6 min read.Updated: 06 Apr 2019, 12:35 PM ISTSimran Lal
In her quest for mindful living, the co-founder of Nicobar immersed herself in a deeper understanding of ancient Indian wisdom and philosophy
Lal’s desire to share her experience with people led her to launch Paro, an experiential concept space in Delhi based on the idea of holistic beauty
I find myself in an idyllic campus called the Vedanta Academy, outside Pune, where we all wake up at 4am, study, then practise a few hours of yoga, followed by sports and lectures on Vedanta philosophy. It is almost spartan, but well thought through. I am in a small room with so little around me, and it strikes me that this is truly all one needs for inner happiness.
How did I get here? Around five years ago, on a family holiday in Germany, I asked my father, Vikram Lal, a question: “Pa, if you could choose to be born in any country in the world and everything remains the same—your family, work, etc., which country would that be?" He closed his eyes, only opening them around half an hour later and saying, “I have finally concluded that the only country I would like to be born again in is India." I was quite surprised with this response because my father spent a formative part of his life in Germany before he founded Eicher Motors, and keeps going back. We all have grown up highly influenced by Europe and I assumed he would mention one of those countries.
When I asked him why, he said, “Because the level of sophistication of ancient Indian thought, the nuanced philosophy, the heritage of its wisdom along with its richness of culture, craftsmanship and diversity is what shapes me. Everything else feels quite flat in comparison." That got me thinking. I have always considered myself someone who is rooted in India and is deeply appreciative of our heritage. But I hadn’t spent much time getting to know our philosophical thought.
I lead a rather hectic life—I ran (lifestyle brand) Good Earth for many years, then my husband and I started Nicobar, and, most recently, I launched Paro. I have two young boys and as someone recently told me, this truly is the rush hour of one’s life—with so many different priorities to juggle, all at the same time. Till around two-and-a-half-years ago, I had been squeezing myself dry and not giving back to myself or nourishing my body or soul. I was constantly irritable and on edge.
Every so often, that conversation with my father would float in and out of my head. I started wondering about how I relate to the larger world; I started looking for connections between the mind, body and soul. That was my first moment of pause.
I picked up a book called Absolute Beauty by Pratima Raichur, a book that has been with me for over 20 years. But when I read it this time, it opened up a whole new world for me. It is a book based on Ayurvedic principles and explains how external skin tissue is a reflection of everything that happens within our body: the way we eat and breathe, as well as the thoughts and emotions that fill our mind and colour our spirit. She says: “How we view the world and how we feel about things affects our experience, and experience changes the body. When modern medicine asks where the body is diseased but not why the patient is ill, it ignores the basic truth of our experience. Most disease results from a breakdown in the immune system; immune breakdown results from stress; stress is due to perception; and perception derives from consciousness."
I was deeply curious about what she called “consciousness" and how that pervades everything. I joined a short online course at Oxford University on the philosophy of yoga and that gave me an overview of different philosophical thoughts. I bought The Yoga-Sutra Of Patanjali by Chip Hartranft—this one came highly recommended by my friend, Veer Singh, founder of the wellness destination Vana, near Dehradun. It took me deeper into the philosophical aspects of the yoga tradition. I also went through the bibliographies in all these books and bought those that piqued my interest. I re-read Cosmos by Carl Sagan. And, finally, another friend and colleague, Pareina Thapar, recommended the Vedanta Treatise by A. Parthasarathy. It is this book that made a huge impact on me.
Parthasarathy emphasizes that the Vedanta philosophy is a guide for daily living and says: “Living is an art, a skill, a technique. You need to learn and practice it as you would to play a musical instrument or fly an aircraft."
It is a whole new perspective on life, from our own country. It encourages questioning and experimentation. I always thought of anything to do with our historic texts as something religious and emphasizing faith vs rationality. To my surprise, Vedanta made me look deeper into the nature of things, and, very importantly, the nature of the self through observation and questions.
The main tenets of Vedanta, as I understand them, are a reflective study of yourself (to eventually join with your higher self-consciousness). To quote Parthasarathy again, “It is not the world that distresses you but how you relate to it."
Another main tenet is the deep connect with, and reverence for, nature. Which means being in sync with the rhythms of nature. I realized that something as basic as being connected to nature, prakriti, expressed through the rhythms of seasons and lunar cycle, is something that we urban Indians are increasingly removed from.
I started creating little daily rituals for myself to be more connected with the rhythms of nature, like going up to my terrace early in the mornings and bowing to the rising sun. It’s amazing what a change that has made: I started noticing the different types of birds that perch regularly on my terrace, I was more aware of the hue of the sun in winter (hemanta) vs spring (basant) vs summer (grishma), the deep fragrance of the mogra at sunrise vs later in the day.
I also started fasting between seasons, an old Indian tradition. This ritual of fasting is like a bridge between seasons, it is a pause: a moment to reflect, acknowledge the transition between seasons, a time to give your body and even the mind a break from the daily routine. I realized I was falling ill much less and feeling a lot more energetic.
That moment of pause, when we take in a deep breath, in that very moment we have a choice to see things for what they truly are: to readjust our perception, to respond rather than react. And that little moment of pause, if done mindfully and regularly, can be, and has been, life changing for me.
For me, it has been so powerful that I felt the deep desire to share this experience with people who may benefit. It is why I launched Paro (which in Sanskrit means the sharing of special knowledge), an offering for anyone who is intrigued and curious about this holistic approach to well-being.
Paro, which I intend to restrict to one space in Delhi’s Chanakya Mall, is an experiential concept space based on the idea of holistic beauty, which we define as inner and outer beauty (shringar) and deep comfort and well-being (saukhya). It has been quite a challenge because it is not a typical store. It leads with experience and sometimes leaves people with more questions than answers.
The idea is to give people the tools to create personal rituals of saukhya and shringar through workshops in our Shanti Space, a library of books that I have personally read and loved, special treatment rooms, the Botanica space built like an apothecary where an aroma therapist personalizes and blends the purest oils, and more.
I hope it will nudge people on to a journey, their own journey, that incorporates precious moments of pause.
Simran Lal is the CEO of Good Earth and co-founder of Nicobar and Paro.