There is something remarkably spartan about Meena and Vikram Kaushik’s central Mumbai home. It is not filled with furniture and the dining table — meant to seat a family of four — is circular and functional. Meena laughs about this and says she likes a home where there is a lot of space. The couple, who will complete 40 years of married life next year, are high on the intellectual compatibility quotient. If Meena has made a huge mark for herself in what had been, in the past, the unknown and unexplored world of qualitative research, Vikram has, equally effortlessly, moved from an industry such as FMCG to advertising and broadcasting. With two grown-up children and somewhat devoid of the maniacal pressures of work, the couple manages to find a lot of quality time for itself — if not in Mumbai, then at their Bengaluru home or on a holiday in any other part of the world.
Theatre and a subsequent road trip brought them together in the late 1960s, and that wheel will come full circle when they hit the road in the US next year with friends — something they are visibly excited about.It is said that opposites attract, and these two are no exception. The unwritten rule of one half of a couple being reticent and the other gregarious holds good here as well. Today, Meena manages a competent team that runs Quantum, the company she co-founded in 1990, while Vikram has moved on to being a strategic management consultant. These are roles that they have easily adapted to without much ado.
Where did the two of you meet?
Vikram: We met at Delhi University as undergraduate students. I was at St Stephen’s and she was at Miranda House. We were both starring in a play called The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, which is quite ironic when you think about it now. [The play explores the themes of fidelity, marriage and divorce.]
Meena: There is still a disagreement on our roles in the play, even after so many years. There used to be a Shakespeare society there, which was a collaborative effort across colleges. The boys had to be at their best behaviour since this was a chance for them to impress the girls.
What drew you to each other?
Vikram:Our big moment was a Commonwealth expedition in 1969, which featured 14 Indians. Meena and I were chosen for the same. This was soon after we had met.
Meena: That remains an unforgettable trip to this day (her eyes light up). We drove from Delhi to Kabul, going from there to Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Vikram: This was on a coach, and then we drove through Greece and Belgium. It was a six-week drive, followed by a six-week stay in the UK. I really got to know Meena during that trip.
How difficult was it to propose marriage to her?
Vikram: It was quite different in those days. I was in Mumbai working for Hindustan Lever, as it was then known. I had to ask her father for her hand in marriage. We had known each other for a while and eventually got married in February 1975.
Meena:It will be forty years in 2015 and that’s a pretty long time.
Vikram: Yes, given that it’s getting increasingly rare to be married for such a long period of time in today’s times.
Do you recall anything in particular from the phase when the kids were growing up?
Meena: What comes to my mind immediately is the way he would narrate stories each night to put the kids to sleep. He would just think of the story and what followed on the spur of the moment would feature elaborate details and fascinating characters. It was a lot of fun. My only regret is not having recorded any of it.
Vikram: I wish I could narrate some of it today. Sadly, I do not remember any of it myself.
Which are the areas where you concur and differ?
Vikram: In terms of food, I like Western food, though both of us are very fond of south Indian food. As for our personalities, I think I am more straightforward and conservative. She is certainly more outgoing and vibrant as a person. I always maintain that Meena is too softhearted. Meena is passionate about consumer and social anthropology, while I love the idea of building and creating brands.
Meena: In many ways, we are quite similar. We have a lot of common interests such as music, theatre and books. Vikram tracks politics quite closely. When it comes to food, I have a soft corner for Asian cuisine. Both of us put a high premium on integrity and honesty. Vikram, to me, is quiet and I am quite chirpy. That said, it’s quite the opposite today. But what is common between us is that I am quite soft-hearted, especially when it comes to animals, for instance. The truth is that Vikram is also soft-hearted, except that he will not show it. I can tell you that my daughter has him wrapped around her finger.
How do you motivate each other to do well at work?
Vikram: I think it’s fair to say that we possess a high level of curiosity and a desire for intellectual achievement. It’s very obvious in the case of Meena and her eminent position as a qualitative research professional. I am very proud of what she has achieved thus far.
Meena: I set up Quantum in 1990, when qualitative research did not exist in India. If that was not bad enough, it was a venture started by three women in a man’s world. It could not have been tougher than that for us. I must credit Vikram for being a pillar of support during that period. He was always there for me when I needed him.
Is life compartmentalised between family and work?
Vikram: Look, pressure at work is something that has always been there and one has to learn to cope with it. When Meena decided to start work at IMRB in 1979, I was travelling at least a week every month.
Meena: Back then, my son was barely a year old. It was at IMRB that I eventually helped to turn the spotlight on areas such as anthropology and linguistics. It’s not easy to balance everything, but it can be done. When Vikram moved to Bengaluru in 1989 for his Lipton assignment, I moved there with the kids. My organisation was also fine with that. In fact, once we started Quantum, I worked out of Bengaluru; I still use a Bengaluru mobile number, by the way.
Vikram: It gave us a chance to experience life in a new city and we loved it. Bengaluru was a great place to be in during that phase. I must add here that Meena had an opportunity to go to Harvard for her post-doctoral studies but she decided that the family was more important.
Meena: I was travelling 12-13 days a month all the way till 1990. Vikram was a very hands-on father. He comes from a very broad-minded family. There were times when we were out of town at the same time and my mother-in-law, who used to work as a teacher, would take care of our two children.
Do you manage to find time for holidays together?
Vikram: Of course. This year, we travelled to London and drove to Scotland from there, which was very enjoyable. Japan and New Zealand are the next destinations on our list.
Meena: Next year, we will do a road trip across the US, which we are very excited about. It will be the perfect way of celebrating forty years together.
What does work mean to the two of you today?
Vikram: Mine is more of a strategic advisory role today and I have a lot of time on my hands. Meena surely works a lot harder than I do.
Meena: I work about 15 days a month. A very competent team runs Quantum today.
What are your children doing?
Vikram: Both my son and daughter today work for Quantum and that was something we had not expected. I am the only non-Quantum soul at home.
Meena: I did not think they would take to what I was doing. They not only like what they are doing but are very good at it as well.
How do you manage to keep the relationship going after so many years?
Vikram: We have attached a lot of importance to doing well in our professional spheres. While all that was important, our relationship was paramount for both of us.
Meena: That’s very true. Vikram had many opportunities to go overseas during his career but took a conscious decision to say no to a posting overseas.