By Life Positive May 2001 Intensity is what life is all about for this versatile man-whether it’s acting, directing or practicing martial arts A respected name in Mumbai theatre, actor-director Salim Ghouse is a man of irrepressible energy, intense talent and versatile skills. He’s acted in TV serials (Subah, Bharat EK Khoj) and Indian films (Trikaal,Drohi, Aaghaat, Koyla, Shapath, Soldier), besides directing plays (The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet,Macbeth). Unwilling to compromise on principles, his life has seen dizzy heights and devastating lows. But like the legendary phoenix—after which his theatre company is named—he’s risen above the roles he has essayed in his quarter century center-stage. By enriching body, mind and spirit, Ghouse has integrated his inner and outer worlds, ”to come home” as he puts it. An FTII Pune graduate, founder and creative director of The Phoenix Players, a martial arts practitioner in various disciplines, trained in kalari and marma shastra, founder-chairman of the Zendokai Centre for holistic studies using Tai’chi and Chikung exercises for stress management, rejuvenation and meditation, conductor of drama workshops and synergy seminars… he’s done all this and more, besides planning new stage productions with Anita, his wife, and bringing up his two children. How has he learnt ‘to be and not to be’ unlike his beloved Hamlet who will soon reincarnate in a brand new avatar on the Mumbai stage? Here’s a first person account by Salim Ghouse: I am fortunate that the basic need to strive for excellence was planted in me at an early age. That taught me to give everything to the task at hand. Not in a competitive sense, but as the nishkaama karma (work without anticipation of returns) that the Bhagavad Gita advocates. That approach brought a certain quality to life. To taste excellence, with such an attitude, is to know the fragrance of God. If your only goal is earning money, then any spiritual inclination becomes just an escape. >Discipline is not something that can be imposed. It is self-exploration, a gradual inward journey. When discipline walks with you, the path you choose becomes special. Fasting, abstinence, any form of self-denial must happen naturally. Otherwise you will end up as an irritable person. But discipline can be achieved with the help of a true master or, like Ekalavya (the archetypal faithful disciple of Hindu mythology), with absolute focus, alertness, attentiveness and unwavering faith. Reiki is a beautiful accident that happened to me. It makes you aware that you are in a sea of energy of which you can become a zariya (channel). I learnt it from a few teachers, the last of whom—Sushil Naidu—made me aware of my high energy levels because of my martial arts background and theatre work. He warned me that my cleansing period would be intense. It was. I strongly believe that a reiki practitioner should have both discipline and a personal philosophy. Be grateful, reiki says, to your parents, teachers, elders—to life itself. How can your touch heal if you have not experienced an inner transformation? To be spiritual is to lead your life, however ordinary, with dignity and a sense of humor. It is not to run away to the Himalayas. A positive person is not one who’s selective about life but one who is centered. Once you have realized that enlightenment comes only when you can take the ups as well as the downs cheerfully, you learn to deal with everything, with utmost concern and certain detachment. Meditation happens more naturally now. I am able to take time off to enjoy the silence, to ‘create space within’ as J.Krishnamurti described it. Meditation is a dynamic state even as it is a relaxed one in which you go beyond the prisons of thought and word. Today, I can actually see the silence between two notes of music and realize that acting ‘is not what you do but what you leave behind’. Martial arts have evolved through brilliant masters over the centuries. For me, this love affair of 30-odd years is like ‘meditation in motion’, for ultimately martial arts is all about not fighting. It is about getting centered, focused, aware. When this happens, inner rectification follows automatically, resulting in a tangible refinement in your voice, body, posture, attitude. Yoga and Tai’chi—which is yoga in motion—are two of the greatest healing systems for learning to co-ordinate body, mind and feelings. I have trained in two major styles of Tai’chi and am going later in the year to the Beijing University of Physical Education. When you practise these disciplines you become aware of your interconnectedness, hence you become more humble, more courteous. You realize that you need the farmer as much as the farmer needs you. The same realization can come from prayer, namaaz or riyaaz (practicing towards a spiritual goal). Compassion is the most difficult attribute to acquire, but the only worthwhile one. Everybody inspires me, especially children. I’ve had a wonderful time taking care of the four children in my family—mine and my sister’s. Children teach you innocence, to take joy from the moment. Birth and death are like passing phenomena, whereas life is eternal. I do not consciously know if there is rebirth, but I do wonder if my love for Krishna, Nanak, Kabir, the Sufi saints, Ghalib, Amir Khusro, the Chinese Haiku masters, for Alexander and Shakespeare, for Julius Caesar and Beethoven, springs from ancient connections. Today I feel I am a Sufi because Sufism is a transcendental philosophy that goes beyond ritual and form and believes that enlightenment is a constant process. None of the greats—Buddha, Jesus or Mohammad—said they were preaching a new religion. They were only reacting to a system that had become rigid and regressive. The four steps Sufism prescribes for achieving integration are—coordinating the body; emptying or filling your heart; identifying the macrocosm within the microcosm and finally, learning to live in the spirit. The Sufi says: sabki izzat karo (respect everyone). Maybe the fact that my father was a Muslim, my mother is a Christian and my wife a Hindu has made integration easier for me. Learning to be alive at every moment is the most difficult art. But when you constantly work on your body and mind, a gradual refinement of your physique and emotions is inevitable. The whole thing is a package deal—the good co-exists with the bad, the pain with pleasure. You learn to be non-judgmental, to enjoy both the beauty and the terror, to arrive at a sense of total equanimity, to see the ‘sameness’ in the ant and the elephant. You may not be able to unravel the mystery but you begin to revel in your awareness of it. That is when life becomes a celebration!
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