For the latest in our WISE WORDS interview series - where stars from a whole range of fields share the important life lessons they’ve learned along the way - we’re posing some of the big questions to A R Rahman.
A superstar in his native India, A R Rahman became a global force with his Oscar-winning score for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. His huge body of work and creative influence has given him the nickname ‘the Mozart of Madras’.
Now, as he prepares to bring an intimate series of shows to the UK, he sat down with HuffPostUK to share his reflections on how to deal with the challenges his success has thrown at him, and how his wife still manages to spring a surprise…
What do you do to switch off from the world?
Music and spirituality for me complement each other. I think every musician is very spiritual. I met Santana a couple of months back and he was talking about love. Of course, Mick Jagger had other things to say, but he’s spiritual in his own way. Most of the bigger musicians, they only talk about love, about what we can do more. For me, it’s the same thing, so all of the other stuff is secondary - fame, money - it doesn’t matter, if you can write a beautiful tune and see the effect of it, if it happens, it’s the most satisfying thing. So the energy flows through me all the time.
We are Sufi believers, so if I feel overloaded with materialistic things and pressures, I go sit in a corner of a Sofi shrine and meditate. Nowadays, you have people taking selfies, even in the shrine, so I go in the early morning, around 5 o clock.
When I go abroad and there are no Sofi shrines, everything becomes a shrine. Your mind can become a shrine if needs be.
How do you deal with negativity?
It’s there for everyone, everyone experiences negativity, it’s become a fashion. But then are you going to be responsible for this? What if, at the end of your life, someone comes to judge you because of the comments you wrote in this blog? For me, it’s like finding the light at the end of the tunnel always. There is always light. If you intend good, everything comes to the surface. People can sometimes mistake this, but you have to keep shining internally.
All I care about is how honest I am with my own conscience. If I am corrupted, I have problems, but I have to be this honest person within me, the rest doesn’t matter.
When and where are you at your happiest?
I am happiest when the world is happy, when I see people having fun, eating with their families, I see this and I feel blessed. When I read about suffering, with a bomb blast, I feel the suffering. Then you feel helpless, and you just hope it shall pass, and that good things come after bad things.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
So many. The most influential person in my life was my mother, who encouraged me to follow music, but she said, ‘Do more for others than for yourself’ and that can fight many depressions today. She said, ‘Your aspiration should be to live for others, and you can find great meaning.’
What is the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?
From the beginning, I’ve known that three things are not stable - fame and money, and health. So if you’re dealing with that in mind, then it’s not such a shock. We have to keep working. Refinement is the most important thing in life, and I feel I am still refining, both in music and as a character, how I deal with people, and I want to pass that on to my kids, too. Nobody’s perfect.
Once you win an Oscar, it can feel like you’ve reached your peak, but you have to keep going, and then people say ‘This isn’t an Oscar-winning score’ and you want to say ‘Shut up’.
What would you want to tell your 13-year-old self?
I have a son that age, and for me, being a father, he trusts me so much, and to guide him is strange. My father died when I was nine, so I’m trying to be the father I never had.
What three things are at the top of your to-do list?
I’m at a crossroads now. The world now is a very scary place, it’s very misunderstood, everything judged in broad brushstrokes and with historical hatred. I wish everybody got amnesia, forgot the past, and they could start again from here.
I’m writing my own movie, which is a life dream. The story is mine. You can do anything when it’s your own movie, the thoughts, you can put in all the goodness you wish.
What do you think happens when we die?
The biggest question for all humanity. Every part of the world has a belief, but I definitely feel there is a life after death. When my father died, he had unfinished business in the music industry, and I think me coming and being successful is the answer to his life. There is definitely a positive vibration in any holy place, where people hopefully think good thoughts, there is definitely something blessed about that. There is a secret we don’t know. How can a fish in the sea know about the land? We’re very quick to judge things we don’t know about, I think that’s foolish, I think there is a whole new world there, it may be metaphorical while we think too literally. When we have dreams, it’s so real, and any loss or gain is so real, so definitely there is something hidden.
When do you feel in the presence of something bigger than ourselves?
Your most surreal experiences come when you’re half-asleep, half-awake and sometimes when I feel very exhausted, and almost when I would love to sleep, is when these experiences occur.
What is the quality you most like to bring to your relationships?
To be understanding and helpful, and at the same time guiding, not just saying yes to everything, which is very difficult, because there is no relationship without any conflict.
What keeps you grounded?
The next tune, because if it doesn’t come, I’m over. So I try to relax and resonate on the same spot, and hope it will come.
What was the last act of kindness you received?
A note which my wife left for me. It said, ‘I’ve spent half my life with you and you’ve been an amazing person. Thankyou.’ I wasn’t expecting it. She’s a very bubbly character, but this note came out of the blue.
A.R. Rahman’s UK Intimate Tour is coming this way, with dates in London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. Click here for ticket info.
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