Thursday, February 9, 2017

High-class behavior: Musing on truly ‘classy’ people

My Aunt was 49 when she passed away last October.  Memories of her pervade my mind from time to time, tightly packed and vying for space, akin to water molecules in a cube of ice.  As I begin to zone in on the specifics of some of those memories, the tightly packed moments melt into a free flowing stream of thoughts related to a particular facet of hers.  Very recently, I smiled to myself, thinking of how she always had a teenager’s gawkiness.  She could be totally clumsy with the food on her plate.  She could be standing near the threshold of our house and yet the way she hollered out, “Amma!” could wake my grandma up even if the latter was in the other corner of the house, taking a siesta.  She giggled in a way that made it impossible to distinguish between her and her 12-year old daughter.   Her gait was so rapid, so rushed that it was a wonder that she didn’t trip, fall and end up in a doctor’s office every week.  All these descriptions might evoke just an endearing, childlike person and not a classy person, necessarily.  But to me, she was truly classy, of a different kind.  And I am not even referring to her impeccable sartorial choices or her perennially perfect coiffure.  In my mind, the sheer class that she had, stemmed from something much deeper, something incredibly genuine.

In 2007, I had gotten married through the arranged marriage process. A month after my wedding was my Uncle’s birthday.  My Aunt, my Uncle and their daughter took me and my wife to Savera for dinner. In the presence of my wife, she told me, “Never, ever hesitate to say ‘sorry’ when you are wrong.  It will be important for Nandu (my wife).”  Kindly pause.  And, reread that.  As I reflect on that moment, I realize that she could have spent the better part of dinner either confabulating with my wife or just teasing me.  But she didn’t.  She felt that in the incipient stage of my marriage that I must know to acknowledge my imperfections, have the grace to apologize and learn from my mistakes.  That one line of hers has been one of the guiding principles of my marriage and I can see how “important” it has been for my wife that I acknowledge and introspect whenever I err.  Be it with her choice of words or the timing and thoughtfulness of that gesture, that discussion at Savera is one of several incidents where my Aunt came up with a concoction of something thoughtful and mature.  And to me, that was class, in the most meaningful sense of the term, a lot more meaningful than someone that only possessed an aristocratic mien and nothing deeper. 

That is not to suggest that people from the upper strata of the society that have a dignified bearing, do not have true class.  As a matter of fact, I have been witness to someone that belonged to the upper class – owing to his social and financial status – display true class.  That was my grandpa’s great friend, who was a wealthy industrialist.  My grandpa, on the other hand, lived a very comfortable lifestyle but was nowhere in the league of his friend when it came to wealth.  But it was a difference that existed just on paper, not in either of their minds, which I thought was remarkable, given the fact that their friendship lasted from their middle school years until my grandpa’s death (at the age of 61) in 1994. 

Their relationship makes me think of another trait that I have always associated with class – assuredness.  Both my grandpa and his friend felt so assured of themselves that they had neither insecurities nor the need to vulgarly display wealth.  That sense of contentment with what they had, made them relaxed.  Relaxed in a manner that would let them enjoy the sunshine of happy moments, withstand the storms of turbulent times and let their friendship offer a protective umbrella that prevented each other from getting drenched in the rains of sadness when their family members went through issues, health wise or otherwise.  It also made them thoughtful in ways that beggar belief.  After my Aunt (my grandpa’s second child, after my mother) was born, my grandpa’s friend was supposed to have given him a pep talk that with two daughters, he must start taking savings and investments seriously, and encouraged him to consider small scale industry to supplement his income.  It was advice that my grandpa took seriously and started a small factory that lasted more than 30 years, until after his death too.  Just the thoughtfulness exhibited by his friend (who was then just in his early 30s), instead of just wishing my grandparents on the arrival of a newborn and lavishing them with a gift, is something that makes me feel quite humbled.  

As I reflect on the class that my grandpa and his best mate exhibited, despite their class differences, the more I feel like I should be conscious of my words and actions.  I say this because as I progress in my career, make more money and acquire more tangible assets, it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy these material possessions for what they are.  But I should also never fail to realize that it is those intangible assets – those admirable traits demonstrated by people like my Aunt, my grandpa or his great buddy – whose value never depreciates over time.  As a lover of watches, I might occasionally allow myself the indulgence of a nice timepiece on my wrist.  It should make me feel nice, that’s all.  But the more I wear these acquisitions lightly, the lighter I can feel, hence making me more grounded, more stable.  Again, that stability will lead me to being less self-absorbed and more giving in myriad ways.  These people that I have written about, are sadly no longer with us.  But, in my personal and professional lives, I continue to see people that exhibit graciousness*, generosity and gratitude in equal measure.  To emulate them would be my best bet if my goal were to make an impact on a loved one’s life in the manner of my Aunt, at Savera.  That would be the kind of class that persists, even after someone leaves this world.  That would be the type of class that lingers, even after the watch stops ticking.


* My first version of the write-up had the word "gracefulness" here.  After seeing Anu Warrier's comment below, I feel that "graciousness" is the more appropriate term for what I was trying to convey.  Thank you, Anu!  


rekhs said...

well said and i luv yr last line ram:)

Unknown said...

So true-I am so happy that you are able to remember the finer points of people and let that shape the way you are.
The generosity of spirit that Shobha exhibited is to be seen to be believed-she truly considered you her first son.
As far as Mama is concerned, I remember one incident where I had got angry with him-I was all of 20 and didn't speak to him for a couple of days. Once he realized I was mad with him, a person of his stature took the trouble to pacify me. I was so moved and sure enough hat was the last incident where I was upset with him
I really miss the sane and cryptic advice of my father on whom I depended so much, the love and affection and the fun times I had with my sister-We used to be called the Madras sisters as we always wore the same color saree for all occasions and the love and affection and care of Mama. I could always go to him for advice and sure enough he gave the right advice at all points in my life.

Anu Warrier said...

Ram, your articles about your aunt alternately make me smile and bring tears to my eyes. Your deep, abiding love for her is evident in every word you write about her, and makes me wish I knew her. She sounds like someone I would have loved as well.

Re: class. 'Class'' (TM) is something I find is not bound by your economic or social standing. It is what, in Malayalam, we call 'tharavaditham'. Or breeding. It is that inherent assurance of your own worth that makes you treat everyone well, irrespective of their economic or social standing. To me, it means empathy, graciousness, simplicity, elegance of both mind and manner. It's not easily describable, but I know it when I see it. :)

Thank you for this piece.

Ram Murali said...

Rekhs - thank you so much for your comment. And, thanks for the edits that you suggested in your e-mail. I have made those corrections.

Amma - thanks for sharing your memories. These anecdotes that you share about these great people really help me appreciate the lasting impact that they've made on others.

Anu - "It's not easily describable, but I know it when I see it. :)" Beautifully said. And, so true. Sometimes, it is hard to place your finger on what makes someone so admirable but they just come across as so "inherently assured" (to steal your words).

Zola said...

Anu : Very well said. "Not describable but know it when I see it.

Zola said...

Ram Murali : That waa very well written. The images that you create of the dinner at Savera ate so vivid that I almost felt as if I was there. Cant do better than Anu when she says it eoukd have been so good to have known her personally.

I found this a very easy read and thats another thing about you - you write so simply and engagingly on topics which are quite hard to write on. Its almost as if you were trying to make sense of where this tragedy fits in the jigsaw puzzle we call life and your effort to learn from every experience.

Te Saluto !

Zola said...

"Only possessed an aristocratic mien and nothing deeper" Superb !

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thank you, as always, for all your encouraging comments. I am glad that the write-up held resonance for you.

Zola said...

Sometimes I wonder.....what kind of voice did she have ?Light and high pitched or deep and husky (seems unlikely) ? Fast or deliberate (again latter seems unlikely)

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thank you for your kind words. Light, high-pitched voice and fast manner of talking are accurate descriptions :)

Zola said...

Ah ! I was within the ballpark in my imagination. Thanks Ram Murali !

Such a delight to know her through you.