The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 15, 2000
Life Ties

Down in May, back on top in June
By Taru Bahl

IRA and Gautam, neighbours in a Mumbai cooperative housing society, tied the nuptial knot when they were all of 20. Life was a rollercoaster ride. Gautam inherited the family business of wholesale trading of plastic products. Young and brimming with ideas, he added value to the product profile by experimenting with new mixes, styles and ranges. Those were good old days. Trade was upbeat and the liquidity high. He had a fair idea of the financial markets. He invested in stocks and shares, real estate and even set up a factory to manufacture some of the products he was sourcing from elsewhere.

On the personal front, his family was complete with a son and a daughter. He had brought a house in Pali Hill which was prime location in Mumbai. They had a large circle of friends with whom they partied, picnicked, holidayed and played cards. They had a lavish lifestyle. He showered his wife and children with the choicest of jewellery and clothes. Extremely fond of food, they were habitual restaurant-hoppers.

Having tasted success and achievement early, it was natural for disillusionment to set in. He began to feel trapped, and often lamented the fact that he had "got bogged down in marriage and fatherhood too early in life and, in the bargain, had missed out on all the fun his footloose fancy-free bachelor cronies were having." He also turned over-critical of his wife. Why was she overweight? Why in spite of sitting at home all day could she not keep home efficiently? Why was she such a spend-thrift who loved squandering his hard-earned money on trivialities? Why were her bunch of friends nothing but dimwitted, snobbish, gossipy society ladies? Why was she not ensuring that their children were well-turned out, well-behaved and high achievers? Why was she not growing as a person?


His diminishing opinion of her worth led to increasing conflicts in their marital life. Free flowing communication was the first casualty. Gone were the intimate moments when they talked and shared their aspirations, plans and day- to- day observations. His stag parties were far more frequent. He was not giving her enough money to run the house not because he was earning lesser but because he was so sure she was over-spending. He kept questioning her movement and was convinced that she was whiling away her time. Although they were not daggers drawn, the tension beneath the surface was palpable.

Around this time there was a dip in his business. The stock markets crashed and he lost several lakhs of rupees. As a barometer of the mood of the market, the demand for his products dipped and his cash flows froze. He had to shut down his factory because he was unable to optimise scales of operation. What he was producing was more expensive than what was available in the market. He had taken loans from the open market to set up the factory. He desperately tried selling the properties he had invested in, but there were no buyers and the prices he was being offered were at least 60 per cent lower than what he had bought them for. Pressure to repay the loans was mounting. Not only were interests skyrocketing but lenders were repeatedly sending musclemen to Ďextortí the money. He was left with no option but to sell his flat. He didnít get a good price but at least there were buyers. Was this the end of his problems? Apparently not.

He was a house-proud man. He liked to think that he was the provider, who could take care of his family and be a role model for his children. He had to break the news of their messed-up financial status to them. It filled him with dread to think of the future. He had no source of income other than the shop where sales were a trickle. He had spread his resources too thin and now mobilising whatever was there was most depressing.

He was scared that his bankruptcy would devastate the family and they would be shattered. His greatest fear was that the home he had taken so much for granted would get fragmented. They were used to a certain standard of living and given their track-record, they may not rise to the occasion. The thought of running away from his troubles and committing suicide did occur to him in his darkest moments but he held his ground.

He would repeat Frank Sinatraís words from the song Thatís Life:"Thatís life, thatís what people say, you are riding high in April, shot down in May, but I know Iím gonna change that, when Iím back on top in June; Iíve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poem, a pawn, a king; Iíve been up and down, over and out, and I know one thing, each time I found myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race; thatís life, I canít deny it, I thought of quitting, but my heart just wonít buy it, if I didnít think it was worth a try, Iíd roll myself up in a big ball and die".

He knew he had to make life worthwhile ó for himself and for those around him. He had a family which was dependent on him and which trusted him. He couldnít possibly let them down. He decided to brave the tempest. When he shared the situation with Ira, he was astounded by her stoic acceptance and reassuring warmth. She had the perfect opportunity to turn around and accuse him of the mess, of paying him back for all his insulting remarks of the past and also of walking out with her kids to a future which seemed more secure and promising.

However, she did nothing of the sort. She had seen bad times in her parental home and knew that what goes up must come down. She knew that they had lived well and had enough good memories to give them strength for the rest of their lives. She knew Gautam needed to regain his lost confidence. She had to help him snap out of his guilt and depression.

For starters, she made drastic changes in their lifestyles. She had a talk with the children.They were a little unsettled but when they saw that nothing changed the relationship they shared with their parents, they were relieved.

They moved into a smaller rented house in a housing society located in a crowded, not-so-posh area. Ira sold off her car and surrendered her mobile phone. Gautam started commuting to office by the local train, gave up his credit cards and put a full stop to his social life. The children became frugal in their demands. It hurt Gautam to see how bravely they had adapted to the new situation. He blamed himself for killing their childhood and turning them into responsible adults much before their time.

Itís been almost two years since this crisis befell their family. Contrary to his fears that they would get fragmented, they are as thick as thieves. They have rallied together and now Gautam values Iraís pragmatism, commitment and understanding. She has been the cementing force holding all of them tightly to her bosom, instilling in them the hope that tomorrow would be better. Ira started a small tailoring business and the income from Gautamís shop has kept the household fires burning. He has sold the last of his fixed assets and finally cleared his loans. He has just decided to take up an offer of managing a cousinís petrol pump in New Zealand. He has cast aside all his reservations and pride. The very same Gautam a few years ago would have pooh-poohed the suggestion. Today his concern is his family. He has contracted out the running of his shop and is starting his professional life from scratch at 45. He is blissful at the thought of giving back to his family what was rightfully theirs.

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