Hard Times

When the going gets tough get going. Nope, it’s not that oft-repeated saying but this classic Billy Joel number from the 80’s.

I was reminded of it when I watched my grandpa make a sprint to our patio to check out the peacocks. No, I ain’t kidding. We actually have peacocks frolicking in our backyard (and front too) with all the bee eaters, shrikes, racket-tailed drongos, puppies and strays, magpie robins, kites, shikaras, mongooses and even lapwings on a rainy day! And yes, my grandpa still sprints!!!

Getting Younger and Wiser

He’s 95 years young, no, not the peacock… my grandpa. He’s lived in India through pre-independence, post-independence, license raj and post-liberalisation.

To put that in context, he was a babe in the woods when the British ruled India during the 1920s. His world was a privileged one. He had a proper fiefdom with hectares of land and people at his beck and call. He ran away from home to study in Chennai since he didn’t want to be an illiterate gentleman of the farm. After all, he was just being true to himself.

Just as an aside, we made a trip down memory lane to visit his Chennai roots. You can read more about it here….

There was no saffronisation though people were rigid in their religious beliefs. My grandpa was a staunch believer in the Congress party and the ideals it stood for. So he participated in the Salt Satyagraha, albeit on the sea shores of Chennai. He spent a brief spell in jail as a freedom fighter. There is a photo of Gandhi and Nehru together addressing one of the freedom struggle movements here.  Now, he reads the magazines and papers, and watches the news on TV but he abhors politics. He has seen and lived with people of a better breed, who stood by what they believed!

As I go through old albums I come across a ticket stub for a cruise ship bound to Australia. There is a post card datemarked circa 1940s with an address bearing the same street that my brother resided in 70 years later (Though both these glories actually are that of his brother).

He recollects how people would bow before him because he was a zamindar (landlord). Society did not believe in dignity of labour and people still lived in the varna system, he says. Yet, he worked along side his ryots (farmer).  There is a weathered press clipping where my grandpa is extolled for using the latest technology (irrigation at that point in time) on his farm. There are certificates bestowed on him by various agricultural institutions including for skills he mastered in silk worm rearing.

Perspective aplenty

There were no malls when he was a teen or a sprightly man living through his 30s, 40s and 50s that charged Rs 120 for a plate of idli/vada or a Sukhsagar by the sea in Jumeirah in Dubai. Instead what he had was an anna to buy himself a hearty breakfast of puri/bhaaji, dosas for lunch and a ride back home with some change left over. Wow, 1 anna got so much more than what Rs 100 gets me today. Again, to put this in context one anna is probably worth 6 paise today. LOL, we don’t even have ten paise and 100 paises make one rupee. And even the 1 rupee has become obsolete.

My old gentleman was and is a tough nut.

He married for love, not an arranged nuptial which was all the rage then. His wife was a socialite (so he says) and she was always impeccably groomed. She was a baker and she inspired women to come into their own through baking, agriculture, sewing and other handicrafts. So what??! Remarkable, I say, considering this was the 1930s when women were not expected to do more than bear children and slog over wood stoves from four in the morning to twelve at night. Society was patriarchal, not matriarchal.

When the going gets tough, he got going.

He lost his land in the land acquisition act. From being a gentleman farmer in his fiefdom he came to the big, bad city where he reinvented himself to become a manager in the transport & logistics sector. He travelled from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He got his children the very best he could offer from imported biscuits to Sharbati wheat, even then called grains of gold.

From a man who held on to his conservative beliefs, whether religion or women’s rights, today, he is the more progressive individual I have met. Unfortunately, his kids never enjoyed that mindset but we grandchildren do. There is nothing we can do or no one we can beat, so thinks our grandfather.

As I stare at hard times progressing steadily into my 30s I falter and fall. Losing a job, battling health issues, struggling to meet financial commitments, getting a start-up off ground and still staying focused on the positives becomes tough.

But heh, one look at this diamond in the rough and I know I have what it takes to meet life head on. After all I’m of his stock.

 

 

 

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