December 2nd 2015 – A day I will remember in great detail. And by that I mean like Sheldon – eidetic memory and all that! For the rest of my life! Why? Because I learnt a lot of lessons. Life lessons. Hopefully positive too!
December 2nd 2015 was a Wednesday. A very rainy one. The previous night was a bummer because there was a really long power cut. And we had to make do with no TV, low charged mobile phones for mindless whatsapping, and no microwaveable hot dishes.
Many near and dear ones called us in the morning to find if we were ok, thanks to tv reports, rumors and truth on social media, tamilnadu weatherman forecasts and the panchaangam (traditional methods of hindu astrology). Well, we were ok. We smiled. Reassured people. And stocked up for the rainy days ahead. And then it all began.
Lesson 1 . You think you have a plan.
I surely did. My plan was to live a “simple”life during the badly forecast days of rain. I prepared myself mentally for power cuts. So I had stocked up on provisions that would not be easily perishable (read rotis, dal and eggs). I had my work cut out. I was going to do a lot of written work that did not include electricity. Letters to write (Yes, I have a bunch of pen friends and we write to each other the pen and paper way), assignments to prepare for and the like. Priding myself on being ultra organised, I was relaxed that Wednesday morning.
But what did I really learn?: I thought I was preparing myself for a simple life. Turns out my version of simple was not simple. I should have thought minimalistic. Couple of hours down the line – I had no thoughts of food perishable or non perishable, no fancy words to write in my letters, and no creativity to showcase in my assignments. All I was thinking was how to creatively salvage what we could and how to get out of my house.
Lesson 2 . You think you are connected.
John Donne said ” No man is an Island” More so in today’s world where we are connected through Whatsapp groups, private chats, phone calls, Face time, Skype, Facebook, Instagram and what not. And you think that all these will help you in case of an emergency. I can upload on Facebook, tweet about it, send a message in groups – that’s what we take for granted every single day.
But what did I really learn?: News Flash : You need wifi and there is no power. You need mobile data (Yes all the 3G and 4G the pretty girl tells you is unlimited on TV!) But the network operators decide to shut down. And you are relying on your senile memory to desperately grasp at phone numbers that are just an illusion in your head. Arrogantly displaying your useful as a brick smartphone. Pity, the landline is the only thing that works. But sadly redundant in our heads and homes. Sorry John Dunne. Man was indeed an island on Dec 2.
Lesson 3. You work hard so that you can afford stuff.
You buy a house. And then a car. And do it up well. Look up magazines, hire an architect. Paint it. Lights. A lawn. The works.
But what did I really learn ? : None of these matter. You cannot take them with you. You may have to leave it behind. All of them. The things you waited so many days to buy. Or saved up for. The envy of others. Anything. When I left home – I carried my wallet, mobile 2 sets of clothes, my grandparent’s photos, an ID proof and a couple of certificates. That’s all. None of the books I heavily invested in and thought were the reason for my life. Not the Laptop. Nor the Tablet. Nope. Din’t think of them even once.
In a way – the Chennai floods taught me a lot more. That you are never safe. That things change. That the things and people you thought you could rely on, may not be so reliable. But that random people you din’t think of, step up to the occasion. That people help. That some like to see you struggle. There are more expenses than you imagine. But it does not seem important in that minute.You are powerless against Nature. Or stupid bureaucracy. That you yourself are not the person you thought you were. You are extremely strong on auto pilot. And can be really more arrogant and self-obsessed than we realise too.
Surprisingly, when people were clicking their tongues and enquiring about all the material damage (read vehicles, electronic equipments,cleaning, plumbing, carpentry ) – I feel like I have some clarity. Or maybe I am just zombied out.
Shri T.A.S. Chellayya (15th August 1927 – 23rd September 2009) – Shri. T.A.S Chellayya was born in Madras, the 7th child in a family of ten. As a student he was promoted twice to higher classes, so that he could study at the pace he was capable of. By the time he was 16, he was asked by his father who entrusted in his hands – the responsibility of the family business – to work in Calcutta. He was told in no uncertain terms to start from scratch, which he did.
Five to six years later, he was called back to consolidate the business in Tamil Nadu and by then the young 20 year old was proficient in about 5 extra languages as well as the tricks of the trade.
The regal and stylish man in the above photograph is my grandfather. Or rather, I , the author of this post, am the proud grand daughter of the person in the picture above – Shri T.A.S. Chellayya. Liberal in thought and protective in action, I had a wonderful childhood that was very positively influenced by my grandparents from both sides – and as an adult now, I have learned to realise the values of the gifts I have received from them. I share with you, lessons I have learned from my grandfather.
Think around the subject – Ever since I started speaking and was receiving accolades from guests for reciting rhymes perfectly, It was my grandfather who drew my attention to phonetics. He would stump me asking me to spell and pronounce similar words like “put” and “but” – and revel in my confusion as I fumbled for a convincing answer. He was the person who asked me ” why do birds fly in a V-formation, and not any other letter of the alphabet? ” Mind you, I was too young to even think otherwise, but it was my grandfather who triggered the process of “thinking and reasoning” in me. If the “why?” of a concept was important – the “why not” of a solution found equal importance in his thought process
Laugh aloud – My grandfather was one who believed in happiness. When the mind is happy, let it reflect on your face and actions. People who closed their mouth with their hands, or tried to suppress their laughter were met with a stern glance from Thatha (grandfather), who would come up to you and say ” Laugh aloud – what are you afraid of? ”
Confidence – My Thatha had a soft corner for confident people. Walk with your head held high. Look at the world. Meet people in the eye. A firm handshake. Speak loudly and clearly. Simple instructions but worthy ones.
Equality, Respect and security of women – This is my favorite trait in my grandfather. If you have come across chauvinistic or insecure men in the current generation- think of the situation 5 decades ago. Men were raised to feel they were superior and women were brought up to accept they could be treated like second fiddle.
My grandfather was intelligent enough to be a scientist, suave as a model, smart enough to control a business empire, and creative enough to come up with unbelievable solutions in stressful situations – yet, he involved my grandmother in most of his decision making processes. He would encourage her to argue, if she did not subscribe to his point of view and would listen earnestly to her thoughts if she had any on any subject she was convinced about. This is a rare occurrence in today’s world – and I am proud of the fact that my grandfather was ahead of his times 50 years back.
A woman’s respect at home and in public was of utmost importance to him and there was never a day when he has ever belittled anyone based on gender. He was our security shield when we went out, when we took decisions, and when we disagreed with anyone.
In the 1950s and 60s – he insisted on educating every girl in his family, and not rushing to get her married as soon as possible, and absolutely refusing to give dowry – which was the norm those days. He also believed in financial security for women / girls and always encouraged them not to be dependent on another emotionally or financially.
You’re the Inventor – You are as smart as Newton – if you came up with the theory of Gravity on your own! If you ever went to my grandfather for help with anything simple before your exams – woe betide you. Unmindful of the pressure on you for the next day, he would make sure you discover the whole theorem / rule / grammar syntax – all by yourself, never giving you extra information to make the process easier. Hundreds of examples, clues to take your thoughts in the right direction, and millions of contradictions later – you would leave tired by putting your brain to use (finally!), happy that you understood the topic, but still full of fear for the exam next day (for we have learned just one of the topics 😉
I wish I had another fifty years with him, especially now when I have learned to admire and am in awe of his qualities even more. People thought he was complicated, but his simplicity was what they thought was complex. Many thought he was ambitious, but his clarity in thought was what raised him above the rest. Strong till the end, I still believe he is somewhere nearby. Looking out for me…. Missing you Thatha.