I recall telling this to a friend: “It is stupid to rely on miracles when you can write your own destiny”! We both were at the famous Trishna Restaurant & Bar in Mumbai’s Fort area and had downed a few pegs of whisky. Our conversation was about Manmohan Desai’s impressive body of work and I remember vociferously highlighting how this song singularly devalued AAA’s brilliance.
I was in my 20s then. And I was ambitious. I was in a hurry to prove to the world that “I” too could be successful, wealthy and famous.
To be sure, through my 20s and right up to my mid-30s, I did hit several performance targets that I had set for myself. This certainly reiterated my belief then that hard work and integrity always delivered results – which is, they always gave you whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted them! And so, for all that while, I never had any reason to either revisit my views on Life, miracles and destiny or consider the import and relevance of Shirdi Sai Baba’s teachings!
And then the bankruptcy happened to us in end-2007 (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). Groping through it – through worklessness, pennilessness, darkness, insecurity, worry and fear – Vaani and I tried religion, rituals and explored the idea of God in the hope of finding solutions to fix our problems. We also leaned on the sciences of Astrology, Vaastu and Feng Shui. Finally, battered and bruised, when nothing worked for us, we learnt to let go, to surrender and to go with the flow of Life. We immersed ourselves in prayer. Recognizing that there was indeed a nameless, formless, inscrutable, Higher Energy that governed all Life, we implicitly placed our trust in it. We told each other that we will take each day as it comes, one day at a time, and keep walking, however long it takes us or however far we had to walk. After all, we reasoned, the same Energy that had created us will care for us, will provide for us.
This is how – and when – we discovered Shirdi Baba’s twin philosophies of Faith and Patience. When you pause and reflect, you will agree that Shirdi Baba’s Life’s message is contained in these two simple, magical, words. In fact, at all the shrines dedicated to him, and all through the “Saisatcharita”, you will find these two words staring back at you – “shraddha” and “saburi”, Faith and Patience! Through our cathartic, awakening experience, we understood that Faith is simply the ability to trust the process of Life. And we realized that while we anchor in Faith, we must employ Patience until we get what we want.
To be sure, there is no method, no single way, to anchor in Faith and employ Patience. Letting go, trusting the process of Life and living with Faith and Patience, is the way. Living through our crippling bankruptcy for over 12 years now, Vaani and I have realized that Faith does not always solve our problems immediately. But having Faith in the process of Life – that what goes around, comes around; that what goes up will come down some day, only to go back up another day – certainly helps us to cope with our problems better. Keeping the Faith also teaches us Patience. Unless you embrace these twin philosophies, and live practising them together, you will not see the miracles in your everyday Life.
The truth is that this Life is a miracle, every moment you are alive is a miracle…the sunrise, the sunset, the dew drop, the moon, the stars, the birds chirping…every thing, and everyone, around you is a miracle. But you miss these everyday miracles because you are steeped in grief, in pining for what is over, what is dead and isn’t there or you are gripped by anxiety and fear, worrying about the unborn future, about what is still to arrive. You are so consumed by imagining that your Life is one endless saga of problems that you don’t see the magic and beauty of your Life, of your miracles. In fact, this human form you have is a miracle; despite your frailties, your circumstances and your vulnerabilities, “you are the miracle you seek”! And, be sure, that you are reading this Blogpost now is a miracle. What Vaani and I have learnt is that miracles don’t happen to you because you prayed harder or because you deserve them. Miracles are happening for you, and will continue to happen for you, because you need them. But you can see these miracles only when you are soaked in Faith and Patience, only when you learn to let go and flow with Life!
Anand Bakshi’s lyrics from the song in AAA are pointing to precisely this awakening: “…yeh gham ki ratein, ratein yeh kaali, inko bana de id aur diwali…”…Bakshi’s plea is that of the beleaguered devotee, of the seeker, asking Baba to show the way, to making these dark, sorrowful, nights a celebration, like an Id or Diwali…How can a dark phase in Life ever be a celebration, you may well wonder. Turn to Baba, as we did, and you will find him simply inviting you to keep the Faith and employ Patience.
Vaani and I can relate totally to Bakshi’s song – and particularly to that line – now and to the import of Baba’s twin philosophies. For the record, I no longer think it is stupid to rely on miracles or believe that you can write your own destiny. I actually am in a constant ready-to-celebrate-miracles mode and I totally, unquestioningly, trust the process of Life. And I must report that even though we are still in the throes of our financial crisis, we have seen, at every stage, Life taking care of us, providing us what we need, in the nick of time. While, on the material, evidential, side it is common knowledge now that our children have graduated from universities abroad through “miraculous acts of the Universe”, on the spiritual side, we both have not just survived thus far, we are living a Life of meaning and Purpose. As “the happynesswalas”, we are spending our every waking minute Inspiring ‘Happyness’! In fact, to us both, given our excruciating circumstances, being in this state is a miracle. We are thriving, making each moment – however dark or gruesome it may be – count, celebrating it like an Id, like a Diwali!
Note: AVIS and Vaani are the happynesswalas. They believe their Life’s Purpose is Inspiring ‘Happyness’! They are going through a fascinating Life-changing experience – a crippling bankruptcy!! Look them up here: www.avisviswanathan.in and www.avinitiatives.co.in.
Remember: you can’t fight Life. It is your fighting, your resisting what is, that is causing all your suffering.
A reader wrote to me after reading my Blogpost, ‘Why blame your God, who is a human invention anyway, for Life’s upheavals?’, a few days ago. His point: “Our culture, our religions, our elders, constantly remind us that if rituals are not performed, something terrible will happen to us. I practice all the rituals out of fear.” Another reader enquired on WhatApp: “How can we keep the faith when going through a grave time in Life? For instance, what is there to look forward to about when a loved one is dead, when you are struck by a terminal illness or when you have lost your job and are in the throes of worry and uncertainty?”
Both sets of questions are relevant and are open for exploration.
You see, we must understand the true nature of Life. It is what it is; no matter what you do, or don’t do, Life will happen to you the way it must and wants to. For instance, no ritual, no amount of piety, no prayer, can always get you what you want or always help you avoid what you don’t want. You have to go through what you have to go through in Life. So, doing a ritual out of fear or praying with an expectation that your wish must be granted are both sure ways of inviting misery into your Life.
This human form, your creation as a human, is a gift, is a blessing. You are squandering this gift if you are cowering in fear in every moment that you are alive. It is okay to be ritualistic if you are doing something without an expectation and are enjoying the process of doing it. But what is the point in doing anything when you are hating every moment of doing it, when you are deeply unhappy doing it, and are doing it only out of fear?
Similarly, why resist death or a debilitating health challenge or a job loss? Each of them is an event, a happening in Life, which has happened only because you could not control it. Think about it. If you could have controlled it, wouldn’t you have ensured that your loved ones did not die? Or that you were cured of your terminal health condition? Or that you did not lose your job? Clearly, contrary to what your conditioning – scientific, religious and social – has led you to believe, you do not control your Life. Just because you earn an income, and know that 2+2 adds up to 4, and are in good health, right now, it does not mean that you are controlling your Life. The truth is that if you are getting what you want then Life is willing it so – for now. There may be another time in Life when you may not get what you want, when things will not add up – no matter how hard you work or pray. So, simply be grateful for, and enjoy, what is. And when you get what you don’t want or don’t get what you want, again be grateful for, and accept, what is. Because fighting Life, resisting what is, will only make you miserable and unhappy.
What I am sharing here is what I have learned from Life, from Shirdi Sai Baba’s teaching. He has always championed that Faith and Patience are crucial to going through this journey called Life.
Here, Faith does not refer to an external God or to a religion or a prayer – Faith truly means trusting the process of Life. Trust, believe, keep the Faith that the Higher Energy that created you as a human, that has brought you to this point in Life, just as it has done all this while, will take you onward too, will take care of you, will provide for you and will look after you. Your not getting what you want, or your getting what you don’t want, does not ever mean that you will not be given what you need. At every stage in Life you will be given, you will get, exactly what you need. Believing in this truth is what Faith is all about. And you don’t have to look outside of you for evidence of this: haven’t you, all through the Life you have lived so far, at every stage, through every crisis of yours, always received whatever you needed? You know what your answer is, so please stop worrying, and keep the Faith. And until such time that your Life situation changes – and it eventually will, no matter what you are going through – to give you all that you want, be Patient. Remember: you can’t fight Life. It is your fighting, your resisting what is, that is causing all your suffering. So, accept what is, embrace your current reality, however dark it is, and move one step at a time, one day at a time, in Faith, with Patience.
To be sure, Vaani and I have been enduring our bankruptcy for almost 11 years now by staying anchored in Faith and Patience. Let me share here an anecdote, from some years ago, from a particularly numbing time in our Life. We had no money and our mobile phone connections were due to be disconnected the next day – for non-payment of the monthly bills. There was no money to buy groceries too and the next day was also Krishna Janmasthami – a time when Vaani would normally make special sweets and savories as part of the celebrations!
To have a change of scenery and to surrender in prayer, we decided to visit a young man, who is a messenger of Swami Sathya Sai Baba, through whom Swami speaks to seekers. When we reached this young man’s place, in Nungambakkam (in Chennai), a weekly Sai Bhajan was in progress. When the Bhajan got over, the young man met us.
He asked us, in English, “Swami wants to know if you have any questions for him?”
Vaani replied: “Please tell Swami that we don’t have money even for basics like paying our phone bills and for buying groceries…”
The young man cut Vaani short. He said, “Swami is asking, ‘Isn’t Faith basic…?’ If you have Faith…anything can happen!”
We didn’t have anything more to ask. What do you ask when you are the answer? As we went to sleep that night, both of us surrendered to the process of Life…I remember telling Vaani: “If this is what it is, we will live through it…”
The next day a friend called me, out of the blue, on his own. He knew our situation well and offered me Rs.5,000/- with which I managed to save our mobile phone connections and bought some groceries that were urgently needed. And that evening, another friend walked into our home, unannounced, with a hamper of Krishna Janmashtami bakhshanam (sweets and savories) – cheedai, appam and such. She told Vaani, “I was passing by and wanted to share with you what I had picked up for my family.”
How do you explain this?
Vaani and I have seen this happen to us, again, and again, and again. We have always got what we need; and at the right time. Nothing has ever come a moment early or a moment late. I talk about several such experiences in my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’, in the documentary on us, ‘Rise In Love’, and here on this Blog. For both of us, Life has come to mean to live this learning – work hard, do whatever you must do in the given situation and then let go, trust Life and be patient. This is how we pray – eternally grateful for whatever we have and completely surrendering to the Higher Energy to take care of us, to look after us and to provide for us. And, believe me, it always has. Repeatedly, unfailingly.
This is how – and why – we are happy – being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering – despite our circumstances.
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!