Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Review: Legacy - Letters from eminent parents to their daughters by Sudha Menon

This is one of the most unique books I have ever read. Why? Because it is a compilation of letters written by eminent [read: businessmen & industrialists primarily] parents to their daughters. The book was released in 2013; at an opportune time perhaps for India which is currently grappling with how to protect its daughters. And it is fascinating to realize that, in this day and age of e-mails and watsapp messages, these individuals have actually taken time out of their busy schedule to write these letters.

The book's blurb reads: "They say a daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart. In Legacy, noted journalist and author Sudha Menon brings forth a rare collection of personal and evocative letters from parents to their daughters. Through their fearless approach to life, love, and overcoming obstacles, these icons from the world of business, arts, films, food, and sports share with us their experience and wisdom as they pass them on to their daughters. Deeply moving and thought provoking, Legacy is a remarkable collection of life lessons that will delight and inspire at the same time."

The book features letters written by 18 persons - Ajay Piramal, Amit Chandra, Capt. Gopinath, Chanda Kochhar, Deep Anand, Ganesh Natarajan, Jatin Das, Kishore Biyani, K.V. Kamath, Mallika Sarabhai, Narayana Murthy, Pradeep Bhargava, Prakash Padukone, P.P. Chhabria, Renuka Ramnath, Sanjeev Kapoor, Shaheen Mistri and Zia Mody.

Most of the letters have common themes running through them - the virtues of following certain values such as compassion and gratitude, the belief in a higher force, the willingness to give back to society and to live one's life only by one's passion.

I enjoyed reading the letters written by the mothers more, maybe because they did not expect their daughters to take a backseat in their careers for the sake of the family or to sacrifice for the family. That was the most disappointing part for me. These men who are leaders in their individual capacities and head such big organizations have such limited and traditional thinking even in these times! And if they expect their daughters to take a backseat, how can we ever expect them to be empathetic to the problems of women employees in their companies?

Sample Ajay Piramal's advice to his daughter Nandini: "But let me caution you that if a marriage has to succeed, you will have to sacrifice more than your husband." K.V. Kamath's letter is confusing. At one place he says, "Often in the world, women who are homemakers are not given the same place in society that a working woman is given." At another, however, "Your mother has a strong mind of her own but she has chosen to take on a supportive role in our family." Narayana Murthy tells his daughter: "The world admires a woman who brings a sense of balance to all the three responsibilities - being a loving wife, a caring mother and a competent career woman."

In contrast, the letters written by Renuka and Zia stood out. Renuka tells her daughter Ramya that it is important for her not to forget and give up her identity and to never stop living short of her own full potential. Zia exhorts her three daughters to live their lives with dignity and self-respect; she also highlights why it is important for women to have careers of their own - both to fulfill their intellectual needs and to keep them financially independent.

Almost all these leaders have had humble beginnings which led them to appreciate the value of hard work and money. Most of them are grateful to their parents for imbibing in them values and traits which have helped them become what they are today.

The book also has interesting little tidbits which are revealed through the individual letters. For instance, when Renuka joined VJTI in 1978, she was only the 4th girl in the institute's 99-year-old history. Nandita Das' father Jatin owns over 6,500 pankhas (fans) and is on the way to setting up a dedicated fan museum in Delhi.

The unseen and candid photographs of some of the parents with their daughters at the end of the book is a nice touch.

Trivia: Of the 25 daughters referred to in the book, the names of 13 (50%) being with 'A' :)

I enjoyed reading the book because it gave me a deeper understanding of the background of each individual and made me appreciate them more. Often what we read in the media is only the surface; through this book, Sudha has been able to scratch beneath the surface. There were so many things which I did not know about most of the parents; these came out in the letters they wrote.

Maybe, Sudha could have ended with a letter to her daughter Nayantara :) And, I hope, she's planning Part II because I already have a wishlist of people whom I want to see writing to their daughters - Anand Mahindra, Adi Godrej, Manmohan Shetty, Shiv Nadar, Nandan Nilekani, Gulzar, Amitabh Bachchan, Aditya Puri, Anu Aga, Pritish Nandy, Mukesh Ambani, Kumar Mangalam Birla - to name a few!!!

Go read Legacy - it is one of those books which will give you a glimpse into the personal lives of these leaders in their own words - what drives them on a daily basis and what are their hopes and aspirations for their daughters. It is a no-holds barred account for which Sudha must definitely be applauded.

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