True companionship is about loving someone continuously – no matter what the circumstances are.
I make good coffee these days.
This is a new skill that I learnt from my soulmate Vaani just a couple of years ago. The coffee I make does not taste as great as the one Vaani makes though. But on some days, I am pretty close to getting the flavor, the temperature, the aeration and the rich frothy presentation just right!
Interestingly, I met Vaani for the first time on October 27, 1987; that was at the college we both attended. So, later this month, we will complete 35 years of knowing each other.
And beautifully, magically, our romance has stayed fragrant over all these years.
No, it’s not only making good coffee that has helped keep our romance fragrant. Actually, to tell you the truth, for the longest time, I did not quite get into our kitchen at all. I was not even always around to be involved with many things on the home front. I was busy building a career and was later obsessed with growing our business.
Yet, over the years, as Vaani and I know it, we have stayed loving. Which is, we did not just fall in love in end-1987; we have stayed loving – in the present continuous – ever since.
Now, we have been married for close to 34 years. But it is also not the marriage that keeps us together. It is our companionship. It is our choice to stay loving that has helped us remain soulmates.
In this time, we have faced three major crises. Of these three, we are still enduring two: A crippling bankruptcy, for the last 16 years; and another, a serious situation that we wish to keep private, for a few years now.
Even so, despite all the upheavals in our Life, our companionship has only grown stronger. And that is because we continue to relate to each other.
Blending as soulmates
In the initial years of our companionship, when Vaani and I were much younger, our physical presence with each other surely mattered. We have kissed on public transport and have waited long spells for the other to join in at meal times. I remember, on my first overseas trip, to Tokyo in 1992, in an era when there was no WhatsApp or Facebook, I wept like a baby while calling Vaani over phone. I was missing her a lot. We have done a lot of interesting stuff together too – from celebrating atop the Eiffel Tower, to exploring New Delhi on foot, to curating memorable vacation experiences for ourselves as a family.
Over the years, we have transcended the physicality of our relationship. Also, for a long time now, we have been out of cash to gift each other things for wedding anniversaries and birthdays. But the intensity of longing and belonging between us has not diminished even a wee bit. We have blended as soulmates.
A celebratory spirit defines our companionship
These days, on some mornings, I wake Vaani up with hot, steaming, filter coffee. I help her with the dishes and with housekeeping chores. I enjoy removing the paint off her nails as much as she loves trimming my hair to give my near-bald pate a refined look. Importantly, we enjoy being with each other. We listen to old Bollywood songs together, exploring each composition and the lyrics, and sharing notes on them. We do the linen and laundry together. We shop for our weekly supply of groceries together too.
Our spirit of companionship, we realize, is celebratory. From the smallest of mundane tasks to the infrequent wins that come our way, everything gets celebrated. And, non-complainingly, we accept – and celebrate – our pain too.
This spirit of companionship has helped us beyond just surviving the enduring, tumultuous, bankruptcy that we continue to deal with. In fact, we are thriving. As the happynesswalasTM, we are living a Life of purpose: Inspiring ‘Happyness’TM! As a couple, our relationship transcends the personal space. We complement each other as business partners too. We are dogged in our collective effort to turn around our business and financial fortunes. Our running between the wickets is remarkable; it is the principal reason why, against the odds, we are still in the game! Clearly, our romance is fragrant despite the circumstances.
Because of the bankruptcy, everything material has been taken away from us – work, business, money, cars, gold jewelry, investments…every thing has gone away. We haven’t even been able to buy each other birthday or anniversary gifts during the last 16 years. Yet, despite the excruciating circumstances, between spells of pennilessness and those few times of finding some work and money, we have learnt to count on each other for strength.
Importantly, we accept whatever comes our way. Whatever we can do, to cope with the challenges that we are faced with, is done well, to the best of our abilities. We give everything our 100% – together! We both have learnt the fine art of flowing with Life.
Just a few years ago, when I told Vaani that I was feeling bad that I had never gifted her a ring, she said, playfully: “Okay, gift me a pumpkin!” So I went over to the street market around the Mylapore tank in Chennai and got her a pumpkin. Just where the street hawker sat, there was a small store that sold fancy, fake, ornaments. I bought Vaani a rather cute imitation ring for ₹100. When I got home, I stuck the ring into the pumpkin. I then went down on one knee and presented my “gift” to Vaani! We both laughed, hugged and kissed each other. In another year, again, unable to find money to gift ourselves something for an anniversary, we leveraged an innovative offering, My Stamp, from India Post. We had stamps issued with our pictures on them for a small fee! It was a low-budget idea. But it was a very memorable way to celebrate!
And there have been instances when all we have done is to sit quietly; processing all the pain that has been heaped on us by Life. I have often felt Gulzar’s lyrics from Aandhi (1975) come alive in those moments: “Jee mein aata hai, tere daaman mein, sar chupa ke hum, rotey rahein, rotey rahein…!” (I feel like crying endlessly, burying my head in your bosom!”) Even so, those tender moments have always been a quiet celebration – of our being there for each other!
Disagree, differ; but never say: “I told you so!”
Surely, Vaani and I sometimes disagree with each other. On what we must do with a situation we are dealing with. Or over an opinion we may have. But we have always followed a simple, unstated, principle between us: We never tell each other, “I told you so!” Which is, we may differ on approaches and views, but when we move forward, we are together in it. When a decision that one of us has taken misfires, we don’t display any one-upmanship or indulge in blame games. Now, that is a unique quality that we share as a couple. That’s how we have been able to face what Life has thrown at us. That’s how we have hung on to each other on this incredible roller-coaster ride that we are on.
A marriage often places an unnecessary full stop in a relationship
Vaani and I have both discovered that true companionship is about loving someone continuously. It goes beyond just providing and protecting. It is about being there, no matter what happens. It is about being non-judgmental. Therefore, to build and sustain a great, happy relationship, you don’t actually need a marriage as a social contract, you need companionship.
When people struggle in a relationship or in a marriage, I believe that they are essentially missing the companionship, that once was, between them. They may be in a relationship between them. But are they still relating to each other? When the relating is not there anymore, the relationship too is not relevant. It has perhaps been dead a long time ago!
That’s why people drift apart after falling in love and getting married because they have subconsciously compartmentalized their lives – one part that was before the marriage and the other part that is after the marriage. So, in essence, the event of a marriage places a full stop in a relationship. It pronounces the end of one phase of the relationship and begins another. This full stop is totally unnecessary.
Being happy being with each other
The truth about Life is that everything new, over time, will start seeming and feeling old. Also, how people look and how they – and others – feel about their physical appearance surely changes with age. With the passage of time, and thanks to the upheavals of everyday Life, romance does end up receiving lower priority. Every couple has to face this brutal reality. You see, the courtship is now over, and the marriage is done and dusted. That’s why people who fall in love, fall out of love too.
But what if you were to imagine that the marriage never took place? Won’t the loving be continuous then?
Life’s beauty lies in staying loving…in the present continuous, irrespective of the circumstances.
That’s the way Vaani and I treat our Life. We married to fulfil societal norms that were more pronounced back then. Period. But we haven’t settled for having fallen in love and married. In fact, we never see our marriage as a defining, epochal, event. Instead, we have let our companionship thrive. Our loving remains ongoing. And we both continue to rise in love. This is why we are happy being with each other!
The key to Happiness is to never let marriage place a full stop in your relating, your loving. Treat marriage as just another date in your courtship calendar. Then the journey together, no matter what the circumstances you both are faced with, will be a continuous, never-ending, celebration!
And the romance, well, will always remain fragrant!
Additional, relevant, links:
- Rise In Love – a 2015-documentary, made by a young filmmaker Shalu C. While focusing on the journey of Vaani and AVIS, the film explores how love thrives in the face of adversity. Viewing time: 30.18 minutes.
- Fall Like A Rose Petal – AVIS’ first book. It is the true story of AVIS’ and Vaani’s Life. It captures learnings from the excruciating, fascinating, Life-changing, experience – a crippling bankruptcy – that they are still going through.
- Click here to know more about the happynesswalasTM, Vaani and AVIS.
- If you wish to seek Vaani’s and AVIS’ perspectives on a Life challenge you are faced with, please reach out here – Let’s Talk HappynessTM!
One afternoon, in September 1979, when I was in my 8th Grade at PSBB – KK Nagar branch – Ms.YGP came into our class. PSBB had this practice in those days to read out progress reports publicly. I had been only an average student in the two years I had been at this school; scoring barely 50 % in most subjects except English. My scores in that quarter/term were pathetic; I shuddered as Ms.YGP pointed out, in her booming voice, that I had scored a paltry 6/100 in Geometry! She demanded that my parents meet her.
Within three weeks, I was changing schools.
My parents were living in Gulbarga (Karnataka) then and I was staying with my paternal grandmother, while studying at PSBB – KK Nagar. As they collectively discussed my academic performance, I recall my class teacher telling my parents that perhaps “I was homesick”. Then my parents were taken into Ms.YGP’s room. They emerged from it looking very disturbed. My mother kept maintaining for the longest time that Ms.YGP had ordered that they take me out of ‘her’ school because I was never going to be ‘brilliant’ at academics. This, my mother felt, was a big let down for her and my dad: you see, we didn’t have a strong story to “cover up my academic inefficiencies in a family that prided itself with brilliance in every academic discipline”! And so, I was treated as the ‘black sheep’ and was ridiculed for bringing disrepute to the family!!
It was my first experience with the Big ‘F’ word-label – Failure – being stuck on me.
For the next few years, I carried that trauma within me. Of being expelled from school for poor grades, of being shamed by my own parents for not being ‘good enough’…but interestingly, as I got out of my teens, this trauma turned into anger, ambition and raw aggression. A lot of what I achieved all the way till my late-30s was because of the anger in me over this one event from September 1979 – somehow, everything that followed by way of how I was looked at by my parents had its genesis in this one event!
Resultantly, I worked very hard at whatever I did. I wanted to prove to the world, particularly, to my parents, that I wasn’t a Failure. And, in more ways than one, I did prove myself – at least to me!
But that’s the thing with Success. When you get to that point – “your own peak or summit” – that you have lusted for, toiled for, you feel so shallow, so vain. So, by the time I was 37, my spiritual quest had led me to the practice of observing daily silence periods – mouna. In my early morning reflective, meditative, mouna sessions, I began to realize that had it not been for that expulsion from school in 8th Grade, I would never have been so ‘successful’ – despite my poor academic qualifications. I would not have traveled so widely across the world; I would not have experienced so many people, places or things; I would not have learnt and unlearnt so much! Soon, as I discovered much to my amazement, the anger in me gave way to a deep sense of gratitude for that event of my expulsion, for that label of “Failure” that had been stuck on me.
In 2006, when I was 38+, I read a report in The Hindu that Ms.YGP had turned 80 (in Nov 2005) and that Lakshmi Devnath had written a book on her – ‘A Class Apart’. I bought that book. I read it. And I had my secretary call and fix an appointment with Ms.YGP.
I met Ms.YGP at her home in T.Nagar. It was a beautiful, hour-long conversation we both had.
Here’s what I wrote in my journal that night: “She was so full of Life, cheerful, and exuding positive energy. Radiant, in fact. I wish I had taken a picture of her and me! But am bad at these things. She recognized me when I introduced myself. She had a sharp memory. Knew that CS was my class teacher. Knew that she did not see me pass out in 12th. I didn’t want to remind her that she was partly instrumental for that. Instead, I placed my head at her feet (literally) and sought her forgiveness for carrying so much hatred in me for her for so many years. She placed her hand on my head and blessed me. She said, the work I am doing with Vaani (she had enquired and so I had elaborated) would help a lot of people, all over the world.”
I am not so much into scriptures or religion or shlokas. But one particular verse from the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad always resonates with me:
asato ma sadgamaya
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
mrtyorma amritam gamaya
om shanti shanti shanti…
I learnt that verse at PSBB – without knowing the meaning then. Today, I have grown up to know its meaning and its relevance. And, thanks to our enduring bankruptcy, (Read more here – Fall Like A Rose Petal – and here) there are times when I do reflect on this verse to instill a sense of surrender and prayer in me. At such times, I often do picture Ms.YGP leading the school assembly on some days…inviting us to recite this verse!
Over the past decade, since my meeting in 2006 at her residence, Vaani and I have met Ms.YGP several times at cultural events in the city. Even when we have not stopped to talk to her, we have always admired her sagacity, her sharp intellect and her zest for Life from a distance.
She surely touched my Life in more ways than one: I learnt the relevance of Failure and Success in Life, and learnt, quickly, of their irrelevance and impermanence too; I learnt of the essence of Life through that verse from the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad; I learnt the value of staying youthful and relevant even when you are old and, important, every time I saw her she reminded me of this unquenchable thirst to stay alive!
|Photo Courtesy: Times of India/Internet|