Bonding over letters: A priceless legacy

sudha-1In the whirlwind of instant messages, e-mails and Skype, the art of letter writing appears to have been lost.  So, to come across a book on letters from parents to their daughters is indeed refreshing. Sudha Menon’s new book Legacy, on the relationships that eminent parents share with their daughters, is a delightful read. It opens up a world of emotions, values, concerns and histories, offering the reader an insight into uniquely enriching bonds between mothers and fathers and their daughters, as well as into the writer’s own life and the curve of learning. The book brings together an eclectic mix of stalwarts cutting across the spectrum, including IT, finance, sports, philanthropy and art who have penned these letters. Capt. Gopinath, Kishore Biyani, Jatin Das, Prakash Padukone, Zia Mody, Sanjeev Kapoor and Ajay Piramal are among celebrities and top-flight achievers featured in this collection.

Imagine discovering that the co-founder of Infosys, N.R. Narayana Murthy, is a concerned, doting father and an indulgent grandfather! His letter to his daughter Akshata is both a walk down memory lane and a recounting of his own personal journey. He remembers the joy of holding his new-born daughter, the pain of having to stay apart from her and the excitement of visiting her every weekend in Hubli where she stayed with her grandparents. Narayana Murthy comes across as a regular dad who occasionally tucked his daughter and son into bed, narrated stories with relish and generally played the fool with them. It is heartening to know that, like all dads, he too was a little unhappy when Akshata told him about her future husband. He admits he had ‘mixed feelings’, which makes him seem quite non-geeky.

While Narayana Murthy’s letter reveals a hitherto unknown side of the IT tycoon, the letter by the MD and CEO of ICICI, Chanda Kochhar, to her daughter Aarti, a young girl on the threshold of beginning her professional life, is inspirational and insightful. It talks of Kochhar’s personal and professional journey which was by no means easy. Having lost her father early in life, she found strength and inspiration in her mother who brought up her three children single-handedly. She learnt how to work hard, take on challenges and fight through difficult situations from her mother and now Kochhar wants to pass these values on to her daughter. She tells Aarti, “Even today I can remember the equanimity and calmness with which she handled the crisis on hand when my father passed away. You have to handle challenges and emerge stronger from them, rather than allow them to bog you down…”. Similar examples of personal strength and endurance abound which Kochhar, one of Forbes’ 100 most powerful women in the world, cites as life lessons to her daughter. These ideals, she says, she learnt from her parents and later used in her professional career to succeed. “Aim for the sky but move slowly, enjoying every step along the way. It is all about all “those little steps that make the journey complete,” ‘Don’t cut corners or compromise to achieve your dreams’, “Excel in everything that you are doing, Aarti, and apply this to every part of your life—your home, relationships, and everything else that is either a duty, a desire, or an obligation.’

Equally fascinating is the letter by Kochhar’s mentor and the architect of India’s largest private sector bank, ICICI, K.V. Kamath, to his daughter Ajnya. It’s heartening to read that the man who has mentored a handful of capable women at ICICI is inspired by his mother, who he says had ‘clear views on women and the importance of them taking on leadership roles, in whatever manner or roles that they played’.  Yet, as Menon writes, “It is perhaps one of life’s delicious ironies’ that his own daughter has chosen to stay at home to look after her children and husband. Nevertheless, nowhere in the letter does Kamath sound disappointed by the decision taken by his daughter, a highly qualified woman in her own right.

Shaheen Mistri, the founder of the NGO Akanksha and the venture Teach For India, chooses to write a rather sweet but profound poem to her daughters Samara and Sana, inspiring them to take on the challenges of life with poise and courage. Similarly, dancer and social activist Mallika Sarabhai shares a poem that she wrote to her unborn child two decades ago. It’s reproduced here to Anahita, her young daughter who is now part of Sarabhai’s Darpana Academy. A touching poem, it talks about the need for a woman to stand up and be herself.

What makes these letters — all 18 of them —extremely readable is that they are refreshingly free of self-praise or industry speak. They are personal, lucid, anecdotal, emotional at times and full of basic life lessons — an eye-opener that each of these self-made people have succeeded because of the values instilled in them in childhood and it is these values that they want their children to carry forward. Each letter is different from the other but the underlying theme remains the same in all — hard work, fair play and honesty pay just as much as believing in one’s dreams. The photographs at the end of the book are the icing on the cake — they complete the picture of these successful professionals who in their private lives are doting parents.

Menon’s book, hopefully, will inspire the e-mail generation to look at the art of writing letters afresh. Nothing is more cherished than a letter from one’s parents. These finely crafted missives are a testimony to the special bond that parents share with their children, no matter which strata of society they come from. The book is a priceless read that we should all treasure and share with our own children.

Book: Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to their Daughters

Author: Sudha Menon

Publisher: Random House India

Pg 258, Rs 399