By Suma Varughese August 2011 A successful confrontation is governed by a set of rules There was high excitement in the Sathe family. It was Nisha’s 19th birthday and the family was in celebration gear. Birthdays were big ticket numbers at the Sathe household. Ajoba had emphasised innumerable times that human birth was a precious gift from God, for it was the only birth with freedom of choice. “Even the gods aspire to a human birth,” he had ended impressively. Birthdays, therefore, were a combination of sacred observances and open-hearted celebrations. They usually started a week before the actual day.The birthday girl or boy was required to spend each evening and any weekend in introspection. What was the year that was gone by like? What were the achievements and failures; gains and losses? What wounds and hurts had they sustained, or dealt? What amends could they make? What dreams and hopes did they have for the next year? What new direction did they want for their lives? If any of the children had a birthday, Dad and Mom spent one evening with them, helping them to get clarity on some of the big issues – how to deal with their sore points, how to let go of wounds and hurts and so on. Even though it was not always easy, the family members swore by this week of restoration and renewal. It was after one such birthday that Dad had made his radical decision to let go of his corporate job 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 (18) in her second year in college studying Eng Lit and Alka (15) in her class 10. The family meets every Sunday over dinner, where problems are thrashed out and solutions offered. and become a trainer. It was after such a birthday that Mom had decided to take the plunge and write childrens’ books. The kids had learnt to forgive and let go, to be conscious of how their lives were shaping, to consciously help shape their hopes and aspirations and so on. The biggest challenge for all of them (and indeed for the whole family), lay in the area of relationships. No matter how hard they strove, no matter how conscious they were, there was always a contentious relationship or two. For Nisha the problem lay with her English lecturer, who not only played favourites but also put down the work of those he did not like. Though unusually intelligent and exceptionally good at English, Nisha’s understated nature had gone against her. Mr Patil had a fondness for assertive students who expressed their points of view clearly and articulately. Nisha’s sensitive soul had been pretty much bruised by Patil’s brusque ways. In her last test, she had got just passing grades even though everyone who read her paper had considered it original and brilliant. As she reviewed the year with her parents, her issue with Mr Patil stood out starkly. “I am so angry with Mr Patil. He is so unfair and mean,” she cried to her parents. “I am definitely going to tell him so.”Her dad took her hand. “I agree that it is time for a confrontation with your sir. But is it really going to help for you to accuse him?”Her mother added. “Be clear about what you want to achieve from this confrontation, sweetie.” “I just want to tell him off,” said Nisha angrily, “Who does he think he is?” Then a little more calmly, she added, “I want him to see my work for what it is and not evaluate me on the basis of whether I speak in class or not.”“Here is an invaluable tip that all communication teachers emphasise,” said her Dad. “Express your feelings and not your thoughts. Tell you sir how you felt when you got your exam paper; do not accuse him or tell him what you think of him. Instead say how hurt you were by the marks and also that you felt as if you had not been seen for who you are.”“Another tip that Stephen Covey advocates, dear, is to understand before seeking to be understood. If he has anything to say, hear him out. Repeat what he says until he feels you have got it,” added Mom.“Oh, and finally, tell him what you want from him. Say, “I request that you evaluate the paper once again because it is one of my best attempts,” concluded Dad. This was three days ago. They were now sitting around the dinner table, tucking into Nisha’s birthday dinner. Mummy had done her proud – a proper Chinese meal starting with wontons and spring rolls, sweet and hot soup, fried rice, veg Manchurian, egg noodles and, best of all, date pancake. Nisha was thinking back on her gifts. It was a convention in the family that each member gave two gifts, one material and the other, non material. Everyone looked forward to the non material ones the most because they were so exciting. This time, Ajji had promised to make modaks, which she loved, 12 times during the year, once every month. Ajoba had promised to teach her chess and play it with her every week. Dad’s gift was exciting – admission to a creative writing course held by a well known writer. Mom had gifted her a weekend at a naturopathy centre. Alka had heroically promised to clean her cupboard for the next three months while Avijit agreed to be her escort for late nights 12 times in the year.“Oh, I feel so blessed,” sighed Nisha, slumping happily on her dining chair.“Did you speak to your sir?” asked Dad,Nisha sat up with a big smile on her face. “Yes, I did,” she sang. “He was quite taken aback at first but I kept my cool, Mom and Dad, and only spoke from my feelings. He actually apologised for being hasty in assessing me and agreed to go through the paper again. I am so very happy I spoke to him.” “That’s a great gift you gave yourself,” smiled Dad.“Yes, Dad, and that is going to be one of the new directions I plan to move into this year. Speak out my feelings, but always keep the other’s feelings at heart too.”“It’s going to be a happy birthyear for sure,” cried Alka, giving her sister a hug.
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