Reimagining our Grandmothers as our Gurus (Lifelong Teachers)
i am very fortunate that i am a grandchild of many grandparents. Most of my unlearning happened by just living with them and witnessing their gracious and humble lifestyle. As a child i often wondered why i had to spend so many hours of my day in school, because i missed all the fun at home, and being in my families’ company. Namely, it was the multi-sensory, emotional, practical and wise connection that i felt i was missing out on while going to school… day in, and day out.
My grandmothers never called themselves healers, cooks, artists, farmers, designers or zero waste activists. In fact they never even went to school. They didn’t see any of these ‘sustainable skills’ as passions, talents, subjects or parts of different curricula. These were naturally a part of their upbringing. They didn’t need punishments and rewards to motivate or drive them. i remember one of my grandmothers telling me that i needed to sit on a handmade swing and look at the trees above to be able to learn about birds and creatures around me, not textbooks and TV.
One of my grandmothers was a master at home birthing and healing. She showed me how a child needs soft, light breathing clothes, stitched with old, soft and naturally dyed fabric. Actually she was the first person who showed me that the first fresh leaves of neem and holy basil smashed in honey was one of the best anti stomach flu remedies for babies. She didn’t have to go miles away to a pharmacy to buy medicines and pills. Most of her medicines were spices or herbs found in the kitchen/garden or neighbours house. i vividly remember when she asked me to bring some goat poop from a close farmer friend because she wanted to make a dry skin remedy for our grandfather who was suffering from eczema. It worked wonders.
When my grandmother served food it wasn’t for only family and friends but also for all the animals and species around her. i discovered only after living with her that she cooked extra bread for cows, dogs, birds every single day and kept all the remaining flour aside for ants. Hospitality and care showed up all the time in the form of hot Chai, hot roti’s and a strong spirit of service.
Not a drop of water was wasted in the kitchen. Food she cooked was slow, fresh and mostly seasonal. She often said that the refrigerator is the ugliest and most toxic machine in the house as it made us lazy consumers. i witnessed many instances when my grandmother washed utensils without water, using only dry sand and ash.
i was told that she had built her house with her own hands and cared dearly for all the labour that went into it. The kitchen in the house was on the ground and everything was visible to all ages and sizes. The cooking was live and full of conversations around the fire. The practice of eating together from one plate made us more sensitive and connected.
She never got lonely or bored. She had a song for mostly everything she did. She could sing for hours and had a memory and sense of humour that astonished me. Many of her actions also helped us to connect with our ancestors, which enabled us to understand a totally different world view than what were exposed to in the mainstream culture.
Actually i can never ever imagine doing all the things my grandmother practiced in her day-to-day living. Where did my imagination go? Why is this knowledge that my grandmothers held now devalued? They were amazing people and we loved them, including all their flaws. One thing i am trying to deeply reflect on, and understand, is that there is “no one perfect grandparent!”. So it is time to invite all of them into the learning processes and journeys.
When i see my daughter growing up i invite all her grandparents and elders to be a part of her upbringing. i feel that there are so many amazing Grandparents that are full of energy, care and wisdom. They are all around us. Sadly, schools never value these people as gurus. Most young people nowadays see spending time with grandparents as a waste of time.
These grandmothers gave me many powerful glimpses of what a meaningful life, outside of the global consumer culture, could be …
From the perspective of someone (dan) growing up in a small city in New York, living in close proximity to my two grandmothers, my relationship and learnings were quite different, as were my grandmothers, one being Irish Catholic and the other being Jewish. However, both of my grandmothers were a wealth of strength, experience and wisdom. Both of their parents immigrated from Europe to America in search of a better life. Honestly, I do not know much of their connections to their ancestral histories and practices, and when I was growing up, I only noticed, and knew, them as being American. In hindsight, I imagine there was much to learn, that I never considered to even ask about.
One of my grandmothers lost her husband when she was only 46 years old and went on to raise my mother, and her six siblings, on her own. She was like a superhero with the powers of — selflessness, frugality, perseverance, dedication, hard-work and love. When I knew her she was the embodiment of gentleness, kindness, grace and generosity. She was subtle, quiet and simple in her actions. I did not realize it then, but just being around her made encouraged me to embody the same traits. I think back of the gentle feeling that was emitted when simply sitting next to her or giving her a hug. She was naturally softening, and stress reducing (except when the squirrels would eat her plants!).
As Vidhi mentioned above, I did not realize the value of my grandmothers’ experiences and the wisdom they possessed, when I was growing up. We never had the space to discuss what their childhoods were like. Their challenges. Their learnings. Their wisdom. This just was not part of the culture I was a part of growing up. From my observation, this seems to be a common experience for many people my age. My Grandmothers were not considered part of my ‘education’ although they each had a wealth of practical knowledge and experience to share.
The practice of eldership was/is an integral part in many cultures. What might that look like now in our contemporary, modern, cultures? How can we enable Grandmothers more spaces to share their wisdom? How can we enable children to acknowledge and honor their Grandparents’ wisdom? What might it look like if we saw our Grandmothers as our gurus?
Lead Author: Vidhi Jain
Vidhi has been a Learning Activist and co-founder of Shikshantar, which has been part of the Udaipur as a Learning City process-project for the past nineteen years. She works with the Families Learning Together and Unschooling initiatives, as well as on community media and various expressions in Udaipur as a Learning City.
She is interested in traditional knowledge and is working to develop the Grandmother’s University. She is very passionate about slow food and helps support the Hulchal Saturday Café and many local food festivals. Vidhi and Manish are unschooling their daughter Kanku.
Before co-founding Shikshantar, Vidhi spent two years working for Lok Jumbish, a grassroots project in Rajasthan. In this capacity, she designed and ran a program in rural villages to raise awareness and design inclusive schooling services for children with special needs. Prior to that, Vidhi worked directly with children in Delhi with the Spastics Society of Northern India.
Anchor Author: Daniel Rudolph (final 4 paragraphs)
Daniel Rudolph is interested in exploring alternative, experiential learning opportunities for people of all ages. He is passionate about forming community, and building public spaces for meaningful, transformational gathering. Currently he is spending a lot of his time learning juggling and facilitating gatherings. He also enjoys writing and sharing poetry. Daniel is a very curious and playful person and is always open for creative collaborations.