The best gift my parents possibly could give me was the company of my maternal grandparents, under whose wings my brother and I were entrusted during our school and college days at Quilon (now Kollam), a city in South Kerala. We were groomed under their tutelage in a house called Bethel, which means ‘House of God’. Grandfather was a simple, pious man. He was humility personified, who people would unhesitantly call a ‘nice man’. The only objection I had towards him were his efforts to religiously wake my brother and I from our siesta, a luxury reserved for the only ‘free day’ of the week-Sunday, after a heavy and delicious lunch my grandmother would prepare, rife with beef curry, besides many others and rice. We used to be woken up to walk up to the building under the blazing noon sun, where Sunday school used to be held! Prayer and church formed the fulcrum around which my grandfather’s life revolved. He ensured my presence, as a child, on his lap during his early morning prayers. Prayer books would be stacked up on the right armrest of his am-chair. As prayer progressed, the books would be transferred to the left armrest. That was a welcome sight, and a relief to my sleep-ridden eyes! Life had not been easy for him financially, as Honorary Secretary of church-run orphanages. Despite financial woes, magnanimity and kindness were his best friends. Tuesdays used to be ‘alms-day’, when alms seekers including lepers would flock to Bethel. Apart from coins for alms, straight out of a dish of detergent solution (grandfather was uncompromising on ‘neatness’), they would be served food on the driveway before the house. Life was simple back then. Nothing was wasted. It was ensured that no tap leaked precious water. Fans and lights in uninhabited rooms were turned off. Grandmother made sure they were. A true secularist at heart, grandfather’s office adorned the pictures of Christ, Swami Vivekananda and the Pope (a rare commodity to adorn the wall of a protestant’s house).He even named one of his daughters Saraswathy. He had a pillar of support and all-weather friend in my grandmother, an equally pious woman with exemplary culinary skills (a compliment which my mother wouldn’t take lightly!). A church organist for many years, she was the ‘church’s ‘grandmother’. With no Television back then, radio was her constant companion. It was her radio, which in fact introduced me to Malayalam movie songs, which were a far cry from ‘movie songs’ that we get to listen to these days! The songs would be played during breaks between dramas she used to listen to, the only entertainment she was sold to. Despite numerous personal tragedies, she stood like the rock of Gibraltar among the ruins. Smile never left her. Each setback only bolstered her faith in God. I used to marvel at the lady’s equanimity. Not once did I hear her ask ‘why me, O God?’, or complain. Every setback had her calloused hands hold fast to life, which she took on with unwavering faith in God. She was grace personified till her last breath.
As the world observed ‘International Day of the Elderly’ on October 1, I remembered those remarkable people, who played greater role in molding me than my parents. The two people who taught me ‘religion’ as a way of life, and not the reason to spill blood, and to tear people usunder, but as a medium to heal, to promote peace, and more importantly love for a fellow human being, within the individual, society and the nation, much unlike these days, where religion, having fallen into the wrong hands of politicians, and the so-called ‘religious heads’, is a convenient tool to kill, to maim, to spread hatred, violence and spill blood on the roads, and to garner power through votes . They taught me simple living and the dispensability of modern-day technology, which is one among many banes to today’s society. They taught me dependence on the God’s grace, even among storms. In fact they taught me to build a Bethel out of my personal stony griefs, which included a major stroke at 39, which wreaked havoc to my surgical career, failure in examinations, and death of my father.