In any relationship, be true to who you are; protect your inner peace.
Our neighbor, a venerable 88-year-old man, passed away last week. Vaani and I visited his family. His son was there, by his mother’s side, meeting all the visitors and accepting their condolences. Among the visitors was the son’s ex-wife, an amiable lady. The couple may well have been living separately, but they did not seem cold towards, or alienated from, each other. They treated each other with dignity and grace. She offered to help with looking after the guests and the rituals. And he politely thanked her for her gesture.
It was beautiful to witness their quiet, albeit surprising, camaraderie.
Here was a couple who had separated, as I understand, years ago. Yet, in the time of her ex-husband’s grief, the lady displayed great compassion in being there and supporting him in whatever way she could. I am sure they had their differences of opinion about Life and living together – which is perhaps why they separated. But they didn’t appear to have let their differences drown their respect for each other.
That’s an interesting way to live Life, I thought to myself, especially after two people have made a choice to go their ways.
I have always believed and maintained that if two people cannot relate to each other – irrespective of the relationship they have – they must separate. For instance, I can’t relate to my mother. We have had a dysfunctional relationship ever since my teens. Over the last few years, I have consciously maintained a distance from her. And, resultantly, I have had to be distant from my father too. I am sure my parents hold a view that my choice to “continue to remain estranged”, at my age of 50+, is wrong. But I know that my chemistry with my mother just doesn’t work. I can’t relate to anything that she thinks, says or does. It is proven beyond reasonable doubt that we cannot hold a calm, mature conversation between us. So, in my humble opinion, I believe it is best we remain distant from each other. I am not justifying that my choice is right; all I am saying is that it helps us both go on with our lives with dignity and inner peace.
Well, that’s one way of looking at Life. And, as was evident in the way my late neighbor’s son and his ex-wife engaged with each other last week, there appears to be another way to live Life too. Which is that people can go their ways and yet they can engage with each other meaningfully, minus all the acrimony. Or simply, dosti (friendship) is still possible, even after a break-up!
The bottomline, as I understand, in any relationship, is this: be true to who you are, protect your inner peace. If staying with someone makes you feel miserable, if you can’t relate to that someone, then move on. But having moved on, if you can still be cordial from a distance, be so. However, if you feel being distant alone is best for both of you, be so. Either way, be happy, be at peace with yourself.
Her Life – and death – would not be in vain if we choose not to get personal over issues or differences that separate us from people.
On Tuesday night, when news of Gauri Lankesh’s assassination broke on my NDTV App on my phone, I exclaimed, “Oh! My…God! Oh! My…God!” Vaani, who was on the couch, beside me in our living room, looked at me quizzically. I showed her the notification. And she too stared at it in complete disbelief. Slowly, painfully, we began to make sense of what had happened to Gauri, our good friend and my former colleague.
Gauri and I worked together at the Ananda Bazaar Patrika (ABP) Group in Bangalore in 1994 – she was with Sunday magazine and I was with Businessworld. She was a fine journalist. We lost touch with each other when I quit the media and moved to Chennai from Bangalore in 1996. I sent her an Invite for my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal’s launch in Bangalore in Aug 2014. In this time that I lost touch with her, she appears to have evolved into a great editor and campaigner for a secular, inclusive society. She has lived a Life of Purpose.
Recalling Gauri, I told Vaani that she was competitive as a journalist. But she was always mindful of her friendship with people first. I have never met or known Chidanand (Chidu) Rajghatta, who is Gauri’s ex-husband. But I had known through Gauri, when we worked together, that she was still friends with him. When she first told me about it, I found it “strange”. I had wondered: “How can two estranged, divorced people, continue to remain friends?” Looking back, I realize I was so immature and my perspective was so shallow. I told Vaani on Tuesday night, “If I have known Gauri (and through her, Chidu) well, Chidu will write a piece on his friendship with her.” I missed that piece in yesterday’s papers. Having been a journalist, I knew the only reason it perhaps did not appear yesterday was because of the newsbreak happening late in the evening on Tuesday.
I expected Chidu’s piece today. And there it was: ‘My friend and first love, Gauri Lankesh was an epitome of amazing grace’.
It’s a beautiful tribute from a man to the lady who he loved, who he perhaps still loves, but, importantly, who he respects immensely. Chidu talks about how he and Gauri nurtured a wonderful understanding between them. Which was to never be hurtful to others – and to each other. This, says, Chidu was why they had remained great friends. This tied in completely with what Gauri had told me one lazy, news-less, story-less afternoon in the ABP office on Madras Bank Road in Bangalore. I am sure many who knew Gauri had seen this compassionate, graceful, side of her more closely than me.
A lot will be written about the cause of secularism and inclusiveness that Gauri lived – and died – for. But the key lesson I pick up from her Life is that even if you must differ with someone, choose to focus on the issue that separates you both than on the person. Her friendship with Chidu, which continued till her end came, for years after they had divorced, is a case in point. I must confess that I now know how wrong I was back then to imagine that two people who don’t want to stay or be together anymore must part acrimoniously. I now totally believe that they can go their ways and still be friends.
If we reflect on Chidu’s piece of today, the principle of not being hurtful to anyone stands out. That’s what’s lacking in both personal relationships and in our social fabric – and on social media – today. Gauri’s Life – and her death – would not have been in vain if we can bring this principle to play at least in personal equations when we can’t get along with someone.
A couple came to us wondering how they can separate while ensuring that their children are not affected. I shared how my friend and his wife worked out a win-win arrangement, based on my advice, that has helped them both immensely. On this Podcast, I talk about how it is possible for a couple to set aside their differences if they choose to keep their children at the centre of their Universe. Any fight that is ego-driven is not worth it. Focus instead on a “working arrangement” when the relating between two people goes out the window.
Listen time: 5:31 minutes
A gentleman comes to me “cowering in fear” over what he imagines is an impending job loss and a divorce. He wants to know if he can stop being fearful. In this Vlog, I share what I told him; I share how I overcame my fear through facing a Life-threatening experience!
View time: 5:04 minutes
You may want people around you forever. But Life decides whether you need them or not.
A young reader wrote in that his girlfriend has broken up with him. He has dependent parents – both of them have kidney conditions that require regular dialysis – and the lady “does not want to be saddled with the burden of his parents”. The young man is heart-broken and unable to come to terms with this reality – he is struggling and suffering.
Now, it is perhaps easy to conclude that the lady lacks compassion. But whatever be your view, the truth is she always had a choice and she exercised it. So, the only way forward for the young man is to move on. But moving on is never so easy. Especially when you believe you are attached to someone at a “soul level”. As this reader told me, “My ex was a huge support for me emotionally. I related a lot to her. But now I feel lonely and lost.”
However, not just in the context of a break-up, but generally in Life, if you treat relationships as impermanent, you can cope with your loss better. Some people you love and relate to pass on. Some others move on. This may sound weird, but it is important to practice detachment in a relationship and be ever-prepared for a separation. Yes, one way to look at separations is to say that they are ordained that way or that someone leaving you does not deserve you. But there’s a more evolved, mature, response that’s possible. Which is that one day, sooner or later, a separation, like death, is inevitable.
Let me share with you the story of my friend, who’s in his 50s. I met him recently, 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 then: “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.
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 in his teens. It’s been 7 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.”
The learning I am picking up from my friend’s story is this: no matter what happens to you in Life, no matter who you end up separating with, for whatever reason, you can still make it beautiful.
The key to being detached in relationships is to understand and accept the transient nature of Life. As a child, I learned to play the Hawaiian guitar. And one of the songs I learnt to play on it was “Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai…” from Shor (1972, Manoj Kumar, Jaya Bhaduri, Nanda, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar, Santosh Anand). My favorite line from the song is this: “…Kuch Paakar Khona Hai…Kuch Khokar Paana Hai…Jeevan Ka Matlab Toh, Aana Aur Jaana Hai…” It means, “…(in Life)…you win some, you lose some and Life’s true meaning is to just come and go…”!
And that’s all there is to relationships too. People come and go in your Life basis a grand design that you can never comprehend. They come to play a specific role in your Life. When Life decides that you no longer need them, they move on. Now you may perhaps want them around forever. But Life is willing otherwise. So, if someone has left you heart-broken, get up and move on; accept Life’s verdict and celebrate the times you spent with that person. Ultimately, Life is the biggest Teacher, the Master Planner, and, as I have learnt, the Master Plan has no flaws.