All posts by Gotham Chopra

About Gotham Chopra

Gotham Chopra is a multi-media voice on issues of spirituality, culture, and news. As an anchor for Channel One News -- an in-school educational news broadcast seen daily by upwards of 8 million American students -- Gotham reported from Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, China, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Colombia, Russia, Chechnya, Mexico, Honduras, all across Europe and the United States. He has interviewed a wide range of Global leaders -- from President Bush to the Dalai Lama to associates and foot soldiers of Osama Bin Laden. He has hosted events as diverse as the Pope's pep rally in St. Louis to the action at the fifty-yard line at the Superbowl. Gotham's global assignments have sent him on patrol with anti-militant commando units in war torn Kashmir and had him detained by secret police in China, Iran, and Pakistan. Gotham is the author of Familiar Strangers (Random House 2002) -- a non-fiction and spiritual chronicle of his travels and encounters at the frontlines of areas in conflict and transition. Gotham served as Story Editor on the Bulletproof Monk -- a comic book about bullets, monks, gangs, and seekers. He also served as Executive Producer of the feature Film with John Woo's Lion Rock Films and MGM Studios, which appeared in theaters in 2003. He is also author of Child of the Dawn, a novel published in 1996 and translated in 13 languages internationally. He recorded The Mythical Lover on A Gift of Love -- a recording of sensual poetry by the 13th Century poet Rumi, and has served as researcher and lyrical advisor to Michael Jackson on the multi-platinum albums Dangerous and HIStory. He has also served as Producer on television specials for PBS. As co-founder of 5K Entertainment, Gotham wrote, is producing, and will direct the indy feature Swindle. He is also the co-creator of K Lounge -- a Kama Sutra bar and lounge in New York City with more to launch internationally in 2005. As co-founder of Chopra Media and a partner in Intent Media (with Deepak Chopra and Shekhar Kapur), Gotham is involved in a wide-array of creative media ventures. He is the President of development for Gotham Studios Asia, the largest comic book studio in India. Currently Gotham is serving as creative consultant to Current TV, a new television network co-founded by former Vice-President Al Gore, and scheduled to launch in 20 million American households in August 2005. Identified by Newsweek Magazine (March 04) as one of the "most powerful and influential" South Asians worth watching, Gotham speaks nationally on issues of youth and spirituality, conflict resolution, and develops workshops to create a language for young people to bring out the internal and external issues that important to them.

From Iranian Prisoner to Fatherhood – Welcome to the World Baby Isaiah

Yesterday, my sister Mallika and I both got the coolest email from our friend Laura Fattal.

Quick rewind: About four years ago, Laura’s son Josh and his friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were taken into custody by Iranian border guards and accused of illegally crossing into Iran while hiking along the border. Over the subsequent two years, the three Americans became part of a high stakes international drama that resulted in their being charged with illegal entry and Josh and Shane convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years of imprisonment. Sarah was released after 14 months on ‘humanitarian grounds’ while Shane and Josh’s terrifying ordeal lasted another year and finally came to an end in September of 2011 when they too were released after paying substantial fines.

Josh, Shane, and Sarah’s arrest was of course covered by the media, but as weeks stretched to months, and months eventually to years, their plight threatened to fade from public consciousness except for the efforts of Laura and an army of social media users she recruited and mobilized to keep her son and his friends’ struggle for freedom in the news. Mallika and I – and the Intent community on which we blogged – joined the effort as well and over the course of months worth of correspondence with Laura, formed a friendship and strong bond with her and her family. They inspired us with their relentless determination to use the power of information and technology to demand justice and the safe return of their loved ones. When Josh and Shane finally returned home bringing their long ordeal to a happy end, our entire family felt an emotional relief and pride for playing some tiny part in their safe redemption.

Which brings me back to yesterday and the email from Laura with the attached picture (which Laura and Josh approved our placing here) announcing the happy and healthy birth of Isaiah Azad Fattal to Josh and Jenny Fattal. Azad means “freedom” in Farsi, which to my mind is the most appropriate moniker baby Isaiah could possibly have.

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The great Indian Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore once said that “every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.” I’ve looked at baby Isaiah’s picture several times today and smiled because to me too, his bright eyes are a reminder of the potential we yet have to remedy the world’s ills – in Iran, in the US, and everywhere else where human rights are abused, silence, or limited. So to Josh and Jenny and the entire Fattal Family – thank you from all the Chopras and the Intent family for the gift you have given all of us in your little miracle Isaiah. We feel pride and joy in seeing his precious being and know the world will be a better place simply because of his existence.

Please share your congratulations and warm thoughts with the family in the comments below!

R.I.P. CurrentTV : by Gotham Chopra

It was the spring of 2004 when I got a phone call from former vice president Al Gore. I had met him years earlier while covering the 2000 election working for Channel One News, the controversial news network broadcast in schools. Back then, I was the kid on the campaign, the presumed softball interview for candidates looking to refine their messaging during the long race for the presidency. By 2004, I had left Channel One and news in general and was “exploring my options” (code word for looking for a job and purpose). Turns out Mr. Gore was in the waning days of his own search for meaning and purpose after his history altering loss for the Presidency. After laying low for years, he was returning to public life with a pretty loud bang, both with his wake up call of a film ‘Inconvenient Truth’ as well as a yet to be unveiled idea for a purpose and viewer driven television network. Mr. Gore (‘call me Al’) told me he was calling about the latter and had an idea that he thought I would be interested. He wanted to meet. Still reeling from the fact that I was speaking with the former vice president of the United States, I said “of course” and would make myself available whenever he wanted to meet.

“What about 30 minutes from now at the Beverly Hilton?” he proposed.

I stammered through an answer and said I’d be there.

Fast forward an hour later and all I really remember about that meeting was Al showing me recordings of myself from Channel One as well as those of some of my former colleagues including Lisa Ling, Serena Altschul, predecessors Anderson Cooper and a few others.

“I want to build a television network inspired by this sort of stuff,” Al proposed to me, now flanked by his partner in crime Joel Hyatt. “It’ll be a cable network for your generation by your generation,” he continued with an enthusiasm and conviction that he was often criticized for not having during his political life and failed presidential bid.

We talked more. Aside from the borrowed Channel One tapes and some others, Al and Joel didn’t have much yet at that stage other than a transformative vision that played on the times, namely the fusion of entertainment, technology, new video delivery systems and a demanding audience that was turning on traditional news programming as well as so-called reality TV. They were self-financing a small exploratory team up in the Bay area, comprised so far of young sharp minded MBA’s from Stanford as well as a veteran operator from the cable and satellite business. The early stages of a business plan were in place but that was about it. They asked me if I’d be interested in joining the fledgling team and said I’d have a prominent voice in the formation of a next gen network that would blend traditional cable and the emerging digital platforms that were exploding up in Northern California. Al was tight with Sergey Brin and Larry Page who had a little thing called Google that was already taking over the world: there was mention of occasional brainstorming sessions with the pair of entrepreneurs that would help develop the vision for the new network that was destined to change the way we created and consumed content.

I didn’t exactly play hard to get. Nor did I tell them that they “had me at hello,” which was the actual case. Instead we collectively decided to be in touch soon to continue the conversation.

Indeed the conversation continued a few months later when Al and Joel flew me out to DC for a meeting they wanted me to join at the Discovery Network. By then the plans for the network had evolved slightly, mostly headlined by Al’s famed dissertation and analogy between the printing press – the world’s first mass media maker, how it had catalyzed the Protestant Reformation and defiance of established status quos in its time – and the current surge of camera technology that would revolutionize video in our time.

Slight rewind: the morning of the Discovery meeting, I had breakfast one on one with Al. My old journalistic instincts kicked in, as well as my curiosity about how anyone could ever recover from the tumult Al had suffered after the 2000 presidential race. Al was remarkably candid about it and shared with me insights he’d had since that historic moment when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of George W. Bush. He told me that while he had certainly endured a very dark period in the aftermath of the election, he’d recently found a passion that was missing from all his years of politics when so much of his time was spent chasing down issues (and money) that were important to potential voters, but not necessarily to him. Now he was indeed passionate about issues important to him – namely the environment, and nexus of technology and media, and was excited to take them both head on. His energy was infectious and I was quickly turning disciple – the only downside being a growing regret over the alternate world that might have been had the Supreme Court ruled the other way.

After breakfast I rode shotgun as Al drove us out to Discovery’s headquarters in Maryland. At one point, we found ourselves stuck in a flash traffic jam, which was unusual at such an early time in the morning. It soon became apparent why – President Bush’s motorcade was passing by. I’ll remember it as one of the more remarkable moments in my life, punctuated by Al’s commentary on it: “well, this sucks.”

The meeting went off great, or so I thought. Aside from Al and Joel, I found myself placed square in the middle of the sell. Disciple had been turned evangelist already. I argued passionately and articulately (at least in my own mind) the case for a new television network that was authentically connected to an audience that demanded truth and transparency in a rapidly transforming media landscape. I was part of a generation that was ambitious and driven, but also demanded meaning and purpose from the media that consumed and created. Our network would embody that principle unlike any before it. A proposed joint venture was on the table between the Discovery monolith and the young start-up (now dubbed INdTV). There seemed to be enthusiasm all around, but ultimately it was a no-go in light of the risk associated with our defiant vision.

To Al and Joel’s credit, Discovery’s reticence to proceed only seemed to fuel theirs. Their vision for the network pushed forward with even more energy. I formalized my role in the start up with a firm handshake, monthly consulting check, and bold excitement that I was a pioneer of change in a (media) world that desperately needed it. We were going to start by changing the television world and then move on to the world at large. There were no more discussions of JV’s: we were going to do it on our own. Al and Joel had identified a flailing cable network they were planning to buy and transform. We just needed to build the plan and recruit the broader team to do it. I say “broader team” because already that’s what we had really become, a collection of passionate believers in a cause bigger than ourselves. I’d dubbed myself employee #6, but the truth is probably somewhere between employee #6 and #8 since over the next few weeks we really started to roll with more momentum. There were numerous brainstorming meetings up at the historic Stanford Park Hotel in Palo Alto as well as Joel’s palatial home in Atherton. These meetings were often dominated by Al and Joel’s mostly aligned vision for the network, but occasional fiery alpha male arguments on display for the rest of us to see. I didn’t really bat an eye after witnessing these battles – nothing great was ever built unanimously after all. Rigorous debate would take us to the promised land, I convinced myself.

I joined Al, Joel, and the team on some of the early investment meetings too. They were with high powered VC’s, private equity shops, former power players and donors to Al’s presidential campaign and the like. Al’s printing press pitch had become even more refined (and lengthy) and largely dominated these meetings. I’d follow up with a little song and dance, fueled by the fact that I was young, a minority, had experience in the field, and a name familiar in high-powered circles like these. Gradually though, as these meetings became less about vision and more about valuations, I transitioned to another arena to pitch our mission of media transformation.

Along with two other early “consultants,” I participated in veritable pep rallies at various schools like USC, NYU and others. We’d ra ra our vision and recruit others to our bigtime cause. It felt more like a mission than media plan at that point. Everyone seemed eager to join and we were collecting resumes and reels at an unprecedented rate. We’d created terms like DC’s (Digital Correspondents) and VC2 (viewer created content) that would comprise the sort of one-man-bands that would shoot, edit, and story-tell broadcast quality content for the channel and would be pioneers in this brave new world of authentic media. The plan was two-pronged, Al and Joel were putting the finishing touches on a large capital raise and acquisition of a network (Canadian based NWI) while we were building the army of predators (Producer/Editors). We wanted to make sure that once the switch was hit, we’d come out of the gates swinging.

Enter reality: just as things started to near the actual formation of Current TV in the spring of 2005, my mind started to wander. It was a combination of things. Maybe I had endured one too many meeting up at the Stanford Park Hotel. Maybe I was suspicious why I’d still not been granted any sort of title or formal role yet, even as the team started to aggressively expand. Maybe I just figured I could do for myself what we had done together. It was about that time that I started building the plan with a friend for what would become Virgin Comics (another story altogether). Whatever the case, my involvement in Current lingered for at least another year, during which time things went from 0 to 60 in almost unprecedented fashion. Suddenly our humble, defiant start up had the best office in the Bay area (on King Street across from Pac Bell Park where the SF Giants played). Suddenly the vision of a rebellious television network driven by its viewers was starting to move back to something more traditional. Suddenly our team of a couple “consultants” had become a team of a couple dozen employees and executives.

The actual genesis of Current TV should probably be written by someone who was actually working there when the network really started to roll in 2005-2006. That rather decidedly wasn’t me. Aside from some promo videos in the very early days, presentations at various cable trade shows, and media interviews on behalf of Current, my involvement was waning. And while inwardly, I was conflicted somewhat over the seeming disconnect between the original vision of the network and its reality upon launch, I continued to have faith in Joel and Al, who I considered (and still do) real mentors, and was also learning the real challenges that come with operational execution of a business. Nothing comes easy in the real world of company building.

Two of Current’s most notable moments in its short lifespan were not exactly the type it aspired toward. First came the capture and detainment of my good friend Laura Ling in North Korea while on assignment for Current’s highly praised but little watched Vanguard News Division. My biased vision of the network was compounded by the guilt I felt over Laura’s situation – I had recruited her hard in the early days of Current. Current’s handling of her circumstance generated quite a bit of controversy and heat, more so probably within the walls of the actual company than in the world at large. When she ultimately returned home, after months of imprisonment in the black box of North Korea, despite the networks increased distribution, various programming partnerships and expansion around the world, Current would seemingly never be the same. Even from afar – I had no more formal engagement with the company (come to think of it, I never had) – it was clear to see that there was a fundamental disconnect between the senior leadership of the company, its now massive staff, and of course the original vision we had plotted so so long ago.

The only other real episode of note in Current’s fragmented history had to do with Keith Olberman’s brief stint on the network, one that ended in hindsight, with rather predictable ugliness and is best read up on Wikipedia or some such other source. In a nutshell though, it epitomized the antithesis of that early vision of Current, a bombastic highly paid industry blowhard sitting behind a desk in a studio far removed from the “real” world, talking to an audience that hardly related to him or his circumstance. Sigh.

But Current’s most notable achievement might actually be its closure. According to various reports, the network sold last week to the Qatary owned Al Jazeera for an estimated $500 million dollars. If at all close to the actual sale number, it’s a rather stunning endpoint for a business that frankly never achieved its lofty goals, and at least in media circles (and Keith Olberman’s many many ranting tweets) flat out failed. In the end, while Current’s founding members, investors, and shareholders (myself sadly not included) saw lucrative exits, Current’s final beat still has to be concluded bittersweet considering the grand vision it all started out with.

Well, except for that. On Saturday night (1/6) one of my former colleagues at Current threw together an impromptu “closure party” at his home in Santa Monica. Several dozen former Current employees from the early days showed up (no small achievement in of itself in LA where lifestyle and geography do not lend easily to anything impromptu). Something crystallized for me while reconnecting with everyone. While the network itself never really managed to meet the high ideals it set out for itself, it certainly managed to recruit countless people that did. Today, many of Current’s first employees fill prominent positions at some of the most progressive media, social media, technology, production, and creative companies in California. They’ve fueled extraordinary innovation in an ecosystem that survives on fresh ideas, creativity, imagination, leadership, and entrepreneurialism. Personally I can attest to Current’s creative legacy in that I’ve collaborated (outside of Current) with wildly talented film-makers, producers, production designers, make up artists, graphic designers, musicians, and editors, all of whom are alumnae of the network. And perhaps there is no better validation of the Current culture than the presence Saturday evening of Laura Ling (whose now more sister than friend) and who despite her ordeal while “on the clock” with Current, harbors no bitterness toward her former company or colleagues, and instead counts amongst them some of her closest friends.

Anyone who knows me (or reads my blogs), knows that I am a big time advocate for progressive policy and activism as it relates to politics, spirituality, foreign affairs and more and an even bigger believer that media is the way to activate it. It’s why Current – and Al and Joel’s original vision for it – so fundamentally appealed to me from the first moment they shared it with me at the Beverly Hilton. I’m an even bigger believer now in the tangled relationship of media and social change than I’ve ever been on account of all the powerful media and social media companies that have clearly achieved it even if we at Current did not.

I’m also one of those people that loves to read and learn from the postscripts of companies after their conclusion because I’m convinced we need media driven by idealism now more than ever considering the hot, flat, shrinking world we live in and its many problems. In the case of television networks, such a postscript would be defined by ratings, revenues, awards, or breakthrough shows. With rare exception, we never really achieved any of the above at Current and the critics will say that we also fell short of our original vision and idealism. I beg to differ. Because in Current’s case, the people that comprised the network certainly did embody that idealism and became agents of change in other corners of the media landscape. That’s a legacy many other media businesses that have come and gone never really accomplish. For that, I’m a proud pioneer of Current TV.

And oh one more thing on that: I never got to sit in on one of those brainstorming meetings with Sergey and Larry and hence never got any life-changing take-aways. But maybe they did. In 2006, they bought a company called YouTube that’s done alright with a similar vision re-imagining video.

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Gotham Chopra: How Hurricane Sandy Could Affect the Presidential Election

A construction crane dangling off a luxury high-rise in Manhattan, prompting a large emergency response as Hurricane Sandy bears down on New York City.

Though I am on the opposite end of the country, I find myself glued to the television and Twitter keeping track of Hurricane Sandy as it bears down on the East Coast. I just saw a picture of a crane about to collapse in NYC just a block away from my parents’ apartment (they are not there). A part of me is almost envious of all my friends, colleagues, and family sitting in the line of fire, getting to witness nature’s magnificent strength up close and personal while we on the left coast sit through another – comparatively mundane – 70 degree day.

I realize that may be a politically incorrect confession considering the inevitable devastation on the other side of the storm, but then again I’m the same guy that often feels sad being away from the warzones I used to cover back in the day as a journalist.

I’m also fascinated by the elephant in the room — how this massive storm will affect the Presidential election, now barely a week away. Gut feeling is that it helps President Obama, provided he doesn’t have a catastrophic brain freeze like President Bush did with Katrina. Meanwhile candidate Mitt Romney just about a year ago advocated cutting back FEMA and relying on the private sector to manage disaster relief in cases like this. You, Mr. Romney, get the bad timing award once again.

One last note: I read some quote yesterday that someone posted about God and natural disasters (and I am paraphrasing here), how God isn’t responsible for delivering Natural Disasters, but is responsible for providing us the strength to endure them. Oh, how convenient! Frankly, I don’t consider myself much of a religious guy, so I don’t really waste time trying to figure out why some outdated male version of God would or wouldn’t send a category 1 storm the way of the most densely populous state in the Union. However, the “spiritual” i.e. practical lens would be the following:

Witness and have reverence for nature’s magnificence. Keep watch over your loved ones. Don’t do anything stupid. Bat down the hatches and see you on the other side.

Gotham Chopra: The Facts of This Presidential Campaign

“We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” Neil Newhouse, a lead Romney pollster, recently told critics. 

This is the problem with the GOP today, a political party that has been hijacked by extremists, conservative fundamentalists who have declared war on facts and reason. Call them tea-baggers, Christian Conservatives, Radical Right wingers or whatever else you want – these are people who fail to recognize that the Bible is collection of cultural myths, that while expressing certain moral values (of their time), do not make up political codes that are meant to govern secular states – a separation the forefathers of this nation recognized. These are people that “don’t believe in evolution” as if it is some superstition created by subversive radicals with an agenda. These are people who “don’t believe in climate change”…despite the overwhelming evidence, rising ocean levels, and other indisputable facts of global warming identified by non-partisan scientists and experts desperately trying to sound the alarm bells. These are people who’ve handed their blow horns to blowhards like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glen Beck – a motley crew who live by a single, tired one-trick pony, blaming all the world’s problems and their own parties flaccid inadequacies on a “liberal media” in collusion with liberal law makers despite the fact that the monolithic vertically integrated media giants that host their carnival acts draw the most amount of viewers amongst news networks.

I don’t doubt that there are some very wise, sober, reasoned, compassionate conservative Republicans – sometimes, based on his track record and past statements, I even suspect that Mitt Romney is amongst them. But sadly he’s handed over his – ahem values – to a group of fringe pick-axe and torch baring logic killers whose only solution to the rapidly evolving winds of change are to fall back on outdated American exceptionalism, a self-obsessed entitlement that pledges prosperity and moral superiority just because. Now more than ever as they face the reality of a shrinking globe, inter-dependent economies and the rise of a morality not based on Judeo-Christian values, they cling desperately to (misplaced) hope that the rest of the world will be deluded into returning to a way we were – a way when women, minorities, immigrants, gays and any “other” were comfortably contained in their confined place.

That time is over. In a single generation (mine) the complexion of this country is radically changing as a second generation of Americans born of immigrants, bred in integrated cities rise through the middle class and solidify their place across every sector of industry – business, law, medicine, arts, sports, entertainment and more. Today we’re not fooled into the need to wear our American pride pinned to our chest as if to prove our patriotism. We are America, the product of it, the fabric of its virtue and ideals woven into our being, our aspirations, and expectations. We recognize all the privileges that come with being an American, but also the dangers that come with inflated tribal flag draped idolatry of America. For what it’s worth, we’re not going back to a time we played our roles, knew our place and stayed in our lanes. And President Obama and his rockstar wife Michelle are our flag bearers, the hope and change – that despite the glib jokes an old foget like Clint Eastwood might stammer through on a low rated stage – we still believe in. It’s become trendy to ask “are we better off than we were four years ago?” Hold on a minute — let me think:

  • GM Bailout from Bankruptcy
  • Equal Pay for Women
  • Leaving Iraq
  • Marriage Equality
  • ‘Don’t Ask’ repealed
  • Healthcare Act
  • Stick Market up 70%+
  • Bin Laden

The unequivocal answer: yes – considering the cliff President Obama’s predecessor pushed us off of after eight years of unprecedented recklessness – we are a lot better off than we were four years ago. I know the GOP doesn’t like to hear it, treats George W. Bush like Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter – he who shall not be named – and grows frustrated and irritable whenever some of our current economic travails are attributed to him and his gangster regime. But facts – as much as the GOP hates them – are facts and even they know it. It’s why they can hold a convention to nominate their next presidential hopeful without at invoking the name of the last one – or those of any of his inner circle, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Wolfowitz, Tenet, Rove or Delay for fear of the rotting stench it may leave. The reality is you can’t light a match in a dry forest with tax cuts, fan the flames by launching a war on a false (WMD) premise, and ignite an all-consuming inferno by declaring another war without catastrophic consequences. Annoyed that you think you should be better off after four years of Obama? Be grateful for a minute that you’re not sitting in the middle of an Armageddon considering the hanging precipice of where we very recently were. Get real: you have to fight and claw your way out of the trenches. And even when you do, you don’t escape without bruises, blood, and scars.

Here are more facts: President Obama has work to do and we need to hold him accountable. Gitmo remains a haunting stigma branded to our national identity. Shut it down. Obama’s soft stance on gun control lacks the conviction of his moral integrity. It panders to powerful lobbyists and special interest groups, an insidious malignancy that rots Washington and that Obama has not done enough to excise and tie off. And most of all President Obama must rise above those petty politics of his office and the binary branches of government who cramp his every move and re-invigorate the economy by incentivizing innovation and entrepreneurism and showing faith in people and their dreams the same way we have in him.

We made history four years ago when we elected Barack Obama to be President of the United States and sent him and Michelle to the White House. We’ve just gotten started. We’re not turning our backs on him now. And that’s a fact, my friends, that you sure as hell can bet will dictate this campaign all the way to election day.

Join me for a trip through the absurd (but nonetheless important) world of “election season” in this curated playlist I created for our Youtube channel, The Chopra Well. It includes eight videos (and commentary from me) that cover the scope of the season: from the silly and irreverent to the historic and uplifting. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Gotham Chopra 

September 2012

Gotham Chopra: Brave New (Digital) World

Next Monday, July 16th, we are launching a new channel on YouTube called The Chopra Well. If you’re one of the millions that follow me, my sis, or my dad – okay mostly my dad – on Twitter, Facebook or some other social media outpost, then you probably already know about this offering because of the relentless tweets, updates, and other solicits that have come your way urging you to subscribe to our channel – for good measure SUBSCRIBE to our channel HERE.

Amongst the many activities we Chopras indulge in, this is definitely a uniquely notable one, if only because with it, we’re roaming uncharted territories. Here’s the backstory:

A little over a year ago we met with the fine folks at YouTube and became aware of their plan to re-imagine their already incredibly prolific online video portal. At the risk of butchering their well thought out mission, I’ll sum it up (crudely) as the following: YouTube announced to us (and soon to the world) a plan to finance up to 100 “premium channel partners” to create professional grade content for the purpose of engaging existing communities and aggregating subscribers. There’s been much debate since what the larger motive of this initiative is – media convergence, advertising arbitrage, total world domination – but suffice to say that a couple hundred million was soon deployed, a small portion of which we got after a rigorous pitch and negotiation process and we’ve been toiling away ever since in anticipation of today (and beyond).

Now, as anyone who has ever put together a power point deck laying out a plan knows, there’s the roadmap you present to “get the money” and then the actual roadmap that evolves after you “get the money.”

In our case, the arbitrators that have participated in the discussion and construction of that roadmap are an experienced group of media executives from a company named Generate, a smart group of marketers from a company named Alloy, and innovative, hardworking, creative individuals we brought onto the team over the last few weeks and months to build the channel.

Amongst the many things we started to learn as we looked deeper under the hood of what we were trying to do by creating an online channel for people interested in personal and social transformation, was a singular challenge. Today, while the “wellness and wellbeing” industry is one of the fastest growing industries in America (especially when you include exploding trends in meditation adoption, yoga, organic and holistic diets, alternative medicine, awareness around the ecology and recycling, and socially conscious businesses and “just capital”), many of the people engaged in the space aren’t necessarily online, let alone on YouTube. Right now, YouTube’s highest trafficked channels are ones generally driven by younger viewers mostly interested in video games, geek and pop culture, and that have an almost instinctive fascination with video created by users that often chronicles their own most banal (or crude) activities.

Our core demo on the other hand is the exact antithesis. They are mostly made up of individuals 35+ with substantial life experience that often puts their personal and professional priorities into conflict. They are people with intensive jobs, demanding family lives, high personal ambitions, and even higher social ambitions. They often are highly successful and accomplished but at the same time have a nagging anxiety that their lives may lack meaning and total fulfillment. They want to do something with meaning, but even more so, be a part of something with meaning.

And that’s kind of where we come in with The Chopra Well. Am I so bold to claim that this little digital media experiment is a transformative vehicle for people searching for personal meaning and social change? Well, sort of. At least a part of it. Here are the facts on the ground: we have enormous challenges in front of us – ecologically, socially, economically, spiritually, and scientifically. Because of the times that we live in and the technology that comes with it including social networks like this one that give us the ability to communicate with one another, form critical mass, and create collective intent – we also have enormous power to rapidly create and transform trends. We’ve seen in the last few years how social media tools like twitter, Facebook and YouTube can be powerful catalysts igniting revolutions in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and now Syria.

So where we go from here with the means and resources we have will determine everything. Only our existence hangs in the balance. Seriously, we live on the precipice of a brave new world where we can take the evolutionary step that enables us to raise our collective consciousness and standards of living… or standby and watch as it all circles the drain and goes away – a worthy and intriguing experiment within the grand design of the Universe that culminates in a hard reset.

Back at the channel we talk a lot about what our goals are, how we articulate it, and what the measure of success will be for us. Be the Change…Go Deeper… Be Present… The truth is, nothing short of being a catalyst to transformative change will suffice. How do you really track that – “subscribers” and “views” is definitely a nice metric and we really really hope you’ll help us in that regard. But more importantly for us is being part of some sort of shift – be it a personal shift for one of the thousands of subscribers who tune in, or of course a movement that may incubate on The Chopra Well and then proliferate outward. Don’t get me wrong – a lot of our programming is experimental in fashion. We’re trying to be as irreverent as we are intelligent in some of it, practical as powerful, and we’ll adjust accordingly. But real success – I mean actual, meaningful, purposeful success – will be in an evolving, engaged community that simply joins us in the intent for a more sustainable, just, and conscious humanity.

Was that what appeared on the pages of our powerpoint deck a little over a year ago when we pitched the fine folks at YouTube? Not really. But that’s what they got. And the result if we collectively pull it off – I swear to you – will be a better world.

Join us.

Gotham Chopra: A Tribute to Fathers

It’s funny: I don’t really have any of those classic memories of my father from my childhood. I don’t think we ever once played catch in the backyard. We never went to the ballpark. And we sure as hell never went camping.

I do have other memories – my dad experimenting on my sister and me with various meditation techniques, memory techniques, mindfulness techniques, non-verbal communication techniques, emotional healing techniques, and oh, supernatural communication techniques.

Now, I’m a dad. There will be catch in the backyard. Lots of trips to the ballpark. No camping if I can help it.

And definitely supernatural communication techniques.

Being a dad is cool, crazy, concerning, conflicting, chaotic, and constantly challenging.  There’s no roadmap toward success. No formula for getting it right. In my case, though, there is perspective now.

Thank you papa for being my dad.

And thank you son for letting me be yours.

Happy Father’s Day.

Gotham Chopra: An Origin Story

I’ve told bits and pieces of this story through the years, but in honor of the release today of the paperback version of the book I wrote with my father last year The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes, I figured I’d reprise the entire “origin story” of how it all happened. For those unfamiliar with the concept, “origin stories” generally chronicle the seminal events that occur to birth a Superhero. In the case of Batman for example, it’s the tragic events that befall young Bruce Wayne when he witnesses the murder of his loving parents. That feeling of victimization, fear, and desire for vengeance prompts Bruce’s quest to transform his greatest fear into his strength and fuel his never-ending quest to seek justice. As a young student, Peter Parker is bitten during school field trip by a radioactive spider. It’s the seminal moment of Spiderman’s origin story, granting him his Superpowers, which tangle with his credo “with great power comes great responsibility” to produce his Superhero identity. The rest, of course, is modern pop cultural mythology.

In the case of this book though, the origin story starts circa spring 2001. At the time, I was working for a news organization called Channel Ones News, an in class news network that broadcast to American students all over the country. It was a great gig, because while most outside the closed circuit of American middle and high schools had never heard of us, we were the number one source of news for American students. That position empowered us with great responsibility. Just a few years out of college, I had already assumed a position of senior foreign correspondent of the network and was making regular trips overseas to cover news stories of regions in conflict. Kashmir, Iran, Chechnya, Colombia, Sri Lanka and more – theses were my beat, the greatest job I’ve ever had. At the time at Channel One, we were developing a news show that we hoped could break out of our little in school news network and go wider. We’d partnered with the WB network and were building a show we’d pitched – in classic Hollywood parlance – as 60 Minutes meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In even more Hollywood cliché, all relevant parties had signed off and we were raring to go!

Soon thereafter, I remember clearly sitting at a big table surrounded by creative executives during a development meeting pitching out stories for our potential pilot episode, the first show that would hopefully launch the series. The idea was to come up with “sexy” stories that would be of substance but also have elements of adventure and danger that would hopefully promise ratings, the end all be all of broadcast television.

I’d come armed to the meeting with a cover article I’d recently read in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. It was about madrasas – or strict Islamic schools for young boys in the Northwest Frontier part of Pakistan and Southern Afghanistan. There was controversy over these schools though because while the clerics who ran them claimed they were just orthodox religious schools that preached discipline and structure to poor boys that would otherwise not have access to education, US intelligence agencies (CIA, NSA, and others) claimed differently. They felt strongly that these schools were essentially terrorist training camps where young poor boys were being recruited, indoctrinated into a rigid Islamic fundamentalism and trained in combat and weapons skills to then go out into the world and carry out the Jihad.

I proposed that we go out to the wild wild East and see for ourselves.

Context: we’re talking January 2001, folks. Months before 9/11. While Islamic terrorism was very much on the radar, courtesy of the initial World Trade Center attack a few years earlier as well as a lesser known attack in Yemen and brewing trouble in Somalia and elsewhere. Still, Islamic terrorism was little more of a menace than say the IRA or other zealots spread across the globe, hardly the type of red alert status they would very soon earn.

Hence the tepid response to my pitch. What was the news hook to it? There seemed to be no urgency around it. One executive did remark that it did indeed involve elements that often work well on TV – guns and violence, so that was a good thing…in a matter of speaking. With that wave of momentum, another executive volunteered a potential news hook. Paramount Pictures was releasing a summer tentpole movie based on the Tom Clancy Bestseller The Sum of all Fears. Ben Affleck was starring and the plot centered on a terrorist induced dirty bomb being smuggled and detonated in the US. The movie studio would surely be spending a pretty penny promoting the flick. Perhaps Mr. Affleck could be induced to travel with me to Pakistan to check out the madrasas?

Alas, for insurance issues alone, the idea felt farfetched (because otherwise it seemed reasonable??) and was scrapped. Gradually attention turned to more domestic (read cheaper stories) and eventually the whole pilot – as most often are – was shelved.

But fortunately for me, the executives at good old Channel One News liked my pitch and suggested we go ahead and do the story anyway. So, a few months later, in August of 2001, I found myself with two colleagues checking into a hotel in the city of Peshawar preparing for our next day visit to a madrasa in question we had identified tucked away up in the nearby Khyber Pass.

As I always do, the first thing I’d done upon checking into my hotel room was click on the television. I remember flipping through three distinct shows. One – Baywatch with busty young blonds bouncing up and down the white sand beaches of Malibu. Two – Beavis and Butthead sniggering their way through fart jokes. And three – amazingly emaciated models walking up and down the runways of Paris and Milan in clothes that would never fit any woman I know.

The next morning, my small crew and I climbed aboard a military escort jeep that drove us to the edge of the Khyber. That’s as far as they’ll go because to penetrate the interior of the Khyber, it’s best not to do so with the army and everyone knows it. The keepers of the region are various tribal militias that could be hired for a couple hundred bucks. We followed protocol and paid a group called the Khyber rifles to be our escorts. They threw us in the back of a pick-up truck with a group of men who covered their faces with black bandanas holding Kalashnikov machine guns and we were on our way. I remember this clearly, well because it was probably the most overtly masculine thing I’ve ever done in my life. At one point, about an hour into our drive up into the pass, one of the young militiamen handed me his gun and gestured for me to snap the trigger, pointing the gun up into the air. I followed his instruction and fired a few rounds high into the sky. A few seconds later, the sounds of other rounds echoed from the ridges around us. These were other militia brethren responding to my veritable mating call with shots of their own. I’m not gonna lie – I was thrilled!

The Khyber is legendary because for centuries it has been a central smuggling channel for all sorts of trades. From cotton and tobacco on the fairly harmless side to arms and poppy (raw material for heroin) on the more reckless side. Great cinema has romanticized some of these antics and the barren countryside full of warring tribes has done its part too to stoke the drama. I sat back in the pick-up and took it all in. We humans are strange creatures.

At long last we arrived at our destination. I knocked on the gates of the school and along with the help of my translator explained our reason for being there. After some back and forth, we were invited into the school and escorted to a back room that was air-conditioned. This was a welcome relief, for it was 112 degree Fahrenheit at the time and despite my excitement for our advances on the story, I was wilting hard. More relief came soon in the form of the school’s head Mullah – the quasi principal of the school. He was an older man with a long white beard and wore a traditional blue robe. He was warm and gracious and carried with him a bottle of Pepsi and some mangoes. He urged us to sit and recover from the heat. He had the Pepsi poured into cups and then drew a long, sharp blade from his robe and started to peel the mangoes.

Much to my glee, a few short minutes later I was slurping away on the sweet mangoes while informally chit chatting with our host. He was a modest fellow with a strong accent, wise expression, and subtle sense of humor. After I finished my mango, I carried my dirty paper plate to a trashcan near the far wall to deposit it into. As I placed it, I suddenly noticed a small-framed picture. In it was our host the Mullah and none other than Osama Bin Laden! Once again, I’ll remind you, this was August 2001 – just weeks before 9/11. Mr. Bin Laden, though on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List for his alleged complicity in various terrorist attacks the prior decade, was not the iconic master villain he would soon become. But to journalists like me who traveled to this part of the world, he was very much a part of our due diligence download. I carried the frame back with me and held in front of our host the Mullah.

“A friend of yours?” I asked him.

“Yes, yes.” He nodded. He described Bin Laden as scholar and said he was very wise. He said they studied the Koran together at times and that in years past, Mr. Bin Laden would come down to the school to meet and teach some of the boys. “But these days, he has some visa problems,” he shrugged. So didn’t come very often.

He offered to take us up to meet his friend Mr. Bin Laden the next time we visited if we gave him some advance warning. I promised him we would, for in my country we called that a Pulitzer Prize 

On with the interview. I ran through all the standard questions about what was going on at the school, what US officials and all the rest charged. He seemed unfazed and disputed most everything. “Look around,” he urged. “No guns. No bombs.” I promised I would.

Finally, after nothing terribly remarkable was said over the last forty minutes or so, I gestured to the image of Osama Bin Laden. I used it to wrap up my interview. “So do we need to be afraid of you in the west?” Kind of like we are, I thought in my head.

He thought for a moment and then asked me a question? “Where did you spend the night last night?” he asked me. I named the hotel in Peshawar.

“Did you watch TV?” He inquired.

I nodded.

“What?” he nodded.

Damn, he’s good.

I listed Baywatch, Beavis and Butthead, and emaciated chicks.

He shrugged. “Should you be afraid of us or should we be afraid of you?”

Touché. I was reminded of something my father used to always tell my sister Mallika and I growing up: “everything is a matter of perspective. The world is the way it is because of the way we see it and everyone is always right from his or her point of view. Or at least they think they are.”

I nodded my head, understanding his point. We batted a few volleys back and forth and that was it. As I was getting up, I thanked him for his hospitality and he laughed. That was their custom, he assured me, saying that being anything less than gracious to a guest would be shameful.

“Just don’t come back not as our guest,” he offered, sliding his blade back into his robe. He urged us then to go walk the school grounds and see everything for ourselves. “No guns.” He reiterated. “No bombs.”

And he was right, as far as I could see. The grounds of the school were pretty desolate in fact, sparsely populated, mostly on account of the excruciating heat. Boys, ranging from about six years old to sixteen, sat in classes reciting the Koran or mastering math tables. Others wandered the halls or bantered with each other in Urdu. My gaze eventually fixed on a kid about fourteen years old because of the familiar character on his t-shirt: Superman.

I approached him and started asking questions. He was shy, but eventually warmed up. I asked him a few questions about what went on at the school. Nothing of note was said.

Then I asked him about the character on his t-shirt.

“Superman,” he replied smiling. “Americans believe in him to be a great Superhero,” he added.

I asked him if there were similar types of superheroes in his country.

He laughed and said: “look around: in my country, we do not have much to believe in.”

I didn’t know how to respond.

And that was that. My crew and I left the school. The next day we left Peshawar and the day after that we left Pakistan and made our way home.

On the way home to LA, I stopped in New York City to spend a week with my then fiancé Candice (now wife) who was in med school. There was no rush to get home, no real urgent hook to get out story of supposed terrorism onto the air. I kept most of our tapes safely in a bag in my Candice’s closet until I left.

I left with that bag on the morning of September 11th. It was a Tuesday morning and beautiful. I was unhappy to leave because it was so nice in New York. But I was thrilled to get upgraded to business class on my flight. Delta Airlines: departure 730 AM.

I remember looking out my window as we took off and curled around the southern tip of Manhattan. The sun reflected off the twin towers. We then made our way up the Hudson. There was Columbia undergrad – Carmen 12 where Candice and I originally met. There was Columbia medical school, where she was training as a physician. I fell asleep in that glorious business class seat…

…until the pilot spoke on the overhead speaker. He said we were making an emergency landing in Cincinnati, Ohio because of an apparent “terrorist attack” in the NYC and Washington area.

What?

The language was lost on me. “Terrorist attack?” What did that mean exactly?

I called my sister Mallika on one of those mobile phones they used to have on planes. She was crying hysterically. “I thought you were on one of the planes,” she sobbed.

I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Oh my God,” she wailed. “It’s coming down. The tower is coming down.”

The phone clicked off. All circuits cut. Two male stewards moved toward the cockpit and stood there with somber expressions on their faces. We all sat quietly in our seats, unsure what was going on.

When we landed twenty minutes later and hustled off the plate, I rushed to a bar just in time to see the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsing. Now I got it. And I plunged into journalist mode.

I made my way to a car rental agency to try and figure out a way back to NYC. Every last car was spoken for. I eventually hitched a ride with two guys headed back home to Jersey and Long Island respectively. We raced across Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York listening to the radio and making intermittent phone contact to loved ones to get updates. Candice and her fellow med school students had volunteered already. She was assigned the morgue where they were already bringing in bodies, mostly flag draped firefighters.

I eventually made it to the George Washington Bridge around 11 pm. I walked across it with my bags (and press pass) and then spent another hour getting down to ground zero. Memories are hazy except for being down at the scene of the crime, participating in a “rescue effort” because at the time, hope loomed that there may be survivors pulled from the rubble. More hazy memories of a street covered with high heels shoes from women who had shed them, fleeing tumbling buildings. And sheets of paper floating down from the skies – sad reminders of the catastrophe earlier that days. And…no survivors.

Eventually I made it back up to 14th Street, the barrier that had been created and locked off to prevent more people from streaming downtown. Even journalists couldn’t get in anymore. So those that had – like me – were grabbed by others to offer firsthand accounts of what we had seen. A female correspondent grabbed me and started to pull details from me. I mechanically answered her questions. The whole world was already assuming it to be a terrorist attack. Links were being traced back to Afghanistan groups, sponsored by a shady Pakistani political apparatus. I had just been there. I had tapes in my bags that poked around at all of it. I started to tell my story. I started to think of what I’d asked. What I’d been told. Who was supposed to be afraid of whom?

I thought of that kid. Superman on his t-shirt. No Superheroes of his own. “Nothing to believe in” in his own country. No one.

In the absence of heroes, this is what happens I started to believe. In a place bankrupt of aspirational heroes, archetypal ones that speak to our craving for leadership and justice and virtue and power and hope, masterful frauds step in and supply it. They fill the void and they exploit the desperate need that we humans have to believe in something. In someone.

For me, I’d spend the next few years in the world of news. More trips to terrorist zones trying to find stories. Numerous voyages into Gaza and Palestine. More war. More death. More violence. More blood. More unemployment, frustration, anger, resentment, rage, and desire for revenge.

Journalists are taught to be objective. But it’s a subjective world. Humans are subjective.

Exit the world of journalism and enter the world of entrepreneurialism.

I’ve gone on long enough so I’ll wrap this saga up. With the help of friends and mentors, I co-founded a comic book company. I wanted to create a place that could be a home for young kids in the Indian subcontinent to create their own Superheroes. I wanted to arm them with pencils and computers – tools that would empower them to create heroes that symbolized their own highest goals and aspirations.

Companies evolve over time and ours certainly has. Today, it’s called Graphic India and I’m proud of our achievements which include nurturing dozens of young artists and writers, who through us, have collaborated with some of the most talented storytellers in the world, had their art exhibited in prestigious museums and galleries, and contributed to bestselling books – like The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes, a book that dives into the deeper mechanics of who Superheroes really are and what makes them up.

The artwork in The Seven Laws of Superheroes is all originally created by an artist named Jeevan Kang who has been with the company since day one. Jeevan is a pioneer and the greatest example of how an artist’s vision can start to shift our collective consciousness. Jeevan’s a Rockstar.

No, you know what, actually he’s a Superhero.

Gotham Chopra: The Chopra Well — Manhattan Project

So here we go…

I arrived in NYC a short time ago to start production on the our new YouTube channel, TheChopraWell.

Rewind…several months ago we signed a deal with the fine folks at YouTube to build out a premium channel in the health and wellness space that launches this July. Ever since, we’ve been think tanking on what that actually means. Is it daily yoga poses and meditation techniques? 7 steps to reversing your aging? 10 lessons for finding your soulmate?

Or maybe it’s really a spirituality channel. Less how to and more how come, you’know? Like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “What happens to me when I die?”

What about tone? More Deepak and the nature of consciousness? Or more Gotham and the nature of cynicism? Or more Mallika and the nature of goodness?

And then: the revelation. It’s YouTube, people. The greatest incubator in the world. Just do it…and the will come. Or they won’t. Then just do something different …and they will come. Or they won’t. You see a pattern here? YouTube analytics will show us the way.

Which brings us to The Chopra Well: Manhattan Project. Here are the details:

This Thursday, April 19th

Ask Deepak at 10 am, Meditation Flash Mob at 11am

Union Square (West Plaza) NYC

The idea? I’m bringing my dad off the mountaintop and putting him in the heart of Manhattan to see what happens when the rubber hits the road. Our conceit is that spirituality shouldn’t just be for the 1%, the folks willing to visit spas and ashrams and meditation retreats. On the contrary. We want to create a dialogue that engages normal people curious about the meaning of their lives and their connection to the cosmos around them. We want cultural conversations around purpose and significance. We want to plunge down the rabbit hole together and explore together this vast conspiracy of miracles that is the Universe around us.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CHOPRA WELL HERE

Will it work? That depends on you. On who shows up. On the questions you ask and the conversations that ensue. We’re throwing in a flash mob meditation around lunchtime because, well, that just sounds cool.

Back to one: Please come and join us on Thursday morning if you are in and around the NYC region. You’ll get a chance to meet my dad and question and ask him your deepest questions about health, spirituality, and life in general. If it works, we’re taking this show on the road and maybe we’ll come to a location near you. Subscribe to our channel and become a part of our community. Join the conversation. Be a part of the critical mass that will change the conversation. Start by asking a question. And oh yeah, there are no stupid questions, just spiritual answers.

See you Thursday.

Gotham Chopra: Is Kony 2012 trivializing genocide?

I know I’m supposed to be entirely focused on the premiere of my movie this Sunday at SXSW (obligatory trailer plug here), but I’m being distracted by a slightly more viral video that was shared here on Intentblog and around the world yesterday.

The ‘Kony 2012′ video that popped yesterday to the tune of 27+ million views by latest count now has been counter attacked by a great many critics. On the one hand, admirers of the video — and its stated mission to raise awareness about the brutal Ugandan killer Joseph Kony — would argue that enhanced awareness of the history of Kony and the Lords Resistance Army will help end them and their bloody regional presence. Critics point out that glossing over the nuances of the Ugandan conflict, and more generally others that have raged across the African continent over the last several decades, with idealistic YouTube videos and social media call-outs does more harm than good.

Buzz Kill.

My take: I get it. And I appreciate it.  I understand the instinctive backlash (really it’s irritation) against the thought of genocide becoming a trending topic on social media outlets the same way Kim Kardashian’s latest outfit or Lindsey Lohan’s latest boyfriend does. Of course it’s revolting and arrogant to canvas the nuances of tribal conflict, colonial legacy, and human atrocity with remote idealism, emotional myopia, and trendy hashtags.

But to me, there’s even greater danger in overly intellectualizing much of this. There are plenty of smart and committed people — as the Atlanic article points out — that spend days and nights figuring out how to wade through the messiness of what’s going on in the world. They should be applauded and admired. But the ignited wrath of the masses — however fleeting it may be — shouldn’t be underrated either. There is enormous value in the fact that millions of people are talking today about genocide in Africa that were mostly unaware of it yesterday.

Just the fact that these debates (like the inevitable one in response to this blog) are raging, propels forward some of the inherent inertia in global conflicts that have been flickering for years. Creative solutions come out of swirling chaos, which is exactly what the internet embodies. Critical masses of people demanding social transformation — as substantively superficial it may be — may in fact trigger it. If not Joseph Kony, who is long rumored to have left Uganda years ago, perhaps the next budding rogue dictator that bills himself a prophet but is really just another butcher. The continued unrest of the Arab spring, largely kept in the global zeitgeist by the relentless storm of social media, is certainly a good touchstone of just how powerful the masses attention can be.

Personally, I’ve been aware of Joseph Kony and his barbaric ways for more than a decade. About that long ago, I actually wrote a feature film script about it along with a friend that we never sold, on account if it not being very good, but also because we were told that no one really cared about African “tribal warfare.” Over time, it drifted from my memory until I was reminded of it again about a year ago when I read a graphic novel called Unknown Soldier (which is 100 times better than my script) by the wildly talented Josh Dysart.

Like many issues I often read about in the newspaper or see in news hits on TV or online, I’ve struggled to reconcile the barbarism of what’s happened — and happening — in Africa (and elsewhere) with the privileged and existential life I seem to often live out here at home. In light of the global spotlight on it all today, perhaps tomorrow, but inevitably not much beyond that when Justin Bieber, Ryan Seacrest and their pop culture gang find their next pet project to pimp, I’m not sure what more there is to say, except that maybe out of the millions of people that have been turned onto this human catastrophe, one person may rise up with a meaningful and actionable solution no one else has thought of yet.

Maybe.

And I think all of it then would have been worth it.

Read Lex Steppling’s response to this blog here.

Gotham Chopra: The Chopras meet President Obama + Decoding Deepak Trailer (video)

On a plane right now flying back to the left coast from NYC after attending a fundraiser yesterday evening and getting the chance to meet and have a picture taken with President Obama. My dad was one of the hosts at a colorful downtown fundraiser that raised several millions dollars for the President’s re-election campaign. In exchange for my dad’s patriotic pledge, the family – kids and grandkids – got to skip most of the lines and get a few minutes with Mr. Obama. The highlight for me was my son trash talking the President – a noted Chicago Bulls fan – by saying “Go Celtics!”

Not missing a beat, President Obama smiled and playfully chided: “I’ve heard the rumors there’s brainwashing going on in the Chopra household, but wasn’t aware that it was that bad…” Now that’s a story I’ll file away for keepsake.

But truth be told, that file is pretty full. Through the years, very often directly or indirectly on account of who my father is, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many illustrious folks – from Presidents (Clinton before Obama) to prophets (His Holiness probably the most noted) to athletes, celebrities, billionaires and many more. I have more amazing anecdotes than I can count involving legendary icons like Michael Jacksons, Madonna, and many many more.

And yet, occasionally I wonder how much of a privilege it all really is. Don’t worry: I’m wary of going down that cliched boohoo path and asking you to feel sorry for how great my life really is. I fully realize how amazing I’ve had it and how fortunate I am to be able to now pass it on to my own son. But where I get confused some times – more times than not if I really thing about it – is what it really is. What is this strange life I lead? Of spiritualists, sages, scientists, and celebrities that cluster around my father all searching for something – namely purpose, meaning, and significance. Amidst this nebulous cloud of celebrity and success that constantly surrounds us is much bigger question of identity: who we are, why we’re here, what it’s all about.

At times in my life, I’ve felt closer to some of the answers of these questions. Like a lot of people, when I had my first child, I felt a wave of meaning and purpose wash over me. It was blissful and every so often when I’m just hanging out with my now 4 year old, I get that same feeling of total satisfaction again. But…it’s fleeting, because just as often I lay awake at night wondering whether I am really doing what I was meant to do in this world, struggling with why it is I so often feel a nagging dissatisfaction with life in general. And then, when I read the news, watch documentaries about wars in foreign lands, horrible human rights violations, torture, and incredible social injustice, I become even more confused about this strange life I lead.

What is the real value of so much access to the planet’s elite, so much insight into the deeper mechanics of the Universe if it all doesn’t add up to something transformative and profound? Something that can make a real difference to the millions of people suffering around the world every single day? What if it just creates an even more confused contradiction, a larger sense of emptiness and insignificance?

The fascinating thing is that after spending a year or so on the road traveling around the world with my dad and documenting his life, I started to discover that he too struggles with a lot of these same questions. In moments of candor and vulnerability, he confessed confusion about who he is, what he thinks he”s here for, and how much he’s really doing. So, amidst this life of occasional presidential portraits and endless powerful moments, to know my father – the great guru that the world comes to for answers to all their questions – is himself often asking the same questions I am, that we all are, how should that make me feel? How should that make you feel?

My answer: I have no idea.

I am happy to share an exclusive peek at  my new film, Decoding Deepak, with Intent readers below. The film will premiere at SXSW next week.

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