I woke up this morning with the remembrance of my grandfather. For the first time in my life, I shed tears in his memory and symbolically touched his feet with my heart. I have not thought of him often, because I have only met him once. He fell ill and wanted to see us all, his son’s children. He was in India and we had to fly immediately to meet him.I was about twelve years old on my first flight with my brother who was ten then, traveling all by ourselves. The journey was unforgettable. All the air hostesses looked alike to us and we kept counting them again and again adding up to more than one hundred as they kept walking up and down the airplane. It was exciting for us kids to travel unchaperoned for the first time.
The village was slow moving. My memory of my grandfather is still quite vague. He was already of advanced age and his eye sight was failing. As children were, we were more interested in rushing out to see the place rather than staying to talk to him. I was fascinated with seeing the cows behind the house and the padi fields nearby. The mornings started with me running to the fields close by. The water from the dam was used to water the rice fields. It rushed out from the dam with such force that I could not wait to stand under the gush, for my morning bath. The green fields were a refreshing sight to the eyes too.
After the bath, I would come back to the house to see my grandmother ready with freshly made South Indian coffee, which is the best coffee you could find anywhere. I can still remember the aroma which is so tantalizing.
The fresh cow’s milk and filtered coffee’s combination is truly heavenly! After breakfast with Idlis , sambar and chutney, I would rush out to walk the streets of the idyllic Indian village with a girl who used to live close by.
I remember watching the children reciting the time tables, sitting on the verandah of the classrooms. These were the children from that village and surrounding villages, who had come to study there. This was one of the small villages surrounded by many other villages with no schools around.
Grandpa was inspired to start this school, to bring about education to the children of the village. Throughout his life, he dedicated himself to the education of children. He believed that, education was the only key to bring people out of poverty and ignorance. He pursed his dream till his last breath.
People at that time were so much into the caste system, and children of lower castes were not allowed to go to school then. But grandpa stood against those policies and stubbornly went about accepting any child, regardless of his or her caste or background. There was a time when the people from his community, started to alienate him too for allowing the children of other classes to study in his school. This kept him unperturbed and he carried on with his work religiously. He fought for equality and was a staunch Gandhi follower. He preached and lived a life of simplicity, not spending much on him but in the building of the school and later a college which is still being taken care by one of his other sons.
Some years later, I had gone to do my visa at the immigrations. I met the officer, who on finding out about who I was, wanted to speak to me. He told me that he was sitting on that chair because of grandpa. There were no schools in his village, so he walked to this school from his village nearby everyday, for his primary and secondary education. Now he holds a position as an immigration officer. He felt such gratitude and told me what a great man grandpa was. Though his words made me feel proud of him then, it did not register too long in my thoughts.
An incident took place recently, which ties it with the memories of grandfather. A woman related to me, her story of how she was treated as an untouchable by her employer, which was heart wrenching to listen to. I do not want to judge the employer, but it reminds me of how corrupt this whole class and caste system is. Since she came from such an upbringing, she brought with her the system which has become engrained in her.
This is not about a particular individual. This is about the whole system. This system of class and caste can degrade a human being. Without giving an iota of consideration to the feelings of the affected person, the system eats away the self worth of a human being. The person looses all self-respect and feels utter humiliation and dejection.
The woman’s deepest pain and cry shook me to my core. She moved me to weep with her. At that moment her pain became mine too .
I have never really thought much about this system of class differentiation, which is still practiced in India widely though not so openly now. But remembering grandfather who was already opposing this system more than fifty years ago and fighting to eradicate it brought those tears to me.
What a noble hearted human being he was. I felt sad that I do not even remember his face clearly. But this morning, my heart prostrated at the feet of this wonderful gentle man, who lived with his principles of equality and died with them. If given another opportunity, I would definitely want to know this gentle and kind philanthropic soul more personally ….
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” –
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.