Who am I?,” is a question not many tend to ask or even bother to think about. But for Subhash Chandra, the billionaire media mogul, it’s a question that lingered in his mind when he was just a child. Back then he had a volley of questions on human life and philosophy, whose answers he sought from various saints and sages. “I still remember this Jain sadhvi named Gulabobai in our village (Adampur) from whom I always wanted answers as to why we were born and where we are headed,” elaborates Chandra, dressed in whites and looking at ease on a Tuesday noon at Zee’s head office in Lower Parel, Mumbai.
That curiosity and yearning ended when Chandra met the late Satya Narayan Goenka, who spearheaded the vipassana movement, one of the oldest techniques of meditation taught by Gautama Buddha. Belonging to a religious Hindu family, Chandra and his family members believed in reincarnation. “Before doing the vipassana course, I was warned about the hurdles that would prevent me from completing it. But after doing the first course, I was pretty clear that all my questions will be answered here,” explains Chandra, who was busy setting up the amusement park EsselWorld then, after foraying into manufacturing plastic tubes under Essel Packaging.
The turning point came when he signed up for a 10-day residential vipassana course in 1989 at the Igatpuri Ashram near Nashik district in Maharashtra. It’s been 26 years since Chandra has taken to meditation in the earnest. He recalls his experience at the camp. “The initial days are tough, when your mind wanders a lot. But once you start concentrating on the movement of your breath, things soon begin to come under control.”
Having completed over 150 sessions by now, Chandra, who lost his cool very easily and on occasions raised his hands, elaborates on how practicing meditation has changed him completely.
Putting it in context, Chandra mentions that just before his meeting with Outlook Business, his infrastructure team that was working on a 7,000 crore tunnel project in Kashmir for the past three years told him that project was not feasible to bid. Their take was that the project could recoup its investment only over 10 years and not the stipulated seven years. “After spending nearly 5 crore and a significant amount of management time, in the normal course I would have felt extremely disturbed but it didn’t bother me that our efforts have gone in waste. Now this feeling of equanimity was only possible because of vipassana,” he points out.
Chandra doesn’t follow any fixed schedule when it comes to meditation but makes it a point to meditate for at least an hour, anytime during the day. “I can do it while travelling in my car and even as I talk to you. On being quizzed about his experience while meditating, he says, “You can never explain the experience. You have to undergo it to understand the same. During every session, it is important to observe the various sensations that we go through. Some might be good while others may not be. Observing them helps in unwinding ourselves.”
Even despite all this expertise in meditation, Chandra believes that there is a lot more to be achieved. “I am not an expert even at this stage. I still have some way to go,” he says. While his family members are yet to follow in his footsteps, a Zee employee tells us how they get 10 days of paid leave every year to attend the course.
Chandra remains the trustee of the Global Vipassana Foundation and has donated a 13-acre plot in Gorai in suburban Mumbai for the construction of the much-visited Global Vipassana Pagoda. “Initially, the construction used was steel and concrete, but we soon realised that the structure wouldn’t last more than 10 years. We then started building it with stones and that took us more than a decade. About 12,000 people can sit inside it at one time,” he explains.
Talking about the contribution meditation has made in his daily life, Chandra calls it the best investment for those involved in business-related activities. “Within 10 days of the course, you’ll definitely recoup your investment,” he says, adding that meditation is a stress-buster for anyone who can follow the regime. With this positive outlook, he tries his best to promote vipassana in whichever way possible. “I receive around 2,000 mails every week from youngsters. When they say they can’t find a direct solution, I ask them to visit the ashram,” he says.
He is about to embark on his next course at the ashram, where he will observe silence for 30 days at a stretch. “Whatever I do, I enjoy doing it. I don’t think I have much stress.” One being asked to sum up what meditation means to him, Chandra smiles and says, “This is the only time I am one with myself. This is me time.”
With his face glowing, Chandra gets up and looks back. The huge Buddha canvas in turn seems to look at him. While they exchange glances, I am left wondering if he was indeed meditating while speaking to me.