March 8: International Women's' Day
I celebrate the wonderful spirit of women I met with the following excerpts from my blogs:
Lorna Chopra raises a dimple in her cup of coffee as she whispers: “I guess love is really blind.” I notice a mist in her eyes as I say, “No! Love is not blind, an attachment is.” Lorna is still looking back wistfully at her relationship with her boyfriend. She is mentally back in Mexico as we discuss love in an after-class conversation in suburban France where I have been teaching a leadership course.
In my growing up years in India, the person from whom I had learned all about love was my own grandmother. For her love meant the joy of letting-go! Her favorite fruit was the royal mango. Yet, I had never seen her eat a single mango. She would slice delicate crimson-green mangoes with surgical precision for her visitors. She would watch with indulgent grace as gluttonous guests slurped trickling yellow juices off their fingers. Yet, she would not eat a single mango herself. One day I asked her; why? She blushed like a ripe Alfonso and sporting her toothless smile said, “My husband when he was alive, loved to eat mangoes more than anything else. When he died I decided to give up the fruit that I could not share with him.”
Long years of silence stretched between my grandmother’s mellowed wisdom and my raw green understanding.
I learned over the years that attachment can sometimes blind you to the greater dimension of love. Letting go was not about losing but about voluntarily moving aside from the usual addictive appetites to taste the experience of freedom and joy. It is better to sometimes lose in love rather than triumph. You know why? Losing gives you a measure of your attachment to the temporary and the transient.
In the so-called rational world of business that I inhabit, I have often heard several achievers say, “I succeed when I love doing what I do.” When I ask them what love essentially is, they fumble and falter. Love is the life breath of all our strivings and all our achievement. I have learned this expression from Mother Teresa whom I used to know in my Calcutta days:
Do Small work with great love
From what she said, this is what I understood about the secret to the fulfillment of all desires. Small work is about narrowing down attention to the object of desire. Small work is about taking the mind repeatedly towards your goal and away from goal-irrelevant activities. Great love is about waiting for your deepest source to work out your desires towards fulfillment. Small work is like a concentrated seed. Great love is soil, the sunshine, water and air which the seed needs to fulfill its potential. Have you worked hard enough when you planted the seeds of your desire? Now, get out of the way and let the great love of Nature do the rest!
On a visit to a national park, one sees a teenager waiting impatiently for her date. If you paid close attention you could see several shades of the rainbow rising on her cheeks. Her boyfriend arrives. They exchange shy, quick-silver glances. Time stands still. The whole earth whirls on its axis. The cosmos conspire to hush everything into whispers of secrecy. Only two hearts rev up their beats, like the spin cycle of a washing machine. Oh, God!
Desire is a gift of existence given to a human being. Only a human possesses such subtle capacity to desire. A buffalo has no desire to visit a beauty parlour. Even if it has a date with a fellow buffalo! A lion does not know how to desire chocolate chip cookies. An animal cannot concentrate long enough to desire something beyond the basic instincts of food, safety, and mating. If one examines the anatomy of human desire one will find that desire starts with narrowing down concentration to the object of desire. Only a human being is capable of such focused and persistent attention. Repeated focus on what we desire brings about a flow of energy between the subject and object of desire.
Steve Jobs, Innovator and former CEO of Apple would often speak about this choreography of desire: “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”
Getting close is like unlocking the heart of desire. Have you wondered how a little girl-child can get your attention at will? She has access to so little vocabulary and minimum use of verbal language. Yet, the child can persuade you in ways most adults can’t. The secret is this: the child is not using its logical, rational mind as its vehicle of persuasion. What is the child using then? Elemental sounds, an uncluttered mind and deeply integrated head and heart. This is the recipe for a pristine innocence of a child that we all long for.
In Pune, a mid-career woman, an IAS officer, told me about an old woman in Sikkim. In her 80’s, the woman wanted a loan of one lakh rupees to build a small house in the hills. Since the IAS officer was committed to serving the poor and the impoverished, she somehow arranged the loan for her. After the old woman was given the loan she vanished for a few days and surfaced with her relatives claiming that she had finally built the house that she was given the loan for. Why a new house in the old age, asked the IAS officer? The old woman responded saying that she had to live a life of indignity in the house of her daughter in law. Once she had her own house she could die there with dignity.
I recently had the privilege of meeting three woman presidents of major US universities: Drew Faust, the first woman President of Harvard University, Susan Hockfield, the first woman and the first life scientist to hold the position of President of MIT and our own Renu Khator, the first Indian American woman to become the Chancellor and President of a major American school, the University of Houston.
Renu said that she comes from a small UP town of Farrukhabad: “I was only eighteen years old when I got married. I cried for ten days as I wanted higher education rather than marriage.” Her husband, Mr. Suresh Khator, who now serves as Professor at the same university that Renu serves as Chancellor, fulfilled her desire to learn and lead. “So, you are your husband’s boss in school. How do you handle that?” Renu responds with unstudied grace and humility, “My husband often introduces me as someone whose boss’s boss reports to me. He made me what I am today. I am the product of his contribution. I am grateful to him for that.” Her story blueprints the rise of a first-generation Indian immigrant from an obscure town in north India to hard-earned glory in North America. She embodies the coming of age of soft power of India inside the once insular corner office of white Anglo-Saxon male-dominated American education.
A woman, her hair tied at the end like an arrested black flame shared a table with me in a seaside café. Her name was Claudia. She had an appointment with me seeking counsel so that she could get some tips on how to mend her broken life. Claudia had a translucent, sensuous mouth – and oh-so-Venezuelan features! She stretched her finger on the table. On her right index finger was a “stop light” green emerald that any gemologist in Cartagena will tell you is more precious than their pale green sisters. Colombia, I learned produced sixty percent of the emeralds of the world. The Incas and Aztecs of South America, where the best emeralds are still found today, regarded the emerald as a holy gemstone. “The green of the emerald is the colour of life and of springtime, which comes round in eternal cycles,” I said. Claudia spoke haltingly, “But it has also, for centuries, been the colour of constant love. In ancient Rome, green was the colour of Venus, the goddess of beauty and love.”
Claudia and I walked toward the sea. She was alone like me. But, unlike me, she was also very lonely. A divorced mother of two children, she had said with her eyes fixed on restless waves: “My life is a waste; I haven’t gone anywhere really. The sea rolled in and rolled away again. “We come to this world alone”, sighed Claudia, “and will go back alone.” Not quite, I said, “We are born as one and go back as one. We are one with the world, with the vast solitude of the sea and the mountain; one with the wine flowing from the vineyard and inside our veins; we are one with the light inside the emeralds and all the rhythms of the universe. We are born of the great One—the unity of life that courses through our lives—and we will long for the One and merge with the One that is reflected in the seeming multitude of life forms. Listen, Claudia, that infinite Oneness is the only secret and the source of all greatness!” You are not alone Claudia, you are in the Company of your own greatness!
Muchas gracias—thank you very much, Claudia gushed as we concluded our conversation. I blurted out de nada—you’re welcome, don’t mention it. I don’t know if Claudia had guessed it that was just about all the Spanish I had picked up from a tourist phrasebook in Cartagena.