[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here: http://a-weekend-in-chicago.blogspot.in/2017/01/1.html]
If Jim is coming across as a chap with a heart of gold then trust me, Soo Jung was no less. Here’s a conversation that I recall:
Me: Say Soo Jung, Jim has the cause of kids growing up in foster homes close to his heart and wants to do as much as he can to improve their situation. Other than supporting him in this goal of his, do you have a cause that is close to your heart?
Soo Jung: First of all Brij, that’s not just his goal. It’s ours. We’ve had a deep sense of belongingness with each other from the time we became friends and then decided to be together. So we don’t think of any goal as being his or mine. We take them as our goals. But to answer your question, yes, I like to see elderly people happy. They have bequeathed this planet to us. They’ve gone through their challenges to make the world what it is today. There are parts of our world we may like and parts we may not. But I suppose that’s how it always is and I think we need to ensure that their old age is as comfortable and peaceful as possible. Although my parents stay with Jim and myself, and we prefer it that way, several elderly people stay in old age homes and I direct a lot of my efforts and resources towards ensuring that they have a good life. In this country it’s not money that is the primary challenge when it comes to old age homes but providing the elders staying there with good companionship. They like it when people visit them, spend some time with them and talk with them. I do that a fair bit. But things are better in your country, right? From what I’ve heard the need for old age homes is much lesser there as it’s inbuilt in family values that people take care of their parents when they are old.
Me: Yes, that’s true. It is a part and parcel of our value system. And I think it’s a great thing. Parents make tremendous sacrifices to bring us up and I don't think it’s even something to be said explicitly that we need to take care of them in their old age. It’s an implicit and obvious responsibility and is certainly not a burden. It’s just a manifestation of love for one’s parents as it was a manifestation of their love for us when we grew up and they had to put up with many an inconvenience to bring us up well. I’m so glad to hear that your parents stay with you and Jim. Feels nice to hear that.
But I must also admit that not everything is always hunky dory in Indian homes. Many a time people don’t treat their parents well at all. Instead of living in comfort and peace parents end up becoming servile to their children and their spouses. They are made to carry out menial household tasks and shoulder responsibilities that their children should be shouldering as adults. In such situations I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if these elderly people had the choice of saying enough is enough and moving themselves into an old age home. Many parents in India make the mistake of bequeathing their wealth to their children too soon. It’s an act of trust from their side but not everyone respects it. I firmly believe that while bringing up children well and ensuring a good education for them is every parent’s responsibility, they should retain control of their own wealth too so that they never find themselves dependent on their children to an extent that they have no option but to put up with second rate treatment in their old age. Push come to shove they should also be able to take a decision to live independently or in an old age home instead and there need to be good provisions for this. I don’t think there are enough such provisions in India today.
Then there is the reverse scenario too. While a lot is good in terms of family values in India, I think it is also a fact that many parents exert excessive control on their children, I am not denying that parents have a disciplining role to play with their children but sometimes control can be and is excessive. This can start right from childhood resulting in stunted growth of children, frustrated youth and can persist even after adulthood. Many times they exert unwarranted control on their children’s spouses which can result in a lot of unhappiness for everyone involved but particularly the spouse. In such situations I honestly think that sometimes it might be better for the children to live on their own and parents to stay independently as far as possible and then live in an old age home. Once again, I do not think there are enough provisions for this today.
India is a great country and we have a great tradition of sound human values being passed from generation to generation. But I think it’s also a fact that not everything is perfect. As I see it, there is a need for honest introspection in many a family and a restoring of balance between generations.
Soo Jung: Oh…a lot of this is news to me. Certainly there needs to be balance. I think every generation should treat the previous generation with the gratitude and respect that is due to them. At the same time, it is every generation’s responsibility to bring up the next generation with a state of mindfulness and love. What is the point in raising children if you will just leave them frustrated and hurt behind you when it is your turn to depart? I hope things improve soon Brij. Your country’s heritage is so rich and it has so much to offer to the whole world.
Me: Yes, that is certainly true. I am very proud of my roots myself. I hope things look up in the near future. I think some honest introspection and course correction from everyone is all that is required. But often that’s just what we don’t do. Instead we keep blaming everything and everyone around us instead of taking responsibility for our intentions and actions.
Say Soo Jung, a personal question: Are there things you and Jim disagree and quarrel about? Have you had conflicts in your relationship at any stage?
Soo Jung: I know why you ask this Brij. We too observe that it’s almost become a norm that people in relationships quarrel with each other a fair bit. Sometimes it seems to me that friction in relationships has become a norm to such an extent that people have started justifying it as being part and parcel of romance. But no Brij, to be honest Jim and me have not had any significant conflicts. It did take some time for us to understand each other initially when we got to know each other and a friendship developed. But soon enough each of us saw and appreciated that the other was essentially good. And once that appreciation is there, respect arises naturally. After that where is the scope of any serious conflict? If either of us had any serious reservations about the other or if there were to be a serious conflict in our core value systems, we probably wouldn't have moved beyond friendship. Being able to take conscious decisions with as clear a mind as possible is part and parcel of being an adult. Luckily we both had this maturity.
If by disagreement you mean differences in views on different matters then of course, we both use our intelligence and differ in opinions on so many things. But I don’t understand why that should lead to quarrels and conflicts. We just talk through things and try to see things from the other’s viewpoint too. We're very open and honest with each other and there is an implicit trust between us that each of us is sincere about trying to understand the other's viewpoint. If a common ground emerges, ok. If not, then ok too: once in a while a disagreement can just stay a disagreement. It is no big deal. We are not binary entities. It doesn’t have to be 1 or 0 every time. Jim and me love each other. It gives us great happiness to be with each other. Why should we bring any bitterness between us? We want to celebrate life. Life’s short you know. Why waste any of it creating unhappiness?
As for having emotional ups and downs individually, yeah of course we have them. Both of us live our lives intensely and there can be moments and days when one or the other of us is not in balance within. But so what? We give each other the time and space we require to sort out our thoughts and emotions and deal with them. I think we've also learnt how to handle our emotions better with the passage of time. That's as much a part of being educated as anything else in my book. Having goals that are larger than our individual lives and being committed to them goes a long way in keeping petty emotions away in my opinion in any case. Plus we both meditate. I'm convinced that helps in keeping our minds equanimous.
At the end of the day the whole point of being with someone is that you are happy with them. The whole basis of a relationship is respect, love and trust. If these are there where is the cause for quarreling? And if these are not there why be with someone in the first place?
You know what Brij, I think a whole lot of conflicts simply arise from one thing: a desire to control and come across as being right all the time. It is so silly! I don’t understand why people burden themselves with this? As it is life offers so many challenges. What Jim and me bring to each other is the support and strength to deal with these. Why should he burden himself with trying to control me and me him? And as for the idea of always being right, I wish people would understand that sometimes different people can have different views and opinions based on their life experiences and their way of thinking. When in disagreement, people can just talk through things and try to see things from the other’s viewpoint too. As I said before, if a common ground emerges, ok. If not, then ok too: unless it's really a deep conflict of values or ehics, once in a while a disagreement can just stay a disagreement. It's no big deal. We are not binary entities. It doesn’t have to be 1 or 0 every time. Life’s short. Why waste any of it creating unhappiness? Be happy!
Me: What you are saying about control is so correct Soo Jung. I think Indian families have been excessively patriarchal for a long time. Women in my country have had to to bear a lot. It’s a funny thing you know…we have a beautiful word for wife in my Mother tongue: Ardhaangini. It literally means half your being. People have forgotten that. Things are changing now though and I hope the future is better. I must add though that sometimes one sees the other extreme also in play. I think sometimes women end up treating their partners in a very manipulative manner. That is no good either. I don’t think a loss of balance on one side is any better than the other. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the whole point of being with someone is that you are happy with them. The whole basis of a relationship is respect, love and trust. If these are there where is the cause for quarreling? And if these are not there why be with someone in the first place? That’s very beautifully and simply put Soo Jung, very beautifully and simply put.
Soo Jung (smiling): Thanks Brij. And balance is your keyword, isn’t it? You use that word very often in so many different contexts.
Me (smiling back): Absolutely Soo Jung, absolutely. I think pretty much everything in life is about finding the balance and keeping it. That’s key.