(B Someswar Rao)
The aged all over the world, including India, have one wish – they should not be a burden on their children or on others. This may not be possible in advanced stages of old age, when most faculties are reduced or even sometimes totally absent. The super-elders may be bedridden, unable to walk, see, hear or even perform normal bodily functions. In the education system we borro
wed from our colonial rulers. As we study English language “from KG to PG” (pre-primary classes to post-graduation) just as we study trigonometric and algebraic values and poetry of John Keats and Tennyson (without knowing what their use in life is), we all know the ‘seven ages of man’ listed by Shakespeare in All The World’s A Stage calling old age the second childhood: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. There is also a joke on old having the same problems as children (see last chapter).
There is however, one difference.
In the first childhood, the helpless infant is lovingly taken care of by the mother and the father, very often at a great sacrifice of their own needs, but during the second childhood most people do not get that very child to reciprocate that affection. If one has a lot of negativity one may even think the children feel they are a burden and wish them dead sooner than later. They should give up such negative thoughts and know that, whatever their age, very few daughters or sons want their elderly parents to die, though the same cannot be said of their spouses as they comes from a different family, the main reason for the south Indian system of marriage with second cousins or within the extended family. They may not exhibit towards their parents such love and affection as is bestowed on cute little infants by the mother and the father, for the old are not ‘cuddlable’ or cute like infants anymore. The children have their own problems to worry about and their own offspring to care for. It is wrong to blame them.
A CCTV camera video clip went viral some time ago showing a daughter-in-law mercilessly beating up her mother-in-law, an aged, sick, woman. Recently a user of Instagram posted a clip of a woman beating up another elder and asked for action against that woman. In both cases the stories were one-sided; it was not known what they did to provoke such action. Though physical assault is not an option or solution, it is true that elders can often be extremely annoying. Take care to see that you do not grow into one of them. It is the responsibility of the elders to avert such situations.
There was a furore recently over an advertisement by a multinational firm that showed a man trying to leave his aged father at the kumbhmela where millions of Hindu pilgrims gather every,12 years, but then has a change of heart. Protestors said it was wrong to defame Indian culture this way. There were even calls to boycott the products of that company (perhaps sponsored by a competing MNC that could then have sold its products more).
But it is a reality of life that many elders do get abandoned at bus stops or in forests or melas and quite a few are subjected to neglect or even abuse. The family ties are very strong in Indian culture whose ideal is a son carrying on his shoulders his aged, blind, parents—Shravankumar. The ‘neglect’ could sometimes be because their offspring is very poor or helpless. This, however, is not always the case. Just one example: An actress who appeared in over 100 films including the famous ‘Pakeeza’, Geeta Kapoor, 67, died in an old age home in 2018. She was abandoned in a hospital by her only son Raja who tortured and starved her. Film makers Ashoke Pandit, Ramesh Turani and Madhur Bhandarkar put her in an old age home. Neither her son nor her airhostess daughter appeared on her death. Pandit and Turani also cleared the bill at the hospital. Her body was kept in a hospital for two days for her son. She spent her last days yearning for him. She was then cremated unusually late at night by another daughter who, even when told, did not bother to inform Pandit, according to a tweet by him.
‘Kaun Banega Crorepati?’ (the Indian version of ‘Who Will Be a Millionaire’), a popular program on TV, had an episode for giving the bounty to a charity. A man running such an NGO was in the ‘hot seat’ and KBC anchor, Amitabh Bachhan, was shocked to learn from him that there were many cases of adult abuse in the country. He said some elders are starved, abused or even assaulted. Luckily, such cases are few. Old age homes are meant to deal with the problem but many more are needed.
The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) and the World Hedalth Organization (WHO) observe June 15 as the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Most elders are not aware of NGOs like HelpAge India an Agewell Foundation that extend support to them or the legal remedies available to ensure smooth life in the golden years. Very few Indian public buildings are accessible to people with handicaps or have ramps for wheelchairs, used mostly by the elders. A wheelchair costs anything between Rs.9000 to 70,000 (motorized) – beyond the means of most elders. Indian society is blind towards the blind and those who turn blind with age. We think providing seats for senior citizens in state buses is great – and enough.
Talk of elders’ abuse reminds us of a story. A rich man kept his sick father in a cattle shed and gave him his sparse meals in an old ceramic plate. The fragile old man one day dropped the plate and broke it. As the man was scolding his father for it, the school-going grandson joined his own father in shouting at the old man. “You are so careless, grandpa. I was hoping to use the same plate for my dad when I send him to this cattle shed as he gets old.” This was an eye-opener for the dad.
It is also true that a daughter-in-law or son-in-law could never have the same bond or affection with them as with her or his own parents. Considering the spouse’s parents as one’s own is an unrealistic ideal rarely seen outside films or fiction. The most one can do is to remind the young ones mistreating them that they may be in that position one day. Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, (mother-in-law was a daughter-in-law once), the name of a very popular Hindi TV ‘soap’, can be reversed to Bahu Bhi Kabhi Saas Banegi (a daughter-in-law may become a mother-in-law one day). You should base your attitude towards the in-laws on how you wish or expect to be treated when you are their age.
“Each year we try to get a better understanding of the existence of this heinous crime against our elderly and create awareness about the issue. Unfortunately, elder abuse starts at home and from whom they trust the most…This year we also looked into the impact of technology,” said Mathew Cherian, chief executive officer, HelpAge India speaking to a Hindustan Times reporter. “While technology in itself is good and progressive, it also has adverse impacts in the lives of our elderly.” Senior citizens in India nurse the feeling that they are being neglected and disrespected because of the attention that their adult children devote to their smartphones and the social media, according to a report by the organization.
When people live together – as elders in India have to – there are bound to be some differences or even clashes and conflict. Elders must, therefore, learn to curb their ego and temper. This has to begin in youth as habits are hard to change in old age. The elders too must realize that bringing up their children, deciding what the grandchildren study, or when or whom they marry, is the prerogative of the daughters or sons and their spouses. They should resist the temptation to give unsolicited advice or interfere in the lives of their offspring.
The youth know the importance of earning and saving and need not be told. The elders should not try to build up big property for their successors. Huge properties may only lead to disputes and discord in the family. The son and heir of a major Indian industry, the JK Group, was in the news for throwing out his father and mother, who then had to live in a rented flat. They had money to do so and their story (one-sided again) was viral on the social media. In India we often hear of those who “amassed enough wealth for seven generations to live on without doing anything.” A judge of the Allahabad High Court and his wife had filed a court case seeking admission to their own house. There may be many more such cases.
One should save only to be economically independent in old age and not to leave money for the future generations. They should depend as less on their successors as possible. Today thousands of elders stay alone in India as the children live abroad to earn more. The ‘empty nest syndrome’, as it is called, is more common in cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad. There are services to facilitate living alone, like home nursing and care-giving, but they are not coming up as fast as they should. There are many cases of such people being killed, often by the goons of big builders who plan to encroach on their land or property.
It is not known if there is any NGO that has young people visit home-alone elders regularly to enquire about their health and well-being. If not, such NGOs can be started in every colony and apartment building. (But none few exist, as there are no expenses involved and so no donation or grant to be embezzled – the reason why at least some NGOs are started).
The Western practice is of children living separately on their own as soon as they turn adults. This American trend is changing. A recent survey showed that the number of those in the USA who are 18 to 30 or above staying with their parents is increasing.
The Readers’ Digest in the 1960s carried a small real-life story: A mother lived alone as her several children were staying separately. Due to some argument they stop phoning her and to each other for some months. In the West, even when they live separately, family members have a reunion at Christmas time normally. So they talk to each other and ask how mother was doing, only to discover that none of them had talked to her for months. When there was no response to their phone calls to her, they come together and go to her house in a basement. They find her skeleton seated on a chair, as she died months earlier.
Much is said against WhatsApp. A group of elders used to send good morning and good night messages, if nothing else, every day. They all go to the house of one of the members to find that she suffered a heart attack the previous night because of which she could not send a goodnight message, which alerted them. Timely action saved her life. Even something addictive and wasteful like the time-consuming WhatsApp could save a life.