There are many forces competing for the attention of children today. It must be difficult to grow up as a child and to still remain a child in the world today.The variety of influences and situational complexities that children find themselves in today is not nearly the same as what it was just seven or right years ago. Only yesterday, I was watching a webcast of one of my heroes participating in a discussion on building a solid educational framework in India. The importance of family support in the educational life of a child was underscored – that the successful education of a child is primarily a function of the importance parents attach to it. As I sat watching that discussion, I knew that what was being said was and is factually true. At least for my sister and for myself. We are what we are because of the influence that our parents have had on us – the kind of environment that we have grown in, the way we were taught to think and the invaluable support that we have received. In other words, it can only be described as a blessed upbringing. An upbringing that has opened our horizons far and wide.
As a child, I was fortunate to have lived with extraordinary grandparents. I’ve spent so much time with all four of my grandparents from the time I was born to the day that they left earthly life. They’ve had such a deep and rich impact on me, that it is hard for me to imagine where or what I would be without them. I still remember in vivid and great detail all my experiences with them – they are still so fresh and clear in my mind that it seems only yesterday that they were still with me.
My paternal grandparents were and are symbols of the great qualities that are old as the word old itself. They are such potent examples of the power of knowledge and the pursuit of answers to unanswered questions. They showed me the importance of discipline and focus, and taught me that neither the application of knowledge nor empathy on its own can do much on their own. It is only when determination meets the application of knowledge that a larger cause can be served.
My grandmother was a graduate at a time when women entering higher education was unheard of in India all those decades ago. She was, in her own right a modern woman who was generations ahead of her times. I’ve watched her bake some of the most complex cakes and western dishes when people less than half her age stood next to her, watching her talents in awe. She could write classy letters in English with such absurd ease, drafting numerous memos and bank letters that were all beyond the level of so many her age. I’ve listened to her talk about the political class in Washington, of the kind of people that she sees in the world, and of how they must be dealt with. I was really very fond of her. I used to rush home from school in anticipation of her jam sandwiches and her cookies. We played carrom. We talked about homework and the world from the perspective of a child. I was rather privileged to spend all that time with her. However surreal I may sound, I wish for that experience again.
My grandfather was a genius and an extraordinary human being. He was India’s first cardiologist, way back in 1957-58. The significance of that statement will likely be dwarfed by the innumerable awards and honors that he received throughout his life. He was a fellow in the elite groups of researchers in the field of cardiology, physiology and endocrinology – fellow of the American College of Cardiology, Fellow of the American College of Physicians, The Royal College of Cardiology and numerous other Indian chapters he established. He was an active researcher, publishing dozens of influential papers in the latest advances in cardiology. He also wrote at least three text books in medicine, and was the leading force behind many research programs in India.
But it is the application of knowledge with determination that has repercussions for a larger cause. More than his sharp intellectual acumen and the depth of his understanding of the field of medicine, it is his service that bears everlasting testimony to his greatness. He helped establish the Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology in Bangalore, a government -aided institution that treats cardiac patients – giving hope to the countless low and middle-class people who have and will fall victims to cardiac diseases. He helped create a research fund for young and upcoming researchers in the field of cardiology, and has taught and mentored dozens of eminent people – from blue-baby heart surgeons to elite neurophysicians. The President of India conferred on him one of the highest civilian honors for a doctor – for being a doyen of the field of cardiology and for his tireless service to the country. As a child, I have spent so much time with him that it is only fair to say that much of my political, social anc economic philosophies bear his strong imprints. I have had many long and deep conversations with him on many topics – from sport to politics to research questions. I really think that all the time that I spent with him can only be described as divine.
We are all bound by our experiences and the people who influence us during our upbringing. They will always continue to be an influence on you, tempering your positions and opinions, your beliefs and your values. Though my paternal grandparents are not with me anymore, their values and their visions of the world are still alive because I carry their genes. If on certain occasions I feel their absence, I only have to walk outside and watch the clear night sky. For they have taken their place amongst luminous, heavenly bodies as magnificent and brilliant stars. I can see them, and feel their presence. They are guiding lights, the life-force behind everything I intend to do and everything that lies on the horizon. They will back me in my endeavors. They are a cosmic source of strength.
They are my exemplars.