CONNECTING THE DOTS OF COMMONALITY
Dolce Magazine|Winter 2019/20
Chandrika Tandon, the successful businesswoman, singer, composer and philanthropist, shares her philosophies on living a life that is reflected through a prism of spirituality, mindfulness and deep kindness
CECE M. SCOTT

Every once in a while, we meet someone who is new to our circle of influence, a person whom we’ve neither previously known about, nor met or talked to before. But once the introduction is made, that person becomes a welcome beacon of light, a spark of inspiration that resonates on a spiritual plane and motivates us to break through and beyond our barriers, to rise above and do better. And not just for ourselves, but also for all of those we meet along our path.

Chandrika Tandon, highly successful businesswoman, composer and Grammy-nominated singer, is such a person, one whose inherently intimate philosophy and intrinsic motto on life is centred on a triangle of three key attributes: love, light, laughter. “This is what my life is about, what I am about,” she says. “I am love; I am in the light; and I always want to experience this sense of joy, this sense of laughter.”

Born in Madras, south India’s hub of culture, economics and education (the city is now called Chennai), in 1954, Tandon’s upbringing was rooted in the formalities of a traditional Indian home and immersed in the intricate mosaic of rituals that are handed down from generation to generation. “As the first child and the first girl, all of my family’s hopes were pinned to my success, especially as it related to a successful arranged marriage. My earliest memories are of my mother buying my trousseau,” Tandon says. “As the first daughter of a very large family, there was a lot of pressure to make a good marriage; it was an important issue for my family. If a good marriage was not made, everyone would be affected. Any friend of mine who came to the house was told that I would be engaged by the time I was 17 and married by the time I was 18.”

Contained but not subdued by this milieu, Tandon created her own dreams, ones that were wrapped in a world of poetry and a multitude of books. Sitting often with her elderly grandfather, who lived with the family, Tandon was exposed to many diverse and vaulted authors. “I had read most of the works of Shakespeare by the time I was 14,” she says. “I memorized several hundred poems in long form, many of which I still remember.”

At some point, however, Tandon rebelled against the all-encompassing rules of her traditional upbringing. Not even sure what the boundaries were, she wanted to break them. She wanted to study commerce at school, and even more shockingly, she wanted to attend a men’s school, her father’s alma mater, in fact, to do so. But that option, at least in the beginning, was not available to her.

The principle of light

Horrified by her daughter’s burning desire to attend a school full of boys (girls and boys were not allowed to mix in those days), Tandon’s mother adamantly refused to cede to her daughter’s wish. But Tandon, who was determined to actualize her dreams and break away from her family’s confining rules, went on a hunger strike. Her lobbying efforts were aided by Sister Mary Nessan, the headmistress of the Catholic missionary school that Tandon attended. “Sister Nessan, dressed in a white habit, came in a little black car to my house and spoke to my mother, begging her to let me go to the prestigious business program at Madras Christian College,” Tandon says. “‘This child will not grow wrong, you shouldn’t worry,’ she told my mother. Sister Nessan was definitely a mentor to me.”

Allowing their daughter to attend a co-ed college was a huge concession and a significant departure from the rules for Tandon’s parents. But between their daughter’s hunger strike, dramatic crying and Sister Nessan’s encouragement, they finally relented: Madras Christian College it was. To understand the significance of this accommodation and just how unbending the rules were in those days, the cycle of family pushback was repeated all over again when Tandon later wanted to attend the Indian Institute of Business Management. At this school, Tandon, who had been awarded several scholarships and was one of only a few hundred selected from the thousands of applicants (being accepted was like winning the Nobel Peace Prize), was also one of the youngest in her class.

“When you start to look at boundaries, your whole world vision changes,” Tandon says. “But when you don’t look at boundaries, everything seems connected, everything seems possible.”

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