Shaurya Singh

DESIGNING PROFOUND ACCIDENTS

Shaurya Singh expresses a unique and exceptional view on life and existence. Those who know him, know that he lives the truth that he stands for.

In its highest form, his philosophy has the potential to end the searching, the seeking. After which an individual is free to live life of pure choice and unbounded self expression.

Just being in his presence begins to cause shifts in thought patterns and state of mind. Through his workshops and theatre productions, he has been a part of the inner journey of several individuals. He does not advocate renunciation and often says that true self-realization occurs amidst chaos.

Quick Bio

Chapter One: Once upon a time

Childhood memories are mostly hazy. Some are visuals, glimpses, faded, like an old b/w film, while others are probably dreams or incidents I’ve heard people describe. Temples, especially tiny ones, I had a fascination for. Mom and I would bounce pebbles in a pond at the neighborhood park in the evenings. A lot was imagined back then: people, creatures, treasures, and adventures. I remember making up stories and then not knowing whether they were true or not. There was little distinction between dreams, day dreams, fantasies, and reality.

Hindustani Classical and old bollywood music was the background score during this phase. Nani (grandmom) was an All India Radio classical vocalist and conducted classes as well. The sound of the tanpura, the tabla, the early morning riyaaz, something so special and sacred in this ancient artform. Nanaji (grandad) was a retired Indian Air Force pilot who owned a poultry farm where I spent many weekends. This was my only exposure to the village life, crops, there was even a river where I would just sit and watch the pattern in the water for hours. Nani was a Swami Chinmayananda disciple and hosted several Vedanta and Geeta talks at her home. Even in casual conversations, words like dharma, atma, moksha, and sthithaprajna were commonly used. I had a lot of questions. I would keep thinking about what they talked about, trying to come up with ways to counteract them.

We had temporarily relocated to Udaipur, to the home of my paternal grandparents. A massive old bungalow with a regal vibe. This location would become the setting for many of my dreams to come. Climbing on to the precipice of the terrace. The warmth I felt from Chachu. The bond I had with Didi. I have to mention the strange fragrance that lingered, it was of perfume and cigarette smoke that got mixed through the air conditioner. Then there was the sheer enormity of Dadaji (grandfather) Dr. Shurvir Singhji, who was a gifted physician and could make grown men tremble with just a stare. I was frequently ill. And, as a character in one of Manto’s stories mentions, fever is an altered state of consciousness that I have a strange fascination with. Let me remind you that I come from a time before television. We had an All India Radio radio and a record player. Dad loved BB King, and mom loved Elvis. Anyway, there were a lot of sick days, and when I had time alone to let my imagination run wild, I would read, write, draw, paint, and play. Since we were not well off, I would make my own games and toys (nothing elaborate though, mostly with matchboxes and clay.

I am told that once I showed up to class with a bandage on my head and the teacher asked about homework, I said, pointing to my injury, “the doctor asked me not to do any studies because my brain needs rest.” I was different from the rest of my family in many ways. For example, everyone in my family, Rajputs on my father’s side and Talwars on my mother’s, love meat, all kinds of meat. In my childhood, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat any. That was a huge disappointment, especially because dad loved to cook.

Chapter Two: from pillar to post

Philosophical debates were common at my Nani’s house. She was always encouraging me to think about new ideas and research. I first heard the story of Buddha in one of these conversations, and it hit me hard. A burning desire for Truth began to fester. I began to experiment with various meditation techniques, including Zen, Tantra, Vedantic Meditation, and Transcendental Meditation. Looking back, although my explorations were motivated by a desire to discover things for myself, I was also involved in a relationship with several Indian Deities, including Shiva, Durga, and Krishna.

I would perform my own ceremonies, fast on specific days, and spend hours in several temples near home, as well as frequently hanging out at the Sri Sarada Math, which was also walking distance from my house. All of this blended seamlessly into my already surreal reality.

The newspaper became important because of the classified section which contained upcoming courses or workshops in Bangalore. I would sign up for everything that happened in town, some that would be embarrassing to even mention. I studied various methodologies ranging from NLP to Yoga, hypnotherapy to Transactional Analysis, and at the age of ten, I even participated in Dr. Paula Horan’s Fire Walk workshop.

Mom, who was a trained nursery teacher and counselor, had a big influence on me. She was always willing to let me explore my own thought processes. I can’t thank her enough for creating such a nurturing environment for me. Even now, we have some philosophical discussions that might appear to an outsider to be a fight, but that is the amazing freedom of expression she has always given me.

Mom became a life coach and Reiki Grandmaster at this time. She conducted regular workshops and was the first in Bangalore to open a full-fledged Reiki clinic. I was initiated into Reiki at the age of 12 and became a Grandmaster by the age of 17. Her Guru, Dr. Avadooth Shivananda Babaji initiated me into Saraswati Deeksha around the age of 13.

I’ve always been artistic, and during my school years, I was the kid who made all the charts in class and basically created the class magazine. Watercolor is still my favourite medium, but clay sculpting is a close second. This was also the time when I started writing poems, short stories, and short plays. These were unconventional, and thus would not be well received, except by my mother, who adored everything I did.

Another incident from my childhood that I recall only vaguely is a trip to New Delhi with my Nani. Sri Jag Pravesh Chandra, my Nana Uncle (Grandfather’s brother), was the Chief Executive Councilor of Delhi from 1983 to 1990. We were at his house, and he had a VCR (Video Cassette Player), which was uncommon at the time. Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool was the film they were going to see. This film was the topic of conversation and excitement all day. But when the time came, they wouldn’t let me watch it because they thought the content was inappropriate for a child. This sparked in me a great fascination for cinema.

My sister, Apurva, was born in 1986, which was a significant event in that it altered my role at home. I took on the role of big brother, telling her stories and building elaborate playhouses out of bed sheets and chairs. The desire to read was always present, but because this was before the internet, before Google and Amazon, access to books was limited to libraries. They quickly replaced time spent in temples. I did read some fiction, mostly classics, and then some Michael Crichton because everyone else was. Stephen King, too, but that’s all. Aside from that, I was only interested in nonfiction. Books on philosophy, religion, and spirituality.

Chapter Three: The Accidental FInale

The teen years were full of angst. Things were not going well at home. There were fights, arguments, and even violence at times. I had a notorious gang at school. We would skip classes to watch movies, fight, and shoplift. Completely defiant. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Nirvana, and Metallica provided the soundtrack to this period of my life.

I was never the class’s top student, but I noticed you didn’t have to be. I would study only a few days before the exams and then scribble the memorized nonsense on the exam sheets. That was sufficient to get by. I can see now that I never let the educational system imprison me.

Then there was college, which was only to please the elders of the family who believed that life couldn’t be lived unless you graduated. Dad packed his bags and left one morning during my first year, never to return. I had a terribly low attendance rate in college but managed to finish. The subjects did not challenge me, seemed too simple a way, to look at life. I would read the books a few days before exams, and would easily get through. But those years were a lot of fun too. We were a close group of friends who were primarily motivated by the desire to get high. We drank frequently and experimented with other methods as well. This was the year I discovered Goa, psytrance, and the rave culture’s values of peace, love, unity, and respect.

At the same time, I was a frequent visitor to the Iskcon Temple, which I watched grow from a single shed on a hill to the magnificent structure it is today. There was serious thought about joining the monastic order there. Osho rescued me from doing that. Dad had put on a Hindi tape of one of Osho’s discourses on a road trip. I’d heard of Osho from teachers and speakers before, but mostly warnings to stay away. I was completely enthralled by the end of that tape. I couldn’t get enough of it. There was something in his words that rang true, though I didn’t have the experience at the time. Listening to Osho led to a deeper research of religious and ancient texts.

Meditation was also deeper and more intense, and I frequently lost track of time during meditative sessions. There was a platform called Yahoo groups on the internet where you could discuss various topics. I would join philosophy groups and debate the majority viewpoint. In atheist groups, I would present arguments for theism and so on.

This was also the time when I began collecting DVDs of world cinema, amassing over 1000 titles, most of which I watched several times and especially enjoyed the “Directors Commentary” tracks that some of them included. I fell in love with cinema through Kubrick, Kurosawa, Bergman, David Lynch, Majid Majidi and so many more.

In retrospect, nihilism had taken centre stage in my way of thinking. I wasn’t physically destructive, but in my mind I was constantly finding ways to counteract and negate everything. Nihilism, on the other hand, never translated into apathy; instead, the fire of longing burned brightly. I completed the Landmark Education curriculum, which enabled me to find harmony in my relationships. Nothing, however, was getting me there.

On February 14, 2001, at the age of 22, something happened that can only be described as the complete end of self, identity. This was the conclusion, the end, death, and it was unintentional, accidental. Nothing prior to that point is valid. Nothing before that, led up to it. Nothing before that was a cause. This event was causeless, it was original, it was complete. Not was, is.

Chapter Four: The Blankness

There’s not much I can say about what happened without completely misrepresenting it and without it being misunderstood. I can only say that it was not an experience. It was not something that I experienced. It had nothing to do with anything I had done, be it meditation, contemplation, or study.

And in the moment of this happening, was the realization that it was always so. The me who thought that he was on a quest, was only a dream. There was no one to awaken either.

It was nothing new, fantastical, or resembling any of the descriptions of such events I had read about. Yet. Effortlessly, it is, what it is. A symphony of silence, a dynamic stillness, a radiant nothing, perhaps?

It is fun to be all poetic about it, but at that time, it was terrifying, the blankness. Physiologically it took me about a week to recover. It was impossible, to speak or interact as I did before.

I placed myself in voluntary solitary confinement for the next few years. I’d wake up at night and sleep during the day. Meditation, spontaneous and ongoing. Nothing to do, nothing to achieve, nothing lacking. In that state, I chose to devote my time to studying. In some ways, this is when I received my education, from history to science to learning design and writing.

I read the Upanishads, the Bhagawad Gita, the Ashtavakra Gita, several Kashmir Shaivism texts, Neitchze, Freud, Jung, Zen, Sufism, Existentialism, Absurdism, and a plethora of other texts again. But now I wasn’t looking for anything; it was just fun to find resonance in all those texts. Perhaps, this is when I took on the impossible task of curating the most efficient way to express it.

Chapter Five: Impressions and Expressions

Post college, I managed the Bangalore branch of Software Education company that went broke. Did a fair share of multi-level-marketing experiments and several freelance projects from making posters and promo videos, radio spots, to copywriting to interior design. It was the work that my Mamu (maternal uncle) Dr. Rajiv Chandra, began to give us, that brought the stable income and regularity. The work of medical transcription, we had a small team of highly trained and qualified professionals and everyone did such an amazing job. I realized that the smartest thing to do was to create systems, such that I became redundant. Luckily that did happen to a great extent and the company was running efficiently even through my self-isolation.

Then comes the one day workshop on filmmaking. I went with a lot skepticism but it was a small risk, just one day. What I did not know was this man, Sanjay Nambiar was to have such a big impact on me. I worked with him for a little more than a year. To most he appeared rude and unlikable, but what I could see in him was authenticity and the love for cinema. From him I learnt the significance of structure, of the deep study and abidance of rules, of the language of cinema. The focus on the craft so that one can better express the art. Did loads of editing work during this time, and totally fell in love with the process of putting pieces together to create a whole new thing, and yes, sound design. Since it was the guerrilla style of filmmaking what I also learnt was that creativity is a function of limitations.

From the long days of shoots where it’s all about sweating, shouting, retakes, and mostly technical stuff with light, lenses, location sound, etc. it was becoming clear that here the human connection was minimal. I did spend time with the actors, but never for long enough to build anything.

Then one day a friend invited me to attend a theatre rehearsal. I had done theatre back in school and in college I read some plays like Waiting For Godot, No Exit and Chairs, and written some too, but I had no idea what a magical space it is. Especially the rehearsal space resonated, as it is the zone where you let go of who you are to become somebody else. This was a slow burn though, rehearsals lasting for months. Here was what I was looking for, a chance to really explore conversation with people.

The choice had to be made. Cinema or Theatre. I chose theatre. You will still see elements of cinema in my plays, if you happened to have watched any. And Sanjay will always hold a very special place in my heart.
With theatre I began at the beginning. Back stage. Quietly observing, learning, working my way up. It was only after I was Assistant Director on a big production that I decided that it is time to take it on fully. The other big reason start a production house was meeting Deevas Gupta on that production. Deevas is a super talented actor and a brilliant poet. He and I started Saarthak Production together. Auditions, writing, rehearsals, marketing, performances, those were some beautiful times. Everyone who connected with Saarthak felt it, you know, being alive. Very soon we had a group of actors who became the company. Although we were all amateur artists, our process, workshops, blocking, set design, sound design, posters, were all top notch. I was a dream partnership, would you believe that we did not fight, even once.

I had written my first full length play, after several drafts, we were ready. The problem was that it was an absurd play and all the processes and methods for rehearsing would not work here. A whole new approach had to be designed. This is when the early draft of what is today the “Nine Steps to Nothing” workshop began to form. For the rehearsal I had to have discussions on philosophy, psychology, art, movies, music and life itself.

The rehearsals and then the shows, were truly astounding. In the sense that here it was, this was the way to cause a radical shift in peoples perspectives and their lives. The play is there on YouTube, although I must confess that theatre does not translate well to the medium of video. That actors that went through this journey insisted that we take the process out, and make it an independent module. By this time a few risky moves had brought the production house a lot of losses. Mutually, Deevas and I called it quits and it was shutter down on Saarthak.

Back to the drawing board and redesigned the module to better suit a general audience and launched it as a three week program.

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