About a year ago, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the findings of their study on the issues of social mobility. One of their central findings for India showed that it takes about 7 generations for a low income family to move to a median income family. Over the past few days, this got me thinking about my own state and how my family came to be the way we are now.
I initially thought any upwards social mobility would be a linear progression. But in my family’s case, there was an exponential jump in my parent’s generation. The question, of course, was why and how? What would explain that sudden jump in a given generation?
Let me propose my hypothesis which I know for a fact rings true in my own case. My hypothesis is that most generations of a given low income family typically lead their lives without much forethought on the future living conditions of their children or grandchildren (thus leading to at most linear progression). Most of them lived hand to mouth and their only forethought probably went as far as planning for groceries for the following week. So this observation is in no way an indictment on their choices. But then, there comes one generation where the family members – typically the husband and the wife – break the cycle. They don’t break the cycle of poverty by working hard and moving up the ladder themselves. Instead, they break the cycle by doing that one thing that perhaps the previous generations did not: Work hard, but completely sacrifice every aspect of their own lives for the future lives of their children and grandchildren.
And that is what my grandparents did. My maternal grandparents practically dedicated their entire adult lives to ensure that their children were equipped with everything to become successful when they became adults. My grandfather also practically raised all his younger siblings in the same manner after his father passed away very early on. But perhaps the biggest credit to be given to my grandparents lies in the way they brought up their 3 daughters. Everything from emphasizing education, helping them get jobs, and getting them married to the right families – my grandfather made all the right choices to ensure his daughters would later on lead a good life.
Simply put, he had a very clear guiding principle: Do nothing for himself, but do everything it takes to ensure his future generations lived comfortably.
In all their lives, I do not remember my grandparents doing anything for themselves. I remember that after the longest time, my grandfather finally bought an Onida color TV to much fanfare in the then joint family (sometime in the mid 90’s). Then came the telephone. They didn’t even have a refrigerator or a washing machine till after they retired – something that was practically forced on them by my mom and her sisters. Even now I am unable to think of a single comfort – let alone luxury – that they ever procured for themselves. Even trips to Tirupathi, Dharmasthala and Nanjangudu were more of entire family affairs rather than personal pilgrimages. (I wonder what he prayed for there…)
As a grandchild, I can easily attest to his complete generosity towards us. So many things – from my longest serving cricket bat, to random sci-fi books I decided I wanted to read, to not even blinking an eye before agreeing to guarantee my funds for doing my Masters in the USA – were a direct result of his desire to see his grand kids do well. My cousins would easily attest to that as well. Come to think of it, even the late family dog got whatever it needed!
Perhaps, from my grandfather’s perspective, we were all his achievements. Even though he may never have expressed it out loud, I know he felt proud of us all. In the end, we – my mom and her siblings, my cousins, my grandfather’s younger siblings and their children – are all certainly the beneficiaries of the sacrifice that my grandparents did. The absolute least we can do is to first recognize and acknowledge that fact. God knows my grandfather had his own long list of quirks and unpredictable tempers. So while we may have seen how his quirks and tempers manifested, we will never know all the problems he solved and the sacrifices he made behind the scenes.
He passed away last week after a long, long battle with, well, old age. His passing was expected so I know he is at peace now with my grandmother. As time goes on, we will all accept his passing and move on in our lives. But every time we celebrate our own achievements, we will never forget that a big part of that celebration will always be attributed to my grandparents and their generation of sacrifice.