Ajay A Kalra

BE PRESENT BE HAPPY – Chapter 1 Ajay Kalra December 2, 2021
Seven Principles To Uncover Happiness
Chapter 1: My Story


“You have been unfair to me!” I said with cold anger to God. I was on my way to Nashik to immerse the ashes of my grandmother. As the car sped across the countryside, I reflected on my life. Abandoned by parents, sent to boarding school at age five, choosing a career divorced from my natural self and the recent realization that I was addicted to sex. “How can a single life be filled with so much suffering?” The thought kept repeating itself in my head. God did not answer. In response to his cold indifference I decided to get back at him in the only way I could. If he could fill my life with so much suffering, I could chose to not suffer. I would end my life.

“I am going to an astrologer, would you like to come?”, a friend asked me. I agreed. I was curious to know what the future held for a man who had decided to end his life. There was also the fear that she would confirm my untimely death. “You will become a Guru”, she said. I was speechless. How could a man who had failed miserably at living his own life teach others how to live? “You will be associated with an Institute and have a Godmother”, she added. That seemed even more incredulous. I disliked authority of any kind. “Will I die a lonely death?” I asked her. “You will live a long life and always be surrounded by people.” she responded.  “The next phase of your life will be extraordinary. It will start seven months from now. Just keep yourself occupied until then”, she suggested.

My friend who had accompanied me said, “Why don’t you do the seven month’s Yoga teacher training course at The Yoga Institute?” I went that very day and enrolled for the course. Little did I know that the next phase of my life had already begun. Life had taken me to a place that would become my home. It would shelter me from my worst enemy – myself. It would nurture me to midwife my own rebirth. It would provide me the opportunity to blossom into my own being. And as all this happened I discovered something extraordinary. The Science of Happiness. I realized that Happiness need not be temporary and fleeting. It need not be accompanied with pain. It need not be dependent on others. Just like a chemical formula, Happiness required the amalgamation of certain principles for its creation.

What I had discovered was not something new. It was a science that was more than 10,000 years old. It was Yoga. I always believed that Yoga was an exercise for physical fitness. But it was at The Yoga Institute that I saw the science of Yoga in its totality. It was a philosophy to train the mind. And ultimately transcend it. It occurred to me that my experience of life was dependent on the state of my mind. Irrespective of what happened in my life, this was the only place where I could exercise my control. This was the only place where I lived. All my life I pursued Happiness without knowing the principles of it. I thought a certain experience, outcome, or relationship would give me Happiness. Until they all failed miserably. When I practiced the principles of Happiness, my mind was at peace. When I deviated, my mind was in pieces.

My Story

“Give him to us.” said my grandfather. I was one year old. Cradled in my mother’s arms as she was leaving Mumbai. She had come to her parents’ home to deliver her first child. Being the first grandchild in the family, my grandfather had grown very fond of me. What my mother did next broke the emotional chord between mother and son. She gave me to her father and went away. From that moment onwards my grandparents became my parents. I received their undivided love and affection. Until I was three years old. It was then decided that I must be sent back to my parents. I remember that day. I was tricked into having an ice cream and while I was engrossed in eating it, my grandmother gradually slipped away and I was forcibly taken by someone to a train. As the train moved, I cried, thrashed my tiny limbs and tried to run towards the door. But I was firmly held by this person. Eventually I let go and became unconscious.

When I regained consciousness I was in a different place with a new set of people. They were my biological parents. I had not experienced them for the first three years of my life. I missed my grandparents. “These are not my parents, my real parents are in Mumbai.” I would say to a shopkeeper below our house. I felt as though I had been banished from my real home. If my relationship with my mother was unclear, with my father, it was non-existent. I have very little memories of him as a child. Later in life, all that I heard about him was associated with a single word. Sex. I grew up listening to stories of his promiscuous behavior. I could see that there was constant strife amongst my parents. This added to my feeling of neglect.

When I was five years old I was sent to a boarding school. From this point on, my grandfather took charge of my upbringing. I no longer saw my father. Many years after my father had passed away, I heard from an aunt that he had disliked my attachment to my grandparents. He also abandoned my mother after my sister was born. For the next eleven years, my life was divided into a 9 + 3 annual routine. I would spend nine months in a boarding school and the remaining three months with my grandparents during winter vacations in Mumbai. I never got a chance to bond with my mother and sister who lived in a different town. My grandparents once again became my parents.

“Don’t cry. You are a big boy now”, said the nun on the first day of boarding school. I stopped crying. The school was at a hill station and winter had yet to recede. I felt cold, on the outside and inside. I was made to believe that I was extremely privileged to be studying in such a premium school. On the bright side, I was exposed to extracurricular activities and English as a language at a young age. On the other hand, I lost touch with my feelings. I felt alone, scared and vulnerable most of the time. Most of my childhood was spent trying to prove myself to others in ways that were meaningless to me.  Over a period of time I numbed my feelings. During my growing years I developed the habit of masturbating and watching pornography. I thought this was normal as other boys were doing the same thing. It took me a long time to realize that I was addicted to the sexual impulse just like my father.

I always looked forward to living with my grandparents. When I passed out of school I was eager to experience a non-boarding school life. I took admission in a college in Mumbai. I chose Commerce as I had no interest in Science and I thought Arts was taken by people who were poor at studies. College life was spent mostly with my girlfriend, outside the classroom. I was always a good student. My modus operandi for studying was to memorize and then reproduce it all in the exam. It always worked. After the exam I forgot what I had learnt as it was never of any interest to me. When I graduated I had to make a choice on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Until now there was never a burden of making a choice. For 21 years my life trajectory was decided by the education system. From 1st standard, I went to 2nd and from 2nd to the 3rd…so on and so forth, until I completed college. The curriculum was set and what I had to study was predetermined. But now, I felt uncertain of what to do next. Most of my classmates, including my girlfriend, were doing Chartered Accountancy. And so I followed them.

During the course of studying for my Chartered Accountancy I parted with my girlfriend. I wanted to be free. It broke her heart. We met many years later and I apologized to her for doing that. It was something that weighed heavily on my heart. It was the start of a pattern that would replay itself in the future. One part of me craved intimacy and another part of me desired freedom. It took me many years before I could see this pattern for what it was. I cleared my Chartered Accountancy in the first attempt even though I was neither good with numbers nor did I find them interesting. I simply studied very hard. I was scared that I would have no future if I did not pass.

The day I became a Chartered Accountant I felt all the problems in my life were over. I was thrilled! Everyone congratulated me. I felt I had attained a respectable social identity. I had become a Chartered Accountant. This coincided with the start of the most important dimension of my life. Spirituality. As a child I was intrigued by mysticism. I wanted to know the purpose of life and why I exist. I enrolled for a five-day workshop run by a spiritual organization. For the first time in my life I was exposed to spiritual wisdom and techniques. It had a huge impact on me. The practices and concepts moved me deeply. After the workshop I felt high on energy and blissful. I continued my association with the organization and became an active volunteer.

I got my first job in an audit firm. I soon realized that I did not find my work interesting, and I just managed to get by. I lived in the fear that my inadequacy would be discovered some day. It was depressing. Meanwhile my association with the spiritual organization grew. I found this part of my life very satisfying. I gorged on all the spiritual wisdom like a hungry child. I read books, heard talks, attended silent retreats and organized courses. This part of my life was deeply meaningful. My life had split into two. The corporate life as a Chartered Accountant was dry and insipid. And the spiritual life as a seeker was bright and fulfilling. My upbringing had not prepared me for spirituality. I had grown with the notion of studying hard and taking up a job to earn a living. If I did not like to study, it never occurred to me that the problem was with what I was studying or the manner in which it was taught. I assumed that studying is not meant to be enjoyed. Similarly, I thought that if I did not enjoy my work, it was normal. I assumed work was to earn a living and enjoyment was for weekends. This continued for some time. Until I participated in a corporate training program and decided that I wanted to be a corporate trainer. I felt being a trainer would harness my interest in personal growth and at the same time enable me to earn a decent living.

This was also the time that I moved away from the spiritual organization that I was actively involved with. I was going through a difficult period at work and I was unable to hold on to my developing identity as a teacher that was getting built through the organization. One part of me was sharing wisdom with others. Another part of me felt small and unworthy. I could not contain these two parts in me at the same time. In hindsight I realize that most of my wisdom was just borrowed from what I had heard or read. It was not earned by facing up to life’s challenges and getting in touch with my authentic self.  I decided to quit my job and take a break. I went to Rishikesh and studied Vedanta philosophy in an ashram for two months. I thought after I come back I would explore work opportunities as a trainer.

Rishikesh revealed to me the plethora of Gurus and paths in the spiritual landscape. Until then I was committed only to a single spiritual organization. I was unaware of other spiritual paths. Like a child in the candy store, I wanted to taste each one. I was curious to know what each spiritual master had to say and what practice they recommended. On returning to Mumbai I tried various avenues to become a corporate trainer. I felt vulnerable venturing into an area in which I had no experience. I wanted to pursue my passion, which I thought lay in being a trainer, yet nothing seemed to work. In the absence of a job or any income I felt helpless and exposed. After a few months I finally took the decision to take up a job as a Chartered Accountant once again. Within a week a Multinational Corporation hired me. It was relief! From being a nobody without an income I was back to having a social identity and good salary. Even though what I was doing was again unsatisfying and meaningless.

During this period I became an intense spiritual seeker. Whenever I got the opportunity I would attend a spiritual retreat or visit some spiritual organization. I was committed to my spiritual quest but not to any particular spiritual organization or practice. It was during this time that I happened to discover my talent for writing. I started writing articles for a wellness magazine. This was deeply satisfying. Again, my desire to integrate my natural expression with my work was triggered. I contemplated joining this magazine as a full time writer. However, my previous experience of unemployment and lack of any support made me give up the idea.

By now my mother and sister had moved to Mumbai and were staying on their own, while I stayed with my grandparents. It was an unusual situation. I was bonded to my grandparents. My mother and sister were bonded to each other. This lead to undercurrents and conflicts. My loyalty was with my grandparents, which did not go well with my mother and sister. The complexity of the situation tied me up in knots. I saw my grandparents as my parents since I had grown with them. Biologically I was my mother’s son. I never met my father after I was sent to boarding school as a child. Later I heard he remarried and had children from that marriage. The only time I saw him as an adult was for a few minutes when my parents got divorced. My mother asked me to touch his feet. I did not. A few years later he passed away.

Given this situation, I felt pulled from two ends. On one end were the people I was close to and had shared a life with, my grandparents. On the other end were people I was responsible for but with whom I had hardly any personal history, my mother and sister. I decided to move in with my mother and sister with the hope of fulfilling my responsibility. It went well at the start, even though I always felt that they were one unit, while I was the outsider trying to be a part of their family. This continued for some time until certain occurrences shattered me completely. I felt violated and betrayed. It unhinged my mind and shook me to the core. I was unable to deal with my feelings or the situation. The negative emotions that I had tried to control while trying to be a spiritual person erupted like a volcano. This event changed the course of my life.

I returned to my grandparents’ house. I was traumatized, furious and scared. I had run away from my responsibility. And I was angry and hateful. I felt that my spiritual values of love, peace and harmony made me an easy target for manipulation. I no longer wished to be spiritual. I allowed anger, bitterness and resentment to seep into my heart. The feelings were so intense that I had no choice in the matter. I packed all my spiritual books and gave them away. The child in me that had been deprived and suppressed since childhood rebelled. It was angry with all forms of authority – society, spirituality and God. It did not want to have to do anything with them. Yet there was the fear of being alone. This lead to the start of an impulsive phase of my life.

My mantra during this period of my life became “being true to my feelings.” If I felt something then it must be true. I started using my feelings to guide my actions. I became self-centered. I did not want to please anyone other than myself. Now when I look back at that time I can see that what I called as feelings were also impulses.

During this period I took up a new job. This was in a company with a lot of young people in it, unlike my previous organization. With my newfound freedom to be true to myself I indulged myself freely. I moved from one relationship to another. The craving for intimacy followed by the desire for freedom kept repeating itself. It created a lot of emotional pain. But this was an energy that I could not control. It was controlling me. Sometimes I did realize that I needed to do something about it, but it never occurred to me that I was addicted. Or that, what I was doing, was self-destructive.

Meanwhile, on the work front I had moved from finance to human resources with the hope of being a trainer. In my new organization I conducted some training programs under the tutelage of a senior trainer. But I was disheartened to realize that I was not a good at being a trainer. The training that I was conducting was scripted. What I was saying did not come from my own experience. The more I tried, the more inauthentic I sounded. This again made me question what I was meant to do. During this period I explored various therapies and behavioral learning methods. My quest for spiritual enlightenment was replaced by psychological self-exploration. I saw this as more real. Unlike spirituality that spoke of a state that was beyond the realms of everyday experience, psychology focused on thoughts and feelings that were being experienced. Counsellors and behavior consultants became my new Gurus. Even though I underwent a variety of self-development and healing processes, it seemed like a never-ending journey of self-exploration. There was always something more to explore and heal.

“Does your room nourish you?” asked a counsellor. “Nourish me?” How was a room meant to nourish me? I thought of the room that I stayed in. It had six calendars, many clocks and unused stationary and files. In my grandparents’ house, things entered but never left. For the first time the thought occurred to me that I must stay on my own. I found a place and started staying by myself.  I felt lonely and liberated at the same time. After a few months of staying on my own and just before I was to go on a holiday, I lost my job. There was an economic recession and half the employees of the company I was working for were laid off. It was a scary situation. I did not know what to do next.

I enrolled in a course that dealt with organizational change. I thought now that I had failed as a trainer, this is what I was meant to do. Work at a systemic level of change rather than individual. I learnt many theories and techniques of facilitating organizational, group and individual change. After working with a consultant for a few months, I started my own consulting firm. I experienced the challenges of being an entrepreneur. I had to pitch my services and risk rejection. It was another vulnerable phase of my life, but I came across people who supported me just when I needed it the most. Even though I did not acknowledge it enough back then, I can see now how a divine force was looking out for me all the time.

This was also the time when I started indulging in promiscuous behavior. I did not feel that I was doing anything wrong. My mind said I was just being true to my feelings. I could not discern feeling from impulse. This had emotional repercussions but I still couldn’t see where I was going wrong. This part of my life was hidden from everyone. Half of me always lived in the shadows. It seemed as though an intense energy had taken hold over me and there was no way I could be free of it. I was addicted to the feeling of being wanted. But when a relationship fructified I wanted to run away and be free. And then be wanted by someone else. The pattern kept repeating itself causing immense pain and suffering to others and me. In spite of all the psychological self-exploration I did, I could not see this pattern for what it was and what it did to me.    

 During this period I reconciled with my mother and sister. We resumed our relations. But it was always a turbulent affair. Even though we were biologically related, I felt no emotional bond like I did towards my grandparents. There was also the past that was filled with hurt and mistrust. Our relationship continued like a boat in a stormy sea, ready to capsize any moment. When my grandfather passed away I looked after my grandmother. I was more a son to her than her own biological children. In the depth of my heart I saw her as my mother. It was her smell that was an integral memory of my childhood. It was with her that I formed a visceral bond.

Then it happened. I fell in love. For the first time in my life I truly and deeply loved someone. As much as a human being can love another human being. It was a beautiful experience. I felt at home. I was aware of my behavior pattern, but I always thought that I could stop it when I wanted to. I decided to be faithful. And I was, for a certain period of time. Until I could not. The force of my impulse was far too strong for me stop it. The more I tried to abstain from pornography or promiscuous behavior the more the force inside kept building up. Like a pressure cooker that was about to burst. And it did. I resumed my indulgences and at the same time started hiding them. I knew our relationship would not last. When it ended I was devastated. It was one of the saddest moments of my life. I never shared about this relationship with anyone. This was another part of my life lived in the shadows.

This triggered the darkest phase of my life. Someone introduced me to online dating. This was like giving free access of a sweet store to child who is habituated to sweets. The pattern kept repeating itself with a much faster frequency. There was much hurt and pain. I felt as though I had created a graveyard of pain and suffering within me. Until one fine day it gradually dawned on me. I was addicted. For the first time I associated the word addicted with my behavior. I had just read a book on how addiction happens and the patterns were unmistakably similar to my situation. Genetic predisposition, difficult childhood, coping mechanism, repetitive pattern, self-destructive behavior, inability to stop. Like a movie my entire life flashed before me from childhood till date. I had to get out of this dark dungeon that my life had fallen into. I did not know how. I was all alone. My work no longer held much significance. I had no stable relationship. And the only person who I felt responsible for, my grandmother, had passed away. I had no reason to live.

“You have been unfair to me!” I said with cold anger to God.

They say it is darkest before dawn. I agree. I never thought one day I would write a book telling people how they could live their lives. I have learnt these 7 principles the hard way. All I can say from my life experience is that they work. But they will work only when you put them to use. There’s just one word that contains the essence of my self-transformation. Practice!