By Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
The term "grand parents" seems to imply an ancient residue from the past, who have no connection with the present era. They have become the objects of ridicule and the young people may believe that they have outlived their usefulness. Perhaps they blame the grand parents for living so long with their outdated ideas. What is the status of grand parents in the family? To have a fair understanding of the matter we have to delve into the past. After all, they are the link between the present and the past.
If we glimpse into the past we may find some interesting facts about the grand parents. I suppose they were entirely different from their counterparts of the present era. In the olden times the grand parents were the pillars of the family. In the past there was the joint family system and all the members-parents, uncles, aunts, cousins lived together in harmony. The mainstay of the family were the grand parents. They were the people to solve any dispute in the family and they gave proper advice to everyone without partiality or prejudice. With wise guidance they commanded respect from everybody and their slightest wish was law to the family.
The term "grand father" brings to the mind the picture of an old feeble man with wrinkled skin and sunken eyes taking faltering steps with the aid of a stick in hand. He might have been old and weak, but he was never inactive. He did everything that was physically possible and was often mentally alert. He was history personified ad a living encyclopaedia covering everything. Past came alive through him. He was a fount of wisdom and scattered advices to one and all like confetti. He was the head of the family and all were afraid of his erratic temper and idiosyncratic behaviour. Not only the members of the family, but even others from the village came to take advice from the grand father on various issues.
He used to sit on a chair, smoking tobacco through a pipe attached to a hookah. He also shared it with his cronies who came to visit him for a convivial evening. Grand father was the terror of the household and none dared to oppose his autocratic behaviour. But at the same time he was just, wise and kind. Behind the rough exterior he had a heart of gold. His only objective was the welfare of his family. Though physically weak, mentally he was very strong. His manners were brusque, but that did not diminish his dignity in any way. He might have asked a chance visitor to bring a chair from somewhere to sit with him at the lawn, without stirring from his own chair. But his command was never considered to be rude or inhospitable, since this kind of eccentricity was accepted as natural to his age. His weakness was for tea and tobacco. The poor harassed daughter-in-law had to provide endless cups of tea to him and his friends without a murmur of protest.
The term 'grand mother' brings to the mind the vision of an old lady with wizened skin, sitting on a low wooden stool chewing crushed betel nuts, chatting with the women of her age about the latest village scandal with gusto. Her toothless smile captivated the young people. She was a superb story-teller. To be in her company was like stepping into a mystical land of magic and myth, where colourful memories of the bygone era and richly painted fantasies of boundless imagination were woven into one exquisite tapestry one could gaze forever. Past came alive in her talks. The grand children listened to her reminiscences in rapt attention. They listened to her in wonder and perhaps a little bit of doubt. Granny told them ghost stories and the ghosts became real before the children's bemused eyes. She also told them stories from the epics with her limited knowledge. The grand mothers were more than connecting links to the past, they were also witnesses to thousand sunsets, thousand events, which the younger generation would never see. To see through their eyes was to see the ancient past, faded, blurred but unforgettable. They had certainly mastered the art of story-telling despite lack of formal education. They had learnt from nature and had innate wisdom, which had nothing to do with book-learning. Their delightful stories kept the young children enthralled for hours together.
The grandmother was also adapt in cooking in spite of her advanced years. She used to make wonderful sweets-various kinds of pithas, ladoos etc. She kept some of them in containers in her room, which were meant for the grand children. Naturally the grand mom was a great favourite with the children. She was the person who supplied various delicacies to the children. They were sure to get from her whatever they demanded. They came to her to demand sweets and other things at any time or to complain against their own parents or somebody else. And the grand mom never failed to console them with soothing words. She was the person to wipe away tears from their eyes. She was the shock-absorber of the family and brought peace to home with her innate common sense. She used to sing lullabies in her cracked voice to make children sleep. The over-worked busy young mothers were only too happy to leave the children in the grandmother's care. They had complete faith on her.
Grand parents were adored by the younger generation in the past. They were treated with love, respect and obedience. Nobody ever thought or even imagined of going against their wishes. For the grand children the grandparents were omniscient and whatever they said was regarded as gospel truth. The young children thought that there was nothing that they did not know. They also had an amazing memory and could narrate various incidents, which occurred in their young age. They also knew the family tree of almost every acquaintance and could recount diverse facts about them. Though physically weak, they were mentally strong enough to make their feeble voices heard by everyone in the family.
The picture has changed in the course of time and there is a world of difference between grandparents of today and those of the past. They have seen a lot in all these years and also have heard a lot. They are experienced enough to gauge the attitude of the family towards themselves. At a time when even parents are thrown away like garbage by the adult sons, the fate of the grand parents can easily be visualized. In the past the grandfather was considered to be a very wise man, who commanded respect. But he has fallen down from his pedestral and today he is regarded as a senile, outdated and stupid old man who has outlived his usefulness. He might have built the home where his progeny are living, but he is no longer required. If the grandfather is rich and is in possession of reasonable wealth, then he may be tolerated reluctantly. But if he is devoid of money and property, he has no business to continue living. They are a burden and embarrassment to the younger generation, since they cannot keep pace with this modern age.
The grandfather is no longer the wise man and the head of the family. Instead of being a terror to the family he lives in constant fear of them. He realizes that he is unnecessary and unwanted to them. Nobody comes to him for his advice and his suggestions remain unheeded. No one comes for a chat with him. He is the relict of the past and is totally unfit to live in this modern age. If he happens to be a widower his plight becomes pitiable. Unable to bear the loneliness he stands near the gate to accost any acquaintance for a chat. He dare not invite his friends to the house for fear that his son or daughter-in-law may not like it. He also hesitates to ask anybody for a cup of tea. In a home, over which he ruled for so many years, now he feels like an outsider. His position is that of an unwanted nuisance, who disrupts the peace of the household.
The grandma's position has also nosedived lamentably. She is no longer an invaluable member of the household. The grand children do not need her to tell them stories, as comics and television serials have usurped her role. With all these fast food stalls all around they do not need granny's home-made sweets-rather they repulse them. Modern children have no taste for pithas or ladoos. An invisible iron curtain has come down between the grandmothers and the grand children. There is no communication between them. They seem to talk in different language. In this computer-savvy world children talk about things which the grandmother does not understand. Nobody wants the grandparents at home. Either they may be left on the street or if the family is considerate enough then they may be dumped in one of these "Old Peoples Homes". That is of course kinder than abandoning them in the street to fend for themselves.
It is really very sad that the grand children do not appreciate or realise the worth of the grandparents. The old people are accused by the young people as cantankerous, spoil-sport and busy bodies. The accusation may have some truth. But the children should realize that in the dusk of their life they may find some solace by behaving in that irritating way. Old habits die hard and their style of talking may exasperate the young people, but they cannot expect the grandparents to change their habits at the closing period of their life. A little consideration for their age and tolerance may work wonders for the old people.
The children should realize that the grandparents are a mine of information. Past cannot be avoided and the present can be understood only by referring to the past Grandparents are like conifers, who had witnessed diverse events and can vouch for them.
Modern grandparents, who have sufficient resources and grit may not suffer a tragic fate as long as they remain active, confident and self-dependent. If they have sufficient money, they may not be so very neglected. Let us admit freely that in this age money is of prime importance and it speaks louder than words. Hence I believe that the grandparents should hold on to their purse strings for as long as possible. Unlike parents they have no pressing demands or expectations. They accept you and appreciate you just the way you are. In their presence you have the opportunity to reveal you true character without taking recourse to pretence. The grandparents are also great teachers. They offer valuable lessons, which no one else in the world can better provide. They teach the children the virtues of patience and calmness, the importance of being true to yourself and fighting for what you uphold to be right. From their lives children may learn which roads they should avoid. They make us realize that it is not what life gives us that matters, but rather what we do with what life has given us.
I myself happen to be a grandmother, but I think that I fall miles short of an ideal grandmother. But I love them and possibly they like me. Till now I have maintained excellent relation with my family, including my grand children. I do not interfere with the life they lead and never allow them to interfere with my life. I think it to be important that the grandparents do not give unwanted advice to the children or the grand children. They would not appreciate it.
Times have changed and the grand children of this era consider grandparents to be rather backward in their views. I think that the grandparents should never harp on the past. They should never pass adverse comments on the dress, mannerism, food habits, etc. of the young people. They must realize that their criticism will only antagonize the children. They should also realize that the past cannot be brought back and they have to accept the present as inevitable and look forward to the future. The young people also should learn to value their grandparents, who only want the best for the family. Whether they are educated or illiterate, their views should be given due consideration. They have a rich stock of experience, which should be utilized for the future course of action. They should not be dismissed as outdated or stupid. Their long experience can be very useful to the children. After all, they have not much time in the world and nothing to look forward. Surely it is the duty of the children and the grand children to make their last days on earth peaceful and happy.