“The strongest Oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the sun. It is the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”

-Napoleon Hill

Every year, on the occasion of International Women’s Day observed on March 8th, I try to write about women or a woman who might have influenced me positively.

This year, I decided to write about my maternal grandmother would have celebrated her 107th birthday on December 4, had she been alive. Memories of this remarkable lady endear her to me as years roll by.

My immediate younger brother David and I had the good fortune to watch this lady at close quarters grapple with odds life threw at her in no small measure, and come up trumps each time they did.

We were reared by our maternal grandparents during our crucial teenage years when our parents left us under their tutelage (read safekeeping). We spent considerable number of school-going years with our grandparents, and two years of college for the now defunct pre-degree course with our grandmother. Grandfather had passed away by the time we enrolled in college.

As a teenager, I was greatly impressed by the manner in which my grandparents, especially my grandmother lived their lives humbly, nobly and faithfully. It is said that, ideally, people’s faith ought to be discerned from the lives they lived, than their names. My grandparents were Bible personified to me. They did not preach their faith from pulpits or street corners. They lived it.

 They did not walk on a bed of roses. They strode faithfully on paths strewn with thorns and thistle. Hand in hand. Without complaining. They faced tragedies, including their son succumbing to cancer in prime of his life.They faced them with abounding faith in God.

I was particularly taken to my grandmother who exuded equanimity and prayerful courage when her life partner passed away, leaving her alone. I never heard her ask ‘why me?’ when she had ample reasons to do so.

A disciplinarian to the core, she would switch off lights and fans in unoccupied rooms, and close taps tight when not being used, never wasting a drop of water. Sheensured we followed suit.

She was always dressedimmaculately in starched and ironed spotlessly white chatta and mundu, with a shining brooch holding a ‘shawl’ in place on the chatta, the telltale outfit worn by Kerala’s Syrian Christian women back then until the churidar replaced it, whether it suited them or not. The bible was her rule book. She ensured we read it cover to cover (much before cobwebs of sleep fell off our eyes, at dawn). And practiceit too- a tall task than reading It.

Even though she walked through the vale of death in her battle with cardiac failure in her 90s, she feared no ill. She believed that the rod and the staff of her God would comfort her as she struggled with breathlessness of cardiac failure and excruciating pain of osteoporotic vertebrae.

I heard that my grandmother wept after I visited her, aided by a walking stick after surviving a stroke that nearly killed me at 39. I felt guilty imagining that her first grandchild’s illness broke her seemingly impenetrable fortress of courage built on faith.

But I was proved wrong when one day she telephoned me, as I struggled with extreme anxiety and periods of anorexia after my stroke. ‘Sunny, don’t be ungrateful to God’, she rebuked me addressing me by my pet name. She ordered me characteristically not to be ungrateful to God who helped me survive the stroke.

The rebuke still rings in my ear whenever I tend to complain, and to ask ‘why me?’. Those words help me steady my ship, and more importantly be grateful to the Almighty for silver linings. For, those words came from an oak that turned the storm and the sun that battered her, to her advantage to add to her durability and unflagging strength. I had never seen a branch break off from her during raging storms. That oak only drew the rest of us to her to shade us from the elements-bet it sun, rain or storm. Her exemplary culinary skills too added to the reasons that drew us brothers close to her!