Why faith in relationships is over-rated

The best way to have wonderful relationships is to do two things: never expect anything from it or from the other person and always respect the other person’s choice.
When we expect someone to be what we want them to be, we are not respecting the person as a special, unique individual. Where expectation comes, respect goes out, and agony comes in! Much of the problem in marital or personal relationships is because there is an expectation of faithfulness. While it is important that deceit or cheating must be avoided in any relationship – so honest, open conversations are always the best way forward in such situations – the nature of the expectation of faithfulness is an indicator that we have stopped respecting the other person. To be faithful cannot mean living someone else’s Life. Or you cannot insist that someone live their Life as you want them to for you to be able to call them faithful. To be faithful means to be true to yourself, first doing what you want to do as long as it will not harm anyone else. When all people in a relationship are true to themselves, and don’t harm each other, a harmonious environment is born that respects each individual in it. That’s when relationships become meaningful and stand the test of time.
Osho, the Master, argues this perspective immensely well: “Who are you to demand faith from anyone else? Demanding faith is like demanding slavery. There’s a misconception in people that love must be permanent. Only stones are permanent. To ask for faith is wrong. There was a season__the spring, the faith, the love arose in you. You did not create it. It was just a happening. Just like a breeze it comes and just like a breeze it goes. When it comes, rejoice. And when it goes, say good-bye. Millions of couples in the world know there’s no love between them anymore. But for the sake of society, reputation, for respectability, they go on pretending they love each other. This pretension is the real sin, the real crime.”
This is not to conclude however that love cannot be eternal between people. It can, as long as there is respect for the other person and there are no expectations, while being true to yourself first in the relationship.

A friend teaches me that true love means “compassion”

The compassionate are the richest people, they make this world so much better!
A reader, perhaps spurred by the flavor of the month, Valentine’s, asked me if love is a motivator or is it a responsibility. And I write this post to share what I know of what true love is.

Let us understand that love is fundamentally an expression of energy. The lowest form of that energy is when you make love, have sex; that energy is purely physical. That energy is also called passion. The next level of that same energy is love, where you go beyond the physical and feel for the other. There is give and take beyond the physical state in love and this is what makes people be with each other and thrive. And the third level of that energy is compassion, when there is something deeply spiritual that unites two people. And each only wants to be a giver. Each does not expect anything in return. This is the best and the purest state for a couple to be in. It may be possible that only the giver may be compassionate and the receiver may not reciprocate. But the giver goes on giving, with no expectation, with no complaints. So, the love that we commonly talk about at a romantic level, is mid-way between passion, plain love-making or sex and the deeply spiritual compassion.
Pure love is when all the energy in you transcends the physical, passionate, state, goes beyond the feeling stage and reaches the giving state, the compassionate state.
Let me share with you the story of my friend, who is now 50. I met him earlier this week, many years after he had separated from his wife. His wife actually had dealt with him rather unusually – taking over his property, deserting him and migrating to the US with their child. While she may have had her own reasons for her actions, my friend was devastated. He just could not reconcile, for several months, with what had happened. I remember him telling me: “I loved her and still love her a lot. She could have just told me that she wanted to break away from me and I would have walked away without a question. That she chose not to trust me with her decision hurts me more than her leaving me. And why deny me access to my own child?”
Over time, my friend immersed himself in his work. And all of us around him felt he had managed his emotional state pretty well. When I met him a few days ago, I asked him how he was coping. What he told me blew me away completely and my admiration for him has swelled. Here’s how the conversation went.
Me: “So, how are you coping with Life?”
Him: “Life’s beautiful. I married a Kashmiri woman whose husband died of cancer some years ago and adopted her son as my own.”
Me: “That’s wonderful. How old is the boy? And how has he adapted to you?”
Him: “The boy is 12 now. It’s been three years. He calls me ‘daddy’ and we are great friends. My wife and I are also great friends. To tell you the truth, I have a special and beautiful friendship with her. After her husband’s death, her in-laws were not supportive. They harassed her and blamed her for their son’s death (he was diagnosed with cancer within a few months of their marriage). She even contemplated suicide as she could not handle them nor get over her loss. She loved her husband a lot and did not see a meaning in her continuing to live. We have a mutual friend who asked me if I could consider marrying her so that she could get out of the tyrannical clutches of her in-laws. When I met her for the first time, she told me openly that she did not want to ever physically consummate our marriage. Because she still feels the presence of her husband in her Life. So, she told me that our own marriage may not work out. I liked her openness. And her concern for me. I told her we could still marry and be great friends. That’s how it all started and all three of us are very, very, very happy!”
Me: “That’s such a great choice and gesture. I respect you. But don’t you miss something: maybe physical intimacy? Maybe your first wife?”
Him: “Life’s not about sex and physical relationships alone. I still love my first wife. But she’s gone. What’s the point in pining for her or holding a grudge against her? I decided to channelize my love for her and my first child, who’s with her, toward my second wife and her son. Their presence in my Life keeps me anchored and their friendship keeps me going.”
Even as I recall this conversation here, I feel blessed and grateful that my dear friend reiterated for me a learning that’s so invaluable. Love’s not only about physical intimacy with a partner. There’s a special friendship that’s possible if you make the effort. And if nurtured, through sharing, caring and compassion, as in my friend’s case, it can take Life to a spiritual level, making it beautiful and meaningful!

So, as a Valentine’s Day message, let’s take away the need to evolve and attain the state of compassion, when you are only giving, with no expectation of anything in return. 

If you are lonely in each other’s presence, it’s probably best to separate!

Loneliness is a virtue if you are alone, a learning if you are in a crowd and a curse if you experience it in a relationship – particularly in a marriage!
Someone who read my recent blogpost on Bajirao Mastani (http://avisviswanathan.blogspot.in/2015/12/what-we-can-learn-from-kashibai-about.html) shared her perspective: “I don’t think Kashibai deserves to be deified for her choice of separating from Bajirao. Perhaps, she was uninteresting and very traditional, housewife-ish? Perhaps Bajirao found Mastani very refreshing, vibrant, oozing mohabbat from every pore…perhaps the trappings of being a Peshwa and being bound to tradition – wife, kingdom, mother, army – shackled Bajirao and he just wanted to break free? And Mastani’s offer to be his companion gave him that exit route?”
Hmmm….! In the absence of the real Bajirao, the real Kashibai and the real Mastani, you can’t entirely disagree with this reader’s point of view. Besides, if that is what drove Bajirao go with Mastani, nothing wrong with it at all. It is definitely a better choice than being lonely in a marriage – which, interestingly, leaves your spouse lonely too! In the movie The Lunchbox(Ritesh Batra, 2013), Lillete Dubey, who plays Illa’s (Nimrat Kaur) mother, poignantly alludes to how lonely – and dreary and traumatic – her Life has been until her husband’s passing away. In fact, she confesses, not in a grief-stricken state of stupor, but in a moment of absolute clarity, that all she really wants to do, to perhaps celebrate her new freedom, is to eat parathas! The reference to parathas is purely figurative. It could be anything that you love doing – anything except feeling lonely in a relationship, anything except suffering alone, anything except being shackled!

A marriage is nothing but an arrangement, equivalent of a business contract. If, for whatever reason, it doesn’t work out, the arrangement must be dissolved. There’s nothing to grieve about, feel sorry for or berate when a marriage fails. A marriage fails because the two people in it have stopped looking forward to each other. They can’t relate to each other anymore. They are lonely in each other’s presence. How much more banal and painful can it get? When you put up with loneliness of this kind in a relationship the entire responsibility of your suffering is yours. Remember: you have a choice. And that choice is to opt out.

I am not trying to suggest that all of us must break away from our marriages. All I am saying is that if you are unhappy, lonely and suffering in a marriage – or any relationship – exercise your choice to break free. The brutal truth is none of us has too much time left here. This Life has to be lived – each moment is to be celebrated and you must be happy every step of the way! When something or someone pins you down and makes you lonely, sad or unhappy, either get it or them out of the way or you get out of the way yourself! Simple!!

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! 

“Laugh at Life, at your situation and at yourself!”

‘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 it’s a blessing to be featuring Manohar Devadoss, Chennai’s iconic artist, author and story-teller!!
Being Manohar Devadoss is not easy.
He’s 79 now. And blind.
Manohar & Mahema Devadoss at their Wedding
December 30, 1963
Photo Courtesy: Manohar Devadoss
He was married to his love Mahema for 45 years. She passed away in 2008. Of these 45 years, Mahema was a quadriplegic – devastated by an accident in December 1972 – for 35 years. And Mano, who began to have progressive, degenerative eyesight around then – leading eventually to total blindness – cared for Mahema for all those 35 years. If Shahjahan built the Taj Mahal for his beloved, Mano ensured – though his love for her, his compassion, his practical thinking, his toiling – that Mahema lived through those 35 years, unable to use her limbs, without a single bedsore! He also anchored himself to stay strong, alongside Mahema, as they raised their beautiful daughter Sujatha in the midst of their individual, physically debilitating, conditions.
Temple Chariot
by Manohar Devadoss
Manohar & Mahema Devadoss
“A Quiet Courage”
Photo Courtesy: Manohar Devadoss
Despite such a challenged Life, spanning over 50 years, Mano has immersed himself in his art – he has drawn sketches of several temples and chronicled the architecture of his favorite city Madurai; his ink drawings on a heritage series of greeting cards are still a huge draw! And he has written books – two on Madurai and several on Mahema. Most important, he has always been not just resilient, but has been – and is – happy. You will never find Mano “moping and mourning”. You will only find him smiling beneath his thick moustache, from ear to ear, as he gives you his fullest attention, even while not being able to see you.
Which is why I say, being Manohar Devadoss is not easy.
I ask him how he makes a lifetime’s hard work of accepting and living with adversity so easy – so inspiring.
He replies, “I am not sure my Life is inspiring. I have never tried to be inspiring. I have only tried to live with the way my Life has been. Perhaps, I have this natural flair to laugh at things that normally make you sad. Bringing in humor is a wonderful way to cope with a tough situation. Laughing at yourself and Life helps.”
Manohar & Mahema Devadoss
Photo Courtesy: Manohar Devadoss
Sure. One should learn laughing at oneself from Mano! On their 36th wedding anniversary, on December 27th, 1999, Mano gifted Mahema and himself a pair of rusted dumbbells. When Mahema looked on quizzically, Mano said, “You weigh like a sack of potatoes. My back is giving up. In order to lift and move you several times in a day, I need to strengthen my biceps. So, I thought this would be the best gift for us.” He recalls Mahema laughing unstoppably! But Mano went to work on his biceps – working over 700 lifts of the 12.5 kilo dumbbells daily! Result: during the next 9 years that Mahema was alive, Mano never had a back problem!! He says, “Here was a situation. Mahema was unable to move. I was unable to see. But I needed to make sure she was moved around painlessly. I was past 60 – not exactly young – and with a back condition. I had to think practically. I had to find a creative way to stay fit. Besides, working out is a happier way of dealing with a challenge than complaining about a bad back!”  “In fact, later on, I would remark to Mahema that she wasn’t weighing like a sack of potatoes anymore, she weighed just as much as a basket of flowers would!” he adds, laughing heartily.
Manohar Devadoss
Photo by Vaani Anand
It’s hard for me to describe what I feel for the man in front of me. He’s personally tossed up a special salad – with lettuce and walnuts in a fresh home-made mayo dressing – that he calls “Tulsania”. He’s gone to the grocer’s in the morning to shop for the salad. He insists that his helper at home whips up an apple milk shake – “with very little added sugar” – for Vaani and me. Looking at the way he is, the way he cares for you, the way he goes about his Life, you can’t say this man’s been through so much. He’s seen so much pain, so much stress, so much constraint, all through his Life. And yet he has the ability to laugh? So truly, genuinely, happily? I conclude that I don’t feel sorry for him. I feel love. I feel compassion.
The Tulsiana that Mano tossed up
Photo by AVIS Viswanathan
His daughter Sujatha lives with her husband and children – he is an American diplomat and so is always serving in another part of the world. Mano lives alone in their Santhome home in Chennai. Vaani is curious to know how Mano copes on a daily basis – now that Mahema is not with him anymore. Mano replies, “It was difficult. But then I feel Mahema’s presence. She is always there with me. I work on the endowments we set up to keep her memory alive, I write books celebrating her Life, I create art which sells and the proceeds go to support causes. You know, when Life has a Purpose, it is easy to deal with Life. Mahema taught me this. I live by this principle to keep myself going, happy and living in the moment.”  
Any fears, any insecurities? “Honestly, I try not to think of the future. Yes, but surely I don’t wish I have a paralytic stroke or something, especially at my age, with my eyesight being nil, I don’t want to cause any problems for people around me. I live each day as it comes. Ask me about today and I can tell you how I am feeling, how I am coping. But I can never say anything about tomorrow, nobody can.”
Mano’s Life is not just inspiring. It is awe-inspiring. You will not find Mano philosophical. You will not find him preachy. You will not find him extra-ordinary. You will not find him depressed – never. He’s the perfect embodiment of Zen which teaches us to live Life simply accepting what is – “when hungry eat, when tired sleep”.
That’s why I say, being Manohar Devadoss is not easy. But through the way he has lived his Life he shows us that being happy is easy. Mano’s secret of happiness could possibly be this – accept the situation, think practically, be creative and laugh – at Life, at your situation and at yourself!
Listen more about Mano and Mahema Devadoss’ beautiful Life in this audiobook, “A Quiet Courage”, by Charkha Books here – http://www.flipkart.com/quiet-courage-english/p/itmddg38um4zra4g
One of Mano’s books on Madurai is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Multiple-Facets-Madurai-Manohar-Devadoss/dp/8188661627