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!
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.
When you are soaked in gratitude and love the Life you have, its beauty and fragrance are magical.
I turn 50 today.
In the normal course I would have been still been drunk – hung over – on alcohol from the previous night’s binge! But today I am drunk on the love that is pouring in from all around. I feel awed, humbled and grateful – all at the same time.
Way back in 2004, when we had met a Siddha yogi, on the advice of one of our friends, the yogi had told me, “AVIS, your Life will completely change after you turn 40!” I was 37 then. On my 40th birthday, in 2007, when Vaani’s sister and her husband from Phoenix, Arizona, had called to wish me, I remember telling them both this: “Oh! This is one birthday that I have so eagerly looked forward to.” I was thinking then, keeping the yogi’s remark – which I considered to be a prophecy – in mind, that post-40 we would get all the money that we so badly needed through some quirk of destiny and we would be able to bounce back from our “tight” (back then) financial situation. But nothing of what I thought of and wished for has really happened. In fact, within a couple of months of me turning 40, on December 31, 2007, we realized that we were bankrupt. We were left with no money, no work, and we owed Rs.5 crore, US $ 1 million then, to 179 people. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal)
A decade on, we continue to be bankrupt. We still owe the 179 people the money we owed them then – Rs.5 crore! So, just reviewing the Siddha yogi’s remark may lead to the conclusion that my Life and Vaani’s has changed for the worse in the last 10 years, ever since I turned 40. But on a spiritual plane, at an evolutionary level, nothing’s the same about my Life. The Siddha yogi was indeed right. My Life has changed dramatically in the past decade.
I have learnt, in this time, the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This essentially means that I have learnt to be happy despite our excruciating circumstances. I have recognized the value in being calm and stoic, and to trust the process of Life. This means, I cherish and practice faith and patience. I have learnt to live my Life meaningfully – choosing always to also be useful than just trying to only be successful. This means living Life with a Higher Purpose – Inspiring Happiness among all those who care to pause and reflect. I have learnt that there is no destination that you must strive to arrive at in Life – and that the journey is the reward. I have learnt to rise in love. This means Vaani and my companionship has thrived through this tumultuous decade only because we continue to be loving, in the present, continuous, sense. This has meant also that our children have seen our friendship evolve, grow and glow. So, they too now value companionship over a mere relationship. I have also learnt that everything happens for a reason and everyone’s a teacher. So, I don’t complain about anyone or anything anymore. I may have an opinion, a point of view on what people say or do, or on whatever happens to me, but I don’t resist anything, I don’t ask why or why me – and therefore I don’t suffer. And yes, I have learnt to say ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’ to Life for all that I have – I recognize that being eternally grateful is an incredible way to be soaked in peace!
These learnings make me feel so special, so blessed. I feel my Life, despite its attendant practical and physical challenges, is very liberating. It is filled with abundance and happiness. I am sure others my age – and older – feel this way too. But this is the first time I am turning 50! So please bear with my sharing these thoughts today. For this is what I am experiencing at this stage in Life, at my Point 50!!!
Life’s beautiful – as it is! And I am lovin’ each moment!
You may want people around you forever. But Life decides whether you need them or not.
A young reader wrote in that his girlfriend has broken up with him. He has dependent parents – both of them have kidney conditions that require regular dialysis – and the lady “does not want to be saddled with the burden of his parents”. The young man is heart-broken and unable to come to terms with this reality – he is struggling and suffering.
Now, it is perhaps easy to conclude that the lady lacks compassion. But whatever be your view, the truth is she always had a choice and she exercised it. So, the only way forward for the young man is to move on. But moving on is never so easy. Especially when you believe you are attached to someone at a “soul level”. As this reader told me, “My ex was a huge support for me emotionally. I related a lot to her. But now I feel lonely and lost.”
However, not just in the context of a break-up, but generally in Life, if you treat relationships as impermanent, you can cope with your loss better. Some people you love and relate to pass on. Some others move on. This may sound weird, but it is important to practice detachment in a relationship and be ever-prepared for a separation. Yes, one way to look at separations is to say that they are ordained that way or that someone leaving you does not deserve you. But there’s a more evolved, mature, response that’s possible. Which is that one day, sooner or later, a separation, like death, is inevitable.
Let me share with you the story of my friend, who’s in his 50s. I met him recently, many years after he had separated from his wife. His wife actually had dealt with him rather unusually – taking over his property, deserting him and migrating to the US with their child. While she may have had her own reasons for her actions, my friend was devastated. He just could not reconcile, for several months, with what had happened. I remember him telling me then: “I loved her and still love her a lot. She could have just told me that she wanted to break away from me and I would have walked away without a question. That she chose not to trust me with her decision hurts me more than her leaving me. And why deny me access to my own child?”
Over time, my friend immersed himself in his work. And all of us around him felt he had managed his emotional state pretty well. When I met him a few days ago, I asked him how he was coping. What he told me blew me away completely and my admiration for him has swelled. Here’s how the conversation went.
Him: “Life’s beautiful. I married a Kashmiri woman whose husband died of cancer some years ago and adopted her son as my own.”
Me: “That’s wonderful. How old is the boy? And how has he adapted to you?”
Him: “The boy is in his teens. It’s been 7 years. He calls me ‘daddy’ and we are great friends. My wife and I are also great friends. To tell you the truth, I have a special and beautiful friendship with her. After her husband’s death, her in-laws were not supportive. They harassed her and blamed her for their son’s death (he was diagnosed with cancer within a few months of their marriage). She even contemplated suicide as she could not handle them nor get over her loss. She loved her husband a lot and did not see a meaning in her continuing to live. We have a mutual friend who asked me if I could consider marrying her so that she could get out of the tyrannical clutches of her in-laws. When I met her for the first time, she told me openly that she did not want to ever physically consummate our marriage. Because she still feels the presence of her husband in her Life. So, she told me that our own marriage may not work out. I liked her openness. And her concern for me. I told her we could still marry and be great friends. That’s how it all started and all three of us are very, very, very happy!”
Me: “That’s such a great choice and gesture. I respect you. But don’t you miss something: maybe physical intimacy? Maybe your first wife?”
Him: “Life’s not about sex and physical relationships alone. I still love my first wife. But she’s gone. What’s the point in pining for her or holding a grudge against her? I decided to channelize my love for her and my first child, who’s with her, toward my second wife and her son. Their presence in my Life keeps me anchored and their friendship keeps me going.”
The learning I am picking up from my friend’s story is this: no matter what happens to you in Life, no matter who you end up separating with, for whatever reason, you can still make it beautiful.
The key to being detached in relationships is to understand and accept the transient nature of Life. As a child, I learned to play the Hawaiian guitar. And one of the songs I learnt to play on it was “Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai…” from Shor (1972, Manoj Kumar, Jaya Bhaduri, Nanda, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar, Santosh Anand). My favorite line from the song is this: “…Kuch Paakar Khona Hai…Kuch Khokar Paana Hai…Jeevan Ka Matlab Toh, Aana Aur Jaana Hai…” It means, “…(in Life)…you win some, you lose some and Life’s true meaning is to just come and go…”!
And that’s all there is to relationships too. People come and go in your Life basis a grand design that you can never comprehend. They come to play a specific role in your Life. When Life decides that you no longer need them, they move on. Now you may perhaps want them around forever. But Life is willing otherwise. So, if someone has left you heart-broken, get up and move on; accept Life’s verdict and celebrate the times you spent with that person. Ultimately, Life is the biggest Teacher, the Master Planner, and, as I have learnt, the Master Plan has no flaws.
Loving is present continuous, evolving, as it is flowing!
A young reader reached out to share her friend’s predicament. The friend’s boyfriend of a few years had suddenly declared, overnight, that he had “fallen out of love” with her. The two were considering marriage. The young lady is, naturally, heart broken. She is figuring out a way to deal with her situation. And I am sure there are countless people out there who are struggling with such break-ups.
Interestingly, in the specific context of the young lady’s boyfriend, I actually commend him for his clarity. He at least knows that he has fallen out of love with her. This makes it amply clear to the lady – and to all of us – that the problem is not with the lady, it is not with her boyfriend, it is not even with love, it is with the lack of loving. When there is no loving, there is no relating. And when there is no relating, where is the question of a friendship, a relationship, a marriage?
I come from an Osho school of thought. Osho always warned against this tendency to fall in love. He said that only because people fall in love do they even fall out of it! Instead, he championed rising in love. Think about it deeply – what he says is simple, yet profound! Which is why, in my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, I titled a chapter Rise In Love to share how the companionship between Vaani and me has thrived over the years. Here’s an excerpt (my Book is a collection of letters written to my two children Aashirwad and Aanchal; Mom here refers to their mom, Vaani!):
“…I want you both to understand the essence of companionship in Life, drawing upon how inspired I am by your Mom. Sooner than you both believe, you too will be in love. You too will meet and want to be with someone whom you want to spend the rest of your Life with. But remember, being in a relationship alone does not mean being in love. Being drawn to someone for their physical attributes is not being in love either. Being happy in someone’s presence is also not being in love completely. You are in love completely when you can be someone’s best friend and can have that best friend’s friendship forever. A best friend is a soul-mate. Someone who can help you see who you are, accept you for what you are and in the future may become one who does not shy away from speaking the truth; holding a mirror and critiquing – not criticizing – your actions and someone who is willing to walk with you to where neither of you has been before. A soul-mate is always understanding, demanding, forgiving, compassionate, teaching and uplifting.
“It is not difficult or too complex to be a soul-mate. You can be one too. Being a soul-mate requires one to know, understand and appreciate the meaning of Life. Life in your teens and early adulthood will be full of exploration. Especially of your sexuality. This is where you will find joy in kissing, feeling and, perhaps, in today’s generation, having sex. Please know that there’s nothing wrong with any of that. When you get past the physical dimension of love, you begin to see the value of wanting to spend a lifetime with that person. It’s a great feeling, full of anticipation. Of your own home, of your own children, of your own Life together; living, happily ever after.
“Now, almost everyone who falls in love first and then marries gets into that relationship with the same sentiments and expectations. Then, have you wondered, why do people break up? Why do marriages fail? It is because, relationships, as I have learned from Osho, the Master, signify the death of the same something, that precious feeling that inspired you, in the first place, called love. You love someone when you relate to that person. People fall out of love because in a marriage, while there is a law, a label, society, family, caste and religion – there is no more relating!
“I think what has worked for Mom and me is that we continue to relate to each other. Age, place, or circumstance, don’t seem to affect or pollute our precious, pristine shared space, where our love for each other continues to thrive. It is not something unique to us. We have just made our friendship, our way of relating to each other special…”
A young film-maker Shalu who read my Book decided to make a film and called it Rise in Love to showcase how love thrives in the face of adversity. Between my Book, and the film, a common thread you will see that keeps me and Vaani going is our loving. It is present continuous. It is a verb. It is not static, it evolves as it flows.
So, that brings me to the boyfriend’s choice. Of course, what he has told the lady will hurt her. It is a sure cause for a heart-break, a depression. But it is actually an opportunity to celebrate too. Celebrate that this is not the person that, over time, she would have been able to relate to anyway; so let him go! Celebrate also that the gentleman had the courtesy and courage to take an informed, evolved, decision, instead of two-timing her. This attitude, to look beyond the obvious, beyond the physicality of the situation, is crucial to intelligent living. Now that the lady is in the throes of a break-up, if she chooses to rise above the apparent heart-break, she will discover that a companion who will compliment her, complete her, no matter what the circumstances may be, is waiting for her! She just has to rise in love to find him!
Clearly, beyond what families want, beyond what society dictates, beyond marriage, lie loving and companionship. When you have found that truly loving companion, who will continue to be loving no matter what, you will have risen in love too!
Marriage is a hollow, irrelevant institution – it is perhaps the singular cause of gender inequality.
Last night, over dinner, Vaani and I had an interesting conversation with a friend’s daughter. We talked about marriage – and its increasing irrelevance.
This young lady is in a long-distance relationship. Her boyfriend comes from an affluent, conservative family. The boy’s parents are keen to have the engagement done now and the wedding sometime next summer. The young lady is not sure what she must do. She is wary of walking into a family which does not believe in the bahu, the daughter-in-law, following her own bliss and career. The girl’s brother is advising the couple not to rush into a marriage. His view: “Understanding each other is very critical before you end up in a marriage.”
I agree with him. In fact, although Vaani and I are married, I have come to see marriage as a totally avoidable practice. Here’s why I feel so – and this is what I shared with the young lady too last night.
In the garb of according societal approval and fulfilling religious norms, marriage actually, unnecessarily, limits Life between two people. Clearly, the reason why two people relate to each other for long periods of time is not because they are married. It is because there’s a friendship between them, they understand each other and are willing to be non-judgmental about each other despite the circumstances. This relating is continuous, and is never limited by gender, class, religion, nationality or language. Of course, to build and sustain this companionship, two people need not be necessarily married. On the other side of this view, people can stop relating to each other after being together for a considerable amount of time. It is very natural. But as we see all around us, it is only marriage that makes any divorce painful and messy. So, if you place societal requirements aside, marriage is irrelevant. What people do today while they are still in a marriage they can and will do even otherwise. They will either relate to each other and be great friends or they will grow out of liking each other and move on or they will stay together and have other relationships that will make them feel complete and fulfilled. But when they do all this without being married, they will do so while being a lot, lot more, happier. Simply, they will experience total freedom and zero guilt in doing what they really want to do! If you examine society around you, there’s isn’t unputdownable evidence that supports the utility of marriage as a social contract – it has neither aided the building of great companionships nor has it prevented people from exploring Life outside of its framework. This is why, I believe, marriage is irrelevant.
The other problem that marriage has created is that it has, again unnecessarily, made a very basic human need, sex, appear illicit and salacious whenever it is indulged in outside of a marriage. This is outright ridiculous. As Osho, the Master, says, the bees, the birds, the fish, and every other species don’t find the act of having sex illicit. They do it freely. They don’t have any rules that promote monogamy and condemn polygamy. So, why are we humans outrageously supportive of this regressive framework called marriage that restricts free access to a basic human need, to a beautiful spiritual expression – sex?
Also, it is the imposition of the draconian code of conduct of marriage that has singularly led to gender inequality. This is particularly true in Indian society even though it is evident in several other cultures world-wide. Consider this: the moment she marries, a woman must serve the interests of the family, often at the cost of her career, her passion, her bliss. She must rear children. She must not step outside of the marriage, the relationship, even if she finds someone that she can relate to. But the man she married can do what he pleases, with whomever he chooses. And because she agreed to be subservient, and often just a doormat, if at all she dares to seek a divorce, she has to be at the mercy of her estranged husband and seek alimony for survival through an inert legal process, that’s always messy and emotionally draining! Doesn’t all this sound so stupid, so repulsive?
I would any day champion that people just develop great friendships while living together. If they grow out of liking each other, they can, and must, move on. And if they want to procreate and have children, let it be a mutual choice, not a necessity. Yes, for reasons like securing passports or buying material assets, if there must be a piece of legal documentation, let there be. But don’t get wedded to the legalese. The real contract is in the spirit of togetherness – of a friendship, of relating to each other, of enjoying each other, of giving and receiving, of always being there for each other, no matter what the circumstances are. As I share in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal and in the film Rise In Love (that a young film-maker made to understand how the companionship between Vaani and me thrived in the face of adversity), Vaani and I are friends first and then a married couple. In fact, if I was meeting Vaani now, I would not have chosen to have a marriage. We would have lived-in together and would still be loving each other as much as we do now. Our marriage has not helped us stay together. Our friendship has.
So, my (unsolicited) advice to my children, Aashirwad and Aanchal, and to anyone wanting some perspective is this – marry only if you want to; please don’t marry because society or family wants you to. It is a meaningless, irrelevant, practice. Between being stuck in a relationship and being able to relate to each other no matter what, relating to each other is more valuable. Between your marriage and your happiness, obviously, happiness wins hands down any day, doesn’t it?!
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Go beyond the predictable and celebrate Life, love Life!
The other day, while addressing a bunch of students at a Medical College in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, I asked them: “How many of you are in love? How many of you have been in love?” Interestingly, no hands went up. It’s possible that they students were too shy to share openly or it’s also possible that they have not been in love yet. Whatever it was, I felt our social conditioning makes us look at love as something that is governed by age, gender and, sadly, also by economic criteria.
I feel if you are not in love you are not living. You may be existing. But you are not living, you are not alive. I am eternally in love. So, in the context of a romantic liaison, and companionship, I am in love with Vaani for over 29 years. But I am also in love with Life. I just find its inscrutability, its mystique, its challenges, its highs, its lows, it magic and its beauty irresistible. So, to me, love goes beyond the physical surely, it also goes beyond the love I feel for a soul-mate, or for my children, or a friend; love, as I have, is the ability to immerse yourself in the moment and celebrate it!
So I was delighted that the day after my Talk in Chittoor, at a friend’s Navarathri Golu party, another guest, the well-known singer Janani Madan, chose to sing Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai from Anarkali (1953, Nandlal Jaswantlal, Lata Mangeshkar, C.Ramachandra, Rajendra Krishan). Janani brought her own to this classic. She was simply brilliant. When she sang, “…zindagi hai bewafaa, loot pyaar ka mazaa…”, I was reminded of my questions to the students and of my own perspective on love. Rajendra Krishan was one of Hindi cinema’s most talented lyricists and writers. That one line sums up the attitude that we must bring to Life every single day – “…zindagi hai bewafaa, loot pyaar ka mazaa…” meaning (loosely) “….Life is a traitor, it will let you down or end abruptly, so, steal the joy of love, make time to love, when you still have Life and are alive…”!
This is what I have come to believe in and live by. There is no better time than now to live fully. Immerse in the moment, love what is. Do only what you love and that will make you happy no matter what circumstances you are placed in. And of course, if you can love someone, be in love and rise in love, continuously, you can really, really celebrate Life!
Someone once told me that to be expressing love appeared to be phony and impractical. And I laughed off that observation. What is the point in being born human if you cannot live the Life you love, and love the Life you live, if you cannot love and be loved, if you cannot be loving whatever is? To me, this is what living means. If you are not living this way, loving, you are merely existing!
Don’t attach importance to what others think of you. It never really matters.
A couple of days ago I got an email from someone who lives in Plano, Texas. This gentleman was prompted by YouTube to watch the film Rise In Love that was made, on the companionship that Vaani and I have, by a younger film-maker Shalu who, after reading my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Westland) was inspired to explore how love thrives in the face of adversity. The gentleman wrote to ask how is it that I dared, with Vaani, to share our story of ‘failures’ so openly in a conservative socio-cultural environment like India, particularly in South-India? He wondered if we weren’t scared of the social stigma as a fall out of our being so open and sharing – of being bankrupt and of being seen as people who are losers in Life.
I totally appreciate the question and understand where it comes from. But, thanks to this experience, of our bankruptcy and failures (per the worldly definition), both Vaani and I have come to realize that what other people think of you has no bearing on your Life. It can’t and doesn’t make your Life tick. There is only one judge in the world and that is the one that looks back at you from the mirror. If you can be true to that one person that you see in the mirror daily, you seriously do not need to validate yourself anywhere else. I see Life only from what is. Yes, we made mistakes with the way we ran our business and our Life. Yes, we went bankrupt. Yes, we struggle without money. And work. These are indisputable facts. But just because all this is real, I am not going to let social labels of ‘failure’ or ‘loser’ stick to us. I treat everything now, praise or criticism, or worldly definitions of success and failure, whatever, as something that comes scribbled on a Post-It note, which the world tries to stick on me. And I simply peel it off me and chuck it away. That’s how I shed the grief, guilt and trauma, associated with my mother calling me a cheat (over our inability to repay loans taken from the family), and learned to move on. Vaani and I are very clear about our intention – we remain accountable and responsible for what we owe our 179 creditors. I don’t really care what people think our intention as long as we hold it sacrosanct between us. We have also discovered that when you wear your Life on your sleeve, a majority of the people who come into your Life are actually compassionate. It is only a minority that judges you and pins labels on you. Intelligence lies in choosing to ignore that judgmental minority, to un-label yourself, peel off and chuck away labels that have been stuck on you, and carry on living.
So, my learning is that it doesn’t matter what others think of you. Let them have their perceptions and let them form their opinions. You focus on living your Life the way you want to, being true to yourself and to the God within you.