Does God Exist?

You are reading the blog of a confessed agnostic. But life has taught me to remain silent about matters of the faith. I do not champion any point of view and keep my own counsel when these matters are discussed. But I was not always like this…

Earlier I was a vocal atheist. I felt it was my bounden duty to show the “right” path to my misguided and “blind” brethren. I would challenge and argue, try to convince by logic : in matters of the heart!! Needless to say, a la the Bard, it resulted in “much sound and fury, signifying nothing”. I do not think I managed to convince and change the heart of a single believer! Rather they showered pity on me: I was a misdirected soul for them!!!

Earlier than that, like all others, I was a Believer once. Those were the growing up days, when whatever your parents/elders said, and what you saw all around you – the social espoused reality – was the way to be. Then in the growing up phase, one questioned everything, challenged all things and then decided to bury God, Faith, Religion …whatever did not stand to empirical proof was a no no; scientific temper ruled!! One attended the lectures of Jiddu Krishnamurti in JJ School’ sylvan premises, and bought & devoured his books. Though one understood nothing else, one phrase caught on…“Let us question…”. So alongwith JK we intellectualised, debated, and with JK tried to “go deeper to understand and see it clearly” and found no proof of God !!!

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Then the phase of rabid atheism where one took joy in asking awkward and difficult questions. And though the Believers did not squirm or go red under the collar, we still felt morally and intellectually superior after every argument. So then what made me go silent? why did I stop arguing on matters of faith?

I went through 2 experiences which showed me how shallow and foolish I was. I understood that I know so very little that I must remain silent, rather than open my mouth, & prove to the world what a complete idiot I was.

As I plan to go for 10 days Vipassana course from today, I am again accosted with the question: how come a guy like you wants to do a meditation course? Is this really your cup of tea? What do you expect to get out of this? These questions made me go back to those 2 “moments of truth” in my life, which gave me a feeling that I understand very little in this space.

The first of these Faith Moments of Deep Learning was when 2 colleagues from Johnson & Johnson took me, forcibly, to Tirupati. They were avid believers and felt if I am in the presence of Balaji, I could not but be impressed. Most reluctantly I reached there, went to the  330 am Kakad Aarti. And when the doors opened, and we went into the sanctum sanctorum, the presence and the vibrations in the inner room were so strong that I felt something very different. Try as I could , I could not look into the eyes of the idol. The peace and solace I felt, was totally out of the world! I never wanted to go out from there!! Fortunately our “guide” told us we could stay back between the 3 aarti darshan tickets he had bought. So literally from 330 to 9 am we were in the Holy Presence. In between, the doors would open & shut, and some people went out and another group come in. But I was totally lost to the world, for the entire duration. I have never felt that comfort and joy I felt there. Even when we finally came out, I was a zombie: not knowing what was happening around me. I felt like someone had entered me and expanded me so much that I was striding the entire world!!!!

reaching

The second Faith Moment was in Shirdi in Saibaba Sansthan. Here we took the darshan and then were taken to an ante-chamber. There was a bed against the wall and a black & white lithograph of Saibaba standing under a tree looking straight at you. Looking straight into your soul. Apparently Baba slept on that bed. Though there was a sofa opposite, I felt like squatting on the ground. Again the vibrations in the room were so strong, that I was totally shaken up. I felt I was being buffeted by sea waves; I was riding the winds. I truly felt omni-present and withdrawn from my body & my physical limits and felt that I was enmeshed, one with the entire universe. What a powerful feeling! I just shut my eyes and floated….

Both these experiences taught me that my knowledge, my brain & my body was severely limited. There are many things beyond me. I do not understand so many things. And so why argue or reject?? Just say I do not know and keep quiet. Absorb and feel; rather than analyze and understand.

J Krishnamurti had said: “Belief has no place where truth is concerned.” I realised these are non-overlapping circles, and each stands glorious in its own space. More recently Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev observed; “If you believe there is God or if you believe there is no God, you are both in the same boat : you believe something that you do not know!”

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We know MK Gandhi often took recourse to fasts to solve issues. Once Nehru asked him, “how will your fasting help? There is serious rioting going on and how do you think your fasting will help?” Gandhi’s reply was करके देखो” “Do it yourself and see the result” 

My advice to those who question me for Vipassana is the same: करके देखो. There is no way I can explain what one goes through, the feelings and the experiences one gets…करके देखो!!! The 10 days of Arya Maun or Noble Silence purifies you. Takes you to a place where there is no negativity, no angst, no jealousy, no ill-will. Pure brotherhood. Joy. Sheer heaven on earth!

Rather than belief, I am with Sadhguru who says “If you say I do not know, the longing to know will arise within you; if the longing arises , the seeking will arise; and if the seeking arises, the possibility of knowing exists.” Be open to that possibility. Vipassana will certainly create that opportunity for me…

As Vipassana’s teacher SN Goenkaji puts it “Bhavatu Savva Mangalam!” : May all beings be happy. To which dear readers you can reply with me: “साधु साधु साधु “. So be it!! Let all be happy. 

Bless me that I may have the longing and seeking: vikas

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Upbringing: a blasphemous view

“Upbringing (noun) : The degree of damage your parents do to you.”

A hoarding on Patrick Melrose proclaims to the world at large from the Bandra bridge. How many of you dare to agree? There are many “adults” around me who cannot lead their own lives, as they are perpetually under the shadow of their parents!!! in some cases, parents are long dead, but the “children” still cannot live independently!!!!! Hence upbringing as damage that parents do…. I endorse this definition wholeheartedly. Both as a son as well as a father!! Let me explain.

My parents were upright, educated, middle-class, who strove to give their 3 daughters and me (the only son) all that my father could afford on his LIC salary. Remember this was before the  Fourth Pay Commission, so salaries were enough to get by, but by no means lavish. Moreover my father was the eldest son in a large Konkani Hindu family. This meant he had to first provide for his siblings’ education, sisters’ marriages and some support for his father who was a freedom fighter, journalist. His own nuclear family thus was never the topmost priority. Hey, we never slept hungry or went unclothed, but luxury was merely a concept for all dependants of my father. My mother managed the family budget with many a stretch, but still we regularly had visitors & guests; dinners & lunches. Once a year we had a small holiday. All in all, a typical middle class Konkani household.

All the right values were also imbibed into the children: Respect elders. Do not talk back. Listen to others’ advice. Read good books and literature.  Fear God. Follow norms.  Smoking & Drinking is bad. Cinema is escapism. Am sure you get the point, as most of you , dear readers, have undergone the same treatment.

Quotation-Joe-Orton-I-d-the-upbringing-a-nun-would-envy-Until-I-61-54-74

What all this meant was that as one grew up: there was just too much that you had to unlearn. eg Why should I wash my feet every evening, pray and then touch the feet of all elders in the house? or Why should I not eat non-veg food that we love on Monday or festival days? Why only one cinema in a month, when they release multiple new ones every Friday? Why follow others’ advice? why can’t I think for myself? and do as I damn please?? And the worst one of course was: why is drinking bad?

I had beer and soon realised after the first distasteful after taste, actually drinking is fun!!! anyway you drink for the after effect and that is uniformly, always good.

emotional-baggage

Point I started resenting was, it took a lot of unlearning and de-conditioning to convince myself that drinking is not bad. Exorcising all the conditioning done during growing up  by my parents was not easy to bypass.  I think I could start enjoying my drink and not get into guilt trips, only after I was 20/21 years of age.

And I  was truly angered thinking of the time I had lost, the mental agony I suffered, overcoming guilt trips, and convincing myself it was not wrong to do what you enjoy doing. Drinking is just an example, albeit  my favorite. The same ratio applied to many other things I was taught: why are elders considered a priori more knowledgeable? Why should we listen to others? Who gave others a right to opine about me and my behaviour? to rule my life? to make decisions for me?

drin

And viola!! the next major insight was: I gave them that right! I believed my parents were always right!! I felt what others say was important. I thought that their views and opinions matter. I was giving them the cudgel to bludgeon me!!!!! So whom can I blame, except myself, for my situation?

The logical next step was to throw over the yoke of “upbringing” and all that I was “taught”. Question everything! Challenge!! Validate through own experience!! (Even if it meant trying out drugs to “see what happens, it can’t be bad if so many others are doing it”. And thereafter concluding I am better off without them!!) Finally coming to the formula that today’s generation comes onto very intuitively: “My life; My rules”.

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This Gen Y  proclaims it from rooftops, and zealously guards their “Personal Space”. And that is good. They will have less to unlearn than what I had. Their thinking is more iconoclastic, because there are no “holy cows” that they feed. They are more free as they carry little baggage, of their past or of their parents and friends. Theirs is indeed a very federal democracy: you are my bro, till we can get along. If we cannot, you go your way and I go mine. We all know so many couples who have parted, but continue to be friends!!!! No one path is mandated. Every person’s point of view is respected for its’ uniqueness and internal clarity. The lack of any shibboleths to over turn is the new religion. Welcome, genuine freedom.

Please do not get me wrong. My parents were great parents. They genuinely had our good at heart. They always encouraged and supported us. They gave us a core of peace and security at home. We had great childhoods, my siblings and I. Normal material comforts, no struggle for life’s necessities. We could have ice creams when we wanted. We lived in largish houses. And were taken around in  my father’s car. So what exactly am I complaining about?  It was just the “I  know better than you” and “you listen to me now” and “I am telling you this for your own good” attitude of all our elders.

I am using parents as the “punching bag” here but actually I resented every elder (or junior, for that matter) who tried to run my life for me.

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So what did I do with this angst? I decided I will be different as a parent, as an “elder”. With my daughter, I have always tried to be her talking partner…not a father. Have tried to help her analyze alternatives, but shied away from recommending any path. Have tried to impress on my nephews/nieces and all the younger folks in my life, that mine is just one opinion, just another point of view. Have tried to give them all the confidence that they can take whatever decision they want in their lives. I am here to help them debate and understand. But the final decision has to be theirs. Finally it is their life….and I do not want to live their life. ( I am fed up to the gills with my own anyways, he he!!!).

Many times this appears like disinterest, like not caring enough. That time I tell them that I am always there to pick up the broken pieces if there is a fall: but they need to run, walk, fall on their own steam. Only by making their own calls will they be in control of their ship. And a choppy sea always makes great sailors!!

That is the true upbringing  according to me.

As Sant Dyaneshwar put it: जो जे वांच्छिल तो तें लाहो । प्राणिजात ॥

Not MY will, but THY own will be done: vikas

PS: especially obliged to my fav niece in Mumbai who sourced the Patrick Melrose quote: Upbringing is the damage your parents do to you. Though, I am sure, she believes otherwise: she still listens to me!!!!!!!

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Stark, Harsh, eminently watchworthy…Manto

Being a Literature aficionado, of course one knew of Manto. No recounting of  great short stories can be complete without the mention of Guy de Maupassant, O Henry, Hemingway, Jack London, Balzac, EM Forster, Chekov and our own Mulk Raj Anand, Munshi Premchand….and of course Manto. So since the time one first heard of the Nandita Das biopic on Manto, I eagerly awaited the September release. Felt doubly excited to hear Manto was premiered at Cannes Film Festival this year. It is a great introduction to Manto, the person.

One had read some stories of Manto and admired the man’s clinical control of his craft. Every story of Saadat Hasan Manto always leaves you gasping, shaken, stirred & exposed:  to the core of your being. Nandita Das’ second movie (after Firaq, on the aftermath of the Gujarat riots) Manto does the same.

The movie is set a few years before Partition and ends, just 7 years after 1948, with Manto’s death, when he was just 42 years. While talking of this small slice of Manto’s life, the movie manages to etch in your heart Manto’s love for Bombay, his difficulties with both the “Establishment” in the Bombay film world; his fierce independent stands, amongst the Progressive Writers of the pre Independence days; his dependence on alcohol which would eventually lead to his ruin; his monetary challenges and debts; his total disdain of the editors who sat in judgement of his writings; his friendship; his love for his children; his abrupt decision to shift to Pakistan. Alongwith all these, you see the Manto who exposed himself to the underbelly of dark side of the human condition. Manto explores what people (his fictional(?) characters) experience: prostitution and debauchery on one hand and the  harsh pangs of Partition on the other hand. Religious bigotry and one sided thinking is exposed and challenged. And in doing all this Manto suffers, as you do, bleeding while experiencing the movie!

Das has used a very clever trick of interleaving some of Manto’s stories like Thanda Ghosh, Khol Do, Boo, Toba Tek Singh into the recounting of Manto’s life. Indeed these two are inextricably intertwined! What the author Manto saw, the man Manto experienced!! Possibly, writing about all these pains, and that of Partition, was in no way cathartic for Manto.  Rather, he sinks deeper into brooding depression and deeper into drinking, progressively moving away from his family and descending into a personal hell. Das depicts this very realistically and logically. She has been aided in this task by an ensemble cast which  includes some really fabulous actors like Rishi Kapoor, Ranbir Sheorey, Divya Dutta, Gurdas Mann, Javed Akhtar and Paresh Rawal who recreate Manto’s life and experiences so starkly that it leaves the viewer gasping, and struggling for breath!!

Counterpoint to such a heavy dosage of clawing reality, are two positive side stories: of Manto’s friendship with Shyam (played by Tahir Raj Bhasin) an upcoming actor-star who makes it big; even as Manto’s star is descending on the horizon. Secundo is Rasika Duggal, playing the suffering wife Safia, a true soulmate who understands what Manto is going through, tries her best to build bridges between their daughters and Manto, even understands and condones (?) his excessive drinking binges. But both these positives cannot negate Manto’s self-curse… driving him deeper and deeper into a self-created inferno, which finally ends in his oblivion.

For me 2 sequences stood out and will haunt me for a long long time to come. One was Manto’s speech challenging religious bigotry by both Hindus and Muslims alike when he is invited to speak at a forum for authors. His impassioned arguments turn your own thinking upside down and force you to re-evaluate your own stance on religion and Partition. The second one, is his impassioned defence before the Pakistani court where he has been hauled for obscenity of content and language. His arguments make you revalue what is literary and what is obscenity; what is an author’s responsibility to reflect his experience and external “reality”; what is right;  and who can be a judge of what is right??? Some pithy questions raised there. It is interesting that Manto is more hurt by Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ comment that Manto’s writings are not “literature” grade; least bothered that Faiz actually supports his case against obscenity.

Obviously this is Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s place under the sun. His portrayal of the brooding Manto is heart-wrenchingly true to character. The artist’s descent into hell and beyond, is realistically enacted by Nawazuddin. Resultantly the viewer would end up with a better appreciation of Manto the man, Manto the author, Manto the father, Manto the friend, Manto the husband as Nawazuddin has really got under the skin of Manto the character.

As Manto noted: “आखिर में  अफसाने ही रह जाते हैं,  और उनके किरदार” In the end, all that remains are the stories, and their characters.

If you are a connoisseur of good & serious cinema, vote with your feet: go see Manto!

जिंदाबाद Manto जिंदाबाद!! जिओ  Nandita Das!! : in supplication, vikas

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Heartbreaks…they go on…

Last I wrote on how skinned knees are easier to cure than broken hearts. I got some shocked reader feedback….how can I bare all about my broken heart on a public platform??… is it not too personal a story??…etc etc

Till people read my examples and understood that am talking of intense disappointments and let downs…whether done to me …or done by me…and then got what i mean by heartbreaks. It was not a bare all, no holds barred story of unrequited love confessions a la Hollywood style, but rather the day to day jolts and falls we all go through.

Am reminded of the famous Sardarji joke. Santa slips and falls off a banana peel one day. The very next day when he sees another banana peel lying on the road, he curses aloud,“धत्त तेरी की!!! आज फिर गिरना पड़ेगा!!” (Oh Heck no!!!! Now today I will have to fall again!!!!)  

Life is all about facing disappointments and pain, and carrying on despite it all! Napoleon had remarked that there is no brave soldier…one who is not scared…all soldiers are scared in the throes of battle…but a good soldier is one who is scared and still retains his ability to fight and follow his orders. Life’s battles continue to prepare us to be better soldiers…one who retains the ability to fight back and continue despite all the setbacks, the knives in our backs, the large let downs, the broken expectations and the unfaithfulness of our friends. Sara Teasdale (The Collected Poems)  put it ,well,“It is strange how often a heart must be broken/ Before the years can make it wise.”

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I, for one, tried to follow other smart people’s advice and suffered the same fate as Agatha Christie who noted: “Everybody said, “Follow your heart”. I did, it got broken”. Or see the immortal love queen Marilyn Monroe’s famous musings:  “This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go… As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up…” Rather, I have reconciled with the view that the heart was meant to be broken and the road to true happiness is paved with many sad events, disappointments and longings.

The present crisis in my heart’s journey is seeing my daughter off… as she goes abroad for further studies! The feeling that she will not be around daily is disconcerting and disturbing. That she will be alone in a foreign land, fighting her own battles, resolving her own issues and far, far away from my watchful eye is heart rending. But alongside this feeling is the basic question: am I unhappy because she will be away? or am I more disturbed by the fact that she may actually not miss me at all? She has a new life opening up before her. So will I be redundant in her life? The dilemma is similar to that of any father at the time of marriage of his daughter…while he wants her to be happy in the new household that she is going to be a part of…there is also a sadness and grief of the emerging gap in your own life, your own family, your house, your own heart…. Mineko Iwasaki knew his stuff when he observed: “Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.” 

knew what

All of us who have loved and lost know: Once you had put the pieces back together, even though you may look intact, you were never quite the same as you had been before the fall. Augusta Webster sings of this state ” we two shall still meet day by day,
But never more shall heart respond to heart.
Two stranger boats can drift down one tide,
Two branches on one stem grow green apart.
Farewell, I say.”

Farewell. God Speed. All the Best. I for one aver and understand: we must open our hearts and be ready for the fall. Know our heart will break, but expose it anyways. To complete Marilyn Monroe’s earlier quote: “…Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.” 

So to my daughter and all those who regularly and routinely break my heart, to my sisters, brothers, friends and lovers, to all my well wishers and ill wishers, I say what Augustus Waters tells  his lover Hazel in the Hollywood blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars: “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you”.

ways to die

The quintessential philosopher of today’s nihilistic times Albert Camus has the last word on this: “It is necessary to fall in love – the better to provide an alibi for all the despair we are going to feel anyway.” This appeals to my misanthrope heart and mind. But for you, my dear positive readers, I end with our favorite ABBA

Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving
You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end
You will have no time for grieving
Chiquitita, you and I cry
But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you
Let me hear you sing once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita
Try once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita

 

So dear daughter,and all my heart breakers, I end echoing Nayirrah Waheed:              “you                                                                                                                                                      not wanting me
was
the beginning of me
wanting myself
thank you” : vikibaba

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Skinned Knees, Broken Hearts

Sometimes I wish I were a little kid again!  Skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts!!!

It is still raining in Mumbai;  and on my daily morning walk, I managed to slip/slide/glide over a largish speed breaker and found myself descending to the road surface, with great speed! There was nothing I could do in the seconds that intervened, between my insight that I was falling, and my landing unceremoniously on the wet street, face down!! During the fall, I had bent forward, landing hard on my left knee, which slid down the bump. The first thought was that this will result in a bruised knee and shin: which will pain for days. Curiously the second thought was : this pain and hurt will be much better to bear than a broken heart!!

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Being 62 years of age, one has had ones’ fair share of falls,  and broken hearts!!! Lives there a man who has had a charmed existence, happiness and success always, and nary a broken heart? I doubt it very much! Expectations and desires (despite the Learned Buddha’s exhortation to avoid them) are a part of our make-up and human story/history. And so breathes there a soul who has not experienced the pain of a broken heart?

This sharp pain of a broken heart begins early in our lives. As kids, it is the refusal by our parents to buy the new toy we have taken fancy to. Why, it may even be our Mother’s refusal to take us with her, when she is all decked up and leaving for a formal dinner. My heart also broke when my elder sister refused to take me in her playgroup as I was too small, and worse, I was a boy! The first unrequited crush on the English teacher. The fair girl in class whom I dared not speak to! My new cycle involved in an accident; with me tearfully looking at the mangled frame. My father’s job transfers which made me say Good-bye to friends made with great difficulty. Losing my first Chinese ink pen. A friend refusing to trade the WWF picture card, that he already had a duplicate of !!!! How many times has the heart broken? How many times one suffered the ignominy of “defeat”, of missing something that your heart desired and wanted so badly?? It was a sweet time of grieving- your heart was broken, but your life was changing. Many times you counselled yourself: “It is ok Vikas, life will be different when you grow up! You don’t have to depend on others. You can take decisions yourself. You can get (or take) what you want”!!!

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Then you grew up. And then the heartbreaks continued. Unstoppable, the heartbreaks were now more severe. Took longer to get over. The young roly-poly Bengali History teacher whom everyone in class had a massive crush on. Not getting admission in the academic course you had set your heart on. And to make it worse, your friend securing admission and he and his family consoling you, “Surprising how Raghavan got in? You were always better in class and we always expected you will walk in with flying colors. So sad you did not get through” Adding insult to injury; breaking, nay crushing your heart even more. Not getting a job offer from your dream company on campus. Being turned down for promotion. First time you get an average performance rating when you believe you have excelled in all projects that year. Your BFF letting you down. Girl issues. Boys’ issues. Heartbreaks galore. Making the logical you, ask a fundamental question: What is stronger than the human heart, that shatters over and over again, and still lives?

Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald, illustrious litterateurs,  had a most tumultuous marriage. Their very public confrontations were full of accusations, cheating, nervous breakdowns all fuelled by generous dollops of alcohol. Zelda observes ” No one has ever measured, not even poets, how much a heart can hold”. When F Scott died, they were estranged. Another brilliant author, Oscar Wilde was in love with Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1891, this was looked at in askance and Douglas’s father disapproved of his son’s liaison. Oscar was accused of acts of gross indecency and convicted for homosexuality. Wilde concludes in one sentence, “The heart was made to be broken”.

In Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk has a great insight to share:“The one you love and the one who loves you are never the same person”. But how many of us understand this fundamental truth? Rather we are enamoured, star-struck, infatuated; sometimes with the very concept of love. Edgar Allan Poe captures this well, “We loved with a love that was more than love”. In India we are all brought up on the Bollywood version of all sacrificing love, which stands tall when all around is crumbling, and is still able to belt out a heartfelt Laila Majnu or Heer Ranjha song. What we ignore is that the line after तेरा मेरा प्यार अमर is the earthy  फिर क्यों मुझको लगता है डर? The English poetess Emily Dickinson who never married or had children summed it up, “If I can stop one heart from bleeding, I shall not have lived in vain.” 

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In The Wizard of Oz, young Dorothy gives great advice to Tin Woodman, “I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart.” Is it hard to let go? Would you rather hold on to something that was not real anyway? No matter how bad your heart is broken, the world does not stop for your grief – it moves on, and expects you to move and play your part down the road. In the hoary Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet B Stowe puts it so well,” Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us.” Look back on your own life, all the heartbreaks you experienced over the years, only made you wiser, taught you life, showed you how to live. Remember Nicholas Spark, “The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it…”

So let us sing alongwith Jaidan Taylor:

Cause, baby, I could build a castle/Out of all the bricks they threw at me/And every day is like a battle/But every night with us is like a dream

Baby, we’re the new romantics/Come on, come along with me/Heart break is the national anthem/We sing it proudly

Concluding with Violeta Parra: “Don’t cry when the sun is gone, because the tears won’t let you see the stars.” : vikas

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The itch to blame

The itch to blame and tame is with all of us….yours truly,  leading the pack! You decide whether you are guilty, by your own reckoning :  & then decide whether it is worth reading this blog OR you would prefer to skip it!!! I will not blame you….as this introspection has taught me a lot….

The blame game starts because one feels helpless, frustrated and ineffective. Rather than take responsibility for your situation and own the consequences, you find it easier to blame the circumstances, the situation, others involved, even luck or destiny, family or karma….but always something external, which has caused this outcome. You, of course, are blame-free and above it all. Which explains why Douglas Coupland observed “Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of the chaos”.  Very often, we need to take a hard look at our preparation, our efforts. But we are comfortable finding a peg to hang our failure on. As our own local saying has it “नाच ना आवे आंगन टेढ़ा”.

Yogi Berra the iconic baseball player captured this attitude well when he said “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I just change the bat. After all….how can I be mad at myself?” And this happens to the best of us. We all would do much better if we learnt to not spend time finding others to blame. We put in too much energy in finding excuses for not becoming what we are capable of being. Our approach should rather be to grow out of our past and get on with our lives, by putting our energy  and our own self on the line.

blame-and-shame-game

My favorite poet Rainer Maria Rilke puts it so well “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty”. What a thought!!! For the Creator, there is NO POVERTY. You are limited by your own imagination and your effort.  So should we not keep the itch to blame in reins?

One more aspect of the blame game is true since times immemorial. Aeschylus the first great Athenian dramatist observed in 5th Century BC “Everyone is quick to blame the alien”.  We all draw such a close circle around oneself, our own way of thinking, our favorite theories and even our pet peeves that anything which is different is “alien”. And we are quick to blame, reject, question, doubt, ridicule and run down whatever does not conform to my worldview. We refuse to respect diversity and we are not intellectually honest to accept that “I do not know it all” : the other person’s POV may be different; but it could also be right. In fact social reality is multi dimensional and just because I see things in a particular way, does not mean that is the “right” way. Others can, and do, view things very, very differently.

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This perspective is especially critical to remember when there is a power differential between the two parties. Otherwise the blame game can easily deteriorate into the “tame” game. Recollect our childhood Aesop fable about the Big Bad Wolf who blamed the Cute Little Lamb for polluting his drinking water in the flowing brook. When the Lamb tried to protest that he was downstream,  and Wolf was at a higher level and so how could the Lamb pollute the water? the Wolf’s famous reply was ” Well if not you, then it was your ancestors who muddied the drinking water” And so the Lamb is still to blame  and will be eaten by the Wolf to teach a lesson. Any excuse will serve a tyrant, as Hitler proved to millions of Jews during the Holocaust. Blame game often ends with a overpowering desire to tame the opposing point of view. Why Hitler? let us remember our own bosses. And we will easily see that the itch to blame and tame is omnipresent. Even in family, my daughter thinks the same about me.

Yet truly, if you see life in it’s full-blown glory, you will see also it’s rich diversity. In India there are sharp contrast between the haves and the have-nots. So while we have the richest private residence in the world Antilia which is valued at USD 1,000,000,000, we also have 62% of Mumbai’s population living in slums as per HT report (9/8/2018). There are stark differences in lifestyles of the people of Mumbai but somehow we have mastered the art of peaceful coexistence. We do not question the propriety of either a USD 1 Billion home or the fact that compared to the 1991 Census there is a staggering increase of 50% in the population of slum dwellers. The beauty of our pluralistic society is seen in the fact that the street children are happy, while our rich, nouveau rich and middle class children are unhappy, stressed and hassled. In the rainy season I truly admire the resilience of the street urchins who are gleefully enjoying the rain. While the kids who are bundled in cars or school buses fret and scowl!!! Fortunately, we have not yet gone down the Kenyan and Nigerian path, and there is still no strident blaming one another or forcible taming of the other side.

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The cartoon above says it all: we must learn to cope and ignore. Rumi puts it so well : The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore. Wish I had got this advice much earlier in life. Blaming and efforts of taming would have been much less. Recently I came across something interesting about sunflowers. We all know that sunflowers follow the direction of the sun and turn to face the Sun. But what happens when it is raining? and there is no Sun? Apparently sunflowers turn to one another and bask in the reflected energy and positivity of one another. How beautiful would it be if we humans learn this skill from sunflowers; and rather than rue the absence of the Sun, take joy and energy from the glory which is all around you; get energized from one another. Overcome the itch to blame, shame and tame. Rather revel in the people and energy around you. Remember Creation knows no Poverty. You need to ask for the riches. Ask and it shall be given!!!!

I close with memories of a beautiful abhang of Tukaram: लई नाही लई नाही मागणे देवा Here Tukaram beseeches Lord Pandurang to give him just enough cloth to cover his body; just enough food to fill his and his guests’ stomach; but continuous blessings of the Lord…he wants nothing more. All blame vanishes, as sunflower-like I turn to all, in a most positive way. The only taming I do is of my own self.

Live life; Love life: vikas

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The Gift of Advice

The Bard had observed “Neither a lender nor a borrower be, for loan oft loses both itself and a friend”. Shakespeare might as well have spoken about the fate and prognosis of advice, instead of a monetary loan. Like money, advice often distances both the giver and the receiver. And truly genuine and “good” advice may end up alienating friends.

We all are always ready to give advice. But at the same time , consider our own selves to be above the need for any guidance/advice. In fact, advice is the cheapest currency in social interaction, as everyone is very liberal in sharing and giving advice.  And yet when the transaction reverses and we are at the receiving end of any advice, our approach u-turns and we feel we are on top of the situation, we understand every nuance of the case and so there is no need at all for us to get any advice from anyone else. We live Benjamin Franklin’ wisdom “Wise men don’t need advice. And fools won’t take it”

As evidence I put forth experiences we all have had in dealing with the people closest to us….our wife and our children. Breathes there a man who has not felt the frustration of trying to get his significant other to follow a course of action,  that you see as perfectly logical and “crystal clear”, being fought tooth and nail and your better half obviously sees it very, very differently, and wonders why you cannot see it her way (“be reasonable, do it my way”)!!! The problem becomes far more acute, when you have children who are growing up. Whatever you tell them seems to be wrong from their perspective!!! And if you persist in trying to save them from a certain fall down a deep precipice, the response you get is “Baba let it be… Let me get my own experience… You just can’t see it my way… Why don’t you leave it to me?” leading up to the final retort ” Will you please get off my case??!!”  Experiences with family and friends have proven that to profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it!!

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On one side of the spectrum is the faith and trust of Henry Ford who avers “I believe God is managing affairs and that He does not need any advice from me. With God in charge everything will work out for the best in the end”. But how many of us have the same faith and trust? In the short run, we feel the need to tinker and turn; especially if the events are happening in our friend’s life. We are quick to put on our thinking hat, sharpen our claws, and dig in…shovelling loads of “good” advice and opinions to illuminate our “dumb” friend’s path!! We gleefully forget the axiom of Samuel Coleridge “Advice is like snow…the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks in the mind” .

It is good to remember the age old wisdom of Cicero “Nobody gives you wiser advice than yourself”. Caught in a difficult and uncertain situation, we find ourselves confused as to what is the right way out of the maze, and so so we open ourselves to counsel and advice. Even this would be fine if we had the demeanour of Thornton Wilder “My advice to you is not to inquire why and whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it is on the plate”. Even when we ourselves have sought intervention or indulgence of friends, we still want to second guess, twist and modify their advice, and remain in control. Which would be OK (remember Cicero?). But unfortunately we hear only what we want to hear, we listen only to what we wish to. We fall into the trap defined by John Steinbeck “You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway”.  And thus we lose out on a fresh and different perspective, a contrarian view, an alternate approach which could have better resolved the issue on hand. Getting external help is based on the faith that the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried!!! So indeed there is great value in sound and independent advice.

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Having said this, I do not deny that sometimes you have to consciously UNFOLLOW some people in real life. Some of our “friends” have given rise to the euphemism “with friends like these who needs enemies?” All people in your life are not around to smoothen your victory path and clap for your wins. Some may not necessarily guide you on the right track, they may not themselves know what is good, or in the worst case, lead you down a garden path strewn with bristles & thorns to enjoy your discomfiture!!! After all, it takes all types to make the world. And this makes life interesting!!!! But one needs to have one’s own lodestar, one’s own  litmus test to separate the wheat from the chaff; to know the right path and stick to it! Elon Musk suggests “It is important to have a feedback loop…that is the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself“. Sound advice to keep us on an even keel and our life on the right course.

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I cannot pen an article on Advice and not give you some of my own. So here goes!!! These are my “parasmani”, my lodestars, my touch stones to check if the advice I am being given is right for me.

  • Do what is right, not what is easy. Remember Abe Lincoln as a child, accepting he cut the tree.
  • Face your fears. Neil Armstrong’s colleague was to  be the first man on the moon. He hesitated. NASA ordered Neil to step forward. Rest is history.
  • Make small changes. Rome was not built in a day.
  • Expect less, Give more. Hands should be stretched to Give, and not  only to Take.
  • Learn to say no. A reluctant, half hearted Yes is a life waster.
  • Admit what you don’t know.  When you say you don’t know and then you learn, you are saying  you are smarter now, than earlier…every day…every way become smarter and brighter.

Vade Mecum (Come with me) : Drink deeply the Elixir of Life. Use these “Philosopher’s Stones” to convert all that comes into your life to sheer gold!!!

Remember the best project you will work on is YOU. PT Barnum (The Greatest Show on Earth)  while convincing the “human abnormalities” to agree to public display left some great advice : “No one ever made a difference by being someone else”. And as you live this joyous life, you must use all the gifts that you have got; all the advice that well meaning folks have showered on you and craft the way ahead to be a shining star. When looking back does not interest you anymore, I would say you are doing something right. The Ark was built by a novice, while the Titanic was designed by professionals. So do not hesitate. Chart your own journey. And be happy.

Be you. The world will adjust : vikas

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Now…Now…Now

Long long ago, in my 30s, I had read a Zen Koan. It was about a Zen monk who is running, to avoid being eaten by an angry tiger, pursuing him. As he rushes to save his life, he falls into a precipice, a deep gorge into which the monk will fall to certain death. Desperately, the monk reaches out and grabs a shrub growing on the rock surface. Temporarily it arrests his fall. He is hanging onto the shrub, looking down on a sheer fall of hundreds of meters, considering his imminent death. Just then he sees a ripe berry on one of the branches of the shrub. He plucks it and eats the berry. And then says: “wow, that berry is so sweet”.

Story over. The end. For years & years, it left me wondering : what was the import of that story? Till a time when I grew wiser (??; arguable, I can already sense my friends sniggering) and understood that the Monk epitomised living in the present. Being in the here and now. And enjoying what you can, when you can. One of the most influential philosophers of the modern day, Eckhart Tolle has penned a whole book “The Power of Now” to celebrate living in the present. Tolle says “You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the Now”. If you live with your whole heart and being in the Here & Now/the Present, then you understand the nonchalance of the Monk as he stares at imminent death and still enjoys the juiciness of the berry. Naturally he says ” that berry is so sweet”.  In his death, he teaches us to live Now.

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Truly we should understand that we must enjoy Life Now. This is not a rehearsal!!! we pass this way but once and get only this chance to play the game right. So why mope and tarry? Play boldly. Experiment. Whatever happens, trust that it happens for the right reasons. So do not fight the consequences. Learn to enjoy all outcomes. Napoleon Hill, the famous author puts it well, “Don’t wait. The time will never be right !” The present FIFA matches we all are seeing shows this courage on every striker’s face. When you have executed your play and gone forward, and have reached striking distance: now you must take your shot. The opposing Goalie will try to stop: but the sheer energy and enthusiasm that erupts in the entire stadium is all egging you on to take your shot. The time is Now!!

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This is not new wisdom. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor 161-180 CE, best known for his Meditations on Stoic Philosophy, exhorted us back then “Confine yourself to the present”. One of my favorite English Romantic poets John Keats puts it graphically, “Now (is) a soft kiss – Aye, by that kiss, I vow endless bliss”. That was in the 18th century. Closer to date, Osho observed, “Now is the only reality. All else is either memory or imagination”.  Despite all this good advice, we tend to live everywhere but in the present. We bargain away today, living continuously in the past memories. Successes of the past make us happy; but we continuously relive all our past miseries. Yet a car cannot be driven by looking only at the rear view mirror!!! New and vibrant reality is constantly unfolding ahead of us. We need to understand this reality and act in the present.

The other mind game we play is living in imagining the future. Had read somewhere that Tomorrow is a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored. Consciously and deterministically we must withdraw from the mystical future: focus our attention & act in the present. Results are intricately tied to the present. It is said that there are only 2 times in life: Now. Or too late.

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History is replete with examples where companies (and the individuals therein) did not capitalise on their innovations and discoveries in time and left it, till it was too late! Most famous example is  digital photography : Kodak owned the patent but kept it away as  executives thought it would affect their photographic film business.  Affect it did,  as Sony and Fuji walked away with the entire business, forcing Kodak to shut down!! Motorola stuck too long to its traditional cellphone designs and did not leverage its Razr brand or couple it with a smartphone, until the Motorola brand itself was run into the ground!!! Another example is of DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) . While IBM dominated the mainframe computer business, DEC emerged as the “owner” of the minicomputer space from 1960s to the 1990s. In 1993 its rank was 27 amongst the Fortune 500 companies!!! But it lost out totally by not entering the workstation and personal computers business quickly enough. This is what has given rise to the famous epithet: The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now!!

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Consider the phrase: “Life is nowhere”. How did you read this? Life is no where? Or…Life is now here. Success obviously belongs to those who realise Life is NOW HERE. All our actions and reactions have to be tempered in the present. And we will reap the benefits also in the Now. As James Joyce has noted: “Hold on to the now, the here, through which all future plunges into the past”. What beautiful clarity!

Let me end with another favorite Zen story. This is about a very beautiful lady monk, who was in a Monastery.  Despite following her vows seriously, a male monk developed a one-sided romantic interest in her. He started keeping messages for her hidden at places, where she would find them. Naturally, she was disturbed and did not know how to stop this. One evening, when all the monastery monks had assembled for the evening prayers, she stood up in the middle of the gathering of monks; and said “You who love me and keep sending love notes surreptitiously, if you truly love me & want me, stand up now. Come and embrace me in front of this assembly”. When shocked silence followed and no one moved,  she again said ” If you cannot profess your love NOW and HERE, do not bother me again”.

The time, friends, is NOW!! Do not tarry. Do not postpone.  Remember, Tyrion Lannister’s revelation in the Game of Thrones, “You are in the Great Game now. And the Great Game is terrifying”. All the best in your battles.

NOW…for ever…Now: vikas

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Correct? …or… Continue?

Albert Camus put it so well : “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life”.  Our human condition is such that we all have to make compromises, adjust, sometimes rethink our goals, and carry on. Continue, or Correct?

Think of the time before Google maps:  when we went into unknown territory, a new town and searched for an address. The process was iterative. With many stops on the way, much questioning the locals, moving forward and backward alternately: totally confused, insecure, feeling you have been on this road before, till by happenchance – suddenly, we found ourselves on the doorstep we were searching for long!! As we traversed the unknown roads and bylanes, the constant question in the head was : Correct my path? or Continue on this one?

This dilemma dogs us wherever we are and whatever we do. Correct? or Continue? and Google cannot help us answer this question in all walks of life.

correction

“Correct” word can be used as an adjective or as a verb. As an adjective it denotes something which is already perfect, accurate or right. We are of course talking of “correct” as an active verb. The verb ‘correct’ denotes rectify, amend, ameliorate, cure or improve. It is this sense of the word that we are trying to understand and expand here. It has it’s Latin roots in “correctus” which signifies improved or amended. It is the past participle of “corrigere” which translates to “make straight”. Now tell me truly: how many times in the twisted paths and turns of life have we wished we could correct as in improve, amend or make straight? We chose a path, an alternative, an approach…and as soon as the first signs of challenge, the first difficulty, the first proverbial rock in the middle of the road is in front of us;  our heart cries out: Do I continue? Or do I change course, move away, correct?

Pawn chess piece of smallest size and value beating businessman

On such occasions we have often hungered for the magic wand which would dissolve the difficulties facing us. Or at least the magic goggles which would show us the smoother route to a better future. But life has no easy options. Rarely does serendipity help like it did Alexander Fleming in the discovery of Penicillin.  Fleming went on a holiday with his family. Before leaving, he had stacked all his cultures of staphylococci on a bench in a corner of his laboratory. On returning, Fleming noticed that one culture had developed a fungus, and la viola!! the colonies of staphylococci immediately surrounding the fungus had been destroyed, whereas other staphylococci colonies farther away were normal. The first famous words when he saw that fungus which was later to lead to the discovery of the first antibiotic in human history was “that is funny”.  Later he has written: “One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.” Fleming, and humankind, was lucky.

On the other hand,  most of us have to struggle like Madame Curie who continued her  lab research till she discovered radium and polonium. For all her research and contributions in understanding radioactivity, while the world gave her a Nobel prize. But in this very process she got so much exposed to radiation that she died of aplastic anemia. She continued her efforts till she found answers, but paid with her life! Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, tested thousands and thousands of different materials to create the first incandescent lamp. During his research he found some materials would glow and give  light but would not last. Some lasted, but would not glow. After much effort,  Edison found tungsten which lasted and glowed. Edison at one time had 1093 patents to his name. The phonograph, stock ticker, Motion picture camera, first electric battery for a car are amongst his inventions. All these inventions were a result of his burning desire to continuously rectify, amend, improve and correct.

Some say that “mistake is the first step to success”. When you are on a path of scientific discovery or innovating to create a more robust, better version of present product, maybe experimentation requires making several ‘mistakes’ on the path and moving ahead. As Orlando Battista has observed: ” An error does not become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it”.  Most scientific advances/innovations have a long history of failed efforts. But it is not the mistake that is the first step of success; rather the real fact is that, correction of the mistake is the first step of success! To benefit from the school of experience, a man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them and strong enough to correct them. Mistakes , slips, errors and attempts are the building blocks of success.

The lesson to learn in this journey is – do not continue to water a dead flower!!  Sometimes we must have the courage to recognize the dead end; and make a required u-turn to move ahead, albeit on a different route.  We must consciously guard against the mindset typified by Nikki Giovanni’s famous quote: “I am so hip even my errors are correct”. This may make sense in a poet’s world, but in the real brick and mortar world we will have to learn to cut our losses when we are faced with brick walls, correct our course and continue on our path. Remember, a man who has committed a mistake and does not correct it is making another mistake. Possibly graver! Remember, never leave a true relationship or a right direction for a few faults or difficulties. Nothing is perfect. Nobody is always correct. In the end, correcting your path, and continuing till you reach success will get you to the Holy Grail of perfection.

Tu sais, La vie continue: You know, Life goes on: vikas

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Contemplation, Rumination, Introspection

We are in the Holy month of Ramadan. This is considered the most sacred period of the year in the Islamic culture,  to mark that Allah gave the first chapters of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad during this month.

Is it a happenchance that all major religions/ethnic groups have a month defined? Christians observe the month of Lent; Jains follow Paryushan; Parsis have their holy month of Bahwan; the Maharastrians have their Shrawan. Typically this is a month of introspection, of prayers, abstinence, and….gratitude. Gratitude for being alive. Gratitude for the good life you enjoy. Gratitude for your friends and family. Gratitude for all the things bestowed on us by the Almighty…by whatever name you call him.

The Arabic root of the word Ramadan/Ramzan is Ramida or ar-ramad which means scorching heat or dryness. Experiencing that, burning your negative thoughts & actions, and emerging into the joy of munificence, celebrating life and experiencing joy of both Cleansing and Community  is what Ramadan is about. It is believed that the gates of Heaven are open in Ramadan, and the gates of Hell are closed! Prayers offered in Ramadan give you the highest Thawab – spiritual rewards!!! In the final analysis, Ramadan stands for contemplation & rumination; introspection & learning; reflection; self discipline; self control; sacrifice; empathy & charity and through all this :  self purification.

A Muslim pilgrim prays at the top of Mount Noor in Mecca

Lent, Shrawan, Bahwan, Paryushan, like Ramadan are characterised by prayers and withdrawal into self: a time to take stock and balance your life’s books, if you will. A space and time for renewal and recommitment.

Ideally this sort of intense soul searching should result in much greater sense of clarity and acceptance; more trust in self and/or the powers that be;  and finally, gratitude. This triumvirate of Acceptance; Trust & Gratitude can guide our lives through the most challenging situations and circumstances. But we humans are indeed the most difficult to predict and understand.

When things are going well: we will find the roots in our efforts and convince ourselves that we deserve no less!! It is always our own actions; our karma; our purushartha that is giving results.  But as soon as the first thing happens that is not as per our desires, we find external factors to blame. In India often it is our Naseeb/Fate/”Vidhi Likhita”. Or the politicking ways of others who do not want us to succeed. Constant refrain in difficult times is always : God why me?

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There is a classic anecdote of Arthur Ashe.  The legendary Wimbledon player was dying of AIDS which he got due to infected blood he received during a heart surgery. From the world over, he received letters from his fans. One of them conveyed: “Why does God have to select you for such a bad disease?”. To this Arthur Ashe replied: The world over-50,000,000 children start playing tennis, 5,000,000 learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5000 reach the grand slam, 50 reach the Wimbledon, 4 to semi finals, 2 to finals. When I was the one holding the cup, I never asked god “Why me?”.  And today in pain, I should not be asking GOD “why me?

Curious indeed are the ways of the Allah! Unto each life some rain must fall, as a saying goes. We all know the well reported case of Anant Ambani’s weight loss. Earlier whenever we saw the over bloated Anant on the cricket ground with his svelte mother our hearts bled for the Ambani family. We pitied Mukesh Ambani despite all his riches; looking to the overweight human balloon. His 108 kg weight reduction may have set the balance. But think of Sridevi. Despite all those Botox injections and trying to look younger than her debutante daughter, her untimely and unnatural end made her a matter of  abject pity. It is said that “God tests his true soldiers” but what a debonair Shashi Tharoor  or the once powerful Indrayani & Peter Mukherjea couple are going through makes the question “Why me?” look legitimate.

To me, all these cases prove another truism: all bills must be settled in this life, before you go yonder. Great riches gotten through questionable means; great power wrested by a hungry soul – all will have costs attached. And unlike Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey we do not get an external picture to sully: the gashes and wounds go directly to our souls and bodies; besides creating challenges for our families. e.g. those who knowingly smoke and drink will pay for their indulgence in other ways. What you do in this life catches up with you here and now.

That is where these Holy Months come in giving us a chance to review the life hitherto lived. It is never too late to make amends and go back to the Right Path. The concept of Jainism is a powerful one here: the Paryushan ends with a wish ” Micchami Dukkhadam” : which is shorthand for saying ” if I have hurt you or harmed you by my actions or thoughts in any manner: forgive me.” Introspect and repent and make amends,  for Christ will be born again heralding hope and peace in the time to come. The main message of all introspection and self learning is positive: accept; trust and move forward in gratitude.

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Arun Shourie whom we have all known so well for his public life as a brilliant economist, Editor, author, Minister shared a very moving personal story of his son who  suffers from cerebral palsy. Dealing with his son and now aged wife who are both totally dependent on external support Arun’s advice is that we must “learn to love till it hurts” . Calling himself the “servant -in-chief” to both of them, he quotes the Dalai Lama ” If you want to be truly selfish, help someone.” To this line Arun adds his own twist : “If you want to be truly selfish, help someone – who cannot do anything in return for you!!”.

What better advice can come to us in the holy month of Ramadan: accept others for what they are, trust all, love till it hurts, give till it hurts; and be grateful for all that you have, and be doubly grateful that you are in a position to share your fortune and give to others: as you have received!!

Ramadan Kareem : shukar guzar vikas