Growing up, my grandfather was a continual source of inspiration. He died long before I was born but he was already a legend among the members of my father’s side of the family. Born in 1881, he was the clever one in the family. At a time when illiteracy was rife and Matriculation was considered to be well-educated, he went on to complete his Bachelor’s degree. Together with doing his seminary studies and becoming a priest.
Even then, he was not content to simply administer to his flock. He dipped into his innate creative and entrepreneurial side and formed a church choir which he then turned into a travelling band. They would travel to other churches and perform during special religious occasions. At one time during the early 1920s they were invited to perform in the court of the Maharaja of Kayamkulam (a small princely state).
Along the way, he married and started having kids. When his sons were teenagers, his old college mate, who had since risen to become a Police Chief suggested that he start a business so that his sons could grow up and manage it. So, Grandfather started a bus service, the first one between Kayamkulam and Pandalam. Mind you this was sometime in the 1920s when buses would have been rare and just having a bus service would have meant that people no longer would had to travel by ox-cart. It turned out to be very popular and very successful.
All this, my Dad told us kids only once, but what he kept repeating was how kind his father had been. How when poor people would approach him for money, he would dip into his robe pockets and scoop out whatever money was there and give it to them, even if it was meant for his own kids’ school fees. How he had started a free school for the kids of the poor so that they too could get an education. To my father, he was almost God-like and Grandfather’s photo took pride of place together with that of Jesus and Mary.
So, here I was connected to my long dead (1943) grandfather through stories and an old photo which would probably have been taken in the late 1930s or early ‘40s. I would gaze at the photo occasionally taking in the hat, the robe and the white beard on the kindly face and would feel this rush of emotion – joy, affection, gratitude – towards this man I had never met but whose genes I shared and was therefore a part of me.
And quite miraculously, during the most difficult times in my life, when I have felt helpless, hopeless and alone, I have sat in silence and talked to my grandfather as though he was in the room with me, conjuring up the image of the kindly face from the photograph I grew up seeing. And felt his loving presence with such certainty, I would be calmed and feeling safe and secure.
Such is the power of a printed photograph.