By Suma Varughese
Suma Varughese meets veteran actor Suresh Oberoi to uncover his spiritual
journey, and its impact on his life
He is an imposing man, with a towering height and a burly built. His complexion is surprisingly fresh and clear, and he carries his years gracefully. Suresh Oberoi has been a popular face on the marquee ever since he entered the film industry in 1977. Known for his deep baritone, Oberoi has parlayed both negative and positive roles with flair. He won an award for the Best Supporting Actor Role in 1985 for his role in Mirch Masala. Today, he is also known as the father of actor Vivek Oberoi. But the role that fits him best is as presenter of the TV show, Awakening with the Brahma Kumaris. As he quizzes and questions Sr Shivani, the young and wise representative of the Brahma Kumaris, his own interest and knowledge of spirituality seems impressive. It is clear that this former actor is both a sincere and seasoned student of spirituality. And it has influenced his dealings with others. I found him consistently cordial and respectful, relating to the other on equal terms, which actors are not really wont to do.
As we sat chatting in the drawing room of his Juhu bungalow, he suddenly called out joyfully, “Nana ka jaana.” A delightful gurgle of laughter greeted him. This dialogue continued for a while until a young girl carrying a 14-month baby hove into view. It was his daughter Meghna and her son, Arjun, come visiting from her home in Ghatkopar. The infant reached out to Oberoi, and the fond grandfather swung him in his arms for a while. It was touching to watch the evident love between the two people, or souls as Oberoi would prefer to call them. Soon after, another young woman and baby came down the lift from one of the higher storeys of the house, into the drawing room. It was his daughter-in law, Priyanka (wife of Vivek Oberoi), with her son Vivaan, also about 14 to 15 months. Apparently there is only a 45-day difference between the two infants. Oberoi changed his refrain to “Dada ka jaan, Vivaan” and once again, grandfather and grandchild, a bonny round-cheeked little fellow, bonded.
Oberoi often refers to his angry disposition, and there is sometimes a flash of sternness in his deportment; but he has clearly worked on himself, for there is an air of harmony in the household. And perhaps there can be no better testimony to one’s spiritual sincerity than a happy family. Excerpts from the interview:
How did you enter spirituality ?
In the ‘80s, I was one of the most sought-after actors in the industry. And yet, I felt something was missing from my life. I would stand on the balcony of my home, looking at the sea and ask myself many questions about life such as Who am I? Why do we pray? How can I live rightly?
In 1985, I met with a grave accident, and my brother died in my arms. That shock made me once again question life. I began to attend satsangs and met many gurus. One of my first gurus was Dada Lakshmi who operated from Sion. Later, I met Jagadguru Shankaracharya and he became my guru. At present I am with the Brahma Kumaris. I like the way Sr Shivani speaks. There is a lot of clarity and cleanliness there.
The most important thing that I discovered was that I was already that. I just had to uncover it.
What, according to you, is spirituality ?
Spirituality should not be mixed with religion or bhakti, though it can be considered to be their fruit. Spirituality helps you understand who you are, what life is, and what is your purpose in life.
Has spirituality changed you ?
In every way. It has changed me from the very roots. My perspective of life has shifted completely. For example, earlier I used to say that the other made me angry. Now I say, he was a trigger – the anger was already in me. So I do not blame the other, or send negative vibes. My attitude towards the staff has also undergone a sea change. Earlier, I used to feel, I pay them, they had better do their duty. Now as I call them, I continuously chant to myself, “Soul calling soul” until they pick up the phone. It helps me to remember at all times, they are not servants – only souls playing the part of servants. In my film, Mazdoor, Dilip Kumar played the role of a servant and I was his master. But that does not mean Dilip Kumar is a servant!
Did spirituality influence your food choices ?
About three years ago, I was at a friend’s place in Delhi having lunch. I bit into a piece of meat, and discovered that I could not eat it. My desire for non vegetarian food dropped off me just like a leaf falling from a tree. These things happen because change is happening at the root level, so everything changes. I attribute 90 per cent of my health to the fact that I am a vegetarian.
It also helped me to get rid of my anger. I even found that choosing cow’s milk over buffalo’s milk helped me to change. Five years ago, Jagadguru Shankaracharya came to stay at my place. His disciples told me, “Guruji only has cow’s milk.” I had no idea where to get the milk from as I had been accustomed to buying packets of milk from the vendor. I hunted high and low, and found a source. Later, my family and I decided to have it too. My perspective began to change – anger began to reduce and soon after that, I turned vegetarian. I believe in the old saying,”Thatha anna, yatha mann (as the food, so the mind). You are present in every cell of your body and each cell of your body is what you eat. Therefore, you are made up of what you eat.
Being an actor must have made you susceptible to ego and vanity…
Earlier, I was very body conscious. There was a lot of vanity, ego, I-consciousness. There was very little focus on understanding myself. My priorities were my family, work and finally, if at all, self. Today, my priority is to understand the Self. Only then do family and work come. Earlier, I used to earn only for myself. Now I want the other to be happy too. Today, I earn and give with equal happiness.
How have your relationships changed post spirituality ?
The most important thing I have understood when it comes to relationships is that the other person has come with a set of samskaras which may have existed for thousands of years. This makes it easier for me to understand human differences. There is no point in judging. My guru, Lakshmi Dada, used to say, “The crow says kaa ka, the cat says meow, meow.” I used to wonder at that saying but now I get what she meant. If we can accept the basic nature of the crow or the cat, why can we not accept the nature of others?
To perfect one’s relationship with others is often a lifetime’s work. How far have you progressed in that ?
I am very happy with my progress in relationships. I feel light. I also don’t feel guilty or disturbed. Today, I like myself. I used to just hate myself at one time. Now, when I have done something nice, I pat myself on the shoulder and say, “Good boy!”
How do you stay physically healthy ?
Health is in the mind. Every thought has an impact on each cell of the body. You are what you eat and think. The moment you understand life, you accept it with a smile. I feel I have really progressed in acceptance. Spirituality has changed me. The impatient Suresh Oberoi has changed. Earlier, I had a lot of rules and regulations. If my daughter-in-law were to come to me, I would look to see if she were properly dressed, if she did pranaam to me, if she had her pallu around her head… all that has gone. There has been a 360 degree change. When I was with Dada Lakshmi, one of her disciples complained against me. “That guy is a filmy chap, so arrogant, eats non-veg, drinks, has so much anger. His vibrations are not good. Yet you allow him into your private chamber, and have one-on-one talks with him…” Dada replied, “It is the sick who need a doctor more than those who are well.”
What is your routine like ?
I wake up between 4.30 to 5 am. I meditate for half an hour to 45 minutes. Thereafter sometimes, I go back to sleep, but other times, I wake up and walk to the early morning Brahma Kumari classes in Juhu. These morning classes are all that I need to progress in spirituality. I come back home by eight am and have a light breakfast of upma or poha or idli-dosa. I no longer have onion or garlic in my food. My taste for it has dropped. Similarly, I have dropped my need for smoking and drinking too.
Is your family with you in your spiritual journey ?
If the head of the family changes, the family changes, the staff changes. My wife is even more immersed in spirituality than I am. The whole family goes to listen to the Brahma Kumari talks. We have also been attracting a lot of spiritual people since the last 10 years. A Sufi saint from Jodhpur came to meet me. Another came from Bahrain.
So you are non sectarian ?
Of course. We are all souls. External differences do not matter. I had a Sufi guru once, and today I have one in Bhopal. Recently, I took my grandchildren to a gurudwara and bought them all kadas. We also have Arya Samaj havans in our house.
As a student of spirituality, how do you cope with the ups and downs of life ?
My spiritual strength sees me through. Last year, my son Vivek and I were sent a criminal notice with non bailable warrants simply because I had mediated between two people over a property dispute. I had nothing to do with the issue. I observed my reaction. I was angry. I even contemplated taking some illegal action. But then I said, “No. I am a student of spirituality. I don’t want to do anything illegal.” So I took the legal route, filed a suit and made a police complaint. These are the tests that come to try us.
What is your attitude towards money ?
It has totally changed. Earlier, I kept meticulous accounts; now I do not do that any longer. One thing I am sure. I will never be short of money. At the same time, I don’t waste money. I respect it, because it is earned through satvic work. A friend and I were to set up a partnership for a restaurant, but when he insisted on serving alcohol and beef, I backed out. I did not want to earn a living through drinks. Money earned righteously is rightly called Laxmi.
You are not insecure about money ?
I think I have enough. My needs are simple. I don’t want a helicopter or a number of cars. I am quite happy to walk to a five-star hotel, or to take an auto rickshaw. I also find I give away easily. Earlier, I never used to gift my old clothes. Now I donate with joy. Today, I give my staff their salaries with joy and respect. I have learnt in life that you cannot give anything to anyone that you do not have. You have to generate it first, whether it is money, or even anger. To give anger, how much of anger I have to generate! And when I generate it, I am the first to feel its impact. In the same way, if I bless others, who is blessed first?
Any last thoughts ?
The only thing to understand is that I am a soul. And so is the other. And the other may not have worked on themselves. Therefore it is upto me to exercise forbearance. Life then becomes easier.
So you are a happy man ?
I am a happy soul (smiles).
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