Sunday, 18 December 2016

Duty vs Love

Last night, during a family gathering, a younger cousin and I were exchanging views on Hindu mythology when he said, "Sita was a dutiful wife" and I reacted with "Sita was a loving wife. We must not mistake her love to be acts of duty." My cousin was not convinced. His take is that duty is also a form of love. While I appreciate his point of view and respect it, I have a slightly different definition of both duty and love. 

In my world view, a duty is an obligation that is expected to be rendered. It can make the doer of the duty feel burdened, and guilty if she does not fulfill this expectation. At times the duty can become so onerous that it takes pleasure and joy out of all action. Then there is love. Any act done out of love, is voluntary; making even the most dire of situations possible to navigate. Because one wants to do something one finds ways and means. There is no burden of expectation but a strong desire of doing and attaining significant personal satisfaction. If unfulfilled, there is no guilt; a tinge of sadness maybe...

And this is my understanding of Devi Sita as well. As a daughter her duty was to obey her father and attend the "swayamvar", the platform provided to her to select her own groom. The catch was that any prospective groom must be able to use Lord Shiva's bow. She fell in love with Lord Rama when she saw him in the gardens of the palace before the Swayamvar. She  acknowledged that the task suitors were expected to complete was tough and she wanted Lord Rama to win the challenge. She wanted to render her duty as a daughter and get her love; so she turned to the only way she knew and that was to seek the blessings of Goddess Parvati. Her first act of love came when in the course using Lord Shiva's bow Lord Rama broke it and incurred the wrath of sage Parshurama. 

Sage Parshurama was a great Shiva follower and was enraged when he learnt that his Guru's bow had been broken. Scintillating with anger he entered the Swayamvar complex, where out of duty and respect Devi Sita bowed to him and he blessed her with eternal happiness. Then he shifted his attention to the reason of his arrival and on learning that it was Lord Rama who had broken the bow, challenged him to a duel. Not wanting to fight the revered sage,  Lord Rama bowed in front of him when the sage picked up his axe to cut the Lord's neck. Devi Sita swiftly bowed between Rama and Parshurama - she would let no harm touch her beloved. The sage suddenly realised that if he harmed Lord Rama he would be taking away his own blessing of eternal happiness that he had bestowed on Devi Sita. And so love conquered anger and averted a duel. 

As a daughter-in-law Devi Sita's duty was to take care of her mothers-in-law in the tragic turn of events that had dealt Lord Rama a fourteen year exile. Her love for her husband created a need to be with him, even if it meant that it would sans luxuries and comforts. And so she convinced her mothers-in-law that between her duty and her love, she wanted to pick love even if it meant giving up worldly pleasures. A princess who was brought up in opulence and married into a royal family, the life of a nomad without any paraphernalia of any sorts was a challenge unforeseen. Yet she undertook it, not because it was her wifely duty but because of her total and unconditional love for Lord Rama. Had she wanted, he duties as a wife could have been hidden behind her duties as a daughter-in-law and she could have stayed in the palace with all amenities at her disposal. Yet she decided to walk the uncharted waters because her love gave her the strength of conviction. 

After Ravana was killed and Lord Rama and Devi Sita were reunited, she was asked to walk through fire. To the world this was to be a test of purity. Was it her duty to obey her husband that made her walk through fire or was it her love and faith in Lord Rama that got her to glide over the flames? If it was out of a sense of duty, her willingness and cheerful acceptance would not have been a part of her persona. It was love and the belief that the Lord had a reason he was putting the love of his life through this unthinkable task that got her to cross the fire with a smile, an open heart and no questions asked. 

Was it her duty as a wife and a queen that got her to bear Lord Rama his children? In fact it was her undying love that she not only wanted to be the mother to his children, but bring them up in an environment that would prepare them for all eventualities of life. That is the sole reason that she asked the Lord that she get time to spend with the saints in the forest and the children be brought up in their care. It is this wish that led to her being sent to the forest by Lord Rama; a wish that gave them both the grave pain of separation from the beloved. So while Devi Sita had the children to be with, the Lord spent the years only thinking of them and in the calm of the knoweldge that he had fulfilled his beloved's wishes. 

Devi Sita's duties as a queen were to render her responsibilities to the kingdom. Lord Rama as the king was duty bound to his subjects. So when a pregnant Devi Sita, as mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana, asked for her time with the great saints in the forest, the Lord did say that in face of our duties I am unable to grant your wish, however, my love will ensure that I don't let you down. And so, to keep the sanctity of duty and love, an incident in the kingdom instigated talks about how a woman who had spent a night at another man's house should not be accepted by the husband. This gave the Lord the excuse of saying that Devi Sita had spent many nights at Ashok Vatika, a garden in the palace of Ravana and so she would be sent away. 

I could continue with my views on the difference between love and duty, on the life of Devi Sita and the great love that Lord Rama and Devi Sita harbour for one another. I could add to that my learnings of the life of Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati and how duty and love in their lives have been depicted and brought about union and disruptions. However, the idea of this post is simple - to bring forward my understanding of duty and love and to see if the more evolved readers agree or can show me another view point I may have missed out on. The reason for my writing today is to put forward an understanding of a couple we whole heartedly worship but at the same time blame the Lord for oppressing his better half. The purpose of my writing is to challenge my own self and to see if my own convictions are rational. On this last point, with my data points and learnings, I stand by my belief and faith - Duty is not love, love is far stronger a force than duty and the lives of Devi Sita and Lord Rama are symbols of how great love can be. 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Delhi - A City Just Happy to Be

Winter is not my favourite season but Delhi houses two of my favourite people. And so when on Monday I was told that I needed to be in Delhi for an urgent meeting on Wednesday, I faced what I call subdued excitement. Oh my little angels were thrilled to hear that I was coming and we made plans of the storytelling session for Wednesday night too. At the same time, I warned Sequoia of my absolute need to hog the heater. And so here I am, in the still adolescent winter of this year, with a coffee mug in hand and a warm fleece around me; wondering why have I never penned my thoughts on this city that gave me some of my most cherished friends...

It was yet another move to yet another city and yet another school. I was hesitant and shy. They had all grown up together, and here as a teenager, a newcomer in me was trying to fit in. I can't remember who it was, but one of them adopted me and soon we were the five fingers of a palm. Oh we did our own things outside class but we all hung out together too. We went to Christmas parties, birthday parties, each others homes and even stood by the classroom window together to catch a glimpse of the latest Bollywood heartthrob! It was a period of seven months, and yet those seven months created a bond that has survived distances and years. 

Delhi gave me a brother in a brother-in-law. The first time ever, when I knew everyone around me was hiding the truth, he broke the news to me. Nana (my maternal grandfather) was no more. Yes my mother and Sequoia had reached too late to be able to meet him one last time, but such was life and I had to stand strong for Bonsai who was still unaware. Yes they had all hid the truth but that's because I had my last exam to write. Yes we had to tell Bonsai but we would do it after I had settled. Had it not been for him, I would not have been able to accept the truth as simply as I did. And then we went for a drive to India Gate, a place that lights up my face even today. 

Delhi was the first city that made me understand what social support means. Of course the so called support can go to the extreme of interference, in some cases; but people here have the time for family, friends and even neighbours. Community living is still a part of the culture here. It still is a place that celebrates Diwali, Holi and Independence Day in neighbourhoods with children and adults participating with equal enthusiasm. This spirit is definitely not visible or palpable in the Mighty Mumbai. 

So why have I not yet written about Delhi...I guess that's because Delhi is just happy to be. Delhi does not scream out glitz and razzmatazz, it does not force you to live a life only the way it seems fit but it also does not open its heart out to you. If you come you are welcome to find your own place in and pace of life. If you live here you will be given the opportunities that you seek. If you expect that the city, and not the people, will make you smile you are knocking at the wrong door. So Delhi has no insecurities about its place on the global map as I see it and it has been an easy part of my life; making me ignore the fact that it did lay the founding stones of friendship.

So why am I writing about Delhi now? Other than the fact that it is an important city in my life, it is because today I felt that it is also a city that has taught me to go with the flow. 

The meeting I came for was not fruitful. I was disappointed and thought maybe the trip had not been needed. Muddled in these thoughts, I was waiting for the car on the main road, witnessing the traffic jam and trying to wrap a shawl to keep myself warm. A lady walked up to me and asked me if she could find a bus from there to Dhaulakuan and I replied, "Sorry I don't know". She smiled, "why are you sorry. You don't know, that ain't your fault." That is when I realised she was depicting the city. It's ok in Delhi not to know it all. It's ok in Delhi to be a newcomer and not to know the way the city works. It's ok in Delhi to ask for help. Is that not true for life as well?

As I am on the flight back to Mumbai, and looking at this Capital from the skies above, I acknowledge that people in Delhi can be aggressive and abrasive but then they have a life. In Mumbai people can be polished and polite but they have an agenda. Delhi can be unsavoury and unsafe but it keeps things real. Mumbai is safer, not necessarily less unsavoury but more of a dreamland. And yes these are statements that stereotype, generalise and talk about my own views; but I can see how Delhi will be nonchalant about these while Mumbai will not take it kindly...and that ladies and gentlemen is the biggest difference.

Monday, 12 December 2016

The tug of Life

I am but one individual, yet I have multiple roles to fulfill. I am but one person, yet I have many different dreams. I am but one human being and I guess that is where I have one responsibility and one reality - to acknowledge and appreciate my mortaliy. It is my responsibility to acknowledge it, so that I never get complacent or inhuman in my dealings with others. It is my reality to appreciate, so that everyday I can enjoy the beauty that the world brings my way. And only with this realisation will I be able to do justice to all my different roles and achieve my varied dreams. This truth of life, the one that will finally decide if it was a life worth lived, gives meaning to all that I struggle for. 

A few years ago, walking along the holy Ganges in Benares, the Benevolent One told me that everyday one should cross a crematorium. A much younger and a less wiser me was stunned and a bit taken aback by his statement. He for one has always known my thoughts before I have, and so instantly he said it's because that is where your Lord Shiva resides. I took heart and smiled in relief. Today, older and wiser I understand what he actually meant - everyday we must acknowledge our mortality, because that is thought, which destroys all our sorrows and unwanted agony. I have not been able to achieve that level of calm yet, but now whenever I am troubled by my ego or arrogance in personal interactions I turn to this thought. In the long run if it won't make a difference, holding on to that ego or arrogance is not worth it. So I try to drop it. I am only trying and I will keep trying. In time my success or failure will be there for my inner circle to assess. 

At work though it is a different approach. A little aggression is needed, at times, to get just that most important but that last amount of work done. I have been known to have felt extremely guilty after having been tough at work. At times I have even spoken to friends asking if they have lost their patience because someone would either just not do what was asked or would not understand and keep repeating mistakes. And at that point, not taking a tough stand could result in missed deadlines or unmet performance targets; both of which can cost the company and other colleagues very dearly. So I may be guilty of seeming to be unkind and harsh, but in the long run I believe it to be a requirement. 

A few years ago, at a leadership training session, all attendees were asked to write their own one line obituaries. It was probably  the toughest assignment I have ever done, but one that I will never forget. I wrote my tombstone that read, "The change maker, hand holder and smile provider." I was a banker then, but nowhere did the words deal maker, money spinner or go getter, appear in the shortlist I put together. It was an exercise that made me think of what I really wanted from life. The answer emerged - to create something, to positively impact lives, to minimise suffering and struggles and to be there for the ones I love. As the answer emerged, so did the opportunity; and I moved to manufacturing. 

The last three and a half years I have probably grown, learnt and contributed the most in my short life so far. But when I look ahead I have so much more that I would like to do, understand, and give, that I do not want to lose a minute of this precious life. I don't want to waste time agonising over what I missed, but I want to cherish and build on what I have. I don't want to ponder on the what if, but I want to seize the moment and see if it is where I find my treasure. I don't want to have to regret, but I want to say what I feel.

I have never lived a life that would conform to a type. I have borne enough burdens of expectations of stereotypes. I can only live if I can stay true to my unique style. And just for that I will have to remember that just like life, every moment is transient. It will all only make sense when it all comes to an end. But before the curtain drops, I need to play my part, say my lines, sing my songs and laugh out loud. Only then will there be an opportunity to stand up and ask if I did justice to the role I was handed...

Sunday, 11 December 2016

An Opportunity to Make it Better

HP messaged, "He just passed away, Tanu". I was sitting at the table and just about to shut the laptop when it hit me; it's over and the only friend with Junior is HP. I could be there but I was told to stay put and so I have been writing. The one coping mechanism, cure and celebration I know does not fail. And so, for the first time in my blogger's life I will write a second post on the same day. 

My thoughts are with Junior, his family and other friends. For days together HP has been upset with the behaviour of other friends; individuals who seem to be there only so that no one could say that they were not seen...

Friends; that takes me back to another conversation earlier today. I made a statement that I have never found Bombay to be a warm city. Of course this December night it's cold but I was referring to the warmth of a place  or person. "Why? Don't you have friends?" Of course I do, but if I was to visit Bombay as a stranger, I would find it impersonal, in rush, disorganised and confounding; in short not warm. And yes I have friends who not only make this city special but make me want to make it less rough for their comforts.

As I am praying for Junior's father and his family, I am taken back to the time when Appyrichvictor's father was diagnosed with cancer. It was early January, four years ago, when he called me from his abode in Europe, asking if I knew an orthopaedic who could give a second opinion. I did; but what was the problem? After a few questions and patient cajoling I realised it was the metastasis of his father's cancer that was the reason for this subdued, troubled sounding and hesitant call. I had no words that came to me. Uncle was the healthiest and most active individual in the seventies I knew. Well that being said, the situation had to be handled. We decided on a course of action and Appyrichvictor decided to fly down to Bombay.

From airport to home, we decided to catch up with the other events of one another's life. Neither of us spoke about the actionable items in the next few days. I guess we were tardy. That very evening we had to admit uncle to the hospital and there we were faced with complications. Appyrichvictor consulted his brother in law in UK, the only doctor in the family, and then took the decisions that needed his consent. The Sporty Biker and I hung around for any need that Aunty or Appyrichvictor may have. Hospital staff behaved as if it was just another day, which of course for them it was, but they lacked any and all compassion. The doctors were unclear and impatient in the way they dealt with the family. All in all, the worried son who had been away from India for over 20years was not in a comfortable place. Aunty went home and Appyrichvictor of course was on ground zero. After a post mid night dinner I left the hospital but Sporty Biker decided to stay on. The battle against cancer had just begin.

The next two and a half years were similar. Doctors who promised to see the patient at 6:00pm would rock up at 2:00am. Asking questions would infuriate some, others needed further consultation to give clarity and yet others were not available. On days when we rushed uncle in emergency I distinctly remember ER staff not giving him a blanket till a ruckus was created. Or for that matter, the ER doctors lacking thoroughness of taking a proper history. Proximity to home, the only oncology speciality hospital in a twenty kilometre radius and uncle's condition; there seemed to be no option but to deal with this hospital. So the treatment, the late night dinners at the hospital stairs and reluctant second opinions became par for course. 

Demanding auto rickshaw drivers, the horrible roads and the poor infrastructure; all added to the woes of the family of the mother and son. When Appyrichvictor was away, he had a job to keep, Sporty Biker and I tried to be around as much as we could be. But Mumbai distances and the rushed life we lead, meant that we were not there as often as we would have liked to be...

On one of her annual visits to me, in London, mother fell ill in the middle of the night. I dialled 101 instead of 111. While 111 is medical emergency number, 101 is non emergency police number. After hearing me out, the 101 operator alerted the paramedics, assured me they were on the way and then politely told me that next time I should dial 111 to save time. The paramedics reached in less than 10minutes. They came up, examined mother with the utmost kindness and care and suggested that we take her to the AnE. I got worried then but patiently they explained that her ECG, Blood pressure, pulse etc were all normal but as a precaution this was recommended. 

I had friends in London, in fact in the same building, but I did not need to bother them at that unearthly hour as the strangers who were care givers gave me no reason to feel vulnerable. Yes the next morning, an unfeeling boss demanded that I haul myself into the office and that is when all friends and their wives took turns to be with mother. Yes friends make life easy but sometimes we cannot do without them and at other times we don't need to inconvenience them. 

No this post is not about London being better than Mumbai. Nor is this post about merits of friendship. This is a post about the environment that we have created in our cities; an environment that forces us to look at self more than all that impacts the life of the self and the impact the life of the self could have on others. This is a post that expresses a wish that maybe someday Mumbai, a fascinating city, can also become a city with open arms. This is a post, to say that it is you and I who make this city, let us make it a better place for all of us. Because once we are gone, we would have lost any opportunity to make any difference. Because when we go, we probably would not even know that time is up. Because after one chance has gone, we may never get another chance even though life may be long...


Life is precious; all life is. Yet life has agonies - physical, mental and emotional. At one point in my life I have said that physical pain is bearable but emotional can be excruciating. Today, as I am writing this, I am aware of the physical and emotional suffering of a father and son and cannot even begin to think who needs to be saved first. 

It all started a few days ago with a heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital and on the Operating Table had another attack. In the ICU his kidneys and lungs started to give way. The son, living almost a twenty four hour journey away, was informed. He came to see his father on the ventilator; and then miraculously, as if nothing had happened, he was off the ventilator. Everyone was grateful and relieved when the coin turned again. Not only was he back on the ventilator but had to be wired up. In his concious state he is pulling and tugging at them and so the medical staff has tied his hands and legs. 

What is ravaging his body? What is gnawing at his brain? What emotional tsunami is the son enduring? What mental battle is junior trying to manoeuvre? I am trying not to think about it because reality of life is too harsh today.

The physical state is debilitating. It is heart wrenching. The emotional havoc is crippling. It is completely exhausting. If the physical pain is relieved the emotional pain will dive deeper, at least in the interim. If the emotional agony is given priority, the physical agony will only grind the emotional agony. Then there is the question of morality and ethics vs mortality and science. And then I come back to thinking, life is precious but the dignity is important too...

We are all, those who had the lucky draw of winning the parent lottery, products of the values and education provided, efforts and attempts made, and the love and care given by our parents. When they suffer the world seems to be unfair and the preciousness of life seems to diminish. How can the very givers of life, struggle in the jaws of undignified and intolerable pain? How can those who healed every little bruise, be forced to fight hell raising pain? How can the ones who gave all they could, have still to give when they have no more left? And why is it that at this point, the child, despite all desires, abilities and strength; can only stand and watch?

HP reports, he is sinking...I don't think it's him alone. It's him and junior. It's the end of an era approaching stealthily. May he be at ease. May junior be with strength...

Life is precious, and it is unpredictable. Life is precious, and it is short. Life is precious, and it is not in our control. And so I would take the moment I get, to let those I care for know that they are special. And so I would take the moment I get, and spend it with those who make a difference to my life. And so I take this moment to pray that even if it is not in my control, may life give me the opportunity and the time, to build memories that can last beyond a lifetime.