A family’s greatest test comes in times of crisis. How it rallies together and faces any challenge entirely depends on how well the values of compassion, trust and togetherness have been nurtured in it.
Yesterday, we watched a beautiful Malayalam film ‘Jacobinte Swargarajyam’ (JSR/‘Jacob’s Kingdom of Heaven’; starring Nivin Pauly, Renji Panicker and Lakshmy Ramakrishnan) made by Vineeth Sreenivasan. For much of the movie, Vaani and I felt it was our own story – of my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’ (Westland). The film tells the story of a Malayali family in Dubai that gets into a grave, business-led debt situation. We later discovered, when the end credits rolled, that the film is Vineeth’s way of celebrating the resilience and bonding of his friend Gregory Jacob’s family’s true story.
Words cannot describe what we experienced while watching the film. Almost every scene, situation, and even some dialogues, resonated with our story. Except that the Jacob family’s crisis happened in Dubai and ours is happening in Chennai. And while the Jacob family may have repaid much of their debt and rebuilt their business, Vaani and I are still enduring our bankruptcy; we still have to repay our 179 creditors, who I call Angels in my Book. I often tell people this: Life happens to all of us differently but the lessons we learn from Life are pretty similar. Watching JSR I was even more convinced of this truth about Life.
What Vaani and I have learnt from our experience is that no matter what, Life has to be faced. And a family must face it together. Indeed, as Vineeth portrays in JSR too, there will be moments when family members will go through self-doubt, depression, frustration, anger, grief or guilt. This is when leadership comes into play. Someone will have to step in for the other and extend a hand to haul up the dispirited.
I remember an episode from our ongoing saga from a few years back vividly. I was facing arrest in a criminal case (relating to a defaulted payment) in another state. And I had to prepare our children Aashirwad and Aanchal for what was to follow. Aash had just got out of college and was in the US. Aanch was in second year college here. We set up a Skype call bringing in Aash from Denver, Colorado. And, with Vaani by my side, I briefed the two of them on what possibly lay ahead of us. I encouraged everyone to stay strong and prepared them for the fact that since we did not have the money (both for legal costs and for bail-related guarantees) to seek bail, if arrested, it could take me some time to come out. It was a difficult conversation – emotionally charged and I broke down at the end, crying inconsolably. I was overcome by grief and guilt: I was thinking, this is hardly what young people must have to face. And for a brief while I was consumed by the guilt that I had failed them as a father and let down Vaani as a soulmate. That’s when Vaani spoke. She said: “I don’t want any of us to be feeling sad or guilty here. Let’s take it as it comes. You be strong dad, where you are. And we will all be strong, where we are, while working on how to deal with the impending situation legally.” For all the strength I was trying to summon while talking to Aash and Aanch, Vaani’s stoic, practical perspective boosted everyone’s morale completely. And this is what I mean when I say a family’s resilience is really a function of how people hold up each other. (To complete that story, my creditor withdrew the complaint he had filed against me, at the nth minute, in court when he realized that we indeed did not have any money to pay him.)
I guess families often miss the opportunity to bond and come closer when a crisis strikes. This is perhaps because the values of compassion and togetherness may not have been nurtured continuously among their members. The other reason could also be that people in a family expect everyone to toe one line or point of view – this is not just impractical, it is also unreal. A family is where emotions and opinions will often be divergent and yet they must all be welcomed. If someone’s not feeling up to doing something at some time, you must just let them be. Don’t punish them by being judgmental. This is what JSR brings out beautifully. And this is what Vaani and I have felt time and again leading our small, precious family, through this prolonged season of turbulence.
JSR or ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’ are not unique experiences. Please don’t view them as bankruptcy or debt-related stories alone. A crisis is a crisis; and the qualities needed to face a crisis are pretty much the same – no matter what context it appears in or what shape it takes. To be sure, there’s a crisis that every home has faced, is facing or will face at some time. The key to your own ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, to survive to be able to tell the tale, is for your family to be there for each other, no matter what, and to weather the storm together. Families that face a crisis together grow more compassionate, stronger and closer with the experience.