Before a few days my father told me an interesting story about my grandfather.
My grandfather worked in a printing press. This was in 1940s and 50s. The job was hard. Whole day he and his colleagues stood on their feet and assembled the printing blocks by assembling letters one by one. In hot and humid weather of Mumbai, the fatigue used to set in by mid day or end of the day. But there were not much of labor unions. The men called supervisors used to be the king of the floor. Needless to say, break and rest was rarer than water in the desert.
Guess what trick these people did? They used to drop the letters on the floor purposely. An excuse to search for the letter would let you sit down for a minute or so. That’s all would be your rest and break.
I found this very touching. I knew my grandfather only as someone who bought me gifts and told me stories and took me to the garden. But I never knew how his shadow is in the background of my successes.
I know this because my father told me. There are many things he hasn’t. And there are many thing grandfather hasn’t told my father. The whole thing of writing diaries and keeping records is just not that ingrained in Indian society. Even the photographs are very rare because photography was only for elites till 1950s. So we Indians don’t have a link to our past like Americans or Europeans do. When I see the neatly preserved records from diaries, letters and official documents from World wars or even further back, Civil wars and Revolutionary war in USA, I envy these societies for having that connection. We Indians have a history that dates far back. We have caves, palaces and forts that are thousands of years old. And we are even proud of them. But we just don’t have that connection.
Today’s middle class Indians live pretty decent lifestyle, almost entirely unaware that their prosperity stands on the shoulders of these forgotten struggles. I know a friend whose grandfather walked 12 miles roundtrip to his job as a priest in a small temple, in rain or shine. The job barely paid enough. But that’s what he had to do. And I know of another grandmother who once made food items like papad and achar at home, packed them in a bag and sold door to door to raise her four kids by herself. I know of another old man who worked as a porter on a railway station in early mornings and then worked second job as a shop helper for the whole day.
We have taken the blood and sweat of these people for granted. Like the phrase “also ran”, we have marked them as “also lived” and turned on the next page of our life which is full of shiny things like cell phones and TVs. Had they been in USA or Europe, their memories would be preserved as important part of history, important part of making of a nation. Did we think that their struggles are ordinary because they were fairly common? Does something need to be not common in order to be extraordinary? What is the value of strength of character that these people showed? Is the value diminished by them not being able to produce a significant visible accomplishment?
So it’s my request to fellow Indians. Talk to your father and grandfather as much as you can. And write down their stories. For the sake of future generations. It is more important to leave those generations the reminders of these struggles than to leave them the fruits of the struggle, the wealth. Because unless they are aware of the struggles, they would fail to appreciate the wealth at all.
And if you have some interesting story, post that as a comment to this blog post.
(image: Courtsey Vayam Facebook Group. Vayam is a fabulous non profit organization working on political change at grassroot level in India)