15 Things We Can Learn From Our Grandmothers

By Archana Rao

While the love a parent has for a child is often termed as unconditional, the love a grand-parent showers can only be called, well, grand. As you can tell, words royally fail to express what the feeling of being embraced and blessed by your own ancestors is. However, for those of us who are/were lucky to spend time with grandparents (and even great-grandparents), the warmth is positively palpable.

While grandfathers shower their love in a majestic, less obvious way, grandmothers often go all out. If we put together my maternal/paternal grandmothers, her many sisters and now my grandmothers-in-law, and their many sisters, we have a benevolent tribe with generations of wisdom and an impenetrable shield of compassion.

I vividly recollect every summer holiday back at the ancestral homes of both sets of grandparents. They were endless bright mornings assisting grand-mums with cooking special south-Indian feasts, watering clean entrance ways each evening adorning them with rangoli/kolam, splitting open coconuts from the tress in the backyard, braiding jasmine garlands from the garden into our hair, and countless other fuzzy memories that make up my childhood. 

Three decades later, not much has changed. I still childishly snuggle into the many folds of my grandmothers’ saris and find immense comfort while snuffing in the familiar fragrance of sandalwood soap and ponds cold cream, which is every grandmother’s comforting scent. 

Even today, when I am feeling anxious or unsettled, I call my maternal grandmother. Luckily for me when I moved to the United States, she had already been living there for many years with my uncle. (My grandparents travel between India and the United States, spending time between their two children). And so, once (sometimes multiple times) a day, on my commute back from work, I inquire about what she made for dinner, or clarify an ingredient from a home recipe. When I just feel lonely, I call my grandmother. No one has the ability to fill a void that is created from being halfway across the world from my own mother. Except of course, the mother of my mother!

Amidst the rapidly changing world, the thirst for individual freedom, and the quest for self-actualization, we often forget those who played an integral part in molding the securely loved and self-assured human beings we are today. We willingly buy into the convenient fallacy of “being self-made” and “enviably self-sufficient”, all easily forgetting the sacrifices our ancestors made, ensuring that we are alive and thriving. Everything we have is a gift from those before us who braved wars, famine, disaster, or done even the mundane day-to-day never-ending thankless household chores or as economists call it ‘labor of love’. It is all just so we can feel smug about becoming overachieving millennials, who are independently dealing with our ‘oh so important’ first world problems.

As I grow older, I came face-to-face with the reality that we stand tall only from the knowledge passed on to us by someone older, more seasoned, and more experienced. Grandparents love you and are proud of you; regardless of your job title, or your b-school’s reputation, or how much money you make. They want nothing from you in return, except maybe some quality time to revel in their progeny. And in this hyper-competitive, ever lonely and excruciatingly isolating world that we have created, that is comforting to know.

So if you are still lucky and have the privilege, tell your grandparents how much you love and cherish them. Give them the biggest hug you have given them since you were six. And of course, hold your grandmothers a few seconds longer and tighter.

I doodled 15 things that we can learn from our grandmothers. I hope you relish your grandmothers’ love in these drawings just as much as I did while making them.

Whether it is marriage, raising kids, taking care of aging elders, running a large home with 10+ family members, hosting & entertaining guests, while also pursuing her own passions, our grandmothers did it all without much fuss or fanfare. 

Our grandmothers have masterfully narrated mythological epics, fables, real-life incidents, pre-independence anecdotes, or sang melodious lullabies late into the afternoon or night to her numerous grandchildren who listened with rapt attention and didn’t tire of the same stories repeatedly while drifting off into glorious dreamlands.

Grandmothers cooked glorious feasts for scores of people at a time. Each meal is delicately designed keeping in mind every family members’ taste, preference, and choice. My favorite memory is cousins sitting around grandmothers in a circle waiting their turn for each morsel of food made tastier by the love from her fingers.

My paternal grandmother was an extremely competitive card player. Endless balmy summer afternoons playing rummy, bluff, 7 of hearts, court-piece etc. with all her grandchildren was a favorite pass-time of ours. I still suspect that she could secretly count cards. 

Embroidery, knitting, crotchet, stitching clothes for dolls, making figurines with beads, sketching, and all finer arts in life were taught to me by grandmothers. Despite today’s quantitative and structured world, they patiently taught me every fine skill they honed and practiced passionately over many years. 

My grandmother thinks in Telugu, our mother-tongue but that never stopped her from learning English or Hindi while she lived abroad after getting married or to be able to communicate with us. Every summer, she would lovingly teach us the language so we could write letters to her through the year. It’s a pity we never made the effort to keep up with her. Here’s to hoping we change that. 

Grandmothers would make incredible C-suite executives. While being judicious with resources, understanding the value of money, and the power of saving up, managing home-economics came so naturally to them. From her, I learnt early on that food was never to be wasted. Of course, she was crafty with interesting story-spins like the last drops of milk have elixir that made us the strongest so we would slurp it up.

Grandmothers could pray the world into peace as she always she’s the best for the family and showers everyone with unlimited blessings without ever wanting anything for herself in return. 

Grandmothers were the original hipsters! Growing up in resourceful times, I learnt from her to recycled/re-used/up-cycled every single item I could find. Especially in today’s times of waste and plenty, it’s a good reminder that reckless consumption is not only frowned upon, but also un-cool. Grandmothers have been practicing this value all their lives.

Grandmothers carry out every single task with immense dedication and integrity. I have seen all my grandmothers tirelessly keep their minds and hands busy. If performing daily routines and finding joy in the simple things can put you in a meditative state of trance, our grandmothers have attained nirvana without question.

As a south-Indian, picking jasmine buds and flowers, weaving them into fragrant garlands and braiding them into our hair was an everyday ritual. Grandmothers’ love for flowers, gardening, and growth has also brought out the green thumb in me. No matter where I am in the world, if i see flowers, I think of her. 

Grandmothers’ love for adorning our homes, bringing in positive energies, and meaningful rituals taught me my first lessons in mathematical design. Every evening, one would scrub clean the entrance to a south-Indian home, occasionally flattening cow-dung paste on the wet ground after which grandma would sieve rice-flour through her fingers in precise dotted and grid like mathematical patterns. This was my early math lessons in life. 

Unlike us, grandmother’s grew up in a world without the internet and high-speed technology. It was not until even five years ago that the world has changed to a degree that is unfathomable for her. Despite this, the willingness to learn and adapt to new devices, apps, and platforms just so she can stay in touch with you is not only highly commendable but also super endearing.

Grandmothers can weave magic with their mesmerizing voice. Often playing multiple musical instruments and singing soul-stirring songs while offering daily prayers or while singing you lullabies, grandmothers leave you with tunes that you will forever associate with her alone.

Grandmothers wear every fine line, every wrinkle and every gray hair strand with pride wrapping together unparalleled experience, timeless beauty, and an impish childishness into the most lovable person you will get to know. I believe that’s what grandmothers are made of.

What are you waiting for? Call your grandma now! And if you can, better still – give her the biggest hug you have given her!

Archana Rao is a cartoonist and a writer who explores what it means to be human. She loves adventure, golden labradors and red-velvet cupcakes. She is on a mission to experience all 61 US national parks by 2021 and is almost half way there! When not working full-time in Education Technology, she loves traveling the world with her husband. You can find her other doodles on Instagram or Facebook. Feel free to check out her previous blog on Valley of State Fire, Nevada and the one coming up soon!

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