Meet the Parents 2018

Sense and sensibility

Despite demanding careers, how Payal and Rajesh Nath raised their only daughter with great skill and sensitivity

Sandipan Chatterjee

As a parent, there is nothing that is more important than your child. Yes, when both parents are working, the choices are tougher — whose career gets on the fast track and who pulls back; who gets to travel and who stays back… but all through the constant juggle and difficult decisions, the child is always the priority.

For the Naths, it was no different. What made it easier for them was that their only child Puravi was mature beyond her age, sensitive to what her parents were trying to do for her.

Payal, the founder of Kolkata-based non-governmental organisation, Kadam, and Rajesh, who heads the Indian arm of Germany’s VDMA, would travel extensively when Puravi was young. Payal says, “It was the beginning of our career. We had so much to do, to prove to ourselves and to the companies we were working for. Both of us had quite a hectic life.”  

However hard they tried to balance work and family, it came with some side-effects on their little girl.  When Puravi joined school, she developed a slight stammer. When they took her to the doctor, he told them it was probably because she was feeling a little insecure. “Do you very often leave her back home and travel for work?”  the doctor asked the parents.

Payal knew what she had to do. She sat her down and reassured the girl saying, “You are my number one priority. Work is important but you come number one.”

Keeping up to her word, on her next trip to a village where she was working, Payal decided to take along Puravi. “She lived in the village the way we lived. She ate from the chulha, there were no bathrooms so she would come with me to the fields. She saw how tough lives were for those villagers… and how I was trying to help them.”

On the way back, Payal told her the same thing again, “I would give up all of this in a heartbeat if you wanted me to be home with you.” Puravi was all of four then. But the mature little girl astonished her mother, “Mamma, I need a couple of days to think!” Payal reminisces with a smile.  What surprised her even more was when Puravi came back with her decision a couple of days later. “She told me, “I have dadi and didi at home. But the people with whom you work have no one, Mamma. So I think you should work.” I don’t know how many four-year-olds would have that clarity of thought or empathy for others. I was blessed to have a child like her.”  

With Rajesh travelling extensively, Payal ensured that she was around for her daughter, cutting back on work assignments whenever needed. Sure enough, Puravi’s stammering went away in the next six months, without the help of any speech therapy.

Given Puravi’s maturity and temperament, the Naths’ parenting style was more inclusive than authoritative. "Our elders would often tell us you are treating her like an adult. She doesn’t have a childhood anymore. You speak to her like she is an adult and knows everything!” recalls Payal. “But then, we appreciated the person she was becoming. We never felt the need to be strict with her or force our ideas onto her. And if she decided something, she would never throw a tantrum, but she had a way of telling us what she wanted. We would then discuss things together and try to find a way out that was acceptable to all of us.” says Rajesh.

Like in most families, the teens came with its fair share of trouble though. Like most teenagers, Puravi too went through a rebellious phase like all teenagers where she didn’t always see her parents' view but there was a deeper problem that needed to be resolved.  Puravi was going to an international school then and the main discussion in school often veered towards the clothes you wear, the cars your parents owned and the vacations you took. Being the self-contained child she was, discussion on materialistic things never interested Puravi and she became a recluse. She was bullied in school but she hid her bullying stories from her parents. Looking back at that period, Payal recalls, “The school’s elitist environment and the behaviour of some of her peers conflicted with the value system she was growing up with.”

She withdrew into a shell. Thankfully, it didn’t  take the Naths too long to notice something was amiss. Unlike in the past, questioning her repeatedly failed. So this time, Payal took it upon herself to find out exactly what was going on. “I went to the school and found out what was happening in her class. I understood she was trying to handle this problem on her own and that’s why she didn’t want to tell us anything,” she explains.

Of course, both the parents had two separate methods to handle this delicate issue. Rajesh considered it would be best to give her space to come out and discuss about it on her own. “We wanted her not to lose her self-confidence. Our role was to support her rather than pressuriwe her into telling us the problem,” he says. But Payal, on the other hand, wasn’t the one to let things resolve themselves. Instead, she made friends with her peers to understand the teenager's perspective. It was a clever tactic to make Puravi open up about her suppressed feelings, seeing how her friends soon became fond of Payal, enough to talk about everything under the sun – from school to boyfriends. “Her friends would come over to our home and say, ‘Your mom is so much fun and we spoke about this and that’. This made Puravi feel that she could discuss those issues with me,” she explains. The method worked like magic again. “It was a moment of great pride the day she passed out of school. She acknowledged us as contributors to her success during her valedictorian speech. It was touching,” Payal says hiding her hint of emotion.

When it came to higher studies, it was Puravi’s decision to go the US to study liberal arts. “She asked if we were okay with it. We told her we would support whatever she decides. We told her it would help if she got a scholarship. The truth is we could have paid the entire amount but we wanted her to feel that she has achieved something on her own,” says Payal. “To her credit, she managed. Puravi knows there are no short cuts, especially seeing us work as hard as we do,” says the proud mother. 

Sure Payal and Rajesh have been through their share of challenging times straddling their career and raising the only child. “We used to have disagreements when Rajesh was travelling extensively. I wanted him to be around more not because I wanted to set up my career but because I felt that she needed him at that time. So at times it was extremely tough. I would call up my mom and mother-in-law and vent” exclaims Payal looking back with a smile.

But for the Naths, it’s truly about supporting one another through thick and thin, good and bad. Today, Puravi is a first-year student at Grinnell College, Iowa. But time zones and the distance can hardly keep them apart – they only grow closer to each other. “She is a blessing,” Payal signs off.