Khudi Ko Kar Buland Itna…The Kalam Way!

Sigh, I have never met Dr.Abdul Kalam! So I don’t have a picture of mine with him to post here. I don’t also have anything to say of him which hasn’t been said already.

As my fellow Indians celebrate his Life by sharing what they think of him, I feel deeply too. But words cannot express what I feel about him. His presence, his Life and now his absence in a physical form can best be described as an eternal inspiration.

Cartoon Courtesy: Internet
Copyright rests with cartoon’s original creator
Last night as the NDTV newsbreak notification appeared on my phone, I was reminded of the lines that Mohd.Iqbal, a Pakistani poet and philosopher (1877~1938), also famously known as Allama Iqbal, gave the world to live by: “Khudi ko kar buland itna, ke har taqder se pehle, Khuda bande se ye poche, bata teri raza kya hai.” This roughly translated in a practical sense (there are a few exalted interpretations too) means, “Make your self-will so strong, your contribution to this Universe, therefore, so unputdownable, that before making your next destiny, the Creator will ask you for your preference of what you want to be created as.”  

We hope the Creator will ask this of Dr.Kalam. And we hope Dr.Kalam will ask to be created, yet again, as himself, as the most devoted, committed, true Indian that ever lived.

Dr.Kalam inspired us to believe that this Life is unlived and incomplete, if you have not touched lives. He lived this way to make his Life his message. In celebration of his Life, let us live that spirit of humility and selfless service – today and always…

The higher you go, the more grounded you must be PS: Also, please hold your own umbrella!

Irrespective of who you are or become, if you can stay humble and grounded, you can claim to have lived your Life most meaningfully and intelligently.

Obama with Vice-President Ansari
Picture Courtesy: Internet
US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were our special guests at this year’s R-Day Parade earlier this week. An unseasonal steady drizzle required that everyone had to deploy umbrellas. While most Indian dignitaries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had people holding up their umbrellas, both Obama and Michelle held up their umbrellas themselves. People across the sub-continent did not miss this subtle cultural trait that differentiates perhaps much of the Western, particularly US, world from us. We are still steeped in wasteful colonial practices, in the name of “tradition” and “protocol”, while folks from the US are – as they are in several other countries – far more humble and down-to-earth. This is an important lesson to be learnt by us in a country where, at the drop of a hat, people switch to a do-you-know-who-I-am mode and drop names to declare their clout and powerful reach.

Obama holding up his own umbrella, to me, is also an un-ignorable spiritual metaphor. The learning is that the higher you ascend, the more powerful and popular you become, the more grounded and humble you must be.  At the end of the day, we must all realize, that we are merely messengers. The art we claim to be masters of, the work that we do, the success we achieve, and the wealth we believe we create, are all manifestations of the energy that flows through us. Simply, Life is expressing itself through us. We are what we are not because of us but in spite of us! This is the truth. So, if you were a musician and music is flowing through you, how can you take credit for the music? How can the microphone – which is what you really are – take any credit for creating the music? The microphone must simply be happy at having been an instrument that helped broadcast the music. Staying humble, therefore, means to know that you cause nothing – neither your successes, nor your failures.

Does a PM need an umbrella “holder”?
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Of course, the world around us is unevenly skewed in favor of those who declare their might and success with pomp and a misplaced sense of self-worth. To them, they are unfortunately the majority, their hard work has led to their success and so they insist they have the right to flaunt it. Which is why a Mukesh Ambani chooses to build and live in an Antilla and Narendra Modi, apart from not wanting to hold his own umbrella, loved being in pin-stripes that had his name embroidered in place of the stripes! Contrast that with Amitabh Bachchan who, last week, was asked by NDTV’s Barkha Dutt to describe himself in a line. He replied, with his legendary, trademark, humility: “Just another name!”

I guess people know who they love more. The kind that flaunt or those that are self-effacing. But, on a personal note, I can tell you that the best state to be in is to believe that everything happens through you, in spite of you, and never because of you! This is the secret and key to inner peace and happiness! 

An unputdownable lesson on happiness from a slain soldier’s wife

Sometimes Life may just disturb a perfect, picture-postcard family. There are no sure ways to deal with such a situation – you just learn to cope and live.
At R-Day 2015: Indhu set to receive the Ashok Chakra
from the President awarded to Mukund posthumously
Picture Courtesy: Internet
Yesterday, I learnt this lesson, one more time, from Indhu Mukund. On Republic Day yesterday, as the entire nation watched, along with our special guests, US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, Indhu, 31, wife of slain Army officer Major Mukund Varadarajan (who died in action in Shopian in Jammu and Kashmir on April 25,  2014), received the Ashok Chakra – India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, from President Pranab Mukherjee, that was awarded to her husband posthumously. Indhu later told NDTV’s Barkha Dutt (see the full interview here): “India should see the man Mukund was, not my sorrow.” Indhu added that it was “Mukund’s day, his moment” yesterday and she did not want any trace of her own emotion to “interfere” with it. Such stoicism is a rare blessing. All I can do is to salute her and send her my prayers and positive energy.
The picture-postcard family: Indhu, Arshea, Mukund
Photo Courtesy: Internet
Until a year ago, the Mukunds were the perfect family. Their daughter Arshea was barely 3 years old and everything seemed so good to be true. And then Mukund had to go. There was national attention on Indhu, Arshea and on Mukund’s parents. But then like most stories, this one too, despite its emotional, human interest appeal, died down. The Ashok Chakra announcement put the spotlight back on Indhu and the family again. This morning’s papers too are full of pictures of her receiving the award. And then again, soon, everyone will go on with their lives. Mukund’s sacrifice will just remain a memory for some, and for most, a general knowledge data point. Dutt asked Indhu on her show last night if she would ever be bitter with this possibility. Indhu responded with amazing maturity that she would not. “I don’t expect anyone to remember Mukund the way the family will. If the nation remembers him as a patriot that’s good. The emotions are for me, for us as a family.” And finally, Dutt asked Indhu how she coped, how she has been able to stay strong: “Is it because of the love you had for Mukund?” And Indhu replied, again with disarming equanimity, “It is because of the love I havefor him. And the regard I have for him. He would have loved me to be happy. And my strength to live happily and give Arshea a happy Life comes from that.”
Almost everyone struggles with death. And there is no one who has not experienced a personal loss, through the death of someone close. Despite the fact that it is the only thing you can be sure of in Life – that everyone among us will die someday, death, when it arrives, stuns you. It numbs you. It is particularly devastating when it is sudden and snuffs away someone that is so full of Life – like Mukund – and renders incomplete a beautiful family such as his. There are no ways to prepare for such a situation. There are no methods to deal with this inscrutable Life. The only lesson we can learn, every time we hear a story such as the Mukunds, is to promise to live our lives – fully and make each day count; to never postpone happiness and, in a very practical, selfish sense, never postpone family time. And should the picture-postcard be disturbed – and it will be some day – learn from Indhu to be happy despite the circumstances. There is no other way to live, no other way to cope and certainly no other way to be happy!
(PS: Let us take a minute to humbly acknowledge the sacrifice of all the soldiers who have laid down their lives for our nation. And let us pray for the well-being of their precious families.)

Finding inner peace in discomfort

Sometimes, you just have to learn to accept whatever – or whoever – you are uncomfortable with!

The last week saw a lot of theatrics by the Indian Prime Minister and his team in the United States. Indian media went gaga over his visit giving the impression that India’s finest hour had arrived on the global stage. For more pragmatic folks, and Modi critics, like me, while the “‘Namo’ste America” show – as billed by the venerable NDTV – had a lot of sound and light, phenomenal follow-up on the ground and actual results to be delivered over the next several months alone can determine whether Prime Minister Modi’s sarkar passes with an honorable distinction or not. Yet, here’s a man, who – despite having been morally accountable for Godhra, despite having left his wife without any ostensible explanation, despite all the charges of right-wing, read non-secular, activism he faces – is still India’s Prime Minister, the first one in 30 years to be a leading a government that has absolute majority in Parliament. Undoubtedly, he’s a fine administrator, a brilliant communicator and a leader who commands respect among his followers. Even so, to me, personally, some of his credentials are hugely worrisome: his not-so-secular stances, his presiding over the Godhra carnage, his abandoning his unsuspecting, submissive wife – these are factors that make me squirm with discomfort that he’s leading my country now.

But do I – or others like me – have a choice?

The truth is he’s here to stay for five years – unless he or his government commits hara-kiri. The truth is that his government has the majority in Parliament to bulldoze whatever plans, policies or projects they may conceive. (Hopefully they won’t bulldoze non-secular ideologies down our throats!) The truth is the opposition, primarily the Congress (Disclosure: I am a forever Congressman at heart), is completely clueless on what it can and must possibly do. So, do we really have a choice?

PM Modi kicking off the Swach Bharat Abhiyan
Picture Courtesy: Internet
To be sure, some of the projects Modi has announced – particularly the Swach Bharat/Clean India campaign that he has kicked off today – are meaningful. And they are in sync with my own view as an Indian, that for India to transform, every Indian must transform. To cleanse India – figuratively, metaphorically and physically – we Indians must first clean up India.

So, over the past week, I seriously thought about my two views of Modi. Modi – the man, who I am very, very, very uncomfortable with for all the reasons that I have outlined. And Modi – my Prime Minister, who’s at least saying the right things, and some things, he saying them right too; things that were never expressed with as much clarity ever before. I realized that for my India to win, Modi has to win. My personal discomfort with the man cannot be the reason for me to be dismissive of his role as my country’s elected leader. When this clarity emerged in me, I found it easier to balance my personal discomfort with my view of our country’s much-needed, urgent – repair and rebuild – development agenda. I found myself at peace with this understanding taking root within me.

When we are uncomfortable with someone – or something – we have a choice to walk away from the scene. The other choice we have is to bury or swallow our discomfort and rally around or align with the person or the situation. Suffering though cannot be avoided in such a case. The third option is to accept the situation for what it is or the person for who they are and learn to live with that acceptance – and live in peace.

In the context under discussion, for instance, I realize that continuously criticizing Modi for the next five years for every move of his is only likely to make me more miserable. I also realize that I cannot support him at a personal level – I just can’t accept his value systems. So, I concluded that, while I am always going to be uncomfortable with his having been elected as our Prime Minister, I decided too that I am not going to expend precious personal energy ranting about him. Instead, I believe, choosing to stand with him on projects of national significance would be a more constructive approach. After all, the larger cause here is India’s development and progress and most certainly not who is leading India. Most definitely, I feel this approach will contribute to my inner peace.

Surely this approach will also work in any other context. The principle is very simple: When you are uncomfortable with a person or a situation, and if you can’t do anything to disengage completely, choose to accept whatever – or whoever – is and be at peace with yourself and your environment!