As Dr.Nupur Talwar and Dr.Rajesh Talwar walked free from Dasna jail last evening, this image emerged on my timeline, on the Internet and on TV.
It told me so many stories about Life…it showcased…
- How inscrutable Life really is
- The unfairness and injustice meted out to this couple, their daughter Aarushi and their help Hemraj
- How to stay strong, find strength in a storm and go through Life with reflection, resilience and resourcefulness
- How to serve selflessly, how to be useful no matter how grave the circumstances are – the dentist couple refused fees for dental care that they had provided to inmates of Dasna
- The unflinching support that Rajesh’s older brother Dinesh Talwar provided the couple – he was the mainstay of the entire defense strategy, the chief-of-staff as the family soldiered on
- The focus and perseverance of defense attorney Tanveer Ahmed Mir – without whose leadership, the Talwars’ case may not have been made in the Allahabad High Court
- The brutally honest story-telling of Avirook Sen in his Book Aarushi and of Vishal Bharadwaj and Meghna Gulzar in their film Talvar
- The stoicism of the Chitnis couple, Nupur’s parents, as the family went through these harrowing 9 years
- That, no matter what, the truth ultimately prevails…and justice is always done
- How small, and petty, our own challenges are when we look beyond ourselves and around us
- Why we must always be grateful for what we have instead of complaining about what we don’t have
- The learning we must all take away: whatever happens, face Life!
- The Gulzar-RD Burman-Kishore-da genius: Musafir Hoon Yaroon…Bas Chalte Jaana Hai…
My conversation with international para-swimming champion and DGM, CTS Research Centre, Justin Vijay Jesudas, for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here. ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan
“My happiness is eternal”
Two qualities in Justin Vijay Jesudas strike you when you meet him. Self-confidence and equanimity. Those are the reasons why Justin’s been able to pick up the threads of his Life after a car accident left him paralyzed neck-below in 2009. He’s a wheel-chair user alright, but he lives a full Life – he drives a customized car, he wins medals at international Paralympic swimming championships and at national rifle-shooting events, he surfs and he’s always beaming his electrifying smile! I seek to know the secret of his persevering spirit and positivity. “After the accident, when the prognosis reported that I wouldn’t be able to walk, I never asked ‘why me’. I simply got down to training myself to walk. But 18 months later, I decided that let me not try and control what I can’t. Instead I focused on what I could control. My shoulders were strong, my elbows and wrists worked partially, so I adapted myself to driving, swimming and shooting. I chose to be happy with what I could do instead of complaining about what I could not,” says Justin.
Despite keeping a day job how does he manage to find time to do all the other things he does? “The accident reminded me that all we have is one Life. So I decided that it is only in this lifetime that we have to do all that we want to do. It’s not the medals and accolades that excite me. It is the joy of being able to compete at an international level, it is the journey, of going out and giving Life your best, that makes me happy! I believe I may not have been so ‘alive’ had it not been for the accident and my disability,” explains Justin.
Doesn’t he ever grieve over what has happened to him? He confesses that he does feel grief, but only fleetingly – it doesn’t linger for too long. “My happiness is eternal. I see emotions such as grief or reasoning with the fate theory as a complete waste of time. I have faith in myself and I believe in enjoying each moment. And I know, as long as I am moving, feeling content with what is, the possibilities are immense,” says Justin.
Life may have dealt him a debilitating spinal cord injury, but Justin’s ensured that it hasn’t crushed his spirit or taken away his happiness! Bravo!!
In today’s Podcast, I talk about why families must bond and come together in times of crisis. I share from my own experience, while relating to a Malayalam film “#JSR” I watched recently. If there ever is a “Kingdom of Heaven”, then your family holds the key to it!
Listen time: 6:52 minutes
Don’t try to escape your reality. You simply can’t.
I read a story on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, in TIME magazine recently. I liked the way TIME’s presented her story, of how Sheryl’s coped with her husband Dave Goldberg’s sudden death in May 2015. I haven’t read Sheryl’s book yet but I love its title and its focus. Basically, I understand that her book is an attempt to encourage people out there to talk about grief and to “change the conversation about adversity”.
This is what Vaani and I have done too over the last 10 years.
When we were first struck by the horrific reality of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) in end-2007, there was so much guilt, grief and shame in me. I would go into the bathroom, so that Vaani couldn’t see me, and cry. I would look into the mirror and insanely ask myself “Why?”, “Why me?” Over time, I realized asking the “Why?” question was futile; Life had to be faced. No matter what your situation is, it is always what it is. You cannot escape your realities in Life. Whether you are bankrupt, like me and Vaani, or whether you have lost a dear one, like Sheryl has, or whether you have a debilitating health challenge, like a cancer or depression, or whether your career has plateaued or whether you are having a relationship issue – whatever it is that you are dealing with, you have no choice but to face Life. And the only, practical, way to face Life is to accept and embrace your reality. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily change your reality. Your problem doesn’t go away. But your ability to deal with your situation is enhanced immeasurably. Look at our story – for Vaani and me, our bankruptcy – read prolonged spells of worklessness and moneylessness – endures. It’s been a decade already. But we have only grown stronger through the crisis, from our experience.
And that’s something very true about us human beings – the more we deal with any problem situation, the stronger we emerge from it. To be sure, we are all endowed with inner strength. But like the Bluetooth feature on your smartphone, you must activate the resilience in you first for you to deploy it. For me personally, the activation and deployment happened when I simply told myself this: “This is it. We are bankrupt. We have a mountain of debt to settle. We have no work. We have no money. We have two teenagers to support. We have Vaani’s dad to look after. Now, what must we do to face this situation and survive it?” That’s really what resilience is all about. Asking yourself the now-what-must-I-do-to-face-this-situation-and-survive-it question activates the resilience feature in you; in anybody.
In our case, over the past decade, we have often times, hit situations when we don’t know what to do. But each time we faced a no-go, we did the next best thing. Which is to live in the moment. That’s how we trained ourselves to be in the present and, over time, we understood happiness as being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. Someone recently asked me, whether I am bitter about Life – especially after “being a failure and being unsuccessful for the longest time”. The truth is I am not bitter at all. Why will I be bitter about a phase that has taught me so much about living – about living purposefully, about being happy and about knowing how strong I really am?
For Vaani and me, like it is for Sheryl, our raison d’etre now is to encourage people to face Life and not to be snowed under the weight of their problems. We are, every waking moment, Inspiring Happiness among whoever cares to pause and reflect. Our crisis has given our Life a Purpose. If you can relate to and internalize what I have shared here, your Life situation can help you discover your Purpose too.
And that brings me to a very powerful, unputdownable, insight I have gained about Life. All our Life stories are unique but the learnings we pick up are often similar. So, each of us will come to our Option B points in Life and each of us will embark on our own Fall Like A Rose Petal journey. Adversity always brings in its wake shock, grief, guilt, fear, insecurity, anxiety and a whole host of debilitating emotions. But they will torment you and hold you hostage only as long as you resist adversity, as long as you run away from it. Once you turn around and face your Life situation, when you look Life squarely in the eye, you only emerge stronger, wiser and – believe me – happier than ever before!
Embrace the suchness of Life!
I read a report in The Hindu the other day where former McKinsey CEO Rajat Gupta, charged for insider trading in the US, described his 19-month prison term as far more positive than he had imagined. The Hindu’s Vikas Dhoot carried a letter, verbatim, that Rajat had written to his friends on January 1, 2016, four days before his prison term ended. To me, the most important line came at the end of the letter when Rajat writes: “…As they say, Life is a series of experiences. None is inherently good or bad. It is what you make of it….”
This perspective is so ordinary at one level – we all have heard it so many, many, times in so many, many contexts. Perhaps, its ordinariness kills its value. Yet, nothing is more true about Life. It is a series of happenings, experiences. And whatever you have to go through, however tough a phase may be, even if it is a Life-threatening crisis, only makes you stronger, wiser and happier.
People ask me if I have any regrets about my Life. And I always say, only half in jest, yes, I wish my bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) had arrived 10 years earlier in my Life. I would have saved 10 years of living in stupor, chasing success, I would have lived 10 more years with awareness and lived them happily too.
I always tell people now, embrace your challenges. Welcome them. They are here to teach you how to live more meaningfully. The untrained mind will kick around in frustration. It will instill fear in you, it will make you believe that a crisis will kill you. But if you can get past your mind’s antics, and see the truth about your Life you will realize that all the choices of your past have brought you to your present. And what you do now will seed your future. So, you can either continue to be a victim of your crisis or you can be its student. I suffered as long as I was in victim mode. But the moment I chose to learn from my experience, my suffering stopped. To be sure, there is enormous pain. But no suffering. I am only stronger, a trifle more wiser and a lot, lot more, happier from what I am going through. This is the suchness of Life. So, embrace it for what it is, the way it is. This is what makes it magical, mystical, beautiful – and inscrutable!
You have greater inner strength than you imagine you have.
A CEO we know survived fourth stage colon cancer and is now leading a global corporation. When addressing his team recently he advised them to look within, not outside, for strength: “When the doctors first told me that I have only 3 months to live, I looked at my daughters who were in high school then, and told myself that I must stay on till they were young adults. So I meditated on my resolve to fight my disease. Of course I had the best of treatment and my family’s love and support. But I kept reminding myself to go on. It’s been 12 years since I was told I had only 3 months…”
This quality to demonstrate great inner strength is called Resilience. I am intentionally spelling it with a capital ‘R’ for emphasis. Each of us is endowed with this quality. We just need to activate it. Many people ask me and Vaani how we manage to survive this bizarre, prolonged phase of intense pain (Read more in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal ) that we are going through. And I always say, never in jest though, that we have activated our Resilience mode. To Vaani and me, Resilience is like the Bluetooth feature on our smartphones – it must be activated to be used, to be deployed!
Being resilient means to know that no matter what the circumstances are, you must face Life. It means that you don’t have the choice to cop out or run away from a challenging situation. It is your lack of awareness that makes you imagine that you are not resilient. All of us are equally strong – that’s the way we are created and engineered. To let your resilience – your inner strength – surface, you need to be more aware of your true Self.
What we have learnt from experience is that our circumstances can constrain us physically but nothing – except our attitude to Life – can cripple our spirit. Think about a wild adult elephant. This elephant can easily uproot trees that have been standing for years and that weigh tons. That’s how much strength an elephant is ordained with. Yet a temple elephant, through its conditioning from the time it is a calf, thinks it is incapable of breaking free from the iron shackles that a mahout has imposed on it. So it is with us humans. We are all hostages of our own perceived limitations. We are who we think we are. If we think our circumstances are so challenging that they are insurmountable, we will forever suffer from them. But if we decide to face our challenges and rise above them, whatever be the context, a way will emerge, a solution will be born.
So, when you are faced with a crisis for the first time, and you think you can’t survive it, just turn on your Resilience mode. If we can do it, you too can! Surely, your problems will not vanish, but your ability to deal with them will be enhanced substantially!
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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!
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Only when you are lost in Life can you find yourself!
Snatches from three conversations that we had yesterday come to my mind as I sit down to write this blogpost. A couple we know is building a new house. They find the burden of having to get the relevant approvals from the local civic body “nightmarish” – “Sometimes, when we pause and reflect, this trip to own a house seems so pointless!” A friend feels lost having been ‘dumped’ by his wife and having to literally “re-boot” his Life – “I don’t know what to do, where to start!” And a top manager at a large organization, whose husband is a very successful businessman, says she’s “trapped” in a job that she “hates” – “I am just biting my lips and enduring this suffering because I have no choice.”
Each of these people, like so many, many, millions out there, is trying to make sense of Life in their own unique ways. Nobody has any answers to Life. Life itself offers no explanations, no justifications, no reasons, no meanings. It just spews out experience after experience!
Now, the experiences of the people we spoke with yesterday appear to pale in significance when you consider stories of families who have lost a dear one or are raising special children or have someone who is dealing with a terminal illness situation. But no one’s story is ever less significant. The truth is, it is indeed Life’s inscrutability as experienced by you, it is your personal journey, that shapes your view of Life.
During my mouna (daily silence periods) sessions, in the early stages of our bankruptcy (that we are still enduring; read more here Fall Like A Rose Petal ), I struggled a lot. I was asking a lot of questions of Life – why, why me, why me now, what is the Purpose of my Life, why should all my talent and integrity be subject to such an intense ordeal by fire, why is God absent while this whole drama is playing out, and what is the meaning of all this? Quite obviously, I got no answers. But over days and weeks and months of mouna, I realized that the best way to live Life is to stop looking for answers or for meaning in Life.
I remembered Osho, the Master, teach this: “Meaning is a human invention. There is no meaning to Life itself, it is beyond meaning. One simply lives, for no other reason; one lives for Life’s sake. Then Life is not a means to something else, it is beautiful as it is. In fact, it simply is. Look at it, Life is full of poetry. What meaning does a rose flower have? What is the meaning of a night full of stars? What is the meaning of all that you are surrounded by? There is no meaning in any of all this.” And the Buddha’s teachings added this: “The inner emptiness is so beautiful, don’t stuff it with junk, leave it as it is.”
When I meditated on these perspectives during my mouna sessions, I discovered that living out of my emptiness, asking nothing from Life, living moment to moment for no other reason, just enjoying being alive, is what intelligent living is about. Intelligent living, I realized, was not applying my intelligence to my Life, but to love and celebrate the intelligence of Life, of creation, itself. Osho helped me along futher: “It is more than what you can ask for! What more meaning do you need? Is breathing not enough? Is the chirping of the birds not enough? Is the green and the red and the gold of the trees not enough? Is this vast existence with all its splendor not enough? Do you still want some meaning?”
I read these teachings over and over again. That’s how I discovered that your Life’s journey is uniquely designed for you to find yourself. Only when you lose yourself can you find who you really are and what you are here, on this planet, for. This lifetime is actually a minefield where you get blown to smithereens by a landmine that you have stepped on, because of the choices you have made, only so that you can gather yourself again and find yourself to be stronger, happier and more content than ever before.
So, every time you feel lost, empty, beaten and defeated in Life, celebrate. Because extraordinary pain is not a sign of your past sins catching up or Life conspiring to fix you. It is a sign of extraordinary grace pulsing through your Life.
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When you don’t like what is being done to you, turn around and say NO!
A conversation we had yesterday with a young lady led to a question: “Why do some people hurt, harass and victimize others?” And to another, more important, one: “Why do the victims often suffer in silence?”
Vaani and I have experience of dealing with a long period of emotional strife with my own mother. So we know how it feels to be the victim.
We know of a lady, our age, who is married into a large, well-known and revered, business family in Chennai. Her husband abused her physically for 25+ years. It wasn’t until her son, who went to school with our son Aashirwad, stood up for her that the lady even realized she could say no, that she could walk out, that she could stop being the victim. Until then she suffered silently.
I have also been harassed and bullied at work for over 18 months by my former employer, a billionaire dealmaker. I had met him as a journalist when I was working for Business Today magazine. And I had written about his then-proposed foray into the telecom sector. I later joined him, on his invitation, as his traveling Executive Assistant and was based out of Singapore in the mid-1990s; I was part of his crack team that introduced cellular telephony into India. Over time, I noticed that there was a pattern to the way he was treating me. He was harassing me. His style of harassment was personal and abusive at one level and physically exhausting at another. He would call me names and would keep me unsettled for 20 hours a day, constantly ensuring that I was either traveling across continents, or running between the floors in hotels we stayed in doing petty errands for him. I was always backlogged on my Things To Do and therefore I was stressed out at all times of the day. Further he would not allow me to travel back to India to meet my family on short vacations (even at my expense) for birthdays or for a wedding anniversary. One day I asked him why was he doing what he was doing to me. He replied saying he was avenging an article, which critically examined his chequered past a businessman, I wrote about him when I was working with Business Today magazine. He said he employed me so that he could make me his ‘white-collared slave’. I resolved to quit; but I decided I would quit only when I had become totally indispensable to him. So I worked hard to achieve that goal of mine in six months and I left him when everything in his multi-million dollar business empire and Life depended on one man – AVIS!
I learnt a lot about being victim, closure and moving on from that experience. As I lay in bed last night, preparing to sleep, I thought about the conversation over coffee, and the two questions that came up – “Why do people hurt others and why do victims suffer in silence?” – in the backdrop of my own learnings.
First, I believe people who are causing pain – physical, emotional, whatever – to others are actually suffering themselves. Their behavior mirrors what they are going through within themselves. My mother browbeat us perhaps because that is what she had experienced – as a child, as a daughter-in-law and maybe emotional strife is all what she had seen. My former employer harassed me because maybe he was intrinsically insecure. Despite all his wealth, he was always chasing his tail making more money and had no family Life for himself, and all his time he had spent check-mating people to make business deals; so he was continuously wary of being check-mated himself! I am not trying to justify people’s behaviors here. I am just saying that this is one possibility why people bizarrely end up hurting others.
Now, we end up suffering as victims when people harass us because we are so shocked and numbed by their behavior when it all begins. And by the time we realize that we are being exploited, we have become a victim – cowering in fear and wallowing in self-pity. The only way to stop being a victim in any situation is to say no. When you feel uncomfortable doing something or in the presence of someone or when something is done to you, just say no. Each of us has the option to say NO – all the time! And only when we utilize that option, we stop being the victim. When you stop being the victim, even if the pain endures, even when the perpetrator continues to try to harm you, you don’t suffer. And in most cases, when you turn around and face your perpetrator, or what you fear, in the eye, the victimization stops.
It is only when you are facing Life and saying no to what you don’t like done to you that you become stronger. And Life is all about getting stronger at dealing with situations, becoming courageous by looking what you fear in the eye.
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