A pompous friend and the modest billionaire Azim Premji help reinforce a key guiding principle in Vaani and me – that the essence of responsible citizenship lies in trusteeship.
This past week, a friend reached out wanting to visit us to invite us to his daughter’s wedding. We requested him to avoid the formality and support our initiative to save paper. So we asked him to send the Invite over WhatsApp. But the gentleman and his wife insisted on coming home. When they handed over the Invite, printed on hot pink paper with gold letters in a ‘custom-designed’ font, our friend said: “Each invitation card has cost us Rs.1000 and surely WhatsApp would not have done justice to our effort. So, we decided to come personally…that way you can see how elaborately we have planned this wedding…it will be the grandest in our family for a long, long time…!”
Even as he made that statement – both verbally and through physically handing over that expensive invitation card – Vaani and I wondered, if each card cost a whopping Rs.1000, then how big, how fat and how wasteful will the actual wedding itself be?
Although Vaani and I don’t see it that way anymore, I concede that weddings are regarded as a socially relevant and important occasion by most families. But do they really need to be pompous events where everything is about outdoing someone else, showing off how much you have and investing in a vulgar, reckless, display of ego, wealth and status?
Thankfully, some of the younger folks we know are leading a change among their families and peers. A few weddings we have been invited to in the last couple of years have been zero-waste affairs; they were bootstrapped and done tastefully with no pomp, with only very close family and friends in attendance.
We believe weddings, if they must be done at all, must focus on making the experience memorable for everyone present while keeping the event a responsible celebration that emphasizes companionship and Happiness. And when everyone wills it so, weddings can certainly be carefully, meaningfully, curated on lower budgets; the money saved can be put to better use – for the couple to travel and see the world or set up a new home or to support a social cause that is seriously starved of resources.
I know it will be a long way before this view is embraced by the majority. But clearly a Rs.1000-a-piece wedding invitation card is avoidable. Surely, you can create beautiful Invites that can be e-mailed or sent over WhatsApp.
Interestingly, again this past week, we were invited to an event where Azim Premji of Wipro was given the Madras Management Association – Amalgamations Group Business Leadership Award for 2019.
Why does the incredibly simple, modest, Premji even need to be feted with an award? This was the thought uppermost on our mind when we arrived at the event.
But former ICICI Bank Chairman N.Vaghul nailed the reasoning. He said that in a society where values like integrity and trusteeship are almost extinct, where there is a steady decline in responsible conduct of citizenship, the spotlight on Premji’s principled Life can really help showcase the continued relevance of these values. Through telling the story of his Life, of the world-class institutions he has built (in manufacturing, IT and education) and of how much he is giving away (estimated at close to $ 21 billion) to his charity – the Azim Premji Foundation – we are inviting future generations to pause, reflect and, hopefully, embrace his philosophy of trusteeship (which he says is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi).
Vaani and I took away a key learning from Premji’s acceptance speech. He said that there is only so much that a family can consume. The inference clearly is that whatever is available to a family beyond what they require to meet their basic needs may ideally be given away to support someone else’s need to live a dignified Life.
I didn’t miss the irony from the past week as I sat down early this morning to write this Blogpost. The reality of the world – and the times – we live in struck me hard. Surely there are more people around us who believe that making money and showing it all off is the Purpose of Life. They are like our friend who vainly insists that even the invitation card to his daughter’s wedding must announce his wealth and social status. And, sadly, there are fewer people like Premji, who despite all their wealth, remain grounded and are invested in social good. Which is why I agree with Vaghul. Every time a Premji is celebrated, the message of intelligent living, of compassion, of giving, is celebrated. And given the circus of greed and one-upmanship that we see incessantly playing around us, this celebration of responsible citizenship is critical to inspire people; to invite them to consider living fuller, more meaningful, lives.
The idea of responsible citizenship is not about doing charity when you are asked to do it. I am sure most people out there have enough goodness in them to stand up and be counted when they are asked to contribute. So, that’s not the kind of reactive behavior that I am talking about. Responsible citizenship is about trusteeship.
Think of trusteeship like this. You are a trustee of the Life that’s been given to you. And you are a trustee of the planet that you inhabit. So be responsible with how you live and how you use the planet’s resources. Recognize that you need only so much to live and to support your immediate family. Beyond food, clothing, shelter, education, a reasonable healthcare and retirement plan and hi-speed internet connectivity through a smart device, whatever you have, whatever comes your way, give it away. Give, not because you have to give, not because you are asked to give, but give because you want to give. Recognize that just as this human form, this Life, is a gift, every thing, every resource that you acquire in this lifetime, is also given to you. So, be responsible by employing all that you receive for human good, to make the world a better place.
I too will lean on Gandhi to suggest employing a simple principle to make informed, intelligent, decisions when it comes to practising trusteeship (I have tweaked Gandhi’s original thought to make it relatable to our times): “Recall the face of the poorest – economically, emotionally, spiritually – person you have come across and ask yourself if the step you are about to take will benefit this person? Will this person gain from your making this choice? Will it help restore them to a Life of dignity, love and Happiness? If it will, go do what you are planning to do. If it won’t, well, rethink your choice!”
Apply this principle to my friend’s choice to splurge Rs.1000 on that wedding invitation card. Apply it to Premji’s choice to give away $ 21 billion. And apply it to each of your Life choices – from the past, from the present and to those that may come up in the future. And see how beautifully this principle leads you – every single time – to distinguish between want and need; and to do what is right than what appears to be right!
Intelligent living is all about each one doing their manmarziyaan and finding their own paths – and discovering themselves – in the process.
Manmarziyaan is a must watch. It is a very important film. It purposefully drives the crucial theme of the irrelevance of the institution of marriage while making a beautiful case for explorations and experiences, for companionship, for honest conversations and for relating between two people for their relationship to thrive.
No, I am not going to exactly review the film here from a cinematic point of view. As a story, as a creative effort, it is what it is. Even so, I am delighted that Anurag Kashyap made it this way – for it does allow for us, as a society, to glean perspectives for simpler, intelligent, living!
What is interesting about the story is that Kashyap’s principal characters – the Baggas, the Bhatias and the Sandhus, and Kakaji – are all real; they are all around us. Yet, in Kashyap’s world they demonstrate a higher degree of maturity, they are willing to give each other space and time; they showcase how society should really be – mature, letting everyone just be!
I love it that Kashyap’s Rumi dares to enjoy, celebrate and explore an experience with Vicky. I love it that she sees beyond the physicality of her relationship with him, that she demands something “more” from him. I love it that Vicky is dreamy, demonstrative, obsessive, romantic and yet clueless about what he wants from Life or what he can give Rumi, besides himself! I love it that she is angry enough – as people normally will be – when he dithers for the nth time and chooses to finally, finally, walk out on him and goes on to “merely please” her family. I love it that she still pines for Vicky’s presence in her Life and that she goes on to fulfil that craving even though she has married Robbie. I love it that Robbie, even though he struggles with the “uniqueness” of Rumi’s daring nature, allows Rumi the time and space to make a choice only because he truly loves her. I love it that no one – not the Baggas, not the Bhatias, not the Sandhus – judges Rumi just because she has had this explosive, open, in-the-face affair with Vicky, even when he is commitment-phobic and even when things don’t work out “well” for her – either with Vicky or with Robbie and their marriage! I love it that Rumi and Robbie decide to annul their marriage without any acrimony – and, in fact, it is only because of their choice to be this way do they open up to each other. Their long walk is a metaphor for how relating between two people really happens – it comes only from being brutally honest, consistently, over time. I so love it that Rumi and Robbie finally come together without a social framework – a.k.a marriage – governing them; without their families obsessing over them; without Rumi being crucified or having to atone for the way she once was.
Now, this is the way a mature society must be – people must just do what each one thinks must be done at a given point in time; speaking their mind; letting people around them be and allowing Life, people and events to sort themselves out! Intelligent living is all about each one doing their manmarziyaan and finding their own paths – and discovering themselves – in the process.
So, to me, Manmarziyaan is an invitation to us as a society to pause, reflect, accept, transform and move on. Let’s begin by understanding and accepting that marriage need not be central to the idea of a family. So, please, let us stop obsessing over getting our children married off the moment they become adults. Let us appreciate that once they are adults, our children have every right to explore varied experiences – physically, emotionally – and with companions whose presence they enjoy. And for heaven’s sake, neither is being virgin a virtue, nor is having sex a sin! Of course, since we raise our children with humanitarian values, we must also trust them that they will make mature, responsible choices. Over time, as they get to know each other better, it is perfectly alright too for two people to want very different things from each other or from Life. In which case, it is just as fine for them to move on. So, as you can see, marriage is neither necessary nor essential for bringing or keeping two people together. For them to continue being with each other, they must relate to each other, they must celebrate each other’s presence and they must complete each other. This can happen only when they are seeing each other, not just physically but figuratively too, naked – with no masks, no social veils, no agendas. When two people can relate to each other, they don’t need any social acceptance or approvals, then they are truly loving – this is not love; this is loving – in the present continuous! They then don’t need the framework of a marriage, they don’t need the crutch of religion or rituals, they just are happy in each other’s presence, no matter what the circumstances are.
Only such a union truly celebrates the essence of what the 13th Century Persian poet Rumi famously said about loving: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
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.