Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Turning Point

Dear All,

My second daughter Sowmya Srinivasan has a blog called www.reinventionstories.wordpress.com, in which she uploads stories of women who have chosen a different path, a midlife change. One of the first stories she uploaded was of her  mother`s; written by Prabha in her inimitable, simple English in which she talks about her early childhood brought up by a single parent (her father passed away when she was 20 days old etc) and how she transformed herself  from  a very shy person who was not at all comfortable in any social circle to be a confident individual willing to take on all types of social responsibilities while finding time to give expressions to her interest in writing, singing, gardening  etc..

What triggered this change? How did it happen? What was the Turning Point? The following article gives you an idea of the unusual circumstances under which Prabha became a writer and how subsequent  events opened up a whole new world to make her a multi-talented, socially active woman who was admired by her friends for her simplicity, commitment to any cause and her childlike enthusiasm for anything she took up. It is  a story of how thinking `out of the box’  sometimes help us come out of very challenging situations. It is also a story of how hidden talent needs to be recognized and encouraged to make the talented persons blossom into confident individuals.

The article is an elaboration of a section of this story which is featured in my autobiography titled `Courage My Companion`. Read on and send me your feedback.


 It was in 1986 that my parents who were staying in Mumbai with my younger brother, decided to move to Chennai to stay with my family . As the eldest son in the family I was committed to looking after them in their old age and I was happy that I was going to fulfill my commitment.

While I was cruising along steadily on the business front and thought I was doing well on the home front too, I was in for a shock. Two years after my parents came to stay with me; my wife Prabha became strangely unsettled. Often she would be lost in thoughts, irritable and at loggerheads with our three teenage children. Sensing her unhappiness I took her on a short holiday to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

But even after we returned her mood fluctuations continued. One night I returned home from a Rotary meeting to find an envelope on the pillow in our bedroom. It contained a 10 page letter to me written by my wife. She had poured her heart out in the letter in which she complained about my mother, accusing me of being a mama’s-boy, listening to my mother more often than I was listening to her. The letter talked about her lack of importance in the family because of her dominating mother-in-law.

This well written letter in Tamil was representative of the typical problems an Indian housewife faces in a joint family system. Though it was very interesting to read, I was shocked. The letter opened my eyes to the realities of my family life and particularly it helped me see my wife in a different light.

I realized that Prabha was suffering from an identity crisis, in spite of the fact that she had everything going for her; a good family, three lovely children, decent living conditions…or so I thought! But she was obviously missing an emotional connect with me

As an advertising man frequently dealing with creative people, I immediately recognized her immense talent for writing in Tamil. I decided to use this knowledge to provide a turning point in her life!

After mulling over the letter for a couple of days, I took it to the Editor of Mangayar Malar, a leading Tamil monthly for women. She was initially reluctant to read the letter as it was a personal letter to me. After some persuasion, she went through it and wondered why I was showing it to her. I asked her if she would like to publish it in her magazine as I believed the letter represented the feelings of thousands of Indian housewives in a joint family system. She agreed that it was hot stuff but insisted on meeting my wife and talking to her before initiating any action.

Later I told my wife what I had done. Though surprised and shocked, she agreed to come with me to see the Editor. After the informal meeting, she agreed to have the letter published as the cover story in the July ’88 issue of the magazine, but under a pen name. Since my mother was also an avid reader of the magazine, my wife  did  not want any trouble at home because of the article.

As a part of my strategy to bring her out of her shell, I took her on a 5-week holiday to USA and Canada carrying a few copies of the magazine, straight out of the press. I could see that the experience of visiting new places and meeting new people was beginning to transform her. In a carefree atmosphere and eating the rich food (loaded with ice-creams!) she even put on some weight!

On our return journey, she penned another article describing her problems with her teenage daughter, which also got published in the same magazine! This led her to try her hand in writing short stories some of which got published in some popular Tamil magazines.

Some friends persuaded her to join the neighborhood Ladies Club and the Inner Wheel Club of Madras South (the Ladies wing of the Rotary Club of which I was a Past President). She took to these organizations like the proverbial `Duck to Water`. She even became the President of the Inner Wheel Club of Madras South within a couple of years. She started learning Carnatic music and joined a few more classes to learn bhajans and devotional music.

While this helped improve her self-esteem and develop an identity of her own as a singer and a dependable social activist (apart from being a great homemaker), she stopped writing because of her pre-occupation with other activities. This made me unhappy. All my persuasive powers to make her continue her writing proved futile. I devised a strategy to revive her interest in writing.

Much against her wishes , I got a collection of her short stories published as a book and launched it on her 59th Birth Day at a function attended by a few relatives and her friends. My strategy worked. Encomiums and praise for her style of writing started pouring in. Motivated by the wonderful response to her book, she started writing again resulting in two Novellas and a few more short stories within 18 months. These were included in her second book published and released on 27th July, 2012- (her 61st Birth Day), by this time, we had already discovered that she was suffering from Cancer. I must record my sincere thanks to Shri Ravi Tamilvanan of Manimekalai Prasuram, a leading Publishing House in Chennai, for going out of his way to have the book published in record time. The fabulous response to her second book in the form of telephone calls and letters from readers of the book provided a good diversion to Prabha from the pain that she was suffering.

I have been known as a “Projects Man” all my life. Helping Prabha come out of her shell and blossom into a multi-talented person that she eventually became turned out to be an ongoing project in my life. Though I provided the turning points, on her part she grabbed all the opportunities that came her way and tried to do well in every role she was asked to play. In the process she endeared herself to many members in the several organizations that she was associated with. The large number of her friends, who turned up to witness her last journey on 5th Jan.2013, was a testimony to her success as a lovable human being .  Prabha had come a long  way in life and  I was really very proud of her!

I have initiated some action to perpetuate the memory of my wife in my own small way.  That is going to be the next project in my life. I will share the details with well wishers in due course.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bringing Up Children

Bringing up children in today’s world is a humongous task for parents. Thanks to the information explosion due to television and internet, they are more smart and knowledgeable about everything. They seem to be clear about what they want and seem to have strong views on every subject. Especially when it comes to the brands of household products that are bought, whether it is a toothpaste or a two wheeler or even a four wheeler. It is called `kids pester power` in the advertising world.

When my son-in-law wanted to buy a new car, my 9 year old grand son had done a thorough study of selected cars and announced that his choice was Honda Jazz. His father had no option but to go for it.

A nephew of mine who is appearing for his 12th Board exam is very clear that he is going to study ‘Mechatronics’ – a new subject in the Engineering field which allows him to specialize in Robotics when he goes for his Masters degree. He has set his future in Robotics.

Thanks to the internet the children do a thorough research on any subject that they are interested in and go through all the processes involved – all online – to get what they want. Very often what they want may be contrary to what their parents want them to have – leading to conflicts and tensions in the family. The Parents`own inadequate knowledge on the subjects may add to the tension. My advice to such parents would be, if your children are clear about what they want and are passionate about something, encourage them to pursue their passion. Instead of forcing them to do what you think is right for them.

If you perceive certain pitfalls in their approach, you are duty bound to advise them and warn them but allow them to take a well considered decision so that they take ownership for such decisions and are prepared to face the consequences, if any. If you try this approach your children will surely shape into confident and focused individuals in life.

More than fifty five years ago, I decided to pursue a career in advertising – when it was a seller’s market and advertising was not even considered a career option. My father allowed me to have my way. A friend had rightly advised him that if your children are clear about what they want, do not interfere. He followed the same strategy with my younger brothers. All of us have done well in life, thoroughly enjoying the careers that each of us chose. We made our parents proud of us, during their lifetime.

Recently I was with a cousin with two teenage children – a boy and a girl. I was amazed to find the excellent rapport that the cousin and his wife had with their children. During the couple of hours I spent in their house, not once did I find them having a shouting match with their kids, for anything. Talking to the cousin, I found that one of the contributing factors for their bonhomie with the kids was the absence of a television set in the house – a major distraction for kids in any home. My cousin and his wife had taken a conscious decision that they would set an example by not doing what they did not want their children to do – so both the parents do not watch the TV at home. If at all they want to watch a movie or a video, they borrow it from a local video library and watch the same with the children on their PC/Laptop . This gives them enough quality time to spend with the kids, interacting with them as friends, rather than as bullying parents. Please remember that bullying parents are greatly responsible for their children becoming rebels.

A quote from an article on the subject by Farida Raj in the Hindu, is relevant here. It reinforces the point I have tried to make on bringing up children. She says,*The parent`s level of emotional acceptance of the child and their resulting attitude towards him/her play a leading role in laying the foundation for the type of personality the child will develop. The attitude of the parents is the most potent conditioning factor in the life of the child”.

The message I got was that the days of children blindly obeying the parents are gone! If you show enough understanding of their problems, be available to them whenever they want you and learn to trust them, children will respond positively. In other words be a trusted friend to your kids. At least one of the parents should assume that role! If that happens, bringing up children will really be a joy!