Business Today

Papa, Do Preach

Letters corporate celebrities wrote to their daughters and the lessons to be learnt from them.
Kaavya Chandrasekaran | Print Edition: May 12, 2013

Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to Their Daughters
By Sudha Menon
Ebury Press / Random House India
Rs 399

I was distraught. My parents just would not understand. My workload was so heavy it was not possible for me to call them regularly. Sometimes we did not speak for days. It did not make me a bad daughter - although I felt like one. I was only trying to do well in a course I had managed to join after much effort and sacrifice. And when we did speak, after a point, all our conversations ended in tears.

To our collective relief, this breakdown in communication ended with the course - a one-year master's programme in journalism in Chicago. Once I returned home, the rancour of the fights vanished. What remained was the warm glow of newfound respect for family bonds.

The experience was one reason this book spoke to me so eloquently. Turning its pages was like turning the clock back to my days in Chicago, one day at a time. Much after I had finished reading the book, Deep Anand's words to his daughter Anjali, who spent 14 years overseas away from her parents, continued to echo in my mind: "The five years that you spent with us after you returned home from your studies was such a precious period, one in which I felt like you were ours, finally," wrote the group chairman of the Anand Automotive Group in a letter.

That one, and several others, comprise this book by Sudha Menon distilling the lessons eminent parents teach their progeny through their letters. The parents include Air Deccan's founder G. R. Gopinath, Ganesh Natarajan of Zensar Technologies, Future Group Chairman Kishore Biyani, N. R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys, ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar, former badminton champion Prakash Padukone, and chef Sanjeev Kapoor.

The letters are not attempts at sermonising. They have many dimensions, and in fact tell the stories of these eminent people's lives.

The stories are all the more relevant at a time when filial relationships and the concept of family are changing, As Pradeep Bhargava, Confederation of Indian Industry's western region Chairman, says in a letter to daughter Pooja, we get "consumed by so many trivialities and pettiness in everyday life".

Kishore Biyani tells daughter Avni he was glad he made her study humanities. "Once you understand how and why human beings behave the way they do, it is easy to learn business. But it is not as easy as it sounds because to understand human beings and their mysterious ways, you have to understand there is no absoluteness where humans are concerned."

Zensar's Natarajan addresses daughter Karuna along similar lines, going into detail about how to relate to people and cultivate strong relationships. "Your mother and I personally know and take an interest in the people who work for the organisations we built in the last decades."

But that is only half the story. An equally important part of interpersonal skills is to genuinely listen to others' opinions, and be open to what they have to say. Whether it is the relationship between a child and a parent, or an employer and employee, the process of finding mutual ground for understanding has to go on. As Biyani's letter says, he never felt a generation gap between him and his daughters because he was open-minded.

There is something in the book for everyone. It will resonate with you, even if you did not spend a year abroad, quarrelling with your parents.

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