Author Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi on life and times
What is pleasure? When should you give up on a friend? And what does it take to be a good lover? This Diwali, Shanghvi shares illuminating insights with his nephews, Abhishek and Ishan.india Updated: Jan 16, 2014 16:28 IST
Dear Abhishek and Ishan: In truth, life is impossible. People will leave. Love can fail. Your job may be a bore. But if you accept this then you can have fun with the rest of it. The midnight stroll on a Goa beach. The health scare that wasn’t one. The lottery of good conversation. I’m sharing a few things that’ve held true for me: Happy Diwali.
1. You will be distinguished by your talent but remembered for how you loved. Your talent can be anything at all – fly-fishing, how you cast and where, or you may write a blog, be read and followed by millions. Only your talent – how you scrubbed a particular strength down to its essence – will be honestly celebrated. But to be remembered you must love well. Some people define immortality by a statue in a park (about statues in a park: only pigeons give a shit). In truth, the only kind of immortality to aspire to is how deeply you loved; if one single person remembers you fairly then you are already immortal in their memory of you. This is enough.
2. Whether you have an affair that lasts a lifetime or a weekend, know that loving someone is a largely moral act. Love is a feeling, an impulse, a behavior, even an aesthetic realising itself. But the underlying fabric of love is a moral one. To be entrusted with the custody of another life – a sibling, a lover, a parent – is a way for you to understand how your morality transacts with the mortality of the other. If you are unable to be moral, take the easier route: Be compassionate. That always works.
3. I’ve known the super rich and the very famous. And it means nothing at all. Don’t fall for the farce of associative power. You are not the people you hang with. But the company you avoid defines you. This includes friends, work colleagues, and yes, even the tiresome members of your extended family. Eliminating people gently, discreetly is an art, and you must learn this early on. Otherwise, too much of your adult life will be devoted to avoiding people you don’t like, and not enough of your hours can be spent with the ones you are provident enough to love.4. The famous are given to believe that everyone wants to be with them. This, unfortunately, is mostly true. Fame is a kind of light that obscures fact; it is also an illusion in which the illusionist loses herself. Do you really want to be with someone who can no longer see themselves? The other awful thing about fame is that it puts famous people in the awkward position to have to say aloud on occasion: Do you know who I am? You must always be gracious, and respond saying: I do, but do you?
5. The most interesting people I know happen to be famous, but their fame was accidental, incidental, or thrust upon them, and far from shying from it they use it wisely, like artillery. They don’t squander it on an airline upgrade or a dinner reservation. They use it to remind other people that being penciled out by recognition is possible only when you serve your solitude with truth and beauty; it is emergent of labour. And it is a fickle thing, fame, here today, gone tomorrow. If you become famous in your lifetime accept that you will always be misunderstood, and misappropriated. Enjoy your fame but never believe it.
6. It might appear on Facebook or on your Whatsapp DP that your friends have more friends than you do. Or that, tonight, they’re having more fun than you ever will. That’s ok. They are only filling their vile hours with vodka shots at 3am; in truth, they can’t stand each other. And if it weren’t for Instagram, they’d look like a pack of raccoons. If you enter your life thinking it’s a popularity contest then you’ve lost already. Don’t fear being alone: Your company is the best gift you can give yourself. And a man who is not afraid of being alone often also has the best company to give to others.
7. Wealth does not transmit by osmosis. What someone has remains their own unless you steal it from them, and trust me when I say the rich will wrestle you to the ground for their last dime (as they should; who is anyone to take it away from them?) Remember that the true nature of the rich is inherently an acquisitive one: they are rich because they have practice at taking things. But never allow someone to take your best thing away from you – thefts of talent or intimacy occur subliminally, silently. And there is no court of redress when someone steals your faith or confidence, or even your affinity for a particular novel. Guard such things with your life.
8. It is okay to be thought of as a difficult person. I am. I’m considered prickly and hard. This is not a bad thing because the opposite – smooth and soft – belongs only in one place: your butter dish. When you begin to negotiate on terms that are fair to you, you will invariably be dismissed as a bitch (this word is no longer gender specific). Be a Bitch. Celebrate Bitch Pride. Get a Bitch T-Shirt in six colours. When someone calls you a bitch they are only recognising in you the ability to play it as it lays. But don’t develop a bad personality on account of a tough charm; the operative word is charm. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve got the last cinema seat because I was charming to the usher. Never, ever fail your charm.
9. Be wary of people who befriend you for what you can do for them. The moment they extract this, the friendship will fail: the scaffolding will simply fall away. Be cautious of people who climb all over your back to know your friends; these are the worst kind of parasites, and they will think nothing of wiping their dirty feet all over you as they enter new, cold rooms with expensive lighting. Their punishment will be the later day awareness that everything they got out such violating contact was essentially worthless. They will derive no enjoyment from the wealth they make in the bargain. They will attain no pleasure from the company they form. They will be lonely, and pathetic, and their punishment is not having known better, and then of having known better when it was too late. You must always, always buy such folks a drink at a bar when you meet them again: they will need something to drown their sorrows in.
10. People will come and people will go. Ideally, you’d like everyone you like to stick around. However, this is just not going to be possible. So give someone who leaves something to remember you by. The soup you made for them when they had the flu. The stint you set up when they needed a job like a lifeline. How you turned up when their mother died, and the solace of your listening silence in which they could hide and heal. And sometimes: How quickly you slammed shut the door on their face when you realised what a sleaze they were.
11. Be a good friend. It is teething to be an excellent lover.
12. Place pleasure at the centre of your life. I don’t mean frivolous pleasure – the binge drinking or the casual sex, although that’s fine in short season. By pleasure I mean how you absorb your life – the moment-by-moment awareness of beauty, and that all this beauty will also end. I once opened a bottle of champagne and drank it with your grandmother at 3pm in the afternoon for no particular reason. That was the last time we drank together; she was gone a few short months later. Pleasure is a private language, a means of looking at things, and it is a way of enduring the essential truth that life is horrible and unfair. Pleasure is also pause and reflection, a generosity toward others and a kindness you commit to yourself. Enjoy what you are able to because what you enjoy enables you.
13. You are here for too short a while. Make your hours count.
14. Your feelings are important. But not everyone gives a damn about them. In fact, almost no one does. If your feelings – your rages, your hurt, your passions – are the only lens through which you look at the world then your world will slowly become isolated, narrow and small, coloured by only by your limited and flawed experience. When someone treats you unfairly go after the larger reason for it: What in your karmic hardware drew this experience out of the woodwork of humanity? The Buddhist trick is to watch all experience, know it, absorb it, and then to let it be: in order to be free of it. When you do this the friend who has betrayed you will simply vanish. His job is done. He has nothing more to teach you. Give thanks, and move on. (But remember that iPhone has call block).
15. If someone tells you money is not important you must appreciate that they’re talking absolute bullshit. You will also read a heartwarming account of a burnt-out banker now living carefree out of a trailer, old newspaper doubling as toilet paper. I will be very angry with you both if you turn into someone who uses newspaper as toilet paper. In fact, I will disown you. After love and good health, money is your most important charge. It will allow you to suffer in a climate of comparative comfort (you will better absorb the lessons of your suffering instead of being struck dumb by pain). And you will make a greater lover with bucks in your bank (and boys, give gifts – gifts of thought, deed, the odd diamond – generosity is the sexiest quality a man can have).
16. There are three kinds of wealth. You start with your credit card. Move on to wealth of mind. Finally, and most importantly, there is abundance of heart. You can impress a lover with your wheels, you can dazzle them with smart repartee, but they’ll stick around only if they bloom with your touch. Be the spring to their cherry blossom, the stamen to their butterfly, the green bough to their singing bird. There will be a time when you will leave it all behind, when you will be ahead of experience – but that time is not here yet.
17. Always, always pray for good health. Even a bad cold can feel like early death. Rise real early. Go for walks. Reading gives your brains killer abs. Yoga takes care of everything else.
18. Forgive everyone eventually. Shanghvi is the author of The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay and The Last Song of Dusk.
From HT Brunch, November 3
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