I never met my mother’s father – my aajoba. He died before I was born. His photograph, sepia-toned, hangs in the large, central hall of our wada chirebandi (stone house). This singular image has been a constant in my life since childhood. The wada celebrated its 75th birthday in May 2012. It is in Nasik, India, my mother’s birthplace.

In an age of the image where every teenager clicks away with his or her Smartphone and uploads the photos endlessly on Facebook, it is strange indeed to have this one and only one image of my aajoba. In it, he wears a pagdi (a headdress) and has a serious expression. There is a watermark, a stain on the photo. That, the pagdi and his expression all speak of an epoch that is long past.

Happily, though he passed away over 50 years ago, he springs to life through the memories of his daughters – Suman (my youngest aunt), Pramil (my mother) and Kusum (my oldest aunt). Thanks to their words, I have come to know, love and respect this grandfather whom I never met.

My mother speaks of a man who was wise, dignified and just. He was a judge. Having started as a lawyer, he had the intelligence, work ethic and integrity to rise to the office of a Judge. Kusum mavshi speaks of a man who was disciplined and regular in his habits.

My mother remembers childhood pranks like trying out a bicycle that they were not supposed to use. She fell, and tried to hide the prank from her father. Aajoba learnt about it anyhow. He called her to him, and told her not to be afraid, but to always speak the truth, no matter what. A lesson she never forgot, and transmitted to me.

In an era when girls were married off without an education, my grandfather educated all his daughters. Both Suman and Kusum mavshi became teachers; Kusum mavshi rising to the distinction of being a school principal. As for my mother, my grandfather encouraged her to study medicine in Pune, which meant living away from home all by herself in a hostel. Not something that was common in those times.

My mother told me about another incident the last time I was in India. In medical school she was unprepared for an exam and wrote to her father that since she was going to fail, she saw no point in taking it! He promptly wrote back: I think you should take this exam anyhow to gain this new experience of giving such an exam, no matter that you fail.

No big drama, no but why didn’t you study? Did I send you to Pune at all this expense to hear such words from you? Etc. This man obviously kept a cool head. And chose to send out a message in courage, in facing one’s fears, in learning and being open to new experience.

This then was my aajoba who built the wada chirebandi that has stood solid over 75 years, just as his integrity and dignity shine through after all this time. Was my grandfather perfect? I hope not! I am confident he had his faults. But that does not detract from his greatness or humanness. In fact, it adds to it.

Even though I never met him, I have practiced truth telling in my personal and professional life, as a journalist and writer. I have tried to be courageous, and open to learning and new experience. Unfortunately, I almost entirely lack his diplomacy! But perhaps that will come with time. I am an optimist!

My love for justice may also have trickled down from him to my mother and then down to me. It has led to working with non-profit organizations that advocate peace, equality and a respect for the environment and nature.

Isn’t it fascinating how legacies get transferred? Here is a legacy that consists of values and ideas, not things material. What a precious one!

Thank you aajoba for the inspiration, for holding up such an ideal. It is well worth reaching for.