The back-to-school season is on!
It is that time of the year when schools in India reopen after the summer vacation. Classes have started already in states like Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. Many other states are set to welcome students in the next few days. While children are excited to meet their friends after a long pause, there is also nervousness. The school situation during COVID, a surge in covid cases, and adverse weather conditions have all added to the complexity. It is yet to be seen how schools and parents prepare the children for the current state of affairs.
The reopening of schools in India brings an end to weeks of summer break. All this while kids were baking, swimming, or learning new things online. Some were participating in summer camps while others were watching a little more television. I grew up in the 90s. Summer holidays were incomplete for my generation without a trip to grandparents’ home. Everyone’s Nani, Aaji or Pi would lovingly prepare her home for the summer and the arrival of her grandchildren. I, too, spent my summer with my maternal grandparents at their home in Satna – a small town in Madhya Pradesh. While I still get to spend time with my Grandmother, my limited time with my Grandfather ended with his demise in 2019.
My Nanaji is no more with us, but his memories still are. It is interesting how memories never come in isolation. Rewinding our memories of someone brings back memories of our own younger selves. When I think of Nanaji, I also think of the younger and quieter me, clad in my many insecurities and questions. I was always unsure of myself as a kid. From how I looked to my inability to talk to people, I could find a reason to feel a little more out of place every day. But in my memories, my Nanaji stands tall like a sunny island in the dark sea of doubts. He offered me a safe haven where I was loved and accepted for exactly who I was- no filters needed. Always clad in a cotton shirt and flowy white pyjamas, he was as tall and lean as Mr Bacchan. In my eyes, he was only one front tooth short of looking like the ‘Angry Young Man’. Although he was rarely angry and was hardly young.
Nanaji was fond of Urdu Shayari. Every now and then, he would recall a couplet that he knew. This one by Khwaja Meer Dard was one of his favourites-
Sair kar duniya ki gaafil zindgani fir kahaan
zindagi gar kuch rahi to naujawani fir kahaan
All of Nanaji’s grandchildren were different in their own ways, but he was the same for each one of them- treating them alike with Ghalib’s eloquent couplets and sometimes embarrassing personal hygiene remarks. His favourite one was “Daant kitne peele ho rahe hain. Acche se maanja karo.” or “Haddiyon me zara bhi dam nahi hain. Acche se khaya karo.” But it came from a place of such love and sincerity that we never took offence.
Nanaji was an immigrant uprooted from his home in Gujranwala after the Indo-Pak partition. He was a young boy who had to build a new life from scratch in an unknown land. However, he took it in his stride and made a life full of love and devoid of hatred. By the end of his decades-long career in the excise department, he had worked in almost every small town and village of Madhya Pradesh.
A fit man himself, Nanaji encouraged us to spend time outdoors. He took us on long walks with him on the way to the sabzi mandi in Panna Naka or the local Kirana shop in Rajendra Nagar. What changed over the years was that while I did the catching up in the earlier years, I had to let him catch up in the latter. And, of course, I was no more dressed in those frilly frocks and Hawai chappals like in my younger days. He stuck to his white pyjamas and shirts till the very end.
Nanaji had not read any self-help books; instead, he learned from life. Till his last years, he was a member of the 5 AM Club, years before Robin Sharma made it a fad. He was also a minimalist at heart- owning 3 identical pairs of white cotton pants and shirts. Mr Jobs and Mr Zuckerberg later followed suit. Like all grandies, he was a master storyteller before any such title existed. We learned so many things by just spending time around him and absorbing his presence. The lessons continue to unpack as I grow older.
We see that children these days hardly get an opportunity to spend time with their grandparents like children from the previous generations did. Maybe it is a beautiful idea for parents to encourage these grandchild-grandparent interactions. Ofcourse with changing times, certain things may need a twist. Some kids might prefer an activity like spending time at the mall with their grandparents to show them what type of music or games they are into. Some other would plant saplings with their grandies or do an assignment together. ‘Grandtravel’- a trip with grandies might be another cool idea. I’ve heard a few travel companies do offer such tailor made trips. Well, it does not need to be that fancy. There’s so much these two generations can do together- weave fun stories, make paper boats and above all, build a strong character- all things that matter outside the virtual world our children live in today.
Meanwhile, Monsoon has announced its arrival in several parts of India. As our kids make their way to school, crossing the puddles of anxiety and apprehension, I hope we send them off with an umbrella of beautiful memories crafted during summers, somewhat like the one I just opened up.