off the cuff

Second-hand lessons from our grandfather

I wonder what grandfather would have felt if he were around today to witness our self-praise and self-promotion or listen to us air our judgements and opinions in a barrage of tweets

Cheryl Rao,Special to Gulf News
16:45 September 1, 2017

We never knew our maternal grandfather, but throughout our childhood, we felt his presence. From the stories narrated to us by our mother, we knew that he was a strict disciplinarian and he had raised his eight children with an iron hand. He rarely spanked them or raised his voice to enforce his will, but he laid down a list of common sense rules that became the dictum by which his family lived.

Those rules were simple: Complete the task given to you or the one you have undertaken irrespective of how irksome it is; respect each other’s property — however small and inconsequential it may seem; neither borrow nor lend in order to make a splash or appear wealthier than one actually is; learn to live within one’s means; shun self-praise, reserve one’s judgement, especially in public, and refrain from spouting all the stray thoughts that jump into your head — especially the derogatory and unkind ones.

These and several other such homilies (which, we realised much later in life, came largely from Polonius’ advice to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet) enabled his large household to live amicably within the confines of a small house and also live amicably with friends and neighbours and acquaintances.

Chores were allotted and rotated, everyone learnt to value their few possessions and not meddle with those of their siblings; they also learnt to appreciate and admire — but not envy — the things and the qualities of those around them.

In time, they went out into the world with these lessons ingrained into their psyches — and they spread the word.

Of course, when I was young, I chafed at all the “good sense” that I heard and wondered why I was subject not only to strict discipline in school, but also to a formidable list of do’s and don’ts at home.

Awful job

Thus, homework could not be done in two sessions — a little bit before we went out to play and the rest when we were half-asleep, nodding off over our books and doing an awful job of memorising or adding and subtracting. No, we had to get it over and done with when we were fresh from school with the teacher’s words still ringing in our ears.

It was the same with those dull tasks like chopping vegetables and cleaning rice. The job had to be done — and done well. (I suspect that Mother added some rules of her own, picked up as she went through life: Clean up the mess you create, don’t expect someone else to do the chore you don’t like doing, and so on, in that vein.)

In all truth, we were luckier than Mother and her siblings had been. We rarely felt the edge of a stick or the back of a brush and enforcement of the various rules and regulations was more by word of mouth than by threat of fire and brimstone. (Still, we chafed under the assumption that being told once was enough. What about a bit of bargaining, we thought: “We’ll clear up — and you let us join our friends for a movie” ...)

But our grandfather’s children had not learnt how to bargain — and they didn’t believe in cajoling and coaxing anyone into realisation and acceptance of responsibilities at home and at work.

I wonder what grandfather would have felt if he were around today to witness our self-praise and self-promotion or listen to us air our judgements and opinions in a barrage of tweets to all and sundry, up and down the chain of command. What would he have thought of the concept of “retail therapy” and acquisition of clothes, shoes and accessories way beyond our requirements, and most of all, the “enjoy now, pay later” concept with instalment plans for holidays.

Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.