My Grandmother’s Management Lesson


A solitary life from the age of 22 can seem, to many of us, like a burden and an unnecessary pain. When she died at the age of 92, my grandmother had been a widow for over 70 years.Being her only grandson, she was particularly fond of me and I would, as a child, often sit on her lap as she wove life’s lessons into simple fables and stories.

She told me one even just a few months before her death twenty years ago.

I was driving her around in my car, when we stopped at a red light. As we waited for the lights to turn green, a lottery ticket seller approached the car and pushed a bunch of tickets in front of me. I tried to shoo him away but he would not go. Muttering under my breath, I waited for the light to turn green and sped away from that irritant as soon as it did.

That was when my grandmother told me the ‘Ittotte?’ story.

Once upon a time, on a tree by the roadside, there lived a wizened old mad man. He would threaten passers-by, with a heavy sack in his hand, asking, “Ittottee?” which in Malayalam means, “Shall I drop this on you?”

The passers-by would all hasten away, fearing that he would indeed be mad enough to actually drop the heavy sack on them.

Until one day, a boy took on the old man and agreed that the sack could be dropped down on him.

The old man in surprise asked the boy once again, if he was sure that he wanted the sack to be dropped.

The boy nodded in affirmation.

“Are you very sure?” The old man asked repeatedly “It will hurt you”.

“Very sure, very sure. Drop the sack down”, the boy said categorically.

The old man dropped the heavy sack. Very carefully though, ensuring that the sack did not really fall on the boy and hurt him.

The boy was a bit surprised that the ‘mad man’ had not thrown the sack down on him, but let it down so gingerly.

“Can I open it?” he asked the old man.

“It’s yours” the old man answered and smiled wryly.

The boy opened the sack and found it was filled with gold and precious stones.

Not sure of the wrinkled old man’s intentions, the boy looked up quizzically.

“Take it take it” the old man said “I’m glad that I found at least one person who has the good sense to receive what I have for him, before I die.”

This is what my grandmother taught me, as I complained about the nuisance of the vendor – that we are only what we see, and that we get only what we agree to receive. Where everybody else ‘saw’ a threat in the unexpected sound of “Ittotte?” from above, the boy saw an opportunity

Many of us similarly, choose to flee from our good fortune, because success too often appears scary.

We are all hearing the question “Ittotte?” loudly and clearly in many different ways, everyday in our lives from equally unfamiliar and odd circumstances or moments.

What does it take to learn to say yes and not run away from our ‘Ittottee?’ ?

Opportunity does not come before us with a placard reading ‘your opportunity’ written out in big fat bold letters. It most often seems quite threatening like the ‘Ittotte?’ man in my grandmother’s story.

Thinking about it today, I wish I knew from which of her life’s long bitter-sweet experiences, my grandmother was telling me that story.

Or was she telling it, because she had seen her grandson often run away from the opportunities life presented?

I wish I knew.

About Keerthika Singaravel

3 Responses to Ittottee?’

  1. Alex Jones says:

    Often upon the road there is a test wherein a gift is hidden; the lucky are the bold and inventive who will take the test and seize the gift hidden within.

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