Dada, is that your smile I see when I look in the mirror?
On the outside, I may seem like a happy-go-lucky person. I constantly make jokes–sometimes even inappropriate ones. I find it in me to laugh at difficult situations. Deep down, I am a free-spirited individual who can’t and won’t be reined in under any circumstances. I am a writer and an artist. An innate need for freedom is engraved into the markings of my soul.
Yet, there is a burden I carry. A burden that was thrust upon me well before I was born. A family legacy that was entrusted to me. I was asked to carry the torch forward for future generations.
In Hinduism, it is believed that ancestors return as descendants. It is also believed that it is the souls of the ancestors that call descendants into the family lineage. In the olden days, marriage was not about love–but rather, the coming together of two families to ensure continuity in a certain vocation and way of life.
And yet–to be born into a family of entrepreneurs is not merely about repeating what your ancestors did–but about reinventing the family tradition. In March last year, I started Mith Books. It was a decision that was propelled forward by the wishes of my ancestors.
In our modern world, the entrepreneurial journey may have changed–yet the destination has remained the same. My family was in textiles and I’m in books. Growing up, there were many teachings that my elders passed down to me. There is one story that is firmly imprinted in my mind and comes back to me over and over again.
As the Patriarch and the Head of the Family–my grandfather’s seat was reserved for him and him alone. In a world where everyone is vying for the top position, he had a simple story to illustrate what that position truly meant.
“This seat,” he said. “Comes with a heavy burden. When you are strong enough to withstand its weight, this seat will belong to you.”
At the age of 32, the seat was passed down to me. It has been a burden unlike any other that I have ever known.
The Lonely Burden
As time goes by, I grow to understand the various demands, the difficult decisions, the stress and the complete and utter loneliness of it all. When everyone around you comes to you for everything, where do you go?
Unlike many leaders I know, I am deeply sensitive. I am not even hardened enough to bury this depth of emotion somewhere. After all, I am a writer. If I cannot feel, I cannot write. And yet, here I am–with the weight of generations on my tiny untried shoulders.
So many days I wake up and it’s all too much. If there is a fire, it is my job to put it out. If someone needs support, it is my job to give it to them. If something hasn’t been done right, it is my job to fix it. If there is a problem, everyone looks to me for a solution.
Perhaps these are good problems to have. It shows that I am growing. That I am learning. There are days I wish I had someone to talk to. Someone who would understand. I know that there are people around me who care about me–but unless they’ve been on your path and on your journey, they can’t offer much–even if they desperately wanted to.
And even if they do understand, there is an inescapable loneliness at the heart of it all.
A Soul’s Journey
It is now Shradh–the fortnight during which we Hindus pay homage to our ancestors. I know in my heart if there is one person who can understand exactly what I’m going through right now, it is my grandad.
And yet, he is no longer in this world.
Death leaves such an unspeakable void–a vacuum–that someone must inevitably fill. I suppose it is my lot in life to take his place. To carry the heavy burden that comes with the weight of that seat. In photos, Ratilal Dada rarely smiled. His eyebrows were crinkled as though he were perpetually deep in thought. I now realise that he did not have much to smile about.
Dada was the eldest of eight children. In the olden days, they were essentially a substitute father-figure to all their siblings. They didn’t have much of a childhood and although being the eldest came with privilege–it also came with unimaginable responsibilities. Even though I am the youngest in my family, I can’t say my own journey has been very different.
Leaders are not born. They are made. With each slap in the face that one learns to withstand, with each disgrace that one learns to bear with dignity, and with each time one learns to keep going when all they want to do is throw in the towel and disappear–leaders are made.
Leaders are not perfect. They are all deeply flawed in their own way–the legacy they leave behind a mixture of successes and perceived failures. And it all happens in the public eye for everyone to see and judge.
And yet, we do not know the outcome of our actions till way down the line. We do not know the legacy that we leave behind till those whom we tried to impart it to are mature enough to understand the weight of what we tried to teach them.
With age comes a certain understanding–or perhaps for some not at all. I now believe that we neither come into this world empty handed nor leave the same way. We are all legacies of those that have come before us and those whom we leave behind.
On the outside, Dada seemed like a happy-go-lucky person. People who knew him said he was jovial and kind-hearted. He is often described as compassionate and yet possessed a certain wrath for those who crossed him. I have seen that wrath in his eyes. And I have seen that wrath in mine.
In my 30s, decades after Dada’s passing, I feel I have finally discovered the man through discovering myself on this entrepreneurial journey. And yet, I know it is not through running a business that I found him. It is though the leadership journey that transforms the soul. A lonely journey where there is neither friend nor kin–but only your conscience.
And yet, as I remember him and honour him during Shradh–there is only one question on mind.
Dada, is that your smile I see when I look in the mirror?