Saturday, April 8, 2023

Cent per cent Genuine: A tribute to my paternal grandmother

70/100.  That was how much I scored in my quarterly Math exam when I was in 7th grade.  When I was a school student, I would hesitate more to share a low Math score with her than I would with my parents.  After my ordinary performance in that exam, instead of telling her that I would work harder the next time, I made the mistake of telling her that my low score was due to a “few silly mistakes.”  She wasted no time in asking me how exactly could one score just 70% due to a few innocuous mistakes.  With her razor-sharp memory, she recounted the umpteen distractions – cricket, tennis, movies, to name a few – that had arguably done some damage to my preparations!  But here’s the thing – even as a hot-headed 11-year old, I knew not to argue with her. 

Trust me, I was much happier that day than my somber expression suggests!

When one has had a lifelong association with a loved one, it is a tough task to encapsulate the shared memories, the moments of truth, and capture the core spirit of the person with mere words.  My paternal grandmother Indira Raghavan passed away yesterday, leaving behind a score of memories.  But amidst all her virtues and values, it is her forthrightness, honesty and above all, genuineness that I will remember her most for.

Years later, when I had moved to the US in the late 90s, I had picked up this habit of calling one friend in India every weekend.  I had struck a 'deal' with my parents that I would speak for no more than 15 minutes.  Paati knew this.  You must remember that these were pre-Whatsapp days, where long distance calls were quite expensive.  One on occasion, I was quite enjoying my conversation with a friend.  Even though Paati was not in the same room, after I had come out, she asked me the duration of my call.  I said to her that it was probably a half-hour or so.  Pat came the reply that I had spoken for close to 45 minutes!  And that it was my Dad’s hard-earned money that I was squandering through my carelessness.  Again, I don’t remember having much of an argument with her.  I suppose I didn't want to make two wrong calls the same day!    

I am not sure that I realized at the time of these two incidents.  But I think that I must have sensed the quality in a person that makes us swallow the bitter pill – sans any coating of sugar – of forthright advice.  And that quality is genuineness.  Indira Paati did not have an iota of fakery in her.  Everything about her from affection to advice was genuine.  That she walked the talk, made her words and gestures of tough love, resonate and register.  She was a master of attacking the behavior, not the person.  I don’t remember ever being called any names or adjectives.  All I remember of those conversations are her precise directions on what to do and what not to do.

During my upanayanam...

Her genuine displays of love and affection too, were seen in more of actions and gestures than words.  For instance, she knew that I loved ilai vadaam. She would tirelessly make them for me in the stove, as I waited eagerly to peel them off the banana leaves that she would hand me in the kitchen.  When I had visited my Aunt in Charlottesville in 1991, Paati and Thatha were with her.  Thatha and my Aunt had picked up me and my Mom up from the train station.  I was a bit disappointed that Paati had not come to the station.  Upon reaching my Aunt’s home I realized that Paati was in the kitchen preparing ilai vadaams for me.  Since she couldn’t procure banana leaves there, she made them on Ziploc bags.  I don’t remember if I appreciated her thoughtfulness and ingeniousness as much as I should have. (Knowing me, I probably started gobbling the vadaams even before washing my hands!)

Paati was deeply pious.  That was hard to ignore.  But when one looked beyond her love for temples and her dazzling mastery of prayers and scriptures, it was easy to see that her type of piety reflected her personality.  In a simple, organized manner, she prayed and read religious books with a single-minded belief in the superpower, without tying her prayers to outcomes, wishes or desires.  It was piety of the purest kind.

Over the past 6 years, her health had been deteriorating.  It was difficult to see her in a state that was a stark contrast to her former self.  Of course, age-related ailments and infirmity are painful to see from close quarters.  But what we had was the gift of time with her.  I am filled with gratitude for having been born in her family, to have witnessed her virtues and values firsthand.  In letting her go to a happier, pain-free place up above, I tell myself that my best tribute to her would not be this article.  It would be in the way I lead the rest of my life, seeking to emulate the way she lived hers.

Paati, I may have scored only 70/100 on that day.  But your score for genuineness was certainly 100/100.  Rest in peace.  I will miss you.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful tribute Ram. You have taken after her genuineness and you know to appreciate it in her. In that simple question of how long did you talk, was the weight of all her hopes and dreams that not only her children should do well but also her grandchildren. She has worried so much for all of us that it is a miracle that she had such black hair for most of her life!
She loved you so much and "Rhythm" movie style la she would say, "Romba Nalla Payyan dee Ram".
Yes, she scored her favorite "Cent percent" marks in her genuineness!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful spot on tribute Ram.!!!

Radhika said...

Very sweet and touching,Ram.You have a wonderful way of seeing the good in others and cherishing people.God bless you.

Zola said...

Very well written tribute to your grandmother Ram. I can see now where your genuineness, good nature, concern/thoughtfulness about others and your drive to become a better person come from. In that sense we are also lucky you were born in her family since we receive what she'd bequeathed you.
You really have a way of remembering and narrating incidents to illustrate her shining qualities. We can see the deliberate thought and rumination over the people in your life that made this possible. Om Shanti!

Madhu said...

Dear Ram
Such a beautiful and heartfelt tribute !! You’ve written with wit, joy and most of all deep affection!
Patti is a grandparent extraordinaire !!
Her affection for her grandkids totally surpassed that for her own children in some ways!!
And I think you earned the bragging rights as the leader of the pack !
Your comment about her getting to the reason for your less than 100%
is her sweet yet firm no- nonsense personality! Patti has such a passion for education and lifelong learning that she and thatha being so well-read have passed on to us all and we strive to follow !
Aah… you questioned her absence when you arrived at Charlottesville to learn that it was that she was quietly surprising you with your fav Ilai vadam- which almost always rang true of Patti- she’d have been toiling away when we’d have thought she didn’t do something we may have expected Patti to have done!
We’ll miss her dearly, but know that fond memories will sustain us!
More than that we’ll stop and think as to what Patti in her good health days would have wanted us to do in many situations!!
Love, Madhu athai