What I learnt from my Grandmother

On Gandhi’s birthday I think of two people. One is my cousin who shares his birthday and the other is my maternal grandma who taught me most of what I know about Gandhian values. I have read his autobiography and learnt about him in history classes too, of course, but the things my grandma told me have made me who I am today.

As a child, I would often visit my maternal grandparents in Tiruchi. My grandfather would take me for haircuts and buy me colourful balloons to appease me afterward (I must’ve found haircuts unpleasant). When my brother was also there, he would get us to stop fighting, and play with us. My grandmother would take me for walks, moniter my whereabouts when I played, teach me how to read and write Tamil and tell me stories. She also instilled in me a lot of the values I have today. I traced them back to her when I was 16 and wondering why I believed and valued what I did.

She taught me never to waste food. She told me how hard my dad worked to bring in money to buy our family the things we needed. And how every time I wasted food, I was wasting his hard work. To this day I would rather struggle slowly to finish my food than waste.

She (with my youngest maternal aunt) taught me to share freely with others, never take what is not mine, and to avoid taking anything from others even when offered. No doubt this was because I would unabashedly eat a lot when we visited someone and because I had trouble sharing things with my brother at that age. I also had a habit of stealing erasers at school. I just loved the variety of shapes, colours and smells they would come in.

And she taught me about Gandhi. She told me never to lie, that the truth will always emerge. ‘Sathyamevajayathe’. I loved telling semi-realistic stories to my neighbours. I don’t know if I expected them to believe me. Sometimes they did, and other times I sounded too far-fetched. I’ve never been very good at lying but my imagination was always wild. I now know stories of how I got my grandma into trouble a few times with these ‘lies’ though, which explains why she thought it was so important for me to learn honesty.

She taught me about Ahimsa- non-violence. The importance of compassion and how it takes more strength to be nice to someone who isn’t nice to you. She divided people into three categories:

Demonic type– who are mean to even those who are nice to them,

Human type– who are nice to those who are nice to them and mean to whoever is mean to them, and

Divine type– those who are nice to even those who are mean to them

and she encouraged me to be divine. She told me that Jesus said if someone slaps you, you should turn the other cheek.

And she told me one story which she actually never finished because we were interrupted. It was about a simple and happy man who always saw the good and beauty in everything. She said I should try and be like a filter and take the good I see in everything into my own personality.

I was less than seven when all this was introduced into my thinking patterns. And everything I have come across which has resonated with it, I have accepted. She had given me the rules by which I still try to live my life. When I was younger, say 16, 17, I would wonder why I couldn’t be like everyone else- push people over, make fun of others, lie and talk about people behind their backs. Why I cared so much. Life seemed to be easy for those who didn’t do these things.

I enjoy debating the merits of this value system I was given with people who believe in other things. But I am not able to change much of what I am. Perhaps it is because I don’t want to. I have even told my grandma when I realised all this and she wondered if what she had done had harmed me in anyway. Children are so impressionable. Adults can never know how a child may understand something they say. How literally they may take it. And maybe life is harder for me this way.

But it feels right, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you Paati 🙂

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