While on the subject of Marie Kondo, I was reading some of the reviews of the Marie Kondo Netflix show ‘Tidying Up’ and was astonished at how much of the Western media is missing the whole point. A few critics have gotten tangled debating her suggestion that we should keep fewer books, “ideally, less than 30”, in the house. I found more than a few stories in mainstream UK newspapers saying the popularity of her process would be ultimately catastrophic to landfills.
For her part, Marie Kondo has clarified often enough that her process is not about removing things, including books, from our life—it is about loving those things which we choose to keep because they spark joy in us. The KonMari method is a gentle reminder of holding an attitude of gratefulness for the service these small gods offer us. From this flows a sincere desire to treat them wisely, kindly and gently.
Watching the show, one can see that Marie Kondo is obviously an empath, with a keen gift of sensing into the energy of objects and her physical environment. Those on the spiritual path are not unfamiliar with this kind of sensitivity. Her process marries this innate gift with the philosophy from her childhood in Shintoism, where everything in natural world is alive with sacred spirit called “kami” and worthy of reverence. It’s a beautiful combination.
The KonMari Method though is more than a philosophical ideal. At a deeper level, I realized as I worked through my books and papers, my attachment to things is my attachment to the stories of those things, and the stories behind those things. The objects are the tangible symbols of those stories. And the clutter around me is the plans and emotions that I haven’t dealt with yet. So de-cluttering is actually a cathartic process of facing those leftover stories—the debris of our abandoned plans, aborted love affairs and alternate timelines—and letting go.
For some, this may mean an overhaul, for others a few minor changes. Either way, your clutter is your perfect, custom-designed path. Like the Zen monk who mindfully and diligently sweeps the pathway of dead leaves, clearing your house of clutter is clearing your mind. No wonder so many of those who go through it report a burst of energy and clarity after they complete it.
To those Western minds furiously employing the law of attraction to manifest fantastic objects to bring joy, Marie Kondo offers a gentle sister process: how about finding joy in what you have already manifested? How about enjoying them in the present moment? How about folding your clothes not to make them smaller, but to touch them with gratitude?
Intrigued by Marie Kondo’s advice, I watched an episode of another popular Western de-cluttering expert. She attacked the same process with hard-hat determination—clutter was a scourge to be exterminated and objects were a litany of old sins to be expunged. On the contrary, Marie enters cluttered house and gleefully exclaims, “I love clutter!” She begins her method with a prayer to connect with the energy of the house and ask the house for permission. In place of a shame-fuelled purge she offers a gentle goodbye to that which has served us… and a reminder that everything we own has served us in some way. While the former approach changes the way your house looks, Marie promises to change your attitude to what you keep, to what you give away, and as a parting gift, to what you will purchase in the future.
With that last gift I think—and no critic has noted this—the Konmari method is actually an antidote to mindless consumerism and fast fashion. Not only because of that brilliant moment of shock when a person, for the first time, sees all the clothes they own piled into a mountain, but also for how Marie treats each object. Her method values the classic, the timeless, the long-lasting. Every item of clothing is treated like a friend you treasure for years, not as fast fashion you trash every few months. That lifelong bond with the items that serve us is an unspoken gift of the diminutive Japanese lady’s method to the audiences—and in the long run, also to the landfills.
Most of us, when we read social media posts about a natural calamity like drought, we click angry-face LIKE and hit ‘Share NOW’, perhaps with a dark comment about government inefficiency. Some of us donate money. Very few volunteer time with an NGO. My friend Rajshri Deshpande went a step further: last month, she set out to single-handedly revive a river.
An audible groan runs through the Jet Airways afternoon flight to Aurangabad as the captain announces temperature at destination: 45 degrees. It’s the kind of weather in which an actress-slash-model like Rajshri Deshpande should be safely within a cafe near her beachside home in Mumbai, sipping iced latte and discussing the European tour for her debut film ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’. Instead, she is in a village some 350 kms away, mediating a quarrel between two villagers.
As she uses her tough charm to calm down both heated parties, you realize she faces a challenge even more ancient than drought – the human ego. A barter deal she had struck with the village dhaba for free diesel to run the hydraulic earthmover has hit rough weather. We are in Pandhri Pimpalgaon village 30 kms away from Aurangabad, standing on the banks of the river Bembla, or at least what used to be the 160-foot-wide river Bembla until 2002. It is now an arid dustbowl overrun with thorny scrub, so scorched even the dusk breeze stings our eyes. And here is Rajshri Deshpande, using her education as a lawyer, her talent as an actor and some milky sweet chai to resolve the problem so the stalled work for resuscitating the dead river can begin again.
An old villager remembers the beginning of the end came when the trees on its banks were chopped for wood. Every year after that, the riverbed retained less water. The perennial river soon had dry months in which spiny shrubs and cacti began weeding its riverbed. When the rains came, thorns clutched plastic trash and choked the flow. The loosed sediment slid down its banks and morphed the riverbed into the almost-indistinguishable rolling scrubland where we stand right now.
Rajshri Deshpande has taken it upon herself to reverse the process for this little river Bembla. The immediate plan is to clean out three large pits within the riverbed which can become ponds after the monsoon. While raising funds in the city, she has also asked villagers to pitch not only in their spare time but also a small part of the cost. The larger reason, she explains, is not so much to save costs as to have them feel invested and empowered. The biggest problem here, Rajshri says, is lack of motivation.
When it comes to drought, most city-folk are like Jon Snow: we know nothing. Reading media reports we picture emaciated farmers’ bodies scattered across deeply fractured lands. As journalist P Sainath points out in his darkly humorous classic ‘Everybody Loves A Good Drought’ the truth is drought comes in many forms, not all of which look like the clichéd ‘endless parched lands’, not all of them caused by the clichéd ‘cruel monsoons’ and not all of them causing deaths of clichéd ‘starving farmers’.
The truth is different. In Maharashtra, as in many parts of India, drought is man-made, so an above-average monsoon is no guarantee drought will not recur. We may point fingers at the government’s indiscriminate digging of water-sucking bore wells, poisonous urea-farming, destruction of ancient ponds, diversion of rivers for city-dwellers’ electricity and water-guzzling sugarcane factories. But other fingers should point at the farmers themselves – at their focus on instant solutions for immediate profits. The cliché of cruel nature causing drought, I learn, is only partly true.
Secondly, thanks to heavy subsidies on dal, rice and wheat, most farmers do not actually die of starvation. This year, the government is providing free tankers of water twice a week to fill the ubiquitous 200-litre blue plastic barrels clustered like oversized garden gnomes outside every hut. With a little stretch, this is enough for the farmer family’s essentials but not enough to support their extended family: the animals who starve with little fodder and lesser water every year. And for centuries-old farming communities, it is not enough to sustain their withering farms. Year after year, men and boys flee farms to work as construction laborers or, as Nana Patekar cinematically put it, to knock on the windows of your car to ask for loose change. This is the broader problem caused by drought. More often out of loss of will than lack of a meal, 6000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last four years.
The biggest problem, Rajshri keeps repeating, is lack of motivation. There are farmers here who are dirt-poor, she says, but there are farmers who have money also. Our donations for water-tankers can help them temporarily, but next summer the farmers will be in the same place… and the water-tanker contractors will be much richer. To make a long-term change, the farmers need to revive their land and rivers. They need some motivation to do things beyond immediate gain. For that they need a little push from outside, just like we all do at times.
In fact, motivating herself to take on this project without money, resources or a team was the first challenge for Rajshri. This is what I found most fascinating about Rajshri’s story: while many NGOs, non-profit organizations and volunteer teams are doing praiseworthy projects for drought-relief, hers is the story of how far an individual can walk with a little bit of faith and a little bit of insanity. But that was not how it began.
Initially, she contacted Nana Patekar & Makarand Anaspure’s ‘Naam Foundation’ to take on the Bembla river project. They were stretched thin, they said, but offered her a Pokland earth-mover for free. Another NGO she approached quoted a heavily padded estimate to take it on as a turnkey project. Yet another asked for a 10% profit share from all funds she raised. The monsoon was approaching in less than two months so she finally took a deep breath and braced herself for whatever lay ahead.
Convincing the villagers of Pandhri and Pimpalgaon was her next challenge. It helped that Rajshri’s mother had worked with the Zilla Parishad in nearby Aurangabad so she grew up in these parts; in the parochial village mentality, this Marathi-speaking and Marathi-swearing girl is ‘aamchi mulgi’… our girl. But she still had to work against deeply embedded wrinkles of distrust. Broken promises by successive elected leaders – whose tenure was a snatch & grab race to collect as much money as they could before their five-year term ran out – had made the farmers cynical. On her first visit, an old woman hoarsely predicted to everyone in the village square that like others who had promised to help, Rajshri too would never return.
But she did return, along with an environmentalist and natural solutions expert with two decades of experience, Dr Ajit S Gokhale. He set up a bench in the village field and demonstrated to the farmers using their own soil how urea-farming and tractor-tilling was killing their land.
But information, Dr Gokhale knew from his experience of helping 170 villages, is never enough to motivate. So he asked them his favorite trick question: Has the government done anything for you? In unison, the villagers chorused an angry NO! This was perhaps the only subject upon which they agreed across all caste, class and religion lines. Dr Gokhale smiled and asked: So who made the roads?Did you make them? The villagers were nonplussed by this new line of questioning: roads came from the government, of course. And do you create your own electricity? That too was from the government, they had to agree. The school your children go to? What about ration shops? And fertilizer subsidy? Slowly, the point of the questions began to dawn on them: Dr Gokhale was offering them the option to stop sitting on their haunches and blaming the government for everything wrong with their lives.
When he saw his point had hit home, Dr Gokhale changed tack. He asked: Are any amongst you helping anyone other than your own family? Something altruistic in which there is no thought for your own gain? The villagers squirmed. That, Dr Gokhale concluded, is the real reason for the drought – you don’t think about your neighbor, your village land or even your grandchildren.
He reminded them of the dust-covered ‘Yogeshwar Krushi’ board he had seen while walking through Pandhri village; Pandurang Shastri Athavale’s beautiful concept where the entire village also tills one patch of common land, the produce from which is used to help whoever has unexpected need that year. He advised them to revive that half-forgotten practice. Dr Gokhale’s conversation worked like magic. In less than an hour, they went from helpless victims waiting for relief to citizens ready to take responsibility for their situation.
Next Rajshri picked her two local champions for the project. Dattabhau, at 55, is the senior, experienced and respected one. Having bought his first plot of land by pawning his wife’s mangalsutra, he worked to educate his sons through engineering college and his daughter to an MA in English – so he’s hardworking and future-oriented. Twenty-something Yogesh, on the other hand, is affable and talks with a smile. When most of the farmers were still skeptical, Yogesh was the one who spoke individually to at least listen to her.
But finally, it was the day Rajshri directly dialled veteran Marathi actor Makarand Anaspure to give the villagers a speaker-phone pep talk that they began listening to her with newfound adoration. (An unanticipated side-effect: Makarand mentioned that she was an actress, not realizing she had hidden this from the villagers until then.)
Since then Dattabhau and Yogesh, along with a handful of village volunteers, supervise the clearing of the riverbed in night and day shifts. It’s been two weeks, and straw-haired Dattabhau who walked with a limp when work began, now sprints with youthful excitement.
He has reason to be: in ten days, they have completed one pit and soon, when the work is done, it will support two villages: Pandhri and Pimpalgaon, with a combined population of 2500. By official statistics, around 80% of them are small farmers with less than five acres for their cotton, soybean, millet, jowar, bajra and pomegranate fields. But for Dattabhau, all of them are faces he has known his entire life. If they manage to complete all three pits before the rains, the water will also benefit a zopadpatti (slum) nearby. And just maybe, if the rain gods are benevolent, then the five toilets in the village can be reopened so they don’t have to go every day for a long ‘morning walk’.
As Dattabhau lithely climbs a concrete backwall across the dry riverbed, he points me its cement slab: This wall is government work… means total duplicate work. Where they need ten bags of cement, they use two bags. That’s why this happens… He shows me gaping holes with exposed twists of metal rods, and then adds with pride: By government rate, our river project would cost Rs 30 lac, with our work it will be not more than Rs 3 lac. Ten times difference…
Later, I discovered this little Bembla river shares its name with another larger, more infamous Bembla river in nearby Yavatmal, which became an icon of corruption for its massive, misguided dam project which remains incomplete even after 25 years. The biggest irony: after spending Rs 1857 crores, the Economic Times reported that the project is providing water to a mere 1,200 hectares – which is the exact size of Pandhri and Pimpalgaon villages put together! When Dattabhau estimated a ten-time difference between his costs and government costs, he was way, way off.
At dusk, we sit on a charpoy overlooking Yogesh’s field, and a small crowd gathers around. Rajshri tells them she is arranging for a medical camp with the help of a hospital in Aurangabad whom she contacted through her older sister, a doctor. She needs them to let her know through Yogesh which kind of doctor they need to visit them. The conversation flows into dinner at Yogesh’s two-room corrugated-roofed house. Like most village homes, it has porous walls: neighbors and children wander through and join conversations and meals without questions asked. Rajshri discusses the next steps over dinner: once the digging work is done, they should plant trees on the banks, to complete the reversal of the original degradation process.
One of the guests’ cellphone bursts into devotional song. Light-eyed pomegranate farmer Thombre picks up and speaks rapidly in Marathi. He shyly offers his ancient Nokia phone to Rajshri tai. The call is from a woman who heard about the Bembla river work, asking if Rajshri can come to help their village next.
‘If you motivate one village,’ Rajshri says to me as we leave, ‘it becomes an example for others. And in future, villagers like Yogesh and Dattabhau can manage it themselves. I will help from outside. It may not be easy, but it can be done.’When you consider that a river which ran dry for fifteen years is being revived in a little more than a month, you realize this is not ‘Savior Barbie’ optimism, nor is it too faraway a dream.
At night, after the village babies have rocked off to sleep on their swinging cotton hammocks, after the nightly hari-katha song of the village women in the Vitthal temple porch has fallen silent, Rajshri checks one last time with Yogesh and Dattabhau to see which villagers are going to monitor the work for tonight.
“Yogesh, next year I want to see a bumper crop in your field,” she says, as she sits in her car. Thombre asks shyly if they can talk to Makarand Anaspure once again from her phone. She laughs. But tai… only to thank him… for his support… We should thank him, no? Thombre stammers. Everyone laughs as the car starts.
The battered car is throbbing warm even though the air-conditioning is a full noisy blast. Rajshri Deshpande adjusts the steering wheel and braces for the eight-hour drive to Mumbai, as she has done seven times in the past month. But she knows the more difficult challenges await her back home. So far, through family, friends and a personal contribution by Masaan writer Varun Grover and director Neeraj Ghaywan from their National Award money, she has raised Rs. 1,25,000; somehow she will have to get the remaining money. There are other problems too, some undreamed-of: like the one where a stranger came to surreptitiously take pictures of their worksite to con people online for donations: what can one do in such cases? She takes a deep breath and straightens her rearview mirror. In the distance, Dattabhau watches as the car turns past their tree-canopied Hanuman temple onto the highway: the highway from where the fast-moving world will soon slow down to marvel at the miracle of an ancient river come back to life.
Every Sunday, around 25 of us participate in a weekly conference call with our mentor GD. Every week ends up being different. The calls spontaneously move from deep spiritual discussions to psychological processes to energy healing. Nothing is fixed except that it mostly ends with a space of deep fulfillment and no-mind.
Last week on the call, GD spontaneously led us through a powerful 35-minute meditation to dissolve subconscious blockages surrounding the heart. It was so unexpectedly potent that some reported crying, others said they slept for hours after the call and many others felt a solid peace throughout the day. I felt this meditation/clearing was worth sharing so that more could benefit.
This 35 minute energy process facilitates releasing trapped emotions, past life trauma, old conclusions, energetic heart walls, and areas of un-forgiveness in our lives. The clearing also helps release the frozen tears that are locked up in the throat chakra. Finally the meditation brings us to rest in the quiet space of oceanic peace – our true Being.
Please drink lots of water after hearing the audio as there may be some detox. I do hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Feel free to pass it on…
PS: Each person’s experience with this audio will be unique. Feel free to share your experiences, insights and any further questions in the comments section below.
During the weekly group call last Sunday, my mentor GD spoke with incredible clarity for an hour about the inner monologue that makes us zombies to the present moment. That constant thrum that never allows us to be quiet even during our attempts at peace. That inner screen we are glued to even more than our iPhone screen. I thought it was so powerful and potentially transformative that I decided to share some excerpts. If you would like to listen to the full talk, it is available as an audio download from The Core Healing Archives under the title ‘The Story of Me’.
Pause. See if you can notice the stream of thoughts moving in your head in this moment. That is what we call ‘the story of me’: it’s ‘my story’, ‘my life’. It’s like a non-stop movie inside our head. And it’s always in movement – and this movement is based on all the stories of the past and all the stories of the future. It’s a non-stop river, and it’s always about me, me, me. It’s a kind of dreaming we do even when we seem to be awake.
For most of us, the story of me is so unconscious, we don’t even know it is going on throughout the day. And the story of me can remain active only when there is unawareness. When there is pure awareness, even for a few moments, the story of me disappears. And what remains is just an openness, a stillness, a sense of being.
This story of me is always plotting, planning and scheming. It’s very clever. How can I get all the things I want and need? How can I avoid all the things that I fear? The ‘me story’ is always about avoiding all forms of pain, sickness and disease. And about acquiring all forms of happiness and pleasure. If you notice, this ‘me’ in your head is always going towards something or going away from something. It is never still… ever.
Imagine you are sitting in a movie theatre watching the movie ‘Titanic’ fully engrossed… feeling the emotions, enjoying the drama. And something goes wrong with the projection. Suddenly the movie stops. And we realize there is just a blank screen! We kind of wake up and realize the boat was not real, the characters were not real: there was nothing actually happening there. It was just a kind of hypnosis.
Similarly, there is a movie going in our mind on all the time – stories about my future, my past, my spirituality. They are all imaginary and they are all painful. Why are they painful? Because they are constantly running into the future. They are stories of unfulfillment, they are stories of neediness, they are stories of desperation. In a cinema hall, this drama happens for two hours, but for us it continues for sixty-seventy years. Morning to night, this imaginary story of me goes on and on and on.
All our conflicts with others also arise from this story of me – based on what I believe, what I think should happen, what I think is ‘right’. So the imaginary story of me is not just hell for me, it creates hell for others also. The ‘me’ tries to impose itself on everybody else. If others don’t agree with us, there is violence. The violence can be very subtle, like we may sulk and go into the other room, or it can be very loud and we directly attack the other person.
A time comes in our life when the story of me becomes spiritual – then the story of me becomes preoccupied with getting enlightenment and having the perfect state. The joke is that the story of me can never get enlightened! Because it’s this very story, this dreaming that is the obstruction to what is already always present!
Allow yourself to notice this story of me… again and again. Throughout the day, use this question: What unconscious dreaming is going on in this moment? The moment you pop this question, something will change, something will shift, and the story of me will snap. And what will be revealed is pure awareness – that which has no past, no future, and no story.
To download the entire 60 minute talk which includes further insights and a deeply meditative space – as well as other Q&A and clearings from GD’s group telephonic sessions – go to the Core Healing India Archives.
Last night, my father was felicitated as a real-life hero by one of the biggest stars in the world on a television show – my personal journey to seeing him as a hero took forty years.
One of my fondest memories of my father was waking up early in the mornings and seeing him out on the verandah, perched on his favorite rocking chair, scratching out his novel onto the pad propped on his knees. Through my bleary little eyes, I used to marvel at his dedication — I struggled to wake up early during exams and he did this almost every day of the year!
Like all children, my father was my hero. For the world, he was known as a prolifically creative author, painter and cartoonist, but for me his most remarkable quality was that he never imposed his parenthood. In fact, he trained me to call him by his first name. So when he came home from work in the evening, I would drop my cricket bat and run to him, happily shouting: ‘Hiii Aabid!’ Outsiders were sometimes shocked. But most remarked that we looked more like friends than like father and son. And that made him happy.
Teenagehood happened. And gradually, without realizing it, my opinion changed. I began resenting the fact that, unlike my friends’ fathers, he could not afford to buy me roller skates, then a skateboard, then a bicycle, then a Zx Spectrum computer. I blamed him for not being ‘fatherly’ enough in teaching me worldly things — how to shave, how a bank works, how to drive a car.
I didn’t realize it then, but I spent my adult life trying to not be him. In my twenties, I sought solid father figures, in bosses and in spiritual teachers and left home; I looked to these new ‘fathers’ to tell me exactly what to do in every situation. Because that’s something my real father never did.
Since I secretly blamed him for his unreliability and his selfishness in pursuing his joy, I became the opposite: a steady dependable breadwinner who earned enough money that my son would never see me as a loser. Dad’s Bohemian spirit could not survive in an office for six months, I stuck to a corporate desk for more than a decade. With a sadness veiled as pride, I confessed to friends that everything I had wanted to enjoy in life — my first cellphone, my first car, my house — I had had to buy myself.
In between my busy career and marriage, the distance between us grew into monthly phone calls, mostly initiated by him, which began awkwardly and ended abruptly. The distance between us had grown so much that when he began a neighborhood campaign to save water by fix leaking taps for free, he didn’t tell me till many months later.
In my forties, after my son was born, I began seeing him differently. I experienced such an intense love for my son — I wondered if this was how my father must have felt when he saw me growing?
After I quit my full-time job to become a consultant in 2012, I began spending more time with him. In early 2013, I wrote a blog post called ‘Saving The World One Drop At A Time’ about his one-man NGO, which now had a name as quirky as his personality: Drop Dead Foundation. My blog post went viral and was translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Malagasy and Russian. Word of his inspirational campaign spread and he began getting more praise, awards and love than he had seen as an artist.
It was a still a home-run enterprise, working from his laptop and living room in a dingy suburb. When I offered to contribute money, he refused point-blank saying this was not a family enterprise, it was a social enterprise: if it had to run, it would run with the support of society or not at all. So I began helping him occasionally with media and PR. Still, I kept a safe distance between his world and mine. As the creative head of a major movie studio, I felt uncomfortable editing his NGO documentary in the ramshackle edit suites that were offered to him free.
As I faced the challenges of my own marriage and fatherhood, I began appreciating him even more. I appreciated that in becoming a husband, he never fully gave up being a freedom-loving human being – what I had all my life put down as selfish now seemed sane. As a father, I found it was more loving to give my son the freedom to learn on his own rather than forcing my conclusions on him. As I watched my son’s intelligence grow rather than his obedience, it made me feel as happy as my growing must have felt for him. My relationship with dad warmed into Sunday lunches, surprise gifts and more regular, friendly conversations. I began working on a documentary about him, put out four English translations of his novels onto Amazon Kindle format, and helped him sell his older books for film and TV adaptation rights.
Then in early November, on one of my little spiritual circle’s weekly group calls with my brother and our mentor GD, the last piece quietly fell in place. One of the participants on the call complained that he forgave others, but never completely. GD asked us to remember all the people in our lives whom we were still subtly punishing. He asked us to connect with that part of us which secretly held on to the energy of a punisher, a mini-tyrant or a stern judge meting out justice to others. “One of the easiest ways to catch where this is operating in your life,” GD said, “is by asking: who are you still subtly making wrong? Who do you think needs to be fixed? Is it your boss, your friends, your parents, your partners, your company…? That’s where the resentment is hidden. The tail of the elephant which you are still holding onto…”
I remembered dad. I don’t know what happened but in a flash was bridged what seemed to be a lifetime’s distance: he became fully my father again.
The following night, I got an urgent message from him saying that he had just landed into the city and needed my help for an interview the following day. I noticed in myself a level of welcoming towards him I had never experienced before. I offered to help him with the paperwork, his clothes, and the questions. I told him not to worry — I would be there for him whatever time he wanted for however long it took.
By chance, I found out later that night the ‘interview’ was an appearance on one of the biggest reality TV shows in India, called ‘Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi’. It is an adaptation of BBC One’s ‘Tonight’s The Night’ hosted by superstar Amitabh Bachchan, the Indian equivalent of Sean Connery. The show felicitated ordinary people doing extraordinary things and dad was being felicitated as one of the heroes because his ingenious effort in water conservation had saved over 20 million litres of water.
En route to the shoot, I spoke to my brother on the phone. He was pleased to hear about dad getting long overdue recognition, and equally pleased at the transformation in my energy towards dad. He offered to send remote core healing for both of us during the hours of the show recording. He pointed out that in my wholeheartedly supporting dad, we were both being supported by the universe.
Backstage at a reality television shoot is a confusing, intimidating world — hundreds of audience members hunting for holding areas or canteens, dozens of crew members angrily muttering into walkie-talkies and multiple layers of security asking who you were. While I was at home in this world, dad was lost. Knowing I was there seemed to calm him. I helped him choose the outfit, guided him on signing release forms, and as we waited for the delayed shoot to begin, we paced across the studio lot till sunset chatting about life. Anyone looking at us would have mistaken us for friends.
The creative team of the TV show, noticing his youthful quirkyness during research, had designed his entry onstage with dancing girls to a Bollywood song. They told him of this idea only just before the show but dad was not flustered. I helped him quickly learn the hook step in the vanity van, but beyond that his lifelong joie-de-vivre and innocence made it a perfect entry onstage.
I saw my father differently as he stood on the stage. I have seen many superstars sharing a stage with Mr Bachchan and they struggle to divert any spotlight away from this imposing legend. Dad was doing it effortlessly, just being himself — a solid human being. Every anecdote was greeted with laughter and his palpable love was returned by the audience in showers of applause.
“It’s not only about water,” dad said at one point. “If you can’t save water, save the sparrows who get cut on kite string every year or help stray dogs who get diseased. But do something for the world which does so much for you.”
We all bathed in the magic of this one human being, alight with the fire of belief, who was making this grand strobe-lit studio stage seem small and hollow in comparison. At the end of the show, Mr Bachchan was so moved he offered a surprise personal donation towards Drop Dead Foundation. Being a media person, I have grown cynical of stars’ grand public acts of charity because I know it’s mostly for PR — later the money comes from the studio, movie producer or channel, if at all. But Mr Bachchan surprised me by adding with endearing humility a small request that this not be a part of the telecast. Dad got up and did a little victory dance.
Backstage after the show, dad’s work continued — he shared brochures of Drop Dead Foundation with the camera crew and the production team, some of whom felt inspired to begin this work in their own neighborhoods. In between post-shoot interviews, he enrolled housewives, schoolgirls, elderly couples with spare time. He wasn’t a hero only when the camera was rolling, he was the real thing.
As I watched the episode later on television, I was a little sad that much of the magic of the evening had been edited out due to time constraints. But perhaps it was perfect — the world didn’t get to see him in his full glory, but I did. And it had taken me a full forty years to see it.
I share this not to say that my relationship with my father is special, but that this is the journey every father and son must make. And the circle between father and son is closed not because a father does something grand and glorious but because a son is willing to finally forgive him for not being the perfect father. Simultaneously he finds he is forgiven for not being the perfect son.
A few days ago, my six-year-old son was having a play date at home. As I sat nearby reading a book, I overheard my son boasting to his five-year-old friend: “My papa starts his work in the night, even before its morning.” I almost fell off the couch. I quietly prayed that my son’s journey from adoring to hating to finally forgiving his father is as perfect as mine has been.
Thank you dad for everything.
To watch the episode of Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi on which dad appears, click here.
To know more about Drop Dead Foundation or to ask how you can contribute, click here.
The ego, as you know, is clever, very clever.It can utilize everything for its own protection and perpetuation – including spirituality. With the very tools created for its dissolution, it can etch out a new version of itself. And since the old big-bad-ego has got more bad press than Kim Jong-un, it has been reinventing itself across the world in a new avatar: the new-age-ego. Since it is even more deceptive in this crystal-addicted, incense-sniffing guise, GD and me had a sit down to identify this new-age-ego in all its new-age glory. At the end of our hilarious session, we identified its eleven most important commandments, which are active below the surface at all times.
THOU SHALT NOT REST Speed is one of the most under-appreciated tricks of the new-age-ego. Busyness, anxiety, rushing are all hallmarks of a superlative ego at work. Of course, the new-age-ego chases new-age goals, which are indisputably noble. Between perfecting your downward dog and saving gay humpback whales, the ego ensures you don’t keep any time for yourself.
Even when you are on the potty, the ego won’t let you rest – it will insist you reply to at least three emails, read two pages of Eckhart Tolle and retweet Rumi on Twitter. After all, you have to ‘live up to your full potential’. *
THOU SHALT ALWAYS HAVE SOMEONE TO STAND AGAINST Without an opposition, any good ego would just wither away, so it needs to maintain the perception of an enemy. Whether it’s the corporations or the cults, whether it’s old feudal religions or new two-minute-noodle sects, the ego must have opposition. What’s the point of all your spiritual learning, the ego whispers, if you can’t even use it to prove how unevolved, lost and clueless the others are! To create a powerful ‘I’, one must create a powerful ‘you’. Tip: To create an ultra-strong-industrial-strength-ego, judge the entire planet and everybody that lives on it. *
THOU SHALT ‘SPIRITUALIZE’ YOUR WORLDLY DESIRES Let’s make this simple. Working hard for months to earn money for a Ferrari is bad, but visualising and manifesting a Ferrari is good… and spiritual. Instead of revealing your desperation to impress chicks, let the Ferrari be proof of how open and receptive you are to abundance.
Wise ancient teachers intoned that ‘greed’ is the cause of suffering, so no problem: simply chase ‘abundance’ instead! Say “I am not greedy, hungry, desperate and insecure – I just want abundance!” That way, you can be completely entangled in the Maya while still maintaining the glow of transcendence in your Facebook posts. *
THOU SHALT GLORIFY THY MUNDANE EXISTENCE Thou shalt give spiritual meaning and interdimensional interpretation to everything. Name your kid after an unheard of Sufi Mystic. Name your dog after an unpronouncable Zen Master. See mysterious synchronicities in Facebook posts. And mistake truck headlights for landing Plaeidian spacecraft!
If you have a toothache, it is because of an X-class solar flare in Sunspot AR2291. And if you fart like a bulldog, you are merely purging your root chakra! Bottomline:To create a spectacular, topped-to-the-brim ego, make sure there is nothing simple or ordinary about your life. *
THOU SHALT NOT BE RESPONSIBLE
Misapply the principle of non-doership to suit your needs. Take credit for everything that’s going well, and blame the universe/karma/life lesson for the rest. Bottomline: if you make a pile of money, attribute it to your high vibrations and connections with the ascended masters. But if you go bankrupt, call it the ‘dark night of the soul’ and throw an about-to-be-enlightened party. *
THOU SHALT SEEK BUT NEVER FIND Keep up the appearance of spiritual seeking, the ego advises, but remember to always remain in the state of ‘I’m-almost-there’. Become a workshop junkie or a guru shopper but remember what you seek should always remain ‘just-around-the-corner’. If you are the armchair seeker variety, scrounge hungrily on Amazon or YouTube to purchase even more books you will never read and mark new videos you will never see. Bottomline: Scatter all your energies on the internet, follow dozens of teachers simultaneously, pontificate on chat groups, go to bed every night confused, overwhelmed and exhausted. Become so addicted to seeking that there is no space for finding. *
THOU SHALT BE OBSESSED WITH THE BODY Keep asserting that you are an ‘infinite being beyond time and space’, while keeping a hawk-eye on every pimple, wrinkle and milligram of flesh on your waistline. Use all your spiritual tools to look younger, fitter and manifest a neon halo. Perfect your soul beads, your esoteric body processes, and your macro-vegan-lactose-intolerant-glutenfree diet. Tip: Being obsessed with the body is the best way to maintain a rock solid six-pack ego! *
THOU SHALT CONSTANTLY BE LOOKING FOR A PERFECT PARTNER Your purpose in life is to find the One who will fulfill you, complete you and make you eternally happy. No, no, what made you think we’re talking about God? We are talking about your soul mate!
So thou shalt be constantly looking for the perfect partner… even if you just got engaged last week! In case you don’t have any luck, switch to Plan B: Thou shalt constantly try to perfect your existing partner. Tip:Being obsessed with the ‘other’ is like Viagra for the new-age-ego. *
THOU SHALT OBSESSIVELY PROTECT YOURSELF It very important that you feel increasingly vulnerable and sensitive as proof of your enormous evolution. So you must need more and more protection from entities, black magic, negative energy… and especially your spouse and relatives! Gift yourself a fortress of crystals, candles, talismans and other expensive energetic protection tools. Because you’re worth it. *
THOU SHALT FIND YOUR ‘SPECIALNESS’ What’s the point of being spiritual if it does not even make you feel special and unique! So find a guru who makes you feel uber unique… or find disciples who make you feel super special. Or find a complicated spiritual system with obscure terminology and infinite levels which only a chosen few understand – that too after they pay $1,11,111 (local taxes extra). Tip: it is not important that you understand the path or process, as long as it is expensive and the salesperson is impressive! *
THOU SHALT NEVER EVER ASK THE ONE QUESTION This is the final and the most important commandment of the new-age-ego. Don’t ever ask the question ‘Who Am I?’
Never, ever question – who is the one chasing desire, who is the one seeking the soul mate or who is still miserable after so many years of spiritual searching.
You are allowed to travel to Machu Picchu, eat Spirulina till you turn green and spend a lifetime chanting Sanskrit verses, but stay away from stillness at all cost.
Stay obsessed with past lives or future prophecies, just don’t come to this moment.
And don’t ever, ever relax, pause and become silent. Because that is the one thing even the new-age-ego can’t survive. *
Sometimes, when we are lost in our worldly lives and cut off from Source, it takes a minor miracle — and in my case, many little miracles — to remind us that we are are never far away from Grace. Initially, I jotted down these incidents only for my private journal because I knew that in the years to come I would not believe this really happened the way it did. I decided to make this available publicly now because I remembered that I may accidentally be someone else’s reminder of Grace, just as others were accidentally a part of mine.
To say that I made a trip to Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Tiruvannamalai last month feels like a gross exaggeration – almost like stealing credit for something I didn’t do. It would be more accurate to say that I was pulled there – circumstances were created, alternatives were blocked, unexpected people appeared who helped – in such a way that I found myself in the holy mountain town of Tiruvannalamalai on a warm Saturday morning. And what happened next was even more incredible.
This was at the end of about two months of being cut off from my brother and mentor GD. Why do I get cut off from time to time? I don’t really know – some form of rebellion within stops me from picking up the phone and then the inertia of flowing with work and family drags me along: the routine of working, watching movies, reading, going to a mall on the weekend becomes all-consuming and all-numbing. A certain sadness wells within but it is buried in busyness, in reading or watching movies till I fall asleep, so that I don’t get a chance to think about my feelings. This coincides with a decline in spiritual practice too. As I have often seen in the past, disconnection from GD is only the outward manifestation of disconnection from my Self.
So this time, I had to be literally cornered into going to Ramanasramam. I was stuck during a weekend work trip to Chennai city with all my meetings cancelled for Saturday and all my attempts to create meetings failed due to various reasons. Further, I had to be in Chennai again on Sunday for a dear friend’s wedding, and the office indicated that it would be expensive for me to fly back from Mumbai to Chennai twice in a weekend. In fact, it was my CFO who suggested: why don’t I go to that Tiruvannamalai place a few hours from Chennai that I keep talking about? I had not considered the possibility until then…
On Friday night, at a party, Indian actor Kamal Hassan’s 60th Birthday party, I bumped into an estranged colleague to whom I mentioned the possibility of visiting Tiruvannamalai the following day. It turned out his wife’s family owned a college in that very town. He instantly arranged a car and driver for me to travel there and back the next morning.
So the following morning, I drove some two hundred kilometers from Chennai to Tiruvannamalai with no hotel booking. I would have ideally preferred to stay in an ashram, but those rooms were booked up months in advance. So we stopped near a small temple with upstanding trishuls near the gate, to ask for directions to the best-rated hotel. When we found it, the hotel was all booked. So was the second, third, fourth and fifth option and two ashrams. The manager at the fifth option curtly told me all hotels for two kilometers around Tiruvannamalai were full for the weekend, almost accusing me of being foolish enough to arrive on a Saturday without a booking. I was a bit concerned – what was happening? Had I made a mistake in coming? Finally, I stopped at an internet cafe that listed rental rooms amongst its diverse services. The man suggested I try Sheshadri Ashram, then seeing my plight, he considered a business proposition: he told me to check a room on the first floor of his half-completed building and if I wanted, I could have it for a night. It was the only finished room in a construction site, not very pleasant, but it was near the ashram. I said I would take it — and went off to buy a new padlock.
As the car returned to the main Ashram road where the shops were, I suggested to the driver to take us to the Sheshadri Ashram just next door to Ramanasramam. I walked into the office gingerly, and the unsmiling boy who was at the desk looked at me suspiciously — my heavy desert boots, my raw denim jeans and open khakee shirt over a dark green t-shirt was more suited for a party than an ashram. He asked for ID and finally confirmed he had one single room available! He gave me the key to see it before paying, though by that point, I would have accepted a bed in the temple courtyard if it was offered.
When I went out of the gate to tell the driver the good news I realized we were exactly behind the spot where we had been first “lost” – outside the temple with upstanding trishuls – and had began our fruitless search for hotels. Had we just asked for a room instead of directions there – we would have found this best option, better than any hotel, at a fraction of the price. My room was Rs 400 ($6) for an A/C room with two beds. I was really getting proof again and again that I was being taken care of. I sent my driver with Rs. 50 to the Internet Cafe owner as a thank-you, and to tell him I was not taking his room, and moved my luggage to Room 77 at the Sheshadri Ashram.
An added bonus of the Seshadri Ashram was that they had a canteen which served excellent vegetarian food. I wolfed down a delicious late lunch and lay down in my room. I thought back to the events of the day, and I began to cry. I felt it must be Ramana’s Grace that had worked so many miracles to bring me here.
At the Ramanasramam, I first visited the samadhi room where Ramana gave his final darshan before his passing on April 14, 1950. The room is kept exactly as it was in those days with only a fresh bedsheet on the bed where he lay in pain with cancer, yet not willing to turn anyone away who wanted his darshan till his final breath. Tears began to quietly flow down my cheeks once again.
In the meditation hall, the bells were clanging. I sat through a beautiful Sanskrit chanting and later, an arati of Tamil songs sung in his praise. It was marvellous to see so many people of all shapes, sizes and nationalities circumambulating his shrine in the meditation hall all through the prayers. The sounds would resonate in my ears for a long time. At the end, I walked towards the pooja tray along with everyone else, where we took in the light of the flame and put the tilak paste and the vermillion dots on our foreheads.
One of the highlights of visiting Ramanasramam for any devotee is the high-energy Arunachala mountain upon which it is situated. The last time I had come with GD, five years before, we had done the inner pradakshina, a four-hour circumambulation upon the mountain after which we felt refreshed enough to go for an evening walk.
This time, I wondered if I would be able to do the inner pradakshina. I had heard the inner pradakshina had been stopped due to increasing forest fires, and I knew that the outer pradakshina – circumambulation on the road around the mountain – could take upto a day to complete, so I didn’t think I had time. Yet I knew if I didn’t go on the mountain, my trip would feel incomplete. As I fell asleep, I decided to leave it to Bhagavan – who had taken of everything so perfectly till now.
The following morning, after a quick breakfast and bath, I headed back to the ashram. I sat in meditation – practising Self-Enquiry as taught by Ramana Maharishi. During meditation, after such a palpable presence of Ramana during this trip, I felt comfortable asking Ramana for guidance. I got a clear voice within which told me to listen to GD, he was like a living Ramana in my life.
After an hour, I began to feel pulled to walk towards the hill. As I wandered towards the back side of the Ashram, I found a narrow gate I didn’t know existed. It said this was the route to Skandashram, the cave up the mountain where Ramana stayed for seven years. I walked barefoot up the mountain path and kept walking and walking – it turned out to be almost two kilometers high. As I walked, I began to realize that this was the plan Bhagavan had for me – a perfect journey for me into the mountain!
My heart gladdened with every step. Though my breath was rapid, I didn’t feel tired. On the contrary, I felt energised. I was on the mountain again, as I had dreamed of for so many years since my first visit with GD five years before. Walking on the very stones that Ramana himself had walked, and going to the cave where he had sat in meditation!
Skandashram had a small patio and a green stone frame for a door with a tiny meditation room within with mats laid out, further inside was a photo of Ramana at the age when he stayed here, sitting in meditation with a flame before it. I sat down on the mat and lost myself in self-enquiry again, as if in a solid block of Silence.
When I walked back down the stony mountain path, on a lonely stretch, a large monkey came up to me hungry for some treats from my bag. There was no fear, just a mutual understanding. There was a bottle of butter-milk in my cloth bag which he sunk his teeth into as if to indicate that is what he wanted. I removed it, and offered it to him. He took it in both hands and scampered away.
A few meters down, still practising self-enquiry, I became acutely alert to the radio noise of the mind within, and in noticing it, it suddenly quietened down. I began to walk slowly, noticing everything in great detail now – sounds, colors, smells and the sensations below my feet were vivid and alive and all one.
A little lower down the path, I noticed a tiny dung beetle, pushing a ball of excreta twice his size across the path. I wondered if that was me too, struggling to hold together the pointless endeavours of my life. I watched him for a while, literally almost crushed under the weight of his shit but unwilling to let go. And I remembered the cryptic message I had got in meditation the evening before: “What is pointless is pointless, there is no more or less in it.”
As I walked below, it struck me that the loudest voice in my head was that part of me which was trying to make everything silent. I saw the irony of the situation – the class monitor who was trying to silence the class was the noisiest voice in the class! Alone in the mountain path, I began to laugh to myself. The walk changed to become loose-limbed and relaxed. I sensed this was the final fruit of this trip. Even the doer of the meditation dropped away.
As I walked smilingly, I passed a white peahen in the clearing a few feet away from me. It was marvellously beautiful – like an apparition almost unreal stepping gingerly in the dappled sunlit glade. I stood transfixed.
For me, this unplanned pilgrimage was a powerful reminder that even when you have forgotten your guru, He has not forgotten you. Even when you move away, you are taken care of. And even when the only remaining link is a tiny flickering flame of longing in your heart, it is enough.
As we drove back to Chennai on Sunday evening, I SMSed my mentor GD after almost two months: ‘Thank you for giving me the space to behave like an idiot sometimes. I love you.’ He replied ‘Ditto’. After a minute came another SMS from him: ‘The ditto was only for the last line.’
I realized I hadn’t laughed like this for many months.
One of my dearest friends lost his brother to Dengue this morning. It happened suddenly – he was diagnosed last Sunday and didn’t live to see the next one.
I urge you to take care.
Not just from the disease, but from the regret of not having loved and listened to those people in your lives while they were around. Take care of them while they are alive and well.
I know it feels like there will always be time tomorrow right now. And I know they sometimes ramble and tell you things you’ve heard before. And maybe they phone more often than you would like to talk. And of course, you intend to return their calls, even when you don’t.
They are annoying sometimes in interrupting your plans and life. They may not be in the right place at the right time but put them at ease anyway. Don’t continue to hold against them what they once said because it makes you a winner in some game of moral righteousness. The only way that game ends is with you losing.
You will miss them some day. Not just the sound of their voice which you will hear in your head only then. Not only the secret memories – those polaroid moments of eternity. Not just the smell of them that cannot be replicated – or the touch of their skin pulsing with Life. You will miss their annoyances someday. You will regret those times when a flickering screen was more important than a human being you loved.
Look around right now. You have something beautiful and perfect and irreplaceable – this moment. You may not be as wealthy as you would like but you have something the richest person on the planet can’t purchase a minute more of. Use this moment to say and do what is really important, not merely what seems urgent. Take care to use this moment as if it were priceless.
Use this moment to say your ‘sorrys’ and ‘thank yous’…
When I was young, I wanted the world to see me as intelligent. When I got older, I wanted to be recognized as successful. As the years pass, I increasingly find that the quality that matters to me is kindness.
All of my spiritual learning, if I were asked to sum up in a word, would be contained within this simple word: kindness. Not ‘love’ – it has been far too glorified and corrupted by songs and movies and clever advertising. Not even ‘compassion’ which stinks of a certain holiness for me. Compassion implies another, less fortunate, being. Kindness needs no other. Perhaps closest to it is the Buddhist term ‘metta’ – translated as ‘loving-kindness’ and described as ‘a boundless, warm-hearted feeling’.
Kindness is a subject that has been gently nudging within, asking to be written for a while now. A few months ago, on my fortieth birthday, I considered writing a blog about forty things I have learned in forty years. Pondering deeper, only this one word resonated as worth sharing. From all the meditations, mastery processes and transcendental travels – the fragrance that flowers, is this simple, sane, human kindness.
Even though my brother and mentor GD rarely speaks about it directly, I see it in action when I stay over with him. From the way he lights an incense before you arrive, to the way he makes you tea. From the way he gives you space to be confused if you choose, to the way he holds himself available as a space for healing whatever distortion is clouding your being. It’s in the way he keeps water for birds in his garden in summer and in the way he feeds a menagerie of cats, squirrels, mongooses, crows, sparrow, pigeons and coucals every day. From him, I see that liberation from the concept of self adds the highest octave of sensitivity and effortlessness to kindness.
Kindness is not sugar-coating. Sometimes kindness lies in being silent when the words would leave longtime scars. For me, sometimes kindness is even in lying when a truth is not asked for. Maybe there are others who would disagree with this – and not without reason. Kindness is also in firmly holding a ‘no’ when my son wants to play a little longer on the iPad. No human is given the power to know all the consequences of his actions, but kindness is in the source, not the outcome. Kindness is not in what you do, but in who you are being; not in what you say, but in what you silently wish within.
Kindness in business is so overlooked. It is the place where it needs to be learned and applied the most. Kindness in dealing with colleagues who struggle to be proficient in areas their body-mind mechanism is not suited for. Kindness in dealing with those who pride themselves on their shrewdness – even as they are constantly proving how they are getting the better of you. And kindness in dealing with fearful opinions masquerading as common sense and ‘reality’. How often do I come to see that the sufferings and faults I blame life for only happened after I had lost my own compass of kindness!
This oft-ignored word may stand quietly in new-age consciousness behind spiritual heavyweights like ‘meditation’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘manifestation’. But without it, no amount of learning, achievement or clarity brings joy. Being kind doesn’t even imply action – it is a state of being that wishes well. It could be a silent prayer for someone having a hard day. A smile to a doorman. A quiet glance to someone used to living invisible. Or just that boundless, warm-hearted feeling that is held like a flame within.
This weekend I finally sat down to write about kindness because I was at the receiving end of such a gracious act of kindness from a friend I met after many years that it moved me to tears. It felt in that moment as if a lifetime of mental learning is tiny compared to a kind heart. (Maybe the function of all wisdom is to hold the heart open when the whole world would advise against it.) Then that person reminded me of a small help I had given her 11 years ago. And I marveled at the power of kindness to resonate across time, even when everything else about that life has been long forgotten.
Do take some time to be kind, please.
Not because it’s going to heal the world. But because, someday, you will see that nothing else was more important for yourself.