When I was a child, my family would travel to visit our relatives in India every summer. For the most part, I dreaded these trips. We would fly for 20 hours to spend weeks in the sweltering Kerala heat, and sometimes I’d wonder whether it was worth it. But it always was.
There was always one person in particular whom I looked forward to seeing again.
Traveling to meet my grandfather was always the highlight of our Indian trips for me. It still is. When my siblings and I visited my grandparents, we would sit by his feet as he told us stories. His words held our attention for hours, often late into the night.
He’d reminisce about his childhood, recount traditional folktales, and summarize deep philosophical narratives that somehow became palatable to our young minds.
He was always armed with the perfect story.
Once, when I complained to him about my grades, he smiled and told me about the lengths my father would go to hide his bad grades as a child. These stories and so many others have formed my warmest childhood memories, ones I’ll cherish forever.
The last time we were in India, our schedule was packed and we went almost the whole visit without a story from my grandfather. So on the last night, my siblings and I sat on the porch, asking for just one story before we left. But he surprised us and flipped the script.
This time, he asked us to tell him a story. My sister and I glanced at each other and laughed. We told him we didn’t have any stories to tell, that all the stories we knew were his.
He insisted. “Just tell me something that you did or something that happened to you. I want to hear what you have to say.”
This was perhaps the first time that someone had expressed genuine interest in my narrative. My parents had always been there for me when I wanted to talk, but this was different. When I was little, I didn’t entirely realize the power that my grandfather’s stories had; I just knew that they meant everything to me. Now the man whose stories had defined my childhood wanted to hear mine.
Listening to his stories was only half the journey; the other half was understanding that mine has just as much power.
It took me years to understand, but my grandfather’s stories didn’t just carry strong messages and morals. They were power themselves. I am so lucky to have my grandfather in my life. To have someone who taught me the importance of my narrative, even the stories I believed to be mundane. But the same can’t be said for everyone.
In our society, it’s easy to fall into the oppressive idea that only some stories matter, that no one wants to hear yours. But that’s simply not true. Each of the narratives that we consume helps to form our worldview. But so do the ones we don’t hear. And narratives we don’t hear are exactly the ones we need to be talking about – the ones that have been unjustly devalued.
I finally understand the value of my narrative, and I couldn’t have done it without my grandfather. Even as I sit here and write this piece, I owe it all to him. The confidence I have to put my stories out in the public for all to view, I owe to him. I don’t think that I’ve ever told him how much I value him, his stories. How he’s empowered me to claim my voice. I guess this is my way of thanking him.