Power Couple

Abanti & Govind Sankaranarayanan

Abanti, MD, Diageo & Govind Sankaranarayanan, COO, Tata Capital, on the little things that make a difference

Abanti Sankaranarayanan (nee Basak), a Bengali, and Govind Sankaranarayanan, a Keralite who struggles with his Malayalam, make for an interesting combination. The chemistry between them first sparked off at Tata Administrative Services (TAS), which they joined after completing their MBA. Married for twenty years, the couple now lives in their tastefully done up home in south Mumbai. A big part of their lives revolve around their enterprising twins — a boy and a girl — who are curious about what is being written about their parents. Both Abanti and Govind come from similar backgrounds, with their respective fathers having served in the IAS. And the similarity does not stop there — it boils over to anecdotes about their communities and their mutual fascination for politics and fish, among other things. 

During our conversation, Govind lightens up the mood with his subtle humour and poker face. It’s what Abanti liked during their initial years of courtship and what she still loves about him. Having lived on different continents, Mumbai is now home base for the couple. However, that doesn’t come in the way of their exploring new destinations during vacations. It is evident that both Abanti and Govind love their jobs; that being said, they always make time for the little joys in life, such as watching a movie, enjoying a play or just being with each other. By their own admission, these little things have made a big difference in their relationship.

Where did the two of you meet?

Abanti: We met at Tata Administrative Services (TAS) in 1992, right after completing our MBAs.

Govind: We actually met very briefly in Mumbai for the final round of the TAS interviews. We hardly spoke to each other back then, though.

How did the two of you get along?

Abanti: Diversity is a big enabler and that has definitely been a big part of our story as well. I am a Bengali who has grown up in different parts of India. Govind is a Malayali who spent much of his early years in Bengaluru. The exposure to each other’s cultures has been a lot of fun.

Govind: I agree. Diversity is a very valuable component of our relationship. We are very different as people and yet very similar. There is a lot to discover even when you have been married for 20 years.

Abanti: It is actually our wedding anniversary today (October 10). Cheers to that!

In what ways are the two of you different?

Abanti: I am more emotional as a person. It’s not hard for me to have tears rolling down my cheeks on issues relating to the kids, for instance. He is very stable and that complements the person that I am.

Govind: She is my sounding board. I really like the fact that she is extremely objective. Working at TAS gave us a chance to not just spend time together but also get to know what the other person was all about.

What drew you to each other?

Govind: We have a lot of similar interests, such as Hindi cinema and politics. Even now, we catch a musical performance at NCPA every now and then. 

Abanti: He has a very good sense of humour and a variety of interests.

Govind: I must say I fell in love with her big Bengali eyes. Ah, it was very hard for me to ignore them (grins).

Abanti: That is a lovely thing to hear! (smiles) 

Govind: There were other things in common. Both our parents were IAS officers. To that extent, convincing them about this cross-cultural marriage was pretty easy.

Abanti: Both Malayalis and Bengalis are passionate about fish, black umbrellas and politics. I remember being very intrigued about Malayali women being dressed in white — that was an interesting common facet. 

Govind: In many ways, the common family background and the fact that we had completed our MBAs worked for us. 

Abanti: We got married in Patna as my father, who was then chief secretary, was posted there. It was a lot of fun.

What does your spouse mean to you?

Abanti: The wind beneath my wings! 

Govind: I guess she’s one of the three jewels of my life — the other two being our silly twins.

What was the best moment of your married life?

Abanti: When our twins were born.

Govind: When our kids were born in 1998 and living together in America.

What are your common interests?

Abanti: Reading, travelling, meeting our friends together.

Govind: We love watching Hindi movies and Downton Abbey, and enjoy spending time with the kids.

Where do you concur with each other and where are you poles apart?

Abanti: Poles apart — nothing. Except my meticulousness in housekeeping. 

Govind: We tend to agree on a lot of things; that’s why we ended up getting married. I suppose we have fairly common views on most people, on how companies are run, how businesses should be run, which political party to vote for and who is fun to be with. We have a lot of common friends. Abanti is relatively organised. I am somewhat less organised than she is.

Which quality about your spouse do you like and dislike the most?

Abanti: I like his directness and transparency the most. What I dislike is when he puts off mundane but essential tasks.

Govind: I like her extremely sunny disposition and cheerful character, which I hope she always retains. I really haven’t yet found anything to dislike about her. She is very close to being perfect and I think I’m being very objective in saying this.

What are the things you have learnt from each other?

Abanti: How to combine western thinking and philosophy with certain core Indian values. 

Govind: I guess I have learnt to try to deal with different circumstances with more equanimity from her. She gives me a lot of useful feedback on my
working style, which I have tried to incorporate.

Who is more romantic of the two of you?

Abanti: Me.

Govind: It would make it less interesting if it was the man who was more romantic. So, I’ll say it’s her.  

What is the most romantic thing you have done for your spouse?

Abanti: No one thing as such, but a few daily rituals that I hold sacred as our moments of romance. I always have my coffee in the morning with Govind and we read together after dinner, besides sharing hugs through the day.

Govind: I make sure I have the right dessert in our bedroom fridge. I suppose I can make Maggi noodles, or rush out and buy her some Haldiram bhujia when she needs comfort food. I can perform imitations of many of our past and present colleagues, which can make her laugh if she’s out of sorts.

How do you celebrate birthdays or anniversaries?

Abanti: Go out for dinner together with the kids.

Govind: We usually go to the temple, and spend time with the family and kids. There’s always some food involved, I suppose.

What is the best gift you have got from each other?

Abanti: Unconditional love and companionship. 

 Govind: Her company, I guess, which is always fun and of course, the kids (who are also always fun).

Who is the boss at home?

Abanti: Me.

Govind: Why even bother to ask?

How do you divide household responsibilities?

Abanti: I pretty much single-handedly run the house but Govind is a better teacher for the kids and babysits them wonderfully when I am travelling.

Govind: I’m very flexible about household responsibilities, which is shorthand for saying I don’t do very much around the house. I try helping out with the kids’ studies and have been instrumental in trying to get them to take up different sports.

Who are the kids closer to?

To both (in unison).

Who is the stricter parent?

Abanti: Me. 

Govind: It is surely not me in any case, though this is really a question that you should ask the kids.