She runs a 100-crore company. He teaches spirituality with Siddha Samadhi Yoga. Yet, Manoj and Nina Lekhi have a marriage that thrives on their differences, and their shared spiritual values, says Shivi Verma
When a married couple achieves personal and conjugal happiness despite disparate pursuits, it is rare enough to make you
want to find the secret of their success. The lives of Manoj and Nina Lekhi is a shining example of what happens when a couple chooses to consider each other as divine beings instead of mere mortals. While Manoj chose to devote himself to spiritual pursuits and became a full-time teacher at Siddha Samadhi Yoga, an organisation founded by Guruji Rishi Prabhakar, Nina touched the sky as an entrepreneur and became the force behind Baggit, the multi-crore bag making brand.
I met them at their residence in Dadar and found a happy, harmonious couple at ease with each other and with themselves.
Tell us how you both met and tied the knot.
Nina: We were married in December 1988. He was my best friend’s brother and I used to go to her place and bump into him. In those days we were 15 years old and used to go out for parties. He used to brag about what drugs he had tried and I used to think how cool and hep he was, and that I should hang around with him because smoking and drinking were considered cool in those days. After that, I became quite close to the family. His family went through a bad financial crisis and my own family too was in the same boat. They started manufacturing clothes by converting one of their bedrooms into an office, and I also did the same with my handbag unit. I converted my bedroom into my workstation. They would put up sales in an art gallery, and I used to showcase my bags too over there. So it became more of a friend-family relationship.
Manoj: We used to party every weekend, and one day I proposed to her. Nina: When he proposed I didn’t say yes. I was too scared. But a fortnight after he proposed I was tiptoeing back to my house after a late night of partying at 3 am. My mother was furious when she opened the door. To save my skin, I blurted out, “Mummy, Manoj proposed to me.” She stopped in her tracks. Next day in the morning she called his mother and arranged a meeting. Soon our marriage was fixed. Manoj: She married me out of fear (laughs).
Both of you have very different callings. How do you manage these two polar opposites?
Manoj: It works out very well. I am interested in bringing spirituality to the workspace. And Nina’s company is the place where
I can implement what I teach CEOs and employees in my workshops. This is Nina’s mission too. She has the office and I have the spirituality. It’s a great combination and our laboratory starts at home. Whatever experiments we have to carry out we do it first in her office. We call it the application of SSY. Only yesterday, we started a new project in Baggit. A weekly workshop of eight hours, every week for the next 52 weeks, for 300 of the staff.
Nina: I think it works perfectly. The more deeply rooted you are in spirituality, the more the business flowers. It’s like spirituality is the root and the deeper it goes the taller, stronger and greener the tree gets. That’s what I have tried to speak about in my book too.
Which spiritual principle governs your marriage?
Manoj: Mine is detachment. Or, to use the Indian word, vairagya. You can call it non-possessiveness in the area of relationships.
What do you mean by that?
Manoj: There is total reverence for each other. Trust is a very small word, Higher than trust is respect, higher than respect is reverence, and higher than that is surrender. These are the four stages through which a relationship progresses. This is what we learnt from our Guruji. Respect is based on expectations. Trust is based on performance, reverence is based on unconditional love, yet attachment is involved. Non-possessiveness is pure love born out of a spiritual understanding that we are pure vibrations, consciousness. This makes you understand that none of us is going to be there forever so why hold each other back from doing what they want? We have gone beyond the “must be”, “should be”, and other notions of right, wrong, good and bad. By surrender, I mean that we surrender to the Almighty through each other. If it wasn’t for our Guruji, our marriage would not have lasted. We were taught certain principles that are the foundation of a marriage and we live by them. Nina: That’s true, We were both very liberal, fiercely independent, enjoying full lives and anything could have made us say, “Go to hell, I’ll go my way.” But still, we lasted, because of our guru’s presence in our lives. Even to have a child, we asked him and he made us wait five years which later became 10 years because he wanted us to grow in our sadhana. And we were happy when we got Vedoci because by that time we had lived our lives fully, had our ups and downs, and fulfilled many passions and desires. You should see our daughter. She is 15, and the amount of spiritual work she does is amazing. It’s heartening to see the level of awareness among children of her age in the Rishikul Vidyalaya (the school she studies at which was also founded by Rishi Prabhakar)
Manoj: We are seeing the full flowering of a seed that we have watered and nourished for 16 years. If you see the Baggit tagline, it says, ‘Adding beauty, inside and outside.’ And by inside we mean the lives of our employees. Nina is keen on seeing them happy, meditating, being relaxed. That is the first priority, and only then does money, success and other things come into consideration.
Nina, how do you balance the tightrope between your spiritual life and worldly life?
Nina: I think like everyone you have to make time for work, family, exercise, and household chores. It becomes very easy to get pulled into work, to make money and achieve the goal, but when you realise it’s all inside, then it’s a very different trip. For example, I do a segment intending. In business, not everything goes your way. But you learn to see the glass as half full. This is called segment intending. Before a meeting, you visualise what results in you are going to get. Often it happens that the sales haven’t happened or the person has not done what he was supposed to do. But through segment intending you learn to keep your optimism high. Basically, the idea is to keep your energy going up and up and simultaneously that of your colleagues too.
How do you deal with conflicts?
Nina: I am someone who will resolve a conflict with anyone. Be it my colleague, friend, child or spouse. I try to clear it as soon as possible. But after 30 years of marriage, you come to the level of a good understanding of each other. It is true that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. At the end of the day, you know that your upsets are also your creation. It’s about just being a woman sometimes, and expressing yourself like ‘Why aren’t you giving me time?” and being okay with that.
Manoj: They don’t last too long. The difference of opinions are there but when the ‘must be’ and ‘should be’ are not there, then natural resolution occurs. If she suggests something to me, I don’t find any harm in trying it because ultimately we are only experimenting with things. She may be right, I may be wrong.
Nina: Actually it depends. If the issue is about where we should be holidaying, then I take a call on whether it is Australia or South Africa, but when it comes to my daughter having an emotional issue, or my resolving an upset in the office, then I go by Manoj’s decisions because I have immense faith in his intelligence.
What is the greatest strength of your relationship?
Nina: I think both of us have one favourite topic, which is: “What is your realisation?” Our friends also tease us, “Look, realisation people have come.” I don’t discuss how much more money I have made, or which new stores I opened that day. I discuss what conflict happened in my mind today, and how I resolved it, so whenever we meet (since we both travel a lot) this is what we discuss.
Manoj: Our realisations are food for the soul; what we learnt from a situation, did we get upset and so on.
What has been your greatest contribution to each other’s life?
Nina: When he decided to go to the spiritual path, I supported him. I think it was because my mother had become a follower of Mata Brajvasi Devi when I was 13. She used to go for satsangs, wear orange clothes and had stopped going to weddings or funerals. My father never stopped her or protested against it. So I was used to seeing the grihast and sanyas together. My dad used to be our mother and father both. So when Manoj too took a similar step I was supportive because I had seen it happening in my house too. And then he left this huge business empire. Suddenly, the money balance went out. You get filled with fear, doubts and insecurity wondering if you would be able to handle this breakdown and the sudden role reversal. I think my acceptance of his choices and steady support to him is my biggest contribution to him. Till today I feel that what he brings to the table, the intellectual property that he has is much higher than the material prosperity that I bring in. And his greatest contribution to my life has been to ensure my spiritual progress. He's pulling me to every camp, every sadhana and telling me time and again that my highest priority should not be my child, home, or material progress, but my inner growth has had a phenomenal effect on me.
What are the best things you like about each other?
Manoj: I like Nina’s openness, truthfulness, bubbliness, straightforwardness, and liveliness.
Nina: I like his gentleness, patience, surrender to Guruji, and seva to everyone. Which man doesn’t want to have a bank balance? But to forego all that and devote yourself to the service of humanity is something I greatly admire in Manoj.
Which trait are you not so comfortable about?
Manoj: She loses her cool quickly if there is a lapse in organising things. I have come to terms with it.
Nina: (laughs) My friends say that I am the inspiration for all the programmes that Manoj comes up with like anger management, how to get rid of bad habits, or tackle inconsistency in spiritual growth. I find his insistence on discipline, meditation, waking up every day at 5 am to do my kriya a bit too hard. Arre yaar, take a chill pill.
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