Harsha Bhogle and the art of winning a battle without fighting

Fight only if you must. Sometimes, the best way to win a battle is not to fight at all.

harsha2Harsha Bhogle has been axed as commentator by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) from the IPL 9 Season. As is the case with most BCCI decisions, no reasons are forthcoming. Meanwhile, the rumor mills are working overtime to suggest that any of these three – or all – reasons may be valid: BCCI being ‘deeply influenced’ by innocuous (per me) Tweets by Amitabh Bachchan and M.S.Dhoni conveying their personal opinions on how commentators must commentate; Harsha’s run-in with a Vidarbha Cricket Association official in Nagpur over a common-sensical suggestion and how Shashank Manohar, the current BCCI President, stepped in and stood up for this official; or how players have begun to influence the BCCI on who should be chosen as commentators. But when news broke out on Saturday evening, when the first match of IPL 9 was being played between Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants, that Harsha will not commentate, the man in the spotlight was off to watch a movie with his wife Anita in Mumbai. All he did was he tweeted his surprise at the turn of events.

I think this is a phenomenal quality that Harsha’s got – to not fight everything and everyone that comes in your way!

Though not among my personal favorites (L.Sivaramakrishnan and Danny Morrison are), Harsha is clearly a world-class cricket commentator. He’s worked hard to follow his bliss and he, deservedly, is very, very admired. Just the outpouring of sentiment in his favor, over his axing, is evidence of how much he’s loved. Yet, the landscape in which he plies his trade is fraught with BCCI’s mafia-like ‘control’ of the game and infested with intra-organizational, political landmines. And Harsha perhaps knows this better than anyone else. Hence his choice to not lose his dignity or sanity trying to stir an already confounded situation is commendable. Undoubtedly, the public – his fans and followers of the game – is with him.

There’s a learning here for all of us. When someone queers your pitch, just walk away. You don’t have to respond to every provocation or pick up every gauntlet that’s hurled at you. Some battles are best left unfought. People react to situations based on their own insecurities, perversions or justifications. Things happen in Life because that’s the way Life is – it keeps on happening, endlessly, often mindlessly. So, if you get embroiled in trying to bulldoze your way every single time someone or something becomes an obstacle, you will only be fighting inconsequential battles all your Life. Precious personal positive energy will get drained this way. Sometimes it is better to be silent and work around a problem person or situation than wanting to decimate an obstruction. Be stingy about where your energies go. Choose the good fight – where there’s a cause, where more than just you will be benefited, where there’s an opportunity that your victory can make the world better. For any other battle, not fighting is perhaps the best way to win!

A Life lesson from Neerja’s father, Harish Bhanot

Don’t allow anyone to do injustice to you and don’t suffer injustice.
Rama and Harish Bhanot – both have passed on
Picture Courtesy: Neerja Bhanot Archives/Internet
Yesterday, I watched Ram Madhvani’s brilliant biopic on Pan Am flight purser Neerja Bhanot (1963~1986) – ‘Neerja’. And I cried twice. Once, at the theatre, when Neerja (Sonam Kapoor in an unforgettable performance) reads out the letter that her first husband Naresh, undoubtedly a poor human being and an MCP, wrote to Harish Bhanot. And the second time I cried when I thought about that scene again, later in the evening, while sitting on my couch at home and nursing a drink. The letter is a cold, brutal, factual expression of how women are treated in our country, in some of our families. I cried the first time because I could relate to every word in that letter – because that’s how my mother has always treated Vaani. I cried the second time because I felt guilty that, in the early years of our marriage, I had not succeeded in fighting the injustice that was meted out to Vaani and me. And that’s precisely what Harish Bhanot teaches his daughter, Neerja: “Never allow injustice to happen and never suffer it.” I wish I had known this back then – that I must not just stand up, I must stand firm, even if it was against my mother, for Vaani. I wish I had stood firm the very first time that Vaani was treated unfairly.
I am not saying this by way of justifying my insufficient action at that time. But the context in a typical TamBrahm – perhaps in most Indian families it is so – family of the 60s/70s/80/90s was that the daughter-in-law shall slave it out. And the mother-in-law will dominate. The son shall not speak up to the parents even if it meant standing up for his companion; because how dare you let down your mother in front of your wife? Besides, this lousy logic that ‘all mothers-in-law will have problems with their daughters-in-law’ and ‘it happens in every home’ was used to smother the fires. In our family particularly, no one dared to question the source of all things fractious and manipulative – my mother! And every time I tried, whenever an episode of injustice happened, I failed miserably. Each time I tried to protect Vaani, I would be shouted down in a long-drawn, physically draining, and often-times violent too, completely uncivil war of words. That my mother and I had a poor chemistry, that in deference to her wish, we are staying in ‘their’ home in the first 18 months of our marriage, didn’t help matters one bit. We had to pay for phone calls that Vaani made to her parents and we had to pay for the food that her family members consumed when they visited her. Vaani was never allowed to use the washing machine and she had to wash everyone’s clothes by hand. The maid was sacked on the pretext of being a perpetual latecomer – but the ‘real’ reason was that since Vaani was now expecting a baby (Aashirwad) and was going to be at home, ‘let’s save the maid’s salary and put Vaani to work’. There are countless horror stories that can fill a book and that consumed several nights of our early, young, adulthood owing to the domestic strife we had to face.
It is possible that I may be appearing to be petty recalling all this here, after all these years. It may also look like I am being uncharitable to my mother who may not necessarily have grown up, though she’s certainly grown much, much older. To be sure, for my own inner peace, I have forgiven her long ago. But the truth about Life is you can forgive people but you can’t always forget what happened to you (I have shared more on how this can practically work in my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’; Westland, 2014). That part of ‘Neerja’, the letter-reading scene in particular, brought back painful memories that I did not want to ever revisit. Yet, this is not about my past, this is not about how heartless and remorseless my mother’s behavior has been, this is about a lesson that no one taught me then. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a lesson. But upon reflection I feel everyone should know this one lesson – even if you don’t learn anything else in Life: You, and only you, are responsible for your inner peace, dignity and happiness. Don’t allow anyone to do injustice to you and don’t suffer injustice.
You don’t have to always fight – as I foolishly tried to for years – with a view to avenge your detractor or change the person, you can simply walk away. The biggest power we all have, the simplest option we all have, is to get up and walk away from a situation or a person that hurts us or makes us unhappy. We don’t exercise this option because we wonder how society will look at us, we think of how that person will feel if we walked out. I have learnt, from experience, that how you feel is most important to your inner peace and happiness. If you feel something’s not right, something unfair is happening, stand up, say no, and leave.
It’s time all of us made a sincere effort to change our lives and our world. Especially the way we treat our women. Spouses, companions, friends, parents, siblings, family – whoever you are, if you must stand up for your lady, do that. As the father of a young, adult, daughter today I can relate to the pain that Vaani’s parents must have felt seeing her go through what she did and seeing me so helpless – they knew I loved her do deeply. I definitely don’t want my daughter to ever go through what Vaani had to experience. And this time, I know I will not just stand up, but stand firm.

There’s a part of all of us that is always wanting to be warm, willing to adjust, open to accommodate and ready to tolerate. But let all the warmth, adjustment, accommodation and tolerating happen at a practical, material level. And let it stop there please. Don’t allow anyone to affect your dignity just because they are older to you or more powerful – whoever they are. Because when you allow that you end up becoming unhappy. Your inner peace and happiness are the only wealth you have – protect them till your last breath!