Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
Human life goes through different phases and the stage of old age is the saddest and bitterest. The old age is not wanted yet cannot be escaped. Only those who have gone through the phase can realise the anguish of the old people, nobody else.
The other day we went to see a very old friend of ours who was a practising busy lawyer till a few years back. But since age was getting on and the inevitable accompanying ailments pursued him, he decided to abandon his flourishing practice and play the role of a “man of leisure”, as he joked. But very soon he was disillusioned to have found that leading a leisurely life was not such fun after all. He soon got extremely bored with his idle life and death of his wife devastated the poor old man.
We found him alone in his ground floor room, which was once his busy chamber, where people from all walks of life assembled for legal advice. His is a big family comprising sons, daughters in law, sisters in law and a host of grandchildren and several servants. In the midst of this bustling home he is terribly lonely. He was happy to see us as he has so few visitors now, he himself said. He talked and cracked jokes with us. Sound of laughter and music floated down from the first floor of the house. He asked servants to bring tea and refreshment for us and the order was carried out without any loss of time. The gentleman informed us that his youngest granddaughter was getting married soon and hence the family was rather in a bustle with all those shopping, invitations and other wedding preparations. I told him with a smile that he too must been busy with a wedding in the family. He laughed aloud and said humorously, “Not at all. I am not consulted on anything. My role is that of a financier. They come for money when they require since I still control my finance or possibly I would have been thrown out long back”. He laughed again.
I looked at him and could guess the sadness behind the laughing eyes. Not that he has been neglected. There are servants to take care of him and look after his needs. His meals are prepared according to his wish. He has money and all the comfort that money can offer. But what he lacks is company, somebody to talk to and to share his joy and sorrow. And that is the fate of all the old people. If one of the partners dies, life becomes unbearable for the other as he or she becomes totally alone in this cruel world where the younger generation hardly spares a thought for the elderly people, whose sacrifices and hard work have made them what they are.
There was a time when parents were venerated as gods by the children. It was considered a great virtue to serve and take care of the elderly parents in ancient Indian society. Their word was law and nobody dared to disobey them. Disobedience of the elders was considered as an unforgivable crime. But the times have changed. The parents and elders are being elbowed out by the younger generation. The children of modern times no longer consider it to be a sin to defy their parents. For today’s children, the parents have become a liability a kind of embarrassment. An unfathomable chasm appears between them, as they grow older. When they marry the chasm widens and a time comes when there is no communication at all between the parents and the children. In earlier times the birth of a son was a momentous event for the parents and it was a grand event for celebration. Even now parents are overjoyed when a son is born. Perhaps they believed (and still do) that the son would take care of them in their old age. But unfortunately that rarely happens.
The old people are a frustrated lot. In their time they struggled and sacrificed throughout their lives to give education and security to their children. But once they become old, the children do not care for them. Naturally they feel neglected, unwanted and isolated. Days stretch out like a desert and life becomes an unending boredom. There is no laughter, no joy or hope for them. Age makes them decrepit and they become a burden to their own children.
There may be several factors, which are perhaps responsible for the unfortunate and pathetic plight of the old people. It can be clearly noticed that over the last few years several changes have been altering our social fabric, and the time honored attitude towards the elderly people are slowly, but surely and steadily changing. The old people in the present society are regarded as redundant and irrelevant. One of the reasons for this change of attitude is perhaps the breaking up of the joint families. Then so many people from villages have migrated to towns and cities in the hope of better living and better prospects. But space is limited in towns and cities, where extra persons cannot be accommodated. Then there is the problem of inflation and people are facing terrible economic hardship, due to which it is getting increasingly difficult to feed an extra mouth. It can also be noticed that individualism characterises modern generation. So all these factors may have combined to displace the old people from their pedestal.
Once age was synonymous with wisdom and values. The children could never doubt the superior wisdom of the parents, even if they did not have any education or university degrees. But now they suddenly realise to their dismay that they are not really wanted. Children just tolerate them with utmost reluctance. Some even throw out the parents like some waste product. The younger generations do not need their advice or approval though there was a time when nothing was done in the household without the prior approval of the parents.
In earlier days grandparents were the most revered and cherished persons in a family. The grand children adored them. They were the founts of wisdom, who could never do wrong. The grandparents told them enchanting stories and met endless demands of the grandchildren. But now television and comics have usurped their role. They were the peace makers bridging the gap between the parents and children soothing the frayed temper of the various members of the family. The grandma wiped the tears with loving fingers and made mouthwatering sweets for the children. But now sweets of various shapes and sizes are available in the market and the grandma’s sweets are no longer wanted. The grand parents are neither needed nor welcome. In fact, the parents often have misgivings that the grand parents may spoil the children with too much affection and indulgence. Some parents even try to keep the children away from the grandparents. An invisible iron wall seems to have been erected between the grand children and grandparents.
Naturally the grand parents feel aggrieved and anguished. They know that they are neither loved nor needed. They are the odd people out, not really loved by any one. In this modern society there has arisen an emotional and communication gap between the old and the young. They do not even speak the same language.
Some old people do rebel against the injustice meted out to them in bitterness but to no avail. Intense loneliness and inactivity depressed and frustrated them. They seem to wait for the inevitable death along with the rest of the family. It is really a fact that some of the younger generations heave a sigh of relief when the elderly parents die. Even when alive, some of the old people go through a kind of living death. There is nothing so agonising as the feeling that they are a liability to their own children that they are a burden to the family.
It is no use blaming anybody for the tragedy and pathos that engulf the life of the elderly people. In most middle class families both the husband and the wife go out to work naturally they don’t have the time to look after the parents. Usually a quick look in the room before going to the office is supposed to be enough. After coming back from the office in the evening, they have various household jobs to do like cooking, washing, looking after the home work of the children, besides socialising. Even if the lady of the house does not go out to work, she has various activities to perform. The children too are engaged in diverse activities and nobody has the time to spare for the old people and to be very frank, they are not really interested in the elderly members of the family. Those who can afford, engage servants to take care of the old parents, which is bitterly resented by the seniors. They feel neglected and left out.
The old people are often accused as demanding, inconsiderate and cantankerous. This accusation has some truth in it. They may have been unable to keep pace with time. But we have to consider the other side of the picture. After ruling over the household for half a century or more, it is only natural that the parents cannot understand their days are over and their children have become adults, with ideas of their own. They find hard to believe that guidance is no longer necessary or welcome. As a consequence they become a constant irritant to the family.
It is only fair that the old people should be accorded due consideration and at the same time we have to accept the changing situation. We can no longer expect sons to look after the old people devotedly in grand manner of the past. It is not feasible any more. According to some people, decent “Old People’s Homes” may be an answer to this growing feeling of bitterness that is giving a guilt complex to both the sides. Perhaps some old people will be happy there but not all. Most of them would fight against the notion and would think that this is an attempt to evict them from the house they built themselves.
I believe that the most important thing is to instill some confidence into them to make them realise that they are not burnt out ends of humanity that they are still needed by the family. Every old person needs love, understanding and consideration. They should be made to realise that their time is not over. They need not wait passively for the cruel death to come. They also need not depend on their children all the time. In fact, they can lead quite a useful and happy life till the time of their death, which is the inevitable end. Then they would not feel so useless and unwanted. The children should understand the problems of the old parents. They want nothing from the children except some love and understanding and surely that is not too much to expect. It is certainly necessary to brighten the lives of the old people in their twilight days with a little bit of love and consideration.