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.”
When they must go out to follow their bliss, simply let your children fly away…
Yesterday went in a blur. All day Vaani and I were reminiscing the growing up years of our children Aashirwad and Aanchal. The four of us are very close to each other. Yet Aash has been away from home for 9 years now and Aanch too left yesterday.
As parents, we both are experiencing a completely empty nest for the first time. Surely, we are not the first set of parents to feel this way. And undoubtedly we are not the last. Feeling the emptiness at home, however, has been an interesting, learning experience.
Over a drink last evening, I marveled at Lebanese American writer-poet Khalil Gibran’s wisdom and insight. His unputdownable verse – “Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself, they come through you but not from you, and although they are with you, they belong not to you…” – is what is helping us accept our new reality. Besides, as we are realizing, being an empty nester brings a spiritual flavor to one’s role as a parent.
I now recognize that parenting is not just a responsibility. To be a parent is actually a blessing. Because it gives you an opportunity to mold another Life by inculcating values in your child. And then when the child is ready for the world, you give your child wings and let her or him fly away. That’s how you learn to practice detachment in Life.
In Vaani’s and my case, we see another very beautiful dimension playing out. Which is that since children are Life’s longing for itself, Life always steps in to take care of them, even if you as a parent can’t contribute in a given context. As parents, we have not been able to support the college education for either Aash or Aanch. Our enduring bankruptcy leaves us numb each month – we never quite have enough even for our monthly living expenses. Yet, through this past decade that we have been bankrupt, we have had Aash’s under-graduate Program at the University of Chicago funded through remarkably generous people. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) And now Aanch’s grad school tenure is being covered by a very benevolent sponsor who is paying her tuition and related costs. What this essentially means is that Life really takes care of and provides for all that it creates. From this experience, Vaani and I have learnt that if as parents we let go and don’t let our insecurities or ego come in the way of our children’s aspirations, Life will always unquestionably, undeniably, give them what they need.
Also, as we are learning from Aashirwad’s experiences over the past two years, when children go away to pursue their dreams and build their Life their way, they are bound to face challenges. Naturally, as parents, we want to protect our children. But what we are understanding is that you can’t do anything to change your children’s Life design. If they have to go through a catharsis or a challenge, they have to. There is no escaping it. But please don’t conclude that a Life challenge is a curse or a punishment. It is Life’s way of coaching someone to be stronger, wiser and happier. The earlier we recognize this truth about Life, the more equanimity we will have as parents.
Bottomline, we only have one key responsibility towards our children – we must guide and inspire them to be good human beings. We must raise them with the right values and let them go wherever their bliss takes them. While we can pray for them, we can’t prevent Life from serving them crises. So, there’s no point in pining for them or worrying about them or wanting to keep them with us so that we can protect them – because, however hard we may try, we can’t ever live their lives for them!
The most important role of a parent is to enable a child’s bliss.
My friend is stressed out over his 15-year-old son’s “future”. The lad has below average grades in high school and is unsure of what he wants to do in Life.
I believe this is a perfectly normal state for anyone to be in. So, I advised my friend not to be stressed out. “In fact, you must celebrate that your son does not know what he wants to do. If you are cluelessness in Life it is a great state to be in. I was clueless about what Life meant to me till I was 35, and now, I am have no clarity about how long it will take me to fix the material, professional and financial dimensions of my Life,” I told him. (Read more here to understand the context in which I made my statement: Fall Like A Rose Petal).
I am not sure my friend is convinced with my perspective. Even if he isn’t, it is fine. Life doesn’t offer any of us, any more clarity than what we think we have. The best way to move forward in Life is to go one step at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time. This doesn’t mean you should not have a plan, that you should not have a long-term vision. You must. But if you don’t have a plan or a vision too it is perfectly okay. Over time, you will figure things out. There’s no point though getting keyed up with what’s happening around you and imagining that everyone’s getting “ahead in Life” while you are clueless. More than children, it is the parents who are keyed up over their children’s peers getting “ahead in Life”! And that’s pretty sad.
Let’s look at this from a higher plane. The truth is all of us have to end up dead – sooner or later. We are all speeding towards our deaths, but at different speeds! So, what is the sanctity about wanting to be ahead of the others? This keeda, this avoidable desire-virus, is what makes parents like my friend unnecessarily sweat over their children. The teens actually are a great time to experiment with Life – try out many things, decide which ones give joy, try these ones out more and eventually pick up that one thing that is immersive, blissful. Now, this decision about what to do in Life must not be a decision that’s based only on earning potential, career growth opportunities, reputation in society, marriage prospects and such. You must do only what makes you come alive and what you absolutely love doing – something that makes you lose yourself when you do it. And finding that something takes time – several years, in some instances. How then can parents expect their teens to attain this clarity?
But that’s exactly what parents across are demanding of their wards. Look around you. Every child out there is in line to be slaughtered on the altar of a “stable” career. Just because they have “memorized” syllabi and vomited them in exams to secure “high grades” people think their children are “brilliant”. The truth is their brilliance has been sacrificed in order for them to merely become employable. So, astronauts, musicians, sportspeople, actors, artists, chefs, designers and standup comedians end up becoming engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants and MBAs. Generations of parents have done this to their children. And children when they become parents perpetrate the same horror, the same injustice. In the name of concern for their children’s “future”, parents are literally crucifying the happiness of their kids. And while doing all this, instead of feeling accountable, they end up being stressed out and anxious?
Vaani and I are offering a Program called Zero-Anxiety Parenting – ZAP – targeted at parents of children and young adults. And through that Program, the one fundamental principle we wish to champion among parents of teens is this: “Please do not get in between your children and their bliss.” We encourage parents to trust their children’s choices, to trust the process of Life and to let go. We are calling for a paradigm shift in parents – we are imploring them to switch from merely wanting to see their children earn-a-living to parenting them in such a manner that they can see them living, thriving and being happy! Only when parents start celebrating their children truly, they stop being anxious.
Don’t come in the way of your young adult child’s need to experience Life.
My friend and his young adult daughter had a spat. She wanted to go for a late night party. And he did not want her to go. She called him names and abused him using expletives. Their fight became public knowledge with him sharing the entire episode on Facebook. While of my friend’s friends advised him to take a chill pill, take it easy and let his daughter have her share of fun, a few commented otherwise. They felt children had no right to “ill treat” their parents. Someone even said that children must not cross the line that parents draw for them.
I find this whole episode avoidable. It is an unevolved perspective that everyone connected with this incident seems to be bringing to the table. Why should any parent impose restrictions on an adult child? That the child used expletives, as claimed by the parent, is a clear sign that they both need to have a conversation not just on how to express themselves but also on values. Why should the parent rush to post this episode on Facebook? And finally how can it be insisted that adult children must toe the line of their parents? Are adult children individuals in their own right?
I am not discounting that any parent has a concern for their child’s safety – whether the child is old enough or not! Even so, adult children demand dignity, empowerment, trust and freedom. And in my personal opinion, from experience, I can say that when entrusted with responsibility, they always take pretty good care of themselves. On her return home from her first late night out, when she was in her first year in college, Vaani and I spoke to our daughter Aanchal on why hanging out late can be both fun and risky. So, we shared some tips to make the experience easier for her and for us. After that night, she has always handled her late nights, her safety and her timings remarkably well.
Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter whether someone is an adult or a minor, a parent or an adult child, trust is integral to make people behave responsibly. When you tell someone you trust them you are inviting them to act with both empowerment and prudence. This is the only way forward to make relationships thrive.
Of course, when someone you trust lets you down or if they are circumstantially challenged to be unable to live up to your trust, then you must have honest conversations. You must invite them, while being compassionate, to introspect and course correct. And if they have a genuine reason for whatever happened to them, demonstrate more trust in them by being patient with their situation. At the end of the day, people are shaped by the experiences they go through and not only by the advice they receive.
So, coming back to this instance of parenting adult children, don’t come in the way of their need to experience Life on their terms. Just be available for them, to hug them and take them home, if ever they stumble or fall.