10 things to learn from my grandfather.

May 19th 2014

Today is the day of my grandfather’s funeral. He was 95 years old and had a peaceful death of natural causes. Shri N.Ramaswamy in his quiet and simple way was an inspirational man. One of those old Brahmins of the earlier generation who are almost extinct now.

One: Cleanliness

I remember my grandpa sitting down in the drawing room after the morning Puja and ablutions. Fresh, energized and with generous amounts of holy ash on his forehead. Late afternoon was again the freshening up period before the lamp was lit for the evening. Not one day were these routines missed. In the end when he could not do this ritual himself, my grandmother had it continued. I remember him from a month ago, he was sleeping a lot of the day. But in the morning he was back again on the seat in a clean shirt, freshly bathed . It could have been him from twenty years ago.

Two: Care for objects

I can safely say that every object that could have been recycled was recycled by him. His care for money and other consumer durables was extraordinary. The rupee coins which many of us dismiss so easily as of being little value, not one paise was wasted in my house. The pens which ran out of ink got an ink refill. The plastic bags, and for most of his life there was none, were all put one on top of another in the store room to be reused when needed. Sometimes he used to visit my parents home and then got the responsibility of repairing the broken telephones and arranging the messed up cable wires neatly. One absolutely fantastic quality of his was that he never chastised others around him about their lack of care. Maybe he brought it up once in a while as a joke but this was never a shaming objective. I think some of us in our family, particularly my parents, thought him a bit of miser. I inherit some of this tendency to care and I don’t think I am miserly, we like to respect everything we use. And we want to use only as few goods as we need. Also, I theorise that my grandpa was really old school. He grew up in an India where the objects we owned had a lot more value than in these current consumerist times.

Three: Welcoming

“Hello” “Hello” “Hello” “welcome” “welome” “welome” – Any guest who entered his small apartment was sure to be loudly and genuinely greeted. For a few minutes the guest would feel like they have done a great favour by bestowing their presence in my grandfather’s home. There would be questions of what the guests wanted to eat and any food would be untiringly provided. The parting was again a warm ritual of goodbyes and blessings given. The women on parting got the red Kumkum. My grandfather would also come to the balcony and see off his guests. I see him waving to me from the balcony . Sometimes there were tears in his eyes .

Four: Loyalty

Let’s face it, my grandpa did not have the best of family. His relationship with his wife was marred by many daily fights. Mostly around the small things of what to buy, how much to spend, when to organize puja’s etc. His relationships with all his other relatives, sons, daughters, grandchildren was quiet. However, I don’t think any of his children asked him how they could make his life better. In our turbulent lifes and chaotic emotional behavior, he was a stable, calm and silent spectator. Loyal to the core . He got not much back from anyone other than occasional visits. He had not one complaint or unkind word over this. When I was not talking to my parents and was living alone, he wrote me letters upon letters and finally broke down my resistance . I feel truly alone without him.

Five: Self sufficiency

He walked to everywhere. He took the crowded local bus till he got too old for it. He was in his late seventies by the time he stopped the bus travel. He lived on his own and took care of his wife till he was 93. He did his bank, pension and tax work by himself. Never got into debt. His gifts of money to his grandchildren was a matter of pride to him. He paid back any money he took from his son, all except a few hospital bills in the end. My grandparents ran a full house with all the worries of house maintenance till a couple of years ago and I take pride in that. It was a foolish independence, nevertheless it showed me that I am capable of standing alone too. In the last few years grandpa needed full time nursing care, but he coped with it the best he could. It was sad for me to see such an independent man being dependent full time on his nurse and wife. However, he took it the huge transition reasonably well until a few months ago.

Six: Non demanding attitude

Shri. Ramaswamy had three children, eight grandchildren. His son was rich and four of his grandchildren live in the USA or Canada. Neither are the rest of us as poor as he was. He managed money and his lifestyle better than all of us. I have never heard him make a request for any material object from any of us. He was happy to accept the few gifts we offered. I brought my grandparents ice-cream occasionally and it made them happy.

Seven: Organising money

I think this aspect comes through in a couple of previous points. To battle increased cost of living, hospital bills and run a house on a forty year old pension money requires great money management skills. It is going to be sad to see his precious collection of bank money being fought over. I hope the relatives resolve this aspect with fairness and more importantly kindness.

Eight: Affection

My grandpa was the most consistently affectionate person of my life. His small gifts made me feel heady with a loving feeling. And this is not just me, it is also true for my father and mother. He did not have a large social circle that he cared about, but I am sure every person in that circle would vouch for his affectionate speech and his forgiveness. For such a silent man, he understood our emotional maps. At important times, he soothed these hurt feelings.

Nine: Silence

Grandpa did not talk much. He welcomed us, made sure we had something to eat and then witnessed our conversations with our garrulous grandmother. Sometimes he asked if things were going well with life. Sometimes he spoke a little about cricket. It was an engaged silence. He would come and sit down besides his visitors and stay present to our topics of conversation. The few words he used were usually expressing care about our wellbeing. If any conflicts arose while he was around family, he broke it up quickly with a few words. He clearly had an active emotional life which he expressed to his close relatives by letters. Sometimes the letter showed us the side of his life that was painful to him . Sometimes it shocked us as the man we met and talked to was the quietest and more caring person we knew. He was that, quiet and caring. But he was emotional as well and faced pain over insensitivities. Don’t get me wrong, my grandpa wrote me close to a fifty letters when I was away at college during my undergrad. They had not one sad word. While maybe letters were not the best way to solve certain emotional conflicts, the precious silence and presence he offered is something to learn from. Anyone could be certain to relax fully around him.

Ten: Godliness

Born a shaivite Brahmin, his morning prayers went on for a couple of hours. Bath, the holy ash and the rudraksh mala later, he would be ready to chant the mantras. His favorite was an idol of Lord Ganesha and he offered this lord special pujas. A devout couple, my grandparents missed not one festival or religious rite. The festivals were occasions of genuine celebration and relaxation. Some religious rites were more somber. Their lives were lived around the moon calendar which marked thousands of years of their traditions.

I cannot fully believe he is gone. When I look in the mirror I see that a part of him has stayed with me. May his soul rest in peace and love. May all the wishes that he did not communicate to us and that went unfulfilled be satisfied in his place of rest. May he never feel alone.


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