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With most parents caught between indulging their own parents as well their children, the air is thick with affection and arguments.
With most parents caught between indulging their own parents as well their children, the air is thick with affection and arguments.

Some grandstanding, more gratitude

The shifting grammar of relationships inside Indian families makes the celebration of Grandparents Day in city schools very significant

Lost in the hundreds of recent angry posts of protest against sexual harassment and the Indian Supreme Court’s judgement on gay sex on Facebook were personal pictures taken at Grandparents Day. Taken at schools that now celebrate this annually, they reflected emotionally charged senior citizens in formal clothes holding the hands of delighted children. The images were warmly persuasive if you are interested in what goes on in modern Indian families.

I would have perhaps put them inside after a brief spike of interest had some people I met in the same week not mentioned Grandparents Day.

They did so in passing, but there was something compelling in the way these conversations meandered, urging in me a curiosity beyond what I had formerly labelled “aping Western society".

A five-year-old’s grandparent, who is in his mid-50s, told me how significant the day was for their grand-daughter and for him and his wife. The child hadn’t stopped peeping out from behind the curtain on the stage in her school before her performance to wave to him repeatedly, making sure that he was there fulfilling his promise. The way he smiled while relating this anecdote made me momentarily feel cold and lost, realizing how life changes forever when we have no parents or grandparents around.

Later, I picked up the phone to speak to one of my friends who had posted the picture of her mother-in-law and her six-year-old son. I wanted to know more: what happens on these days? Who does what? What’s the idea? Never mind what we theoretically know about such celebrations.

Most schools in small and big Indian cities now choose a day for grandparents. What was first initiated in the US in the late 1970s by Marian McQueen of West Virginia, a woman with 15 grandchildren, who was keen to memorialize this day, is observed on different days between September and December in Indian schools. In some countries in the West, Grandfathers Day and Grandmothers Day are separately marked. But in India, school celebrations are only for children till Class II and in some schools for those till Class IV or V. Schoolchildren are encouraged to put up a cultural show for their grandparents, followed by a tea-coffee or lunch party and a quick tour of the classrooms so that the veterans can see where and what the children do. The friend I spoke to told me that teachers also urged the little ones to make a gift for the grandparents, something more than a greeting card. Most schools give the occasion the sensitive attention it deserves; others drag it on as a 45-minute formality to be over and done with.

I found other peripheral titbits. At Delhi’s Sanskriti School, till the legendary film actor Amitabh Bachchan’s grandchildren reached Class II, Grandparents Day was a big deal for everyone, organizers and spectators alike. Celebrity grandparents, says this friend, help pump up the buzz tremendously for ordinary grandparents, who find the day very special anyway. “That’s exactly what happens when a famous politician is the grandparent in question," says a parent.

Scores of nana-nanis and dada-dadis, or at least one from each set, unless they are infirm, travel from other cities for this day. Paternal and maternal pairs of grandparents then join up as one team to cheer for the little flag holders of their family name and genes.

The celebrations at schools can be short but the fuss that apparently goes on in homes nail down insights into how a family tosses and turns conflicting opinions on child upbringing. After all, two sets of opposition sit at the same dining table at such a time.

With most parents caught between indulging their own parents as well their children, the air is thick with affection and arguments. “Who will wear what, what will we do in the evening, who decides what to watch on TV, which grandma is cooking something special tonight", becomes the surround sound at home. The paternal grandfather is often the presiding judge on matters, pounding an invisible gavel when the noise gets too much. And maternal grandmother, the grand chef!

“It’s funny how grandparents and parents, who are usually on opposing sides of parenting opinions, mellow down on such days, as parents temporarily exit the battlefield to exhale," says the grandfather of the five-year-old who promptly slid off the stage after her dance to plant a huge, wet kiss on her beloved “nanu’s" face, reducing the otherwise steely man to tears.

I have little idea how this day pans out in other cultures but in India where we still hang undecided between the loves and losses of joint vs nuclear families, this seems to be a ritual we all should keep investing in. If for nothing else, but in gratitude of the investment so many grandparents make in the lives of the children of their children.

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