Lessons From My Grandmother – Loina Shohe, Assistant Professor Sociology

The most inspiring people are not always the rich and famous, the celebrities or the well known preacher. Sometimes they are closer home and impact us more then we realize

Lessons From My Grandmother

Not too long back, on my profile page on Facebook, there was a spot to write our list of inspirational persons. I had put mine up as Leo Tolstoy, Queen Rania and Khuzhuli Shohe. In life we all have persons we look up to, persons who influence us through their work and lives they live, the ethics they believe, the qualities they possess, their fight for a cause. Some we meet, some we don’t, some lived even before us, some don’t even know we exist and yet we find inspiration, motivation and consolation through them. In my case the former two are well known personalities but you may be wondering who the latter one is and how she got to be mentioned along the likes of Tolstoys and Queens. Well, she is my maternal grandmother (that is her maiden surname by the way).
Grandma was not well educated as compared to today’s standard. Mom told me she attended only middle school. She did not possess an imposing personality, she was neither much of a talker, nor did she do anything scientifically or literally- exceptionally brilliant. I can’t even think of any artistic extraordinary skills or talent she had. And yet, till today she has been the one person whom I look up to, with all sincerity. For me, her life and the way she lived has been an inspiration, a consolation, a conviction that it can happen in this life too. She taught me and all who cared to know her through the quality of life she lived. And the beauty of it is that it she has never taken credit nor does she acknowledge how much impact she had in the lives of people who had known her.
At this stage I think it would be better if I can cite one by one some of the greatest lessons I ever observed from her life.

Ability to forgive- “To err is human, to forgive is divine”. Probably one of the most common quotes that is so frequently pronounced and so rarely followed, but if there ever was a person who can be so divine, then anyone who knows my grandma can attest to her divinity in forgiving. Grandma went through a very hard time once in life. She was married with three daughters when grandpa wanted a divorce. As per the Sumi custom with the divorce, the children were to remain with the father; she was not to remain in the village, or to meet her children. I heard people telling stories about how her neckpiece was broken into two and the beads scattering. The village people sang songs in the fields lamenting for her and her children. The divorce was done on grounds of some rumors that have never been proven till today. It wouldn’t have been strange if she had gone on with life bitter and vengeful, but she overcame it all through her ability to forgive. In fact, in later years when grandpa remarried she became more like a sister to his wife (my step grandmother). She was called back to the village once to pray for a certain person who was undergoing some difficulty with life. She did go, the one and only time she returned to her village after they tore her life apart and drove her away. If it were for most of us the first thought could probably have been ‘let them come to me’. But she was not most of us. She had moved on, she had forgiven them all.

Impartial courtesy towards all- People tend to have a way of dealing with people differently. One of the most interesting phenomenon, we can observe in this materialistic world is that most people tend to be sweet or kind towards people who they feel can help them in one way or the other. In other words, many of us practice partial kindness. That means we are not kind to all but only to certain people. My grandma was an exception. I never saw or heard her treat anyone differently. She had no special favor for a particular grandkid. She treated all of us equally. For her there was no richer or poorer, or fairer or darker, or wiser or foolish, or older or younger. No one who knew grandma would say that she treated them differently.

Respect for other’s differences and ability to accept them as they are- There was this uncle of mine who was really into one particular local leaf we add to chutneys. He liked it so much he used to say, ‘Anyone who doesn’t like this leaf is probably a fool’. Well, he meant it as a joke, but in reality I think I can safely say that many of us often have that attitude. We tend to think that people who are not doing what we are doing or like what we like are probably fools. We keep telling people to do things our way, advising them, and sometimes exclaiming and wondering behind their backs. Grandma never had this type of attitude; in her colony there was this drunkard and even though she was not a drinker she would be talking politely to him, just as she talks with any other decent person. She never questioned why he was drinking or advised him not to drink. She accepted him just as he was. That was the way she accepted all of us. She just loved us, accepted us – as we were.

Diligence for work and self sufficient- Grandma never had a government job (which is the definition of financial security in our Naga society). She never owed anyone anything nor depended on others for her needs. Most of what she needed was met by working with her own hands. She weaved, ran a shop for some years, and then she started cultivating fields. Even after all her daughters were well settled and could have easily supported her, she was always busy working. Her gardens were weed free and they say her fields were more like gardens, so carefully tended to. Maybe one reason for it is also because her fields were never too big; she only cultivated an area which she could manage by herself. She rested only on Sundays and special occasions.

Presentable appearance at all times-
 Grandma was a pretty woman, though she never used sunscreen or lipstick or put on anything too fanciful. She was always perfectly dressed – in her simple mekhalas and feminine blouses, with a light shawl draped over it, paired with sweaters and heavier shawls in winter. She was always clean and proper, whether she was home or came from the field or was just about to go to church.

Contentment with life- She minded her own affairs, lived independently as much as possible. And all through the years I knew her there was never even a single complaint about her life. She never gave the impression that she wished it otherwise or ever heard her pray for it to be different. I never saw her sad or depressed or angry or bitter with her life. She had gentleness, calmness, a happiness that came from within – one such that can never be achieved unless one is truly contented with one’s own life. For if one is not, surely one can break down sometimes, no matter how hard one puts a mask on.

Our grandma had all these qualities, and so much more. She passed away in the spring of 2009. Since then our lives have been lonelier without her, but we have kept on learning from the life she showed us to live. Her epitaph reads, “You were a true lady”, for indeed she truly was one.  I wonder how many of us can expect people who are dear and near – people who know us well enough – to say the same about ourselves some day, with conviction and with no apology.
“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email: admin@tetsocollege.org”

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