Just a Human Being
by Roswitha Joshi
The more I read about equality as a goal to be achieved by changes of law and attitude and the more I read about modern man’s rediscovery of spirituality as antidote against materialism-induced stress, the more I remember my grandfather who, decades ago, lived his life free of bias and burden of useless possessions.
Grandfather was the son of a small farmer in the backwoods of Germany when feudalism was still ruling the roost and chances were very unequal indeed. Yet, the teacher in his village-school ‘discovered’ him as a sharp brain and dispatched him to town for further studies. There he picked up a variety of interests and skills on the personal level. And, on the professional one, he took up an assignment as sports-instructor, and then joined the police force. With an equally industrious and enterprising wife by his side, he became prosperous.
This prosperity, however, did not last. In the twenties, the big inflation caused the loss of grandfather’s entire savings. The value of money, in fact, went down to such an extent that some people wallpapered their rooms with it, and had to spend millions of marks to purchase a mere loaf of bread. During the subsequent world war, grandfather’s real estate was bombed out of existence. And, yet, he never lost his belief in the inherent goodness of man.
As police officer, he missed out on promotions because he refused to fine minor miscreants. Punishment he regarded as the very last resort. His approach was to try to reform people before they entered jail. And, thus, he confined himself to explaining why some deeds were misdeeds and should better be left undone. What he missed out on were titles and monetary benefits. But what he gained, in spite of constant nagging by more ambitious and less able family members, was a lot of genuine respect and affection, which kept him warm and smiling until the last days of his life.
Long before Indira Gandhi made it her slogan, grandfather believed in ‘self-sufficiency is the best policy’, and his most valued possessions were his toolbox and basic medical kit. They enabled him to lead a life of variety, in the course of which he acted as amateur cobbler, amateur carpenter, amateur doctor, etc… The term ‘amateur’, by the way, is derived from the Latin word ‘amare’ to love, and an amateur is, thus, a person who acts out of love, not for material gain.
Grandfather, however, was often in trouble with my father who believed that ‘man should be man’, whatever that means – and greatly disapproved of grandfather’s ‘effeminate’ pursuits. I vividly remember the day when grandfather and I had shared a delicious meal – cooked, of course, by him – and then settled down to an afternoon of cozy togetherness. Our soundtrack consisted of ‘golden oldies’ from the twenties which filled the air with their light, spunky texts and tunes.
Everything was just at its peaceful best – until father stormed unannounced onto the scene and turned to stone, to be exact: a barking stone.
“What are you doing?” he roared, glowering angrily at grandfather.
What had hit him was the sight of grandfather, round-faced and rosy-cheeked, expertly wielding his knitting needles, while I was squatting at his feet glued to the pages of an adventure-story.
“I am knitting a shawl,” grandfather quietly replied.
“Why do you do it?” father questioned.
“Because it is me who needs it.” grandfather calmly replied. “This is a woman’s job,” father scornfully rejoined
“I beg to differ,” grandfather stated.
Well, for father knitting was a gender-issue, for grandfather just another tool of self-sufficiency.
However, grandfather knew ‘manly’ skills, too. He was kind enough to teach me some very useful ones, indeed, like opening doors with a pin and defending oneself by striking with a fast kick at the right place of the attacker’s shinbone. In elementary school, this ‘craft’ made me the wrestling champion, as I was able to defeat both – girls and boys.
My grandfather’s family name translated means ‘love’, and if the proverb ‘Once you have the name, you can have the game’ is to be believed, he was an ace-player indeed.