A Sri Sri evening in chennai…..

Yesterday I was faced with a peculiar dilemma. I could stay back home and watch tv – a pretty interesting t20 cricket match was on – or I could stroll down the street and partake of a satsang organized by the “the art of living. And yes, the foundation’s very personable guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was himself leading this meet.

I decided for the satsang and ambled down to the open grounds to see what Sri Sri had to say – feeling that it being a cloudy day, we could have the meet much to ourselves. Imagine my surprise when I saw that more than 500 folks had turned up as well braving the weather.

The program started with a few songs – extremely well sung I should mention. They also had a short video of 5000 musicians rendering an effort that was truly transcendental. You can watch an encore here.

Sri Sri arrived looking immaculate a half hour later and sprinted up the dias. He flashed his evergreen smile and waved to the crowds. I was pleasantly surprised to see the crowds receiving him like they would a matinee idol. Considering this crowd had old men and women, middle aged folks and youngsters in equal proportion – this was unbelievable.

There followed a quick talk where he asked us “are you happy?” It’s a question that had many folks reflecting – happiness he seemed to indicate ought to come from within and not from outside (so your new car cannot make you happy forever, a sense of self worth can!).

He then asked us to reflect on the fact that while we liked everyone around us to be authentic, were we authentic too?

And why is it so difficult to be authentic? It’s because we are mostly operating out of fear. Operate out of a sense of love and gratefulness, and you’ll be living a very authentic life indeed he seemed to say.

He then led the crowd into an effortless meditation, post which he urged the folks present to spare a thought for the Srilankan refugees in India. The art of living was planning to petition the Indian president to help the refugees reclaim their life and the whole crowd rooting for him. And he did this all in Tamil, the local language (of course with English translation as well). A brief q&a, a couple of “honoring chief guest” sessions and a couple of songs later, we were done.

Thinking about it – the short meet led us to understand ourselves better, provided takeaways on what we should focus on in life and suggested a very pressing social challenge we could help address. Time well spent I figure.

The subjects discussed weren’t new but the charm, the laser like logic and the care for a social cause that the crowds identified with ensured it left a lasting impression on everyone.

2 hours, open grounds, a pinch of spirituality, some music – made for a perfect evening. And yes, I got to see the moon in her pristine glory as well – something I hadn’t noticed in a long, long while – so certainly worth a blog post and a heartfelt thanks to Sri Sri and the art of living team.

Adieu Michael Jackson….and thank you to other greats

Michael Jackson’s demise seems to be what the world is penning, talking, reading and watching today. Rightly so – an icon and a legend deserves this kind of adulation for sure. For many of us in India – especially those from the more rural parts “English music” translates as “Michael Jackson” – period….

Here’s a thought though – all this remembrance would not make him happier today (unless of course St.Peter has given him a balcony seat and suitable headphones in heaven). While the news does draw all of us together in shared grief, I wonder if it would have made more sense to have “celebrated” his genius earlier rather than “mourning” on it now….

Perhaps, it’s human nature to appreciate goodness only in its absence. Is darkness only present so we can appreciate light? Does suffering exist only so we can appreciate god?  Rather dwell on this borrowed thought (I seem to remember the bible having a better version of this somewhere), I’d like to spend a little time celebrating greatness in several fields – folks who expertise has transitioned them into legends. Here’s a shot at this – please add the tons that I have for sure missed…this lot wouldn’t even suffice as the tip of the iceberg I am sure:

  1. Roger Federer – Having won all the grand slams and enough of them to be considered the greatest, he continues to be all poise and grace while wielding his magic tennis wand. Here’s a kudos to Federer – and to wish him a grand slam year (or whatever they call winning all grand slams in year) and many more wins  – we’d sure appreciate being enchanted for a few more years….
  2. Dalai Lama – Statesman, godman, human, teacher – no matter from which angle you look – the dalai lama comes out tops on all of them. Life hasn’t been all smooth sailing for this great man – exile and political pressures, connecting with west and the east and a lot more – but he has taken everything in his stride and continues to inspire generations evermore. Read his gems, the compassion flows out of the pages onto you!
  3. Bill Gates – There’s no doubt who created the software industry – it was this man and his team. After creating a virtual monopoly in the software market, he set out to start a second innings with his charity work. The official “Bill Gates and Melinda foundation” website proclaims “All lives have equal value”. Wikipedia states that “the primary aims of the foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.” Can we ask for more? Incidentally, Infosys seems to be an Indian success story in the same light. It helped create a brand for Indian software (of course in the company TCS, Wipro and the other big guys), created wealth for very, very many, has a very active social wing and very importantly provided an opportunity for each of the founding partners to reign at the top.  I hope Narayanamoorthy goes on to create more impact on a larger canvas (Nandan Nilekani has already moved on from the corporate world to help the government with its unique identification scheme)
  4. Steve Waugh – A few years ago, a “who’s Steve Waugh?” would have elicited replies including “a tough Australian captain, a batsman who thrived when the odds were against him and a bowler who always delivered in exacting times”. Today, Steve Waugh focuses his efforts on Udayan and other social activities which has resulted in hope for a lot of children who had none before. Interestingly he states that a meeting with Mother Theresa was a reason to propel him on here – another evidence of how a person’s legacy continues to live and inspire.
  5. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – A soft person who has brought spirituality to our doorsteps, here is an example of the impact one person can do in a very short time. In 1982, he is said to have started his “sudharshan kriya” courses – a holistic method of relaxation using pranayam and some yogic poses. Today his art of living course has reached over 25 million people in 140+ countries – perhaps, only the internet grew faster than this! Numerous programs, keynote speeches in international seminars – this godman has done it all. Recently, in one of his visits to Srilanka, he was moved by the suffering and spoke out on the need for the Indian government to do more – which it did finally – hopefully providing some comfort to the many impacted. A white robe, a zillion dollar smile, large- scale social impact and a very inclusive blessing – there’s sure hope for tomorrow when this gentleman’s around.
  6. Jeffrey Archer – What a chap to choose agfter all the do-doody folks chosen earlier you ask right? Here’s the thing – Jeffrey Archer’s story parallels in a loose way Michael Jackson’s. Both of them are very, very good in what they do (pick up any of Jeffrey Archer’s fiction books including his latest “The path of glory” and you’ll see why he’s a first story teller justifying sales of over  250 million+ copies) and published in 60+ countries and 30+ languages) but have courted controversy outside their field of expertise. Jeffrey Archer has narrowly escaped bankruptcy, enjoyed political success and downfall and has been in prison. For all this though, let’s hope he continues to write books that will continue to enthrall us for time to come…..   

I know I have left out tons of deserving folks – both out of ignorance and being short of space. The idea though is to raise a toast to the many folks who are making a difference to our lives today – be it on the social, economical or spiritual sides. Most importantly, let’s salute our families today – parents and grandparents who have made it their life goal to ensure we live ours to the maximum. With the current trends in play, I don’t have a doubt we’d be celebrating grandparents’ days soon (mothers’ and fathers’ days are already on the calendar!) – but perhaps even better than the gifts our retail friends promises us will do the job adequately, we should perhaps start a “ thank you” hour every day (and if it goes the way of thanksgiving, we’ll still have all the turkey, beer and football games right!).