By Suma Varughese
The Sathe family rejects the practice of exclusivity in favour of inclusivity, says Suma Varughese
Summer had cast its scorching breath upon Mumbai. Sitting in the balcony of their house, crouched around a small garden table holding their dinner, the Sathe family strove to make the best of things. Dinner was delightfully cool _ a sweet potato and melon salad, curds rice, a tangy tomato chutney, and ice-cream.
“Hot, hot, hot,” panted Avijit, plucking the collar of his t-shirt to breathe some air over his sweating torso.
Nisha took a small ice-cube from a tray close at hand and slipped it playfully down his back. Avijit gave her a jaundiced look. “It’s so hot, I am actually enjoying the sensation,” he told her witheringly. “Do me a favour and put a few more in.”
Just then Alka, who had been intently focussing on her ice-cream so she could finish it before one of her siblings pounced on it, posed a question to her mother.
“Mom, you remember Natasha?” Natasha was the social queen of Alka’s class. Most of the other girls gyrated around the glamorous Natasha who lived in Juhu, and had a cousin who was a Bollywood actor.
“Hmm,” said Mom.
“Well, she is starting a secret society, and she has invited some of us, but has left out all those who don’t speak English well, or who don’t come from well-off families. I don’t feel like being a part of it. What should I do?”
Mom smiled. “I’m proud of you, beti,” she said. “It’s not easy to turn down a chance to be socially recognised at your age. What will happen if you don’t join up?”
“I guess she’ll tell her chamchas not to talk to me or something. But that’s okay because I am not very fond of that clique. I have my own friends, and most of us are thinking of turning down the invitation. Of course it hurts. We were hoping to be invited to her cool Juhu pad and hang out with Alia Bhatt and Shraddha Kapoor.”
Avijit snorted, “You’re joking, I hope.”
“Nnoooo,” protested Alka. “She really knows these people. Her cousin is an actor too. But that is okay.”
Her parents exchanged a glance. Alka was the youngest, at 16 still a baby to the family, and it was a wonderful surprise to find her so independent minded.
“So what made you decide to say no to the social queen?” Dad asked.
“Dad, some of the people she rejected are my friends. Anita ‘s English may not be good, but she is one of the brightest girls in the class; it’s just that she came to Mumbai only a couple of years ago. Earlier, she was in a Hindi-medium school. And Roshni may not be well-off, but I love her. She is the gentlest, most loving person I know.”
“Am proud of you, Alka,” said Dad heartily. “At such a young age, you have been able to resist the temptation to feel good about yourself by putting others down. Not too many in the adult world have progressed to that.”
“That’s true, Dad,” said Avijit, “I recently saw an ad for some highfalutin event and they talked in great detail about all the fun they were going to have. Right at the bottom it was splashed, ‘Entry by invitation only’. It made me wonder why they even bothered advertising it when they didn’t want anyone to come for it. And then it occurred to me that it was because those who were invited would get their kicks out of knowing that they had made the cut.”
Dad chuckled. “People play such silly games,” he said. “Most clubs and five-star hotels thrive on exclusivity. Fashion is all about exclusivity. As soon as something becomes accessible to the hoi polloi, the cognoscenti stop wearing it. And ads capitalise on this weakness. Look at the way they keep inducing us to buy the latest mobiles or cars or apartment blocks. How many pages of the daily newspaper are devoted to exclusive and luxury houses!”
Ajoba interjected sardonically, “Religions play the same game,” he said. “Most of them claim that only their members will go to heaven.”
“So what’s all this about, Mom,” asked Alka. “Why is this kind of thinking so rampant?”
“Sweetie,” said Mom, “It comes out of our insecurity, and need to feel good about ourselves. But humanity is evolving, and we are beginning to learn the importance of good self-esteem. As we feel better about ourselves, we will stop playing such games, and focus on inclusivity instead.”
“How would that look, Mom? ” asked Alka.
“Inclusivity means recognising that everyone and everything has a place in this world. It means making space for everyone, instead of putting down a few on the basis of some lack or other. It means getting everyone to play instead of leaving some out.”
Mom continued, “In the family it would mean parents not playing favourites and making sure everyone feels valued. At schools like yours it means social queens like Natasha would use their power to make sure everyone fitted in. Teachers would make sure that each child’s potential would be explored instead of focussing on the handful of geniuses. In companies, it would be about empowering all employees, and not only the management.”
Dad added, “Ultimately it would mean a world that works for everyone and everything. This includes all the species in the animal kingdom, the plant kingdom, the mineral kingdom _ everything.”
“What a wonderful world it would be, Mom,” said Nisha, excitedly.
“It’s coming ever closer,” said Mom with shining eyes, “and what we can do to make it happen even faster is to practice it ourselves, as Alka here is doing.”
“Be the change…” whispered Nisha, softly. “Yes, indeed.”
Sathe family fact file: The Sathe family lives in Mumbai and consists of Ashwin Sathe, a trainer and counsellor and Abha Sathe, a writer of children’s books. Ashwin’s parents, known as Aji and Ajoba, stay with them. Ajoba is a retired college professor turned Vedanta teacher. Ashwin and Abha have three children: Avijit (20) an engineering student, Nisha (19) in her second year in college studying Eng Lit and Alka (16) in her class 10.
The family meets every Sunday over dinner, where problems are thrashed out and solutions offered.
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