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Our parents used to say; ”Lasting relationships are made in heaven by gods and nurtured by humans on earth.” This saying applies to both of us. Telling our life story to our children and grand children has become a yearly ritual in our extended family. They have been always curious to know how two people from vastly different backgrounds came together and sustained an unbroken relationship for nearly sixty years. Every year we gladly and happily share our life story with them and we know how that experience has created a strong bond among ourselves. We are equally happy to share our life story with you though we do not know you. Such real life stories build an invisible but strong bond between people regardless of time, space, ethnic, religious and cultural boundaries. Our life story is a story of building such a bond beyond boundaries. It is indeed a Yoga of Relationship.
My Roots (Jagdish)
I (Jagdish) was born in a traditional poor Hindu Brahmin family and we, my parents, four brothers and three sisters, lived in a small house. Though we were poor, my father was highly respected in our community for his scholarship, his devotion to God and his integrity. He was a teacher, a poet, a storyteller, a devotional singer and a healer. He always stood on his ground against popular winds and was never afraid of telling and living the truth. He followed traditions without being bound by them. He had an abiding faith in God and he believed that God would never forsake him. We faced many hardships and there were times when we did not even have two meals a day. My mother was a woman of heart. She was a very sweet and giving person. My friends used to say that the piece of home made bread they ate at our home tasted sweeter than any other bread they had eaten because my mother made it. I never heard my mother complaining against my father for not having enough clothes or other material comforts. She always counted blessings and never cursed the darkness. Though from a material perspective we were poor, we were rich in what was important. I am deeply grateful my parents for teaching us such a great lesson in life.
We used to have evening chanting and meditation sessions in our house. I distinctly remember the devotional songs sung by my father and how joyfully we all sang along with him. Those two hours of chanting and singing devotional songs and meditating together laid a spiritual foundation in our life. I would never forget how my father lovingly offered his early morning hours to teach us and help us in our studies. He did not impose his wish, his way or his expectation upon us. He just offered his helping hand whenever we needed it. Such a helping stance made us approach him more to ask for help whenever we needed it. Another lesson he taught simply through his presence: it is the presence of a person that is more effective than words of advice, lectures or sermons.
My mother’s presence in our family was more serene, supportive and comforting. Her path was the path of devotion. Every morning she spent time in a little corner to worship and pray to Krishna- one of the ten incarnations of God in Hindu mythology. Her heart was filled with devotional joy, peace and deep contentment. Her presence was very calming. We could be totally ourselves in her presence. Her love was unconditional. She embodied forgiveness and kindness. When successes and failures would affect us she used to remind us to live like a lotus in the water-jalakamalavat- connected but nonattached and unbound, to be in the world and not of the world. She was a busy housewife and caretaker but she always found time to attend to our needs. To her we were more important than the work she was doing or the things around us. Once I drew a picture on a piece of paper. I was very eager to show it to my mom. She was busy cooking. She saw my eager face. She put aside what she was doing and paid her undivided attention to me. Her face mirrored my excitement, pride and delight. I was privileged to have such experiences that enriched my life.
I was very fond of asking my mother to tell me over and over one story that meant a lot to me. It happened before I was born. Mahatma Gandhi was inspiring and guiding the people to fight nonviolently against the mighty British rule in India. He had urged educators to start National Schools to inculcate a healthy sense of love, pride and service to our country. My father joined this movement. He was a principal of a NationalSchool in Mangrole, a small town in my home state, Gujarat. Mahatma Gandhi came to visit the school. It was a big gathering. Mahatma Gandhi inquired about my mother for not being with my father. She could not be with him as she was expecting a baby any moment. After the function was over Gandhiji went to our house to bless my mother and the next day I was born. Gandhiji’s blessings meant a lot to my parents and to me too. My mother used to tell me this story and I was never tired of asking her to tell me over and over.
I was about four years old and went to a school in Sabarmati, a small town near Ahmedabad. We were destined to be reconnected with Gandhiji. Gandhiji had founded Gandhi Ashram, a spiritual community in Sabarmati. Our parents used to take us to Gandhiji’s evening meditations and prayers to the Ashram located on the bank of the river Sabarmati. I was too young to understand what Gandhiji was saying but I would never forget his all embracing presence. There were people from many religions attending the evening sessions feeling deeply connected with one another- a deeply formative spiritual experience of my life.
The tree of my personality grew from these simple but rich and profound roots. Such growth experiences have woven themes of my personality and have helped me develop a coherent and cohesive core of my being. Like any human being I have gone through ups and downs, conflicts and confusions, successes and failures, elations and deflations. However, the core of my being has remained intact – faith in the overall goodness of human beings across the board, the tremendous power of non- possessive love and forgiveness, appreciation of ethnic, cultural and religious differences, balance and harmony and serving beyond oneself. Many people across the world have enriched my life and growth. Besides my parents the person who has affected the course of my life the most is my life partner Vanleela. She has been a great source of inspiration, support and encouragement to me since I have known her. Her roots are somewhat different from my roots and her personality is different from my personality. Vanleela has added new colors and glow to the tree of my life and I am sure I have done it for her too. So now comes her story.
My Roots (Vanleela)
Life is a journey. My life path was influenced by numerous significant relationships that provided deep experiences with many people. In viewing my life to date, I can visualize how all these relationships have enriched and contributed to who I am today. Looking at my life over the years, I can see an image of me at various phases of my life and realize how many people played an important role in enriching and shaping my life. I am a very sensitive, caring, and emotional person. The question that always comes to me is: was I born that way, or did the genuine impact of the people in my life make me that way?
As I go back in my past years and experiences, the greatest impact that molded my life was from my father. My father was more than simply a caretaker. His importance was in nurturing and providing guidance at opportune times. This in turn served to help my self-esteem and help me start to find purpose in life. He was a deeply caring, intelligent and affectionate person. My mother was quite similar to my father. Her role was to look at my well-being and appreciate my achievements. I always felt accepted and special. My parents always encouraged me to advance in any area that I had chosen and supported me in my ventures. I grew up in a family where I felt free and supported to do anything that I desired.
My early days in grade school were filled with tremendous relationships that shaped my life. I have fond memories of those days. I enjoyed school, but I especially remember these years very deeply because of one special friend. After nearly seventy years, those days are still memorable and alive in my life. I still enjoy the memories of those years. I developed an intimate friendship with one unique friend and she became a mentor in my life. Her affectionate nature, total acceptance of friendship, loving heart, and free-spirited personality made me look at myself differently. I was able to look at a deeper part of myself. I became a person who looked at my inner feelings and inner aspirations and inner wishes and inner strength and weaknesses. That is the time I started becoming who I am today. Even now, I feel her presence when I’m searching for answers in confusing situations. When I feel perplexed, I always get wisdom and true direction from her. Because of her impact, I became interested in literature, reading, music, writing, philosophy, and exploration of the natural world.
Another important relationship that became a significant part of my life was somebody who came in my life and became like my younger sister. During that time, I was in high school and I grew up in an extended family. My family had about 15 people until I was 18 years old. I was the only girl in the entire family. I felt very special, but I was missing an important peer relationship that could provide closeness and significance. During that time, I was learning a lot from everybody, but I was missing the experiences of taking care of somebody: loving, nurturing, and guiding another. The joy of giving was missing from my life. I accepted this new friend as a sister. Though we were not related, I felt closer to her than most any other. I was so bound by my own desire to have a sister that I experienced emptiness in her absence. That relationship was a unique experience for me, as it was the first time I went beyond myself to give. This relationship made me realize that there is more to life than myself, and that brought me joy, fulfillment, and further understanding of my own heart.
I have been lucky enough to be exposed to relationships throughout my life that expanded my horizon. I have developed many unique, enriching, and giving relationships which made me look at myself as a lucky person and showed me the beauty of the joyful world. So many people came in my life became an extension of my family. Those relationships not only extended my horizon but provided a depth of experience that would not have been otherwise understood.
I remember a special day that speaks deeply to my relationship with nature as well as myself. I have a strong and deep memory of this day. I was in Chicago after forty years of my marriage, and in those days I always wanted to spend a few hours by myself sitting in a living room looking through the window and spend time observing nature, the trees, the flowers, clouds, and colorful sky with an eye on becoming one with nature. In the front yard of the home, there were lots of trees, bushes with flowers, and green grass in a big circle. There were lots of evergreen trees, and beyond these trees I saw the miracles of clouds of many shapes and colors. It was like a marvel of changing shapes and colors. That particular day, I was deeply lost in experiencing that amazing scenery. It was a very quiet, bright, and sparkling sky. Golden and orange bright rays of the sun peeping through the green branches of the trees and colors of the flowers were very invigorating. The gentle wind blowing through the trees was dancing as if all of nature was dancing with sweet songs of whistling winds. I was totally engrossed in watching the amazing scenery. All of a sudden, trees were moving with bursting wind and fiery speed. The trees were seemingly struggling to survive. They were moving vigorously as if they were experiencing a life and death struggle. Branches and roots were fighting to sustain the life and piercing wind was blowing at such a speed as if they wanted to uproot the trees. Outwardly, that was a cruel dance of nature. Raindrops were pouring forcefully, and it was a powerful show of nature to destroy the quiet, peaceful, and invigorating force of the earlier day. I was also experiencing the storm within me, visualizing the past in front of me. Within half an hour, again nature changed the play. Again it became calm. Trees became calm, cool, and the breeze was passing through quietly like protecting the green branches, and the singing of the breeze was quiet. As the breeze was dying down, the speed of the movement of the branches became very quiet, as if the trees and all of nature had taken a bath and they looked very refreshed. All of nature looked revived; the colors of the clouds became bright and replenished. It was then that I recognized the parallel with my life. I remembered the same phases I have gone through in my life. I remembered the days of my youth: always fresh, joyful, and nurtured and carefree. No worry in the world and freedom to enjoy life without any responsibilities. I saw those trees just the same, dancing, and enjoying existence with other parts of nature.
My teenage years started a time when my idea of relationships started changing. I started doubting my desires, worrying and questioning my abilities, and questioning my choices. Insecurities started entering into my life. I started doubting my own strengths. I was becoming a woman from a carefree girl. I experienced the excitement of meeting boys and caring for their attention. That is the time I got interested in my physical appearance. Body awareness became very strong and I was very careful about my looks. I started getting involved in the things that I never paid attention to before. I became aware of my weaknesses, questioning my capabilities as if the storm started developing in all parts of me.
During my teenage years, many people came in my life. That was the time my explorations became a focal point in my life. I started college, and that was the time my horizon of life expanded. It was a stormy phase. I developed numerous relationships, and they were the source of conflicts within me. I started looking at those relationships and evaluating, and my acceptance and rejection process brought divergence. I developed a swing of excitement and sadness. I started questioning my ability to choose, ability to decide, ability to make thoughtful and clear decisions. That was a time of skepticism, questioning my strength and also developing meaningful relationships. Many relationships I developed, but none felt fulfilling or provided the fit I was looking for. That was a confused time in my life. I often felt loneliness, and also doubted my ability to find the right person. I was not able to get strength from my inner self, and trusting the answers coming from that part of me.
Questions were raised in my mind and the answers were confusing. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Every relationship I developed and experienced was not satisfying or fulfilling. I realized that all relationships in my life were based on a fraction of myself rather than the whole. Some were attracted because of my open and free-spirited temperament, some for my affluence, and some because of my intellectual capabilities. But I did not find totality in any relationship. I will get enchanted for a while and then I will be dissatisfied and question the motive and intention behind relationship. It was a very depressing and exhaustive period in my life.
It was at that time I met J.P., the man who would be my husband. That was a unique experience. He is a person who is very simple, but with a lot of depth. He is not only attractive, but very genuine. I experienced the depth of his heart, and purity of feelings for me. He did not have to show off, he acted as he was and whatever I experienced in my relationship with him was doubt-free. I felt totally accepted and he was always truthful in his expressions towards me. His love towards me was like a fresh fragrance. I found that we both had so many things in common. Simple things brought joy in our life. I felt like we were not separate beings, but one entity. We both enjoyed music, literature, nature, poetry, etc. Lack of money never bothered either of us. I experienced the genuine love, truthfulness, unselfishness, and depth of his heart. That was so fulfilling to me that I decided to do anything to build ties with him. I felt like I was one with him. All my doubts vanished. I was so happy that I did not want anything but his love and his presence. I knew that because of status differences, I was going to experience lots of blocks from parents and society in general. However, I was ready to go through whatever difficulties that may arise because my happiness lay in our merger. I felt that we were part of each other. Over the years, lots of obstacles came in my life as well as his, but our trust and desire to become one for each other was so deep and unbroken that nothing was going to destroy the trust. After a struggle of five years, painfully going through a forced separation, I eloped and got married. We have been married for over fifty years; still we both have a strong bond and we feel as one. This does not mean that we both do not have unique identities, different opinions and varied positions, but in spite of all differences, our hearts, minds, and bodies do not feel separate. Our oneness is indestructible. As I said before, I thought my happiness lay in our merger, and I was mature enough to forecast correctly: to this day, my feelings have not changed. We do have differences between us, but oneness between us is so deep that it surpasses everything.
My experience of love made me realize that when you have a deep and genuine relationship, it is quite easy to go beyond yourself and merge into one another. That relationship does not create ebbs, but fullness in life. When you become one with somebody, you are echoing the same genuine feeling. There is no two, only one. Your identity is separate, but your oneness is experienced in every breath. This kind of relationship develops a strength, joy, clarity, and genuine feeling. My experience of this feeling is about sixty years long, and it has given me not only joy but strength and ability to enjoy the happiness of us being together.
Raising three children was also a challenging and welcome experience in my life. I again experienced the unconditional giving and joy of totally going beyond myself. The duty to raise children in a world with temptations and attraction of the outside world was a painful struggle. There was regular defiance of the expectations and wishful desires of the parents. That was a constant conflict between unconditional giving and the truthful ways of disciplining. That was a time filled with joy, but also a time to observe the mistakes they make in choosing their own path. Yet you can see the seed growing to fruit. Though using their own unique understanding, their unique value system, finding their own creative ways, you can visualize your own creation having its own unique identity. You can see another image yet still a reflection of you. I have gone through that period but I see the fruit of that seed and that makes me fulfilled and proud. That fulfillment brings everlasting joy in life.
I realize that every relationship is different. There is always a uniqueness and different kind of depth to each one. Each one is fulfilling in its own ways. Each relationship creates a unique and joyful experience. If we have truthfulness, genuineness, and openness to experience, then it becomes a joyful experience. Each relationship enriches various corners of life. Then, life not only becomes an adventure, but we have fulfillment and we are able to explore every corner of ourselves. Throughout my entire life, so many people came and touched my psyche and every experience has enriched me. Experiences may be of any type, either positive or negative, but all people provided value to my life and gave me a chance to grow and gave me an opportunity to experience a variety of colors. While all relationships are by their very nature transient, I am thankful for each one and believe all have shaped me into the person I am today.
Our roots from different soils have come together and have grown into a tree of life. I (Jagdish) have been more easily, almost effortlessly and naturally drawn towards caring and nurturing female energy-Shakti. I distinctly remember how strongly I was drawn toward a four-year-old girl in my first grade class. I still remember her name, Kanchan, and her lovely innocent face and her hair glowing in the sunshine. As I grew up I realized how that Shakti has helped me to develop a healthy balance of energy within me. When that balance got somewhat lost I got myself into negative energy cycles. I felt anxious, worried, depressed and lost. I was brought back to the balanced state by the grace of benevolent loving and nurturing energy. At the age of 20, I was going through a severe depressive cycle because of a broken romantic relationship. It lasted for a year. Vanleela’s entry into my life as a caring and supportive friend lifted me out of that depressive cycle. After a long dark night I sensed the sunshine slowly rising in my life.
I would never forget my first encounter with Vanleela. I was 21 years old teaching in a very outstanding high school in Ahmedabad. Jitendra, a student of mine, invited me to pay a visit to his house. I was going to be interviewed as his tutor by his father and his sister, Vanleela. I was somewhat uneasy about being in a very posh bungalow with my ordinary dress. Beneath that uneasiness I felt at home with Vanleela and her father. Needless to say I passed the test with flying colors. They liked me very much. I tutored Jitendra for 4 years. I felt like a member of the family.
During these four years Vanleela and I developed a strong bond of friendship. She totally trusted me and confided in me and I did the same. We both had many common areas of interst: music, world literature, writing, traveling and studying. Both of us had gone through a deeply hurting relationship. Our compassion and caring for each other helped us heal our emotional wounds. By sharing our pain we felt like traveling together on the same path. Without our conscious awareness we were developing a strong love bond between us. Vanleela felt so deeply for me that she helped me to initiate a love relationship with a young girl she knew so well. On one hand she was trying to make me happy by helping me. On the other hand she was sensing sadness in her. How many times we do not listen to the inner voice. It is almost like closing your own door and not letting yourself enter into your own home. And that way unconsciously we push someone so close to us far away from us! Both of us were not letting each other move inside ourselves though both of us deeply cared about each other. We needed to hear our own inner voice and let a song be born in that quiet clear place.
Nobody, including us, thought that our friendship would blossom into a loving soul mate relationship. And how could that happen? Jagdish, a poor Hindu Brahmin young man with no financial security and the responsibility of supporting a big extended family and Vanleela, an affluent Jain young lady born and raised in a very wealthy family with no heavy responsibility. Socially and economically we were poles asunder. When Vanleela discovered her deep love for me and announced her determination to marry me, it was too much for her family to bear. At her father’s wish and insistence, Vanleela gave a word to her family that she would not see me or talk to me as long her family wants her not to see me or talk to me. And that was long distressing time for both of us. The chronic and intense emotional stress had its toll on both of us. We were hurt and deeply saddened by Vanleela’s father’s stand. Both of us empathized with her dad and understood his oppositional stance. He loved his daughter and was deeply concerned about her happiness. He thought that she would not be able to adjust to the poor standard of living and would be miserable. Our empathic understanding of her father did not cause bitterness and ill feeling for her father in our heart. However, the long separation time between two loving and longing hearts was very painful.
May 1, 1954 was our wedding day. Vanleela had decided to leave her family and elope to marry me. It was not so easy for her to elope. Her friend gave her a ride. Our family and couple of friends were waiting for her with apprehension and uncertainty. I had told the priest that the wedding was up in the air. It was totally uncertain. It all depended on conditions beyond our control. If Vanleela could not leave from her home there would not be a marriage. By God’s grace she could and we had a very modest and relatively quick wedding ceremony. Talk about stress! We were extremely anxious and apprehensive and that feeling stayed with us for a long time. Our deep and unwavering love for each other, our intense longing for each other, our genuine caring for each other and going beyond ourselves for the well-being of others were the strong foundation of our married relationship. Vanleea left her family and my family became her family. She developed a strong bond between my mother and herself. She became my mother’s daughter and a loving caretaker of the entire extended family. Living in hardships made her heart strong, compassionate and nurturing. All these years of our married life she has extended her loving heart to help many people far beyond our extended family.
Raising a family
As a high school teacher my income was very limited. It was hard to make both ends meet. Vanleela had to let go of so many comforts and conveniences to which she was used. I did not hear any compliant or unhappiness about missing them. Her genuine love for me, her determination, dedication, her organizational and planning skills and her practical mindedness made us go through these difficult times successfully. In fact difficulties made our emotional ties stronger.
Vanleela was raised in a family in which achievement was placed on a high scale of priorities. She came to a family in which achievement, planning for advancement and working hard for achieving the future was placed on a low scale of priorities. We were a family flowing with the flow of destiny, living more in the moment and contented with what we have kind of orientation. Having someone with a different orientation and a heart filled with love for others was a blessing to our family. It was indeed a wedding of two orientations-the Brahmin and Vaishya- the moon and the sun, Yin and Yang, a yoga of relationships.
Vanleela encouraged me to advance my study, supported me and created a space for me to concentrate on my academic advancement. From the position of a high school teacher I became a college tutor and a lecturer. I was moving up on the ladder of my life, our life. She also encouraged me to apply for the Fulbright Scholarship in order to go to the USA for advancing my study. Though she was/is capable of advancing her self she felt happy and fulfilled by pushing me to advances. Going beyond her self has been her driving force and I have experienced it in many small and big contexts of life. After some time she joined me at theUniversity of Chicago and we started a new chapter of our life.
Coming to a new and climatically, socially, and culturally very different country was a formidable challenge for us. Like other challenges in our life, we embraced this challenge as an opportunity to grow, learn and expand our horizon. This challenge helped us grow as a couple and as parents. Our son who was raised by his grandparents in India joined us in Chicago.We both got an MA from the University of Chicago. Vanleela took a back seat. She encouraged and supported me to continue my education and finish my doctoral degree work at the University. We had an added responsibility by having a lovely unplanned daughter in our life. Carrying such a heavy load was too much for Vanleela. We had to make a difficult decision to send our daughter and son back to India. Vanleela’s parents were very supportive and took care of our children with utmost care. In a year I completed my doctoral degree research and went back to India as soon as possible (1964). I taught inGujarat University, as an Associate Professor of Psychology and Education for two years. Our third child, son, was born in Ahmedabad. In 1966 I got an invitation from the Dean of Central YMCA Community College inChicago to design and develop an innovative interdisciplinary program for disadvantaged students. I accepted the invitation and came back to Chicago leaving my family behind. During these months Vanleela took care of our children and also my extended family. After 7 months she came to be with me with our three children.
Another chapter began in our life. We were to raise three children in a different culture in which we had not developed roots. There was no cultural, community or familial network for us. We faced another challenge of providing a strong foundation built on our traditional customs and values and yet keeping the windows of our home open to receive, adapt and integrate wholesome but different aspects of the American culture. Acculturation and integration are essential growth processes for a healthy personality development. Since we are well grounded in our own culture relating to a different culture was not that difficult. We are happy to say that our family is mutifaith and multi-cultural. Two of our children, our son Mehul and our daughter Shetal, have chosen to marry Caucasian Christian life partners and the youngest son Utpal has chosen a life partner hailing from the Southern part of India studying on the university of Illinois-Urbana campus.
Facing these challenges together as a couple has enriched our personal life, married life and family life. The ingredients of our enriched life are love, empathic understanding, open mindedness and willingness to change. We feel blessed as a couple, as parents and as grand parents. We are grateful to our parents, grand parents, our children, our grand children, our teachers, our students, our relatives, our friends, our neighbors, even strangers and above all to each other as a couple for teaching us lessons of building, sustaining and enriching relationships. Relationships are a door to becoming a whole person.
Lessons We Learned
We are pleased to share with you what we have learned form our relationship experiences.