By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Life proceeds through three distinct stages—childhood, youth and old age. Of these three stages childhood is the sweetest, youth is the warmest and old age is the saddest. Childhood and youth are big with promises—but old age implies the end of the road. There is nothing for the old age except despair and unfulfilled dreams—a kind of vacuum looms ahead of them. Mentally and physically they are broken relics of the past. Yet old age is inevitable for a person having a normal span of life. An active, energetic and cheerful person turns into a kind of vegetable when he becomes prey to old age and loses all his vitality. But what cannot be avoided must be endured, as it is said. Yet it is not easy to accept the fact with philosophic resigtion. That is why old age is feared by the elderly people, lest they become a burden to somebody else. They live in a world of their own—lonely and unwanted—only the thoughts of the past to give them company. They were once terror in their own houses—yet now they have been elbowed out by the younger generation. Their views are considered as stupid and outdated by the young people, who do not have half their knowledge or experience.
In modern terminology ‘Senior Citizen’ is a relatively new coige, possibly to give a boost to the sagging morals of the old, but it has done little to ameliorate the plight of the old people. They find it difficult to depend on others for everything they need, after leading an active life for long. It is unbearable for a self-respecting and self-dependent person to ask for fincial help even from his own children. In this respect the central and state pensioners are slightly better off than the rest of the multitude comprising men and women above sixty, who get very little from the government. Then old age pension, sanctioned by the government does not go far in alleviating the sufferings of the senior citizens, it is said. For one thing, not every person is getting it, and for another, it is too small an amount to cover the necessary expenses of the old people. They suffer and fade away in depression, disease, disability and loneliness. The problems that the senior citizens face are economic, social, physical and institutiol.
Pensioners do not face the problems of the non-pensioners—as they do get some money to see them through. But the non-pensioners go through a life worse than death. For those senior citizens, who belong to the affluent section and who have money of their own, the life may not be so tragic. But for others the fincial problem is acute. They have to depend on others for bare survival, which is an extremely difficult situation for those, who never wanted to be beholden to anybody—not even to their own children. Only a person, who has gone through such a situation, realizes how humiliating it is for a self-dependent person. For such a person it is kind of a living death to depend on the bounty of others.
Even their own children may not be happy to be saddled with their old parents who hamper their life style. For them the parents are a kind of liability—an uvoidable nuisance. In their time they struggled and sacrificed throughout life to given proper education and comfort to their children. But once they grow old, the children do not care for them. turally they feel neglected, unwanted and isolated. Days stretch out before them like a desert and life becomes an unending stream of boredom. There is no joy, hope or laughter in their world—they only know tears and despair. Age makes them decrepit, and they become a burden to their own children.
There may be several factors, which are responsible for the unfortute and pathetic condition of the senior citizens. It can be clearly noticed that over the last few years various factors have been altering our social fabric, and the time-honoured attitude towards the elderly people are slowly and steadily changing. The old people are regarded as redundant and irrelevant. One of the factors of this attitude may be the breaking up of the joint families. Then of course, so many people from villages have migrated to towns and cities where it may not be feasible to accommodate an extra person. And due to inflation people are facing terrible economic hardship, due to which it is getting nearly impossible to feed an extra mouth. It can also be noticed that individualism characterizes modern generation. So all the factors—urbanization, paucity of space, inflation, individualism may have combined to displace the old people from their pedestal.
The old people have realized to their dismay that they are not really wanted—children just tolerate them with utmost reluctance—some even throw them out like waste products. They are like an old piece of damaged furniture which does not fit with the décor of the room. There was a time when old 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 formal education or university degrees. Indian societies have traditiolly respected the elderly people. Indians considered it to be a great virtue to look after the elderly parents. Nothing in the household was done without first getting approval from the parents. But now they are rarely consulted, as the younger generation do not need their advice or approval.
Some old people do rebel against the injustice in bitterness—but to no avail. Intense loneliness and ictivity make them depressed and frustrated. They seem to wait for inevitable death along with the rest of the family. There is nothing so agonizing as the feeling that they are a liability to their children—that they are a burden to the family.
It is no use blaming anybody for the tragedy and the pathos that engulf the lives of the elderly people. In most of the middle-class families, both the husband and the wife go out to work—turally they don’t have the time to look after the elderly parents. Usually a quick look at the room before going to their respective offices is considered to be enough. In the evenings they have various jobs to do—like cooking, washing, doing homework for the children—besides socializing. Even if the lady of the house does not go out to work, she has various activities to perform. There is nobody to spare some time for the old people. Those who can afford may engage servants to look after the old parents. turally they feel neglected, left out. Once everything in the household was done according to their wish. They were feared and respected by the younger members of the family. But in their old age they find that the children do not care for them. They do not even bother to ask for their advice on any important matter. They just tolerate their parents as an uvoidable nuisance—and the parents know it.
The old people are supposed to be demanding and cantankerous. This accusation has some element of truth in it. 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 tural that the parents can’t realize that their children have become adults with ideas of their own. They find it hard to believe that their guidance is no longer needed or welcome. As a result they become a constant irritant to their families.
Though pensioners are margilly better off fincially than others, who do not draw a pension, yet they find it hard to take the leisurely life with compliance. After giving the best part of life to their work in offices, they feel terrible when the day of retirement arrives. A person, who found himself to be indispensable in the office once, turally cannot accept the fact that his service is no longer required. It takes time to adjust to his new life style. Yet the pension they draw, do help to a certain extent in mitigating fincial problems.
Senior citizens, who belonged to the unorganized sector, live from hand to mouth. With no work and incapable of working they become a burden on their families. Even if they are well looked after, they suffer from a guilt complex. They cannot swallow the fact that they are dependent on others. At present Old people’s Homes are being opened in various places in the country. Some costlier ones are comfortable.
After working ceaselessly for years and years, the senior citizens find the life without work a dreary experience. They feel lonely and isolated. Physically they are weaker and mentally depressed. They suffer from all kinds of ailments. I think that there should be separate provisions for them in the hospitals and dispensaries. It must be terrible for these people to realize that at the fag end of life they have to struggle for survival. Certain steps should be taken to make their existence bearable. Insurance companies do not sell policies to the old people. But I hear that some private concerns have offered policies to the senior citizens and I believe that it is a step in the right direction, since they would be able to get some money in emergencies.
The problems of senior citizens are generally rooted in physical debility, loneliness and depressions. Their physical resources vary according to their life style, genetic build and destiny. For the old people too some entertainment is necessary. Hence some movies, suited to their age, may be shown in some cinema houses at subsidized rates, in the morning hours. Some of the senior citizens would certainly enjoy it.
The normal among them remain fit for some 10 years after 60, even if they suffer from hypertension or diabetes, cardiac problems, spondilysis, lumbago and most frightening cancer. Medical colleges and hospitals certainly need a specialized branch to cope with gerontology.
Central government pensioners are somewhat taken care of by the central government Health Scheme dispensaries in the state capitals. Pensioners of state governments are not covered by any health scheme—they get a meagre medical allowance, which is totally idequate to cope with the cost of medicine or the medical treatment. It would be a good idea to provide for a combined medical scheme for the state and central pensioners.
Health care of senior citizens, who are not pensioners, is a more challenging task. Ideally every government hospital and dispensary ought to have a senior citizens’ wing, from which both pensioners and non-pensioners can avail medical care. Many senior citizens need physiotherapy and orthopaedic treatment; these should also be provided.
I believe that there is an existing rule that there should be separate queues for the old in the offices and banks and reserved seats in vehicles. But such facilities are an exception rather than a rule.
It is very important to ensure that senior citizens are engaged in some work, according to the condition of their physical ability. In most cases depression sets in after retirement. It is terrible for a healthy, fit and mentally alert person to realize that his days in the office, in which he worked so diligently for years and years, are over. He feels old and worn out— though in actual fact he still can work for long. Mental depression adversely affects his physical vitality and he becomes devoid of all energy. Hence it is imperative to engage him in some work, which would convince him that he still has the capacity to work on a new line.
The welfare of the senior citizens should be a tiol task and responsibility. It needs to be accorded high priority because they have given the prime of lives for the welfare of the society and the tion. They should not be thought of as useless burden to the civil services and public utilities. Treated with sympathy and compassion, they can still be an asset to the society and tion at large. The tion would gain immensely if serious consideration is extended to the welfare of the old.
Perhaps the most important thing is to instil some confidence into them—to make them realize that they are not burnt ends of humanity—that in spite of old age they can still do some useful work and that they are still needed by the society and the family. Every elderly person needs love, understanding and care. They should be made to realize that their time is not over. In fact, given the right direction, they can lead a quite happy and useful life till the end, which is inevitable. Some serious thought should be spared and efforts made to brighten the lives of the old people in their twilight days.