There are several traits about the older generation in India, and anywhere else, that are probably pretty common. Many reminisce and crave for the qualities that the older generation was endowed with and which they see are seriously lacking in ‘today’s youth‘!
Without going into the debate of which generation is better, I wanted to go down memory lane with you all and tell you a few tales of my grandmother; the qualities she has that embody those of the older generation and the character traits she has that made her exceptional in her generation!
There’s no greater pleasure than listening to grandma regaling us with her tales, is there?! One of the many stories that my grandmother used to tell me and that I would make her recite again and again was one when I was a baby and she was looking after me for the day while my mom was out. Every time I was left in her care, I would cajole and plead with her to tell it just one more time! And she would good-humoredly begin:
“Once, when you were just a few months old and you were with me, I left you sleeping in your crib and went to the kitchen to cook lunch. I didn’t realize the time until I heard you crying! Quickly, I made up a bottle of milk, picked you up and place the nipple in your mouth!
But, oh no! Instead of drinking your milk like you always did, you started screaming even more loudly! Do you know why?”
“No! Why?”, I asked, my eyes shining, even though I obviously knew the answer!
“Because, I had forgotten to wash my hands! And, all the spices that had been on my fingers must have got on your bottle! I immediately washed my hands, made up a new bottle, and then started comforting you and coaxing you to take the bottle again!”
“And, did I?”, I demanded to know.
“Of course you did! You were a very good baby!”, my grandmother would say, smiling fondly and cuddling me.
And, I would beam all over, cling to her, and ask her to tell me another story!
She had a limitless stock of tales to tell, and I would listen contentedly lying beside her on her bed all those lazy afternoons while the ceiling fan rotated gently and the soft cotton curtains fluttered.
My grandmother was one of nine children. She remembers her father waking them up everyday before the crack of dawn and taking them for walks, facing the rising sun. She remembers a wholesome breakfast with lots of fruits. She remembers her mother massaging her scalp with coconut oil and her skin with a concoction of whole cream mixed with gram flour everyday before her bath. And, she continued all these daily rituals for the rest of her life, until she is now too frail to continue.
Every night, no matter how tired she was, she would always cleanse her face and apply her night creams. I never saw her slouch on a chair, or heard her slurp or belch or do anything unladylike! And, she taught her daughters to conduct themselves in the same way!
Spirituality and tradition
Every day, after her morning ablutions, my grandmother used to spend an hour in the pooja (prayer) room. If I happened to be there early enough, I was allowed to give the smaller statues (murthis) a bath by pouring water on them, select flowers from the large pile she had ready for decorating the room, and place betel leaves dabbed with sandalwood paste on the portraits. I would then sit cross-legged next to her and (im)patiently wait while she spent the next ten hours (not really!) reading a select scripture. She was also very diligent in conducting poojas on the main festival days and her place was the meeting ground for the extended family for such occasions, which included two hour long prayer sessions followed by several more hours of feasting and socializing.
All this did not mean that she had blind faith in religion and rituals! Quite far from that since she is the only person I know personally who dared to remarry after being widowed at a young age with two small kids (let me know if you want to read about that story!) and she silenced all her detractors by tackling their criticism head-on.
Even though she was traditional enough to serve my grandfather, and everyone else sitting at the table, before she herself ate food, she brooked no nonsense about her expectations to be treated with respect. I still remember a time when my granddad had finished eating and, tired of waiting for her to finish, he got up to wash his hands. My grandmother immediately stopped him with a rebuke, “I took the time to cook and serve you; at least have the courtesy of waiting for me until I finish!”
She was well read and kept herself updated to current views. For instance, when I categorically refused to line my baby’s eyes with kohl, as per tradition, she quickly came to my rescue, saying that she had read many articles about it being harmful and that I was right to put my foot down.
Nope; there isn’t anyone quite like my grandmom! This year, I was fortunate enough to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday with my parents by my side. My mom called my grandmom on that day; she was a bit worried about reminding her of the day, feeling that she, my grandmom, might become emotional over the fact that my mom wasn’t with her. Instead, she was treated by the sweet sound of my grandmom belting out the song ‘Happy birthday to you!” to her over the phone! Kickass or what?!!