By: Srilekha Cherukuvada
When he was 16, my grandfather pedaled his beat-up Hero bicycle six miles every day to deliver lunch to his father and his brother, who worked the rice fields outside a small village in Southeastern India. While his father and brother ate curried rice and lamb and such, my grandfather dreamed of greater things than working the rice fields. He dreamed of being a doctor, of helping and healing.
The dream never came true. There were too many obstacles, too many landmines, too few opportunities for him in a country that had, for at least 4,000 years, worked overtime to oppress him and others like him.
It could have left him bitter and cynical, but he refused to allow the ruling classes to defeat him personally. He has a loving wife, three lovely children, and six grandchildren, and he lives a good life.
His father passed away because of diabetes while he was in his 40s. He got some treatment, but couldn’t survive because of the disease. It got so severe to the extent that he was about to lose his leg when he hit a bump on the road. But then he passed. It tore my grandfather apart. He could’ve saved his father if he had become a doctor.
“It was one of the worst moments in my life,” he said. “I felt lost. My father always took great care of all of us and he was the leader in my life. It hurt even more during the funeral when my brother and I had to be the ones to cremate him because of tradition. And what delivered the last blow was the fact that I couldn’t save him.”
He never looked at it negatively though. He went into adulthood with a positive outlook, a thought that everything would work out, even if he didn’t get exactly what he wanted. He gave my parents a better life by working hard every day out on the fields. He impacted their lives by allowing them to pursue their passion, something that he couldn’t do. He used to take his children to the movie theater every Sunday just to see them happily watching a movie.
“I used to own a share in a theater,” he said. “There was one other operator with me and we used to work together. Back then, it was all in big roll or film so there was no digital screens and rural towns couldn’t get big hit movies until a year after the release. One time though, I got the famous actor Chiranjeevi’s movie into the theater. It was so fulfilling to watch my children enjoy the movie that I worked to get film rights for. Although I am a farmer by profession, I simply loved and enjoyed working in a theater.”
Now, he is a 68 year old who still stands the same way. Still cares the same way. But his dreams are gone. My grandfather was the perfect, obedient child. And when his parents married him off and forced him into laborious work, he accepted. He left his dream of becoming a healer and became a feeder. He had three kids. He adapted to become a father and a grandfather. His journey to becoming an adult meant that he had to abandon his dreams. And he did it for us.
“I really wanted to become a doctor. It was my dream. But, since my father couldn’t put me through college, I couldn’t do it. Instead, I ended up working on the fields and marrying your grandma,” he said.
My grandfather lives on the other side of the world. He farms. He speaks a completely different language. He practices Hinduism more than he eats. He goes out to the fields at five in the morning to catch some fish so my grandma could make fish curry for my dad. He buys us samosas. He installed an AC in the room just because we like it cold. He rebuilt his old shed house into a large three story house he wanted us to have more. He taught yoga to help me calm down. He works hard. He cares. He loves.
“The one thing I am most proud of after all of this time is my family,” he said. “There are things I hoped and dreamed for, but I got something even better. A family to love.”
Srilekha Cherukuvada is a junior at Westwood High School in Austin, Texas. She loves to write, read, edit, and play the flute. She hopes to attend Northwestern University and major in Communication Studies. She also has a deep passion for social justice and marketing and is an avid DECA member at school.