Sunday, December 14, 2008

What Is The Purpose Of My Existence?

Those 40 hours were the most intense learning process’

(Third Eye is a favorite Sunday column in IE... This was the one today)

Deepak Bagra is a director with 3i, an international private equity firm. He spent 40 hours at the Oberoi after barely escaping the terrorists at the hotel’s restaurant. He was freed around 2.30am on November 28

Will that experience be a turning point in your life?
It has actually completely redefined my life. I have tasted a sense of finality, not once, but multiple times, in a very short period of time. Those forty hours were the most intense learning process I have ever gone through and any individual could go through. If not for the collateral damage, I would strongly recommend it to everyone. Because the more you go through it, the more you realize a few crucial things.

First of all, I understood that the sense of being in control of our lives, the feeling that through our efforts and through the people we know we can control situations, things, people etc. --- all of that is a complete fallacy, a complete and utter illusion. In those moments, nobody can do anything for you. Every individual I knew, even some I had not seen for thirty years tried everything they could to get me out of there. But frankly, it was about God and me, no one else.

Second, I realized how many people in the world deeply care for me. And how many people I never met were ready to stake their lives to save me --- such as the five NSG commandos who came and picked us up in our room. I actually felt guilty to live in comfort during those forty hours --- after all, we had a bed to lie on, some water to drink, biscuits to eat, whereas those guys out there were putting their lives in danger with nothing to eat, only to protect the life of individuals they never met.
That kind of thing completely changes your life, and redefines the motivating factors of your life.

Has your sense of purpose in life therefore changed?
Definitely. As bankers we mostly think of our bonus at the end of the year and suddenly you realize how ridiculous and shallow it all is. I understood that there are so many more meaningful things in life, and how selfish I had been all along. It finally dawned on me that so many things I had been chasing and spending time on was completely futile. I had never sat down and designed my life; I had just flowed with whatever had come. I had never thought before in terms of purpose, or mission.

So it took me to go through that experience to realize that I wanted to give back, and do something for the people who saved me. I do not think that I was saved just by the law of probabilities, I do feel there was some force at play. But then it did not save others. So I must feel all the more blessed, and think that I may have been saved for a reason, that there must be another meaning to life than what I had been doing until now. And it has to do with giving back to society. How will I do it? It will take a bit of time to find all the answers to that question, but I know it will be the most important factor governing my mind and life from now on.

Do you feel anger about what happened?
Absolutely not. Not a drop of it. Neither against the perpetrators, nor against those who could have stopped it and didn’t. I am surprised myself at this complete lack of anger. The only feeling I have is how can I help.

Then, how do you explain the anger of those who have not gone through this experience themselves?
It is driven out of helplessness. They were witnessing the whole attack second by second on their televisions and could not do anything, whereas I was inside, constantly doing something to help myself.

Do you think this anger will die down or be transformed into positive change?
I do not think it will die down, and I hope it will be transformed into something positive. I actually feel our society is at a tipping point. The financial crisis has also been a form of catharsis and this is adding to it.
We have had a financial system that worked well for a hundred years but the world has changed, and the underlying system has not adapted. So like for any transformation, you have to go through pain before you get a new system, and this is what the financial crisis is, the end of the old, and the beginning of the new.

Similarly, a number of anxieties and angers are being expressed in different forms --- whether through terrorism or through the shock at those acts of terror. Both are the expression of some passion. And any passion is triggered by some reason; there is a reason for terrorism, even though it may be wrong or incorrectly imbibed. So I think it all is a painful transition process, a catharsis towards a new equilibrium. Life, nature, all forces always yearn for balance, so somehow it will happen. It will not be imposed or enforced from outside or from the top. It has to be strongly felt and come from within all of us. When that realization genuinely occurs, there will be complete transformation.

Finally, if there was one question you could ask god, what would it be?
What is the purpose of my existence?

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