Some Advice From My Grandfather

May 31 2017

It was 1991 and I was 10 years old. Six years earlier I had moved with my mother and father from Calcutta, India to Fargo, North Dakota, so my father could obtain his PhD, and thereafter we settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It could not have felt farther from India.

That's where we were when my grandfather came to visit from Orissa (now called Odisha), an eastern coast state of India. It was summer, and he asked me if I'd like to accompany him to the local farmer's market. I did. As we walked past the numerous booths selling fruits, vegetables, cheeses, baked goods and fresh jams, we came upon one that was selling venison jerky. My grandfather paused in front of it. He asked me if I had ever tried venison before. I said no, I had not. We asked for a sample, and as we chewed on the rather tough, gamey piece of meat, I asked him what he thought. He said, it was okay, but not as good as the last time he had eaten venison. I asked him when that was.

It was some time in the 1930s, in a small rural village in Orissa. My grandfather had just turned 18. His mother had died earlier that year, and his father had passed away two years previous. He had been planning to go to university to study agriculture, but now he struggled with the decision; he had young siblings at home that needed him to work and care for them. Like almost everyone he knew in his village, they had very little money and rarely enough to eat.

One afternoon, he was working in a local field, farming. On the outskirts of the field, he heard a commotion. Sickle in hand, he rushed toward it, and saw that a group of villagers had crowded, forming a loose circle around something. He made his way into the inner part of the circle and saw what had caused them to gather: it was a massive Indian python snake, maybe seven or eight feet in length, and in its jaws, being partially digested, was a deer. The outline of the deer's front end could be seen in the body of the snake. Thankfully, it appeared the deer was already dead, no longer struggling.

Without really thinking, my grandfather swung his sickle at the head of the python, making contact. Looking stunned, but obviously preoccupied, the python moved only slightly toward him. Drawing back his arm with the sickle, he swung again, this time hooking the sharp blade firmly into the side of the python's mouth, the same way you would a fish with a hook. With great effort, and with the assistance of a few equally brave neighbors, he began to slice open the python lengthwise. Soon, the python was dead, and the deer was extracted from its insides. That night, those in the small village celebrated my grandfather's quick thinking and dined on fire roasted venison.

I remember feeling in awe of my grandfather as he told me this story. I knew that some of my Minnesota classmates' fathers and grandfathers took them hunting, but as I understood it, they always did their hunting at a distance, using rifles or perhaps crossbows. I didn't think any of them could claim to have straight up knifed a deadly python in close range. Though slightly disgusted by the mental image, I was impressed.

My grandfather went on to explain that after that happened, he did in fact go to university to study agriculture. It wasn't easy, but he also managed to care for his younger siblings, graduate, and get a well-paying job as a professor of agricultural studies, which made his family's circumstances considerably better. Sometimes, he said, life presents you with a problem that seems insurmountable--too risky, too difficult to achieve. But the key is to avoid dwelling on the negative. Instead, when an opportunity presents itself, sometimes you just have to swing your sickle and see where it lands.

New York, NY

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