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.
Life is too precious to be spent massaging someone’s ego or pandering to another’s whims.
There’s a wedding coming up in my extended family. And as it often happens, no TamBram affair is free from its share of bruised ego and petty politics. In this wedding story, the mother of the groom is a single parent. So, she invited her older brother and his wife to solemnize the wedding. Her daughter’s husband meanwhile has got offended because he was not invited to preside over the ceremony. So, hearing of his stance, the groom’s uncle (the older brother I referred to earlier) offered to step aside. But the lady’s daughter’s husband is still not happy. He is of the view that the opportunity to preside over the ceremony was given to him only after he demanded it. He feels that he and his wife have been “ignored and insulted” by his mother-in-law. So, he and his wife have chosen to “boycott” the wedding. Hearing of all this ruckus, all this tamasha, the groom, is threatening to call off the wedding – I guess he just wants to be free from all this drama!! I hear that his poor mother is busy running between him, her brother and her son-in-law trying to manage expectations and massage egos.
All this may sound juicy. And I am sure you too can relate to such behavior among your immediate family. I remember when Vaani and I got married in February 1989, several members of my family, both from my maternal and paternal sides, created so much fuss over non-issues. Someone or the other, I recall, was always sulking and Vaani’s brother had such a difficult time trying to please everyone. I am appalled that almost three decades on, nothing much appears to have changed in our society.
At the core of all such family soap dramas is ego. And gender bias. If you are the girl’s family you are expected to pander to the whims of the boy’s side. Else the boy’s (side’s) hurt ego will manifest itself by childishly sulking and throwing tantrums.
Change can happen only when the bride and the groom treat marriage as a celebration, as a joyous union of the two of them. The couple alone must have the right to how they want to host their wedding ceremony. Currently, as I see it, the couple hardly has any say in what’s going on – a wedding is typically a pompous ritual that parents undertake, in the name of love for their children, to show off their social, familial and financial muscle. Additionally, as I have observed on this Blog in the past, marriage itself as an institution has become irrelevant. It is the loving between two people that keeps them together and not necessarily their being married. So, my unsolicited advice to young folks who plan to marry will be to take all the money they have, including the budget that both families plan to spend on the wedding, and travel the world. Enjoy yourselves, explore each other and the magic and beauty on the planet. Make beautiful memories than make insipid wedding albums and videos, full of people who are either pretending or are sulking, which you are unlikely to revisit too many times in your Life.
And if you do plan to have a wedding, and don’t know how to deal with all those who try to control and torment you, by either sitting on an ego pedestal, or by throwing tantrums, or by doing both, well, just let them be. Only when you give such people attention do they begin to demand more. Instead, just smile and walk away. Let them kick around, rave and rant. In some time, they will tire themselves out and fall silent. Don’t analyze or fret over such behavior – by being the way they are, such people give you a great spiritual opportunity to evolve, to ignore all those who are irrelevant in your Life and to learn to focus only on what matters to you. Life is too precious to be spent massaging someone’s ego or pandering to another’s whims. Remember: you live only once. So, live that Life well – happily – and live it your way!
Here’s a lesser known secret to intelligent living.
A young lady got in touch with me. She said she was living-in with her best friend. But on the subject of getting married and having children, the couple, she informed, were in complete disagreement. “We love each other dearly. We like being in each other’s presence and we miss each other when we are not together. Where we differ is on getting married and having children. He wants to marry, he wants children and I don’t want either. Is it okay for me to disagree with him on something as important as that and still love him,” she asked.
I told the lady that it is possible and fine to differ with someone on an opinion or issue and still get along with that person. Even so, she must consider the long-term aspirations of her partner in the backdrop of their relationship – we will discuss that part in a bit.
First, let us talk about disagreeing with someone on an issue and still having a friendship, still loving that someone. I personally feel it is definitely okay to be that way. This is not about being hypocritical or practicing double-standards. This is a mature way of learning to separate issues from people.
It is definitely not easy to start with. But when you view any situation closely, you will find that it is imminently possible to deal with it dispassionately, which is always the best way too! What happens though is when we have a difference of opinion with someone, we try to avoid or even reject that person. We start finding newer flaws with that person in order to magnify and justify our difference of opinion. So, for instance, say you disagree with your friend’s political views. And you get into a strong argument with that friend. Instead of shaking hands with that friend at the end of a stimulating discussion, you choose to just walk away. The next time you meet that friend, you are carrying the baggage of the last experience and you begin to wonder why he or she is dressed the way they are. You start justifying your last opinion of this person with a fresh sentiment saying this person does not even know how to be properly groomed. And so this ruinous cycle of ‘building a case’ to isolate the person itself, not just the views, begins. It happens subconsciously. But it happens all the time in most relationships we have.
Pause for a moment now. Think of all the situations when you have disagreed with people in the last week. Just in the last 7 days. Review your sentiments, even the ones you may have not expressed but experienced in your mind, of these people. Objectively enlist the number of times you were on the ‘building a case’ mode with these people. To your surprise, in each of the instances when you disagreed on an issue, you have subconsciously, taken the route to justify and magnify the difference of opinion, often beyond the issue itself. You will be surprised how habituated you are to this practice.
We must break free from this thinking though. Three simple steps may be helpful here: 1. Acknowledge that each one is entitled to their opinion 2. If you disagree remember always that the disagreement is with the issue, the opinion, never with the person 3. Conclude each disagreement session with a smile and say clearly, passionately, that you hope to find a meeting ground sometime soon on this issue! Apply this to every relationship you have and to every episode where you have felt or expressed disagreement. Start with your list of last week and work back, ensuring also, that going forward you will not let any new disagreements assume demonic, irrevocable proportions.
In the lady’s specific case, the difference of opinion is not over political ideology or food preferences or movie options or a dressing sense. It is not even about marriage; disagreeing over that, in my view, can be managed and overcome. It is about something very special, very personal – the desire to have children. So, in case she maintains her stand while her partner still nurtures the aspiration to have children, at some point, their disagreement may lead to a separation. And there’s a learning here for all of us – if your disagreement is over something so fundamental that it may lead to you separating from the person you are disagreeing with, then accept the outcome gracefully. Don’t sweat over it – after all, it was your choice to disagree, so please respect the other person’s choice to move on.
The key point I am making here is that you can surely disagree with someone without being disagreeable to them and without feeling miserable yourself. Therein lies a lesser known secret to intelligent living!
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
Loving and relating, in the present continuous, are what make Life beautiful!
A young man asked me and Vaani this question yesterday, in the context of a relationship between two people: “What is the meaning of love?” I told him loving is more relevant than love. If you are loving, then you are relating to the other person. Loving is present continuous, it is flowing. If you fall in love, chances are you will fall out of it. But if you are loving, if you are relating to someone, you will keep rising in love.
Vaani is often asked how she continues to stand with me, walk with me, through this crisis-ridden phase of our Life. (Read more about this phase here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) And she always replies saying, “The circumstances in our Life have changed over the last 30 years that AVIS and I have known each other. We had no money when we met, we then made money and then we have had no money for over a decade now again. While the circumstances have changed, while how we look physically has changed, how we look at each other has not changed. AVIS as a person is the same. His values are intact – just the same as they were. I continue to relate to him, so, I walk with him.” That’s really what loving is all about. And I am grateful Vaani’s loving me this way.
Life is a journey. And companionship makes it very special, very beautiful. I am not necessarily meaning a spouse here when I say companion. I mean anyone who you can relate to, who is loving, who is a soulmate. Of course, if that companion is your spouse, it is truly a blessing. When there is loving between two people, then the relationship really does not matter. And when two people are not loving, no matter what their relationship is, it is dead – there is no relating between them, you see!
Another couple I can think of to celebrate this idea of loving are Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan, the dancers. In their mid-to-late 70s now, their companionship, of over 65 years on stage and over 50 years as a couple, is inspiring. They have grown up together, they have faced Life’s upheavals together, they have offered their art to the Universe together, they have taken Indian culture and dance to global audiences together – and they continue to rise in love. Over this IPL season, both of them have featured in Ogilvy & Mather’s Vodafone TV commercial series doing together many things that not many folks their age will really venture doing. The series has been aptly themed #MakeTheMostOfNow and shows them on a second honeymoon in Goa, riding a two-wheeler (wearing helmets – and that’s a wow!), paragliding, doing Facebook Live, and holding videoconferences with their extended family on their smartphones. (Watch the commercials here.)
Vaani and I believe that Life must be experienced to the fullest, through its highs and lows, through its upheavals and through all its magic, mysticism and beauty. You can do that only when you are loving, in the present continuous, and only when you #MakeTheMostOfNow – together!
Loving is present continuous, evolving, as it is flowing!
A young reader reached out to share her friend’s predicament. The friend’s boyfriend of a few years had suddenly declared, overnight, that he had “fallen out of love” with her. The two were considering marriage. The young lady is, naturally, heart broken. She is figuring out a way to deal with her situation. And I am sure there are countless people out there who are struggling with such break-ups.
Interestingly, in the specific context of the young lady’s boyfriend, I actually commend him for his clarity. He at least knows that he has fallen out of love with her. This makes it amply clear to the lady – and to all of us – that the problem is not with the lady, it is not with her boyfriend, it is not even with love, it is with the lack of loving. When there is no loving, there is no relating. And when there is no relating, where is the question of a friendship, a relationship, a marriage?
I come from an Osho school of thought. Osho always warned against this tendency to fall in love. He said that only because people fall in love do they even fall out of it! Instead, he championed rising in love. Think about it deeply – what he says is simple, yet profound! Which is why, in my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, I titled a chapter Rise In Love to share how the companionship between Vaani and me has thrived over the years. Here’s an excerpt (my Book is a collection of letters written to my two children Aashirwad and Aanchal; Mom here refers to their mom, Vaani!):
“…I want you both to understand the essence of companionship in Life, drawing upon how inspired I am by your Mom. Sooner than you both believe, you too will be in love. You too will meet and want to be with someone whom you want to spend the rest of your Life with. But remember, being in a relationship alone does not mean being in love. Being drawn to someone for their physical attributes is not being in love either. Being happy in someone’s presence is also not being in love completely. You are in love completely when you can be someone’s best friend and can have that best friend’s friendship forever. A best friend is a soul-mate. Someone who can help you see who you are, accept you for what you are and in the future may become one who does not shy away from speaking the truth; holding a mirror and critiquing – not criticizing – your actions and someone who is willing to walk with you to where neither of you has been before. A soul-mate is always understanding, demanding, forgiving, compassionate, teaching and uplifting.
“It is not difficult or too complex to be a soul-mate. You can be one too. Being a soul-mate requires one to know, understand and appreciate the meaning of Life. Life in your teens and early adulthood will be full of exploration. Especially of your sexuality. This is where you will find joy in kissing, feeling and, perhaps, in today’s generation, having sex. Please know that there’s nothing wrong with any of that. When you get past the physical dimension of love, you begin to see the value of wanting to spend a lifetime with that person. It’s a great feeling, full of anticipation. Of your own home, of your own children, of your own Life together; living, happily ever after.
“Now, almost everyone who falls in love first and then marries gets into that relationship with the same sentiments and expectations. Then, have you wondered, why do people break up? Why do marriages fail? It is because, relationships, as I have learned from Osho, the Master, signify the death of the same something, that precious feeling that inspired you, in the first place, called love. You love someone when you relate to that person. People fall out of love because in a marriage, while there is a law, a label, society, family, caste and religion – there is no more relating!
“I think what has worked for Mom and me is that we continue to relate to each other. Age, place, or circumstance, don’t seem to affect or pollute our precious, pristine shared space, where our love for each other continues to thrive. It is not something unique to us. We have just made our friendship, our way of relating to each other special…”
A young film-maker Shalu who read my Book decided to make a film and called it Rise in Love to showcase how love thrives in the face of adversity. Between my Book, and the film, a common thread you will see that keeps me and Vaani going is our loving. It is present continuous. It is a verb. It is not static, it evolves as it flows.
So, that brings me to the boyfriend’s choice. Of course, what he has told the lady will hurt her. It is a sure cause for a heart-break, a depression. But it is actually an opportunity to celebrate too. Celebrate that this is not the person that, over time, she would have been able to relate to anyway; so let him go! Celebrate also that the gentleman had the courtesy and courage to take an informed, evolved, decision, instead of two-timing her. This attitude, to look beyond the obvious, beyond the physicality of the situation, is crucial to intelligent living. Now that the lady is in the throes of a break-up, if she chooses to rise above the apparent heart-break, she will discover that a companion who will compliment her, complete her, no matter what the circumstances may be, is waiting for her! She just has to rise in love to find him!
Clearly, beyond what families want, beyond what society dictates, beyond marriage, lie loving and companionship. When you have found that truly loving companion, who will continue to be loving no matter what, you will have risen in love too!