This excerpt, about Mr.Kumar Mangalam Birla’s memories of his grandparents, came beautifully alive in a read by Mr. Rajiv Mehrotra.
I close my eyes and I am at the old Calcutta airport, a speck on the map in east India where my grandfather and grandma live.
I see my grandfather, faithfully present in person as always, standing in the entrance lounge with arms wide open to receive me. "Kumar Mangalam," he says joyfully, with an intonation that is uniquely his, as he swoops me into his arms in a bear hug and then leads me to the car, trying to get in a word amid my incessant chattering. Grandmother would always be at the gate of Birla Park, an avalanche of love, warmth and caring. I hear the crush of dried leaves under my feet as I run into their house, to meet relatives and cousins and to play hide-and-seek amid rows and rows of flowering trees and the smell of mogra. I taste the fresh Bengali sweetmeats — prepared lovingly by family retainers who have been there only forever. I remember being constantly measured for my height and tested for my weight. A page in my grandfather's large diary kept a record of people's height and weight. He was always concerned about my being too thin. I was not fond of food at all.
Grandmother was loving but strict. She would always tell me, 'These are very precious years for you and you should try and not waste a single moment; even a moment lost is an enormous waste of time.' That stuck. She can be tough, strict because she is herself a very disciplined person; calls a spade a spade — gets to the crux of an issue very fast; will always remember people's names, personal anecdotes. She has an extremely compassionate face, and possesses a deep sense of duty and love toward the extended family — she and my grandfather touch people's lives, and not just at the periphery. They are with people through all their significant moments — in joy, celebration, grief or loss. There is a deep sense of pride and joy as we look at these two familiar faces, which mean the world to us. They are an extension of each other, they complement and supplement each other — yet each gives the other a lot of space, one never cramps the other's style. Like any other couple, they have their share of mild differences, which makes them even more endearing. To me, my grandmother has been an ocean of love — who has disciplined me when I have needed discipline about keeping my room neat and tidy, eating at the right time, respecting elders, small things which add up.
The one thing I clearly remember is that she has always wanted her children and grandchildren to be people who will contribute to the process of nation-building in whatever small or big way. She believes in pushing herself and expects the same from us. ( I don't come close.) She is very empathetic. A quality that is very rare — in any context, organisational or personal — is her ability to stay contemporary and change with the changing times, and be happy to change despite the fact that she is a person with a strong will. As far back as the year 1941, and despite the fact that the Birlas had quite a standing in society at that time, she insisted on meeting my grandfather before she would agree to marry him. This is very telling about her personality, she has always been a woman ahead of her times, very contemporary and with a mind of her own. My fond childhood memories came flooding back recently when my grandfather and grandmother — who still live in the same house in what is now Kolkata — celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary.
As a boy, I did not recognise the true gifts from God that my grandparents were. It took growing up for me to appreciate my grandparents as real people who endured real struggles and real disappointments but kept focus on their faith and their family. When my father passed away...the way they took it...they had been by his bedside for three whole months, and now he had gone. There was their unshakable faith in God, and they were also very conscious of the fact that they had to be strong for the rest of the family, which is easier said than done. There is a very poignant moment which I will always remember — my grandfather sat me down and said, ' There is a lot of hard work ahead for you, and there are a lot of people watching how you progress. While you have to be independent in what you choose to do, I am always there for you in any which way you want me to be.' Here was someone who, at 74, had just lost his only son, which is a very difficult thing for a parent to deal with, yet he was able to look beyond his own grief. It was a defining moment for me. Just his saying that was a great source of strength to me; whenever I have asked for advice, he has been there, but at the same time he has been completely non-interfering. He always jokes and says to me, 'There are things about you that I get to know only from the media'.
There is a term for their attitude — it is stitapragya — which means you can flow in life with great equanimity because of your faith in God.
My grandfather and grandmother have not talked about their faith, they have lived it. Their lives have been an inspiration for their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the countless others who are blessed to know them.
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