The most cherished memories from my childhood are those related to my annual visit to grandparents’ house in the countryside. The excitement of an extended holiday, coupled with the absence of routine school schedule, helped me enjoy every moment of the annual vacation. I was usually joined by my cousins during the vacation, who were the same age group as mine, adding to the fun and frolic.
My grandfather was a distinguished academic, holding tenure as professor in an esteemed university. He was a very keen follower of world affairs and took active interest in community activities. My grandmother was a school teacher with interest in music and arts. They were a great couple who played hosts to perfection. While my grandparents showered unconditional love upon me and made me feel at ease, they were politely assertive when needed to be. Both being academics, they emphasized the importance of discipline to me and other grandchildren. At the same time, they were not doctrinaire or rigid in their conception of discipline. They were both open to dialogue and sensible to reason. This way, they always appeared to be on our side even when denying us an extra hour of television or an extra scoop of ice cream.
My most enduring childhood memory is an event that occurred during one such visit to the grandparents’. One of the favorite pastimes for me and other grandchildren is visiting the local public library which also has an attached park and playground. The library had a children’s corner filled with comics and adventure story books. Archies, Hardy Boys, Tintin, etc were the staple of our entertainment. During one such regular visit to the library, I so coveted an edition of Tintin that after reading it, I hid it beneath my shirt. I was barely 7 years old, and though feeling a little guilty, I couldn’t stop myself from acting disgracefully. Sure enough, the librarian found out what I had done and was kind enough not to punishing me then and there. She instead asked to meet my parents/guardian. When my grandfather returned home from meeting the librarian, his behavior toward me was initially one of dignified silence and stern indignation. But he relaxed soon and thought of a novel response to the situation.
Looking back in retrospect I realize how masterfully he handled the situation. I was too young to be fully cognizant of the implications of my misdemeanor. At the same time, I had to be taught right from wrong and made to behave more responsibly. So what my grandfather did was to bring a book of Aesop’s moral tales from the same library and read one story from it each night in bed. The rest of the holidays were spent in this manner, each night concluding with a neatly plotted moral tale that was constructed with anthropomorphic animals acting out moral dilemmas. These bedtime stories are etched strongly in my mind even today. They were more than just moral instruction – to me they represent my grandfather’s profound love and concern for his grandchild. Nothing that I learnt in my numerous years of formal education has been as useful and as central to my personality makeup as the morals I learnt in that eventful month. I still carry the memory of my guilt, but it is lightened by the awareness that it was made right.