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When KKR won, it was like the song ‘I believe I can fly’ I could have flown that night: Shahrukh Khan

Shahrukh Khan (center) celebrates Kolkata Knight Riders' IPL win in the final of the 2012 edition © PTI
Shahrukh Khan (center) celebrates Kolkata Knight Riders’ IPL win in the final of the 2012 edition © PTI

By Shahrukh Khan

The sign Capricorn is one of the most stable and (mostly) serious of the zodiacal types. These independent, rock-like characters have many sterling qualities. They are normally confident, strong willed and calm.

They are hardworking, shrewd, practical, responsible, persevering, and are capable of persisting for as long as is necessary to accomplish a goal they have set for themselves. They are tenacious and have a firm stick-to-it ness for any job they take on. Their loyalty to their goals and people they submit to are of the highest order.

Aah, I like that. Two words that stare back at me through these traits. Tenacity and Loyalty. One word that sounds to me like a boxer, like Tenacious Tyson or Smoking Joe Tenacious. The other could form the fourth in the siblings of Faith, Hope and Charity, or at least a cousin. ‘Hey, meet our cousin from the country, down here to visit us, Loyalty’. “Loyalty, this is our friendly grocer Mr. Greenfingers, say hello to him.” Kinda sounds okay to me. If it doesn’t to you in either case, then it must be some repressive debris from the recesses of my childhood. Either way, I am going with Tenacity and Loyalty for this month’s stargazing episode.

The Capricorn is a goat. It is diminutive, surefooted and strong. It climbs tenaciously and carefully but in case you’re already giving it too much survival credit, don’t forget it also gets fattened up and halal-ed on Eid (and tastes fairly good in a Hyderabadi biryani). Oops sorry PETA.

Al Capone was a Capricorn. What a legend he was; never mind that he ended up at Alcatraz where he continued to make enemies!

Apparently, he cut the line while waiting for a haircut from the prison barber. A Texas bank robber called James Lucas serving 30 years told him to get back to the end of the line. “Do you know who I am?” asked Capone, Lucas grabbed the barber’s scissors, brandished them on Capone’s neck and replied “Yeah, I know who you are, grease-ball. And if you don’t get back to the end of that fu@#*%g line, I’m gonna know who you were too.” Clearly, social skills aren’t a Capricorn forte or maybe it was just that Al Capone could afford to do without them.

A guy like Capone would have made much of loyalty though (after all, his life depended on it). He was accustomed to commanding the kind of loyalty that has become rare in the new world of expedience we inhabit. I hear the word used often. Loyalty. Being a Pathan I have my own semi-Capone style interpretation of it. Note: Over eager internet writers and misspelling high moral ground holding Twitter activists, do not make a controversy of me comparing Caponism to Pathanism or any such, idiotic comparison, that may pop up in your over fertile yearning for discussion. Please.

I have come to believe that loyalty is not an intellectual quality at all. It is a rare kind of intuitive tenacity. The physical or moral object of loyalty is irrelevant because most professed loyalty is actually to none other than the self. When we say we are loyal to someone, it is generally to the idea of that person we have created in our minds that we are referring. Most often this idea has to do with what feeds us and satiates our own needs. It has little to do with the truth about the other guy or girl.

I remember watching the news years ago, when Michael Jackson cancelled one of his concerts because he fell quite ill. There were features showing ‘die-hard fans’ ripping up their tickets, raving and ranting about their sense of betrayal. Poor Michael was down with high fever or lack of oxygen, we will never know. It seemed an odd sort of loyalty that could turn so quickly into fury just because for that single moment, its object hadn’t lived up to the entertainment he had come to embody. I think, true loyalty bears allegiance to emotion, not to the self. It is the ability to remain true to what you feel without allowing your Self (and its silliness) to interfere with it.

Loyalty to a spouse, a lover, a friend, a company, a soccer team, even to the motherland or to certain values; all of these are actually reflections of ourselves.

Confession time. When our team [Kolkata Knight Riders] suffered a string of losses I fell straight into the ‘loyalty’ to idea category. There was no consoling me, I cried like a baby. I blamed myself for being a star and putting extra pressure on the team. I grumbled at the staff. I blamed the players, growling away at them in my head. I suspected the colour of their jerseys. In fact, at some point I even did my own little Wankhade at home and banned the children from the room while watching matches… you name it, I had thought it up as a good reason for a bad performance. Then suddenly, one sweltering night in Chennai, we won! I remember standing atop the railing at the stadium, I remember the feeling: like the song ‘I believe I can fly’ I could have flown that night.

Then the victory settled quietly into us, I watched Gautam raise the trophy, I was carried by euphoric crowds in Kolkata. It occurred to me that I had been so attached to the idea of owning a winning team that I had allowed my loyalty to be defined by it. The idea of victory had overridden the sheer beauty of working with the team I had built with such passion and love. I realised I had missed the point a bit, missed noticing the boys who were trying their best against all odds, missed all the fun, the learning and the teaching that had made us so much worth being loyal to than just another trophy. Ummm, I’m not sure how to explain the semi take off stance on the railing that night though!

In the same way, let’s say you love someone, and you are loyal to that feeling, why should the other person’s behaviour, however, distasteful to you, change your ability to love him or her?

I faced this a lot in the initial years of my becoming a star. Friends and even family started to ignore me at get-togethers and some even gave me dirty looks. I was at loss at this sudden change. Sometimes my insecurity made me feel that perhaps they are unhappy with my choice of films or roles! Later, I got to know the reason. Their explanation was always the same. You have changed a lot. Of course, I had. From being a non-entity penniless, orphan I had become a household name. I had become rich and famous and above all extremely busy. I thought it should have made those who loved me proud, instead they were upset with me because they felt I had changed my ways with them. I was trying to harness the madness that had catapulted me into the stratosphere and make some meaning out of it. But most people didn’t understand that. Some thought I ‘ditched’ them and still believe so. As if I had calculated the entire episode and known all my life that I would become a big star and throw them by the way side.

I have never said this before, but I loved those people and still do. Maybe too much water has flown under the bridge to have the same times that we shared earlier together, but the fact is that I am the same person. It’s just the circumstances that have changed. The loyalty to our love for each other should not have changed. Even if I had somehow disappointed them or become a lesser person than the one they knew, why should their love have been conditioned by my failings alone.

The whole point of love is to be able to accept failings and feel compassion for the one you love. It becomes easy to feel betrayed when you imagine that your loyalty is to a person or an idea.

People change, ideas move, nothing remains constant or stagnant.

There is something disturbing about the kind of loyalty people tend to respect these days. It is disturbing because of its emphasis is on vacant exhibitionism. Take the way we are expected to show/(exhibit?) our patriotism, or express solidarity for causes that everyone feels riled up over (tweet instantaneously about them or be damned).

If we don’t shout out from the rooftops, we aren’t loyal enough and God forbid we have a sense of humour or a point of view we want to keep to ourselves! It just won’t do. The feeling we hold in our hearts seems to have applied for redundancy.

Everything needs external proof, especially emotions.

Anyone who has been blackballed by his wife for not producing an anniversary card knows what I am saying. But this goes for more serious issues too.

Friendships must be black and white, ownership driven or in constant need for allegiance and approval. I often read about Bollywood cliques for instance, how people supposedly switch ‘sides’ and exchange friendships for commerce. I find it all very amusing. A friend of mine was seen at the gym of a dietician, learning the belly dance to lose weight. The dietician happened to be the trainer of a supposed rival star of mine. The tabloids screamed, “Bhagirath loses weight and SRK loses a friend!!”  (Names of people have been changed to protect their identity and to basically send some other tabloids on a wild goose chase, to figure out who I am speaking about.. ha ha).

Now how can a farcical fat burning attempt make me love a friend of mine any less? It’s an infantile and mean spirited thought. On the other hand, I really did consider disowning him for trying that ridiculous belly dance. He’s a burly hairy graceless man for God’s sake! I mean if it wasn’t so damn funny, him in his tracks tucked inside his socks, he deserved to be disowned just for that but hell, I decided to keep him around for comic relief. No that’s not true. I love him, belly dance and facile fat regardless. That’s the only way to love our friends, no matter what they do and who they decide to be or not be with.

I’ve never felt let down because someone dumped me for another actor, but I won’t lie, I’ve felt let down a thousand times when someone professed a hollow friendship to be true. I have never measured a friendship in what I could exact from someone or what was exacted from me. I don’t measure relationships at all in fact, to me they are not quantifiable (no wonder I have no friends!!).

But I do notice. I notice the lack of loyalty to a professed emotion and how easily it is abandoned for expedience. My father taught me to stand by the people I cared for, no matter what. Not because they were better than any others, but because I chose to care for them. In my heart this choice was like a life-long pact I made with myself. To stand for them meant to be true to the feeling in my heart. It required a certain tenacity of emotion.

Pathans are historically renowned to die for their word. They will drive a battle into the ground for their honour. They are tenacious fighters (ask anyone who has ever tried to conquer the Frontier…!).

Tenacity is a sterling trait. Every great fighter knows this. Every time he is knocked down, he stands back up. In the end, it is not his ability to hit back that delivers victory. It is his ability to stand up again and again that tires the challenger out. I admire the tenacious. Muhammad Ali, my favourite of all fighters is also the notorious proclaimer of one of the coolest quotes ever: “If you dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologise,” he had declared.

In his first fight against Sonny Liston, he was the underdog with 7-1 odds against him. The fight went on to be one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It lasted six rounds, at the end of round four, Ali felt a blinding pain in his eyes and asked his trainer to cut his gloves off as the ointment for cuts on his hands had rubbed into his eyes. His trainer refused. Ali was virtually blinded in the next round but he fought through it like a warrior. As it happened, his sweat and tears rinsed the irritation from his eyes. In the sixth round he mustered all his will and battered Liston in a rain of blows so that he could not even respond to the bell of the seventh round.

I am often called to different forums to talk about my life, invariably the topic is related to success. I never really know what prescription to give my audience (so I usually end up dancing the Lungi Dance). I tell them tall stories about the fear of failure and the fleeting nature of victory but if I had to name a single trait to cultivate in the quest for success, it would be tenacity. If you’re going to plod through this life, dig your heels in like a pit bull with a locked jaw in a dog fight. The odds are, you’ll win. Yappy Pomeranians never really cut it!

PS: I was sitting and writing this article and my daughter was reading a book titled, The Fault In Our Stars. I take my daughter’s books very seriously, since Twilight became such a big franchise.

It’s a book about two teenage lovers who both have cancer and are surely going to die. It’s the story of their love loyalty and the tenacity with which they want to live the last days of their life to the fullest. An excerpt from the book is as follows.

As Hazel and Gus often remind each other, the world is not a wish-granting factory. Nevertheless, “a forever within the numbered days” can be found, and as Hazel shows us, maybe that’s all we can ask for.

That I feel is the lesson of life that we all should learn and follow. The forever within the numbered days, of relationships, people and life itself which is temporary by nature, should be the quest and our goal. No matter what changes and what is taken away, your loyalty to your love should remain forever.

PSS: Damn! The book rights are already taken and soon to be made into a major motion picture.

(Shahrukh Khan is considered to be one of the biggest film stars in cinematic history. In fact, the Los Angeles Times called him “the world’s biggest movie star, while the Newsweek named him one of the 50 most powerful people in the world. He is also the co-owner of the Indian Premier League team, Kolkata Knight Riders. The above column first appeared in DNA)

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