Category Archives: Relationships

Some errors in friendship and conversation

Before I begin this post, let me clarify that I am no saint. The observations I make in this post apply to me as well. I do not claim to have any authority on what friendship truly means, nor am I a perfect conversationalist. That being said, these are my observations after spending more than two decades on this planet, and I would like to think there is a grain of truth to them.

I have recently turned 25, and find (to my dismay) that conversation with most people is not enjoyable. This is not completely new. It struck me in law school too. When I first joined law school (in India) I noticed that people enjoyed doing something called ‘taking someone’s case’. To those who are unfamiliar with this term, ‘taking someone’s case’ is the process of humiliating someone in public, by making a punchline. That is saying something superficial and funny, which on deeper reflection may not really be true. I attributed this to the fact that these were scared 18 year-olds who had deep insecurities about their place in life. But as I grew older, the trend continued. The ‘case-takes’  seemed caught in their self-affirming flatulent bubble, and began to see their ability to pick on people as talent.

This doesn’t mean law school was full of such people. In fact, I met perspicacious and sensitive people, people who were passionate about what they believed in, and humble people. But these really were the minority. Most of them, I became friends with.

But I also learnt to be sharp. To zero in on people’s insecurities, and to be able to say ‘witty’ things, that in retrospect were plain ugly. Perhaps, I was an 18 year old, insecure about my place in the word, but I lost track of the one quality that separates intelligence  (I dare not say wisdom) from cleverness, and brightness from well-marketed mediocrity.  That quality was humility. Growing up in a law school you think that marketing yourself and smooth talking is all it takes to get ahead. I wish I could say this was untrue. But I will say that you can do well without any of that. Some of the most interesting people I know, and the most successful, are the humblest and most self-effacing.

At any rate, I was lucky enough to find a partner who could call my bullshit, and made me introspect on the impact my behavior could have on others. I would like to think I am a better person  now, or at least a more discerning one. These nuggets of wisdom are a result of that introspection.

1) Respect your adversary.

The worst thing you can do in a conversation is make a statement, and then check out. I wish this were not true, but a large number of people make this mistake. They make a statement, and then check out (mentally) for the duration of the time that the other person is talking. Sometimes, it is less subtle. You will occasionally meet people who if you disagree with them, will start checking their phone, or get a glazed look in their eye. Here is a tip: ditch them. No one is worth talking to, if they don’t have respect for your time and effort. If you are one of these people, then I am sure you stopped reading a while back.

2) Don’t make statements for shock value.

Conversation is about the exchange of  ideas, and the persuasion of people through reasoned discourse. If you need to say shocking things to get people’s attention, you probably don’t have very interesting things to say. Of course following this advice is not going to make you popular, it will only make you a bit less of a git.

3) Friendship should be between equals.

We all have friends who doubt their worth, or feel that one person has all the power in the friendship. Maybe sometimes we are that friend. If you have a friend who thinks that it is a one-sided friendship, or who devotes time and attention to you that you can not reciprocate.  Let them go. No good comes of holding on to people who are more attached to you, than you to them. Somerset Maugham said something like in every relationship there is a person who loves and one who lets themselves be loved. Sadly, my favorite author was dead wrong (and this kind of wrong becomes popular wisdom). Not only are there relationships of people who equally care for each other, but that is what healthy relationships are like. Holding on to someone who feels inferior or neglected all the time, is a disservice to them.

4) Pick character over personality. Every time.

If you have to chose between a boring friend and a interesting one with a whacky moral compass. Pick the former. Close your eyes and pick the former. Personalities become boring, just like youth fades. (Unless you have a painting in a cellar somewhere that ages on your behalf.. but that story did not end well). What does not become boring (perhaps because it is boring to begin with) is compassion and patience.

5) Surround yourself with people who have differing points of view.

This helps prevent you from burrowing yourself into an intellectual hole, where you only see one point as legitimate. These days I have the most interesting discussions with people, some of whom are conservative and some of whom pro-life. These discussions teach me to empathize, and to understand that reasonable people of good will can disagree on some fundamental things.

But what you should not do, is to surround yourself with people who like confrontation, and who have no intention of being persuaded. Drop them like a hot potato (as the song goes). You will just feel anguish over interactions with them.

6)Understand that most friendships have a life cycle. 

If you see eye to eye with someone for a lifetime, they are probably your soul-mate. Am kidding. The only way you can see eye to eye with a person for a whole lifetime, is through hard work. That kind of hard work can be put into one or two relationships in your life. With the rest of the people, you will outgrow them. Its inevitable, like the end of the Daily show. No one wants it happen. But happen it will, because eventually Stewart will get tired of being in the same place for sixteen years. Umm, I am digressing. Learn that outgrowing friendships is a healthy sign, it shows you are not the person you were five years ago. (Trust me, we were all morons five years ago).

7) Eat a lot of fiber. 

The wisdom of this is pretty self-evident.

8)Know that you are not self-made. 

It is unfortunate that our embracing of individualism makes us neglect all of the factors that have contributed to us becoming who we are. Our successes, and those of others are a product of a lot of help. That may seem trite (frankly most of this post does). But it is inevitable that you remember, that people’s failures are also not completely theirs. So if you see someone failing, know that in another time and place, it could be you.

9) Realize that 25 is too young to be dispensing advice. 

This last advice, is for me.

If any of you have stayed with me till the very end of a slightly preachy post, I would like to thank you. You really are the most amazing readers, to tolerate a 25 year old, talking like a 60 year old.


Rajanigandha: Movie Review

Rajanigandha is a 1974 film directed by Basu Chatterjee, starring Vidya Sinha and Amol Palekar. The movie is based on a Novel called “Yahi Sach Hai” by Manu Bhandari.

Why have I decided to review this movie? Well, firstly because I love the movie. At a time when Bollywood was consumed by song and dance routines and thrillers, this movie was about regular people, and their very regular love and heartbreak. It is really to Basu Chatterjee’s credit that he has made such a beautiful movie out of something so ordinary.

The other reason is that this film, while not being open-ended (the end is very conclusive), is certainly open to many different interpretations. For my dad this movie is a classic example of the fickleness of human nature, and how we can change our mind suddenly and completely, while still being genuine and sincere.

But before I go further, I must tell you the plot-line. And yes! There might be spoilers.

Sanjay (Amol Palekar) is a good and affectionate man. The problem? He is very forgetful and absent-minded. Deepa (Vidya Sinha) is his girlfriend, who has been in a relationship with him over a few years. They love each other very much, and want to get married as soon as Sanjay gets a promotion, and Deepa is done writing her thesis. The two of them live in Delhi.

Sanjay, however, tests Deepa’s patience a lot because of his habits. He will be so engrossed in talking, that he will forget to pay her a compliment. He will invariably come late to their rendezvous, probably because he stayed in office too long talking to friends. However, he is genuinely in love with Deepa, and always comes to her in good humor, bearing a bouquet of Rajaniganda flowers. (yes, that is where the name comes from).

Deepa in the meanwhile, gets a job interview in Bombay, and decides to go for it, since a job as a teacher could mean financial security for them, and they can both move to Bombay. When in Bombay, she meets her old flame Navin. They broke up before she joined college, under less than pleasant circumstances. He broke up with her since she would not listen to him (obey him, specifically), and the breakup letter was a terse one. He was the first man she loved, and hence the incident still haunted her.

When in Bombay, Navin goes out of his way to be helpful to Deepa. He helps her get the job she was interviewing for, and also shows her around the city. It is clear that he is trying to woo her, though he is not confident about expressing his feelings to her.

Deepa realizes, in the course of her stay in Bombay that Sanjay and Navin are opposites of each other. While Sanjay is warm, open, affectionate, but not dependable and suave, Navin is a man who is always punctual, reticent, remembers to open doors, and generally makes her feel taken care of. He also works in advertising, and attends parties, while hobnobbing with the elite in Bombay.

Sanjay on the other hand is the kind of man who goes out into the rain with a torn umbrella, and uses the good half to cover her in the rain, while getting wet himself. He then uses blotting paper to dry himself up!

Perhaps due to the fact that Navin was her first love, and also due to the qualities she sees in Navin which she finds absent in Sanjay, Deepa begins developing feelings for Navin. She is thus facing a dilemma, who does she choose? While Navin also reciprocates these feelings, he is not a man who is capable of exposing himself, and hence he remains tight-lipped about his feelings for Deepa, till her last day in Bombay. When he comes to see her off at the station, he makes a last dash towards her, while the train is leaving the station, which reveals what he feels.

Now Deepa, reaches Delhi, and is waiting for a letter about her job from Navin. Sanjay has gone out of town for a few days. Deepa seems to be certain she now cares for Navin, and should move to Bombay if she gets the job.

Sure enough a letter comes for her from Navin, telling her about the job, and also saying that he is happy she has got it. However, the letter is a short, in-expressive one, and somehow she is reminded of the break-up letter that he had sent her in the past.

At that moment Sanjay lands up with a bouquet of Rajanigandha flowers. On seeing him, she forgets all about Bombay, the job, Navin, and embraces Sanjay, understanding that her life with Sanjay is the only truth. (Yahi sach hai)

Now I can understand it when people interpret this movie, to be about human fickleness, or frailty. On the face of it, Deepa can not make up her mind on who to choose, and seems to gravitate towards the one who is in front of her. It is not that she is being insincere. She just seems to be in love with both men, at different times in the movie.

But I think this interpretation misses the deeper sub-text in the movie. Deepa is exasperated by Sanjay’s behavior, and it is compounded by the fact that there is not a malicious bone in his body. He is not trying her patience on purpose, but is a generally forgetful man.

In this context she finds Navin, who gives her relief from these irksome qualities of Sanjay. Navin is relevant only because of his differentness from Sanjay, he has no relevance otherwise. But the truth is, as Deepa realizes at the climax of the movie, that what binds us to the people we love are not so much their perfections, its the things that annoy us. Sanjay would not be the man she loved if it were not for his annoying habits of being late, as much as his love and magnanimity.

Another interesting thing that I observed in the movie was that ultimately Deepa chose the person who could not do without her (before I be accused of gender stereotyping, let me clarify that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander, and I am not trying to say that this is something women do). I think that a lot of people are more inclined to be with those who need us, rather than those who can just get by. To Sanjay Deepa’s forsaking her would have made a terrible difference, and he would not have let his ego stand in the way of showing it. So somewhere I think what clinched it for him was the fact that love necessarily finds its root in tenderness.

Which is what baffles me about television’s (and some young people’s) obsession these days with ideas like ‘playing it cool’ and being a ‘bro’ (I think that is what it is called?). Of course I doubt these are the concerns of any responsible adult (mostly jobless teenagers, who hopefully grow out of it in time), but it makes me sad that there is a ton of TV shows out there telling people that suits matter more than genuineness, and indifference is a sign of emotional growth.

It was true in 1970 (and as far as I am concerned it is true now), between a suave chivalrous man who tries to be an island and a genuine guy with a bouquet of Rajanigandha’s in his hand, the latter will win hands down.

Watch the movie if this has piqued your interest, and leave a comment if you agree or disagree.