Live Your Legacy

The most oft repeated refrain, in both my maternal and paternal families is that we bequeath debt. Dark and wry humour is used to cloak the despair at family gatherings. Elderly aunts and uncles used to snigger that inheritance in our community meant asthma and debt. The humour is lost in translation – it sounds funny in Gujarati – dam and devu.

Our ancestors held high posts and were granted villages by various regimes – Mughals, Peshwas, British – but the advent of the Republic brought an end to these glories and all they had left was the ground beneath their feet. The pride of one generation became the bane of another. The emphasis placed on scruples and social standing left them wanting in an increasingly commercial world, which in turn left their descendants to manage without substantial backing.

Every so often I visit my mother’s home and glance at the wall which holds framed photographs of our ancestors. The men in their suits, women in Gandhian attire, all seem to boast that they were the pioneers of an India in transition. Among them are recipients of the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Shri and Jamnalal Bajaj awards; their achievements drilled into our psyches. Paradoxically though, we remember more fondly those family members who were the proverbial black sheep; the stories of their follies continue to regale us at parties.

As the decades of my life sped on and family gatherings grew less frequent because of the gradual passing away of many, I remained consumed by this modern, demanding lifestyle that makes money a prerequisite to live the good life and there is no denying it. Even so, as I inch closer to the time when I am at risk of becoming the eldest generation in my family, I feel magnetically drawn to the memorabilia of bygone times. I have inherited cupboards full of books, among which are my father’s copies of the Bhagavad Gita, and notebooks of my mother’s English translations of the Sanskrit originals- Upanishads and the Rig Veda. I ignored this inheritance for years until recently when I wiped the dust off of one of the volumes and rested my eyes over paragraphs against which my father’s thoughts have been penned in his cursive slant. An existential quest that belonged to him once, is now echoed in me.

It’s as though the stoic countenances on the wall had lain in wait for me to pick up the books and share their contents. My ancestors haven’t crossed over to the other side. It is quite the opposite; they are inside me. Their thoughts, voices and ideologies course through me. I believe everyone has something to impart and one doesn’t need a bloodline to do it. It can be a recipe book, a spiritual lesson, a skill, an artform or an attitude: optimism, confidence, grace, poise. It hasn’t come to us in one generation. We are the products of many centuries of living and learning.  

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