One of the highlights of time with family is the one evening of quality time I usually get with Grandpa. Family time, especially when they visit Singapore, is always very chaotic thanks to the many items on their agenda that quality time is often at a premium. Last evening, however, I sat up with Grandpa. Time with Mom and Grandma comes pretty easily but my Grandpa, being more withdrawn, generally is more reclusive. He was very tired after a day that began early but being the man he is, he readily woke up and we sat on a bench in the open air for a chat while the rest of the family shopped late into the night..
Time with Grandpa typically involves a few characteristic features – first up, he would need a smoke (to clear up his head in his opinion of course.. :)) and then it would involve one story after another from the past. I would typically have heard these stories many many times but hearing him tell a story is an experience in itself as it captures those moments in his life he deems most memorable. Amidst all these stories are many byte sized life learnings that helped him in his life. His advice for me is always similar – stay honest, work very hard, save diligently, invest in family and NEVER touch a cigarette. The last piece he underlines by repeating how hard it has been for him – and that, while he often thinks of quitting, he is a self confessed slave of the nicotine and hopes I won’t have to go through the same experience.
I have great respect for my Grandpa – more than I can or have expressed, when I think about it. It was his diligent saving and investing that took our family through tough times and coming from a simple village background, he dared to go out into the world away from the small family business, started his career at Indian Airlines as a clerk and retired as the General Manager Finance, South India Region (which in those days meant all of South East Asia – i.e. Singapore, Maldives etc). In an age when airline travel was uncommon, Grandpa had seen the world.. and I was of course inspired to no end! I wanted 3 passports as well with all those visas, after all! I also wanted to be neat, clean, patient and most of all, measured and calm – all those attributes that defined him in my eyes. And probably – what inspired me most was that he said little but his words had great impact. I was of course at the other end of the spectrum..
I’ve been fortunate to have lots of great times with him – walks to the temple, swimming with him at the pool nearby, chatting with him while Mom and Grandma were shopping among others. And 5 years ago, when I left home, time with him became a premium and as I’ve gone out and experienced the world, I’ve realized how important his simple pieces of advice have been as I’ve gone back to them every time I’ve felt challenged.
Time with Grandpa yesterday was special, as usual. It was nice to hear him regale all those stories from the past, was funny to see him wonder aloud as to how people tolerated him when he was a finance manager as every important decision came only after a smoke and most of all was just nice to spend the time to experience him.
We have inspiration all around us. And it is just human nature to take for granted whatever we have constant exposure to. Just as a goods-peddler in front of the Taj Mahal or the Egyptian pyramids never sees them for their true value, it is very unlikely we recognize the true value of people who surround us. As we spend time with us, their imperfections often stand glaring at us. In time, I’ve realized that special people are meant to be celebrated with love, affection and appreciation and I’ve tried in the past to let Grandpa know how much his advice means to me. But, I have a lingering feeling I’ve not done enough..
It’s time to banish that thought.. :)