Semiliterate grandmother taught me Archimedes principle.

Many women get married in families where husband’s old grandparents live with them. Their generation gap is so much that there is little connect apart from few greetings and receiving their blessings. Once the children are born the enthusiastic young mother has her hands full. Her mind is preoccupied with the routine chores. Often she fails to appreciate how much the elderly can contribute to the child’s observations and mental development. I can tell you about my childhood. A day when my elderly Dadi (Paternal grandmother) gave me a live demonstration of several scientific concepts learnt at school.
My father was a late child to my grandparents. With a wide age gap, my grandmother was old enough to be my mother’s grandmother. It was a paradox that Dadi who had barely finished primary education, had five out of six children with post-graduate degrees. Three daughters had got married and the fourth taught English at a degree college. Both my parents had PGs in physics and chemistry. Surrounded by achievers, this woman tirelessly took pride in making the delicious food she made for them. My mother also tried best to connect to her old ways.
One afternoon in summers, I saw she was sitting with ten Kgs of raw mangoes. She was continuously peeling, paring, cutting, grating and dicing them to make different kinds of pickles. Mummy was assigned the task to get lunch through and I sat beside Dadi doing what I did most- ask questions.
Her hands busy at the task, she informed me that she would first get the mangoes ready. She would then weigh each lot and calculate how much spice to add to them. The weighing had to be done in ‘Ser’, old unit equal to 930 gms now. Each Ser had four sub units called ‘pav’ and pav had further four parts, each called ‘chhatank’ so 16 chhatank made back to a Ser.
It so happened that the neighbour who had borrowed her weighing scale, left for an outing without returning it. My mother managed to get some weights but these were of the metric system. She told me to divide each kg to sixteen parts and tell Dadi how much spice was required for each pickle. Soon the calculations were made but we still didn’t have the balance.
My Dadi asked for a big tub full of water. Mummy had a confused look, what would a tub do for weighing. Still she did not argue and obeyed. Dadi lowered a broad bowl with a fifty-gram weight and two coins, it made to about 63 gms. (1/16th of a kg). With my mother’s kohl pencil Dadi marked the water level on the bowl’s wall. The mark told her how much the bowl sank for 63 grams. She then removed the weight from the bowl and filled it one by one with fennel, coriander, turmeric, red chili powder, fenugreek seeds and nigella (onion seeds) followed by two measures of salt.
Soon her spice mixture for each kg of mangoes was ready. Same way she made a kg mark to weigh the mangoes and within no time, full ten kgs of pickle was weighed. Marvelling at her common sense I asked, “Dadi do you know, you just used Archimedes principle?”
All she said was, “Nahi beta main itni padhi likhi kahan?” (No my child, I am not that educated.)
That was my Eureka moment. I learnt to respect people irrespective of their formal degrees. To honour their intellect, that doesn’t stop with problems, those who look for ‘out of the box’ solutions. I hope you encourage your children to interact with the elderly and find their moments of learning too.
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