Of Bacteria & Fungi and Relationships

Recently I happened to meet an old friend of mine who is a businessman. When I inquired about him and his family during a casual conversation , he told me that his marriage has been a joint venture(JV). Asked to elaborate, he explained that they switch roles as and when required.I could not argue much with his analogy of JV since he had a fairly successful marriage. However, when I pondered over the analogy, I didn’t feel convinced. In India we have seen far too many unsuccessful joint ventures which either ended in stalemate or complete breakdown. What starts off with a lot of euphoria as a win-win relationship slides into an uncomfortable association within a short time. And it is just a matter of time before a spark gets magnified into a large-scale acrimony resulting in breakdown. The reasons for this are not far to seek. The foreign partner who brings a lot to the table tries to dominate the proceedings. They also try to be unduly secretive on a lot of issues relating to technology. Cultural differences and incompatibility further act as catalysts for eventual failure of what was only a marriage of convenience to start with.

Okay, if this analogy is not apt, what else is? As I thought over, a scientific article I read recently in the magazine New Scientist came to my mind. It’s a fascinating paper on bacteria and fungi. Can they teach us something about marriage and relationships? Yes, indeed. Before you decide I have gone nuts, let me describe what the article is all about. It’s about how a bacteria and fungi form a dream team to make fuel. Researchers at the University of Michigan had paired bacterium with fungus to make cellulosic biofuel.
Fungi can chew up non-edible part of a plant ( for instance corn husks) to sugars while bacteria has the ability to convert the sugar to isobutanol – a biofuel.
To give more scientific details, the team took Trichoderma Reesei, a fungi widely known for its ability to efficiently decompose the non-edible parts of plants, plus a specially engineered strain of the bacteria E.Coli, and applied them both to a vat of dried corn husks. After the fungi degraded the husks into sugars, the bacteria finished the job. The result was astonishing – together they produced isobutanol, a colorless, flammable liquid that researchers hope could one day replace gasoline.

Recently I used this story about bacteria and fungi to my office colleagues in R&D department to emphasize the point that nothing is impossible to achieve provided we do not care about who gets the credit or who gets into the limelight. Of course this is equally true of married relationships. In the example, you might have noticed that the Fungi is doing the dirty job of chewing up non-edible part of the plant while the Bacteria has the pleasant role of consuming sugar and producing a valuable fuel. In our Indian traditional families too, the husband works and brings in money and therefore may be in the limelight but the wife plays an equally important role of converting the money to a wealth of education, culture and other family values for the children. I am not suggesting that the roles have to be so rigid. It can even get reversed depending on the situation.

I’m sure some would argue that this is not necessarily a perfect metaphor for relationships in marriage because it doesn’t allow the flexibility of switching roles. I agree. Can someone think of a better metaphor?

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Published in: on November 17, 2013 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“It is your work in Life that is the Ultimate Seduction”

This is what Pablo Picasso famously said as he talked about the need for passion for work. You will see the truth of this statement when you observe the lives of great achievers like, say, Sachin Tendulkar or Roger Federer. Even among lesser mortals with modest achievements, I have seen how development of passion in a chosen field of work has transformed people and their relationships with others – from a state of agony to a state of ecstasy.  Here in this post, I am particularly interested to explore how this passion for work impacts relationships between married partners. One may wonder what has this passion to do with relationships? A lot, as we will see presently. To live means to be related and to develop a variety of relationships. The most fundamental relationship a person can ever have is a healthy relationship with oneself. This is Self-esteem. Why is this fundamental? Because, unless we value ourselves, we cannot expect others to value us. Relationships in marriage are fundamentally affected by our failure to recognize this need for self-esteem, among many other things. A healthy relationship between partners can develop only when each person respects and sees the need for development of the other’s personality as per his or her passion, talents, obsessions and even idiosyncrasies. However, in reality, a conflict develops because each partner is so engrossed and concerned with his or her own ambitions, achievements, successes or failures that it is always ME to the exclusion of the other!

After all, as Picasso put it, one’s own work in life is the ultimate seduction! Many marriages breakdown because of the failure to recognize this fundamental craving for self-actualization that every partner has. Therefore, allow enough personal space for your partner to develop his or her passions in life. Khalil Gibran, the well-known poet from Lebanon, brings out this message brilliantly in the following famous lines as he talks about the need to allow “spaces in togetherness”. To this, I would like to add that there has to be “Togetherness while allowing enough Space”. I want you to appreciate the subtle difference between the two expressions. The previous generation was not allowing space to the partner to develop as an individual. In contrast, now-a-days, even as we allow enough space for the other partner to develop, there is no togetherness. It is always ME to the exclusion of the other!  So, can we learn the subtle art of giving enough space to each other without affecting Togetherness?

Read and enjoy the following lines of Khalil Gibran on how to nurture relationships in marriage:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Published in: on September 21, 2013 at 11:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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Marriage & Relationships

Recently a good friend of mine approached me to write a few posts on Marriage and Relationships for her Face book page https://www.facebook.com/padmajaskumarbondforlife?hc_location=stream, which has been launched as a match making platform recently.  I readily agreed because I knew it would be a challenging task. The main theme of my posts will be Relationships in the context of marriages. This is a great topic to discuss because it offers unlimited scope for collective learning – for the writer as well as the readers. I firmly believe that life is a continuous process of learning for all.

As I attempt to write this column I am reminded of the Shanti Mantra from our Upanishads, which is reproduced below:

सह नाववतु
सह नौ भुनक्तु
सह वीर्यं करवावहै
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै
शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः
Om Saha Nau-Avatu |
Saha Nau Bhunaktu |
Saha Viiryam Karava-Avahai |
Tejasvi Nau-Adhii-Tam-Astu Maa Vidviss-Aavahai |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Om ! May He protect us both together; may He nourish us both together;
May we work conjointly with great energy,
May our study be vigorous and effective;
May we not mutually dispute (or may we not hate any).
Om ! Let there be Peace in me !
Let there be Peace in my environment !
Let there be Peace in the forces that act on me

The mantra lays emphasis on collective learning by the student & the teacher together. Very interestingly, in the fourth line, the seeker is praying for attainment of a state of mind completely free from any hostility or hatred to anyone. Clearly our Upanishads highlight the importance of  ideal relationships as the fundamental basis for acquiring wisdom and enlightenment.

It is in this spirit that I am endeavouring to pen this column.

Okay, let us begin with an exploration of the origins of the word marriage.

The word marriage is derived from the old French root, merrier, which means to provide a husband & wife. Let us now consider its origin in Sanskrit. VIVAH is the word for wedding in Sanskrit. It literally means – what supports or carries. The marriage ceremony is sacred and is meant to create a union that supports and carries a man & woman throughout their married life in the pursuit of dharma or righteousness.

Thus in India it has attained special significance. Among Hindus, a marriage is celebrated as a highly religious function where priests invoke the presence of Gods for blessing the couple with wealth, health, prosperity and progeny. That a Hindu marriage is sacred comes as a corollary to the fact that we even celebrate the union of our Gods and Goddesses throughout the year during festivals. The holy union of the Gods and Goddesses is celebrated for the sole purpose of Universal well-being (Loka kalyan). This has no parallels in any other religion. Our mythological stories describing divine  marriages help us to impart lessons in ideal relationships in marriage. Whether it is Krishna & Satyabhama or Rama & Sita, the idealized divine couple is taken as our role models to emulate. That is the richness of our culture. Our civilization may not be as advanced as the Western world. But there is no denying the fact that our culture is great. Here I would like to draw a distinction between Civilization and culture. Advances in Civilization merely give one better material comforts and amenities. But, culture, which  is an inherent quality of a society, a community or an individual, is the right measure of growth or evolution of human beings. The great thinker, J Krishnamurthy, puts it brilliantly when he says: Culture is flowering of goodness and harmony. The institution of marriage provides a common platform for us to enhance our rich cultural heritage.

Let us now explore relationships in the light of marriages. There is no life without relationships. right? We are born with myriad relationships – mother, father, brother, sister etc. Every relationship brings with it several expectations as well as obligations. Unfortunately, while we readily exercise our rights and expectations on our relationships, we almost ignore or even forget our obligations to others. This is probably one of the fundamental reasons for mounting tensions in relationships. The issue of relationships has several dimensions. Many great thinkers like  J Krishnamurthy have shed invaluable light on the subject.  We will together explore the subject from different perspectives in the upcoming posts drawing heavily from our scriptures, mythological stories, writings & speeches of great thinkers and our own personal experiences/anecdotes.

I hope the readers will enjoy as much as I enjoy bringing this out to you.

Published in: on August 21, 2013 at 11:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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