Only you can decide what makes you happy!
We bumped into a young friend at a coffee shop yesterday. She is a qualified architect but is taking a gap year in her academics.
She asked us: “Is it okay to not feel like doing anything in Life? I mean, is it seriously okay? I feel everyone around me is chasing their tail and here I am…completely clueless about my future and blundering along…I am still unsure if I want to study further or if I want to practice or be a writer or just travel the world. Everyone is forcing me to decide and go do ‘something’. But I don’t want to commit to doing something that my heart isn’t agreeing to.”
Vaani, in turn, asked her this question: “What makes you happy?”
And the young lady replied: “I am still figuring out what makes me happy. But I am sure none of the things my family or friends want me to do, like do a desk job to earn an income and gain experience, or a do a Masters Program so that the tag of a graduate can be acquired, will make me happy.”
The lady, in our opinion, has her priorities clearly in place.
Even as she is figuring out what will quench her soul, what will make her intrinsically happy, she’s sure about what she does not want to do. And there’s no confusion in her mind there. Now, that’s a wonderful state to be in.
You see, the whole world is running amuck – everyone is trying to become something, become someone else that they really are not. Worse, almost everyone else seems to have an opinion about what you must do and how you must live your Life. Sometimes, this cacophony can be deafening. If you capitulate and sign up for what the world wants you to do, at the cost of your own inner peace and joy, then don’t complain about your Life being listless and meaningless. Because that’s really what Life will be when you live it for someone else’s sake! But, if you want your Life to be exciting, if you want to wake up each morning loving the opportunity to go do what you love doing, then you have to pause and reflect.
Ask yourself important, fundamental, questions: 1. What makes me happy? 2. What makes me feel grateful for this gift called Life? 3. Doing what makes me lose myself completely so that I forget all my worries and even lose track of time? 4. What do I want to keep doing again and again and again – all my Life?
Well, you know what you answered for those four questions. Now, just go do it. Simple. And if figuring this out takes a year or two, or even more, well, so be it.
Life is a precious, one-time, limited-period offer. The most intelligent way to live it is to only do what makes you happy. And no one but you can make that choice – only you can decide what makes you happy. When you do live a Life, doing what you love, everything you need arrives in your Life – at its own time and pace. If there ever is a secret to living a Life of happiness and contentment – this, absolutely, is it!
Don’t fight. Don’t resist. Simply, trust the process of Life.
August 1 is special for Vaani and me.
It was on this day, in 1996, that we decided to embrace entrepreneurship. I had come back to India in July that year, from Singapore, after serving as the traveling, globe-trotting, Executive Assistant to dealmaker and tycoon C.Sivasankaran. I was clear I did not want to take up another employment. So, Vaani and I conceptualized and set up our venture, imagequity+, with a Vision for it to be the world’s best consulting Firm from India. We grew very fast in the first six years of starting up and were even ranked as a qualitative global player in our space. But a couple of business decisions we took – while choosing to hold on steadfast to our values – led to our Firm going bankrupt and plunged Vaani and me, and our precious family, into prolonged periods of worklessness and pennilessness.
Vaani and I have spent the longest time, as business partners, as a family, these past 10+ years enduring this bankruptcy.
Interestingly, it was also on this day, in 2014, that my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, was launched. When it became evident to us, in end-2007, that we were heading into a phase of uncertainty, financial distress, cluelessness and darkness, I intuitively started writing a journal, sharing our daily experiences and learnings. I addressed each day’s entries to my two children, Aashirwad and Aanchal (who were then 18 and 13), in the hope that when they turned adults, they may benefit from those Life lessons.
You see, in the early years of my career as a journalist, I wanted to be famous – and rich, and powerful – one day and write an autobiography that would showcase to the world ‘how I had done it’! Clearly, I was not just naïve in my thinking then, I was perhaps conceited and struck by hubris as well! And so, let me tell you honestly, I had never quite imagined that my first Book would be all about my spiritual journey – where I share reflections and lessons on happiness, contentment, compassion, love, forgiveness and faith – my evolution, from a rat race runner to the happynesswala that I am today! Yet, that’s exactly the way it has turned out to be.
So, that’s our big learning, for Vaani and me, from the past decade that have lived through: no matter what you desire or dream or what you plan, Life has a mind of its own; it always happens at its own pace and in its own time. Therefore, don’t fight Life as it happens to you – simply accept it for what it is. If you want your circumstances to change, go work on them. But without expectation. With total detachment. And in complete surrender. Know this: Life will always bring you to where you must arrive. So, trust the process of Life. This is the key to happiness – this trusting is what taught Vaani and me the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This is what has taught us to be happy despite our circumstances. To be sure, our bankruptcy is far from over, but we have learnt to be resilient, patient and happy while living through it.
August 1 is therefore special on two counts. For the first part, it denoted our being successful – when we turned entrepreneurs in 1996; we had broken free from the shackles of employment and, to my then-myopic view of Life, it signified freedom, success and ‘arriving’! And for the second part, with the launch of Fall Like A Rose Petal – interestingly, on the same day that we became entrepreneurs – we had chosen to be useful even when success – which is, fixing our bankruptcy – was elusive.
These past four years, since the launch of my Book, have been eventful surely. But they have also been very, very meaningful. They have been purposeful. Because we still don’t have the means to travel and promote the Book it may not have made it to bestseller lists. But it surely has connected with all those who have read it. And there’s always someone who is writing in every week to share how our journey and our learnings have made a difference to their Life. Just yesterday, a reader, who had received the Book as a gift from his father, pinged me on Facebook to share this: “Words cannot qualify or quantify the impact you and Vaani have made to my Life through your sharing. I have learnt a very valuable lesson from your Book – postpone everything else, but never postpone your happiness.” Interestingly, at this time, while we don’t have a publisher yet, the Tamizh translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal is ready – it is translated by the veteran writer Charukesi and edited by another legend, V.Ramnarayan; Sivasankari has graciously written the foreword to the translation.
On a day that marks these two anniversaries for us, Vaani and I are soaked in gratitude; we are anchored in equanimity and prayer. We believe that our Life is playing out exactly the way it is meant to be. I don’t know how long this bankruptcy will take to fix and when we will eventually turn zero-debt. But we are eternally grateful for this experience which has taught us what Life truly is, what happiness is and has given our Life a Purpose – which is “Inspiring ‘Happyness’”! So, we continue to share our learnings with audiences who care to pause and reflect – through this Blog, through our signature Talks and curated, non-commercial conversations and our specialized workshops.
And like everything else that has happened in our Life in this past decade, we are sure all our debt will be repaid by us and the Tamizh translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal too will launch in its own time. For our part, we continue to trust the process of Life and well, as the story in my Book goes, we continue to fall like a rose petal!
Gratitude, humility, grace and dignity are required to deal with Life’s inscrutability.
Our friend Arup from Kolkata called us up last evening. He sounded distraught. He reported that we had lost Tandra Sarkar to cancer. Tandra was Arup’s close friend, and a beautiful and courageous lady, who had launched my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Read more here) in August 2014 in Kolkata.
When we launched my Book in August 2014 across Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, with Hyatt being the Principal Sponsor, both Vaani and I were very clear that we didn’t want a ribbon-wrapper unveiling. We wanted people like us, stoic folks, who had braved Life, to launch my Book. So, we had a bomb blast survivor and bilateral amputee Malvika Iyer launch the Book in Chennai. We had Maneesha Ramakrishnan who survived the ghastly Carton Towers fire launch it in Bengaluru. And in Kolkata, we had Tandra Sarkar, who had then been battling Stage 3 cancer, to launch Fall Like A Rose Petal.
Like Tandra, her husband Kushal too was stricken with cancer when the Book launch happened. They were fighting the disease valiantly when we met them. Arup reported yesterday that Kushal passed away last year and Tandra died last fortnight. Apparently, she had enquired about Vaani and me a few weeks ago and had expressed a desire to meet us again. Arup promised to arrange that meeting. But since she passed away, Arup connected to share her wish with us.
We have met Tandra and Kushal just once at the Hyatt Regency, Kolkata, at the Book launch. But I have such a vivid memory of that meeting. Former NASA scientist-turned-filmmaker Bedabrata ‘Bedo’ Pain (who has written a meaningful Foreword for my Book) handed over the copy of Fall Like A Rose Petal to Tandra. In her address, to a hall packed with 200 guests, Tandra talked about Life – about its inscrutability…she spoke about approaching Life with humility and gratitude. Even once she did not talk about her pain. Or about her fears, insecurities or worries. My sense is she had none. Nor did Kushal. They both were an embodiment of grace and dignity despite Life having dealt with them ruthlessly. They both knew they were dying and leaving behind their wonderful daughter but there was no grief in them. No regret. Just an affirmation of what is, of the now. They enjoyed themselves thoroughly at the launch and helped us – who were rank strangers to them – celebrate our big moment of sharing our story with the world. Such selflessness, particularly in the face of personal pain, is both indescribable and not often seen.
Last night, after Arup’s call, when I lay down in bed, several questions came to me. Why did Life, through Arup and his wife Ruma, connect us to Tandra and Kushal? Why did Tandra ask to meet me and Vaani again? Why did we not meet again? I reckoned we will never know the answers to these questions. But I believe Tandra and Kushal came into our Life to remind us of the need for gratitude, humility, grace and dignity in dealing with our inscrutable lives. I know somewhere deep within me that they connected with the message of Fall Like A Rose Petal – which is of acceptance, of going with the flow of Life and of falling like a rose petal in the face of Life’s upheavals! Arup told me yesterday that my Book still sits on Tandra’s and Kushal’s bookshelf. I guess, someone, sometime will read it. And perhaps will glean their own learning from it.
As I fell asleep, I sent out a prayer to Tandra and Kushal; and to their daughter. I silently thanked Bedo, Arup and Ruma and prayed for them too. It is these human connections, however temporary or fleeting they may appear to be, that make Life meaningful despite all its apparent inscrutability!
On his birthday today, I recall an unforgettable experience and an unputdownable lesson that Swami taught me!
Today is Swami Sathya Sai Baba’s birthday. I have never met him. Or seen him.
But in the last decade his ‘presence’ has filled my Life. Vaani and I have been personally ‘coached’ by him, through his medium – a young man through whom Swami speaks to us. And what I have learnt from Swami is this: Live immersed in the moment, live in gratitude!
I remember some years ago, one evening, I sat at the Chamiers Café in Chennai brooding over my Life. Everything was so dark, so hopeless. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) And both Vaani and I were clueless. My laptop was open in front of me. But I was staring blankly at the screen – I had no idea of what I must do, where I must begin and how I must proceed. Vaani was at home attending to her father who was ailing at that time. So, I was alone. Without her by my side, there was no one to talk to. My thoughts were steeped in worry; I was feeling insecure, anxious and fearful.
That’s when the phone rang and I snapped out of my reverie.
It was Kumar, a supremely talented music composer and sound engineer in his own right. He is my dear young friend, who is just a shade older than my own son Aashirwad. Kumar is Swami’s messenger, he’s the medium through whom Swami communicates to seekers.
Kumar asked me: “AVIS, Swami wants to know what would you be doing at the moment, if you had nothing to worry about!”
I laughed and quickly replied, “Well, I would be enjoying a drink.”
Pat came Swami’s reply, through Kumar: “Then, go have it and then call back to report!”
I don’t know why. But I didn’t protest. I didn’t argue. I didn’t analyze. I just packed my laptop bag and trudged back home. I fixed myself a drink, played my favorite R.D.Burman tracks and enjoyed myself. Three drinks down, I called Kumar.
I said: “Well Kumar, please tell Swami that I had three drinks and I am feeling good.”
Kumar asked: “Swami wants to know how much did you worry while having the drink?”
I replied: “I didn’t worry at all. I was so immersed in the joy of having a drink and listening to R.D.Burman’s immortal music. I felt grateful that I could at least have a drink in peace when there’s so much turmoil and trauma in my Life. And I was grateful for R.D.Burman’s genius – how uplifting his music is!”
Kumar then said: “Swami says, immersion in the moment is the key to being non-worrying. You didn’t immerse yourself in your drink, you immersed yourself in the moment. Your faith in Swami made you just immerse – without questions, without analysis. Now that you have known how to do this, why do you need a drink, why do you need Swami? The next time your mind races to the future or is stuck in the past, bring it to attend to the present moment. And learn to be grateful for what is. Whatever you have, be grateful for it. The circumstances are not relevant to inner peace and happiness. Your immersion in the moment is important. Your gratitude is.”
That was a very beautiful, unforgettable, one-on-one ‘coaching’ session, if you like, that I had with Swami. There have been countless such sessions. And even many, many night-long conversations, debates, arguments on the meaning of Life, on why Life is inscrutable, on keeping the faith and on how to cultivate patience. Through each of these interactions with Swami, through Kumar acting as a self-less medium, I have learnt to anchor, to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, to be happy – despite my excruciating circumstances.
To me Swami is no Godman, as the term is popularly, loosely, used. He’s a dear, dear friend. On his birthday today, all I can say, humbly, to my Coach, my Teacher, my friend, is, “Thank you, Swami!”
Growing up, with age and experience, is a personal, intelligent, choice.
A friend we were sitting with the other day remarked that “men mellow down over a period of time”. She was referring to my choice – and her husband’s too – to cut down on our alcohol consumption. I didn’t mind her gender bias. What she really meant was that all of us evolve over time.
And that it is so true.
Yesterday at the airport, a prominent person (a.k.a VIP in India) we know greeted us at the kerbside. And his personal assistant whisked all of us past the long, winding security line at the entry gate and at check-in. This VIP took seat 1 C on the plane while we trudged up to our seats at the rear of the aircraft, 23 D & E. Once we settled in, I told Vaani: “Once upon a time, not very long ago, I would have insisted we too sat in those front row seats. 1 C was my favorite whenever I managed business class upgrades. But now these things don’t even matter.” She agreed with me. She pointed out that she was very embarrassed jumping the security and check-in queues at the airport. I conceded that I too was very uncomfortable with the way our VIP friend’s assistant had broken the rules for his boss – and for us!
Just 15 years ago, I was so different. I believed in protocol. I insisted my secretary checked me in on first row economy seats on domestic flights, I fiercely fought for upgrades and I always demanded that a Jet Airways porter greeted me at the entry gate at airports with my boarding card and helped me “jump queues” – this was a privileged service that Jet accorded to frequent fliers. I was often told by the Jet Airways team in Chennai that I was among their “most frequent” fliers and so they always gave me “VIP status and attention”. I reveled in such recognition. I thought I was special. And I loved being treated as someone special.
And then, with the bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) everything changed. I believe I have now awakened to understanding the true nature of Life. I have realized that everything that we cling on to, everything that we demand, all that we fight for and think belongs us, well, everything is eventually going to get taken away from us. We came with nothing. And we will go with nothing. So, as Osho, the Master, asks, I too have concluded – “why all this drama?” Yes, personal comfort is relevant and important. But why confuse personal comfort with thinking you are special and that you deserve being treated as special? Growing up, when growing old, I realize now, is a personal, intelligent, choice. This clarity has come to me now. Perhaps, just maybe, I too have evolved over time?
Surely, 1 C or front row economy doesn’t matter to me anymore…23 D is just as fine…for ultimately when your time comes, when your number is called, whoever you are, wherever you are seated, you will end up as dust! As they say in Tamizh, you will end up as “verum thoosi”!
It is the lack of empathy that makes our world a cold, unfriendly, place.
Since I am a public speaker, and I do often get invited to address audiences, I have been asked by my doctor to nurture and protect my vocal cords. So, I have now begin carrying a collar mic with me. This mic runs on 9V battery power. I have to carry spare 9V cells so I am never short of one.
Yesterday, at the airport, a CISF (Central Industrial Security Force – mandated with airport security in India) Inspector disallowed me from carrying the extra cells. We got into a discussion over the matter. Although I was upset, and initially angry too, I let it pass. I heard what the gentleman had to say. He patiently explained to me that he didn’t have a problem with me carrying one cell in the mic, but he would not be allowing the “extras” to go with me.
We spoke over the matter for about 10 minutes. We spoke in Hindi. At the end of it, he thanked me for my “badappan” – magnanimity – in understanding his point of view. And I thanked him for his courtesy and patience with my situation. All through the conversation, he wore a bright, friendly, look on him. He was calm and never intimidating. We parted ways shaking hands and wishing each other well.
This Blogpost comes close on the heels of an unfortunate episode where Indigo staffers allegedly manhandled a passenger – a story that continues to be shared virally and debated across India. Even otherwise, I have often found people at airports, across the world, being particularly uncharitable to security personnel. Both in terms of opinion and attitude, most passengers tend to consider security folks painful to deal with. In the past, I too have been grumpy whenever I have been ‘randomly’ selected, isolated and ‘patted down’ by TSA staff in American airports or when CISF people have asked for my laptop bag to be re-examined. But, over the years, thanks perhaps to my personal evolution and given the high-risk and vulnerable environment that prevails globally, I have learned to understand – and not interpret or imagine – the motives of airport security people. They have taught me empathy.
For instance, Siddarth, the CISF Inspector I dealt with yesterday, told me this: “Hamari koshish bas yehi hai ki hamari nigrani mein koi negative episode na ho jaye. Aap sab bhale logon ki suraksha hamara zimma hai.” – “Our endeavor is to ensure passenger safety and that nothing negative/untoward happens under our watch. We want to protect all you good people out there.” He added, “When passengers get upset with us for doing our jobs diligently, my staff do feel demoralized. But I tell them – forgive them. Keep calm and keep treating every passenger the way you like to be treated!”
I loved that lesson in empathy and Buddhahood. Treat others the way you like to be treated. The essence of empathy lies in understanding – and not in interpreting or imagining. Not just in the context of airport security and dealing with people in uniform, who are merely doing their duty, but in all situations, empathy is a great quality to nurture. You don’t have to necessarily agree with everyone’s point of view, but you can surely see that point of view, and understand the rationale behind the other person’s choices and actions.
It is the lack of empathy that makes our world a cold, unfriendly, place. What we need today is global heartwarming – more patience, more understanding, more empathy. We need more Buddhas, like the CISF Inspector Siddarth!