Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Conversation with my Father-in-law

Papaji lives with us now, and is an integral part of our home - but I haven't written very much about him - so far.

He spends a lot of his time alone in his room because he hasn't been feeling too well. For a while, I was trying to get him involved in tutoring some underprivileged kids ( he is a Professor of Physics), but that didn't last too long, mostly because of his health.

 Apart from various other things, his stomach has been giving him some trouble. I often badger him about getting active and doing something despite how he's feeling. Serves me right then for having developed the most severe attack of food poisoning yesterday, as a reminder about how critical health is - for anything. And how it's not easy to think about or do anything when you're feeling that way. Vijay eventually dragged a weakly-protesting me to the hospital to get me an injection of Perinorm, Buscopan and one more thing I cannot recall. Basically, it was bad. I'm better now, just taking some time off work to recuperate.

So anyway, the one thing that I do manage to do with Papaji is have a regular cup of tea with him. I used to be a brand manager for a tea brand, but I can tell you I never really appreciated the importance of tea as creating 'Connecting' moments as I do now. Either way, we sit down and talk. I ask him a lot of questions because he is a fount of wisdom and has amazing clarity on most matters.

The other day we were talking about Anger, and I had to confess that while I'm a lot more mellow now, I still tend to lose it sometimes, and so does Vijay.

Papaji smiled slightly and said ''Well, I was telling Vijay also the other day - as you get older and more senior - you lose the right to be angry.''

''Yes, of course.'' I had heard this one before. '' The question is how. How do you not get angry?''

''You decide not to be angry.''

''But that doesn't work in the moment'' I protested.

''The moment before you get angry, decide then.''

I blinked at him, a little frustrated at how easy he was making it sound. ''So do you NEVER get angry, Papaji?''

''Of course, I get angry. But I just don't show it then. And then, on the other hand, there are times when you have to pretend to be angry because it's useful to correct someone's behavior- I've done that too, without actually feeling any anger.''

I took my time absorbing this one, sipping on my tea. And then I came back with an inspired

''So basically - if you are angry and you don't show it, it's okay. Or if you show it but are not actually angry, it's okay. It's only a mistake to feel anger AND show it at the same time. What you have to do is aim for a disconnect!''

(Having done an MBA, there are times when I relapse into Being an MBA)

Papaji was unperturbed and said simply ''The real question is whether you are controlling your anger or it is controlling you.''


''How come you're like this, Papaji?''

He was surprised by this one, so I clarified '' As in, in over ten years, I've never seen you really angry. How long have you been like this?''

He looked even more flummoxed. I went on ''You know - never-losing-it-types.'' This wasn't going well and I could tell. ''I mean, is it an old age thing?'' Dammit. ''As in, is it the wisdom that comes with age? You must have gotten angry when you were younger, right?''

He frowned as if trying to remember, shifting his gaze briefly to the window, and then looked back at me and shrugged eloquently.

'That can't be, Papaji.' I was sure I was on the verge of discovering something. 'There must have been some incident that made you realize that anger wasn't worth it. Which means, you must have really gotten mad at someone about something and lost it - think...what was it?''

He thought for a while. ''There was a time when I was Head of Department at the University, and some rowdy teenagers came in to my room. They wanted something, perhaps some marks to be changed, and I refused. So they started threatening me. The Vice-Chancellor called just then, and said that he wanted to see me - but the boys stopped me, saying I wasn't going anywhere.''

I breathed ''So what happened? What did you do?''

''I said 'Okay, let the Vice Chancellor keep waiting then.' And I just sat there.''

''What? Then??''

''Then they said they have a gun.''


''So I told them, 'What are you waiting for? Go ahead and shoot me. Or, if you like, there are four of you and only one of me - you could also just throw me out of the window.''

I stared at him and then asked ''So then?''

''They left.''

I was quiet. I had heard a similar story to this one - about how a huge crowd of Union Workers had once surrounded him, screaming about some issue and threatening him. He had told me how angry he had felt at that time, but simply because he kept his cool, the whole situation was diffused in a matter of minutes. He was right of course.

But being a woman, and an obstinate one at that, I declared ''This example doesn't work, Papaji. I am saying that you must have at SOME point felt really angry and shown it and lost it.Maybe it was further back than you can recall, but it had to have happened. Otherwise, you're just superhuman.''

''I am a very ordinary man.''

''Sure.'' I muttered ''But you have to remember. I want to hear about when you lost it. So think about it and tell me tomorrow.''

He smiled in amusement, and said ''Alright.'' But I'm pretty sure he was just indulging me.

Anyhow, I soon left him after assigning him this innately useless project. It's been several days, but he still hasn't been able to recall that incident.

 But I am relentless in my quest, so we will unearth it someday.

Possibly today, over tea. 


  1. Wow. Incredible. I learnt something today. Thanks for writing this up.

    I have never seen my elders being as angry as I get so they must have internalized this without much thought

  2. Deep wisdom in this post! You nailed it with the 'disconnect' observation.

  3. Another one that I heard somewhere ' jindagi ek rangmanch hai aur yahan sab kalakar

  4. What a wonderfuil conversation to have Yash. I can relate fully to the trajectory of your thoughts and want to know his historical tipping point as badly as you do. To me, you nailed it in the 'disconnect' theory, MBA-speak or not (hey, if the jargon fits....). He's of course right about not letting anger rule, but I pitch my voice with yours in asking, no whining 'But HOOOOOOOW?!!'. My personal Holy Grail is to not be so reactive and wear my reactions as obviously as I do (even when I THINK I'm masking them) simply because it makes me feel more judgemental than I'd like to. But apart from a lobotomy, I fail to see how to trigger that 'off' switch.

    I also struggled with the validity of that choice: IS it, REALLY, always good to have that disconnect that lets you retain perspective and calm? But your FIL already addressed that, did'nt he? Expressed Anger, real or pretend, can be deployed to good purpose but it's only really effective if you are able to remain minimally affected by it. As a mild mannered and empathatic person I often run up against people who take my balanced views as a lack of conviction and/or courage. 'Time to roar' I often remind myself.

    YOu might enjoy this, if you have'nt already read it:

    It's about why we should NOT hold it back. Not sure I agree but I like her reaction. A lot. Thoughts Yash?


Hi there. Go on, say it. Well? WELL?