It all started with these lines from the movie Rush Hour, which we watched over this weekend for the umpteenth time:
Carter: …My daddy once saved five crackheads from a burnin’ building, by himself.
Lee: My daddy once caught a bullet with his bare hand.
One thing led to another and we (me and my wife) eventually got to discussing how our respective parents struggled through adverse financial conditions, and yet managed to make the most of their lives.
Here are a few interesting features (although, not as exciting as catching bullets with bare hands) about my parents’ lives that briefly came under discussion:
- My dad and his siblings walked to school on tar roads without any footwear to protect their feet. I often thought that this story was blown to legendary proportions until I visited the village where he lived when he was young, and saw quite a few school children walking on hot roads without any footwear (and this was in 2005!). He got his first flip-flops when he was in 7th grade and didn’t have proper *shoes* till 3 years later.
- Mom was a bit luckier - she had access to footwear when she was a kid (she grew up in an urban area); but, she spent about 18 years of her life sharing a small single room (about 400 sq. ft) with 8 other family members. “Privacy” was an unheard concept among the middle class at the time - even now, it’s not a very popular concept.
- Both of them had to give up their education at some point of time in order to work towards earning income, so that they can lend a helping hand towards educating their respective younger siblings.
- After they were married, their life together started in a small rented apartment which didn’t even have plumbing facilities for the first 4 of the 8 years that they spent there. Drinking water had to be brought from a well that was about 200 feet away from the apartment.
- They couldn’t afford a car until after retirement [it did help that a public transport system was in place and they didn't really need one].
- Luxuries like refrigerator, washing machine, television, telephone, etc. came very late in their adult lives (long after I was born; check my TV story here). They still don’t have an air conditioner at their home - though it does get pretty hot in summer. For them, it’s not really a big deal because most other middle class families around them don’t have air conditioners either (astute readers will have realized by now that I am not talking about the US here).
In fact, in the part of the world where my parents grew up (and in their time frame), such financial hardships were a norm. Many people of my generation (although, not all), who were brought up in middle class families in that part of the world, would have similar stories to share about their parents.
Sometimes, when I think of all this and compare it with how we are living our lives right now - with all the educational and financial opportunities available to us, with most of the *comforts* in life one could ask for, without having to worry about how we will survive till the next paycheck, without having to worry about how we will be able to provide for our younger siblings, and stuff like that - I can’t help but feel extremely grateful for how life has treated us so far. We may not be among the wealthiest people in the world, but whatever we are getting out of our life at present is a whole lot more than what was even remotely possible for our parents.
It’s truly humbling to look back and think of how much the efforts and sacrifices (mostly sacrifices) of our parents have contributed to where we are at present. Of course, I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of our own decisions and choices towards getting us to our present situation - but, it’s with the full understanding that those decisions and choices couldn’t have been very effective without a solid foundation and unconditional support that was provided to us early on by our parents - in spite of all the financial adversities they were facing in their lives.
In between such sentimental thoughts, I often slip in the future - yeah.. many years in the future - and wonder what kind of comments our would-be kids will have about our evolving financial situation. As things stand now, I am sure they won’t have anything to write about how their parents rose through “financial hardships” and stuff .. so, I don’t know if I will hear about any “grateful” type of feelings … the only thing I am hoping for, is to not see/hear statements like:
- My old man had everything but he blew it away and couldn’t save anything for my college.
- My old man had everything but he still got into huge debt.
- My old man was miserable and greedy, he had money on his mind all the time - never had enough time for family.
- Etc., etc.,
Interestingly, in spite of the tough financial conditions early on, my dad and mom retired at the ages of 49 years and 46 years, respectively. More about this sometime later.