What drove you to write The Unknown Edge?
For the entire world, 2020 was one of the toughest years because of the pandemic. Many of us didn’t know how to deal with it. At a time like this, which was full of despair, hopelessness, vulnerability and so much sadness and strife, I thought it was important to come up with something that would infuse a sense of positivity, a sense of faith and hope in the minds and lives of people. If we look back, we will agree that even in the toughest times there is some force that takes care of us, supports us and I feel that is the Unknown Edge of our lives. You can call it God, the Divine or a higher power. I felt that it was the right time to share my experiences where I felt I have been taken care of, been looked after, and made me feel empowered and strong.
Just the word 26/11 is enough to conjure up images of destruction. It must have been a harrowing experience getting caught in the crossfire. How did you overcome the trauma?
Certainly, it was an extremely traumatic experience. Nobody expects to go out for dinner and then face terrorists with AK-47s. After going through 14 hours in captivity at the hotel, Sudarshan Kriya, meditation, and pranayam helped me a lot. I felt I was being cleansed from those horrible impressions and memories. What also helped me was satsang in the company of my family, friends, the Art of Living teachers and its family around the world. It was also my spiritual master Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji, who played a vital role in guiding and mentoring us in those difficult times.
You say your life took a 360-degress turn after the incident. What would you say were those changes?
An event like this completely resizes your life and you realise the greater importance and value of time and life itself. We take time for granted; many people waste time, but when you are faced with an imminent death situation, you realise the true value of life and importance of time.
I also realised how much love there is in the world. Many people reached out to us and said they were happy that were safe and assured us of their support. We aren’t necessarily always aware of the love that is there around us. That was definitely a big realisation.
You also gave up your career as a banker, what led you to take that decision, which must have been quite a difficult one?
I had a successful career as a banker and was really at the top of my career. But, this incident also taught me that the time on hand is limited. I was involved with Art of Living Foundation at that time for almost 15 years and along with my work I also used to give my time for community projects. At that time, I thought I wanted to make the transition and devote my time to these interests. And it was not a difficult transition because I became busier, I was travelling more around the world and had my hands and heart full.
The book also shares insights into your spiritual encounters. How did your spiritual journey begin?
I come from a spiritual family. My paternal grandmother was a learned woman. She used to read the Bhagavad Gita every day and she used to do Bhagwat Parayan every year. Listening to the stories of gods and goddesses, learning the Bhagavad Gita, chanting every day were part of our growing up years. Even my maternal grandfather, who was a doctor, had met Gurudev [Sri Sri Ravi Shankar], which was a watershed moment in accelerating this process.
How did it shape you?
It broadened my vision. It made the world my oyster. The AOL Foundation today is spread across 156 countries. I have travelled a lot, especially in the last 10 years to teach the Art of Living programmes. To experience belongingness, the space of connectedness with people from around the world has been nourishing, enriching and extremely empowering. I became stronger as a person. The regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya, meditation, yoga and pranayama made me more resilient. Meditation has made my heart lighter and made me more compassionate. It has developed a deep sense of dispassion in me. This is important because in life often we don’t grow because we don’t let go. I have become more capable of letting go and in that I think the path to growth has become clearer and open.
In your book you also speak about your journey with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. How did you first meet him? What led you follow his path?
I have written a lot about this in the book and it is a story about my journey on the spiritual path. I met Gurudev in Mumbai during a satsang. I believe when the disciple or the devotee is ready, the Guru appears in your life... It was something like that for me. It is not like I went through any major decision-making process about it... Rather, it was a very organic for me.
There’s a misconceived notion that being spiritual means giving up on worldly things.
There are several real-life examples to douse this misconception. I am fully in the world and fully spiritual; they are not two different things. Spirituality is a way of living; anything that uplifts the spirit is spirituality. It is the foundation of success, personal or professional.
As an educator and the president of Sri Sri University, what changes do you see in the Indian education system in the coming years?
The past year brought a paradigm shift in the Indian education with the launch of National Education Policy 2020. It was the much-needed silver lining during a year when nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 200 countries experienced the largest disruption of education systems in history. At a time like this, the NEP 2020 is a major breakthrough, placing Indian education on a progressive roadmap with a vision to transform India into a vibrant knowledge hub based on the pillars of accessibility, equity, quality, affordability and accountability.
An educationist, writer and a leadership coach... How do you strike work-life balance?
I am a big proponent of work-life integration; I think the pandemic has taught us how beautifully we can integrate our work and life. I don’t seek balance because when you do, it inherently means that there is an imbalance. Meditation has been a constant part of my life for the past 25 years. I realised that my energy has increased, intellect has become sharper. And all these make work more productive.
The pandemic threw a curveball in everyone’s life; what advice do you have for those struggling to cope with it?
My advice would be to keep faith. I would urge everybody to integrate some resilience-building tools like meditation or breathing techniques — it makes us stronger from within. In life, there will be situations which we can't control or predict, but what we can control is our ability to handle them. For me, last year was proof that if I become physically, mentally, emotionally strong and focus on my holistic health, then I can deal with the adversities in a positive and persevering way. My advice: Take care of your physical, mental, emotional health and be focused.