Nothing succeeds like success; all the world loves a winner…pithy proverbs that are continually thrown around. Today, more than ever before, the world seems to celebrate celebrities – every week there’s a new hero thrown up the pop charts, a new diva on the old block, a new item on page 3, and a new Trump in the business world.
Why is it that each time we hear another smashing success story, a part of us seems to go – gee, wish that was me in his place! Is it just their luck, their karma, their (ouch) hard work, stick-to-it-iveness…is there some kind of a “vibration of success” which some have and some don’t? Or is there some kind of formula to it, which we simply haven’t been able to decipher?
Then again, how many of these overnight sensations occupy public memory for longer than five weeks? Many fade away as swiftly as they came, some live off a single hit the rest of their lives, yet others become sad parodies of their own personas, and seek adulation from mirrors when admirers have long since left them.
Then there are those who effortlessly straddle the media glare and public scrutiny while relentlessly forging ahead; who have a consistent body of work to speak for them, and a certain value system that really does set them apart. From Narayan Murthy to Shah Rukh Khan, from Tendulkar to Azim Premji, from A R Rahman to Amitabh Bachchan, from Jehangir Sabavala to Pandit Jasraj, every sphere of human activity has such role models.
What is it that makes one individual “more successful” than his/ her peers? What separates a Tendulkar from a Kambli? Is it just luck, opportunity, pull / contacts, PR…? Given that all these are equal, is there some special, innate quality within a person that could help him/her forge ahead? Interestingly, one of the fatal flaws in our education system is the inability to train a student to make informed, evolutionary choices. Rarely does someone choose their career path based on aptitude and passion, opting instead for the safer route of going with the flow, choosing the stream which promises the best placement, joining the family business; and we live consequently in a society full of MBBS’ but hardly any doctors, and lots of B.Techs but few engineers!
In the past couple of decades, I have had the good fortune to interact with many great individuals from all walks of life, each a shining example of success in his/her own sphere – business tycoons, social workers, actors, litterateurs and artists, spiritual teachers and management gurus, politicians and saints.
Besides being a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, pragmatist and rationalist, I have always had a deep interest in analyzing the processes behind each success or failure. I constantly tried to figure out what makes such people tick, and in many cases, have had the opportunity to ask them what the secret behind their success was. To my amazement, almost without exception, they would simply reply, “I don’t know” or “It’s God’s grace” or “Just luck, I guess, I feel blessed.”
Nearly fifteen years ago, as a rookie reporter doing his first cover story, I had asked Vijaypat Singhania what his source of inspiration was; after some coaxing, he responded that he has always drawn inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita, and also ensures that he takes a long walk each day. At the time I thought it was too simple an answer to actually define one man’s creative process, but on reflection I discovered that they were simply living out what Maslow had described as the highest need of human life – the need for self-transcendence or spirituality! For after money, power, name and fame, what does an individual still lack, which could leave him feeling incomplete even after becoming a household name? It is spiritual fulfillment – and over the years I have seen that it is only those who nurture their spiritual side who are able to sustain the highest level of success.
The best example before us is Mahatma Gandhi; a person who made spirituality not his solace or sustenance but his very calling card. Not a day passed without a reading of the Gita, especially the second chapter, and with prayer meetings morning and evening that were attended by all, regardless of caste or religiosity. The inner strength that this provided was the real basis of a nation winning her freedom, for it was Gandhi more than any other leader of India’s freedom struggle who was able to unite the masses and direct their energy in one direction.
Cut to present-day, glamorous Bollywood, and we have at the very top, Shah Rukh Khan, whose intense drive and relentless work ethic is now giving way to being a caring father, a concerned citizen and do-gooder, and an increasingly approachable TV show host and guest who reaches out and hugs people at the shake of a ponytail. Introspection due to a sense of mortality and a bad back? I would point you instead at his God-fearing attitude, sense of responsibility towards his family, and a constant sense of acknowledgement that there continue to be goals beyond every perceived success. One would be hard pressed to find a stronger sense of spirituality than this in any walk of life, whether overt or otherwise. Interestingly, there are others, such as Karan Johar, who claim not to be spiritual at all, but live every tenet of the spiritual life in their work and vision. Is it because spirituality has become such a new-agey catchword these days, or is it just a narrow interpretation or perception of what spiritualism is all about?
For while our bodies are a complex of proteins, carbohydrates, amino acids, blood, muscle and tissue, the real moving force of life is the spirit within, which is pure energy, or consciousness, or love, or whatever you choose to call it. It is this human spirit which has given rise to every single invention, innovation and work of art that has touched us down the centuries. The story of the evolution of man and mankind is the chronicle of spirituality, the quest for excellence by individuals who strove to improve the quality of existence. And every case study of success and celebrity is incomplete if we fail to examine the spiritual component. The greatest successes have been the ones who have striven for the highest realm of excellence, where they have transcended the parameters of their craft and calling, to a realm of simplicity where all that matters is to be the best human being that you can possibly be; an arresting paradox where humanism is the measure of your transcendence!
Creativity, sensitivity, responsibility, compassion and a relentless quest for excellence are but a few of the characteristics of spirituality. Show me a meditator who doesn’t care about the fate of the planet and I’ll show you an escapist! Yet show me a business baron who turns away from a temple but works 18 hours a day because 700 lives (and livelihoods) depend on him, and I’ll show you a saint!
A senior cricketer who does not wish to be named, once described to me what sets Sachin Tendulkar apart from his peers; apparently, after a bad performance, rather than vent his anger and frustration, Sachin retires to a corner of the locker room and remains silent until he has completely internalized his learning from that mistake, refusing to emerge until he has faced and exorcised the demon within.
I remember Sri Sri Ravi Shankar telling me, “Competing with others is arrogance; competing with yourself is confidence!” At a recent workshop where I was training top amateur and professional golfers about the spiritual aspect of their game, they shared that this was a constant seeking for them, as the sport was about facing your own mind, literally playing against yourself, regardless of the course or opponents. And the very best proponent of the sport, Tiger Woods, apparently has a meditation teacher/ mind trainer working with him constantly. Dubai’s top amateur golfer, Vikramjeet Judge, described Tiger Woods’ practice regimen in reverential tones – demonstrating for me how he sinks a hundred consecutive practice putts through a narrow space, first from a foot away, then from two feet, and so on. The idea is that if you miss even one, you start all over again – more like Shaolin monastery than the celebrity lifestyle the media touts. Woods, for all you golfers out there, goes past eight feet routinely — guess this makes him more of a sadhak (spiritual seeker) than many who try to be be seen at the trendiest yoga studios and self-help seminars in town!
Some of my most fulfilling moments have been spent in the company of artists and musicians. In my youth I idolized Sabavala as much for his immaculately organized visions on canvas as for his insistence on living the life of a cultured gentleman, while others courted fame and notoriety barefoot! Days spent at the Dhrupad gurukul in the presence of Ustad Fariduddin Dagar helped me realize that at the highest level, the true artiste is a transcendent chute through which creativity flows unobstructed by ego. Ustad himself is part child, part saint – a philosopher who talks unaffectedly about everything from cooking to politics, while willingly taking the responsibility of keeping the oldest tradition of Indian classical music alive. In the business scenario, it is the Lakshmi Mittals, Mukesh Ambanis and Tatas who uphold family values and simplicity, which give them an edge over the rest. Its not just about smart investments and decisions, its about who you are from inside.
And this deep-rooted spiritual approach is not restricted to India alone. The uber-deity of the electric guitar, Steve Vai, a prodigy who was Frank Zappa’s “stunt guitarist” and transcriber while still a teenager, is vegetarian, meditates, and makes regular trips to India to “clean out my karma”. And talking to John Mclaughlin, the elder statesman of jazz fusion, is like speaking to a spiritual guru; he, and others of his ilk, constantly refer to arriving at a “space of egolessness” which allows them to channel inspiration from a source of creativity far beyond human endeavour. In fact, I strongly feel that celebrities abroad take their spiritual quest far more seriously than their Indian counterparts, which gives them greater longevity. Perhaps our stars are still reveling in the glow of public adulation and recognition, actually paying PR firms to maintain a constant Page 3 presence, whereas celebs abroad go to extremes to dodge paparazzi!
Success in any field is but the triumph of the human spirit. When you excel, you have given full expression to the source of knowledge, strength and creativity latent within you. One of the pitfalls of celebrity life is the constant media glare, but its time that the thinking audience as well as the media learns to focus on the values that make one successful in the first place, instead of labouring under the illusion that aping a celebrity’s lifestyle choices will vicariously give them a taste of the same success!