This Is Who You Are

AlicePopkorn

Even hurry

is within

the crucible of stillness

*

Even panic

echoes

in perfect silence

*

Sadness is hugged

from every side

by joy so tight.

*

Not an achievement

nor a reward is this:

this is who you are – even

before you read these words.

*

See that loneliness can’t help

but be one

with everything

*

And immorality bathes

in the same

divine light…

*

While this quiet smile

of consciousness watches

your pretense of foolishness.

*

And you can’t shake this off,

no god can steal it:

this is who you are

even before you read these words

*

This is who watches afterwards

as you try to understand –

and what you sink into

when you finally give up…

*

Pic via Alice Popkorn

How Kind The Universe

universe

*

How kind the Universe
To allow this belief
That ‘I’ am doing this Awareness –
And to even provide the Light to see this!

How kind the Universe
To never point out to me
This ‘Hereness’ so solid could never
come from my flickering mind.

How kind the Universe
To never remind me that its
Reality is brand new every moment –
My eyes daily miss millions of treasures.

How kind the Universe to a fool like me
That if I walk the path diligently
It guides me lovingly to reach Here –
And if I never move an inch
I am already Here.

How could such kindness
Not make me bow down at Its Grace.
How could such kindness
Not make me cry at Its Feet.

How kind the Universe
To allow me to see this.
How kind the Universe
To allow me to be this.

*

Epifunny #6: The Right To Remain Silent

Buddhist Miranda Law

This one came out of a random, hilarious conversation between my brother/mentor GD and me. Originally, it was something about a strict guru reading a disciple his Miranda rights. We had such a laugh we decided to dedicate an ‘epifunny’ to it. Hope you enjoy it. 🙂

My Father The Author

Aabid SurtiI grew up hearing that my father Aabid Surti was a great writer. He had been conferred a National Award for Literature in 1993 so I didn’t doubt it, but his books were mostly written in Hindi or Gujarati languages, neither of which was a fun read for my English-educated self. So it was not until my late thirties that I actually read a book written by him.

Sufi coverThe first book I read was an English translation of Sufi – The Invisible Man Of The Underworld. I remember I kept telling my wife every few pages how marvelous it was, secretly expecting it would go downhill soon after. But the pace didn’t flag right until the final twist at the end. It was an amazing parallel biography of dad’s life with that of an underworld smuggler, both of whom grew up in the same crime-infested section of Bombay in the 1950s. My wife read it next, stopped communicating with the world for a night and day, and emerged another fan. She recommended it to her parents, and so it went on.

Until then, I had only known ‘Sufi’ as the book because of which dad had received death threats from the underworld – at one point forcing us to leave our home indefinitely with just a suitcase of clothes. His books often caused him problems but I always admired dad’s integrity. He bowed down neither to the underworld, nor to political pressures to become a mouthpiece for party agendas. During the Hindi-Muslim riots of 1992, while city Muslims stayed home, he would go alone for a walk down the streets of Bandra during curfew hours and say, ‘Let’s see who dares to kill me in my own city.’ It scared us then – but he was too much of a man to allow someone else to take away his city.

Rama CoverThough he was neither a political nor a religious man, the 1992 Babri mosque incident – where a Hindu political rally developed into a riot involving 150,000 people – and the ensuing riots in which 2000 people were killed, scarred him deeply. He wrote ‘In The Name of Rama’, a scathing indictment of the ruling party inspired by a true incident about a lone Hindu constable who stood at the foot of the mosque to protect it from thousands of Hindu fundamentalists. The book was a fictionalized back story of this character, exploring what is true love and true faith. I read that next and cried through parts of it too.

His honesty created some more humorous problems for him too.

When he wrote ‘The Golf Widow’ which was the diary of his ultimately tragic love affair with his beautiful Japanese art student, my mother was, to put it mildly, not pleased. But the point of the book was not to boast about a boyhood locker-room fantasy. The book is a meditation on growing old and coming to terms with the life we are given.golf widow

Unlike some authors who stick to their niche, dad’s writing spanned multiple genres. His 80-odd books covered crime, biography, romance, spy thrillers, humor, children’s books, poetry and even erotica before it was available in shades of grey.

It has been one of my longstanding dreams to make my father’s out-of-print books available in English to a global audience. Despite his national award, I failed to interest local publishers. Currently, publishing in India is in that awkward growth spurt where it is besotted by young ‘Indian-English’ authors writing about teenage love. I hope that will expand, not just for dad’s sake but also for all the brilliant writing that is hidden buried in Indian languages.

Finally I took it upon myself to get it done. My brother and mentor GD readily agreed to don his cape as a super graphic designer to create the fantastic book covers. And thanks to Amazon, I have been able to make them available at a terrifically low price. I am super-excited to share the links for the ebook versions of three of dad’s best books in English for the first time here.

Looking back, I read the first book written by my dad mostly because he was my father. But the second, and the third, and the fourth, I read because I had discovered an author who knew how to spin a great yarn and gently evoke a glowing pearl of meaning hidden inside it.

And I do hope you find some pearls of your own to carry away too.

 

Bill Watterson’s Advice On Creating the Soul-Fulfilling Life

Bill Watterson, I find, is a rare human being. He created the modern classic ‘Calvin & Hobbes‘ but fought bitterly against licensing and merchandising his characters, sacrificing millions of dollars. He changed the way syndicated cartoons are published in newspapers but stayed away from the media spotlight himself. When ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ was at its peak, he quit the comic strip and settled into a reclusive life in his home town. As an artist who has lived our modern dichotomy between creativity and commercial cleverness, his sane advice is invaluable for young artists and creators. In this rare public appearance, a commencement speech at his alma mater Kenyon College in 1990, he spoke about finding your voice, selling your soul and living a fulfilled life. Excerpts:

Calvin & Hobbes Dust Speck

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE REAL WORLD BY ONE WHO GLIMPSED IT AND FLED
Bill Watterson, Kenyon College, May 1990

[…] So, what’s it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don’t recommend it.

[…] Like many people, I found that what I was chasing wasn’t what I caught. I’ve wanted to be a cartoonist since I was old enough to read cartoons, and I never really thought about cartoons as being a business. It never occurred to me that a comic strip I created would be at the mercy of a bloodsucking corporate parasite called a syndicate, and that I’d be faced with countless ethical decisions masquerading as simple business decisions.

To make a business decision, you don’t need much philosophy; all you need is greed, and maybe a little knowledge of how the game works.

As my comic strip became popular, the pressure to capitalize on that popularity increased to the point where I was spending almost as much time screaming at executives as drawing. Cartoon merchandising is a $12 billion dollar a year industry and the syndicate understandably wanted a piece of that pie. But the more I thought about what they wanted to do with my creation, the more inconsistent it seemed with the reasons I draw cartoons.

Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.

The so-called “opportunity” I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I’d need.

What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and T-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that actually expressed my own thoughts.

On those terms, I found the offer easy to refuse. Unfortunately, the syndicate also found my refusal easy to refuse, and we’ve been fighting for over three years now. Such is American business, I guess, where the desire for obscene profit mutes any discussion of conscience.

You will find your own ethical dilemmas in all parts of your lives, both personal and professional. We all have different desires and needs, but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.

Many of you will be going on to law school, business school, medical school, or other graduate work, and you can expect the kind of starting salary that, with luck, will allow you to pay off your own tuition debts within your own lifetime.

But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Further Reading:

  • The Two Types of Creativity on my own struggle with creative integrity and my mentor GD’s spiritual perspective on the same.
  • At Zen Pencils, young cartoonist Gavin has crated a brilliant comic tribute to this speech.

The Two Types of Creativity

Creativity2

To read the PDF text version to this post, click here.

Paralysed by Greatness

frozen-man

A few days ago, my brother and mentor GD was talking on the phone about his recent workshop on ‘stuckness’ in life. He felt it was relevant for me to hear about a participant who had topped his class in school and college, and excelled at work. Everyone told him he was destined for greatness. And now, since he had quit his job a year ago, he could not bring himself to start anything new – because it didn’t feel like it was matching his vision of greatness.

I was startled because this was so close to my situation. My school motto was Natus Ad Maiora – Born for Greater Things –and perhaps it had set the tone for my life. I got my name in the top ranks through college and got double-promoted multiple times at my media job. For most of my corporate life, I tried to use every waking minute to live up to my full potential for greatness.

The question GD had asked the participant (and me) was: “Is it possible that your desperation for greatness is your biggest obstacle?”

I was initially taken aback. Without this promise of greatness, I feared wallowing in depression and mediocrity. This conviction gave me hope that all suffering and hard work would be ultimately worthwhile. It inspired me to be patient, to work hard, to stay focused.

But then I remembered that the pressure of this destiny had also become a weapon in the hands of my inner critic who put it to my head every time I tried to begin something new.

Sensing my train of thought, GD continued: “You reject too many things when you ask: is this the great thing I am meant to do? Is this great enough, amazing enough, perfect enough for me? More often than not – the answer seems to be ‘no’. Even if you do push yourself to begin, you work from stress, fear and proving. In life, you don’t always know what is going to turn out great.”

I could sense the deadly seriousness this ironclad demand for ‘greatness’ brings to exploring new ideas. But I still found myself resisting letting go of this belief, which had been my wishing star on many a lonely night.

“Yes, this desire for greatness generates a pleasurable fantasy,” GD said, “but is it really helping you get there? Or is it actually diminishing your real greatness?

“You are already an Awesome Divine Being. But when you try to prove your greatness, you have actually lost sight of it.

“When you operate from the desperation of greatness, you lose sight of whether you are truly enjoying what you are doing. You lose your natural light-heartedness and freedom. You lose contact with spontaneity, with life in the here-now. Often, just doing what feels sensible or fun in this moment can be the beginning of something great!

It reminded me of my father, the national-award winning author and painter Aabid Surti, who has found such unexpected greatness recently with his little idea of fixing taps in his community for free (Read the story here). He didn’t start off trying to become famous or even change the world. It just began with repairing one leaky tap, he says, because it seemed like a good idea. For months afterwards, he didn’t tell anyone he was spending his Sundays fixing leaks in the neighborhood. Five years later, he was invited to accept an award by the President of India. What were the chances that he would find significance in doing something tiny that made him happy rather than waiting and planning for that giant sunburst of glory to appear?

GD concluded: “Instead of being desperate for greatness, choose Presence and Playfulness. Being Present… being Conscious and Aware will guide you effortlessly to your next move. And being playful will ensure that the ego does not take over and corrupt everything.”