Mallika Chopra (MC)—mom, entrepreneur, speaker and author of Living with Intent: my Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace and Joy—talks to Geetika Pathania Jain (GPJ) about life-work balance and the influence of her famous last name.
GPJ: Which Indian woman do you admire the most and why? Sorry, but you can’t say your mom.
MC: I can’t say my mom? That’s too bad, because I do say my mom and I’ll tell you why. I do admire my mother because I come from a family where my dad, Deepak Chopra, is obviously in the limelight and has made a huge impression on the world with his work, but my mom is the anchor of everything in our family, for me as well as our extended family and my dad’s community.
As someone who’s a mom and an entrepreneur, trying to figure out balance, and often feeling guilty about not being somewhere, or not doing something, the thing that I love about my mother is that she is so confident and proud about being a mother and a nurturing figure.
GPJ: You mention balance. Does your book try to address the competing claims that our families and our work have on us? What do you think about desi women balancing work and family and Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In?
MC: My big takeaway from Lean In was for us to nurture our voices and to speak up more. I have been extremely fortunate to have a spouse who helps me out. I credit his mother, Neelam Mandal, who is a feminist in many ways, for raising a son who helps out at home. He is involved with his children, with his homelife and he has a flexible schedule. Not everyone is that fortunate. So many of my friends are divorced and are managing their children alone, and I am talking about Indians as well as non-Indians.
GPJ: Do you remember ever seeing your dad, Deepak Chopra, doing the dishes?
MC: No. My dad didn’t. My father worked 24/7, seven days a week, first as a doctor and then as a writer and speaker. He was constantly on the road. I still feel that my parents had an equal relationship, though. Equality is not defined by who does the dishes. My parents figured out their balance. In healthy relationships, you do figure out your balance, and it’s not about getting stuck on a task list of who’s doing what.
GPJ: There’s a lot of pressure on our kids to be successful. What advice do you have for parents who are trying to bring up balanced and somewhat normal kids who do well in life but don’t necessarily have to be poster children?
MC: I do believe that first we have to define what success means for each of us. Is success going to a certain college or working for a certain tech company? Or is success having meaningful relationships, having a healthy lifestyle, having a connection to spirit, however you might define that.
Some questions that my father asked my brother and I when were children: Who am I? What do I want? How can I serve? And what am I grateful for? I think asking these questions and really thinking deeply about the answers could help us have more purpose.
As parents, we lead by example, not just words. Our kids are constantly watching us and if we want them to have more balance, and a greater sense of purpose, then we need to have that in our own lives as well.
GPJ: Some people have been a little concerned about how yoga and meditation are taken out of the context of a spiritual practice and commercialized and packaged as products which are bought and sold like any other commodity. Any response to that and to your family’s role in that?
MC: I believe that if you can provide people with tools that can improve their lives, that’s a fantastic thing. I’m thrilled that meditation has become so in vogue these days. I know so many people are meditating—they might do it on an app, they might go on a retreat to the Himalayas. Or they might just look for something local in their community.
What I respect about what my father has done is that he has maintained the history and wisdom of these traditions and adapted them for modern times.
GPJ: Yoga is being taught in some California schools and there are people both of the Christian right as well as the Hindu right who believe that that is inappropriate for very different reasons. Any thoughts?
MC: We don’t need to get stuck on where these traditions are from, or a certain way of doing it, but ask the question: are these helping? Are they helping our children? Are they helping us? And if so, trying to adapt them to the current culture.
Geetika Pathania Jain is a frequent contributor to India Currents. She teaches hatha yoga at Worlds Yoga Saratoga, www.worldsyoga.com and is grateful for Deepak Chopra’s books and movies.