What I Learned From My Grandmother About Living Well

And why these learnings are even more important today.

Neeti Mehra's grandmother's notebook

Neeti Mehra

My mother often recounts her years as a young bride in Mumbai, under the watchful eye of Barima, my late paternal grandmother. Once a week they would head to the charming Victorian Gothic-style Crawford Market, one of the city’s oldest wholesale markets (the wholesale vendors are now relocated), in the tiny Fiat. They would buy the weekly portions of fruit and seasonal vegetables from trusted vendors, packing them in their canvas bags.

Once a month they would make a halt at the ration shop, buying wheat grain. The wheat was then cleaned and dried at home, given to a mill to be ground into fibrous flour, and stored in huge cavernous bins. One of their annual trips was to the spice vendor. They’d buy whole coriander and cumin, and roast and grind them at home. They’d stock up on finely ground turmeric, asafetida, and chili. 

Depending on the season, Barima would make pickles. In summer it was a delectable mango preserve, and in winter a piquant carrot, cauliflower, and turnip pickle, both made by the kilogram to distribute to friends and family.

Her food was tasty, fresh, as close to the earth as possible, and made in small quantities. She’d never cross her allocated food budget and kept a tight eye on waste. Though she is no more, her legacy still remains. This is what I learned about living mindfully from her.

Neeti Mehra's grandmother in 1948

Neeti Mehra

A Frugal, Fine Kitchen

In the U.S., a whopping 133 billion pounds of food goes to the bin every year. Barima kept a meticulously balanced household budget. She bought the best possible quality in the exact quantity the household would consume, from markets that gave her access to the freshest and highest quality produce.

Even today, I buy the best possible produce available, organic whenever possible, and consume everything, composting the rest. The spice merchant, even after half a century, continues to supply me once a year with the freshest of spices with which I flavor food. Eating seasonally, locally, and mindfully (no phones on the dining table) gives food a remarkable flavor with nourishment. 

Invest in a Few Pieces of Fine Clothing

It is reported that, on average, an American dispatches as much as 79 pounds of clothes to landfill every year. Barima was always impeccably dressed in a beautiful sari or, later, in a crisp starched and ironed salwar kameez, with a single string of pearls. She possessed perhaps two purses and a similar amount of footwear. For winter, she had a handful of thermals, shawls, and sweaters.

She spent on just a few fine, long-lasting clothes, not necessarily the most expensive, and repeated them often. She preserved them well, spot-cleaning or washing clothes after each wear, and then ironing and storing them carefully in muslin bags, occasionally with antibacterial neem leaves or cupboard fresheners.

We used to have a sewing machine at home to mend clothes, and long after it was gone, she continued to fix them up with her beautiful sewing kit. When they were past saving, they would be relegated to the role of a mop or wipe, or refashioned into a bag or an object of utility till the rags completely crumbled.

Simplify Your Beauty Routine

The beauty industry creates mountains of waste and the number of single-use products we’ve added into our routines adds to this. Through her life, Barima stuck to one shampoo, body oil, hair oil, soap, and cream. When she found what suited her, she stuck to that for the remainder of her life, with just a handful of products sitting on her uncluttered shelves.

What she did do, though, was invest time in using all of those products regularly and to their optimum. Though I don’t always have time to massage my face, body, and hair daily, I do it as often as I can. Every day I try to bring consistency, simplicity, and effort into my beauty rituals as far as possible.

Each time that I nibble on fermented ginger, massage in oil, or mend my clothes, I know I tread gently, guided by my grandmother's wisdom.

View Article Sources
  1. "Food Waste FAQs." U.S. Department of Agriculture.