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.
What do you do when, sometimes, people don’t want to understand you? And you have stopped relating to them? Move on… In today’s Podcast I champion that you must protect your inner peace – because that’s all you have got and only you are responsible for it! Listen time: 4:03 minutes
Only when we are clear about how – and if – we are relating to people can we be happy in our relationships.
On a show that I recently hosted, my guest talked candidly about how his father and he could not see eye to eye over Life choices that the guest had made. Subsequently the guest narrated how he was thrown out of his house by his father. It was a painful memory and the guest perhaps made it sound light by calling his father “dumb”. Some members in the audience clapped and many laughed. But a few of them reached out to me and said that they found the guest’s statements about his dad questionable. At least one of them pointed out that his open remarks, and the audience’s reaction, may send a signal to children watching the show that it was cool to criticize your parents in public.
As a show host I am all for socially responsible comments in public. So, yes, both the guest and I may have liked to qualify the guest’s remarks as intensely personal, adding that these sentiments are not to be generalized. But, I believe, I let it be because a. I could relate to what the guest was sharing and b. such qualification might have been redundant as the guest was only sharing his personal story, of what he had experienced.
And that brings me to the moot question – is it okay to share how you feel about your dysfunctional relationship with your parent in public?
Those who know me and who have read Fall Like A Rose Petal or have heard my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk are aware of my dysfunctional relationship with my mother. In sharing my story I only tell people what – and how – I feel about my mother. I don’t quite see it as criticism, I see it as the truth. Trying to make sense of why we have this apparently abnormal, unique, relationship, where there is no chemistry between us, is a lived experience for me. It is not imaginary or aspirational. It is what I have lived through. It is an integral part of how my Life has shaped and evolved. I have chosen not to hide it. I am not baring it all in public forums to malign my mother. I am however sharing in relevant contexts only to tell people that such things happen in Life – that even in a close, blood, relationship, dysfunctionality can prevail. And that when you can’t resolve the issues between you and the other person, it is perfectly fine to maintain a distance. I can’t get along with anyone with whom my value systems don’t match. That one such person is my own mother is just incidental.
The problem with society is that it expects everyone and everything to be stereotypical. And in reality there are no stereotypes – each one’s story, and each one’s lived experience, is unique. No one can understand the pain of a child not being trusted by his parent – my pain! No one can understand – not even me – the pain of a child being asked to leave his home just because he had a secular outlook – my guest’s pain! Indeed, we may have similar journeys but the experiences we go through are unique. So, just because our movies generalize the mother as sacrosanct, I can’t force myself to relate to my mother. Or just because our tradition and culture say, “Matha Pitha Guru Deivam” – advocating that the parents occupy an exalted position, even ahead of the teacher and God – it need not be true that everyone on the planet either feels that way or relates to that line of thought.
Just as I have stated in my Book, and as I say here again, I have nothing against my mother. I respect her for giving birth to me, raising me and teaching me the alphabet. That’s a debt I may never be able to repay to her. Never. By sharing how I feel about her, I have never intended to belittle her. Also, there are so many areas where I disagree with her choices in her Life. But I never will comment on those. That’s her Life. I only have a right to choose what works – or refuse what doesn’t work – for me in the context of my relationship with her. And in that context, I consider my relationship with her a dysfunctional one. To be sure, this can happen in any relationship, to anyone. It is my experience and learning that only when we are clear about how – and if – we are relating to people can we be happy in our relationships.
So, my two penny worth perspective is this. It is never a great idea to criticize anybody, least of all your parents. But that shouldn’t stop you from sharing how you feel about people and your relationship with them, even if they are your parents. Being socially responsible is important, especially on public forums. But you have a big responsibility, primarily to yourself first – to be truthful about your Life. If that means sharing how you feel about – and in – a relationship, so be it. Saying it, and sharing it, as it is always acts as therapy; it heals and contributes greatly to your inner peace.
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!
He was not just an actor to me, he was a signboard that appeared suddenly saying, “This way, please…!”
Vinod Khanna passed on yesterday, at 70, claimed by, I am told, bladder cancer. Like many, many out there, I loved him too. As I told Vaani just now over coffee, “The sense of loss is deeply personal. Jaise Koi Apna Chala Gaya Ho…” I never got to meet or speak to him though. The only time I came face-to-face with him was in 1993. That chance encounter changed my Life forever.
This is how it happened.
The year was 1994. I was living in Bangalore and working with Business Today magazine. I was assigned to do a cover story on “Service Quality”. And that took me to Mumbai where I had several meetings set up with CEOs to understand how their teams were responding to the challenges of measuring and delivering customer delight. I had been trying to get a meeting with R.C.Bhargava, then Chairman & MD of Maruti Udyog (now Maruti Suzuki), in Delhi (where I was to travel next) to get his views for my story. Ramesh Krishnan, Maruti’s then PR Head, told me to come to the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, one evening as Maruti was launching its popular 1000 cc variant, the Esteem. He said I could be part of the launch and meet Bhargava. It turned out that Ratan Tata was launching the Maruti model. And so, almost everyone who was someone in Mumbai was there. I got to meet Bhargava for a brief while. And he agreed to meet me again in his office in Delhi. As I was leaving, Ramesh offered to walk down the stairs, with me, to the street. As we exited the Regal Room at the Taj, and started climbing down the stairs, in an awkward moment, when I came in their way, Vinod Khanna, flanked by sons Rahul and Akshaye, looked right into my eyes. They were coming up and we were going down. For a few seconds we all stood unsure of which way to move and who should make way for whom. After the momentary hiccup, I quickly made way for the Khannas and they went in to join the event that I was leaving.
As we continued walking down, Ramesh whispered to me, almost as if it was the most precious piece of information he was parting with, “Did you know that Vinod Khanna is Osho’s disciple?”
“Osho? Who’s Osho? I thought Vinod Khanna was part of some sex ashram in Pune led by a man called Rajneesh,” I quipped.
Ramesh laughed and clarified to me that Osho and Rajneesh were the same person. I tucked away that information.
I hadn’t heard the name Osho at all. I had known of Rajneesh though – vaguely. But something happened that day – either it was the magnetism in Osho’s name or it was the fact that it was Vinod Khanna who was his disciple. Whatever it was, I was drawn towards Osho and I started reading up on him. The internet wasn’t around then. So information was not so easy to get. Besides, there was this unnecessary, misguided, feeling of shame that I harbored in me – that acknowledging openly that I was an Osho follower meant that I was declaring my interest in his “free sex movement”. It was a ridiculous reasoning I gave myself, but that’s the way it was. So, for the longest time, I was a closet Osho follower.
I have immersed myself in Osho’s Life and teachings since 2004. I find him simple, practical and unputdownable. By then, the internet had arrived and accessing Osho’s thoughts was so easy.
Every morning, during my mouna sessions (daily silence periods), I would devor Osho’s views on Life. My personal favorite is his book – Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously. Going through a tumultuous, scary, phase – our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) – I found his perspective invaluable. Courage, he said, is not the absence of fear; but it is the total presence of fear with the courage to face it. I derived great clarity reading Osho. His other point about how, when there is no relating between people, then there is no point in them being in a relationship, really helped me make peace with myself over my relationships in my dysfunctional family, particularly with regard to the one I have with my mother. And the way he taught me to let go of debilitating emotions – anger, grief, guilt, hatred, worry, anxiety, fear; not by advising that I run away from them, but learning to hold them, examine them, and understand their futility. He says, do whatever you want, but do it fully. Which is why he encouraged free sex – as a means of unbridled human expression, of love, of uniting with the Universe’s energy. He says that suppressing or resisting anything will only lead to suffering. To be sure, Osho has empowered me to live a full Life, free from suffering. If Shirdi Baba taught me Faith and Patience, if I learnt the value of living in the moment from Swami Sathya Sai Baba, it was Osho who taught me to celebrate its beauty and to train my mind so that it doesn’t run back to cling to the dead past or race forward to worry about an unborn future. I am inspired speaker and writer today only because of the first-hand experience I have of intelligent living. And that experience may have never happened hadn’t Osho really, figuratively, held my hand and my soul, and taught me that intelligent living is downright commonsensical and simple. Interestingly, the title of my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, is inspired by a story that Osho used to tell his followers!
And, I may have well never have heard of Osho for a long, long time, unless I hadn’t come in Vinod Khanna’s way that night at the Mumbai Taj. They say everything – and everyone – happens for a reason. So, to me, Vinod Khanna, is not just an actor who I watched and adored as I was growing up. To me, Vinod Khanna was that important signboard on my journey that appeared suddenly saying: “This way, please…!” And that was the way of Osho, of living free, of living dangerously, and of living happily despite the circumstances!
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.
Loving, in the present continuous, is essential for a relationship to thrive despite all differences.
We watched Mani Ratnam’s new movie Katru Veliyidai last evening. Viewers have panned the film for many reasons. Principal among them is the view, held by many, that Dr.Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari) continues to accommodate, accept and love VC (Karthi) despite being “humiliated and trampled upon” by him. The question people are asking is: Why should a film portray a woman in such light; why can’t Dr.Leela have been a much stronger woman who slaps VC back, who tramples him back, who rightfully asserts herself and claims an equal place in their relationship?
I have three points to make about the movie. 1. I liked it a lot – for most parts. 2. Perhaps because the story-telling was not so linear, and perhaps people these days often rush to pronounce judgment on social media on people and events, viewers missed what Mani Ratnam so aesthetically communicated through the film. 3. And that is the fact that Dr.Leela is indeed a strong woman – who asserts herself from the first instance in the blizzard. But her assertion is never vitriolic. Her loving of VC (not just her love for him) is as powerful as her seeking her space, her dignity. Despite the way he treats her, she is still relating to him, so she continues loving him. Yet, when he refuses to have their baby, she decides to walk away from him – not quite walking out on him – while continuing to be loving. There is a present continuous state to her loving, just as there is a present continuous state to her asking to be treated with respect. And that’s why I say Mani Ratnam’s tried to convey his point very aesthetically – he’s not spelt it out, he’s not laid it all there in a linear sequence; you pick what you want, the way you want to.
There’s not just an aesthetic quality to the film visually, its very essence is so. This is what I gleaned from the movie – that when two people are loving, they may have their differences, they may have their own independent personas, but they will still be able to relate to each other in a special way! Now, this is not a filmy situation alone – this is so true about Life, and about so many of our stories out there. The problem with society is that we expect people to conform to stereotypes. But surely, there are as many different characterizations in personalities out there as there are people. And each one evolves and changes with time, through their experiences. This is what happens to VC through his reflection, through his incarceration in a Pakistani jail. I truly believe that loving is more important and more relevant than the singular act of falling in love. When there is loving, then there is a flow, there’s a freedom to be who you are. Then it is present continuous. Then there is a relating. And only when two people are relating to each other, despite their differences, can their relationship thrive. That’s really what happens in Mani Ratnam’s Katru Velyidai, to his Dr.Leela and VC.
To me the takeaway is deeply spiritual. It offers an aesthetic value that’s not commonly understood or appreciated. As social animals, and as social media content creators and consumers, we expect everything in a “black and white”, in a “my way or the highway” format. But Life doesn’t to conform to any formats, formulae or structures. Life’s creations – all of us included – are all at the same time unique, and flawed, just as VC and Dr.Leela are, who live and love on their own terms. The key is to celebrate everyone for who they are, while celebrating yourself, and to keep on loving, as undefineably, as expansively as the breeze (Katru Veliyidai), without expectations, without conditions, without limitations…And some day, the one who continues to relate to your loving, will find their way to you, no matter what – or who – comes in the way!
In any relationship, only the two people in it have a right to a view on it.
A reader recently asked me how I could talk so openly about the lack of chemistry I have with my mother. He was referring to a chapter, “You Can Never Get A Perfect 10!”, in my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal. He said that the most sacred relationship in Life is the one between a mother and child. “How can you demean that relationship by talking about it in public? In Indian culture a mother is equivalent to God. How can you rubbish your God,” he asked.
I never deny anyone the right to ask me questions. In fact, it is only through questions and answers, and more questions and more answers, that clarity is got. So, I thanked the reader for his question. And then I explained my point of view.
It was precisely for the reason that the reader deems as sacrosanct that I decided to talk about the broken relationship I have with my mother. I was telling my children (my Book is a set of letters written to my children Aashirwad and Aanchal), and through them I was telling the readers, that Life is never the same for everyone and everything is never perfect in everyone’s Life. Some department or the other is always broken. Some have a health issue. Some have a career issue. Some have relationships issues with spouses, siblings, colleagues, or as in my case, with a parent or parents. Struggling to make your Life perfect, which is striving for a 10/10, is what leads to your suffering. Denying that a problem exists or hiding from it also causes suffering.
For the longest time, I suffered. I thought something was wrong with me. How can my mother and I have a broken relationship, I asked myself. After all, she bore me in her womb and brought me into this Universe. But the more I tried to adjust, accommodate or atone (for my excesses in trying to fight her ways), the more I found her manipulative. So, I decided to be honest to myself. I said that, perhaps, I don’t have smooth, compassionate, mother-child equation in my Life’s design. I let go. And I let be. Almost magically, a 25-year strife-ridden environment fell peaceful. Here I must appreciate my mother as well. She too appears to have let go and let be. I believe this brutal honesty has helped our entire family. We all remain estranged, with Vaani and me on one side, and my parents and siblings on the other. But I guess everyone is peaceful where they are.
In trying to make sense of strained relationships, you can never get anywhere as long as you try to understand who’s right or who’s wrong. Because each party will keep maintaining that they are right. Instead, be honest with yourself first. Are you able to relate to the person you have a relationship with? If you are not able to relate, then no reason is a good one to cling on to the relationship. No amount of arguing, justifying or showcasing evidence is going to help. You both don’t relate to each other because your value systems don’t match; you are on different wavelengths, you live in different orbits! The nature of the relationship is irrelevant when there is no relating. All this talk about society, culture, dharma, tradition, sacredness and God – all this is a whole lot of fluff! No one but the two people in a relationship have a right to talk about their issues or how they feel in each other’s presence or how they experience each other. And even if one has a problem, even if it is because of their own doing, they have a right to recognize that relationship as dead.
Life is inscrutable and unpredictable. It defies logic and definition. And therefore boxing relationships in frameworks and talking of culture, tradition or roping in God to preserve a suffering-infested status quo is meaningless. Just as a husband and a wife can have a problem and separate, so can any two people, in any relationship, have a problem and choose to separate. Bottom-line: when you cease to relate, no matter what is the relationship, or who it is with, let go. And let be.