My recent bereavement has brought many old friends back into my life with their regrets and condolences. Some strange stories and developments with which I was out of touch, have now come to my knowledge. I intend sharing some of them here and the first one was about My Young Friend (MYF) which was my last post. The next one, shared here is no less intriguing.
My not so young friend (MNYF) is the son of a good friend from South India. I have known the family since 1968, when I first met the MNYF’s grand father at a mutual friend’s place. They are reasonably wealthy and come from a business community. This particular family is into many lucrative trading and manufacturing businesses each being looked after by one member of a joint family.
The community is a small one but disproportionately influential due to its economic clout. Individuals within the community are fiercely competitive and breaking up of families due to differences of opinion between siblings is very common.
Another significant trait of the community is that, despite being very modern in their business methods and paying a great deal of attention and respect to higher education to both girls and boys of the community, they are endogamous like almost all Indian castes and sub castes are. It is quite common that cousins marry each other. In fact, this is a preferred choice unless there is no cousin of suitable age.
My MNYF was a jewel among the community. A highly accomplished student, he won many awards and scholarships and ended up with post graduate qualification in Commerce and Management from the USA. He was however constrained to get married before he went to the USA for higher studies and as usual, was married off to his cousin, a no less accomplished lass who was a graduate and involved in her family’s business as well.
On his return to India, MNYF joined the family business- a new company started to manufacture precision components for a 100% export oriented unit, set up primarily to be run by him. All was well for the first three years till he set up the business and made it a successful going concern.
This is when the problems started. His family started interfering in the business, its investment decisions and the direction that it should take. His wife in the meanwhile, started comparing him with her brothers who were doing much better than he was and started goading him to expand the business and become comparable to her brothers, perhaps even get bigger! All this was in the mid nineties, when I knew what was going on, as I used to visit the family quite often and we were in regular touch through greetings, invitations to family functions etc and the occasional telephone call.
In 1996, MNYF decided to drop out of the rat race. He informed his father and uncles that he was no longer interested in running the business, nor being part of the total business and since he was entitled to a share of the family fortunes, he asked for a fair settlement so that he could start something on his own without the family interfering. His wife left him and went to live with her parents and got back to her activities there and took their only child, a son with her.
After much blood letting, chest thumping and what have you, a mutually acceptable settlement was arrived at and MNYF disappeared from view. This was in late 1996 and till March 1998, no one knew where he was or what he was doing.
In March, 1998, he landed up at his ancestral home and informed the family that he was pursuing further studies and that no one should try and look for him or do anything. The family had no choice and agreed. He also asked his wife for a divorce which she gladly gave him. He again dropped out of sight from mid 1999. That is when I lost contact with him as well as the family, as I moved back to Pune by late 1999.
He landed up three weeks ago to pay his respects and condolences to me and brought me up to date with his family and himself. He is now a teacher in a boarding school up in one of our hill stations. The school gives family accommodation for the teaching staff and he has been there since 2001 after he acquired post graduate qualification in education. He has married again, and this came as a surprise to me, to another cousin, who is also a teacher by inclination and training. The wife teaches in a local girls’ school. They have a daughter and a son, both studying in the same schools where they teach.
When I asked him what prompted him to drop everything and take this path, he bluntly said that he just could not handle the highly competitive atmosphere within his family as well as the family of his in laws and the constant nagging of his ex wife to better their lot. He says that now that he is doing something that he likes, he is not constrained by the claustrophobic atmosphere of his family. He maintains that since his success as a teacher, his relations with his family has improved and though they think that he is a lunatic, he and his wife are happy to be far away from the family and enjoy visiting them during the vacations. He hopes that his children will grow up to be different from the usual in his community and believes that he will encourage them to study humanities or fine arts, rather than the usual Engineering, Medicine. Management etc. He insisted that he had no regrets and was in fact happy to have done what he did.
After he left, I was musing. He had one great advantage that most young people do not have. A start up fund of substantial size to provide a cushion to experiment and decide on a career that will be satisfying. Would he have done what he did, if he had not had access to that? If he had decided to become what his ex wife wanted him to become, would he be as vibrant and happy as he is today?
I got no answers to the questions. I spoke to his father later and told him that I was very happy to have had the visit from his son. I expected the father to take off into a diatribe, and was surprised at his resignation with the developments.