Of friends in the family

The key to happiness in a family is the friendship between the parents!
Last week we were invited to tea at a friend’s place. Our friend, his wife and their daughter sat with us.  As we sipped some exotic Kashmiri Kahva tea, the conversation meandered to the subject of marriage. We all shared our thoughts on how companionship is more important than just being held hostage in the social framework of a marriage – where two people are trapped, unhappy with each other, trying to please the whole world! It was an interesting discussion that examined how marriage, as a socially-acceptable label, was perhaps losing relevance as a long-term engagement proposition.
Our friend’s daughter talked about the live-in relationship she had when she lived in Europe some years ago. She told us that because her partner could not make the move to India they decided to pursue their careers independently even if it meant separating from each other. But she added that despite their living on different continents their friendship has thrived. She looked at her parents and thanked them for supporting her choices all through – to live in with Mark, to choose to return to Chennai without him, and to continue to be friends with him. Our friend said, “We feel like Mark is one of our own.” And his wife exclaimed, “We will always love Mark. He’s a great guy!”
I found the entire conversation mature, honest and beautiful. For a couple of reasons. One, marriage as an institution indeed requires deconstruction and reengineering. Clearly the happiness of the people involved must be focused on more than the relationship. And that can happen only when two people are relating, in a present continuous sense, with each other. Often times – look around you and you will find so many examples of this – people are just clinging on to the social definition of the relationship although it has long been dead in a truly, deeply, personal sense! The other reason this conversation interested me was that this family inspires us and show us why we must respect the choices and preferences of our children. It beats me why some parents still want to control their children and force them to make choices for their (parents’) sake!

A good marriage is one where there’s a great friendship between two people. And a good family is one where parents and children respect each other for who they are – this means individual choices, opinions and decisions are not just welcome, they are encouraged; and everyone is free to live their Life, their way, without the fear of being judged. Simply, the friendship between parents impacts the destiny of the family – often determining how their children find love, meaning and happiness in Life! 

“With acceptance there is only happiness”

‘The Happiness Road’ is a weekly Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I feature the dancer couple Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan.
There’s a glint in the eyes of the Dhananjayan couple that you can’t miss. Over the last three decades, I have noticed the glint every time that I have seen them perform or on the few rare occasions that I have spoken to them. Recently, I met them for about an hour at their Shastri Nagar home. And all through the conversation, I couldn’t but help admire that glint. Perhaps, I wondered, the glint reflects their state of inner joy and peace – what you will find in people who love what they are doing and do only what they love!
Almost as if he is reading my mind, Dhananjayan says, “Happiness is just being.” “It is about being satisfied with what you are doing, with how you are living,” adds his wife Shanta.
Picture by Vaani Anand
Dhananjayan qualifies his earlier remark saying he feels blessed in many respects to have had the “right influences that impact happiness” at different times in his Life. First, he considers himself fortunate to have been born in a family where his father, a school teacher, instilled in him the value of ‘giving’ and taught him to never cling on to anything material. “He gave away everything he had to his sisters, leaving nothing for his eight children. Yet, all of us grew up happy, even if there was no food to eat at home on some days.” Second, living and learning in a gurukulam, at Kalakshetra, helped him understand that “group energy spreads harmony” – a work model that he has preserved over the years. Third, his companionship with soul-mate and partner Shanta, says Dhananjayan, has contributed immensely to the way he has grown through and evolved in Life. “We share each other’s ideology. Our art brings our hearts together. There’s a great understanding between us…we complete each other.”
Picture by Vaani Anand
Dhananjayan believes that when you know what you want from Life, and what makes you happy, you can face any situation, any challenge stoically. Shanta says that when they left Kalakshetra in 1968 they were only in their twenties, but they were already clear that they wanted to dedicate their lives to “putting Bharatanatyam on the world map”. “With the 25 continuous years we have spent conducting our summer gurukulam at Yogaville, Virginia, with the global collaborations we have had with artists from various genres and with the contribution we have been able to make to propagate Bharatiya sanskruti and kala worldwide, I guess we both have had a very fulfilling Life journey.”
But hasn’t there ever been a blemish on the bliss canvas? A challenge that threatened to disturb their inner equilibrium?
“Oh! There have been many,” exclaims Dhananjayan, adding, “But art teaches you humility and gratitude. When you have that attitude you always overcome.” He recounts his 15-year saga to establish Bhaskara, an academy to preserve and nurture the performing arts, in Payyanur in Kerala’s Kannur district. Everyone, from environmentalists to common-folk to a cold bureaucracy to disinterested politicians, came between him and his dream. For years, he soldiered on, investing every available hour and their hard-earned money in the project. Initially Bhaskara was only Dhananjayan’s baby. But when Shanta saw his intent and his passion being challenged by those who were opposing the project, she jumped in too, backing him fully. But “the people who operated the system” queered the pitch every single time. Finally the couple gave up, selling their investment to an educational institution that runs a B-school there now. “I was drained. When people don’t want to understand you, it can be very difficult. Kerala may be God’s own country, but it is also the Devil’s workshop! One day, seeing me frustrated, Shanta pointed out that there was no point in doing anything, even if it is your dream, if your inner peace is going to be disturbed. I saw light in her perspective,” confesses Dhananjayan.
Would he consider the Bhaskara project an epic loss – something that he failed at? “Fortunately, the Bhagavad Gita has taught me to keep my mind steady. Yes, there may be instances when the mind will waver. That’s when my art has helped steady it again. I have realized that there’s no success or failure. I have learnt to deal with both joy and sorrow with acceptance. With acceptance there is only happiness,” explains Dhananjayan.
So, here’s the secret, as I have discovered it, of that glint in Shanta’s and Dhananjayan’s eyes: Do what you believe in and love doing, always be grateful and content, simply accept whatever comes your way and never let anything disturb your inner peace!

Keep relating, keep celebrating

Even ‘close’ relationships need continuous celebration for them to thrive. If they are not celebrated, they wither away like plants that are devoid of water and sunlight.

Here we are not talking about acquaintances that we ‘can’t get along with’ for professional or other reasons, but are referring to people who ‘were so close once upon a time, but are no longer’! This is to explain why we grow distant from childhood friends, from spouses whom we dated, romanced and loved deeply once upon a time or from siblings that we grew up with. The distances between us and such people are not because of lack of mutual respect or admiration. These distances have come between us because we have stopped celebrating each other. Celebrating here means nurturing, providing the adequate sunshine and water, through continuous conversations, critiquing, supporting, challenging, caring and sometimes, just being available. Celebrating therefore means loving someone all the time___irrespective of time, space, behavior, responses, whatever.

In a recent issue of Mint, I was aghast to see an advisor suggest “5 tips to ensure a financial contract exists between two partners before they marry”. I come from a time when people just met each other and if they believed that they wanted to be together for the rest of their lives, they just married. That’s how Vaani and I decided to marry way back in 1988. Now, when I look back, the companionship between Vaani and me would still have remained sacred even without a marriage. I have come to understand that marriage is an unnecessary label, a worthless stamp of approval from a decadent society! The only tip to long-term companionship I can offer is – keep relating, keep celebrating!

Osho, the Master, offers a simple, do-able, immediately implementable formula for celebrating and nurturing relationships. His prescription: don’t call or label anything a relationship. Instead, he says, just keep relating. He reminds us: “LOVE IS NOT A RELATIONSHIP. Love relates, but it is not a relationship. A relationship is something finished. A relationship is a noun; the full stop has come, the honeymoon is over. Now there is no joy, no enthusiasm, now all is finished. You can carry it on, just to keep your promises. You can carry it on because it is comfortable, convenient, cozy. You can carry it on because there is nothing else to do. You can carry it on because if you disrupt it, it is going to create much trouble for you… Relationship means something complete, finished, closed. Love is never a relationship; love is relating. It is always a river, flowing, unending. Love knows no full stop; the honeymoon begins but never ends. It is not like a novel that starts at a certain point and ends at a certain point. It is an ongoing phenomenon. Lovers end, love continues– it is a continuum. It is a verb, not a noun. You are in love with a woman or a man and immediately you start thinking of getting married. Make it a legal contract. Why? How does the law come into love? The law comes into love because love is not there. It is only a fantasy, and you know the fantasy will disappear. Before it disappears, settle down; before it disappears, do something so it becomes impossible to separate.”


Instead of bringing law or definitions and labels into relationships, let’s focus on never-ending celebrations, on loving each person in our lives, and to keep on relating to the other __ lover, friend, parent, colleague, sibling, whoever __ without pausing to evaluate, analyze or justify. Try this. It works. Choose a relationship that you think has gone “cold” over the years. Ask yourself if you have grown distant because you have stopped relating to, stopped celebrating this person? Don’t focus on a ‘revival’. Don’t expect. Know that all you need to do is to continue loving without either the label or an expectation coming in the way. The other person may still be distant__physically and metaphorically. Don’t worry. Don’t stop the celebration, the loving, the relating. 

Because through the energies of your continuous celebration, the loving, the relating will happen__enriching both your souls, exponentially, infinitely. 

A Break-Up is not a bad thing to happen

When you are in a relationship, you face the prospect of a break-up all the time. Just as you face death, as long as you are alive! So smile and face whatever’s there, don’t just suffer being anxious and insecure.
A young friend is going through a break-up. It’s a difficult time for him and nobody really is able to make him feel better. Honestly, there are no right ways or wrong ways of dealing with such a situation. Although today’s generation is far more open and willing to share their stories on facebook, parents and family still find it difficult to counsel young adult children on this matter. Perhaps understanding how and why break-ups happen can be useful.
Surely, break-ups are very painful. You sometimes feel you haven’t been treated fairly or that you were never allowed to share what you feel or that you were used. Whatever may be the trigger, a break-up basically signifies a difficulty to relate, to communicate, to express, to appreciate and to understand. But why grieve over this? Just imagine: for years you grow up with a different set of people and then suddenly you develop this ‘liking’ and then this ‘unputdownable longing’ for this ‘new’ person in your Life. You possibly know this person for a few weeks or months or even a year or two – but that doesn’t match the number of years you know someone in your family who you get along famously with or the time you have known your BFF! Any knowing, any relating, takes time to evolve into a seamless understanding, a companionship. And all evolution involves upheavals. There will be fights, showdowns, sulking, anger, sometimes even feelings of jealousy, that will pepper the period of evolution. But before this evolution takes place, if you place enormous pressure on the relationship, there will be break-ups. That’s precisely how and why break-ups occur.
So, the foremost point to know and remember is that a break-up is not a bad thing to happen. If it happens, deal with it by facing it. Because it was always on the cards – from the very moment you got involved!  And if it has not happened, it is still on the cards. It may never happen either. And if it doesn’t, great! But when it happens, a break-up helps a couple review where each of them is coming from and where each of them wants to go. Now, if the destination is the same and they both feel the same way about the journey and being together on it, they may still make up and reunite. Making up often is a cleansing process – it allows for candor to help build a stronger bond. But despite all the efforts they make, if they don’t feel the same way, it’s best they just go their own ways. Why agonize over and endure each other?
I watched this movie Shudh Desi Romance (2013, Maneesh Sharma, Sushant Rajput, Parineeti Chopra, Vaani Kapoor) recently. I believe the movie’s story (and its honest presentation) encapsulates the essence of “companionship” versus “falling in love” and of “bonding” versus “being tied in a relationship”. True love is far more spiritual and pure than what happens between two people at a physical level. Always, all attraction is physical in the beginning. But, over time, a companionship blossoms. There’s an unstated, inexplicable sense of trust, willingness to share and being there for each other that develops. Sometimes, it happens in a matter of weeks. Sometimes, it takes months or even years. And sometimes the companionship never happens even though the physical attraction may still exist and be strong. Life’s journey though, over the years, as you grow older and physically weaker, is best travelled with a companion than with just a bedfellow. If you really want a great companionship with someone, then go beyond the physical qualities that draw you to that someone – seek to, over time, find out if you both relate to, enjoy and celebrate each other. If you don’t it’s perfectly fine – you don’t have to necessarily be this great Jodi No.1! Maybe your partner then is someone else, waiting for you elsewhere?
Life is beautiful. Don’t let it be ruined tending to or grieving over broken relationships where there’s no scope for revival. There’s nothing wrong if, through some pain, you gain insight on what works for you and what does not. Be grateful that you now know what’s best for you. Go wherever Life takes you. Maybe that’s where you will find your true companion…

Companionship is a blessing!


Companionship is a blessing. And you will do well to nurture it so it stays fresh and relevant.

All of us who are married celebrate anniversaries. For some it is a celebration of togetherness! For some people these are important, beautiful milestones in an eventful Life. For others it is a reminder of a time that ‘once was’. For still others it is stark, sometimes painful memory of a forgettable, redoubtable decision taken in a moment of infatuation. And for some others it could just be a date which is never remembered on time.

 

In a new world, with newer options available for people to seek companionship, marriage as an institution is under pressure. Its relevance too is being questioned. And many people are beginning to prefer live-in relationships because they believe them to be less complicated, call for even lesser (legal) commitment and are easy to get into and get out of. Now, for sure, if the focus is companionship, then a live-in relationship may well be no different from a marriage where the commitment is explicit and bound by a legal, religious and social framework. Even so, let us focus on the aspect of companionship than on the various labels__marriage or live-in or whatever__associated with it that thrive in society.

Yesterday, two friends, sisters, celebrated their late parents’ 53rd wedding anniversary by sending a bunch of roses to chosen couples in their circle of influence. The roses were accompanied by a soulful note that read: “Today we celebrate the 53rdanniversary of our parents. Though they are not with us anymore we celebrate their Life together and send you these flowers to celebrate your togetherness too.” It was a very touching gesture by the two sisters to remember the lives their parents’ led and to share that spirit among people they knew.

This got me thinking. What is it that makes some people’s companionship tick while with others there’s strife, struggle, sorrow, suffering and, as is increasingly common, separation? I can talk from my own experience. And of course from watching what has happened in my circle of influence in the several years that I have been around and have been able to experience and learn from Life. So, I will talk only of what makes it tick than focus on what wrecks it! Invariably the successful continuance of the chemistry between two companions works when they continue to relate to each other the same way they did when they met first. As long as they ‘relate’ to each other there will be no need for them to worry about their relationship. There will be mutual respect, love, companionship and a deep understanding. This doesn’t mean they won’t disagree. They will. This doesn’t mean they won’t have fights. They will. This does mean that they will often disapprove and dispute what the other person is saying or doing, but they won’t disengage.

At least in my over 25 years of knowing my companion, we have never used the term ‘I told you so!’ with each other. We disagree after a healthy debate, but one of us always falls in line with the others’ thinking__still choosing to retain the individual point of view__but we don’t work over time to disprove the other. The other thing which we have found working very well for both us is to appreciate and celebrate each others’ strengths than berate the other’s weaknesses. I have a weakness for being short on the fuse on matters where my intelligence is questioned. I am much better than I used to be before. But I will still fly off the handle when someone__never my companion, other stakeholders do__questions my intelligence by doing a poor quality job or gives a lame, unbelievable excuse for not doing what she or he was assigned. My decibel level sometimes vitiates the home environment. This is a weakness. But my companion has never told me to correct myself in a way that my self-esteem has been affected. Yet she will critique my strengths in a manner in which I feel I must improve further. And that makes our companionship meaningful. We are not just growing old together, we are growing up together. Finally, we keep the romance alive. We rise in love every single time we are together. We treat each other as friends first, soul-mates next and spouses and (in our case, we are) business partners last. So we share, we converse, we debate, we do all the little things we used to do when we met first in October 1987. We keep doing them. So, there is nothing boring about our lives. It keeps the romance alive, fresh and unputdownable.

So, I would recommend focusing on four points to make a companionship memorable:

  1. Keep relating to each other – the companionship then will stay relevant over time, irrespective of what you call it – marriage, live-in, platonic, ‘just friends’ …
  2. Disagree, Dispute, Debate – But never try to Disprove or to say ‘I told you so’ when things don’t go to a plan
  3. Celebrate each other’s strengths than berate each other’s weaknesses 
  4. Keep the romance alive – rise in love every single time than fall out, from monotony and boredom!

Review your own companionship. If you find something missing, try applying this four-way focus. You may well find a companion, whom you thought you had lost, waiting for you where you had a spouse standing until recently! When you do rediscover that companion, you will recognize the blessing in that companionship!