A journalist reached out to me the other day. She is close to Vaani and me; and so she knows that we have been enduring our bankruptcy for 13 years now.
She asked me: “Dealing with a crisis for a prolonged period of time may have taught you invaluable lessons surely. If you are open to sharing AVIS, I am keen to understand if personal leadership in a crisis situation is any different from leading a team, an organization or a nation through a crisis?”
I liked that question. And this is what I told her.
Leadership is all about accepting your situation for what it is, the way it is, and doing what you need to do, to the best of your ability, in the given circumstances.
So, as we see it, leadership is leadership. It hardly matters what context you are having to lead in. Whether you are leading in a personal, professional, social, sports, political, national or global context, you are leading. Period. The act of leadership does not change even if the context is different.
For over a decade now, in the context of our own bankruptcy, Vaani and I have been leading through uncertainty. In this time, our leadership has been all about deploying the powers of Reflection, Resilience and Resourcefulness. Now, these are three dormant strengths that are inherent in all of us. They are key to not just surviving a crisis, but, as we have discovered, they help you thrive in one.
Reflection is the ability to pause and ask yourself deep, searching, questions: why am I here, what is my current reality and how can I possibly change it?
Resilience is your inner strength. It is the ability to withstand enormous pressure in a painful situation. To unlock your Resilience, you must ask yourself a simple question: what must I do to (and how can I) adapt to my current reality? Resilience, interestingly, is deployed the moment you ask this question and explore the myriad answers it throws up. Resilience, therefore, comes from the path of least resistance, it comes from total acceptance of your current reality.
Resourcefulness is all about making do with what you have. So, it answers another simple question: what is the best I can do in my given situation with whatever I have?
If you look closely, you will observe the beautiful interplay between these three qualities. Each one complements the other. And, important, they are already present in you. All you need to do is to summon them from within you and deploy them. When you do this, you are, miraculously, happy despite your circumstances! Truly, as we have discovered, it is Happiness that is the antidote to uncertainty and the catalyst to High-Performance, particularly in times of a crisis! This awakening in us has made our materially challenging and dark Life very meaningful; which is why Vaani and I are now the happynesswalas and believe our Life’s Purpose is “Inspiring ‘Happyness'”!
So, it doesn’t matter what context you are leading in. As long as you are accepting of your current reality and are deploying Reflection, Resilience and Resourcefulness in a crisis situation, you will always thrive in it. Surely, you may not be able to solve your problems overnight or, as is true in our case, you may not be able to solve them even over a prolonged span of time. Yet, you will be happy, you will be anchored and you will be in the game – no matter what you are going through.
And as long as you are in the game, and, as in cricket until the last ball is bowled, anything – actually everything – is possible!
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!! If you would like to invite them to inspire your team(s) or explore other opportunities, please look up: www.avisviswanathan.in and www.avinitiatives.co.in.
Life’s upheavals and scars, interestingly, make it beautiful, meaningful.
Last evening, I sat alone with my coffee at Starbucks. And I thought back on the year gone by.
It’s been an interesting one surely.
My dad passed on in April. It has been a new, unique, often reflectively painful, experience living without him. In May, our daughter Aanchal graduated in her Master’s program – thanks to two angels who sponsored her. Even so, she and our son, Aashirwad, have had to deal with their own share of challenges. Watching them deal stoically with these Life-defining experiences definitely made Vaani and me proud. But there were spells of agony too – arising from our inability to help them as parents; at all such times, we took refuge in prayer. Nalli’s Kuppuswami Chetti came forward serendipitously, voluntarily, miraculously, to publish the Tamizh translation of my book Fall Like A Rose Petal – and so, Uthirum Roja Ithazh Pola launched in October. Our 100th non-commercial Conversation, as the happynesswalas – Inspiring ‘Happyness’, happened in April. And the 50th Edition of our popular, longest-running, non-commercial, Conversation Series, #BlissCatchers, was hosted in August.
Although we awoke each day with renewed vigor to reinvest ourselves in the task of turning around our business and repaying our over 170 creditors, we have been pushed back by Life. One more time. Another year has passed without a steady or serious revenue opportunity. The glimmer of hope that came between end-2017 and mid-2018 evaporated this year, plunging us into yet another phase of worklessness; leaving us to survive on grace and grants. So, as we enter 2020, we continue to endure our bankruptcy – and all its material, emotional and legal challenges – into its 13th year now!
Both Vaani and I are over 50 now. So, understandably, some persistent health issues certainly raised alarms all through 2019. They pointed to what could be potentially debilitating conditions, but without the means to immediately deal with them, we have left them where they are – for Life to heal, to take care!
As I thought deeply, I felt 2019 offered itself for review on two counts.
- This was yet another tumultuous year, one that was often punishing. Given that we have already been faced with a grave challenge for over a decade now, on whether we deserved a year like 2019, we could possibly label it as bad or as ugly. Well, it certainly was not a good one on that scale!!!
- A constant theme for Vaani and me, that was evident all through 2019, is Happiness! Clearly, Happiness has held us together and helped us endure and survive. Our ability to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering – which is, essentially, being happy despite our circumstances – shone through the year, through one more year!
I quickly dropped the first count. And as I embraced the second one, I smiled to myself – in gratitude, in prayer, in surrender. I thanked Life for reiterating a lesson that we have learnt and known only too well over this past decade. Which is, no year is good or bad. It’s just a happy one!
You see, a year is, at one level, a simple measure of time that we humans invented. It denotes approximately 365.256 Earth cycles around the Sun. Good, bad, ugly – well, these are human labels, again human inventions! Something happens that meets or exceeds your expectations – you label it as good. Something that you don’t want happens to you and you call it bad. And if that something causes you acute trauma, makes Life unbearable, you call it ugly. Such is the human response to Life events. And a year gets labeled based on how you, as a human, have chosen to evaluate the events that occurred in your Life, based on your expectations! But although their actions deliver this unit of time called a year, the Sun and the Earth are not bothered about how – and what – we mortals think. Hafez, the 14th Century Persian poet, says this so beautifully: “Even after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me’. Look what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky.” Now, this is how Nature operates: without any concept of time or of profit or loss. The Sun simply, unconditionally, without judgment, lights up Life on the planet – it lights up our lives – even as the Earth keeps going around the Sun! There’s love, there’s abundance, there’s a selfless giving in both these acts. Therefore, there is no worry, there is no frustration, there is no suffering in how Nature works. There’s a pure, unadulterated, sense of just being – a.k.a Happiness!
Which is why a year can really, truly, be filled with Happiness! No matter what you are faced with, if you don’t complicate your Life with human ideas – if you don’t bring up your expectations, if you don’t analyze what you want and what you deserve and instead humbly accept what you are given – you will be happy!
Yes, as is with the process of Life, at every step, you will face upheavals. Just as you will be blessed with grace.
…~ You may find and follow your Bliss. People you know will die or leave you. There may be times when you will deal with material loss or there will be others when you have to cope with heartbreaks. You may not get what you want – someone else may get it though; and you will feel frustrated and suffer when you compare yourself with them! Your Life’s Purpose may find you. Some of the challenges you are dealing with may leave you numb. You may want answers to your questions or seek logic and reason that can explain whatever’s happening but you may end up being more frustrated with Life’s inscrutability. You may find love. A child may arrive in the family. The government you voted for with so much hope may let you down – horribly! You may win a jackpot. Or a dreaded health condition may not be what you have. Towards the end of the year, you may realize that your resolution to lose weight may have dissolved long, long ago, because the pangs of earning-a-living held you in their vice-like grip.~…
So, all these, and other, scenarios may well play out through the year. And such is the process of Life! To be happy you must simply trust this process. You must celebrate the suchness of Life. You must go with its flow.
In Japanese culture, there is this ancient art called kintsugi. It is the art of fixing broken pottery with golden lacquer. As a philosophy, kintsugi invites us to celebrate imperfections. It reminds us that what happens to an object, including its breakage and repair, is an integral part of its history. Which is so true of your journey through Life too. Every experience that you go through is part of the process of the unfolding of your myth. If you sit back and reflect on your own 2019, on how Life dealt with you this year, you will see how every upheaval, every scar in your Life, is precious in its own way. You will realize how you have emerged stronger and wiser from each experience you have been through. You will be amazed at how you have learnt to cope, how you have moved on this year too, just as you have done, all your Life.
This is why it is pointless to label a year as good or bad (or ugly). A set of events simply happened to you this past year. And another set will happen in the year coming up. Instead of over-analyzing and labeling the year gone by, embrace what is, and train your mind to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This holds the key to your Happiness. This is the way a “Happy New Year” stays true to its meaning and you stay happy through those 365.256 times that the Earth circles the Sun!
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.
As he completes 50 years in cinema on Nov 7th 2019, I share here why I am Amitabh Bachchan’s devotee!!!
My dentist, whose name I don’t recollect, unwittingly, introduced me to Amitabh Bachchan.
We lived in Jaipur then. The year was 1973. I was around 6 years old. My dad had taken me for a dental procedure after which I was advised not to eat anything for at least a couple of hours. As we stepped out of the dentist’s clinic, my dad, looking at the cut-out of a tall man in the theatre across the road, suggested that we go for that movie. The idea was to keep me away from craving for food. The movie we went to was playing at Jaipur’s iconic Prem Prakash theatre (now it is, I understand, called Golcha and has three screens). The movie was Zanjeer and the tall man was Amitabh Bachchan. This was my first time in a cinema hall, it was my first movie experience. I had perhaps not heard the name Amitabh Bachchan until then, nor did I recall the name of that movie until when I watched it again in my teens, many years later! Yet that day at the theatre, that man’s screen presence and that scene are still etched in my memory. That scene – which Bollywood researcher and author Diptakirti Chaudhuri, in his book Written by Salim-Javed, describes as the precise moment that marks the arrival of the Angry Young Man in Indian cinema – where Amitabh Bachchan, as Inspector Vijay, thunders at Sher Khan (Pran): “…jab tak baitheney ko na kaha jaaye, sharafat se khade raho! yeh police station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahi!…”
I still recall being mesmerized by the intensity of that moment. I was just a kid. He was 31. A struggling actor, who, after a string of flops, had miraculously landed this role in Zanjeer because a. the film’s director Prakash Mehra’s preferred hero Raaj Kumar had turned down the role – apparently he didn’t like the smell of Mehra’s hair oil; casting Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra and Dev Anand too had not worked out for various reasons and b. Salim-Javed had strongly recommended to Mehra that Amitabh best suited the character of Vijay Khanna that they had written so passionately. So, as I was to realize much later, Amitabh gave it his all, more than his best! Perhaps it was that intensity in him, or perhaps because I had never been to a movie before, or perhaps I was an innocent kid who had still not been distracted by other influences and opportunities in Life yet, I am not sure what it exactly was, I just felt I wanted to be like that man, like Amitabh Bachchan!
Yes. It is weird. I don’t remember the name of the dentist who we visited. I don’t remember the name of my class teacher at St. Xavier’s, Jaipur, where I studied in those few years we lived there. But I remember me watching that scene in the dark in Prem Prakash. I remember wanting to grow up and be like Amitabh Bachchan.
As Vijay Khanna in Zanjeer – 1973; Image Copyright with original creator
Was that my original fanboy moment? It surely was. But as I was to realize later on in Life, that moment was much, much more.
Over the next several years, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Sholay, Faraar, Kabhie Kabhie, Amar Akbar Anthony, Trishul, Don, Muqqadar Ka Sikandar, Suhaag, Shaan, Naseeb, Silsila and so many more of his movies, classics most of them, were seen by me in theatres. Each one left me more starstruck than before.
I remember, after watching Naseeb, at Santosh theatre in Gulbarga (Karnataka), I resolved to be an actor drawing inspiration from Anand Bakshi’s line in the song, John Jaani Janardhan (Mohd. Rafi, Laxmikant-Pyarelal): “…har picture dekh ke socha, main bhi actor ban jaaun…”! Although I am very driven and ambitious, I still can’t explain though why I never followed through with that resolution. Maybe just the resolution of wanting to be like him, was fulfilling enough? Much later, thanks to Dubsmash, I did dub a couple of my favorite Amitabh scenes much to the dismay of my family (who implored me to stop forthwith)!!!
I was 14 when Silsila released. And although Kabhie Kabhie had already seeded romance in me with its immortal gems, Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shaayar Hoon and Kabhie Kabhie Mere Dil Mein Khayaal Aata Hai, I felt the incurable romantic in me stir awake with Amitabh’s deep, soulful, rendering of Javed Akhtar’s (his first film as lyricist) classic Main Aur Meri Tanhayee…!!!
Over the next six years, through my teens, I dreamt of meeting that lover who would be my soulmate, often imagining the romance I would have with her – and almost every time, the feeling, that imagination would be complete only when I would recite this poem to myself:
Main aur meri tanhayee, aksar yeh baate karte hain
Tum hoti to kaisa hota
Tum yeh kehti, tum woh kehti
Tum is baat pe hairaan hoti
Tum us baat pe kitna hansti
Tum hoti to aisa hota, tum hoti to waisa hota
And, of course, she arrived. As Vaani. And, hold your breath, she arrived in my Life, singing the Amitabh-Jaya classic Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina (Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, S.D.Burman, Majrooh Sultanpuri) from Abhimaan at a college cultural event in Madras (Chennai) in November 1987 – I was barely 20, and she was 21!! Read the full story in my book Fall Like A Rose Petal or watch me tell it here, in this documentary Rise In Love.
The coaster on our front door!
So, in a very serendipitous way, Amitabh and Jaya, have inspired the companionship, the loving (in the present continuous) and the resilience (to face Life) in Vaani and me. But it all began with Vaani singing that song on stage – even today, the front door to the apartment we live in sports a coaster with the line Tere Mere Milan Ki Yeh Raina celebrating that magical moment when I fell in love with Vaani! And we have named our daughter Aanchal, inspired by a beautiful line from the same song – “…jaise kheley chanda baadal mein, khelega woh tere aanchal mein…”!
Strangely, I have no recollection of praying for him when the Coolie accident happened on 26th July 1982. I was around 15 then and I had too many questions on God, religion, prayer and such. Maybe that’s why there’s no memory of any prayer for him then! But I do remember reading The Hindu daily at home in Quilon (Kerala), tracking its coverage of the accident, and his miraculous progress and recovery over the next several weeks. I must also confess that the fanboy in me died in the late 80s and in the decade of the 90s when he made some very forgettable movie choices.
During the turbulent weeks of the furore over the Miss World Pageant in 1996, which Amitabh’s company ABCL had brought to India, I reached out to him. Vaani and I ran a Reputation Management Firm then. And we offered to manage the crisis for his company. His secretary Rosy Singh got back to us saying that “Mr.Bachchan isn’t interested in the strategy or the service” which we were offering.
ABCL eventually went bankrupt and for the next few years it was so heart-rending to see the media trash him and Jaya for their financial mess. I recall being traumatized reading reports of his house being attached by his bankers to recover their dues. Little did I know then that this experience of the Bachchans would be pivotal to Vaani and me dealing with our own Life-changing upheaval in some years.
Sometime in 2001, I remember watching an interview that Amitabh gave Vir Sanghvi on Star World. And intuitively I had it recorded and saved on a CD when a re-telecast of the interview was announced. I can’t stop thanking myself for that decision. A segment of this interview, available here on my YouTube channel, has been the reason why I am even around today sharing a part of my Life’s journey and celebrating a man who now means so much more than just an actor to me.
Let me quickly explain. It is common knowledge now that the Firm that Vaani and I ran went bankrupt in end-2007. It is a phase in Life that we still endure, 12 years on. This phase has been peppered consistently with several long spells of worklessness and pennilessness. In the initial months of knowing that we were dealing with a bankruptcy, through all of 2008, we grappled with the darkness that engulfed us, cowering in fear. We did not know what to do. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? That’s when, fortuitously, while searching for a particular document in my office, I stumbled on the CD containing the Amitabh Bachchan-Vir Sanghvi Star World interview recording. The CD was not even labeled. So I played it on my laptop to check what it contained. I watched the interview. Then I invited Vaani to watch it with me.
We watched it again. And again. And again. We watched it several times that evening.
Here was a bankrupt superstar who was telling Vaani and me how he and Jaya dealt with their darkness, their loss – of money, of reputation – and their crisis and how they clawed their way back. He was brutally honest, authentic and profound, all at the same time. His debt was Rs.90 crore. Our is Rs.5 crore. In the last 12 years, we have watched this video so many, many, many times. Every time we feel low, we feel like we can’t go on any further, we have watched this interview. Through sharing his experience, Amitabh has inspired us both to be resilient, to hang in there, to last one more day. “If he and Jaya could do it, we too can do it,” we have told ourselves, every single time that we watched the video.
Besides resilience, we have learnt the art of reinvention and relevance from him.
His choice to do TV – through Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) – 19 years ago was virtually the first move ever by a movie superstar to embrace the small screen. That is the truest, most visible, practical and inspiring example of going with the flow that you can ever get. As he shares with Vir Sanghvi in the interview, he was out of work. But he had the humility to not just go ask Yash Chopra for work (which led to his role in Mohabbatein), he was willing to “climb down” and embrace the opportunity to host KBC, which has now become synonymous with him. Though he believes otherwise, I guess everyone knows that the show continues to thrive, – it is now in its 11th Season – only because of him. Now, this was no upstart, struggling actor asking Yash Chopra for work. This was no also-ran movie actor agreeing to do TV because he needed the money. This was the Shahenshah of Bollywood, out of work, out of money, deep in debt, who decided to do what he loved doing and what he was best at – acting – choosing to reinvent himself at 58, an age when most people retire. Not just reinvention, he has taught the world how to stay relevant. If you watch KBC, you will see how compassionately he engages with people and their stories. He’s no ordinary game show host. He makes an extraordinary effort to be ordinary as he explores the Life journeys of his ordinary guests, the contestants. His choosing to do remarkably different character roles over the last several years – Ekalavya, Nishabd, Black, Cheeni Kum, Paa, Piku, Teen, Pink, Badla – is also a pointer to the consummate actor in him, who is willing to experiment, willing to break free from the trappings of the image of the hero, the superstar. Yet scripts continue to be written with him in mind and brands believe he can still sell them better than other ambassadors can – clear signs of his continued relevance not just to my generation, or to my father’s, but to at least three generations that follow mine!
Life is not only about going after name, money, success, fame and fortune and getting all of them. It is also about how you live with humility, dignity and discipline when all of what you have achieved and acquired are taken away from you. Resilience and equanimity cannot be developed and deployed in simulated environments. They are always discovered within you, when you stand in the middle of the battle of Life, in the chaos, in the eye of the storm. It is by facing Life and learning to be happy, to be useful, despite your circumstances, that you become stronger. That’s how you repair, rebuild and revive – after a crisis. This is the message of Amitabh Bachchan’s Life – whether it was his choice to do Silsila with Jaya and Rekha when he was rumored to be having an affair with Rekha or his coming back from the jaws of death after the Coolie accident or his decision to fight and win a protracted court battle to clear his name in the Bofors scandal or face and overcome the bankruptcy that he and Jaya encountered.
Clearly, I am no longer the fanboy who saw him first on screen at Prem Prakash theatre in 1973. In fact, I am not even his most ardent fan – I don’t claim to know every little trivia about every film, every role, of his. As I confessed earlier, I even exercised the choice to stop following him as a fan when the films he chose failed to interest me. I still disagree with his choice of wardrobe and style sense on KBC and I believe his ‘wife jokes’ are sexist – I definitely intend sharing these views with him when I do get a chance.
Even so, I am comfortable in my skin as his devotee. His presence and influence in my Life cannot be measured – it was through him that I was introduced to cinema, it was from him that I learnt romance, it was again through something that he and Jaya were part of that I found Vaani and found love, it was through him sharing his learnings from Life that we found the ability to survive and endure this prolonged bankruptcy that we are still dealing with. It is again through him that I realize that being world-class with your craft and being celebrated by the world is not as great as it is to be human, be humble and make the other person feel comfortable in your presence. This is what he does repeatedly, episode after episode on KBC.
It will be 50 years on November 7, 2019, since he appeared on screen in Saat Hindustani. I wish I could do a lot more than write a blogpost in celebration of this rare milestone. But, given our bankruptcy, this is all I can do presently. As a devotee, I will, however, use two simple words, which the wise say is the best prayer: Thank You!
Thank you Amitabh Bachchan, for being who you are. Your Life, clearly, is your message!