Protective Pitru Chhaya


S. Ainavolu

12/21/2021 9 min read

Protective Pitru Chhaya – From missing the cover to manifesting the larger

Pitru Chhaya in Sanskrit literally means the shadow of father. This may be liberally interpreted as the protective cover offered and provided by any father figure that offers comfort and security, including psychological. Often it is more commonly experienced than articulated. The fact may be, it can’t be fully articulated. The world here was mostly following patriarchy and the role of being provider and nourisher was of the father. Hence, the pitru chhaya was the accepted phrase for figurative protective cover. The adaptational phrase can be of matru chhaya when mothers play such a role, can be the general understanding.

Mentoring role

The role of the father in one’s upbringing, helping adapt to the world was unparalleled in traditional systems and till recent times. The importance of food and physical security in unorganized times can be well appreciated. Apart from these, the training for the livelihood was given by the father or the father figure. During the hunter-gathering age too, the survival skills were taught and demonstrated before the budding youngsters. It was of either pick the tricks or lose the life situation. However, over the generations the settlement phase of human existence started. Even then the skills required for settling were taught to the nextgen for the continuation of the “civilization”. This could be simple art of cutting the wood or bamboo for the hutments, gathering the eatables, making sharp instruments for cutting the jungles for making pathways. Once the settled agriculture started, the need for mentoring increased and apprenticeship was part of the “growing up” for nextgen.

Traditional education times

During the traditional education ages often, it is the father who used to be the first and basic guru for the child. In the guru-shishya parampara the guru brings up the shishya to the level he is capable of and get the process completed by having a thorough examination by third party. Subsequent to the completion of the qualification formality, the snaataka (convocation) is performed and the shishya is inducted into the householder tradition by having him married. The formality of snaataka exists even now in traditional marriage ceremonies though neither the immediate stakeholders nor most of the guests at the function appreciate the significance of this interesting step. Missing link is the swadhyaaya.

When the pupil’s capability and appetite for knowledge is beyond the scope and ability of the Guru, the Guru makes provision for higher education of the shishya by contacting the appropriate gurukul so that education to the fullest possibility happens. In such cases often the shishya progresses beyond the level of the guru. Gurus shall be more than happy to appreciate this reality and promote the shishyas. The same got formalized now in modern education, as one moves from higher secondary school to the college to university to pursue higher studies which the teachers at the previous establishment could not offer, though may be capable of.

Getting launched in the worldly matters

This is the moment of utmost importance when the disciple needs to be launched into the worldly affairs. Getting launched in life matters and livelihood matters are two separate line items one may feel. However, being well-settled takes one towards the convergence around marriage proposals and ensures “work & life” settlement. It was always the balance between the two. Guru often used to play the bridging role almost till half a century ago. Even in the modern times, the opportunities in terms of career are network driven and more information asymmetry exists at lower levels. Thus, ones’ guru is better qualified to “place” the shishya/disciple in apprenticeship-based grooming. Equivalent of this may still be observed in the placement of doctoral students. The quality of this often is a function of the interest one’s guru had taken. Similarly, life settlement process’s reference had to come from guru. The modern equivalent of this may be “recos” offered by teachers and “character certificates” extended by institutions, though latter ones are perfunctory and often may lack the authenticity.

Longevity of the coveted pitru chhaya

We have appreciated the breadth and coverage in terms of life matters offered by pitru chhaya. Another interesting dimension shall be the longevity and temporal steadiness of this pitru chhaya. The interesting question shall be, whether the effect be temporary and only relevant at the time of the graduation or shall it be longer? Even a century ago the be-ustaadi condition was not very respectable and hence the pursuit even by the attained achievers was to align with chosen ustaad and gain the name of known gharana. The association effect shall be definitely more powerful during the launch of the shishya/disciple but the longevity shall also be significant. It is akin to the standard question of “who was your thesis supervisor?” one faces in the third or fourth job transition interview too. The identification, the mapping and the alignment, as it appears is for full career. In traditional education too, the alignment and mapping were deep and stronger. If one belonged to a particular school of thought or gurukul or gharana, often it is for life. One doesn’t (and can’t) change parents and so is the option of changing this alignment.

Inter-generational transitions

The time slips by and generations move on. It happens that the mentor/guru’s ripeness reaches a threshold and he shall physically move on. The absence of the physical body shall be immediately felt and a vacuum gets created. Similarly, in material and mundane world too, the movement of the father from the world creates a vacuum and the pain is understandable. More acute and sharper feeling is the exposure one is getting in direct manner, in the absence of such father figure. It is akin to protective umbrella getting removed from the top. The world that used to acknowledge one as someone’s son or the disciple/shishya, suddenly addresses one as “the one”. The comfort of seeking the cover and protection behind a tall personality suddenly is not an option and hence the exposure, desired earlier or not, becomes self-conscious. This is the time one should become self-aware and role-aware and ideally one had already become so.

Making the inevitable smooth

Time and tide wait for none is oft repeated but actualized rather rarely. In the modern organizations too, transitions and succession planning are talked and planned too. However, whether the set plan can go as per original expectations and implemented is often a big “?”. There are contextual elements that drive the possibility of the implementation of the set plan, possible “internal” direction. In a traditional family setup of the yester-years, elder son taking over the responsibilities of the family and its business was always expected and practiced. Other siblings shall facilitate the process and support for outcomes. In organizations too, the identified leader-successor shall smoothly step-in if there are no confusions around the mandate. Bitterness may exist among the “dropped” and a few exits may also get recorded.

Similarly, when planning is done and to be implemented, better approach is to appoint the successor as the “co-leader”, once the designate-successor announcement is made. The overlap for a few months shall ensure the succession smoother. In the family matters too, as the aging of the patriarch happens over years, the direct responsibilities overseen by him need to progressively reduce, the withdrawal being conscious.

Little over a century ago in the recorded history of the extended family when the transition was planned, the occasion that facilitated was the “Kashi yatra” of the “elder” couple who were in their fifties then. In those days of limited transportation, the tirth yatra used to take a year or more covering the entire belt of Prayag- Kashi- Gaya- Kali- Jagannadh. In the absence of the elder, the father, the eldest son would operate the matters with brothers assisting him was the norm. This arrangement shall continue even after the father returns home completing the yatra.

Often upon the return of the patriarch, the “samaaradhana” would be performed. It is a extended family feast with all the near and dear. The occasion may seem like thanking the almighty for the safe return but it used to be the informal announcement of the change of guard. Now the reins are handed over to the nextgen. In case of grandfather of saint of Prashanti Nilayam, he started living in a separate hut in the old age, mentoring the grandchildren. Many such transitions were subtle and smooth, and all stakeholders would just align. In home ground neighbourhood when the promoter of “Cosmo Optics” went for haj and returned, he never manned the counter. He willingly adjusted himself to the role of “lens cutter”, the job that required patience and precision but involved no money transactions. It was purely internal stakeholder focused. Monetary transactions and business responsibilities were silently passed on to the nextgen. It was again very smooth and graceful.

Modern business transitions

It might appear that the small-scale businesses and agricultural families of the large villages or small towns were more mature in handling the succession planning and handing over of the baton. Big money may distract, probably and many a time. Till half a century ago the transitions in Indian business families happened within four walls and within their chosen circles of trusted advisors and well-wishers. There were no explicit “family constitutions” or “responsibility charts” that were developed and announced with implied legal bindings. Unwritten rules were probably better understood and implemented. If the family unity could be taken to the nextgen level, it was purely allocating the operational roles for all the willing male members of the family. Daughters of the family were given their due at the time of marriages and also on subsequent celebratory occasions. Eldest son becomes the de-facto executive chairman of all the family enterprises, and CXO equivalent roles of specific businesses may be allocated to able members of the family as per their aptitude and abilities. In case of inevitability of splitting the business into parts, general consensus would be built. This shall be around splitting the larger business into meaningful combinational pieces, with possible synergies and fair valuation centred too. Often the right to choose was exercised in the order of first to the last son.

While there were many a successful inter-generational business transitions to quote in the recent half century or so, the recent quarter century presented not very pleasant picture in family businesses transition cases. Formalizing splits, writing deeds, having academic/legal advisors and implementing under legal guidance were not well appreciated in informally run business family contexts. But times changed. The wake-up call came in the form of bitter split tussle that happened in the large promotor driven business when two sons had to seek external interventions including that of family guru to drive a fairly perceived deal by aggrieved side. The dispute had the visibility enough to alter the succession planning of other large family businesses.

Many family businesses started pondering over how smooth shall be the nextgen centred transition, and especially what might go wrong. Large publication business group had to pass through a few harsh moments when cousins could not converge on the deal. Proactive it might seem, a diversified business group promoted by first generation engineer trained entrepreneur who was also associated with a private bank asked for family dos and don’ts listed converged “constitution” document. Another pharma empire where the promoter assiduously worked making it one of the largest with large share of exports too, ensured that nextgen comprising of son-in-law and son were given separate, non-overlapping responsibilities.

Another large family business that supplies tubes to its own cycle business competition did not mind being led by an outsider when the suitable talent was not found in the family. Nextgen was still getting groomed, and stop-gap external leadership seemingly helped. Comparatively transitions were smoother with two top IT services companies that were again setup by first generation entrepreneurs in that line. Their nextgen smoothly entered into the shoes, as there were no possible splits or disputes. Timely splitting of the businesses often helps, if the unity can’t be ensured is one lesson, we may learn from Haryana based business family whose younger sons took off to higher orbits after the property division. Assumptions about the future, industry choices, risk appetite and expected returns, all shall be different even among the same home-grown successors. So, working in tandem to create value becomes less probable and hence parting may be the better choice.

Towering cover shall become better

As the years pass, the towering cover may get replaced (and has to atleast upon moving on of patriarch) but it can become wider if the developments are positive. In such examples given above, mostly it was the case. Tradition and culture may be retained for immediate transition period and recalibration happens as the years pass by. A Mumbai based large conglomerate might appear to have revisited its policy of pre-mature retirements (VRS!) when patronizing patriarch handed over the reins to the nextgen pragmatic leader. If someone questions on whether these steps are going against the group’s values and culture, possibly this is a case of imponderable. Choosing the better of two options of offloading a few from the likely to sink ship versus allowing the entire ship to sink, we may advise based on our embeddedness in specific context.

On a positive closure note, we may desire that all realize the ephemeral nature of the existence, understand the need for smoother transitions, and finally of keeping the larger good of all stakeholders in mind. When we recite the Shanti mantra that prithvi shantihi, antariksham shantihi (wishing well to the earth and space as well), we should appreciate the need for maximizing the collective good of considered direct and other important stakeholders. Then the new pitru chhaya still covers and offers protection, but at a higher level and to much larger ground. A larger purpose gets served and this may be for the betterment of many involved can be the takeaway.