“Do I deserve this?” – the most futile question in Life!

It doesn’t really matter to, and in, Life whether you deserve something or not. Life will simply keep happening to you. If what you get from Life meets or exceeds your expectation, you exult, celebrate, rejoice, and, often times, even vainly pride yourself for “your” achievements. And when what you get is not what you wanted or expected you lament – “Do I deserve this?” While the ideal state would be to remain unmoved by whatever happens to you, at least, over the years of growing up, it may be a good idea to learn not to grieve over what you get.
To be sure, Life has no principles of “deserving” and “undeserving”. Life operates on a “happening” principle. It just goes on happening. Judging a happening and labelling it as good or bad, or analyzing whether you deserved it or not, is a purely human activity. It is your mind at work. Life is mindless and so simply goes on, happening, from moment to moment to moment.
When you begin to analyze why you ended up with something you didn’t want, and didn’t deserve, you are sure to be consumed by depression and grief. These emotions will ruin your inner peace and drown you in sorrow. They will hold you back from living Life fully.
Laxmi – Commendable Spirit
(Picture – Shanker Chakravarty, The Hindu)
Ask 24-year-old Laxmi from New Delhi. She should know. Today’s Metro Plus in The Hindu tells Laxmi’s poignant story. Being a good singer, she was hoping to participate in the Indian Idol contest in 2005. But in February that year, a man who was twice her age, and whose proposition and overtures she rebuffed, poured acid on her face. The tragedy left her benumbed. Grieving. And lost. It took months of facing Life__feeling angry, helpless, while having to deal with the trauma everytime she looked into the mirror__to “understand” that what had happened to her was permanent and irreversible. That when she decided to battle it out. She moved the courts. The man, who in the meantime had managed to get married and father two children, got 10 years in jail. But Laxmi was not satisfied. She decided to move a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court – which she won recently, that has led to a ban on indiscriminate over-the-counter sale of acid across India. Laxmi tells The Hindu’s Sangeeta Barooah Pisaroty that she’s happy she has “found her voice finally”. And next on her agenda, apart from leading the “Stop Acid Attackers” campaign, is to hopefully get back to her “Life’s ambition” of contesting for the Indian Idol title!
Laxmi’s spirit is commendable. She too, as she admits, went through her “Do I deserve this?” moments. And as long as she was asking that question, she remained stuck. She became a recluse. She was always unhappy. But the moment she stopped asking that question, she found a new meaning to live and a purpose to her Life!
That’s our learning too. Whatever happens in Life, there’s no point asking “Why?” or “Why me?”. Because there are no answers in Life. You get what you get. And you have to accept what you get! Period.

You may have heard this or read this before. But it is pertinent to recall what ace tennis legend Arthur Ashe (1943~1993) is believed to have once said. Ashe was dying of AIDS, which he contracted due to an infected blood transfusion he received during a heart surgery in 1983. While in hospital, he would get letters from his fans, from all over the world. One of them asked him: “Why does GOD have to select you for such a horrible disease?” To this, Ashe is believed to have replied: The world over — 50 million children start playing tennis, 5 million learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the Grand Slam, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 make it to the semi-finals, 2 get to the finals, and only 1 wins. When I was holding a cup I never asked ‘Why me?’. And today in pain, and dying, I should not be asking ‘Why me?’ either!
Bravo Ashe! Bravo Laxmi!

Offer this lifetime to serve Life!



There is a famous book by one of my favorite authors Robin Sharma titled, “Who will cry when you die?”. I like to ask the question differently: “How will you be remembered after you are gone?

We will all be remembered after we are gone. Make no mistake about that. Have no doubt. The “how” of it is what you__and I__have a choice with. You can either make your lifetime memorable and have people remember you as one who served, who inspired and whose Life is the message. Or you can fade away, as a friend of mine wryly says, having been “a burden on the planet” – having lived a self-obsessed Life and having been totally “un-useful”.

The other day I was, out of sheer curiosity, watching Tamil film actor Prakash Raj host the inaugural episode (his first ever) of the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” reality show’s Tamil equivalent on Star Vijay. On the show, he celebrated a contestant who had dedicated his entire Life to support a marginalized, tribal community. Prakash Raj then went on to say what a big difference it makes when people reach out and touch the lives of people who are helpless, and in dire need. He narrated his own story of the day, years ago, when his father had passed away. He was a struggling upstart in the Kannada film industry then. He said he did not have any money that day to cremate his dead father. He recalled how, when he sat wondering what would happen, someone came by and bailed him out. Simply out of the blue. It turned out to be noted Kannada star and director Ravichandran. Ravichandran gave Prakash Raj Rs.5000/-, without him asking, and saved him, as he disclosed, “embarrassment and a lifelong burden of guilt”. “I will always be grateful to Ravichandran Sir for what he did for me and will always remember him as a great soul,” said Prakash Raj.

Veer Bhadra Mishra  – Mahant Ecologist
That’s a learning I picked up from the past week on how we can make a difference in an individual’s Life! And then there are those who touch the entire ecosystem. The Hindu this morning carries an obit titled ‘Warrior for a River,’ by Omar Rashid, of Prof.Veer Bhadra Mishra, noted environmentalist and mahant (head) of the famous Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi. Mishra inherited the position of mahant of the temple when he was barely 14, after his father’s death. But he has, since 1982, been involved in leading the Sankat Mochan Foundation, a non-profit, non-political body, that works for keeping the river Ganga clean and free of pollution. Most Indians revere the Ganga and consider it holy. But almost all Indians know that it continues to be among the most polluted and contaminated water bodies in not just India, but the whole world. Mishra’s raison d’etrewas to clean up the Ganga and restore it to its once pristine state. Rashid reports that Time magazine declared him the magazine’s “Hero of the Planet” (1999) for bringing the plight of the Ganga to the world’s attention and inspiring other river activists. “For his commitment to the river, he rightly won the epithet ‘Ganga Putra’ (Son of the Ganga). Varanasi will also remember him for his “Ganga-ethics” and his personal relationship with the river, which motivated him to say: ‘I am part of Ganga and Ganga is part of me.’”, writes Rashid, hoping that the day will come when Mishra’s dream of the Ganga being free of even a drop of sewage will be realized!

All of us have this good gene in us that inspires us to want to work outside of our own myopic view of the world and climb out of our own needs’ spectrum. Yet we are also so very caught up in the whirlpool of seeking deservance that we fail to seize the opportunity to serve. A simple way to get started is to flip the paradigm and stop wanting to be only successful and instead aim to be useful. Stop saying you deserve (more) and instead try to look for ways to serve (more). This lifetime is a gift. And you may want to be remembered for having used that gift judiciously for helping make this world a better place. Offer yourself to serve Life! There’s no other God than Life. There will be no other opportunity than NOW!

Indeed, you cannot be serious about Life!


A key factor that inhibits progress on the spiritual path is our tendency to take Life too seriously. Everything that we do, it appears, seems to key us up. Every small conquest seems to be a moment to claim superiority and every failure is seen as a numbing, lethal, final blow! So much so, when a hard-earned victory comes our way, we fritter away the moment in showmanship and bury ourselves under a heap of unsolicited critique and free opinion, when we fumble and fall.

So, it was with great interest that I read noted columnist Nirmal Shekar’s views on Indian cricket captain M.S.Dhoni in yesterday’s Hindu. Celebrating Dhoni’s legendary equanimity, Shekar made a case for sportspersons having the ‘right perspective’ to their game. That perspective, wrote Shekar, is to understand that a game is just a game. “…Sport is not really a matter of life and death. Sport is enjoyable only so long as we can get our perspective right and put it in its place, put it where it really belongs in the big picture. If we let it become too important, then what was sought as a pleasurable experience will turn out to be a pain.”

I completely agree with both of Shekar’s views: on Dhoni’s attitude to the game and on the nature of sport itself.

My two-penny worth learning from this lifetime’s experience so far is that Life is no different. In Life too the right perspective is very important. And we must place ourselves, and our perspective, where they belong in the big picture. Else what could well be a pleasurable experience may well turn out to be a pain!!!

The past week, I have been limping around, literally, owing to a nagging, painful condition in my right leg. Even a small step forward, at times, requires a big effort. I felt, at several times, crippled unable to carry out my routine normally __ like a bath, or driving, or going out for my daily walk. However, on my visit to the hospital the other day for a review with the doctor, I found a young lady seated on a wheel-chair. She seemed fine, for all practical purposes, laughing and joking with her family and nurses. So, I even wondered what she was doing seated cross-legged on a wheel-chair. Only when I looked closely did I realize that all her limbs were deformed. She didn’t have legs to speak of! Her lower limbs had shrunk abnormally owing to either a disease or birth deformity. Her hands were not normally formed either and her fingers seemed to be sticking out, without a palm, on both hands. I reflected on her spirit. And on my condition. I felt ashamed about the brouhaha I was creating over it! The right perspective and its place in the big picture fell in place immediately. I laughed to myself, much to the surprise of the nurse attending on me. When she insisted I tell her what the joke was, I said, “This leg, this painful condition, is the biggest joke! I find it absolutely funny!”

So it is with everything in Life! What seems like a grave problem momentarily, over a period of time, surely turns out to be laughing matter!  The key, I believe, is not to get keyed up about Life. The operative word and sentiment here is equanimity. Equanimity is simply the ability to deal with both success and failure, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, dispassionately. Dhoni has it. You too can. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gitaends with the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Krishna, replying to Arjuna, says: “…He lives in wisdom…Who sees himself in all and all in him…. He is not elated by good fortune…Nor depressed by bad…Such is the seer…!”

Whatever you are going through, take it easy! This Monday resist the temptation to get wound up any further. Invoke the right perspective and place it where it belongs in the big picture. To quote Swami Sathya Sai Baba, “Don’t we sometimes wake up from a dream, ponder over our conquests and defeat in our sleep-state, and shrug it all off thinking ‘it was but a dream’? We need to bring the same approach to Life as well. Because this lifetime is nothing but a dream.” Indeed. Maybe you will not understand, appreciate or accept this perspective just yet. But, may be you will at the end of your journey on this planet. Just maybe. That you really cannot or should not (have ever been) be serious about Life!

Lesson in Acceptance and Bliss from Afzal Guru



Just as it is in the English language that A precedes B, so it is in Life that Acceptance precedes Bliss!

Bliss has been marketed, over the centuries that human civilization has been around, as something that has to be pursued, sought for and found. In reality though Bliss is always available, 24×7, provided you are tuned in. Tuning in simply requires Acceptance of what is and not wishing what could be or should be or fearing what would be. Unfortunately, a large mass of humanity is wedded to what could be, should be and would be, and never really relates to what is. Therefore, Bliss is projected as something that is difficult to attain and something that has to be worked hard for! Resultantly, Bliss has a bit of a lousy reputation. To most people I guess it is like the Indian Chartered Accountancy exams, critical to appear for and useful in one’s career, but difficult to prepare for and almost impossible to clear in the first few attempts!

Since most of us are logically driven, let’s take a simple example. 2+2 = 4. This is what we have been taught. And this is what we have understood it to be. Also, what we eventually learned and found to be true too. Now, we accept that 2+2 CAN ONLY be 4. So, this Acceptance delivers us Bliss in that context. It is that simple. Just imagine how vexed you will be if you had worried about what 2+2 could be or should be or would be. Isn’t even that thought preposterous and unnerving? Think of someone trying to prove to the world that 2+2 could be 5 or should be 5 or would be 5! Now, think similarly of a situation in any other context of your Life. You get it? Focus on what is. Accept it. You will experience Bliss__then and there__in a nano-second.

Afzal Guru
Over the last couple of days I have learned a very important lesson from Afzal Guru, who was convicted in 2002 by a special Prevention of Terrorism Act court in the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and was hanged in Tihar Jail on Saturday, February 9th. Even before I share what I learned let me clarify that I am not opinionating on his actions, or the judgments of the various Indian courts including the Honorable Supreme Court, or on the President of India’s rejection of his mercy petition on February 3rdthis year, or the secrecy with which his execution was carried out. I am also not opinionating here in favor of or against capital punishment. I am here to share with you what I believe I have learned from Afzal Guru’s last day in Life. My learnings are based on what I have pieced together from media reports. The Hindu’s Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar, in his detailed account, quotes a jail official as saying that Guru was the most ‘calm and composed’ of all the 10 prisoners, he (the official) has seen in his career, who have been walked to the gallows at Tihar. Guru apparently talked of the similarities between Islam and Hinduism__having been well versed with both the Holy Quran and the four Vedas. In his last hour, an official described (to The Hindu) Guru as being ‘joyful’, greeting each of the jail staff by their first names and saying ‘al vida’ (good bye in Urdu) to the executioner, looking him in his eyes, before the black cloth was drawn over him! Importantly, reports The Hindu, “Another difference between Afzal and others who were executed for terrorist crimes terrorists, the official said, was that while almost all others had made religious or political cries before being hanged, Afzal just walked the last 100 steps from his cell to the gallows as he normally would and went away wishing those around him.” Today’s Times of India quotes a jail source, sharing broadly the content of the personal letter that Guru wrote to his wife Tabassum, who lives in Sopore in Kashmir: “It was an extremely personal letter where he told his wife to take care of their son and not agonize over his death. In very gently worded language, he said that she should remain strong for their son and not give in to despair. As ever, Guru was calm and dignified in his parting words.”

My learnings:

  1. Right or wrong, whether you are committing it or whether you are being subjected to it, has NO relevance in the realm of what is. It is only what it is, AS it is!
  2. Only Acceptance of what is, irrespective of who caused it, can heave you up from the abyss of suffering and deliver to the altar of bliss!

There can be several arguments in favor of Guru and against him. Contesting his execution and celebrating it. Mourning the lack of human decency in the manner in which his execution was carried out with no intimation to his family; to saying his family too deserved to experience the pain that his purported actions caused to people affected by them. But I am inviting you to rise above all that. A simple question needs consideration. How many of us will have the ability to be detached from our worldly moorings when death comes calling, especially when we KNOW that the end is upon us? Guru’s ability to have accepted his reality__again, I repeat, irrespective of any judgment of his deserving of it or otherwise__led him to his bliss which the jail authorities saw as his being ‘joyful, calm and composed’!

So live with and love what is. Don’t try to avoid it or resist it. Open your eyes and see your reality. Accept it with humility, compassion and love __ irrespective of who is responsible for this reality. The moment you Accept your reality, you will be, and in, Bliss!



To be a good parent, be a strong one in your child’s moment of crisis!


Give your children strength when they are in pain and are suffering. Don’t suffer for and with them!

The only joy we parents want is to see our children happy, healthy and successful. No parent will want their child to go through any pain. And least of all will want to see them suffer. Yet, the nature of Life is that the destinies of our children are different from our own. They will have to live their Life’s design__no matter what we may wish for them. So, intelligent living in the context of parenting is to be able to feel their pain, when they do encounter it, give them strength to endure it, teach them how not to suffer and show them the way to a courageous Life! 

Your first reaction to any pain your child may have to face is one of shock, grief, agony. In your grief-stricken stupor you will plead with each source of emotional succor for mercy. You will offer yourself in place of your child, to a higher energy, and wish that your darling angel be spared. This may well be a noble point of view, but in Life’s scheme of things, it hardly cuts any ice. The truth is, just as you have faced Life, learning from your every living moment, your child too has to go through her or his own learning curve. You cannot circumvent that process. It is both illogical and impossible.

So, indeed, the best thing you can do in an unfortunate situation, when pain is inflicted on your child by Life’s inscrutable design, is to replace your own suffering as a parent with acceptance. From this acceptance you will derive great strength. It is this strength that your child needs. Remember, irrespective of how old your child is, or how old you are, to your child, you are a hero. Your children grow up looking up to you for everything. Initially for food, security, warmth, love and care. Pretty soon, with their first ‘real Life’ experience, they again look up to you __ this time for strength, for hope, for faith and for understanding. It is more important for you to deliver on that expectation of your children than for you to mourn their fates.

A friend spoke to me yesterday about his daughter. At 18, she was going through phenomenal turmoil on the academic front. She had been a topper in all years at school, barring her last one. Resultantly, she did not get the kind of grades she needed to have to get into medical school. Besides, she did not qualify in the national entrance test to medical schools. Since then, she has taken a year off and has been preparing, at a special residential turtorial, which is five hours away from where the family lives, for the 2013 national medical school entrance test. My friend reported that his daughter was continuously in a state of confusion. She feels confident one moment and diffident in another, he said. She doesn’t want to live away from home but she also laments that her focus on her preparations flounder whenever she is at home. My friend and his wife have told their child that they are not keen she studies medicine if she can’t make the grade or cope with the pressure of the intense competition she has to face in  gaining entry to a reputed medical school. They have counseled her. They have talked of alternate career options. They visit her frequently. But, says my friend, the child’s sense of insecurity over her ‘seemingly uncertain’ academic future and confusion prevails. “I feel so helpless watching her suffer. I try to put up a brave front. But I wish there was a way to help her understand that what she grieves over, the uncertainty and homesickness, will be inconsequential in just a few more years,” said my friend. Indeed he is right. And he is doing, as a liberal parent, the best he possibly can. I would any day recommend that parents have honest and uplifting conversations with their children just as my friend has had, than bull doze an opinion or decision. The easiest thing for my friend to do would be to bring her back home, order her to quit making attempts to enter a medical school. And force her to study something which is more easily achieved than let her go after what she loves so much __ which is to study medicine! Yet, my friend is choosing the better way__of letting the child decide while placing all options in front of her__in the interest of his child’s longer term learning. And as he makes his choice he is finding a, perhaps difficult, way to overcome his own suffering of seeing his child ‘needlessly’ suffer.

My friend’s predicament is far more simpler. It is an academic situation and borders on above-average performance and brilliant performance. It is a dilemma between doing something more comfortable yet unexciting (from the child’s point of view) and doing something against all odds but that which is bound to give the child great joy! Many parents have to deal with failed relationships in the their childrens’ lives, horrible health complications, lay-offs, death of their companions or their children! On Sunday I read a heart-rending story, in The Hindu’s Sunday Magazine section, of a young mother’s valiant effort to quell her own suffering to help her 5-year-old daughter fight acute leukemia. The mother differentiates her own suffering of seeing her daughter suffer from that of her daughter’s. She says, “(My daughter) has fought her lonely battle — lonely because cancer pain is unique in its ability to wreck you.” And how she __ and through her, her daughter __ derive strength and succor in listening to A R Rahman’s unputdownable music of over the last two decades. She concludes her piece saying: “Two-and-a-half years on, the promise of a healthy life (for my daughter) is within reach. Jai ho, Rahman bhai. Her (my daughter’s) healing, like your music, is the hand of God!”

To be sure, my wife and I too go through our own dilemmas of having to worry for or agonize, over choices our two young adult children have begun to make or over situations they are faced with, or to let go. We have learned that there’s no easy way to this. Acceptance is the way. We have learned to accept that our children are separate from us. That their destinies are different. We have learned to accept that we cannot live their lives for them __ not anymore. That we cannot decide for them or direct them. That they must learn of Life, from Life, in their own unique ways. So, we do, what we can perhaps do best. Which is, we give them strength. We tell them what we feel and never force a view or enforce a decision. We remind them that no matter what the outcome of their choices will be, they will not be judged or rebuked. We tell them the doors to our hearts and our home is always open to them (and to their families when they raise them). In the last few years, at least a couple of events in our childrens’ lives, based on decisions they took,  were avoidable. We may have saved some money and some sleep had we prevented them from taking those decision. But in doing so we may have robbed our children of a wealth of wisdom that they have drawn from those experiences that their decisions landed them in. That enriching awakening for each of them is worth far, far more than what we perceivably lost!  

Almost always, the most quoted Prophet on Parenting, Khalil Gibran’s words have inspired, guided and led the way for us. Here’s the most significant extract from one of his poems “On Children”:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.They come through you but not from you,And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

I hope his words lead you too to letting your children go and find love, experience, learning and meaning in Life__in the way it is ordained for them!!