Gratitude, humility, grace and dignity are required to deal with Life’s inscrutability.
Our friend Arup from Kolkata called us up last evening. He sounded distraught. He reported that we had lost Tandra Sarkar to cancer. Tandra was Arup’s close friend, and a beautiful and courageous lady, who had launched my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Read more here) in August 2014 in Kolkata.
When we launched my Book in August 2014 across Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, with Hyatt being the Principal Sponsor, both Vaani and I were very clear that we didn’t want a ribbon-wrapper unveiling. We wanted people like us, stoic folks, who had braved Life, to launch my Book. So, we had a bomb blast survivor and bilateral amputee Malvika Iyer launch the Book in Chennai. We had Maneesha Ramakrishnan who survived the ghastly Carton Towers fire launch it in Bengaluru. And in Kolkata, we had Tandra Sarkar, who had then been battling Stage 3 cancer, to launch Fall Like A Rose Petal.
Like Tandra, her husband Kushal too was stricken with cancer when the Book launch happened. They were fighting the disease valiantly when we met them. Arup reported yesterday that Kushal passed away last year and Tandra died last fortnight. Apparently, she had enquired about Vaani and me a few weeks ago and had expressed a desire to meet us again. Arup promised to arrange that meeting. But since she passed away, Arup connected to share her wish with us.
We have met Tandra and Kushal just once at the Hyatt Regency, Kolkata, at the Book launch. But I have such a vivid memory of that meeting. Former NASA scientist-turned-filmmaker Bedabrata ‘Bedo’ Pain (who has written a meaningful Foreword for my Book) handed over the copy of Fall Like A Rose Petal to Tandra. In her address, to a hall packed with 200 guests, Tandra talked about Life – about its inscrutability…she spoke about approaching Life with humility and gratitude. Even once she did not talk about her pain. Or about her fears, insecurities or worries. My sense is she had none. Nor did Kushal. They both were an embodiment of grace and dignity despite Life having dealt with them ruthlessly. They both knew they were dying and leaving behind their wonderful daughter but there was no grief in them. No regret. Just an affirmation of what is, of the now. They enjoyed themselves thoroughly at the launch and helped us – who were rank strangers to them – celebrate our big moment of sharing our story with the world. Such selflessness, particularly in the face of personal pain, is both indescribable and not often seen.
Last night, after Arup’s call, when I lay down in bed, several questions came to me. Why did Life, through Arup and his wife Ruma, connect us to Tandra and Kushal? Why did Tandra ask to meet me and Vaani again? Why did we not meet again? I reckoned we will never know the answers to these questions. But I believe Tandra and Kushal came into our Life to remind us of the need for gratitude, humility, grace and dignity in dealing with our inscrutable lives. I know somewhere deep within me that they connected with the message of Fall Like A Rose Petal – which is of acceptance, of going with the flow of Life and of falling like a rose petal in the face of Life’s upheavals! Arup told me yesterday that my Book still sits on Tandra’s and Kushal’s bookshelf. I guess, someone, sometime will read it. And perhaps will glean their own learning from it.
As I fell asleep, I sent out a prayer to Tandra and Kushal; and to their daughter. I silently thanked Bedo, Arup and Ruma and prayed for them too. It is these human connections, however temporary or fleeting they may appear to be, that make Life meaningful despite all its apparent inscrutability!
Life’s ways are inscrutable alright, but they are also beautiful, miraculous and serendipitous.
Today Vaani and I celebrate the 21st anniversary of embracing entrepreneurship. Today, Aug 1, also marks the third anniversary of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal.
It is unusual that on the anniversary of your Firm’s founding you launch a Book that celebrates the learnings you have picked up going through the Firm’s (and your personal) bankruptcy. But that has been our Life’s journey – a decade on since we went bankrupt, Vaani and I are still dealing with treacherous, long, spells of no work and no money. Even so, we both are not bitter. We have learnt to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. We have learnt to be happy despite our circumstances.
Personally, we are grateful for our bankruptcy – because the experience has brought meaning and Purpose into our Life. Without it, there will be no Book. And without the Book, and my Talks and our curated Events, we won’t be “Inspiring Happiness” and be meeting so many, many, many wonderful people.
The biggest lesson we have learnt through this phase is that Life simply goes on. When we cannot control something, our logical mind will implore us to believe that we are losers and that it is the end of the road. But our experience has taught us that when we find ourselves in situations that we can neither understand nor solve, we must simply trust the process of Life. Look at our story – from the education of our two children in premium global schools, to surviving close to 120 months without even an income stream to cover basic living expenses (of which 52 have been without any income!), to overcoming health challenges, to facing up to legal and police action, to having no idea when the situation will turn around – Vaani and I have been looked after, cared for and provided for by the benevolent Universe. We have seen rank strangers come and help us. We have seen the milk of human kindness flow. Every time we have fallen off the edge of the precipice, we have found that either a miraculous hand has hoisted us up or a safety net has serendipitously appeared to cushion our fall. So, I can tell you without doubt, that it is never the end of the road. Figuratively, your road ends only when your Life ends. Metaphorically, as we understand, the journey of Life has no end. So, the best way to anchor in peace and be happy is to fall like a rose petal – unquestioningly, trusting Life to take you to where you should arrive!
You too can learn to live this way. Just stop worrying about what you can’t control and what you can’t solve. Learn to be non-frustrated when the results don’t add up despite your best efforts. And stop asking “why?” or “why me?”. Simply accept your Life for what it is and keep moving on. Flow with Life. You can only be happy when you live this way!
Here are some moments from the 3-year journey of Fall Like A Rose Petal. Catch a glimpse of the first spiral-bound manuscript from October 2012! Check out the different cover options by Sana Srinivasan, Kumar Narayanan and Sowmya Nagarajan. Sowmya’s design was finally chosen by the publisher Westland. One of the most courageous people you will ever know, the beautiful and supremely talented, Malvika Iyer received the first copy of Fall Like A Rose Petal on August 1, 2014.
There’s also an image of a business card from our erstwhile Firm imagequity+ (which went bankrupt) – this card was carried by all new team members when they joined, until they got their own business cards! Our Firm was cool in many respects – for instance, all our team members, mintmakers as we called them, got to choose their own titles and had their caricatures at the back of their business cards!!!
Vaani and I have a long, long way to go…to rebuild our lives financially and repay all our debt…but we have the faith and are patient with our enduring situation.
Watch out for the Tamil translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal later this year. I am blessed that Charukesi Viswanathan has translated my work and Ramnarayan Venkatraman has edited it.
Do order Fall Like A Rose Petal from here or from Amazon and read it in case you haven’t already. Or order it as a gift for someone who you believe needs a reaffirmation that Life can and must be faced – no matter what the circumstances are!
The Universe is always sending you signs, so…stay tuned!
December 31 has always been special for Vaani and me in the past decade or so.
It was on this day, in 2007, that we were told by our lawyer S.Vijayaraghavan (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) that we were bankrupt! Realizing that we just had Rs.2,000/- left with us in hand, with our bank accounts running in deficit, all our gold jewelry pledged, no real estate investments, insurance or stock options to fall back on, and Rs.5 crore outstanding to 179 creditors (I call them Angels in my Book!), we had gone to Vijayaraghavan to seek professional, legal counsel. Aashirwad was 17 and getting ready to go to college, Aanchal was barely 13. Our Life, that day seemed so dark, so hopeless, so impossible to salvage. It seemed to the two of us that it was all over! What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
So, in a sense, today marks a unique anniversary in our Life. Of our bankruptcy!!!
There’s an unforgettable throwback to that day. Earlier in April of 2007, Aashirwad and I travelled to Rajasthan on a vacation. We visited the holy dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (1141~1236 CE), the Garib Nawaz, in Ajmer. I instantly felt connected with the energy of the place. I experienced the same Higher Energy at the dargah that I had felt at the Vatican in 1995 or while visiting our family’s native shrine, the Mangottu Bhagavathi Kaavu, in Athipotha (Palakkad, Kerala). My own views on God and religion have evolved over the years – but I can surely relate to a Higher Energy, which is also why I occasionally visit select shrines – to “repair and recharge”. Following our visit to Ajmer, perhaps because I had left my business card with the person who arranged our visit at the dargah, I kept receiving mailers every month. The mailer always had an appeal to contribute to a scheme to feed the poor at the shrine daily and it had the Garib Nawaz’s scared thread – something that believers tie around their wrists as a talisman. Each time I got the mailer I would ask my office to make a small contribution to the feeding scheme and I would forget about the mailer. This went on, for 6 months, almost mechanically. I never understood why I got those mailers. But on that day, around 5.30 pm, I stopped by at my office, after that fateful meeting with Vijayaraghavan. That was the first time I had heard the word “bankruptcy” with reference to our debt-laden, cashless situation. I was struggling to internalize what he had told us. And my practical, logical instincts told me that “there was no way out for us”! As I rode the elevator up to our office on the third floor, in those 30 seconds, I closed my eyes and meditated on the “Higher Energy” that powers the Universe. I prayed: “Show me a sign that we will make it!” It was, on a logical plane, a wasteful prayer. It was a captain’s valiant effort to see through a dark, stormy night, looking for a passing vessel, when his own ship was almost sunk! The elevator jerked as it reached the third floor. I opened my eyes and stepped out. I walked to my desk and I found a fresh mailer from the Garib Nawaz’s dargah sitting there, on top of a set of papers demanding my immediate attention! My assistant told me it had arrived that afternoon. Was that “the” sign? If you had asked me then, I would have been unsure. But 9 years on, we still are surviving, tethering at the edge at most times, but we are still there – hopeful and sure that we will make it! Was that “the” sign? You bet, it was!
Yet, as you can see, we have not just survived. We are driven now by a Higher Purpose – of Inspiring Happiness! So, we go about sharing, with all those who care to pause and reflect, through the lessons we have learnt from this cathartic phase in our Life, that it is possible to be happy despite the circumstances! So, December 31 has now become an anniversary of an awakening we have had – we have realized that if you let go and trust the process of Life, you will always be looked after!
December 31 was also the day, in 2012, when my wonderful publisher, Westland, made me an offer that I could not refuse – to publish Fall Like A Rose Petal. To me and Vaani, it is not just another Book. It is a spiritual journey. That offer came at a time when we were in a torrid phase in our bankruptcy, of complete worklessness (eventually we went on without an income stream for 30 months from June 2012 to December 2014)! The Book, which was launched only in August 2014, gave us a reason to last one more day each time, it gave meaning to why we were going through what we were.
Last evening, Vaani and I spent some time reflecting on the year gone by and told each other, no matter how tough the coming year would be, we would continue to remain focused, purposeful and dogged in our efforts to turn around the business (so that we could repay all our debt) and to Inspire Happiness among all those we connect with.
This morning as I got ready to go for a meeting at a Starbucks store, I reviewed our money situation. I didn’t have money on me for entertaining my guest, a business associate. My Starbucks loyalty card had just enough cash for one coffee. So, I arrived at the store planning to offer my guest the drink and decided to not have a coffee myself. But I reached the store ahead of my guest. A friend who was already there greeted me. She said she had been planning to reach out to me, to be my Santa – she wanted to load my Starbucks loyalty card with her gift!!! I protested. But she said she had been in touch with Vaani on this but, for some reason, she had not been able to do an online payment into my account. Before I knew it she had taken my Starbucks loyalty card from my hand and had loaded it with Rs.2000/-! I am so overwhelmed; I am still to make sense of her compassion, her generous gesture.
The symbolism of the convergence of Rs.2000/- and December 31 in our Life is not lost on us. This small miracle of a gift on my Starbucks loyalty card is yet another sign from the Universe. It seems to say to me and to Vaani: “Hang in there! If you are alive, it ain’t over yet!”
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What goes around comes around.
We watched an outstanding Kannada movie U-Turn made by the very talented Pawan Kumar (who also made Lucia in 2013) yesterday. U-Turn is an edge-of-the-seat crime thriller. But it also leaves you with a spiritual perspective to ponder over – doesn’t Life always catch up, don’t your actions always come back to haunt you or bless you depending on what you have done? I have experienced this all my Life. I even talk about several instances of ‘what goes around comes around’ in my Book – Fall Like A Rose Petal (Westland). I have come to realize that all retribution and reward happens in this lifetime only. In a sense, as I see it, every moment is judgment day and the more good you do, the more abundance you attract into your Life. And the more you falter as a human being, there’s surely a price you end up paying for your actions. I don’t know if there is an after-Life. I don’t know if the Law of Karma works the way they say it does. But I know for sure that whatever you do comes back to you in equal measure.
I recall an instance from when we were visiting Guruvayur in Kerala several years ago. I had just bought a full loaf of bread so we could feed our son Aashirwad (who was barely a year old then) once we got to our hotel. But as our car backed up, a man, who looked hungry and lost, came up to my window and said: “veshakunnu”. It meant “I am hungry.” I didn’t think. I just handed him the loaf of bread. It was a spontaneous gesture. I just did it. My parents who were with us were shocked at what I had done. Vaani however smiled at me approvingly. As we drove along we stopped at a bakery and bought another loaf of bread.
I didn’t think much of the whole episode after that. In fact, I didn’t even recall it for 17 long years.
In February 2008, when our business problems had snowballed into a full-blown bankruptcy, I had to make a day trip to Hyderabad to meet a prospective customer. I used my Jet Privilege miles to buy my air ticket. We had no money. That day, in fact, the administrator from Aashirwad’s school called to remind me that his last term fees for the academic year had not been paid. It was the last day for fee payment and I was told that without it being paid he would not be allowed to sit for his 12th standard Board exams. I remember calling up our accountant from Hyderabad and asking her to sell a laptop we had in the office to raise the cash and pay the fees. I was exhausted after meeting the client and after dealing with the fee payment crisis. It was well past 2 pm. And I was hungry. In fact, I was famished. I had exactly Rs.900/- with me after paying for a full day’s parking for my car at Chennai airport that morning. Of this Rs.900/- I had to spend Rs.870/- to pay off the Indica cab I had hired for the day. I wanted to retain the Rs.30/- till I reached home – just in case! So, I decided to starve and grab whatever they would serve me on the flight – but that wasn’t going to be until after 8 pm! I told my cabbie to leave the car’s AC on and asked him to go have his lunch.
As I sat in the car and distracted myself by reading the morning’s newspapers for the nth time, my phone rang. It was a friend who I had SMSed in the morning asking if he would be free for a quick coffee as I was in his town! Now, this gentleman had not responded to my SMS. So, I did not even know if he was free, available or willing to meet when he called. The first thing he enquired was if I had had lunch. And when I told him I had not, he insisted that I show up a restaurant near his office in Secunderabad. I tried protesting feebly. But he shut me up. I went to the restaurant and we had a sumptuous meal from a buffet spread. When the check arrived, I told him how embarrassed I was that I could not afford to pay. He reached out, held my hand and said: “Listen, you have always paid whenever you have visited me. Let me do it this time. I was thinking I may not be able to see you today. But a scheduled meeting got postponed, just a few minutes before I called you, giving me this window to do lunch with you.”
I had no words to thank him. I don’t know if he saw me tearing up. When I got on the plane later that evening, I closed my eyes and reflected on the entire episode. And I wondered how we were managing as a family in this ghastly, nightmarish, cashless time. And yet we were miraculously surviving each day – soaked in abundance and blessed with the compassion of people around us, like this friend in Hyderabad. Did we deserve so much goodness in our Life, I asked myself? That’s when the hungry man’s face in Guruvayur flashed in front of my eyes. And I quietly thanked him, even as tears welled up in my eyes, for giving me that opportunity to serve him that day.
It’s been over 8 years since that awakening moment on the flight from Hyderabad. Our crisis endures. But Vaani and I continue to plough on – only because we are helped by the kindness and love of the Universe and its beautiful people. I really don’t know if Karma works. But I know compassion sure does!